Friday, March 30, 2012

The Sapphire That Disappeared - James Holding

Theme: Authors from the pages of AHMM

Story: The Sapphire That Disappeared
Author: James Holding
Source: Alfred Hitchcock's A Hearse Of A Different Color
Story Number: 90
Laurie and John from the famous firm of Private Detectives 'Landis & Landis' are enjoying their holiday in Buenos Aires when they are asked to solve the problem of the missing Sapphire by the store owner Quesada.
The store had only two customers when the Sapphire went missing - a Mrs. Thompson and a Mr. Ortega. Thompson is looking for aquamarine necklaces where as Ortega is looking for  a suitable gift for his wife and requests to see some uncut stones. The clerk, on his way back to show Ortega the gems, trips over and spills a lot of stones on the carpeted floor and the stones are quickly retrieved by the store employees. But one valuable stone is found missing. The big Sapphire which would stand out on the dark carpet is nowhere to be found in the edgeless circular room. Both the customers are searched thoroughly and they are let go only after confirming that they didn't have the stone on them or on their clothes. The only clue turns out to be a discarded bubble gum wrapper - but no one was chewing any gum nor was any gum found anywhere in the store.
Laurie and John exchange a series of hypotheses as to how the Sapphire could have disappeared but each one of them turns out to have already been verified with no result. They know that Ortega must be the guilty party and that a wad of gum was somehow involved but  how he managed to use the gum and hide the Sapphire remains a mystery.  The couple stumble across the vital clue when John bumps into a blind man after existing one of the Buenos Aires subway trains. A simple solution which is neatly done and fairly clued.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Vapor Clue - James Holding

Theme: Authors from the pages of AHMM

Story: The Vapor Clue
Author: James Holding
Source: Alfred Hitchcock's Murders On The Half-Skull
Story Number: 89
Hub Grant and his wife have had an early start on their journey from Pittsburgh to Connecticut on a bitter cold still-dark morning. The engine develops a snag and Hub pulls into a gas station at around 5.30 in the morning. Since the gas station would open only at around 7, Hub decides to walk and check out if he can find some help from one of the houses he sees in the distance. The wife remains in the car.
Sarah Benson, the waitress of a Trucker's rest house , is out on her way to open the shop so that the truck drivers who are regular customers, can stop by for their morning coffee. Sarah sees a man(Hub) walking down the hill towards her shop and when he is about to wave to her, she sees a dark sedan come down the hill, hit the man with full force and make a quick getaway even before Sarah could react.
Lieutenant Randall has very less to go on to catch the hit-and-run driver. The only description that Sarah can give is that she noticed a mist from the exhaust pipe which sort of covered up the license plate. It takes 12 more hours for Sarah to understand the significance of the mist from the exhaust pipe; she approaches Randall and tells him as to what the vapor clue signified; a fact which is more than enough to figure out who the hit-and-run driver was and apprehend him in a very short time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dream Of A Murder - C. B. Gilford

Theme: Authors from the pages of AHMM
Story: Dream Of A Murder
Author: C. B. Gilford
Source: Alfred Hitchcock's A Hearse of A Different Color
Story Number: 88
Harvey Fenster had committed murder, plain and simple. The crime hadn't been detected. The only trouble was, Harvey dreamed! And so begins this very intriguing tale of a man who has willfully murdered his wife and passed it off as an accident.
Each night he dreams - he dreams about the murder and the events leading up to it. The irritating voice of his nagging wife, her request for a new washing machine, the rigging up of the wiring to induce shock which eventually leads to her death - it is all very vivid and more horrific than the actual crime itself. Each time the shrilling noise of the alarm clock wakes him up out of his nightmare.
But every night, the dream goes a little further. During the initial stages it was restricted to the actual event. Further on, he starts dreaming about things which never happened in real life - the police investigation, the various clues which the police didn't notice at the time of the murder, the police restarting the enquiry, the getting rid of the washing machine and other clues in the river, the police arresting him for the murder, the court room where the jury brings in a verdict of guilty - the dreams continue to haunt him but every time the alarm clock saves him from his nightmare and brings him back to reality! Until, the dream where the judge sentences him to death.... in the electric chair....

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Case Of The Helpless Man - Douglas Farr

Theme: Authors from the pages of AHMM

Story: The Case Of The Helpless Man
Author: Douglas Farr
Source: Alfred Hitchcock's A Hearse of A Different Color
Story Number: 87
Rudolph Iser is in a vegetative state after a stroke; he is completely paralyzed, can't move or talk, but can only hear and see. He has left two-thirds of his legacy to his nephew George and the remaining one-third to her niece Karen. Karen approaches her uncle and tells him that she will correct the errors in the will as he can't do anything about it. She brings  the drunken nephew into the room, places him in a chair in the line of the arm of the helpless man, puts a gun into the paralyzed hands and shoots at George.
The clever detective who is on the scene quickly realizes what must have happened there - he asks the helpless man to answer his questions with a Yes or No answer by moving his eyes. From this he elucidates that it was Karen who killed George. But he goes away a defeated man when Karen doesn't budge with her story that it was her uncle, with some miraculous last ditch effort, who shot George - a theory which no medical expert can refute.  
The detective knows that Karen killed George but he is helpless, the uncle knows that Karen is gone get away with murder but more importantly she will become the sole heir to his legacy and yet he can't do anything about it! Rudolph also knows that he is in his final moments, that he might not be alive when the detective comes back with more evidence or more questions. Will Karen get away with murder? Will she get her uncle's legacy which she has so schemingly aimed for? Or will the uncle, without the availability of any of his faculties, be able to do something to make sure that she doesn't inherit? Boils down to a fitting climax.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Small Down Payment - Stephen Wasylyk

The stories for this week will be from the authors who I didn't even know existed but were prominently featured in the pages of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine(AHMM).

