Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Man in The Morgue - Robert Arthur

Story: The Man in The Morgue

Author: Robert Arthur
Source: 20 Tales of Murder
Story Number: 60
Mildred Wilson has a violent temper and each of her tempers leads to a seizure and the doctor has strictly warned her not to get excited or shocked or lose temper. She has also been prescribed a special medicine which she can take whenever she encounters such an attack, failing to do so would definitely lead to her death. The story starts off with her husband Herbert declaring that he has taken an insurance policy against his death and might come in handy if he meets with an accident due to a weak break on his automobile.
On a rough day when the people have been asked to stay indoors and not to venture out in the icy conditions, Herbert declares to his wife that his firm is not doing good, that he needs to file for bankruptcy and they might have to let go of the house that they are leaving in. Remembering the insurance policy, she thinks that he is better off dead than alive and thinks of a not so foolproof way of killing him. She breaks the bottle and spills her medication and requests Herbert to fetch the medicine immediately. She is hoping that he will meet with an accident when already 7 people have been killed due to the rough weather.
He does meet with an accident but is not killed; a passerby helps him to the nearest destination which happens to be a Morgue. The caretaker of the morgue attends to him and while he is still unconscious, he decides to call the injured man’s wife and update the status to her. Over a choppy telephone connection and with the thick accent of the caretaker, all Mildred hears is that her husband has met with an accident and that he is in the morgue – from which she is able to reach only one conclusion!
What happens next? An eventful and a surprise ending await the reader!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

House of Mirrors - Kurt Vonnegut

Name: House of Mirrors
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Source: Look At the Birdie: Unpublished Fiction by Kurt Vonnegut
Story Number: 59
Detectives Carney and Foltz are on a mission to confront and question the hypnotic therapy specialist Hollomon Weems. Many wealthy women(widows) have disappeared without a trace but all of them were seen entering the therapist's house before they disappeared. A cat and mouse conversation ensues among the three men. It looks as though Weems is successful in hypnotizing the men just by his conversation and finally he reveals that his main aim in life is to find suitable solutions for the troubled souls - elimination of undesirable habits or unreasonable fears. And for those who don't see a good future, he makes them pass through the mirrors to go into a better life - and that's how the women have all disappeared into those mirrors.
Weems takes the detectives to the big upper floor circular room which is full of mirrors and tells them that all the women (and many people the police aren't looking for) entered a new life in that room. The detectives request for a demonstration from the doctor but he politely declines. What then follows is a series of revelations and surprises when the detectives try to arrest him - the detectives reveal that they themselves are hypnotists but they still find it hard to arrest Weems as he is controlling them through hypnosis, the third detective who has been hiding is summoned in but in a very short amount of time even the third one is hypnotized. A flurry of activity, crisp dialogue and mounting suspense leads the reader to the final twist, ending the story on a high note!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Look At The Birdie - Kurt Vonnegut

This week, I'll be featuring some random stories read over the past few weeks and hence won't fall into any particular theme.

Story: Look At The Birdie

Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Source: Look At the Birdie: Unpublished Fiction by Kurt Vonnegut
Story Number: 58
Kurt Vonnegut, most famous for his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, has quite a few short story collections to his credit as well. While Mortals Sleep (2011) & Look At The Birdie (2009) are the 2 most recent ones published posthumously. They do not contain mystery stories per say but the latter title could serve as a terrific introduction to his short fiction for those who aren’t acquainted with him. The 14 stories in this collection have all his trademarks – wit, humor, humanism and that sucker punch towards the end of the story which would leave the reader stunned & elated.
The title story in this collection starts off with a catchy line: I was sitting in a bar one night, talking rather loudly about a person I hated - and a man with a beard sat down beside me, and he said amiably ‘Why don’t you have him killed?’ This bearded person introduces himself as a quack psychiatrist turned ‘murder counselor’ and goes on to propound his theory of how he can get someone murdered without anyone getting the wise of it and how he has been using  this new technique to relieve the anxieties of his paranoid patients. What follows is a bizarre exchange of dialogue between these two individuals which effectively leads to a fitting twist like the old-fashioned O. Henry surprise ending!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Honeymoon Cruise - Richard Deming

Theme for the Week: Murder on The Seas

Story: Honeymoon Cruise
Author: Richard Deming
Source: Death Cruise - Crime Stories On The Open Seas, Murder on Deck.
Story Number: 57
'Richard Deming's tale of seduction and murder during a honeymoon cruise is a fine example of post-pulp magazine fiction that uses sexual tension to hook the reader. This story, written for Alfred Hitchcock magazine in 1966 is reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr. Ripley; the story shows how easy it can be to toss one's scruples - and an inconvenient husband - overboard. A sense of inevitability propels "Honeymoon Cruise" to its ironic conclusion.' - Murder on Deck.
'Richard Deming's considerable contribution t short fiction includes almost 150 stories, of which "Honeymoon Cruise" is one of the best. ' - Lawrence Block.
Dan Jackson answers an ad placed for a navigational expert to pilot the Princess 2 on a Caribbean cruise and also double as a cook. The people taking the cruise: the newly married couple of Peggy and Arden Trader. The rest of the story deals with the strange chemistry between the 3 individuals on the boat, the seduction of Dan by Peggy and the fruitful plot to throw the husband overboard. Will they get away with it? Sure they do! and when the hullabaloo dies down, they get married and they themselves go away on a one month cruise. But is there a twist to it? Sure there is!

