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To the Icehouse


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

As we could hardly leave the body of Miss Bent hanging from the tree like a giant flesh-coloured banana, I engaged Billy Blah and Dilip Lombardi to assist me in cutting her down and conveying the body to the icehouse. This brick-built structure was located on the north side of the island on the edge of a small wood that peppered the area behind the main house. Utilizing a wooden wheelbarrow dutifully provided by Rogers, we were able to complete the quarter-mile journey in a few minutes, then, girding our collective loins for the task, hoisted the corpse onto our shoulders as if it were a roll of carpet and began to hump her down the steps.

“Flippin cold in ‘ere,” muttered Blah, backing through the door.

“Better to be cold than hot and smelly,” I countered, spying a low bench along the back wall of the icehouse.

Sliding Miss Bent’s body across the rough surface, I found a piece of tarpaulin underneath the bench and covered her over to preserve what little was left of her dignity.

“Bit of a contradiction in terms, don’t you think?” said Mister Lombardi.

Turning to look at him, I saw he was leaning against the door post, panting a little, his face furrowed in thought. “How’s that?” I said.

He waved a hand in a general sort of way at our surroundings. “Just that there isn’t any ice.”

Taking care to keep my head down due to the low roof, I stepped back and rotated myself through three hundred and sixty degrees. The structure had been sunk into the earth a good four feet and I could already feel the cold seeping through the bare earth into my patent-leather Oxfords. With a floorspace of no more than ten feet square there was barely room to swing a muffin. Apart from shelving on two sides and the rough bench against the rear wall which now held the dead woman, the icehouse did not appear to contain anything.

“Well,” I said, “perhaps the kitchen has some kind of new-fangled cooling mechanism. Mister Owen clearly has plenty of cash.”

Billy Blah sniffed. “No. I arsked Rogers for a whisky on the rocks after lunch and he told me the house don’t have no means of storing ice.”

Lombardi laughed. “And yet we’re standing in an icehouse.”

“I don’t suppose they get many visitors,” said I, tapping my fingers on the walls the way Holmes does when searching for hidden compartments. “But you’re right – it does look very much like what it is: an icehouse without ice.”

“Doctor Watson,” said Blah, “I ‘ope you don’t mind me saying, but were you aware that Miss Bent wasn’t…you know…?”

“That she was a man?” I nodded. “Mary and I found out a little while ago. I don’t believe it’s significant. In relation to the murders, I mean.”

“Huh,” muttered Blah. “Speaking as a former police inspector, I’d say every bloody thing means something in relation to the murders.” He gave me a gentle punch on the arm. “I’ll bet your Mister Holmes would say the same.”

He was right. Holmes never allowed even the smallest detail to go unexamined. But for the life of me, I couldn’t see any clues in our present surroundings.

Back outside in the sunlight, I gazed across at the house. Mary was standing talking to General MacArthur and Vera Claymore. There was no sign of the servants or Justice Warmonger. If this ridiculous affair were running true to form, Warmonger would prove to be the killer, which might also mean that he was Mister Owen.

“There’s something I need to check,” I said and warned my two companions to stay with the others. Then, hurrying across to where Mary waited, I signalled her to come with me.

“No ice in the icehouse?” she whispered as we hastened around to the front of the house.

“No,” I said. “And I think I know why.”

Taking the stairs two at a time, we headed for the judge’s bedroom at the end of a long corridor. Leaving niceties at the door, I burst into the room.

“Oh, Christing hell,” said Mary, clinging to my arm. “Is he…?”

Justice Warmonger lay on his bed, hands crossed over his chest in the style so revered by undertakers. A cardboard Agatha Christie mask had been positioned over the man’s face. Removing the disguise, I examined him closely. His eyes were shut, his mouth a thin pale line turned up at one side as if in a deathly sneer. Holding two fingers to his carotid artery, I discerned there was no obvious pulse. Finally, lifting one eyelid, I saw exactly what I’d expected to see.

“He’s dead.” Leading my wife back out into the passage, I gave her a rapid explanation of my theory and we hurried down to the kitchen to find Rogers and his wife.

The kitchen itself was markedly free of servants. A quick check of the larder and scullery also proved fruitless.

“Where can they be?” said Mary, peering out of the window.

“Think,” I said. “Where would you least expect a servant to be during the time they would normally be on duty?”

Mary shrugged. “In bed?”

Hurrying back upstairs and up to the top floor, we located the two rooms given over to Rogers and his wife. The first door stood open and led into a living room, sparsely decorated with tatty furniture including two armchairs and a table. The second was closed. I knocked and went in. The bed, and indeed the room, were empty.