Theme for the Week: Authors from the pages of AHMM
Story: A Small Down Payment
Author: Stephen Wasylyk
Source: Alfred Hitchcock's Tales to Make You Quake & Quiver
Story Number: 86
In the anthology AHMM Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense, the editor Linda Landrigan mentions that when readers were asked to suggest stories by their favorite authors for the fifty years anniversary anthology, many of them replied back saying 'any story by Stephen Wasylyk'.
Lazarus Neap gets a new deputy in Arbosh and nothing seems to work for Neap from that point on. A simple burglary arrest goes haywire, a girl found strangled in her apartment turns up no lead whatsoever. The next day, another girl is found strangled and Neap finds the girl's house and its artifacts looking exactly similar to the house where the first girl was found strangled. The certain clue in both the houses turn out to be a check made out for 25 dollars to a 'Date, Inc'.
What follows is a pure police procedural - with the duo stringing together the facts and the clues available from both the crime scenes. What they do find out is that both the girls were members of a dating agency, a man by the name of Hoopes was given a list of 3 women by the dating agency(2 of whom were found dead on consecutive days), and if they don't find Hoopes in time, they would have another body on their hands. They track Hoopes down to a hotel only to find that he has vacated the hotel without leaving a trace, they try to trace the girl but find that she is already on the way to keep her date with Hoopes but none of the girl's friends know about the dating place. When they do figure out the place by some clever deductions, they end up arresting the wrong person. But they get their man in the end!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Twist For Twist - Christianna Brand

Story: Twist For Twist

Author: Christianna Brand
Source: Ellery Queen's Mystery Parade
Story Number: 85
From the introduction to this story by EQ: "Twist For Twist" featuring Inspector Cockrill, won the First Prize in the special 1966 short-story contest sponsored by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine for members of Crime Writers Association of England. You will find this First Prize winner a twisting, turning, twisting story of "pure" detection in the grandest tradition of what John Dickson Carr has called "the grandest game in the world." A fascinating cast of characters - a baffling murder committed right before your eyes - a detective on the spot (in both senses of the phrase) - a plot that will whirl you like a top, with ingenious theory piled on ingenious theory until the truth finally emerges - in an image, the "Golden Age" detective story in the seventies!...
"At certain times of the year, there are numerous males called the drones, which have very large eyes and whose only activity is to eat and to participate in the mass flight after the virgin queen. But only one of the hornets succeeds in the mating and he dies in the end," quotes Harold Caxton to his fellow guests on the occasion of his second wedding. Nurse Elizabeth, who nursed the first wife of Caxton plays the role of the virgin queen where as three young men who are all smitten by Elizabeth play the roles of the drones to perfection. Before the dinner is over, Caxton is found dead of cyanide poisoning and Cockie unravels a very elaborate, deep-laid, long-thought-out, absolutely sure-fire plot of murder, and all of it conceived with utter cleverness and infinite patience!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Flair For Murder - Frances and Richard Lockridge

Story: Flair For Murder

Author: Frances and Richard Lockridge
Source: Ellery Queen's Crime Carousel
Story Number: 84
The husband and wife team of Frances and Richard Lockridge created a series of sleuths including the husband and wife team of Pam & Jerry North, Nathan Shapiro, Bernard Simmons and Captain Merton Heimrich. This story was the last short story which Frances and Richard wrote jointly before the death of Mrs. Lockridge in 1963 and is considered one of the best from their output.
Martin's dog has brought a soiled hat to his master which he immediately recognizes as belonging to John Adams; who is never seen without that hat on his head. When Martin stumbles across the spot where his dog has dug a hole in the garden, he finds the body of Adams buried in the asparagus bed.
John Adams, a gardener himself, was keeping a close eye on his friend's daughter Nancy as though to protect her after her Father's death. Nancy is wondering why John hasn't visited her for two days and she decides to pose her problem to her husband who is working in another city. When he comes home, when she is about to get up from the chair, she cuts her finger on the arm of the chaise from  a jagged metal, which she hadn't noticed till now even though she had used it on a regular basis. Her husband treats the bleeding fingers before Inspector Heimrich arrives to break the sad news.
Inspector Heimrich gets to use his nose as effectively as the dog which unearthed the body. He notices that the body was buried in a place where there was bone meal which would certainly attract a dog, a mistake which provides a decent clue to the identity of the murderer.  He investigates the gardener's shed where he notices a series of poisons. He gets to link these facts to the actual murder when Heimrich gets to use his nose again when Nancy faints after hearing the news from him. He smells something on the wound that has been bandaged and he ends up preventing a second murder and at the same time apprehending a murderer whose only fault lay in the fact that he didn't have the gardening knowledge which a country gardener would possess.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bloehm's Wall - George Emmett

Story: Bloehm's Wall

Author: George Emmett
Source: Ellery Queen's Crime Carousel
Story Number: 83
This story was picked as the best first story of the year 1965 by Ellery Queen. Carl Bloehm is a bedridden patient who is waiting for the cancer in his body to put an end to his miserly life. His wife gives him morphine shots to make him sleep. And when he is awake, his screams(due to the pain in his body) could be heard  miles away.
On a Saturday when his wife is away to receive a package from the berthing ship, Bloehm wakes up to the presence of a visitor in his room. He recognizes him as Emil Weiss, a person who was sentenced to prison for a murder which he hadn't committed; a person against whom Bloehm testified to wrongly accuse him of the murder for which Bloehm himself was guilty. Bloehm has all along been expecting him to come back for his revenge and he is pleased that he has come back at this stage of his life when the existence on this planet hardly means anything to him. He rather sees Weiss as a Godsend; a means to end his life without he having to commit suicide.
During the course of their conversation, when Weiss hesitates to carry out the deed for which he has come, Bloehm resorts to needling him, he says disparaging things about the girl who was killed - who meant so much to Weiss, he tries all the dirty tricks in the book to incite him and make him take out that gun which is visible under his coat and shoot him but Weiss sees through this performance and holds back. Will Bloehm finally get his wish fulfilled? Will Weiss get his revenge? Weiss certainly gets his revenge but not in any way imagined by Bloehm!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Red-Hot and Hunted - Fredric Brown