The Deep Blue Sea - Ina Bouman

Theme for the Week: Murder on The Seas

Story: The Deep Blue Sea
Author: Ina Bouman
Source: Death Cruise - Crime Stories On The Open Seas
Story Number: 56
Ina Bouman lives and writes in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She has written a few novels featuring Jos Welling, an inquisitive journalist with a social conscience and an open mind.
Melanie has won a free cruise in a surprise draw. The prize also includes a free flight to Singapore, from where the cruise starts; a 12 days cruise to the Pearls of the Orient. Melanie is surprised by her husband's decision to allow her to go on the cruise by herself; when most of the times he is always keeping a close eye on her.
She meets a lot of folks who are single on the ship - who are on the ship in pretty peculiar circumstances. On top of that, Melanie has a feeling that she is being watched. Then over a span of few days, there are several attempts on her life - which makes it clear that her husband has hatched up a plan to do away with her. Well, Melanie has had similar plans and she has poisoned the food which she has packed for her husband. A person who comes to the aid of Melanie on the ship is also bumped off! So will Melanie survive the 12 days on the claustrophobic ship? Who is the mysterious assailant among the passengers? Will Herbert fall prey to her wife's devious murder plans? The suspense builds up to a nice climax.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rumpole At Sea - John Mortimer

Theme for the Week: Murder on The Seas

Story: Rumpole At Sea
Author: John Mortimer
Source: Murder on Deck, Death Cruise.
Story Number: 55
Quoting from the introduction to this story in Murder on Deck:  Hilda Rumpole is determined to enjoy a second honeymoon on a cruise ship with her long-suffering  husband, the "Old Bailey hack" Horace Rumpole. "She Who Must be Obeyed" prevails, and the two set out for a Mediterranean cruise, which becomes a busman's honeymoon for the barrister when his shipmates - including a despised Judge - are convinced that a passenger has mysteriously and suspiciously disappeared. This story proves again John Mortimer's inimitable abilities to entertain while making a serious case for the fundamental tenets of British Justice.
Rumpole goes into hiding and decides not to step out his cabin on seeing Justice Graves on the cruise ship - a judge with whom he has had some serious issues off late. Interestingly, the judge reciprocates the exact same feelings! Ultimately when they come face to face accidentally, they decide to play out the game of judge & defense lawyer to humor each other on the ship, to a case of what appears to be the mysterious disappearance of a woman. The judge has an able ally in the form of a detective novelist who fittingly plays the role of the plaintiff. The detective novelist is on the lookout for a plot for his new mystery novel and he thinks he has got one being played out right before the eyes of the passengers - he builds up a wonderful case against the man whom he believes is responsible for the disappearance; he even uses the technique of reading the circumstances of the case as  the first chapter from his new book  to trigger a reaction from the individual under suspicion only to be foiled by Rumpole's  antics of defending the man as he would have in a court of law. Highly entertaining tale with numerous hilarious repartees being exchanged by the three leading gentlemen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Theft of the Bingo Card - Edward D. Hoch

Theme for the Week: Murder on The Seas

Story: The Theft of the Bingo Card
Author: Edward D. Hoch
Source: Murder on Deck - Shipboard & Shoreline Mystery Stories: This collection is a mixed bag - it has more stories on the shore rather than the sea. And for those set in seaside resorts or hotels, any number of stories could replace the ones that are available in the book. And for those stories set on ships or ocean liners, I would expect some relationship or motive for setting the story in such a locale but I was a bit disappointed on that front as well.
Story Number: 54
It seems that the author got his idea for this story when he was on a mystery cruise on the Holland America Line where he learned that the lifeboats were provided with bingo cards - to distract the people who are on a lifeboat while the ship they were in is sinking or when they are waiting to be rescued! Only, he uses it for more nefarious purposes!
Nick Velvet and his wife are holidaying on the cruise ship Antilles - header for a weeklong tour of the Caribbean. A corporate group is being entertained with a murder mystery game but the man who plays the corpse in the game is found dead sometime later due to an overdose of cocaine. The dead man's wife Dolores hires Nick to steal a bingo card - a bingo card which can be identified by its number 253 and which is present on one of the 12 lifeboats. The reason to obtain the card - the man was killed because he was looking for this particular card! Nick's first job is to figure out which of the lifeboats has the card he wants, then he needs to find a way to get on them as they are hung high above the deck and any attempt at bringing them down on to the deck would set off an alarm.
When he does manages to steal the card before the prescribed deadline, Nick Velvet realizes  that he has a lot more work to do as he finds out that Dolores also has been killed in the same fashion as her husband. The only clue is the odd arrangement of the numbers on the card, he goes about the detection by interviewing the various bingo players. The significance of the card and the message which those numbers depict, points to him the murderer who has killed twice to lay his hands on the card! A bingo player should have no problem in spotting the killer as there are two very glaring clues dangled right in front of the reader's eyes which one could miss in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Girl Overboard - Q. Patrick

Theme for the Week: Murder on the Seas

Story: Girl Overboard
Author: Q. Patrick or Patrick Quentin
Source: Four and Twenty Bloodhounds

Story Number: 53
To a keen follower of Trant’s escapades, the story might sound familiar and may think that it is one of the already recorded cases of Timothy Trant but Anthony Boucher confirms in the introduction that this story, one of Trant’s deftest cases, was written specifically for this MWA anthology.
Lieutenant Trant of the New York Homicide Bureau has been on a one month vacation in Europe and is currently on board the S.S Queen Anne. He appears bored as he has been starved of his one authentic enthusiasm – his passion for murderers. Sitting in the lounge and contemplating about the various people on board, he is a mute witness to a strange drama. Mavis Marriner, England’s newest, prettiest and probably the least talented movie star looks like a classic example of a murderee to Trant. Claire Howard, wife of a Hollywood producer, thinks that Mavis is about to steal her husband which infuriates both Claire and Mavis’s fiancé - leading to a tension filled night of rising tempers and jealously among the dramatis personae involved.
The next morning, Trant is called in by the ship’s captain to help him as Mavis is not to be found anywhere on the ship. A quick scrutiny of Mavis’s room shows that the girl was killed on board and then thrown overboard. 2 of the three suspects have perfect alibis. But there are sufficient clues available: spilled perfume and the milk in the glass which was left for her at her usual request time of 1 o’ clock. Trant consults the ship’s log to know the weather conditions prevailing at the time of her death and combining this knowledge with the two clues at his disposal sets a clever trap to nail yet another murderer, whom he really likes and feels a twinge of sadness for exposing him.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cabin B-13 - John Dickson Carr