“Johnny…” Mary had moved across to a window that overlooked the rear lawn. “Look.”

Standing behind her, I followed her gaze. A lone figure strode across the lawn towards a wooden shed on the south side of the house. It was Rogers. In one hand he carried what looked like a brown sack. In the other, a large kitchen knife that glinted in the sunlight. The expression on his face was not pretty. It was the look of a man who intended to do harm.

“What’s in that shed?” said Mary.

“I don’t know for sure,” I said, “but I’ve a nasty feeling that’s where Holmes is hiding.”

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Tea and a Quickie with Aggie


Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade
Mrs Miniver’s Bunk-Up
Dolphin Cove

Having spent most of the last twelve hours in the company of a most interesting woman, I am now back in my room, taking the opportunity to update my journal on recent events.

Since the Watsons departed for the island, I had begun to regret my decision to remain in Dolphin Cove. Though I’d agreed to report back to Holmes on the post-mortem of Mister Marston and related matters, I failed to appreciate the foolhardiness of staying at Mrs Miniver’s Bunk-Up in the village. Having been advised by that same lady’s niece that the aforementioned lodging-house is held in the highest regard in this locality, I soon learned this fact has less to do with Mrs Miniver’s ability to deliver the requisite services usually provided at such establishments, and more to do with her penchant for climbing into her guests beds of a night-time. So far, I have been the victim of roaming fingers, an extraordinarily long and inquisitive tongue and an inclination to indulge in the local nightly pastime of ‘fisting’.

I should point out that although this latter practice has been mentioned several times by my hostess, with the explanation that it is the ‘ultimate delight’ for many of her male lodgers, I have not as yet been on the receiving end, so to speak. Following her rather detailed description of the activity, I made it quite clear I would not be a party to such deviant practices and if she attempted to realise such an act, she would find herself in very hot water indeed.

However, I digress.

Yesterday morning I determined to follow up on one of the suggestions put to me by Holmes before he departed for the island, and it was with this objective in mind that I made the journey to Greenway House in Devon in a little under an hour, thanks to the generosity of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and the provision of one of his flying contraptions. (I don’t mind admitting that the experience of being whisked into the air at great speed, surrounded by pounding pistons and hissing steam, scared me half to death and I was only too glad to reach my destination and clamber down from the infernal machine.)

A chap in a butler’s outfit greeted me on the lawn and led the way up to the house. One of Mycroft’s minions had alerted the lady in question to my imminent arrival and I was gratified to learn she had proffered no objections to my visit.

The house is quite magnificent, and I confess to feeling somewhat overawed by its daunting immensity and the sheer bloody opulence of the furnishings.

The butler chappie spoke kindly to me as we crossed the great hall, advising that The Mistress would be delighted to meet me, so long as I made no attempt to persuade her to divulge the plot of her latest book – currently titled An Excruciatingly Painful Murder is Announced.

“Ah,” said Miss Christie, rising from her chair, “Inspector Lestrade. How the buggering hell are you?”

I blinked at this unexpected use of colloquialisms, but took her hand and shook it firmly.

“I ‘ope you ain’t gonner find my questions objectionable, Miss Christie, but a copper ‘as ter do what he ‘as to do, eh?”

“Bloody good show, Inspector,” she said, waving me into a seat by the window. Dragging her own chair across the carpet in order to sit opposite me, she plonked herself down heavily and spread her legs wide, in a rather mannish manner.

“Hope you don’t mind the plus fours,” she said, brushing a hand down her tweeds. “Stops the servants looking at my snatch.”

When I’d finished coughing, I pulled out my notebook and stared at it until the blood had once again drained from my face. “Right, then, Miss er…”

“Call me Aggie. Everyone does,” she said, with a snort.

“Right,” I said again. “Now I ‘ave ter tell yer that the private investigators Messrs Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are involved in a case what I am also examining, so…”

“Oh, jolly good,” she erupted, rubbing her hands together gleefully. “Love a nice bloody murder.” Her face went serious and she leaned forward, eagerly. “There has been a murder, has there?”

“There has, Miss, er, Aggie. The victim is one Mister Marston.”

At this, the famous novelist sat back, rubbing her chin. “Marston, you say? That’s interesting.”

“Yes, and that’s what I was wantin ter talk to yer about.” I hesitated, unsure how to continue.

“Don’t tell me, “she said with a sly smile. “It’s a copy-cat killer.” She leaned forward again and squeezed my knee. “I’m bloody right, aren’t I?”

