Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Vanished Steamboat - Edward D. Hoch

Story: The Vanished Steamboat
Author: Edward D. Hoch
Source: The Ripper Of Storyville and Other Ben Snow Tales
Ben Snow is whiling away the time in New Orleans when his friend Eddie, a riverboat gambler coaxes him to come down to Vicksburg. When there is a death of a gambler and there is a vacant spot on the steamboat, Eddie decides to take the trip on the ‘River Ridge’ and try his luck with the cards. Ben Snow declines his friend’s invitation to join him on this journey from Vicksburg to St. Louis. He bids his friend goodbye from the dock and watches the steamboat till it vanishes down the Mississippi river.
The next day, the owner of the Steamboat ‘River Ridge’ hires Ben Snow to find the boat as the boat seems to be missing. The owner strongly suspects that it’s her brother who has hijacked the boat. In 24 hours, the boat should have crossed Greenville but the message from Greenville is that they didn’t see any boat. Another boat ‘Carrollton Belle’ which left St. Louis the day before and which should have crossed ‘River Ridge’ midway didn’t meet the boat at all. The Belle is now berthed in Vicksburg and the captain of the ‘Belle’ is pretty certain that the ‘River Ridge’ is not on the river. Where did the boat with 55 crew members disappear? If it’s lost on the water, somebody would have seen it by now, if it had sunk down, the coastguard officials who were dredging would have found it. They even try to use  Conan Doyle’s solution of the ‘Lost Special’ where he makes a train disappear between two stations but the application of the same on the river between two ports doesn’t fetch them the same prize!
The solution is pretty simple and I did work out the problem as to where to find the boat but you have to give it to the author for planting the vital clue to the solution right there in the open – highlighted in italics - and yet I missed it altogether!!!

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