Thursday, May 31, 2012

Perfect Alibi - Anthony Berkeley

Theme: Crippen & Landru Series
Story: Perfect Alibi
Author: Anthony Berkeley
Source: The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries
Story Number: 117
Roger Sheringham is meeting his friend Sir Wilfrid, the Chief Constable and is surprised to hear that the Chief Constable never had the chance to investigate a murder. When Sheringham eggs him on, Sir Wilfrid recollects a case which had murder written all over it but was closed as an accident only because none of the suspects had the opportunity to commit the crime.
It’s the story of the death of Eric Southwood, a lucky accident for so many people; for if ever a fellow deserved to be murdered it was Eric. He was a womanizer and he was hard pressed for cash! And he was making up to Elsa and her fortune; and Mr. & Ms. Allfrey(uncle & aunt to Elsa) took a dim view of him. But that didn’t stop them from having Eric as a guest for their house party. The other guests include a chap called Merridew and the Vesinet couple, invited only because of the well known affair between Eric & Mrs. Vesinet, an affair unknown to only Mr. Vesinet.
Amidst the party, Eric is found dead; shot from the front – the idea being the gun had caught in something and got fired accidentally when he tried releasing it from a thorny bush. Every one present at the party had a cast iron alibi for that particular duration – Elsa was picking berries and was under constant observation; Merridew was half a mile away; the Vesinets were sunbathing – they alibi each other; Mrs. Allfrey was inside the house all the time – vouched for by the servants; Mr. Allfrey was crossing the field and the alibi is provided by the constable on a beat; the constable is also able to provide an alibi for the Vesinets!
Roger Sheringham still believes that Eric was murdered and reveals his theory to Sir Wilfrid as to how one of the ‘Perfect Alibis’ was too perfect to be believed!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

“Mr. Bearstowe Says…” - Anthony Berkeley

Theme: Crippen & Landru Series
Story: “Mr. Bearstowe Says…”
Author: Anthony Berkeley
Source: The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries
Story Number: 116
Roger Sheringham notices and approaches a woman who is as bored as himself in a beer-and-sausage party that he has ended up in. The woman just can’t stop talking about a Mr. Bearstowe. Roger believes that Bearstowe must either be her husband or a lover. He notices a few lone men and decides to guess who among them could be Bearstowe. When he asks her whether her husband is tall or short, he gets a strange answer from her saying that she doesn’t know.
A few months later, when Sheringham is waiting for his friend in the police station, the Superintendent asks Sheringham to tag along to interview a woman who has come to report her husband missing – whose body, the police already have in their possession. Sheringham doesn’t want to have anything to do with it and decides to skip away without being noticed but his interest is piqued when he identifies the woman as the same one whom he had met in a party and who couldn’t stop talking about a certain Bearstowe.
The woman who introduces herself as Mrs. Hutton tells a story about how she was supposed to have met her husband for lunch on the beach, how all his clothes were still on the beach but yet there was no sign of her husband. When the policeman asks her to give a description of her husband, pat comes a detailed description which even includes his chest measurements! When Sheringham mentions Bearstowe, she faints. When she is taken to the mortuary, she identifies the dead body as her husband Eddie without even opening her eyes!
The police investigation reveals that Mrs. Hutton was noticed with a clean shaven man near the beach, who ultimately is identified as Bearstowe. The police also have proof that Mrs. Hutton couldn’t have murdered her husband and all the evidence points to the absconding Bearstowe as being the murderer. Sheringham’s investigation on the other hand piles up the evidence that it was indeed a premeditated murder though he also clears Mrs. Hutton of any complicity. Just as in so many of his novels, the story ends with a final twist – a twist which is sprung as late as the final word of the story!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Mystery of The Horne’s Copse - Anthony Berkeley