“Actually, yes. Mister Holmes was of the opinion that someone may be replicating the murders in your novel, And Then There Were None, though if yer ask me, I fink it’s all a bit far-fetched.”

Agatha gazed out of the window, her mouth slightly open. “I wonder…”

“Although, to be fair,” I continued, “so far there ‘as been only one murder.”

“Mister Marston. Hmmm.” She nodded. “Yes, but Holmes expects there to be more, in fact I wouldn’t mind betting twenty bloody quid that another one has already occurred.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, Miss…”

“Sequential Killers rarely hang about, you know. Best nip this one in the bud, before he or she does it again, eh?”

“Exactly.” Glancing at my notebook, I steeled myself for the next question. “Now, I was wonderin…that is, Mister Holmes was wonderin, if you yourself had, by any strange coincidence, in recent days, visited a place called Huge Island. Or perhaps Dolphin Cove?” Licking my lips, I watched her face for any tell-tale sign of guilt.

“Well now, Inspector,” said she, a crafty smile sliding across her thin face. “If I was the murderer, pretending to follow the plot of a highly successful and very well received crime novel, I’d most likely also pretend to be the author herself.” She winked at me. “Wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, I might, I suppose,” I stuttered. “Though…”

“Yes, Inspector?”

“Well, Mister Holmes and me, we was wonderin, if that is indeed the murderer’s intention – pretending to be you, I mean – how might an individual do that in practice?”

She shrugged. “If it were me, then obviously I would just be me. But if the murderer were someone else, then he or she would simply wear a mask.”

With a sudden spurt of energy, she leaped out of her chair and slapped her thigh. “Now, d’you fancy tea and scones before we go for a quickie?”

“Erm…a quickie?”

“A round of golf, dear. What’d you think I meant – a fuck?” And with that, she collapsed into gales of laughter before ringing the bell for tea.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Corpse, the Mask and the Novelist


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As Johnny ran around alerting the others, I hurried downstairs to stand by the door. We had quickly decided that whoever was responsible might still be outside, in which case the exact whereabouts of the remaining guests was of the utmost importance. I could hear Johnny knocking on doors and yelling at everyone to meet in the foyer urgently. As footsteps began to clatter along the corridors above me, the butler and his wife appeared though a doorway at the end of the hall.

“Has something happened, madam?” enquired Rogers.

“Yes,” I said. “Something has.” I determined to say no more until we had gathered everyone together.

Mrs Rogers hid behind her husband, as if showing herself might cast suspicion in her direction. I smiled kindly in a bid to ease her obvious agitation (though I had no reason to think she was innocent).

A moment later, the others thundered down the main staircase like a herd of wildebeest and I ticked their names off in my little notebook as they appeared:

General MacArthur was first, followed by Billy Blah and Dilip Lombardi. Vera Claymore and Justice Warmonger were last in line and even the sarcastic old judge wore a look of concern across his features.

“What’s going on?” he asked, crossing the hall towards me. “Has there been another one?” He looked around suddenly as if checking who might be missing.

“Just a minute,” called Johnny from the landing. I saw him jot something down in his own notebook, before putting it in his pocket and hurrying downstairs.

“Well? Has there?” demanded Warmonger, sliding easily back into his usual tone of contemptuous irritation.

“Everyone please wait here a moment,” said Johnny. He patted my arm and walked off along the passageway to my left. I knew what he was doing – he was checking to see if another of the Indian braves had been tampered with.

A moment later, he returned, his face grave. Giving me a quick nod, he said, “We believe there has been another murder. Mary…?”

Glancing down at my notepad, I looked at the one name I had not crossed off my list. “Emily Bent is not here.”

A collective groan arose from the others, and Vera Claymore let out a mournful sigh.

“So where is she?” said Mister Blah, looking around the hall.

Johnny held up a hand. “We believe she is in the garden. Now, I need everyone to stay together.” With that, he led the way out through the main door and across the lawn to the north side of the house. In the distance, I could see the tree we were headed for, though from the ground, its occupant wasn’t visible.

As we rounded the hedge, I held onto my husband’s sleeve. The oak tree stood directly in front of us and, just as we’d seen, there was a naked body hanging from it.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” muttered the judge, with what sounded like genuine shock.

We stood there for a moment, staring at the scene before us. It perhaps came as more of a surprise to the others that Emily Bent had what can only be described as a stonking great erection.