Theme for the Week: Murder on The Seas
Name of the story: Cabin B-13
Author: John Dickson Carr
Source: The Door to Doom and Other Detections
Story Number: 52
This is one of Carr's very popular radio mysteries; it was adapted as a television drama; and in 1953 the script became the basis for a feature-length movie, Dangerous Crossing. Richard and Anne Brewster, married a few hours earlier are leaving for Europe on their 3 month honeymoon on board the ocean liner 'Maurevania'.
When they check in to Cabin B-13, Anne somehow recollects the old Paris Exposition story - where a mother and daughter duo check in to a hotel, the daughter goes out and when she returns, the mother has disappeared from the face of the earth and the proprietor of the hotel swears that she came alone! Little does Anne know that she is gone be in exactly the same situation just a few minutes later! Richard goes away to hand over the money to the purser, Anne goes to the upper deck and waits for Richard. The first person she meets there is Dr. Hardwick - who gives her the first shock that there is no cabin in that ship with number 13. When they go to B deck to investigate, they don't find Cabin B-13. The stewardess confirms that in all her eight years of service there never was a cabin with number 13.
Anne's luggage is found in B-16 but there's no sign of Richard or his luggage. Hardwick escorts her to Mr. Marshall, the second officer who was standing guard when the passengers entered the ship. He swears that Anne entered alone and no one was with her. The captain of the ship agrees to searching the whole ship but there's still no sign of Richard. Later in the night, Anne gets a call in her cabin from Richard; who says someone has been trying to kill him and he has been thwarting those attempts by hiding from them. He asks her to meet him in the upper deck immediately - where the climax is played out with Dr. Hardwick coming to the rescue of the intended victim to reveal a diabolical plot hatched out by the criminal. As in most of Carr's tales, the clues are fairly presented to the reader for him to identify the solution and the guilty party.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Problem At Sea - Agatha Christie

Theme: Murder on The Seas

Name of the story: Problem At Sea
Author: Agatha Christie
Source: The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories, Poirot's Early Cases
Story Number: 51
Hercule Poirot is not enjoying his voyage to Egypt but that doesn't stop him from observing the odd mannerisms of the English. He is most interested in Colonel Clapperton and his wife, a disagreeable woman who holds all the strings and the husband is only a puppet; leaving everyone wondering why he doesn't "take a hatchet to her". Miss Henderson who shows quite an interest in the Colonel is the other character which interests Poirot on this ship which is about to berth in Alexandria.
When the ship reaches the shores of Alexandria the next morning, a couple of young girls coax the Colonel to go ashore but he decides to get his wife's permission and the whole troop including Poirot (who wants to see the curious scene that will be played out) approach the Clapperton's cabin only to find it locked from the inside. His wife is heard saying that she is sick and doesn't want to go ashore and that she has locked the cabin from inside so as not be to disturbed by the stewards. Poirot, Miss Henderson and a few others stay on board where as Clapperton accompanies the girls to check out the city and when he comes back in the night, they end up forcing open the door to find that Mrs. Clapperton has been stabbed with a native dagger, dead for more than 5 hours, a string of amber beads found on the floor of the cabin to suggest the presence of a bead seller.
But Poirot, who has anticipated the crime all along believes that the culprit to this locked cabin mystery is closer at hand and is one of the ship's passengers. When Miss Henderson challenges Poirot, he says that he has his own "methods" and very shortly he uses them to unravel the villain - a story where the author takes her time in setting up the trick and the clues to unravel them, and the case is solved in a very short time after the corpse is discovered.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ice Elation - Susanna Gregory

Theme for the Week: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Name of the story: Ice Elation
Author: Susanna Gregory
Source: The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes
Story Number: 50
This story is set in a Russian research station called Vostok situated at the Pole of Inaccessibility, the point on the Antarctic Continent that is farthest from the coast in all directions. The author provides her own background to the story - a startling discovering being made in 1995 that a huge body of water has been sealed between ice and the rock for more than half a million years; scientists have been at a dilemma whether to drill the ice surface and contaminate the unique environment or to leave the pristine sterile water as it is. The story kicks off in 1999 when the decision has been made to continue drilling and the eight scientists stationed at Vostok are on the verge of completing the drill and reaching the body of water.
The research station is made up a collection of buildings: scientists' sleeping quarters, kitchen, two labs - one for examining the ice samples that the drill produced, the other filled with meteorological equipment and finally the drill-house. Each scientist is given the task of drilling the ice on a particular day of the week. With just two days to go before they reach the water, when Tanya is supposed to be drilling, the scientists note that the drilling has stopped for some time. When they go out to investigate, they find the drill-house locked from inside. When they break open the door, they find it empty with no sign of Tanya. They search all the buildings, they go on top of the roof of the tallest building from where they can see for around 30 miles but they don't see any sign of Tanya. And from there it's a 'And Then There Were None' story line - each of the scientists go to the drill-house at some time or the other to investigate and they don't return. Each time a search is made but no corpse is found.  Finally it just gets down to two - the leader of the group and one lady - where the leader figures out who is responsible, how they disappeared and where the bodies were hidden so as to escape the search party each time!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Supreme Court Murder - Leslie Ford

