Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Hands of Mr. Ottermole - Thmoas Burke

Name of the story: The Hands of Mr. Ottermole

Author: Thomas Burke
Source: 101 Years of Entertainment: The great detective stories of over a century edited by Ellery Queen
Story Number: 4
My three previous posts have covered my favorite author, the story that started it all and my favorite short story collection by a single author. Next in line would be the best anthology read. 101 years of Entertainment, a compendium of 50 stories containing close to 1000 pages, selected by the duo of Ellery Queen as the best fifty tales to commemorate the 100 years of the publication of the first detective story would unarguably go down in history as the best of its kind.
The short story ‘The Hands of Mr. Ottermole’ by Thomas Burke, published for the first time in 1931, was picked as one of the 12 best detective short stories (or was it the best?) ever written by a very distinguished panel of mystery authors and in the introduction to this story in the collection, Ellery Queen has this to say about it “No finer crime story has ever been written, period.” And to this I can only say, Amen!
There are numerous novels about serial killers but how many short stories have been able to incorporate the theme of serial killer and multiple murders? A man with white hair and large white hands is terrorizing the streets of London by strangling people with no rhyme or reason. First victim is a man, second is a child and the third victim is a policeman, the fourth is a family of three and the fifth is the journalist who deduces who the murderer is! By the end of the story, the London Strangling Horrors account for 5 attacks with 7 victims, all having the characteristics of no motive, no pattern in the picking of victims and carried out right under the noses of the police force, accentuate the evocation of atmosphere and terror to its spine chilling best. This story can also boast of one other achievement – it conceals the identity of the murderer most cleverly by parading him right in front of the reader’s eyes, all the time. 


  1. Burke's story has an air of menace in it that in unequaled. The paranoia he effects, the fascination with the murderers of England's past, the strange narrative style in which Burke addresses Mr. Whybrow one of the victims, with passages like this "But can't you hear something in those footfalls -- something that goes with a widdershins beat? Something that says: Look out, look out. Beware, beware. Can't you hear the very syllables of murd-er-er, murd-er-er?" This is one creepy story. Burke could chill the bone sometimes better than M.R. James.

    This is an ambitious undertaking - reading and writing about one story a day for an entire year. I've bookmarked your blog and will be stopping by every day. Hope to find a few stories and writers I have yet to sample.

  2. Forgot to mention that an interesting TV adaptation was done for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and can be watched for free here. The TV script writer, Francis Cockrell, was also a short story writer whose work appeared in pulp magazines and genre fiction magazine throughout the 1950s.

    The episode is almost entirely faithful to the story with the only exception being the removal of the strangling of the child due to the TV censors of the period. The killer's chilling monologue in which he attempts to explain his motive, however, is retained (slightly abbreviated) very much verbatim as what Burke wrote it.