Tuesday, January 24, 2012

By Child Undone - Jack Ritchie

Story: By Child Undone

Author: Jack Ritchie
Source: A New Leaf and Other Stories, Little Boxes of Bewilderment, Boucher’s Choicest.
Story Number: 24
For a person who wrote close to a thousand stories, it is very perplexing to know that there are only 3 collections of his short stories! And finding reasonably priced copies of these collections is indeed a challenge in itself!
Haven’t seen too many references being made to Jack Ritchie in relation to a formal puzzle plot story but from the few stories that I’ve read, when he tried them, he could certainly compete with some of the best. In this story, playing fair with the reader and at the same time making it unguessable, he tries the classic gambit of what-is-the-factor-linking-a-chain-of-murders?
The story starts with 2 random killings on successive days. Nobody pays heed to them until the police receive an anonymous letter intimating them that the same gun killed both. A succession of murders follows – each time the victim is a man and each time there is an anonymous letter; the fourth one which the police receive would have been mailed six hours before the actual murder.
Captain Hayes and Sergeant Harrison find no clues, no motives and no connection between the victims though they notice some common traits among the murdered men. But with each murder, they find that the connecting links are reducing and at the end of five murders they have all but given up on the possibility of there being anything common among them, until, the 10 year old kid (Harrison’s son) walks into the police station, glances at the list which Hayes is pondering over and tells them what the connecting factor is! Based on this information, they catch the murderer on his sixth crusade.

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