Story: Red-Hot and Hunted

Author: Fredric Brown
Source: Homicide Sanitarium, Detective Tales (Nov 1948)
Story Number: 82
This story utilizes one of Brown’s favorite themes: the madness or the apparent madness of either the protagonist or another main character. This story also has the quality of maintaining a high quality of suspense till the end.
Wayne Dixon is the actor whom no producer wants to cast. Adrian Carr is a producer who is thinking of doing a play called Bluebeard: a play which has 3 acts – the first is about a man committing a murder; the second act is about that man convincing everyone that he killed his wife and the third act yet to be decided. Wayne ends up meeting Carr in a bar and tells him that he killed his wife. Carr thinks he is just acting – trying to get the role in the bluebeard. The conversation continues in a bizarre way where Wayne is trying to convince Carr but Carr is having none of it. A few hours later, Carr is contacted by the police asking for Wayne’s whereabouts. Carr lies knowing about his whereabouts and goes back to the bar where he had left him earlier. Wayne confirms that he did kill his wife and that only a miracle can save him from going to the chair. And that miracle shapes up to a fitting finale where the ending could serve very well as the third act of the play.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Somebody On The Phone - Cornell Woolrich

Story: Somebody On The Phone

Author: Cornell Woolrich
Source: The Ten Faces of Cornell Woolrich
Story Number: 81
Ken and his sister Jean are from a well to do family and are staying together. Jean admonishes Ken from picking up the phone – he has been noticing that there are many calls coming in to their house which follow a pattern – 5 rings, stop and then 5 rings again. Ken thinks it’s a secret code being employed by one of Jean’s male companions. A few days later, he is shocked to notice that his check has bounced from their joint account. He comes to know from the banker that Jean cleared out all the money a day earlier. Ken confronts his sister by asking her to name the person who is blackmailing her. He also tells her that he has noticed her being in conversation with a bookie and his doubt that it’s this bookie who is calling her with the 5 rings pattern. Hearing all this, his sister closes the door on him and commits suicide.
To seek revenge, he tracks down the bookie. After talking to him, it is clear to Ken that the bookie was indeed expecting Jean to turn up and that too with loads of money. With the firm belief that it is the booker who was responsible for his sister's death, he takes out a gun and shoots the bookie in the same fashion as the rings – 5, stop and 5 more bullets. But when he comes back home, he is in for a very big surprise!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Contradictory Case - Hugh Pentecost

Story: The Contradictory Case

Author: Hugh Pentecost
Source: The Quintessence of Queen #2
Story Number: 80
Hugh Pentecost was a prodigious author who created a number of series detectives: Luke Bradley, Dr. John Smith, Lt. Pascal, Pierre Chambrun, Uncle George, John Jericho, Julian Quist.
The story kicks off with Lieutenant Pascal interrogating one of the witnesses in a murder case at the scene of the crime. Eddie has confessed to killing Sam Lorrimer. Eddie was in the habit of takings bets from Sam for a Times Square bookmaker. After losing his bets for 50 dollars on each of the seven days, he puts a $ 1000 bet on a horse which came in at twenty-to-one. But Eddie doesn't pass on the bet to the bookmaker and the horse ends up winning. Lt. Pascal doesn't believe that this is a motive for murder even though the victim was found with a betting slip clutched in his hand. He punches a lot of holes in Eddie's confession and proves to him as to why he couldn't have killed Sam. This opens up the channel that he was trying to protect someone - which turns out to be a girl who would have checked in to the hotel at exactly the same time as Sam.
Eddie builds up a convincing story where he shows the girl couldn't have killed Sam. Pascal again punches a lot of holes in his story and breaks her alibi. But Eddie justifies that if he being only 5 feet tall couldn't have killed the 6 feet 5 inches tall giant, then so didn't the girl who is much smaller than him.
"It begins with a bet that wasn't a bet. A coincidence that wasn't a coincidence. Then we had a murderer who didn't kill anybody. Then we have an alibi that isn't an alibi," observes Pascal and goes onto unravel this puzzling case in a most emphatic manner.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Other Side of The Curtain - Helen McCloy

Story: The Other Side of The Curtain

Author: Helen McCloy
Source: The Quintessence of Queen #2
Story Number: 79
Letty Jason, for the last eight months, has been experiencing a dream which always ends in the same manner - she approaches a curtain hanging across the passage, blocking her way. She doesn't part the curtain and see what's on the other side; she feels terrified at this point and wakes herself up as she is fully aware of the fact  that she is dreaming while she is in the act of dreaming. The doctor to whom she has come with this problem asks her to part the curtain in her dream and see what's on the other side - he tells her that a great fear in her wakening life is manifesting itself as a curtain in her dream and the only strange thing about her dream is the fact that she is always aware that she is dreaming. He also tells her that at some point of time she will lose the ability to wake herself up during the dream.
Not finding the doctors words to be of much use, she ignores his advice. The next dream she encounters follows an entirely different but horrific pattern. She is accused and arrested by the police for poisoning Olivia Jason, the first wife to her husband Ralph Jason. Olivia was a cripple and hence she couldn't have gone to the chemist to buy the eye drops which contained atropine. Also, the police point out that there was no real reason to buy the eye drops as neither Olivia nor Letty suffered any eye problem. The dream continues with a vivid court room drama  where every single evidence points to her as the guilty party. Her husband convinces her that the last alternative would be to say that she bought the medicine for him for his eye problem. She pleads with the defense lawyer to put her husband on the witness stand but when he does so, her husband completely repudiates the testimony! And then the reality strikes her that it was indeed Ralph who murdered Olivia. Just on the verge of being convicted by the jury, she is in a dilemma whether to wake herself up or go through the entire dream, she wonders whether the words of the doctor has come true so quickly that she has lost the ability to wake herself up! How does the story end? One is in for a rude shock - there is a cunning but masterful twist to the whole saga after the impending horror has been built up; which turns the story upside down and leaves the reader gasping for breath.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chance After Chance - Thomas Walsh

Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners

Story: Chance After Chance
Author: Thomas Walsh
Source: The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 78
He was just known as the Padre. He has been thrown out of the church for various transgressions. In his fifties, his only indulgence is whiskey - he is seen drinking from 7 in the night till 3 in the morning in the Harrington's. He is surprised when his friend Jack invites him for dinner to meet two of his friends.
Over several whiskies, the host and his two friends come to know of several vows which the Padre had broken during his tenure of service for the Roman Catholic Church. Knowing that he still has his priest's shirt and a roman collar, they put forth a proposal to the Padre. To appear in his capacity as a Padre to hear the confession of a dying man who had robbed a bank. This man has just been recently released from prison, he is the sole survivor of the gang which attempted the robbery and he hasn't revealed the whereabouts of the loot to anyone. The three friends suspect that he would confess this information to a Father on his deathbed and they want him to pass on the location of the loot to them. The Padre accepts to listen to the confession even though he knows in his mind that this is the only vow which he hasn't broken.
The three friends corner the Padre after he emerges from the dying man's house. The Padre refuses to part with the information that they want, he says that he was moved and completely transformed when the dying man saw him with such reverence and respect.  This forces the three of them to take the Padre to a cliff edge and threaten him with his life. Will he consent to share the loot with them as a co-conspirator? Will he just give them the information that they want without being a privy to the retrieval of the dirty money and break the vow he has never broken? Or will he able to think of a way to escape?

The Blessington Method - Stanley Ellin

Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners

Story: The Blessington Method
Author: Stanley Ellin
Source: The Blessington Method and Other Strange Tales, The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 77
Stanley Ellin won his first Edgar for The House Party in 1954. His second Edgar was for the Blessington Method in 1956.
Stanley Ellin, in his stories, is known for making some of the most outrageously bizarre things seem utterly plausible and no other story qualifies for this distinction than the Blessington Method.
'The Society of Gerontology' in the story has come up with a solution for one of the  most plagued maladies of human society - the old age and the problems concerning it. The problem: What do we do with aged people who become a burden for their children and grandchildren? Solution: Murder them in such a way that it looks like an accident which no one would investigate. The method used for this purpose: The Blessington Method.
The four fold process of the Method:                                                                           
The first step: Accepting that there is a problem(that the presence of an aged person in the house is an unwanted burden). The second step: The realization that no matter which way you turn there seems to be no logical or practical solution. The Third Step: The individual realizes that it is not the presence of the aged subject which creates the problem, but his existence. The fourth step: Decide to take the services of the Blessington method to get rid of that existence!
The Modus Operandi:                                                                                                 
The Society has a team of investigators who would prepare a case history - they will identify an aged subject, approach them on park benches or libraries and get to know their problems in life, investigate the troubled caretaker to verify that he will be in a position to pay for their services , approach the caretaker, propose the four fold process, make him sign a contract and finally the death of the aged subject after receiving the payment.
Mr. Treadwell, a man in his forties, is approached by Mr. Bunce with a  proposal to get rid of Treadwell's 72 year old father-in-law. Though Tredwell accepts the first three rules, it takes a little bit of time for him to make up his mind on the fourth rule. Within a month, his father-in-law dies - drowned while fishing. After the funeral, Treadwell is constantly plagued by a thought, which slowly turns to daily nightmares - the thought that twenty years down the line he himself would be an old man and he could meet the same fate at the hands of the same society! He approaches the same Mr. Bunce for solace.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Oblong Room - Edward D. Hoch

Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners

Story: The Oblong Room
Author: Edward D. Hoch
Source: The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 76
Captain Leopold joins his Sergeant to investigate a open and shut case of murder in the college hostel. Ralph Rollings has been found stabbed to death. His roommate Tom McBern was found enclosed with the dead man for 24 hours and he is not willing to make a statement. The only thing they need to convict Tom is a motive and the whole investigation is based on finding that motive.
The first motive they consider is that they must have shared a common girl friend, which turns out to be true. But nothing much materializes from that angle though they get a pretty good understanding of the relationship between Ralph and Tom. Ralph has the strange capability to manipulate anyone - to have them under his thumb, make them obey his orders. Ralph controlled Tom in pretty much the same fashion; the relationship between them being that of a teacher and a pupil or like that of a Master and slave - with Tom being completely devoted to Ralph, to such an extent that he would go to any depth to protect Ralph.
The next motive to cross their path is the widespread use of LSD among the students. Bill Smith, the next door friend to both Ralph and Tom testifies that both of them often used LSD but he also stresses the fact that Tom was more like a protector and he would be the last man to kill Ralph. And yet, it is very clear that Tom did kill Ralph. The questions which Leopold has to answer: Why would he kill him when everyone knows that he would give his own life to protect Ralph? Why was he in the room for 24 hours after his friend's death? What exactly as he doing during all that time?
This story is a dedication to Edgar Allan Poe. The author draws parallel to Poe's The Oblong Box - where the box was on board a ship and it contained a body. Ralph correlates his room to the oblong box, as his coffin or his tomb and hence the title the oblong room.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

