Thursday, October 31, 2013

Three Conundrums

Compiled by Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg, and Martin H. Greenberg.
Arbor House Publishers.
1982. 607 pages.
Here are three selections from one of the best anthologies:

EDWARD D. HOCH - "Burial Monuments Three." First appearance: ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE (AHMM), May 1972. Reprinted in THE ARBOR HOUSE TREASURY.

  "Do you come here often with men?" he asked, not really caring. His wife was a lifetime away just then, in another world.
   "Does it matter?"
   "Does it matter if I killed them?"
   Thunder crashed above the trees. He shifted position and drew her closer. "You didn't kill anybody."
   "How do you know?"
   "I know. I've met a few murderers in my time, and you're not one of them."

Comment: Newscaster Steve Hampton turns off the turnpike to explore back roads territory. He's on vacation, however, and isn't really looking for a story.

But that will change dramatically when he meets young and beautiful Janie Mason, who lives all alone in the woods. To hear her tell it, the Big Bad Wolf would have reason to be afraid of her.

Janie, you see, doesn't mind it when she tells Steve she killed her mother, father, and uncle and buried them herself. Three graves seem to offer mute confirmation of her story.

But there's someone running loose who will put Steve's life in direst jeopardy. One of the graves is really empty, and the person who should be in it is wandering about—with an ax . . . .
JON L. BREEN - "Hercule Poirot in the Year 2010." First appearance: ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE (EQMM), March 1975. Reprinted several times.

   "We've been hearing for some time that thought therapists can teach people to so manipulate their conscious minds as to be immune to our thought readers. But I never had a specific example of it until our present case. I have four suspects in the murder of Gaylord Tenney—four suspects only—and one of them has to be the murderer. Anything else is physically impossible, and yet the thought readings on all four indicate innocence of the crime!"

Comment: Gaylord Tenney has spent much of his life swindling people out of their rightful property, so it seems only just that he spend the last few moments of his misspent life in the presence of people who all have good reason to want him dead.

On the New York-to-London Underground train, Tenney's body is discovered "bleeding all over his newspaper, a dagger in his heart. Quite dead."

The investigating officer, Colonel Hart-Winston, has mind-reading technicians at his disposal, but to no avail.

As a last resort, the colonel calls on the assistance of Hercule Poirot—but can Poirot's 150-year-old little grey cells detect the malefactor before s/he can get away with murder?
WILLIAM BRITTAIN - "Mr. Strang Accepts a Challenge." First appearance: EQMM, November 1976. Also reprinted in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF LOCKED-ROOM MYSTERIES AND IMPOSSIBLE CRIMES, edited by Mike Ashley, 2000.

   "The method of murder was not only heartless, as all murders are, it was also devilishly clever."

Comment: Mr. Strang, a teacher at Aldershot High School, is challenged by one of his students to use logic to solve a real-life murder mystery.

The police haven't been able to close the case of a miserly old guy's death who had his skull crushed by a heavy weight dropped from overhead. The problem is that the prime suspects with the strongest motivations to terminate that odious old man—after all, he was trying to trick them out of their home—were two octogenarian sisters who couldn't possibly lift anything heavy enough to do the job. Not only that, but the death occurred at the exact moment that the two old ladies were standing on the other side of a closed door, with a minister right there beside them as their witness.

The police are reluctant to pursue the investigation further because one of the sisters has since died, and the other has been committed to a retirement home.

While the whole thing seems hopeless, nevertheless Mr. Strang accepts his student's challenge and proves that the impossible is altogether possible—under the right circumstances.

Category: Detective fiction

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