Beside me, Johnny cleared his throat. “An effect of the force applied by the rope on the spinal cord causes an involuntary response in the er…” He waved a hand at the corpse. “As you can see.”

“But she’s a man!” gasped Vera Claymore.

“State the bloody obvious, why don’t you…” said Warmonger with a scowl.

But it was not Emily’s dead body that interested Johnny. Stepping forward, he picked up an object that was lying on the ground. Bringing it over for me to see, I saw that it was a cardboard mask with a short piece of elastic attached at each side to enable it to be worn over the face.

Johnny held out one frayed end of the elastic. “Broken. It must have been attached to her head, but when the body dropped, it came loose.”

I looked at the image imprinted on the mask. It was taken from an enlarged photograph – the face of Agatha Christie.

“The face at the window,” I murmured.

Johnny nodded. “Don’t tell the others.”

Looking up, I noticed our companions had shuffled away from the gory scene and were standing some yards off talking among themselves.

“They were all in their rooms,” said Johnny gazing across at the group.

I shook my head. “Whoever did this would’ve had to have time to lure her outside, strip her naked, put the mask over her face, hang her, go back into the house and fasten a bit of string around the neck of one of the Indian braves and get back to his or her room before we saw the body from our room.” I turned away from the horrible sight. “It had to be suicide. It’s the only explanation.”

My husband nodded. “You’re quite right, darling. Except for this…” He passed me a folded sheet of paper. “After knocking on all the other doors, I checked Emily’s room too. Just in case. This note had been pushed under the door.”

I stared at the scrawled handwriting. It read:

Do not go into the garden, Miss Bent. It will be the death of you.
Signed
A Christie

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Face at the Window


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

I bade Mary to hang back with me while the others disembarked – I wished to observe the faces of our companions as they were met in turn by the two strangers on the shore. However, if anyone recognised either of them, they hid it well.

Staying close behind, we were able to hear what was said as our companions moved along, and I noted the man introduced himself and his wife to each guest with the exact same phrase and the same intonation – if he was not a butler, he was doing a damn good impression of one.

As we drew level, the man gave a nod of the head and said, “Good morning sir. My name is Rogers. I am the butler here and this is my wife, Mrs Rogers. I trust you will both enjoy your stay on the island.”

I reached out a hand in greeting to which Rogers offered the hint of a smile and gave another deferential nod, indicating it was not his place to shake hands with guests.

With a cough, I brushed my hand down my jacket, as if that’s what I’d intended all along, but I was pleased to see my little ploy had at least proved Rogers played his part well.

Mary put in a small performance of her own with the man’s wife, giving the woman a pat on the arm and observing that it was nice to see the sun out again. The woman, a dark-haired and rather slight-looking thing, offered a curtsy and forced a smile, though her timid sideways glance at her husband told us she was very definitely under his thumb.

As we joined the others on the beach with our belongings, Rogers collected a quantity of mail and other items from the captain and announced that we should follow him up to the house where we would be shown to our rooms.

Trudging up the rough track that led to the house, one of our companions dropped back and fell into step with us.

“What d’you think, then, Doctor Watson?” said he, in a low voice.

“About what, Mister Blah?”

“Call me Billy,” he said, “everyone does. I mean about all this – all of us here, total strangers, gathered on a remote island in the hope of a nice bit of something coming our way.”

“A nice bit of something?” I said. “And what might that be in your case?”

“Murder, of course,” he said, with a laugh.

I stopped and stared at him. “Murder?”

He laughed again. “Not actual murder, no, I mean the board game – Murder. You know, each one gets to play a part, like Colonel Mustard, or Miss Green or whatever and everyone has to try and work out who the murderer is.”

“You think we’re here to play a game?” said Mary.

Billy Blah rolled his eyes. “Ain’t that what I just said? That’s why I’m here.”

Mary and I must have looked blank, for he continued, “My invitation said I was to organise a real-life version of the board game for a private party and I would be rewarded for my troubles.”

“Rewarded how?” said I.

“Well, with money, obviously.” He strode off quickly in an effort to catch up with the others.

Mary tugged my sleeve. “What did your invitation say? Doctor Armstrong’s I mean?”

Thinking back to that day at Baker Street, I recalled the wording on Armstrong’s invitation. “Rather ambiguous in his case, I’m afraid. The words ‘wonderful opportunity’ were mentioned, but otherwise it was spectacularly unspecific.”

She nodded. “Vera Claymore seemed to think there was a teaching post in the offing.”

I frowned. “Teaching? Here?” I shook my head. “Whatever each one of these people thought they were going to get out of this trip, it had to be enough of a temptation to lure them away from their everyday lives.”