This Will Kill You - Patrick Quentin

Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners

Story: This Will Kill You
Author: Patrick Quentin
Source: The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow(Queen's Quorum title #), The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 75
A special Edgar was presented to Patrick Quentin in 1962 for his collection of short stories The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow. Quote from Queen's Quorum: 'This is a superb collection by "a master of the offbeat and subtle effect." One of the unusual features of the book is the emphasis on child-murderers, normally a taboo theme, but handled by Patrick Quentin with chilling finesse.' "Love Comes to Miss Lucy" is one of the most anthologized stories from this collection which involves the theme of child-murderer.
This story though is a classic example of the husband plotting his wife's murder and the wife in turn plotting the husband's murder - with a big variation. Harry Lund is tired of his wife. He has a new girl in his life and hence decides to do away with his troublesome wife Norma. He fixes the car breaks so that she will meet with an accident at the crucial 'suicide bend' when she takes the car on her own. He loses the car but his wife Norma comes out unscathed. He next plans a fire-in-house-due-to-cigarette-in-bed accident. He loses the house but his wife remains unscathed. Harry's misery continues. Both Harry and his wife are pharmacists. He prepares the cyanide tablet but refrains from using it as it would leave traces. Norma suffers a few heart attacks from the various life threatening events that she has faced recently. Next, he comes with the scheme of murdering her with an overdose of the heart medicine Epinephrine! He waits for a suitable opportunity, injects the overdose when she is in a coma, goes to her sister's house to build up an alibi but when he comes back he gets the shock of his life to find his new girl friend in the house conversing with her wife who is still very much alive! The story moves on towards a fitting finale!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Landlady - Roald Dahl

Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners

Story: The Landlady
Author: Roald Dahl
Source: Kiss Kiss, The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 74
Roald Dahl won his first Edgar for the highly acclaimed story Lamb to The Slaughter. Six years later, he won his second Edgar for The Landlady.
This is one of those teasers where the reader is expecting something worse to happen, the reader can anticipate the impending tragedy and yet the protagonist is so oblivious of! It's a very cunning game between the reader and the author where the author is leading the reader to believe that he can anticipate what's gone happen next but the author, with a grin on his face,  holds that climax hanging till the end with such subtlety that the reader will be left wondering whether the author pulled a fast one on him!
Billy Weaver is looking for a hotel room when a Bed & Breakfast notice catches his interest. Before he knows what he is doing, he has rung the bell and even before he has withdrawn his hand, the Landlady has opened the door and invited him in. The price for the stay is half of what he intended to pay, the service impeccable as though one is being treated by his or her best friend's mother. Weaver happens to glance at the guest book and the only 2 names in that book strikes a chord in his memory - both were either famous or both were talked about in a newspaper for the same reason. But he can't recollect what it was. Then starts the cat and mouse game between Weaver and the Landlady - Weaver trying to identify those two individuals and the Landlady trying to elude him on this venture. In the meantime, he notices several odd things which he hadn't noticed before like how the parrot which looked so alive from outside turns out to be a stuffed animal; how the dog, always resting nearing the fireplace turns out to be a stuffed Dachshund; how the two men whom he is trying to recollect were exactly similar to him in physical and other characteristics -  all build up the suspense to an inevitable climax.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Love Lies Bleeding - Philip MacDonald

Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners

Story: Love Lies Bleeding
Author: Philip MacDonald
Source: Something To Hide, The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 73
Cyprian is waiting for Astrid to get dressed so that he can take her out. He hears a strange exclamation from Astrid and when he turns around to face her, he is horrified at what he sees. Cyprian tries to wriggle out of the advancing clutches of the menacing Astrid and in the process he ends up beating her to death! He runs out of the house with blood covered all over his body, he loses consciousness on the road and when he comes around he has been arrested by the police. He is able to withstand the rigorous questioning and when a defense attorney is hired, he uses the leading questions dangled in front of him to build a defense for himself. But in spite of all these, he maintains that he is innocent and that there was another man who went out of the window!
He is tried in court and the defense attorney shows that the modus operandi in this case is pretty similar to two other deaths which followed Cyprian's arrest and since Cyprian had nothing to do with those two deaths, he is able to prove that Astrid was the first victim of a serial killer. The prosecution withdraws the case and Cyprian escapes the chair! But all along, Cyprian is pretty firm that there was another man in the room! The story is so woven that it's hard to figure out whether the protagonist did murder the girl or not, whether there really was someone other than the victim and the accused, what was so horrific which led to such drastic actions on behalf of Cyprian to escape the advancing clutches of Astrid - all combine to lead to a terrific climax!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Adventure of The Mad Tea Party - Ellery Queen

Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners

Story: The Adventure of The Mad Tea Party
Author: Ellery Queen
Source: The Adventures of Ellery Queen, The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 72
The Edgar category for the Best Short Story was started in 1947 and the first winner was none other than Ellery Queen.
Richard Owen has invited Ellery Queen to his son's birthday party. The theme for the party is Alice in Wonderland and all the major characters of the story are busy rehearsing for the next day's event. Ellery spends a restless night, stumbles into a strange room during the night when he is looking for the library, an event  which helps him later to solve the case of the missing mad hatter.
Richard is found missing the next day along with his mad hatter costume. Ellery, while inspecting all the rooms, notices one peculiar thing in the room which he had visited as part of his nocturnal jaunt. He sees the reflection of the cuckoo clock in the mirror as soon he opens the door; the clock has a radium dial which should have been reflected in the mirror when he had opened the door in the night but wasn't - which compels him to arrive at the conclusion that something fishy was going on in the room when he had entered. Somebody must have moved the clock after his visit or someone was standing in front of the mirror or the mirror was absent. He shuts himself in that room to investigate and what he does find doesn't please him.
Bizarre events follow - they start finding mails and messages addressed to each of the individuals in that house, each mail having one of the articles worn by the missing man. Ellery is able to display his deductive capabilities by piecing together a message from the sequence of the artifacts which have arrived in the mail - which turns out to be a rhyme from Alice in Wonderland, the significance of which is the hiding place of the dead body of the missing host! Who is sending the messages? How exactly is anyone able to send it as all the residents were under watch? Who is the murderer? A very clever and cunning psychological trap awaits the poor villain as does a few surprises for the reader!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Most Obstinate Man in Paris - Georges Simenon

