Monday, January 16, 2012

The Wine Glass - A.A. Milne

Story: The Wine Glass

Author: A.A. Milne
Source: 2nd annual anthology of the ‘Best Detective Stories of the Year’ published in 1947.
Story Number: 16
A.A. Milne is best known as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh but is also remembered by the mystery fans for his novel ‘The Red House Mystery’.
A detective novelist and a Scotland Yard detective are discussing the fine art of murder and the man from the yard opines that the simple way of committing a murder is often the best way. To substantiate his claim, he recites the following story.
The Marquis of Hedingham is celebrating his birthday and a bottle of Tokay arrives at the Lordship’s residence with a card bearing the name of his brother-in-law Sir William Kelso and a personal message. The butler is asked to serve this Tokay for the dinner party in the night but very shortly the butler is found dead after he tastes the wine while decanting. The narrator Mortimer and his boss are called in to investigate and they go about finding a person who had sufficient motive to kill the rich man, a man who had access to Kelso’s visiting card and knowledge of the relationship between the two gentlemen to feign a proper greeting message on the card. They fail to find any such person.
Mortimer then applies his theory that the simple solution is the true solution and thereby concludes that it was indeed the butler who was the intended victim and the murderer was none other than the man whose card was attached to the wine bottle!  Without telling his supervisor, he confronts Kelso to get a confession but he points out to Mortimer that the card being in his own name would convince any jury that he was innocent. Mortimer takes his leave telling him that he would pass on his theory to his boss. The next day, the boss is found dead due to poisoning, a wine bottle beside him with Mortimer’s visiting card attached to it! Mortimer is able to prove to everyone that he has a perfect alibi for the entire duration and moreover his visiting card attached to the wine bottle proves his innocence beyond doubt. When the police go to Kelso’s house, they find him to have committed suicide. The narrator ends the story here to which the novelist objects saying this can’t be the solution as it doesn’t prove what Mortimer set out to prove in the first place.
Mortimer then springs the delightful surprise on the novelist as well as the reader and explains how it indeed was a very simple murder and the simplest explanation was indeed the truth!

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