Theme for the Week: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Name of the story: The Supreme Court Murder
Author: Leslie Ford
Source: Masters of Mystery
Story Number: 49
Not only is the murder set in an extraordinary setting in the form of the chamber of the Supreme Court of the United States in Capitol Hill (story set before the SC moved to the new location), it is also set in one of the most unlikely times – when the Chief Justice and the eight Associate Justices were in a public session, with each of the nine a witness to the ghastly murder!
Colonel Primrose has just been back from inspecting the Thompson Airways crash where there were no survivors. He and Sergeant Buck are in the Supreme Court watching the Monday morning proceedings. They see Thomas Pomerey, his daughter Anne and his partner Jerome Givler at the counsel’s table with Pomerey addressing the Judges. At 12.45, a shot is heard and the bullet pierces Pomerey’s heart. When they trace the bullet to its source, they find the gun wedged between two railings next to the big clock, set in such a way that when the clock reaches 12.45, a circuit is completed and the mechanical contraption would fire off the bullet at the person who would be standing at the counsel table. The impossible situation arises in the form of setting up that timer device – the clock could be accessed only after the court was opened at 9 in the morning and from that time, the court marshals were regularly on guard – no one could have spent half an hour setting it up even if one imagines it to be one of the staff!
In addition to Givler & Anne, the other suspects include Anne’s fiancé (who also happens to be a secretary to one of the judges) and Pomerey’s niece Hilda Ellis (world famous woman flyer). The murderer should have several qualities to have achieved this impossible looking murder – he or she should be well versed with the procedures of the court, should have had access to the clock in such a way that no one would notice that person being present there, a basic knowledge of mechanics to set up the timer and the most important fact being the knowledge that it would be Pomerey who would be starting the case and not his partner Givler! The ones who have motive do not have the understanding of the court procedures and the ones who know the procedures do not have motive. Another interesting fact turns out to be the fact that the dead man, the daughter and the niece all missed the flight which ended in a crash leaving no survivors.
The clues are all there to figure out the villain in this novella written in the Golden Age tradition and makes for fascinating reading with its description of the court and the other offices in Washington.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cat’s-Paw by Bill Pronzini

Theme for the Week: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Name of the story: Cat’s-Paw
Author: Bill Pronzini
Source: Scenarios, Spadework – both collections of ‘Nameless Detective’ short stories
Story Number: 48
The unlikely place for murder in this story happens to be a Lion’s cage in a Zoo in the middle of a cold and foggy night – which is meticulously explained with all the eerie sounds and the various labyrinths of the animal enclosures. There has been a rash of thefts of a few esoteric and endangered species from the San Francisco zoological gardens including a crested screamer, a purple gallinule, a black crake, Harris hawks and Chiricahua rattlesnakes. All that the zoo could do was to hire one more extra night guard named Kirby in addition to the two that they had: Sam & Hammond. A member of the commission who is an animal lover hires Nameless to act as an extra guard during the night and identify the person responsible for the thefts.
On the fourth night of his vigil, Kirby is found dead inside one of the cages in the Lion’s House in peculiar circumstances: the small access door is locked, the sliding panel at the rear of the cage that let the big cats in and out at feeding time is also locked, both Nameless and Sam were together when the shot was heard and they both arrive at the scene through the only entrance possible(locked from outside) in less than 30 seconds and yet they don’t see anyone who could have murdered Kirby and escaped! The locked cage is quickly explained as they find a key next to the dead man – anybody could have locked the cage and thrown the key in through the bars but they don’t find an explanation as to how the murderer could have escaped in such a short span of time!
All the clues are fairly presented to the reader, the same clues which Nameless ponders upon and arrives at the only possible solution – which solves both the murder and the theft of the rare animals.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Kindly Blackmailer - Kyotaro Nishimura

Theme: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Name of the story: The Kindly Blackmailer
Author: Kyotaro Nishimura
Source: Ellery Queen’s Japanese Golden Dozen
Story Number: 47
Most of the events in this story take place in a barber shop – reminiscent of one other classic story with the same setting. I’ll shamelessly borrow EQ’s introduction to this story here as it’s gone save me invaluable amount of time to figure one out myself: ‘A good short story should create a uniform impression throughout, and it should gradually build into breathless suspense and then settle in a satisfactory epilogue. Nishimura’s “The Kindly Blackmailer” not only does this but also manages to outwit the reader with an unexpected turn. A barber shop is the locale – an interesting place for intrigue and an unlikely background for crime …’
The story begins with Shinkinchi, a barber getting a new customer who is very reticent about himself. But he is not so tightlipped when it comes to talking about his knowledge of the barber – he tells him that he was a witness when the barber driving a little truck had run down a little kindergarten girl! And the blackmailing starts from there. Every week, this man returns to sit in the barber’s chair for a shave and at the end of it doubles his request (from the previous week) for the money. At one point, Shinkinchi hires a private detective to trace this man and provide him with any material which he himself could use to counter blackmail him but the man who is named Saburo turns out be clean without any skeletons in his closet.
The barber decides to close his shop and move to a new location. But it takes very less time for the blackmailer to catch up with him. The blackmailing continues and Shinkinchi has reached the end of his savings, he is in a bitter predicament and decides to do something the next time Saburo turns up. Interestingly he doesn’t turn up the next week as expected. One day, he reads in a newspaper that Saburo was hurt when he attempted to rescue a girl from meeting with an accident. Shinkinchi thinks that his troubles are over at last but he is in for a surprise when Saburo turns up in his shop for a shave the next week!
Why is Saburo taking such a big risk of allowing him to shave when he knows that the barber can kill him so easily with the knife? What will the barber do? Will he finally get the courage to kill his blackmailer? Well, the suspense mounts till we reach the conclusion – which has two great surprises which the reader wouldn’t have bargained for!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Spherical Ghoul - Fredric Brown