Theme for the Week: Queen's Quorum

Story: The Most Obstinate Man in Paris
Author: Georges Simenon
Source: The Short Cases Of Inspector Maigret
Story Number: 71
The Short Cases of Inspector Maigret happens to be the first book of short stories and novelettes about Inspector Maigret to appear in the United States in 1959, 27 years after the collection The 13 Culprits (Queen's Quorum title #85 from the year 1932) was given a cornerstone status in the Queen's Quorum. The 13 Culprits was printed for the first time in United States as recently as 2002 by Crippen and Landru if I'm not mistaken. The short cases consists of 5 novelettes, 2 of them translated by Anthony Boucher and the remaining 3 by Lawrence G. Blochman. Two of these stories are also available in Maigret's Pipe. The story that I've picked was translated by Blochman and is the case which Maigret likes to tell whenever someone asks him to talk about one of his most famous cases.
A man who enters a cafe in the Boulevard Saint Germain when the cafe is opened in the morning spends the next 16 hours in the cafe without eating anything. He just drinks coffee, keeps an eye on the cafe opposite to the one he is sitting in and no matter what the waiters in the cafe do to get rid of this man, he keeps rooted to his seat and leaves only when the cafe is closed at 11 in the night! As soon as he walks out, a shot is heard and a man goes down. The waiter who has served him so patiently for the last 16 hours believes that the man must have been hiding from some assassin  and has met his end. But when he approaches the fallen man, he finds that the dead man is somebody else and there's no sign of his obstinate customer!
Nobody is able to make headway in the case until Maigret gets involved. His investigation reveals that the dead man was a man who was sitting in a cafe the whole day opposite to the cafe occupied by the obstinate person. Strangely, his behavior(the dead man's) was exactly opposite to that of the obstinate man who has disappeared. He was garrulous, he ate a lot and drank a lot! Maigret believes that there must be a third cafe which had a similar strange visitor and he turns out to be right. In a cafe situated close to these 2 cafes and looking upon both of them, a lady spent a complete day from the time the cafe opened and left at a time when the obstinate man was supposed to have left! So, who killed whom? Who are these 3 individuals? The inspector unravels this pretty bizarre case in his  very own patient manner.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Error in Chemistry - William Faulkner

Theme for the Week: Queen's Quorum Titles

Story: An Error in Chemistry
Author: William Faulkner
Source: Knight's Gambit (Queen's Quorum #105).
Story Number: 70
This collection consists of six detective stories - the second foray into detective stories by the great writer William Faulkner after Intruder in The Dust. The stories feature Uncle Gavin Stevens, a county attorney who assists the Sheriff in solving some complicated cases, the stories being narrated by Steven's nephew Chick Mallison.
Joe Flint calls the sheriff and confesses to having killed his wife in his father-in-law's house. The father-in-law, referred throughout as the old man Pritchel, who must have been a witness to her daughter's death refuses to say anything about the incident and locks himself in a room. The sheriff arrests Flint and locks him up in the county jail but Flint disappears from the jail without a trace. He had not broken out. He had walked out, out of the cell, out of the jail, out of town and apparently out of the county - no trace, no sign, no man who had seen him or seen anyone who might have been him.
Sheriff approaches uncle Gavin and tells him the story - highlighting the fact that there was no need for Flint to first confess to the murder, get himself arrested and then vanish off the face of the earth. In the meantime, various landlords have shown interest in buying off Pritchel's land and have made a handsome offer. The adjustor is ready to pay the insurance money for the policy which was taken on the daughter. Pritchel sends an invite to both the sheriff and Uncle Gavin to witness these two events of selling of his land and collecting the insurance check. During the course of events, the three men watch Pritchel add sugar to whisky and then add water to it - a mistake in the execution of making a traditional toddy. This sets of a chain of events which lead to the unmasking of a very clever but daring villain who was on the verge of getting away with triple murder.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Whistling Tea Kettle - Harry Kemelman

Theme for the Week: Queen's Quorum Titles

Story: The Whistling Tea Kettle
Author: Harry Kemelman
Source: The Nine Mile Walk (Queen's Quorum #125).
Story Number: 69
This story is pretty similar in theme, construction and solution to Kemelman's debut story "The Nine Mile Walk". In that story the whole plot is constructed based on the utterance of one sentence. In this story, the whole plot hinges on the whistling sound made by the tea kettle.
Scholars and big-wigs are assembling for a three day university convention to attend a series of meetings, conferences  and panel discussions over a three day timeframe. Two such scholars are put up in the boardinghouse opposite to that of the university professor Nicky Welt. He invites them over for dinner as he is a little curious about the two gentlemen and their disciplines. Erik is an European mathematician and is attending the convention so that somebody would hire him based on his expertise. Earl is the curator of the Laurence Winthrop collection and has brought with him a priceless artifact to display at the convention. Along with the differences in their field of work, they have a few personal differences in the beverage they consume - Erik drinks only coffee and Earl drinks only tea. Each has his own teapot and a percolator but there is only one burner in their residence.
The next day, the narrator(un-named so far) and Welt hear the tea kettle being used and the narrator declares that even though it's a tea kettle, it's Erik who is brewing the tea. Nick disagrees and he declares that Erik is indeed the one using the kettle but he is not brewing tea. From there, Welt propounds a series of logical deductions and inferences which would show that a crime was being planned and executed at that very moment! As usual he is right in every aspect and it is all amicably handled and concluded - with Welt preventing the crime from being carried out, without anyone even getting to know that a crime was to be committed and was averted in time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Ten O'Clock Scholar - Harry Kemelman

