Thursday, September 22, 2016

"I Know You, and That You Are the Murderer of Mr. Blagden!"

"Murder Under the Microscope."
By "Waters" (William Russell, ?-?).
First book appearance: Autobiography of an English Detective, Volume 2 (1863).
Book chapter (43 pages).
Reprinted at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and HERE.
"Seldom has evidence—almost supernatural it seemed to the astounded audience—produced a deeper impression . . ."
Arthur Blagden, a retired solicitor turned real estate wheeler-dealer, has been found dead and Joseph Gibson, an amateur in the art of farming, has been accused.

The mountain of circumstantial evidence against Gibson seems absolutely incontrovertible: It is common public knowledge among the locals that Blagden (just as he did with the previ-ous owner) had cheated Gibson, something of a naive city dweller, when he purchased a run-down farm for over twice its actual worth; that after Gibson hit difficulties in making his ren-tal payment, Blagden had flatly refused any extension of the deadline, leading to "a stormy scene" between the two men during which Gibson "leapt at his landlord, and inflicted a severe blow upon his face, at the same time howling forth threats of direst vengeance"; and that many auditors at the local pub had heard Gibson making even more ominous threats against Arthur Blagden.
When the very next day Blagden's dead body is found sprawled across a narrow road, his gig overturned and his horse tortured by a broken leg, everyone assumes at first it's an accident—but then comes a discovery that casts the spotlight of guilt on Joseph Gibson:
There was a deep wound in the back of the dead man's neck—apparently delivered by a sharp axe, which had cut through the stand-up fur collar of the cloak he wore. No question that he had been struck from behind.
The London detective officer called into the case isn't content to settle for the obvious explanation for a crime until he can account for those anomalies that crop up from time to time in an investigation, among them in this instance:

   ~ "a clothes-line, almost new, one end of which had been recently cut" and "carefully buried near the scene of the awful crime," an item which "might suffice to hang whoever could be proved to have had it in his possession on the night of the murder";
   ~ "a sharp billhook, the blade and handle of which were stained with blood," as well as a bloody apron;
   ~ the fact that none of the missing money belonging to Blagden, "neither notes nor coin—he had a small canvass bag full, or nearly so of sovereigns—had been found, nor had the gold watch";
   ~ how to account for Gibson's keeping of the "easily discoverable" and incriminating rent receipt;
   ~ the way Blagden's horse and gig were upset: "to do so was scarcely to be expected of a Cockney oil and colourman [Gibson]—one too prematurely feeble, aged. No, no; if that trick had been played, it was by some one whose eyes could see in the dark as well as daylight; one possessed of nerve, quickness, decision, which would bring down a partridge before it had fluttered its wings thrice";
   ~ and finally what the microscope reveals about the blood, fur, and human hair found on the apron, the billhook, and the victim's cloak collar.

   ~ "It was a very, very ugly affair."
   ~ "This expression was held to indicate a settled determination in Gibson's mind to kill his landlord, should the required favour be refused. A skilled detective would have drawn an inference just the reverse of that. No man, unless he be delirious with drink or rage, hints of his intention, under certain contingencies, to commit murder!"
   ~ "It can only be explained by the axiom that whom God determines to destroy he first deprives of reason."

Typos: "bark of the dead man's neck"; "suddenly tighteued."

- An earlier book by "Waters" is online (HERE).
- Researchers maintain that "Waters" wasn't a police officer at all:
By 1842 the police presence in London had become acceptable enough to make possible the creation of a small, plain-clothes detective police force and it is the activities of the detective police that finally bring crime and detection together in popular literature, initially in fiction. In 1849 hack journalist William Russell, perhaps inspired by the 1830s and 40s fashion for pseudo-autobiographical narratives of professional men such as physicians, lawyers and barristers, produced the first fictional account of professional policing in his “Recollec-tions of a Police-Officer,” which were published in the popular Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 1849–53. Russell overcame the class problem by making “Waters,” his policeman protagonist, a gentleman forced into police work after losing his fortune to dishonest gamblers. The stories are set in the recent past prior to the establishment of the detective police, but “Waters” functions as a detective, working in plain clothes, and there are anachronistic references to his “fellow detective-officers.” The stories proved popular . . . — For more, see Chapter 1: "From The Newgate Calendar to Sherlock Holmes" by Heather Worthington, in Rzepka & Horsley's A Companion to Crime Fiction, 2010 (HERE, PDF).
- Concerning our story:
As a rare example of "Waters" fiction available today, "Murder Under the Micro-scope" is of fascinating historical interest. It is a landmark in the depiction of science to detect crime. It is in the anthology Isaac Asimov Presents the Best Crime Stories of the 19th Century (1988) edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg and Charles Waugh. — Mike Grost, "'Waters': Founder of the Casebook School" (HERE), A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection.

The bottom line: "We are only tenants, and shortly the great Landlord will give us notice that our lease has expired."
Joseph Jefferson

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