Sunday, January 29, 2012

Murder Lock’d In - Lillian De La Torre

Story: Murder Lock’d In

Author: Lillian De La Torre
Source: The Return of Dr. Sam: Johnson
Story Number: 29
Lillian de la Torre is known for her historical mysteries which featured the 18th century detective Dr. Sam: Johnson – where the stories are more or less based on the actual crimes of the 18th century (solved or unsolved), with a new solution proposed by the author as befits the crime and the period in which it occurred. Even though this story appears in the third collection, it is supposed to be the first recorded case of Dr. Johnson and his biographer cum narrator, James Boswell. The same story is titled ‘The First Locked Room’ in the locked-room anthology “Death Locked In” but doesn’t feature Dr. Sam and the story has a more historical feel with different characters, a different story line set 30 years earlier but ends with the exact same solution.
Mrs. Taffety has come down to meet Mrs. Duncon as per an appointment but when no one answers the door, she raises an alarm that the door is not being opened even though she knows that there are three women inside. When there is hesitation to break open the door by the Temple Watch (the supreme legal authority during that time), a charwoman says there could be another way in from her master’s chambers. She undertakes the effort to walk on the parapet from the master’s chambers, breaks the glass on the rich woman’s casement (window sash), unlocks the latch, opens the window, drops into the room and opens the door for the waiting crowd to enter. Mrs. Duncon and 2 of her maids are found dead inside the locked and bolted room – with 2 women strangled and one dead due to repeated hammer blows.
A maid is arrested (she is hanged for the murder in the actual historical case) when the hammer used for the killing is traced to her but the doctor suspects a much sinister entity when the locked bolt couldn’t be explained with the rope trick. Dr. Johnson and the narrator toss around the various possibilities and dispel them as quickly as they were thought off which finally leaves them with only one alternative - a solution however improbable, must be the truth!
In the afterword to the story, the author has this to say about the solution: “In analyzing the “locked-room mystery” and its possible solutions, with singular prescience Dr. Johnson seems to have anticipated John Dickson Carr’s “locked-room lecture” in The Three Coffins; though the solution that detector Sam: Johnson arrives at is not among those considered by Carr.”  Hmmm!

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