Theme for the Week: Queen's Quorum Titles

Story: The Ten O'Clock Scholar
Author: Harry Kemelman
Source: The Nine Mile Walk (Queen's Quorum #125).
Story Number: 68
Two rival professors Hawthorne & Korngold have come together to judge a candidate on his thesis. The candidate Claude Bennett has already postponed his dissertation once - citing the reason that he wanted to study the Byington papers, discovered by none other than Hawthorne. Nicholas Welt is the third professor of the judging committee. Korngold wants to fail the candidate because of his last postponement and he believes that the candidate would find some excuse on this occasion as well. Hawthorne on the other hand is very supportive and he requests the committee to wait for half an hour when the candidate doesn't turn up at the appointed hour of ten o'clock. When he still doesn't turn up at around 12, they call it off with Korngold stating that this candidate should never be allowed to take up the examination again in that university after making such a mockery of the academic system.
Later in the evening they get to know that Claude didn't keep his appointment because he was found dead - murdered half an hour before his exam time.  A mechanic who had come to deliver the car to Claude is arrested on suspicion of murder as the money stolen from Claude is found in his possession. There is another candidate who could equally qualify - Claude's next door neighbor and friend with whom there has been serious clashes over a girl. The police let him go only because the timing is slightly wrong; he was playing squash at the exact time that Claude was supposed to have met his death. The murder weapon found at the scene of the crime is a big dagger, part of a big collection adorning the wall. The victim's blood and hair fibers on the dagger and the wound on the head all point to the dagger as the murder weapon. But Nick Welt opines that it couldn't have been the murdered weapon and he puts forth his wonderful theory of why the dagger was a red herring and from this point he is able to show who killed Claude. It's so fairly clued that it'd be hard not to arrive at the solution - even a novice should get it! But a  wonderful construction nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Nine Mile Walk - Harry Kemelman

Theme for the Week: Queen's Quorum Titles

Story: The Nine Mile Walk
Author: Harry Kemelman
Source: The Nine Mile Walk (Queen's Quorum #125). The story can be read online here.
Story Number: 67
Harry Kemelman won the Edgar in 1965 for his first Rabbi Small novel Friday The Rabbi Slept Late (reviewed favorably by Patrick on his blog). But even before this novel was written, Kemelman had a strong fan following for his Nicky Welt stories, the strongest proponent being none other than Ellery Queen as they had featured all the 7 stories in EQMM before the publication of the first novel. There was only one Welt story after he started publishing the Rabbi series. All the stories are collected in the collection The Nine Mile Walk - the final title to be included as a cornerstone in the Queen's Quorum list in 1967. The Queens have this to say about this collection: " ....the Nicky Welt stories which unquestionably perpetuate the purest form of the detective short story, with the author playing fair with the reader from first word to last. All the stories are solved by strict logic and carry on the Dupin-esque-Prince Zaleski-Old Man in the Corner tradition of armchair detection."
The title story, which the author took 14 years to formulate after the idea germinated in his class as an assignment to his students, is one of the most logically deduced stories that one could come across. "An inference can be logical and still not be true," quotes the Snowdon Professor Nicholas Welt. To prove this point, he challenges his friend to give him a random sentence of 10 to 12 words and that he would build a logical chain of inferences. His friend accepts the challenge with this sentence, "A nine mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain." What follows is a serious of inferences - about the man who uttered it, why he uttered it, to which place was he referring to etc. In the end, all of them turn out to be true -culminating in a dead body on a train and the apprehension of the culprits responsible for the foul deed, all deduced from just that one sentence!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fear and Trembling’s - Michael Gilbert

Theme: Queen’s Quorum Titles

Story: Fear and Trembling’s
Author: Michael Gilbert
Source: Game Without Rules (Queen’s Quorum #124), Crimes Across The Sea.
Story Number: 66
Arthur Trembling is the owner of one of the best known travel agencies in Europe and his brother Henry is a secondhand bookseller. The other characters in this drama are the cheerful courier Roger, Arthur’s beautiful secretary (and mistress) Lucilla and the newly appointed employee Caversham. Arthur requests Caversham to deliver a thick parcel to his brother Henry – which C suspects are books which have been received from one of the tour group which has just returned. Lucilla, after being jilted by her boss, approaches Caversham and requests his help to expose Arthur – she believes that Arthur has been smuggling something with the help of the tour buses which have a specially concealed compartment. C decides to guard the bookshop after Arthur leaves the office and Lucilla decides to open the safe and check the contents as she noticed Arthur transferring something from the parcel received earlier. They plan to meet later in the night and compare notes – but when C meets her, she is dead in the passenger seat of her car - parked in his driveway!
Caversham drives the car to a remote location, gets back to his house and puts in an anonymous call to the police. The next day, when he is patiently waiting for the police to turn up at the office, C comes across the body of Arthur! There are a string of surprises towards the ends – with spies galore - nobody is who he or she is portrayed to be – with each country’s agency playing their own deadly game of espionage and counter espionage!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Road to Damascus - Michael Gilbert

Back to the theme of the Queen's Quorum titles for the 1st week of the month.

Theme: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Story: The Road to Damascus
Author: Michael Gilbert
Source: Game Without Rules (Queen’s Quorum #124)
Story Number: 65
The collection of stories featuring the duo of British Intelligence spies Mr. Joseph Calder & Mr. Samuel Behrens have been hailed by Ellery Queen as the second best volume of spy stories ever written, with W. Somerset Maugham’s ‘Ashenden’ taking the first place!
Calder & Behrens were first introduced in the story “The Road to Damascus”. Behrens is keeping a close eye on Colonel Mark Bessendine to catch him red-handed as the British know that he is passing on secret information to the Russians. Calder meanwhile comes across a dead body in a cave which was being used for military operations during the war. His investigations reveal that the cave was designed by three men, two of them are dead and the third happens to be Mark Bessendine – who was blown away by a bomb when he was in the process of covering up the hideout and has now survived with a new face after undergoing a plastic surgery.
Since both the cases are connected, Calder & Behrens decide to club their resources to sort out the problem. To complicate matters, there was a German spy by the name of Hessel who had vanished into thin air during the same time frame. Who is the dead man? Is it Mark? If it’s Mark, then is the person masquerading as the Colonel really the German spy? Or is the dead man Hessel? If so, who killed him?  Finally, it all leads to a stimulating confrontation between Behrens and the Colonel!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Listen To The Mocking Bird - Fredric Brown

