Friday, May 6, 2016

"He Seems to Have Been Attacked and Killed in the Train and Then Thrown Out"

"A Warning in Red."
By Victor Whitechurch (1868-1933) and E. Conway (?-?).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, December 1899.
Reprinted in Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (1992) (TOC HERE).
Collected in a Kindle Megapack HERE.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and ManyBooks HERE.
   'You'd make a good detective, Forbes,' said the Colonel.
   'Not a bit of it,' I replied. 'It's simply because there is a mystery connected with my hobby—railways. That's what makes me a little extra sharp.'

Shortly after Forbes has arrived at Colonel Ward's country estate in Manningford for a short stay, word comes that the body of Geoffrey Anstruthers, a very eccentric neighbor of the Colonel's, has been found lying on the train tracks between London and Manningford. While there's very little doubt that the motive is robbery (the victim insisted on carrying around large amounts of gold), for Forbes a half dozen or so little discordant details surrounding the crime simply don't comport with the obvious version—and, since this is a railway mystery, there will be one large detail involving train timetables that will prove crucial in helping him arrive at the solution.

Principal characters:
~ Forbes (no first name, the narrator):
   "In a moment a clue flashed across my mind, and I searched for a porter."
~ Colonel Ward:
   "Goodnight, old chap. Pleasant dreams. I hope your red sensation is not the preliminary to a nightmare."
~ Monk:
   "Poor Mr. Anstruthers! I knew him well, sir."
~ Geoffrey Anstruthers:
   "It was a gruesome sight, and my friend turned away to ask some questions of the inspector. I looked at the dead man carefully. There were signs of a struggle. His clothes were torn, and one of his hands was tightly clenched. Then I saw what the wily country police had passed undiscovered—a shred of paper clasped in his hand."
~ Dr. Moore:
   "So we called on Dr. Moore on our way to the station. He declared that he had seen poor Anstruthers at six o'clock in the morning, and was positively certain that he must then have been dead seven or eight hours. The mystery was thickening."
~ Smart, Sutton, a local constable, and two platelayers.
A down goods train
- While we were able to find background information about Victor Whitechurch HERE and HERE, we couldn't find anything about "E. Conway."
- Another railway mystery, this one of the locked carriage variety, is discussed HERE.
- Victor Whitechurch must have been a fervent ferroequinologist to judge from his most famous book, Thrilling Stories of the Railway (1912), which is online at Project Gutenberg of Australia HERE; Bryan Morgan contributed a fine foreword to the 1977 edition in which he encapsulates Whitechurch's at-the-time unique series character (who doesn't appear in our story), Thorpe Hazell:
. . . Hazell's primary characteristic, of course, is that which he shared with his creator—his knowledge and understanding of most aspects of railway lore (for Whitechurch was not really a locomotive man) from the apparent dryness of signalling procedure upwards. He is British fiction's only specialised railway detective, though he soon had an American rival: indeed, no less an authority than Ellery Queen has called him the first "speciality detective" of all. He does not, however, fill this book; for only about half of its contents, those of fairly pure detection, are "Thorpe Hazell" tales. The other half consists of stories where the accent is on adventure—and, interestingly, these often have a German villain since writers have always been more astute than soldiers and politicians in knowing where future menace lay. A few of these later tales could easily have been recast as Thorpe Hazell stories, but Whitechurch presumably wanted to divide intellectual from physical action. What binds the two classes is a shining, train-trodden ribbon of steel.

The bottom line: "A railroad station? That was sort of a primitive airport, only you didn't have to take a cab 20 miles out of town to reach it."
Russell Baker

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