“It’d be interesting to know what all the other invitations said.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “it certainly would. Though since the point must have been to get them to the island, the murderer is already ahead of the game.”

We had reached the crest of the incline and were now standing on the edge of a vast lawn. A flagged path snaked away through a series of topiaried hedges, depicting numerous animals of the woodland variety. There was something a little unnerving about the sculptures and I was reminded of a case Holmes had declined to get involved in, where a man had slaughtered his entire family with an axe at an isolated hotel in the Scottish Highlands. On that occasion, it eventually emerged that the killer had gone completely insane. Could the same thing be happening here? Was our host – whoever he or she was – just a total fucking nutcase?

Negotiating our way through the ornamental gardens, Rogers and his wife halted by a narrow gateway halfway along a high Leylandii hedge. Passing through the gate, we were finally confronted by the house itself. Like the lawn, it was vast, spanning at least two hundred yards across and three storeys high. Being a connoisseur of architecture, I recognised the style as vaguely Tudor Rivivalist, with the usual characteristics, including steeply pitched-roofs, mullioned windows and half-timbered herringbone brickwork. The place was striking in its sheer immensity and I couldn’t help but let out an appreciative gasp.

Mary tugged my hand and leaning over, whispered, “Whoever owns this must have an absolute shit-load of cash.”

I nodded, and we walked on, heading for the entrance hall with its studded wooden doors. As we approached, I let my eyes wander upwards and caught a glimpse of a shape at one of the windows. The woman’s face, for that is what I believed it to be, disappeared in an instant. Stepping up to where Rogers was waiting, his hand on the open door as our fellow travellers passed through, I tapped the man on his shoulder.

“I just saw someone at one of the upstairs windows. Would that be your Mistress?”

The butler blinked several times. “Mrs Owen, sir? Why no sir. Mister and Mrs Owen are away on business and won’t be back until this evening.”

“Ah,” I said. “Then it must have been one of the servants?”

A frown creased the other man’s forehead. “Servants, sir? No, sir. Only servants are Mrs Rogers and me.”

I took a few steps back and peered up at the window again. There was nothing to see.

Mary joined me and followed my gaze. “Perhaps it was a trick of the light, darling?”

“Yes,” I murmured. “I suppose it must have been.”

But as we made our way into the house, I knew I had witnessed no optical illusion. I had seen a face. And it was the face of Agatha Christie.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Island Awaits


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As the sun came out and gradually eased the chill from our bones, I settled into my seat with a flask of tea and a few Custard Creams I’d put away for just such an occasion. The sea lay all around us, calm and blue, and I could almost have believed we were off on some jolly jaunt, rather than keeping an appointment with a killer. While Johnny concentrated on bringing his journal up to date, I spent my time watching our fellow travellers. It occurred to me that each of them must have considered that the murder of Mr Marston might have something to do with this whole enterprise, and yet here they all were, waiting for their turn to die.

I had chastised my husband earlier for thinking Holmes might have disguised himself as the ship’s captain, but now found myself looking at the gnarled old soak as he stood in his cabin, one hand on the wheel and the other brandishing a half bottle of rum. From time to time, he glanced across and gave me a sly wink, which I at first thought was nothing more than a randy old sea-dog’s second-nature, but then I noticed a familiar twinkle in his eye and wondered if perhaps Johnny had been right after all.

My musings were interrupted when Vera Claymore sat down beside me and gave me a firm nudge with her elbow.

“Come on, then,” she said, “what’s your story?”

I gave her my best ‘honest’ face and said, “No story, Miss Claymore, simply a wife doing her wifely duty accompanying her husband.”

“Of course,” said she, with a roll of her eyes. “But you’re not here on holiday, are you? And as we’ve already heard, your husband is more than a family doctor, isn’t he?”

“If you mean his association with Sherlock Holmes, then yes, he does assist in the occasional investigation.”

“Which would imply there’s something going on that needs investigating, that this so-called invitation has some underlying purpose the rest of us are not privy to.”

She clearly had more about her than I’d given her credit for, so I decided to find out what she knew. “Why did you accept the invitation?”

She coughed. “I’m between appointments at the moment and thought this might be a chance for development.”

“A job offer?”

“Yes.”

“As a teacher? On a remote island?”

She waved a hand dismissively. “Well I don’t bleedin know, do I? But the invite said there was an opportunity to be had so here I am.”

I noted how she’d slid easily into her native cockney twang. Presumably she kept her ‘posh’ voice for her pupils.

