Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Unreasonable Doubt - Stanley Ellin
Name of the story: Unreasonable Doubt
Author: Stanley Ellin
Source: The Blessing Method and Other Stories. Also collected in ‘The Specialty Of The House’ (the complete mystery tales of Stanley Ellin).
Story Number: 3
The stories by Stanley Ellin are not detective stories and sometimes they might not even be eligible to be called as a mystery story but most of his stories have crime as its central theme with an exquisite plot exposing the dark side of the human mind to its ultimate best with a twist ending to boot. The complete collection to me is the best short story collection of stories from a single author. Not everyone would like his stories but if not for anything, they are worth reading for studying the art of the twist ending in crime literature. Anthony Boucher gave the best description for these stories when he acclaimed them as ‘subtle masterpieces’.
Stanley Ellin has won the Edgar for the Best Short Story of the year twice, 4 more have been shortlisted for Edgar and his short story ‘The Specialty of The House’ has been deemed the best ‘first mystery short story’ in modern times by Ellery Queen.
I’ve picked one of my personal favorite stories for today’s blog entry. In the story ‘Unreasonable Doubt’, Mr. Willoughby has been asked to take a vacation by his doctor as his only malady is with his mind – he just can’t stop thinking of problems. A vacation where he can fill his mind with nothing but idle talk, relieve his mind to such an extent that he shouldn’t even try a crossword puzzle. He has just started on the train journey and he is confronted with a legal problem when he becomes too involved in overhearing his club car companion’s narration of a defense lawyer’s most spectacular case which runs like this:
Ben and Orville are two brothers who are patiently waiting for their uncle to die so that they can enjoy his wealth. Not wanting to wait for too long, they decide to take the matter into their own hands, they study the law and come up with a novel way to murder their uncle and get away with it. Ben is arrested for his uncle’s murder and Ben requests the defense lawyer to just put Orville on the stand as his case for the defense. Orville confesses to killing his uncle on the witness stand and the jury has no option but to return a verdict of not guilty. Soon, Orville is charged with the murder and this time Ben confesses to the murder of his uncle on the witness stand and the jury again returns a verdict of not guilty. Both men being acquitted by juries cannot be tried for the same offence again. Neither can they be indicted together for conspiracy to murder. So the question posed by the listeners is whether these two committed a perfect crime? The defense lawyer answers that there was a surprise and that they didn’t get away with murder! How? Therein lays the smashing twist in the tale. J