Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Scapegoat - Christianna Brand

Story: The Scapegoat
Author: Christianna Brand
Source: Brand X, The Mammoth Book Of Great Detective Stories, Buffet For Unwelcome Guests.
Theme for the Month: Locked Room or Impossible Crime Stories
Christianna Brand, who has been compared to John Dickson Carr for plotting and fair play clueing in her novels, was also very deft with the short story form. This story is a wonderful example for that!
The story begins with 8 people enacting a courtroom drama where two people are being tried for an unsolved murder committed fifteen years ago. The reason: the son of the policeman who was suspected of murdering Tom believes that his Father was innocent and he wants to identify the real culprit. The men being tried: The young man in place of his Father (the policeman) and the Photographer Mr. Photoze.
The Crime: Mr. Mysterioso, a great magician and a cripple, has been invited to lay a cornerstone for a new hospital. He cannot do without his manservant Tom, on whose strong arms he balances himself while walking and standing. And the magician has been receiving threatening letters. There has been a policeman placed on the first floor (the hospital is still under construction and the top floor rooms doesn’t have doors or any other furniture in them) to keep an eye. A photographer has been allowed to take pictures from the roof of the building opposite the stage. During the function, a shot is heard; Tom goes down uttering that he is glad that they killed the wrong man, the photographer has captured everything – Tom going down & Mysterioso looking up towards from where the shot must have been fired, the policeman runs towards the first floor room where the shot was heard only to find a rifle neatly arranged overlooking the cornerstone and no sign of the murderer!
The Witnesses: 3 patients who were in the balcony and would have seen anybody escaping down the stairs (nobody did), Photoze who has been on the roof - exactly above the room where the rifle is found with the door to the roof being locked with a deadbolt and the policeman who was on the site from where the shot originated in such a short time that no one could have escaped from the room.
The Evidence: A small hole in the door between the roof and the room, a string tied to the rifle which could be hinged on a nail on the opposite wall (but wasn’t) and the charming clue in terms of a bag overfilled with apples placed right next to the rifle!
The Possibilities: A lot of theories are propounded as to how the gun could have been fired but each is disproved by the current chief inspector (who was a constable at that time and who came on the scene on the heels of his superior, the policeman on duty)
The Case: Unsolved – Photographer has a solid alibi, the policeman was seen outside the room when Tom was shot – so he couldn’t have been in the room and there was nobody else!
Repercussions: The Photographer becomes famous. The Policeman is discharged from duty and he dies a slow brooding death.
The Verdict in the fictional courtroom: Not guilty for both men.
Conclusion: Well, the young man has his own theory which he tries out with the great Magician after the case has been dismissed and the court emptied of its occupiers. The coup de grace comes from the chief inspector when he reveals to one of the witnesses the actual solution. A scintillating performance!

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