Friday, December 28, 2012

The Detections of Francis Quarles - Julian Symons

This is the third collection of stories featuring the private detective Francis Quarles after ‘Murder! Murder!’ (21 stories) & ‘Francis Quarles Investigates’ (15 stories) and features 42 short-short stories which were all originally written for London’s Evening Standard newspaper. Nothing much is known or written about the detective himself and whatever is known is given by the author as a preface in the first collection. Quarles’s investigations usually involve murder in its various forms. To Quote him, “In every unsolved crime there is always a human error, a clue which, if we could understand its meaning, would point straight to the murderer.” And every single story in this volume adheres to this great maxim and the reader always has the clues right in front of him to solve it by himself. In fact, the whole book can be considered as a collection of ‘five-minute solve it yourself’ mysteries. And it is certainly one of the best short story collections that I’ve read this year!
1.   Red Rum Means Murder
The title of the story itself serves as the clue. Quarles investigates the murder of a blackmailer who also happens to be a bookseller. Means of collecting the money: send a few first editions and collect exorbitant prices on them! The book titles in some way points to the name of the victim. In this case, Quarles has a list of 5 first editions and he needs to figure out who among the 4 eligible buyers it was intended for to arrive at the murderer.
2.   Murder – But How Was It Done?
A locked room mystery in only 4 pages! Magerson has just returned from South America with new varieties of snakes & scorpions and is staying in a hotel. He is to address an international conference on his findings but with just 2 hours to go for the conference, he is found dead inside a locked bathroom. Cause of death: puncture mark on the chest from a poison dart which is found under the body. No windows, no other means of opening and the dart wasn’t fired through the keyhole. How was the dart fired inside the locked bathroom?
3.   Airborne With A Borgia
Murder during a flight to Rome. Mr. Cogan, who is the director of that airline, is always given his favorite seat whenever he flies. And he has made a last minute decision to take this flight and on board the flight are several of his enemies who would love to see him dead. Quarles’s has been keeping a close eye on him in the mirror but he is soon found dead after having his dinner(death due to poison) without anybody having approached him except for the staff and the staff know that the food wasn’t poisoned. Quarles unmasks a new device which could be used to kill a person effectively.
4.   The Pepoli Case
Death on board a ship and the disappearance of both the victim and the murderer. Robert Peopli is married to Clarissa and they have invited Aunt Agatha and Quarles for their party. The aunt doesn’t like Robert but there is even worse a character amidst them in the form of Edward Pepoli (Robert’s cousin), who has already served two prison sentences. Three weeks later, Robert & Clarissa are off on a three weeks cruise and Clarissa has invited the aunt to join her! The aunt suspects that Edward is also on the ship and suspects foul play. Sure enough, she is a witness to a fight in the night – the two men who look exactly like Robert & Edward. She sees Edward getting the better of Robert and pushing him overboard but when she brings in help, Edward is nowhere to be seen on the ship and there’s no sign of the dead body of Robert!
5.   The Impossible Theft
An impossible crime in front of numerous witnesses. Gregory is a private detective who has been hired to guard the very valuable rope of pearls which Raven is presenting to his daughter on the occasion of her engagement. On the eve of the function, Gregory receives a threat saying that the pearls will disappear at 10.15. He invites Quarles to lend him extra support. During the function, Gregory is standing guard in front of the jewel case, he opens the case and hands it over to the Jewel evaluator who confirms that it’s real, it’s passed from hand to hand (a dozen individuals) who are standing in a circle around the host and is given back to Gregory who again locks it in the case. Then there is a distraction and a few minutes later when the case is opened again, the pearl set is found to be made of paste. All the ones who handled the pearl set including the host and the detective is searched but they find no sign of the original!

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