Theme: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Story: The Spherical Ghoul
Author: Fredric Brown
Source: Homicide Sanitarium, Thrilling Detective(1943), The Arbor House Necropolis (A horror anthology)
Story Number: 46
Fredric Brown contributed more than 150 stories to the pulps – some of the best uncollected stories out of these are now collected in 7 different volumes – the first out of them being Homicide Sanitarium.
Bill Pronzini in his introduction to this book best describes this story as: “This story has a typically wild and wonderful Brown plot – its ingredients include a morgue at night, a horribly disfigured corpse, mayhem aplenty, and a classic locked room mystery – and one of the cleverest(if outrageous) central gimmicks you are likely to come across anywhere”.
The morgue in most of the stories or novels comes into the picture only when there is an autopsy involved or when somebody has to identify the corpse and is not a place where someone would expect a crime to be committed in. This story is an exception to that rule -  not only is the morgue the scene of the crime but the entire action takes place inside the morgue. Jerry Grant is working his way through the last year of an Ethnology course by holding on to a night job in the coroner’s department. The morgue has accommodation for seven customers with a glass showcase to put an unidentified body. His thesis topic ‘The origin and partial justification of superstitions’ couldn’t have had a better setting, opines one of the characters.
The police Lieutenant visits the morgue to have a look at the unidentified corpse in the showcase. He is not buying the theory that the victim met his death due to a hit and run accident. Jerry, the coroner and the Lieutenant inspect the body within the locked showcase before leaving for the day. The door to the morgue is locked and Jerry, working on his thesis, takes guard in front of this door. Two hours later, when someone turns up to identify the body, they find that the glass case is broken and the face of the corpse is horribly disfigured, beyond recognition. There is only one entrance to the morgue and that door was locked and guarded. The only other inlet into the room is a ventilator which no human can enter for his nefarious purpose, which forces everyone to think of a superstitious legend about a ghoul (an imaginary creature that robs graves and feeds on corpses).
The only clue turns out in the form of a man being seen by a witness approaching the morgue holding a large bag. He further adds that the bag indeed had a bowling ball inside it. A clue, which is more than sufficient for Jerry to figure out this very clever locked room problem, which rightfully takes its place in the locked room anthology Death Locked In.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Riddle of The Whirling Lights - Stuart Palmer

Theme: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Name of the story: The Riddle of The Whirling Lights
Author: Stuart Palmer
Source: Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles
Story Number: 45
Stuart Palmer's wrote more than 20 detective novels usually featuring the spinster sleuth Hildegarde Withers, who made her debut with ‘The Penguin Pool Murder’. His other creation was the hardboiled private eye Howie Rook.
Tony Lassiter is killing some time by visiting the skyscrapers in the city of Chicago as he has around 3 hours left to catch his train to New York. In the process, he stumbles across a girl who looks as lonely as himself and someone who wouldn’t mind having a male companion escorting her. They get to talk and realize that both of them are heading to New York and they have some free time to explore. They decide to visit the Planetarium. They are seated at the corner of the fourth row from the back and as the lights dim out and the show progresses, Tony notices that the girl is leaning on him. When he puts his hands across her, he realizes that she is cold and there is blood flowing down her neck. When the lights are switched back on, they find that the girl has been stabbed with a sharp instrument, her bag is missing and more importantly, there’s no sign of the murder weapon!
Tony is arrested on suspicion of murder and Hildegarde Withers is summoned all the way from New York to help clear the allegations against Tony. The four other suspects that the police round up are the Planetarium Professor who gave only the introductory speech and departed the auditorium, the presenter of the show who was rooted to his place all the time, the girl who is selling the booklets and the guard. All four are searched but they don’t find any incriminatory evidence. The bag and the murder weapon are found – far away from where the body was found. But it still remains a mystery as to how the impossible murder could have been committed as the people sitting in the row behind the girl would have surely seen the person who stabbed her?
It takes some meticulous sleuthing on behalf of Miss Withers to find the motives and the relationships between the various individuals involved. The final trap for the murderer is laid in the planetarium when the show is running, with Miss Withers taking the seat of the murdered girl and the District Attorney taking the seat next to her. Surely one of the most unique places to commit an impossible murder (with a strange murder weapon as well), a setting which can hardly be replicated again!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Death On Needlepoint - Josef Skvorecky

In the 165 odd years of the existence of the formal detective story, innumerable murder mysteries have been set in country houses, libraries of the country houses, theaters, colleges, schools, trains, ships, flights, automobiles, gardens, hotels, bookshops, golf courses etc. But what are some of the most unlikely places ever conceived as the locale of a murder mystery? I'll be exploring 7 stories this week (of the 16 that I have found so far) which invariably contains a murder with a most unusual crime scene for its setting! Interestingly, most of these stories also fall into the impossible crime territory which makes me wonder whether the author's motive of setting a story in such a bizarre locale can rationally be explained only by the impossible nature of the crime?

Theme for the week: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places
Story: Death On Needlepoint
Author: Josef Skvorecky
Source: The Mournful Demeanors of Lieutenant Boruvka
Story Number: 44
Out of the 12 stories in the first collection of stories by Josef Skvorecky, 3 of them feature the  locked room or impossible crime theme and 3 of the stories could equally fit into my theme for this week - murders set in exotic locations!
In this story, Lt Boruvka of the Prague police force is called in to investigate an impossible murder in an exotic location - on the top of a mountain or a rock face. One woman, two of her suitors and one mutual friend (who is not a climber) to the three climbers have been planning this tough hike for quite some time. The three climbers decide to ascend the rock face from the east side with all three connected to each other with the rope harness so that they can communicate with each other. 2 men go in front and the woman forms the rear. The non climber tends to the base camp. With the summit just a few minutes away, they end up in bad weather with the mist hiding them from one another and from their surroundings. At this instance, the man in the middle gets a shock when he feels the harness rope being disengaged from the climber on top and also from the one at the bottom - which would only mean death if something goes wrong. He suspects that the man above him must have reached the top but he can't understand why the woman below should have disengaged her harness. The mist clears in a few minutes and the second man reaches the top in another 10 minutes only to find the first person to have been stabbed with a knife!
Lt. Boruvka has only 3 suspects to pin this murder on but his most challenging problem is to figure out how the murder could be committed on top of a mountain which doesn't have any other access to the top and is cut off from all the other neighboring mountains. He quickly does away with the simplest idea that it was the second climber who killed the first one. Next, he considers the situation of the non climber taking a gravel path to reach the top, kill the climber and get back to the base camp before his other two friends go down. Not being happy with this solution, he takes the help of the students from a mountain climbing academy to test his third theory that it was the woman who killed the first climber by a series of intricate moves which would involve the woman bypassing the middle climber and going on to the west side of the rock face, climb and reach the top, wait for the first climber, kill him and go back the same way on to the east side and below the 2nd climber! He is able to prove that this method could work but the woman doesn't budge from her story that she didn't kill him.
That leaves Lt. Boruvka to come up with another ingenious theory, which again is tested out by the students of the climbing academy to arrive at the way the murder was committed which would indirectly point to the only person who could have committed it! The solution is pretty complicated and a bit of mountain climbing knowledge would go a long way in understanding the beauty of the solution but even otherwise, it can be enjoyed for its setting and one of the unique impossible crime situations that the reader can ever encounter.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Murder Story - William Irish

Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles

Name of the story: Murder Story
Author: William Irish
Source: After-Dinner Story (Queen’s Quorum Title #97)
Story Number: 43
William Tucker is a detective story writer who has a tough deadline to keep. But his present story will hardly tax him in terms of creating a story. He has been plotting to kill his colleague Henry -who has become famous only because William has been ghost writing for him. He has figured out the opportunity and the place but he has waited for 2 years to find the means to achieve it. He chances upon it when he is visiting his doctor, who incidentally happens to be the doctor for the hypochondriac Henry as well. Tucker goes to Henry’s house and on some pretext enters the bathroom where his medicinal kit is housed. He replaces the stomach tonic with a poison (prescribed for Tucker as ointment to be applied externally) and removes the electric bulb on the way out. Henry dies after consuming this poison in the dark.
Immediately after reaching home, Tucker writes his own murderous escapade as a detective story by just changing the names of the characters involved and sends it off to his editor. What then follows is a cat and mouse game between the cops and Tucker – each trying to outmaneuver the other with the cops coming out the victor in the end. Just before he is carted off, he gets a chance to check the reply from the editor for his submitted story – a reply which serves as a fitting punch-line ending for this good inverted detective story.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Out of His Head - Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles

Story: Out of His Head
Author: Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Source: Out of His Head (Queen’s Quorum #6), Death Locked In.
Story Number: 42
Thomas Bailey Aldrich was the first American to write a detective story after Poe; 17 years after the appearance of "The Murders in The Rue Morgue". Out of His Head is actually a novelette but chapters 11 through 14 constitute a detective short story. It's just these 4 chapters which are presented as a story in the Locked Room Anthology Death Locked In.
The Danseuse Mary Ware has been found dead in a locked room with the key still inside the lock. All the windows are closed and there is no other entrance into the room and the knife used to split the throat is missing thereby ruling out suicide. The neighbors give evidence that Mary had 2 lovers - a Lieutenant King and her fiancé Julius Kenneth. The story is told as  a first person narrative by the detective Paul Lynde - who confesses to the crime and gets himself arrested without revealing how he committed the crime. He later invites  the murderer to the jail and confesses to him his motive to take the blame even though he didn't commit the crime, a motive which is quite extraordinary! In the process he also reveals the very simple solution to the locked room murder.
As pointed out in Queen’s Quorum, this excerpt from the novelette reveals the author's debt to Poe: the general plot is clearly derived from Rue Morgue but Aldrich adds three significant points of development to the detective story: he created the first American variation of Poe's "locked room", he carried on the tradition of an eccentric sleuth (though to an extreme as the detective is also a madman) and the earliest example of a detective story where the protagonist is not only the detective but also the murderer, in the sense that the detective himself is responsible for the murder having been committed.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Cyprian Bees - Anthony Wynne

Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles

Story: The Cyprian Bees
Author: Anthony Wynne
Source: Sinners Go Secretly (Queen’s Quorum #74)
Story Number: 41
Anthony Wynne is known for his locked room murders and impossible crime novels which number more than 20. While some of them deal with clever puzzle plots, the critics have had issues with his style of writing – the writing in most of his books border closely on the fringes of dullness; at times it’s very repetitive and at times it’s too pedantic and at times the solutions are highly improbable!
Anthony Wynne has only 1 collection of short stories to his credit and looks like it’s one of the hardest to lay your hands on from the Queen’s Quorum list – the cheapest copy that I see online is for around 120 dollars! One story “The Cyprian Bees” from this collection is highly anthologized for its unique murder method.
Inspector Biles approaches Dr. Eustace Hailey with an unique problem – a woman is found dead in a completely closed car having died of shock or heart attack. She had been bitten by a Cyprian bee. He also produces a wooden box for the doctor’s perusal – a box which held 4 such bees when it was found near the Piccadilly Circus. The police expert has studied the bees and has given a verdict that only a mad man would carry it on him as it contains only worker bees which are known for their notorious ill behavior. What the police can’t understand is the connection between the death and the bee – surely a bee sting would not induce death?
The doctor explains how this could be achieved via the method of an anaphylactic shock – a process where in if a human being receives an injection of serum or any extract, a tremendous sensitiveness is apt to develop towards that substance – a further injection of the same material or even consuming it orally a month down the line could lead to serious ill effects. Using this knowledge, the doctor opines that the police should be able to find the culprit if they look for a doctor in a certain London locality, who is staying away from his wife (from another clue) and is also a bee keeper. The police fail to unearth any such person and it falls upon Dr. Hailey to solve the case for them by concentrating on the human nature aspects & on the individuals involved in the case.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In The Fog - Richard Harding Davis

Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles

Story: In The Fog
Author: Richard Harding Davis
Source: In The Fog (Queen’s Quorum #29), available online here.