Theme: Crippen & Landru Series
Story: The Mystery of The Horne’s Copse
Author: Anthony Berkeley
Source: The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries
Story Number: 115
Anthony Berkeley, The Master of the Final Twist is most famous for his novel The Poisoned Chocolates Case. This collection starts off with the story “The Avenging Chance” – which is a shorter version of his most popular novel. The next best story which shows all the trademarks of his ingenuity is the strange phenomenon of the Horne’s Copse.
The story is told from the point of view of Hugh Chappell, the rich heir to the Ravendean family. After a party in his neighbor’s house, he decides to walk back to his house via the patch known as Horne’s Copse instead of getting the flat tire fixed. In the dark, he stumbles across a body with a bullet hole in the head – he strikes a series of matches to identify the body – which turns out to be that of his cousin Frank, who is supposed to be vacationing in Europe. He continues to his home and calls the police but the police fail to find neither a dead body nor any other sign like the burnt matches. A month down the line, he again comes across the dead body of his cousin Frank in exactly the same position but this time he has been stabbed with a knife. He makes sure that it is indeed his cousin by identifying a mole near the neck. Further to make sure that he is very much dead, he lights the matches and holds it near the open staring eyes and notices that there’s no flicker, the hands are ice cold, there’s no pulse and no heartbeat. He runs down to his house, calls the police and runs back to the spot where he saw the dead body to await the police. But to his dismay, the body seems to have vanished again!
He sends a mail to his cousin who is still in Europe and gets a reply back from him. When everybody starts thinking that there’s something wrong with his mind, he stumbles on the dead body for a third time! This time, he just leaves the countryside and goes into hiding in London.  A few days later when he ventures out to visit a shop, he reads about the news of his cousin’s murder. And he realizes that the police are on the hunt for him as he is their chief suspect! Luckily for him, he bumps into none other than Roger Sheringham, who decides to hide Hugh in his house till he solves the puzzling events of the Horne’s Copse and provides a most satisfying explanation to all the strange things witnessed by the narrator.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mom Remembers - James Yaffe

Theme: Crippen & Landru Series
Story: Mom Remembers
Author: James Yaffe
Source: My Mother, The Detective
Story Number: 114
The last Mom story is a double bonanza in that there are two murder mysteries solved – one by Mom and the other by Mom’s Mom!
The case that Dave is investigating deals with what the police think as an open and shut case. Eighteen year old Ortiz is seen running away from the scene of the crime where a taxi driver has been stabbed after a holdup went terribly wrong. The witness is none other than Dave himself. But Ortiz says he was nowhere near the scene of the crime but decides not to reveal where he was at that crucial hour.
Mom compares this case to the first ever case that she was involved in, 45 years ago, on the eve of her marriage to Mendel. Mendel ends up drunk during the party dedicated to him on the eve of his marriage – which is considered as a sin by his Father (who is a Rabbi). A quarrel ensues and Mendel walks out of the house in a wild mood promising his Father that he would commit more sin. Next day, he is arrested for the murder of a girl and though he agrees that he committed a sin, he declines that he killed her. At the same time, he is very rigid in not giving away his whereabouts during the crucial hour of the crime. It’s Mom’s Mother who comes to the rescue – she poses a different question to 4 different individuals and based on the answers she is able to free Mendel and catch the guilty party.
Mom applies the same logic and the same motive from the old case to the present case; poses her customary 3 or 4 questions and shows how the police have blundered again in thinking that they have an open and shut case!

Mom Makes A Bet - James Yaffe

Theme: Crippen & Landru Series
Story: Mom Makes A Bet
Author: James Yaffe
Source: My Mother, The Detective
Story Number: 113
Grady, a theatrical producer is one of the regular customers at the popular Krumholz restaurant. Grady was known and disliked by every employee of the Krumholz. On this particular day, Grady has come to dinner with his Father-in-law, a Dr. Bartlet. Grady orders noodle soup for both of them, screaming at the old waiter Irving to make sure that the cook doesn’t put salt into his soup as the doctor has asked him to stop taking salt in his diet. Irving places the order with the cook, collects the two bowls and carries it along with several other orders. Just when he comes out of the kitchen, the hotel owners intervenes and decides to taste the soup to make sure that the soup doesn’t have any salt in it as he doesn’t want to lose his regular customer. When the owner expresses his satisfaction, Irving serves them the soup and as soon as the bowl is put in front of him, Grady takes a sip and in no time is dead due to cyanide poising.
The police arrest Irving but they are somewhat distressed by the fact that Irving doesn’t have a motive. At the same time, no one had the opportunity to poison the soup after the owner tasted it and before Grady drank it! Mom poses a bet to her son that she can prove Irving innocent if he is ready to turn up on Sunday to do her wallpapers.
Mom poses her usual important questions – who had motive to kill Grady? Did the cook dislike Grady(turns out that off all the employees, the cook was the only one who was on good terms with Grady)? Did Bartlet get any money due to Grady’s death (Bartlet was 100 times richer than Grady)? What had Grady ordered after his soup? The answers to her questions and a few other clues which have been presented to the reader lead to a very simple but yet clever solution to this impossible poisoning mystery!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mom Knows Best - James Yaffe