Story: Listen To The Mocking Bird

Author: Fredric Brown
Source: Homicide Sanitarium
Story Number: 64
Slimjim Lee, a bookie has been murdered with a crocheting needle in Perley’s residence. Perley, a man whose profession is to mimic bird calls and songs, has been arrested for Lee's murder as his neighbors heard his mocking bird tunes at the exact time of the murder. Perley claims that he wasn’t present at all in his house and hence requests private detective McCracken to find the actual murderer. A costly ring which Lee used to wear all the time is missing and since this has been insured, an insurance agent joins the investigation in the hopes of recovering the ring.
With no one else as good as Perley at imitating bird calls, they find it tough to find a suitable replacement to take his place as the murderer. A cleverly disguised clue found at the scene of the crime helps McCracken in breaking the case - identifying an equally well hidden culprit with a strange murder method to boot.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mom in The Spring - James Yaffe

Story: Mom in The Spring
Author: James Yaffe
Source: The Quintessence of Ellery Queen
Story Number: 63
This modern version of the armchair detective story is as impressive as the old traditional ones of Christie and Boucher and Orczy. Meticulously plotted, ingenious building up of the puzzle, fairly presented clues, thought provoking questions posed by Mom to her son who is presenting the case to her over dinner, Mom’s supreme capability of reading between the lines and unraveling of the puzzle plot with her deep insight into the human nature to reveal an entirely different aspect to the case which was hitherto camouflaged – all add up for a most interesting read. This story was my first introduction to James Yaffe and the Crippen and Landru collection My Mother, The Detective is high on my TBR pile – if I can find a decently priced copy!
David and Shirley are trying to play matchmakers for Mom and they have come to dinner with the most eligible bachelor in the Homicide Squad – Inspector Millner. During the course of the meal, David recounts the current case he and the Inspector are working on, a case where the police were fully warned. Mr. and Mrs. Winters approach the police with a story that somebody is out to kill their lonely and rich aunt. The aunt has been answering the lonely hearts advertisements and in the course of time has got one admirer in Keith – whom the Winters’ loath as they think that Keith will be instrumental in depriving them of their aunt’s inheritance.
When the old lady is found dead with a photo of a conman under her pillow, it doesn’t take long for the police to trace him and arrest him. But Mom believes that they have got the wrong person – she asks four questions and based on the answers to those 4 questions, she is able to tie up all loose ends in a most emphatic manner and direct them in the right direction to apprehend the guilty party.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Thread of Life - Will Oursler

Story: Thread of Life

Author: Will Oursler
Source: 20 Great Tales of Murder (edited by Helen McCloy & Brett Halliday)
Story Number: 62
A very short story of only 4 pages to show that even doctors fall prey to the deadly sin of pride – even at the cost of one’s life!
The Doctor gets a call one night from the hospital summoning him to treat a head fracture where the skull has been crushed, possibly due to a mugging attack. After seeing the patient, the Doctor shakes his head at his young associate as though to say that it’s gone be a touch and go.  “Not even your hands, with all their skills…” The associate chides him. The distinguished brain surgeon accepts the challenge and undertakes a deadly operation and comes up triumphs by saving the girl’s life. The beauty of the story is the twist ending - the whole moral of the story depends on it.


It turns out that nobody except the Doctor is aware that it was he who was responsible for the girl's injury. If he had used a knife or a bullet, there would’ve been no question of calling in the great brain man to save her. The author points out in the final line that human pride is so great that, he could not fail, even in snatching from death the only witness against him!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Bizarre Case Expert - William Arden

Story: The Bizarre Case Expert
Author: William Arden
Source: Ellery Queen’s Masters of Mysteries
Story Number: 61
Dennis Lynds has a lot of pseudonyms – he used William Arden to write 13 of the Three Investigator tiles and is now more popular for his Dan Fortune titles under the name of Michael Collins.
Sergeant Joseph Marx is the sole member of the central squad; a squad which gets cases that stumps the precinct squads but before the case ends up in the Unsolved File. One such case where he is called in is to explain the death of Mrs. Sally Tower, the circumstances of which go something like this: The residents of an apartment are unhappy about the noises coming in from 6B and hence call in the local police. They have to break open the door as the door is locked and chained; Sally has died of multiple blows to the head and her ex-husband is unconscious in the same room due to a hairline skull fracture with the only opening in the house being a window to the fire escape. Medical evidence points to the fact that the husband suffered the concussion before the woman met her death. When he recovers in the hospital, he tells the police about a masked burglar who entered through the opened window but the police find no such traces of a prowler.
A neighbor was constantly watching the door from the time the noise started till the police arrived on the scene; an invalid woman was sitting near the open window in her house and the fire escape under question was constantly being watched by her – no one entered the room through the window and no one escaped through that window! So the only explanation left for them to consider is the fact that the husband did indeed kill her wife but he tripped and fell leading to the fracture and the concussion (the wound to his head not being of the self inflicting nature) but they have a problem - they find no weapon in that room or anywhere outside the house which matches the wounds on them.
Marx first tries to break the alibi of the 2 witnesses who were guarding the door and the window but fails. His search for a weapon yields something but the problem with the instrument was that it was neatly arranged on a table and was too far away from the murdered woman for it to have been used by the husband! Marx goes back to the first report made by the patrolmen; collects all the people who were present when the door was broken; interviews each one of them and shows how the murderer, with the help of one of the unlikeliest of accomplices, was able to achieve his goal of setting up a perfect locked room murder!