Story Number: 40
4 strangers meet in one of the most prestigious clubs - The Grill. A fifth person, Sir Andrew, who is supposed to talk later that night in the house supporting a ‘Navy Increase’ bill is seen immersed in a detective tale. There is another politician among the quartet and he is hell bent on keeping Sir Andrew occupied for the night; he says the only thing that can keep Andrew occupied would be a Sherlock Holmes story! One of the strangers, an American diplomat, reveals that he knows about a mystery currently plaguing the Scotland Yard which not even Holmes could solve. And thus begins the three interconnecting stories from the three gentlemen which keep everyone glued to the supper table including Sir Andrew.
The American who is in the process of experiencing his first exposure to the London fog(he describes it for almost 10 pages), with very limited visibility, he ends up in a house where there are 2 dead bodies – one of a Russian princess and one of Lord Chetney who has just returned back from his voyage. Just before he enters the house, he happens to notice another Englishman leaving the house - he later identifies him as the brother of Lord Chetney and the police consider the brother to be their number one suspect. Still in the fog, when he makes his way to the police, they are not able to find this house. The second man’s story involves how he was robbed of the diamond necklace by the Russian princess – which is found on the body of the girl. The third man who happens to be the lawyer for the young Chetney completes the remaining strands of the story by proving his client innocent and revealing another person(the Russian girl’s lover) as the murderer. He ends the story by pointing fingers at one of the 4 gentlemen in that club as the man the police is searching for.
And then there is the final twist!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The One Best Bet - Samuel Hopkins Adams

Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles

Story: The One Best Bet
Author: Samuel Hopkins Adams
Source: Average Jones (Queen’s Quorum #48), available at Project Gutenberg here.

Story Number: 39
A.V. R. E. Jones, nicknamed Average Jones, has taken up the hobby of following up queer advertisements in the daily newspapers. On this occasion, he gets to investigate it even before it hits the newspaper. A man walks into the newspaper office and requests the editor to remove the last line in a particular add which was to run in the next day’s newspaper. The editor sends him away saying that it’s too late to do anything about it. When Jones follows him fifteen minutes later, he finds him to have committed suicide. When Jones and the editor decide to investigate the concerned ad, they realize that it’s an announcement to assassinate the Governor during a rally which was to be held on the same day. A politician who is objecting to the Governor’s bill is the mastermind behind the plan.
The next half of the story involves Average Jones figuring out how the gang is gone carry out this execution. He visits the scene where the rally is gone culminate, investigates the surrounding shops and notices that there is a bullet hole in the glass window of one of the shops with the bullet making its entry at an awkward angle. He figures out where the bullet must have been deflected from to pierce this glass window and from this point, applying various Euclid’s theorems, he arrives at the vantage position from where an assassin can take a potshot at the Governor during the rally. He then puts in a few advertisements in the newspaper and uses them to scare away the assassins and bait the mastermind.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Private Bank Puzzle - Edwin Balmer & William Macharg

Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles

Story: The Private Bank Puzzle
Author: Edwin Balmer & William Macharg
Source: The Achievements of Luther Trant (Queen’s Quorum #46)
Story Number: 38
Even though the story is from the 1910 collection, it hardly seems dated. This story was also picked by Vincent Starrett for his anthology Fourteen Great Detective Stories. There are many psychologist detectives but very few really use any psychological methods to unearth a murderer. Luther Trant, who considers himself a practical psychologist, uses pure psychological techniques in this story to expose a scheme to rob a private bank.
The experienced cashier Gordon feels that someone inside the bank is about to steal from the company vault. His reason for thinking so: somebody has been meddling with his things like the overcoat, scraps missing from the wastebasket, paper pads missing and finally an attempt to break into his old typewriter desk. He approaches the manager Howell and warns him about his feeling. Howell brings in Trant to figure out why his cashier is behaving so strangely for the past two months, after his son who was also an employer was expelled for his infraction. The incident which leads to his expulsion is explained by Howell as follows: the cashier puts 25 grand into a bag, locks it, seals it and hands it over to his son so that he can deliver it to a client. But when the bag is opened by the client, they find only fifteen thousand inside the bag. The son is expelled but the father pays the ten thousand to the bank and the event is kept under wraps.
Trant gets to know that the vault can be opened with a six lettered code word which is changed every week and is known only to the cashier and the manager. When Trant approaches the cashier, he tries to hide away a few scraps of paper which seem to have some sort of code. Trant conducts three tests to figure out whether the cashier is honest or not. Based on a few more questions he arrives at the conclusion that the son was innocent of the first robbery, it was done by another clerk and now, the bank is again under threat by a different clerk. He decides to conduct another test – a word association test for all the employees – with words carefully compiled and having 2 words which were used as the code-word to open the vault in the 2 previous weeks. He tabulates the results and arrives at the two culprits by propounding a scientific explanation as to how he achieved his results!

Monday, February 6, 2012

After-Dinner Story - William Irish

From this week on, I’ll aim to group my stories for the whole week to fit into a single theme. For the next 7 days, all the stories to be featured will be from a collection which has been considered as a cornerstone title by Ellery Queen in their critical study Queen’s Quorum - a history of the detective-crime short story as revealed by the 125 most important books published in this field from 1845 to 1967.

Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Name of the story: After-Dinner Story
Author: William Irish
Source: After-Dinner Story
Story Number: 37
Cornell Woolrich or William Irish or George Hopley, an American novelist and short story writer was one of the greatest noir writers. Most of his stories are psychological thrillers, powerful in their atmosphere of terror and suspense with a subtle integration of plot and technique.
I’ve picked the title story from the collection After-Dinner Story, the collection which the Queens preferred over I Wouldn’t be in Your Shoes for the cornerstone title to be included as Queen’s Quorum title #97.
7 individuals get into an elevator along with the lift operator on various floors and it becomes an express elevator on its way down from the 10th to the 1st floor. After crossing the 10th floor, the elevator malfunctions and hurls all the way down with a tremendous impact, extinguishing all the lights inside the car. They realize that the operator is dead from this impact and they spend quite some anxious moments before help arrives. Acetylene torches are used to cut a hole through the car roof to free the trapped men. They then realize that another man among them is dead – whose voice was heard just before the acetylene torches came into action. He has died from a gunshot wound with the gun buried under his body. The nitrate test reveals that the gun was fired by the dead man and hence the police close the case as a suicide.
A year later, all the 5 men who survived the elevator accident are invited to a dinner event by the Father of the dead man, promising to share his wealth among these men who were present during the final moments of his son’s life. The guests notice a peculiar form of serving – each guest is served a portion separately. At the end of the dinner, a giant pot with a yellow liquid is placed at the center of the table and the host tells them that it’s an antidote for a poison. He also goes on to declare that he knew all along that his son was murdered and that one out of the 5 men present there killed him. And to exact revenge, that one person’s food was poisoned. He asks the murderer to confess and drink the antidote as he had only half an hour before the poison starts acting. At the end of 25 minutes, all five of them look equally sick and everyone has only one question in their mind: did the host poison the right guy? If yes, how did he know who the murderer was? The story has a fitting finale for the suspense it builds up.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Killing of Michael Finnegan - Michael Gilbert

