By Joseph S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
First appearance: Unknown.
Reprinted in The Secret of the Barbican (1925; online
at FadedPage HERE) and World's Great Detective
Novelette (15 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"I saw headlines in the papers, certainly, but I didn't read what was underneath them. I don't know anything. That's my way, superintendent—I like my facts at first hand."The young mayor of a very old English village, in the person of Mr. Guy Hannington, has been done in, and the local police, in the person of Superintendent Sutton, have called in Scotland Yard, in the person of Detective-Sergeant Milgrave, to investigate.
On the face of it, there seems to have been just barely enough opportunity for a murderer to have done it without being observed, but because the victim didn't appear to have an enemy in the world there also seem to be virtually zero candidates for committing this heinous act—which perplexities have D. S. Milgrave virtually scratching his head, since a crucial one-third of the requirements for solving a crime—a clear motive—is missing.
Milgrave is certain that if he just can find that motive it'll be a much shorter and easier path to the killer—but what he doesn't know, and has to be shown by someone who is commonly thought of as the village crackpot, is that the murderer's opportunity to stab the mayor to death was greater than anyone has yet realized, and that the short and easy path to the killer is beyond the veil . . .
~ Detective-Sergeant Milgrave, C.I.D.:
". . . a quietly-dressed, middle-aged, spectacled man, whom casual observers, had they looked at him at all, would have taken for a member of the professional classes, a doctor, a solicitor, a chartered accountant."
~ Superintendent Sutton:
". . . a big, burly man, who held out a stout fist, and showed unmistakable pleasure and relief at his visitor's coming."
~ Mr. Guy Hannington, the deceased mayor of Lyncaster:
"Dr. Winford, he says that the mayor had been writing, or was writing, at his desk when the murderer drove a knife, or something of that sort, clean through his heart from behind. He says—the doctor—that he'd leap up, throw out his arms, twist round, and fall where he was found, on his back. He says, too, that death would be practically instantaneous."
~ Learoyd, the caretaker, and his wife:
"The person—the only person—who saw him come in was the caretaker, Learoyd, a pensioned policeman. Learoyd and his wife live in the ground floor rooms of the Moot Hall—you can't enter at all from the front without passing their door and window . . ."
~ Leggett, the borough treasurer:
"How do you know that Hannington hadn't made an appointment with his murderer? It's all nonsense, of course, about Learoyd not seeing anyone enter or leave. Learoyd was too busy with his supper to attend to things of that sort. A man could easily have slipped in and out; and as to getting away, why, it's not two minutes' walk to the outskirts and the open country from any point of this town . . ."
~ Anthony Mallalieu (a.k.a. "Snuffy"), rabid antiquarian:
"Then the shadowy figure turned up the wick of a lamp, and Milgrave found himself staring at the queerest old man he had ever seen in his life, the sort of man who might have been imagined by Dickens or drawn by Doré."
Typos: "while you and find out what this old man's got to show us" [I left out]; "I should thing everything that can be told"; "secret passages and suck-like"; "they [should be he] asked."
- Biographical information about J. S. Fletcher is on Wikipedia (HERE), while the GAD Wiki has extensive bibliographical data about Fletcher's output (HERE); his very short filmography is (HERE).
There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls,
Doing more murder in this loathsome world,
Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell.