Friday, January 6, 2012
A Study In White - Nicholas Blake
Name of the story: A Study In White
Author: Nicholas Blake
Source: The Quintessence of Queen #2
Story Number: 6
The collection ‘The Quintessence of Queen #2’ has 10 of the best prize stories from the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine as selected by Anthony Boucher. Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym of Cecil Day Lewis, an English poet who wrote twenty novels of mystery and detection, most of them featuring his series sleuth Nigel Strangeways, his two most famous whodunits being ‘Thou Shell Of Death’ & ‘The Beast Must Die’.
Half of the mystery novels that I read end up in disappointment as the author has not played fair and provided all the vital clues required for the reader to arrive at the solution. There are some novels where the whole solution hinges on ONE solid clue or word. This short story certainly doesn’t belong in that category, for it has not one, not two, but EIGHT significant clues to point to the murderer. The reader might catch one or two or even three of them but it needs a very clever one to figure out the murderer even in spite of being provided with such abundant clues.
Most of the action takes place within a single compartment comprising of 6 passengers on a night train from London which gets stalled in a blizzard. The conversation in this car happens to deal mainly with a train robbery which was committed just a few days back. Among the six passengers, we have one investigator by the name of Stansfield, one person who had travelled on the same train on the day of the robbery (Arthur) and one person who is certainly the mastermind of that robbery. When the passengers of the train are patiently waiting for the relieving engine to be sent so that it can take the train back to the previous station, a mild quarrel erupts in this compartment. Arthur hastily gets down giving an indication that he had rather go to a nearby village to put in a call. The other passengers are seen alighting and coming back to the car at various intervals. When Arthur doesn’t turn up, Stansfield goes in search of him towards the village and finds him dead with his mouth and nose stuffed tight with snow. He comes back to the compartment and gets the testimony of his 4 fellow passengers along with inputs from the train’s driver, the guard and a sleepy passenger in the last compartment who looks like he might have been the last person to see the dead man alive. When the train reaches the station, the investigator and an inspector immediately arrest the guilty party. The story is halted here to pose a challenge to the reader to identify the culprit. The further sections explain the solution to the problem with the help of the 8 clues embedded in the story.