Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"There Is Little Art in Crime These Days"

JOSEPHINE UNDERWOOD MUNFORD seems to have been another one of those general fictioneers who dabbled in detective fiction, a genre that requires specialized skills if it's to be done well; unfortunately, Josephine didn't have them. Munford's characterization of her sleuthhound, Hurton Haverley, is fittingly canine: "like a great bloodhound following a scent," "with something akin to four-footed speed," "stopped short, sniffing." Our story, pleasingly concise, shows Haverley's detective skills to good advantage, but the solution is something of a letdown; you could consider "The Gold Beetle" as a near miss. (The FictionMags listing doesn't have this story, unless it was published elsewhere under another title.)

"The Gold Beetle."
By Josephine Underwood Munford (1885-1948).
First appearance: The Royal Magazine (1916).
Short short story (6 pages, 2 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Text faded and smudged in places, and there are a couple of racial epithets.)

"The circumstantial evidence is great, but it is all malignant, diabolical coincidence."
   The distraught wife of a rich banker accused of murdering his pretty Eurasian secretary seeks the aid of Hurton Haverley, well-known detective. Going purely on the situational data, as usual, the police have arrested Edmund Cuthbertson after Kiku Kennedy is found slumped over her employer's desk, stabbed with a hunting-knife and wearing his dinner-jacket.
   Cuthbertson admits there was emotional warmth in his relationship with the victim, but it was all coming from her, and Mrs. Cuthbertson says she believes him. For our sleuth, how-ever, no one is above suspicion, and that includes the accused's wife.
   It'll take some snooping around, but detective Haverley will turn up the true significance of the new olive-green paint around the door facings and a peculiar nailprint therein, the posi-tion of the windows in the study and the street lights outside, the man with a triangular cicatrix on his left cheek, and especially that curiously-wrought ring with "an enormous gold beetle with fantastically carved wings" belonging to Kiku that was taken by Mrs. Cuthbertson from her husband's smoking-jacket just before the police arrived, another piece of circum-stantial evidence that the authorities would no doubt consider as one more nail in Cuthbert-son's coffin . . .

The bottom line: "Oblige me by taking away that knife. I can't look at the point of it. It reminds me of Roman history."
James Joyce

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