Theme: Crippen & Landru Series
Story: Mom Knows Best
Author: James Yaffe
Source: My Mother, The Detective
Story Number: 112
The first story to feature Mom debuted in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in the year 1952. James Yaffe wrote 7 more Mom stories spanning across 16 years and all these stories have now been collected for the first time in this wonderful collection, a collection which according to Ellery Queen, features some of the finest armchair detective stories ever written.
It’s become a custom for Homicide Detective Dave and his wife Shirley to have dinner with Mom every Friday. During the course of the meal, Dave ends up talking about a case that he has been working on and Mom with her shrewd and intellectual mind, poses 3 or 4 questions and solves the case for her son! The first case to be brought to Mom’s notice happens to be a neat little impossible crime.
Vilma Degrasse has been found dead in her hotel room – the elevator girl Sadie and the clerk both see the girl being escorted by a middle aged banker to her room on the 5th floor. The handyman is the second visitor but he claims that the door was locked, he could hear the TV in the room but nobody answered the door. An hour later, the third visitor finds the girl dead when he walks into the open room. The elevator girl and the clerk were together and noticed no one going in or out. But the police are not able to pin the murder on any of the three visitors.
Mom poses her four “most important questions” and the answers provided by Dave suits her theory very well and she is able to give them an alternate solution which the police had never thought of and yet the clues were there right in front of them (and the reader) all the time. A phenomenal debut for Mom!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

That Bug That’s Going Around - Helen McCloy

Theme: Crippen & Landru Lost Classic Series
Story: That Bug That’s Going Around
Author: Helen McCloy
Source: The Pleasant Assassin and Other Stories
Story Number: 111
Basil Willing’s daughter has asked him to join her for the dinner she is hosting for the Nobel Prize winner Jason Blair and his troupe which includes his wife, his biographer, his assistant and an old friend of Jason who also happens to be the visiting doctor for Peter, Basil’s grandson. Peter is suffering from a cold and his mother is not too happy with the first doctor’s verdict of “it’s just a cold - must be that bug that’s going around”. More so when Jason breaks the news that there has been an epidemic in the hotel they are staying – where five people have died suddenly after catching a cold – suspected to have been caused by a strain of an unknown virus circulated through the air conditioning system!
The sixth victim happens to be Jason himself – right after the dinner! And Basil knows that the person responsible for the six deaths happens to be one of the guests – based on the clue left by the murderer on a doodle which the person has unconsciously scribbled while using the telephone - a doodle, which is unique and which is identified by the psychologist and one other guest. To solve the rest of the case, he banks on the scraps of information commonly available in the newspapers and the information available in the dead scientist’s biography – a solution rooted in a closely guarded scientific experiment carried out for the defense a decade ago.

Murder Stops The Music - Helen McCloy

Theme: Crippen & Landru Lost Classic Series
Story: Murder Stops The Music
Author: Helen McCloy
Source: The Pleasant Assassin and Other Stories
Story Number: 110
Sybilla, a nineteen year old girl from Boston has the unenviable task of inviting the famous concert pianist Gertrude Ehrenthal to perform for the village summer fair, a yearly event to raise money for local charities. Just when she is about to enter the Ehrenthal residence, a big boxer confronts her and when the door is opened, she is relieved when the dog enters the house and makes himself comfortable. Contrary to Sybilla’s expectation, the pianist agrees to perform at the fair. But what they both can’t agree to is the ownership of the dog which is having a jolly good time wreaking up the house – the host thinks that the dog is Sybilla’s and she likewise thinks that it belongs to the host. And a few hours later the dog turns up dead with its throat cut!
The actual owner of the dog turns out to be Basil Willing’s neighbor in the village Paul Amory, who is the paid organizer for the whole event. And he has vowed to get his revenge if the Ehrenthals turn up for the concert! And sure enough, Gertrude is found stabbed to death when the lights black out during the middle of the concert. There are far more suspects than Basil Willing had thought he was dealing with – there are many who want her out of the way so that the estate would go on sale, there is her son who would inherit her wealth and there’s a gangster on the loose who had stayed in that house and is supposed to have hidden the loot there. Willing has his own method of identifying the culprit – though the dog’s behavior is obviously a clue, he bases his deduction on the fact that a sentence uttered by one of the suspects could have come only from a Frenchman rather than an Englishman!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Singing Diamonds - Helen Mccloy

One of my main aims when I started this whole exercise in the New Year was to read at least 20 titles from the Crippen and Landru series. Though I’ve read two volumes this year, I haven’t really featured any story on the blog (actually holding them back for a later theme), which I plan to rectify now as I plan to cover stories from 3 other lost classic series(or maybe even 4) over the next 2 weeks.
And Hats Off to Douglas G. Greene and his team at Crippen & Landru in unearthing all these wonderful stories from oblivion and presenting it to the modern world at such affordable prices! And what a delight it is to treat oneself to one of these classic titles. Wishing, hoping and praying that C&L will continue their tremendous good work for a long long time and introduce us to numerous more gems!
Theme: Crippen & Landru Lost Classic Series
Story: The Singing Diamonds
Author: Helen Mccloy
Source: The Pleasant Assassin and Other Stories
Story Number: 109
I’d to skip the first story in this collection “Through a Glass, Darkly” as I would like to read the longer version of the same title – am pretty sure it would’ve been featured here a long time ago had it been a standalone story which didn’t have a corresponding longer version! That brings me to the second longest story in this collection “The Singing Diamonds”.
Mathilde Verworn wants to know from Basil Willing, the psychiatrist, whether there was such a thing as collective hallucination. Because, there were six people from six different locations in the country who testified to seeing strange diamond shaped objects in the sky, moving at alarming speeds and causing a humming noise as they pass. And four of those six have died in peculiar circumstances in the last 12 days. Mathilde’s husband happens to be an astrophysicist who is called on by various agencies to explain the strange phenomena of the singing diamonds. As a result, Mathilde has withheld her knowledge about witnessing the singing diamonds from general public. But now that four of them are dead, she is hoping that Dr. Willing could do something to save her!
When Dr. Willing consults a Naval Intelligence officer, he comes to know that all six who had publicly acknowledged seeing the singing diamonds were dead. The various investigative agencies couldn’t find any connection among those six, they couldn’t find any evidence to the existence of any scientific experiments or the rational explanation to the singing diamonds. However, they did establish a few interesting facts – all but one had been suffering from asthma and 3 of them were known to use ginger candies – two facts which convinces the psychiatric investigator that the reason for the deaths could be explained with a perfectly rational explanation than the science fiction theories and the paranormal theories that they were being attributed to!
Mathilde has confessed to seeing the singing diamonds with 4 of her family members and friends. Basil Willing invites himself to a dinner party featuring all these members. He challenges each of them to propose a solution to the mystery as the group involves 2 scientists, 1 mathematician and 1 psychiatrist! And the theories vary from a missile being tested by a foreign power to a scientific experiment being conducted by the local government to aliens trying to communicate with the earthlings! Basil Willing has his own complex explanation to the problem which is more earthly and more humanly. Though it sounds utterly fantastic and highly improbable, it nevertheless qualifies as one of the most diabolic and ingenious plans to have been conceived by a perpetrator!