Story: The Killing of Michael Finnegan

Author: Michael Gilbert
Source: The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories
Story Number: 36
In addition to the classic mysteries that he started off with (Smallbone Deceased is highly regarded by one and all), Michael Gilbert experimented with a lot of different genres – two of the most notable being police procedurals and spy stories. He created three main series characters - Patrick Petrella, Inspector Hazlerigg and the duo of British spies; the two collections ‘Game Without Rules’ & ‘Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens’ featuring the two British spies are considered to contain Gilbert’s best short stories.
Michael Finnegan, a close friend of Calder & Behrens and working for the British Intelligence has been found dead in mysterious circumstances. Though there is no doubt as to who killed him, Calder & Behrens suspect that the reason could be because of what he was working on at the time of his death which could be very important to the British and hence they decide to find out what it was. Finnegan’s wife tells them the name of the person who betrayed him; with some third degree measures on this traitor, they get to know that the reason he was killed was because he came to know about the assassination plot of a superior court judge.
They know who the target is but they don’t know exactly how the assassination is going to be carried out; during the detrimental torture tactics, they just get a few ramblings from the traitor with respect to the means, where he mentions only 2 words of importance – ‘court’ & ‘reports’. Calder takes up the role up studying the court security measures to identify how anyone could smuggle a bomb into the court. Behrens takes up the role of talking to the security forces, questioning them about the loopholes in their security procedures and suggestions to overcome them. Between the two of them, with their observations & the 2 clues which they have in their possession, they figure out the way in which the attempt is gone be made and the rest of the story deals in outwitting their adversaries.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Amorous Corpse - Peter Lovesey

Story: The Amorous Corpse

Author: Peter Lovesey
Source: The Sedgemoor Strangler & Other Stories of Crime, The Mammoth Book of Locked Room Stories & Impossible Crimes
Story Number: 35
The detective constable receives a call from the post office saying that a man who tried a hold up is now dead. The man seems to have died of a heart attack and the body is taken away to the morgue. From the fingerprints, it turns out that the dead man was an ex-convict named Jack Soames. When the DC goes to his house, the girl friend Zara informs him that Jack was making love to her at 9.15 and hence couldn’t have been anywhere near the post office when he was supposed to have died. She further tells him that he left the house at around 10 and went to the benefits office. Zara identifies Jack in the morgue.
The DC then tracks Jack’s wife (separated for years) through the register of electors and asks her also to visit the morgue and confirm that it is her husband – which she does. The only anomaly is Zara’s testimony with respect to time. He decides to visit the Benefits Office as a means of checking up and to his surprise the security tapes show very clearly that Jack was indeed alive and present at the benefits office at 10.15. So how did the man end up in the benefits office at 10.15 when he was already dead at 9.15? A little bit of clever thinking and a detailed analysis of the video tape which shows the presence of another individual related to the case helps the rookie constable to crack this impossible crime of the amorous corpse which, I must say, reveals one of the most opportunistic murderers that one could come across!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Booktaker - Bill Pronzini

Story: The Booktaker

Author: Bill Pronzini
Source: Casefile, Locked Room Puzzles.
Story Number: 34
This story was my introduction to the world of Nameless when I read it as part of the locked room anthology. Also, it has two of my favorite themes – an impossible crime and a bookshop setting for the crime!
John Rothman is the owner of the largest second-hand bookstore in San Francisco, a book store which deals in rare and antiquarian books, maps, etchings and prints. Over a period of time, there has been a series of thefts from the antiquarian room – first it was restricted to the books and more recently it has been the priceless maps. Rothman suspects the thief to be one of the 4 employees in the bookshop because of the nature of the theft: only 2 people have the key to the antiquarian room, the theft takes places usually in the afternoon when Rothman is away for lunch, there is a sensor alarm system near the cashier which is being manned by his most experienced and trustworthy employer and hence no outsider could have stolen them, each employee is made to pass the sensor while leaving for the day and only then the alarm is switched off by Rothman.
Rothman comes to Nameless as Nameless is a customer who is in the habit of buying pulps from him. He hires him to identify the culprit and more importantly identify the way in which the theft is being carried out so that he can taken precautions against such means. Nameless checks the background history and credit scores for each of the 4 employees, he questions the neighbors regarding the behavior of each individual but nothing worthwhile turns up. He then goes undercover as an employee of the bookshop with the name of Jim Marlowe (yes, as a tribute to Chandler) and keeps an eye on the proceedings. On the second day of his work, another very rare map is stolen. Every employee is searched, each is made to walk past the sensor but no alarm is set off and the whole bookshop is searched by Rothman and the private eye but the map remains elusive.
It takes a casual remark from Marlowe’s girlfriend to enlighten him about the technique being used for the theft, there is also a murder attempt which Nameless and his girlfriend has to thwart before he can reveal the solution to the mystery which is indeed fairly clued. The description about the bookshop, books and various pulp authors in addition to the puzzle plot makes it a highly satisfying and entertaining detective story.