“Anyway, it’s all paid for so what’s not to like?”

“Getting killed.”

She pulled a face. “Like that inspector said – the incident was merely an unfortunate coincidence.”

Dropping my voice, I said, “I think he was just trying to make us feel better.”

We sat in silence for a moment, then I asked the question I’d secretly been dying to ask everyone. “Do you read much?”

“Of course. I teach English, don’t I?”

“Detective novels?”

She shrugged. “Some.”

“Agatha Christie?”

She gave me a funny look. “Strange you should mention her.”

“Strange how?”

“Well, I have read one or two but a few weeks ago I bought her latest one.” She furrowed her brow. “Can’t recall the title now. Something about one or none, or summat.”

“And Then There Were None?” I prompted.

Her eyes lit up. “That’s the one.”

“So you’ve read it?”

“No. That’s what’s strange. My flat was broken into only a day or so after I bought that book. But the burglars, they didn’t take nuffin. Except for that book.” She shook her head. “I mean I ain’t rich or anyfing, but there’s other stuff around they could easily have swiped, but all they took was that one book.”

“Almost as if someone didn’t want you to read it,” I said, half to myself.

“Yes. Funny that, ain’t it?”

I wondered if anyone else had had a similar experience. Before I could pursue the matter, the captain blew a toot on his horn, announcing our arrival at Huge Island. Peering over the side, I saw the jetty come into view as we approached a sheltered inlet.

“Ah-ha,” said Johnny, putting his diary away. “Here we are.”

As the boat slid into place alongside the rickety quay, I grasped Johnny’s hand. Standing on the shore waiting, were two people – a man and a woman. From their dress, I guessed them to be the butler and his wife. If I remember rightly, the wife gets poisoned, and the husband is found dead while chopping wood. But of course, that’s what happens in the book, and this isn’t a book.

Miss Claymore nudged me as we began to disembark. “I should think that inspector was right. I mean, it’s not as if we’re all going to be murdered, is it?” She laughed gaily and followed the others down the gangplank.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Death and Other Anxieties


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Our travelling documents stated that we must reach Dolphin Cove – a small village a few miles up the coast from Land’s End – by the following Friday lunchtime. Some chap with a boat would meet us at the harbour and take us across to Huge Island (which apparently does not live up to its name). Whether we were to encounter our fellow travellers at that point was unclear, and it was for this reason, and several others, that I decided to spend our train journey reading a copy of Mrs Christie’s novel, in the hope it might shed light on our forthcoming adventure.

“You do realise,” said Mary, flicking through a copy of Detective Monthly, “that we shall probably all be horribly murdered?”

“I should have thought that horribly was the only way to be murdered,” I said, giving her a playful wink.

“Don’t be obtuse, Johnny,” she snapped. “The only reason I agreed to this mad outing is my belief that between the two of us and Mr Big Nose, we can solve this thing.” She cast the magazine aside. “I do hope I’m right – If we all get killed, I’ll be really annoyed.”

Flipping to the end om my book, I said, “D’you recall who the culprit is in Mrs Christie’s version?”

“The judge.”

“Ah. So all we need do is look out for a wizened old magistrate or some such.”

Mary sighed and shook her head. “Really, husband, sometimes I despair of you.”

“What on earth d’you mean, darling?”

“Well, for a start, I’m not in the book and you’re not who you say you are. Don’t you think it’s probable none of the others will be who they say they are either?”

I considered this for a moment. “Of course. Even so, they’ll all have the same names as the characters in the novel? I mean, I am posing as Doctor Armstrong, the Harley Street Doctor.”

“Yes, but your Doctor Armstrong – the one with consumption – doesn’t work in Harley Street, does he?”

“No – he’s a junior doctor at St Bart’s.”

“There you are, then.” She sat back, satisfied.

I gazed out of the window at the long gardens and allotments whizzing past in the fading afternoon light. “I hope the hotel’s nice.”

“In any case,” said Mary, deftly avoiding my attempt to change the course of the conversation, “we’re not taking part in a book, are we? This is real, with real people and a real murderer.”

“We don’t know for sure it isn’t some ghastly joke.”

“Yes, darling, we do – no-one in their right mind would go to all this trouble to play a trick on a bunch of strangers.”

“No, I suppose you’re right.” I returned to my book with a view to finding out how my particular character meets his end and was a little disturbed to discover, a short while later, that Armstrong’s body is found washed up on the beach, having previously been suspected as the killer.

I persuaded myself there was nothing to worry about. Sherlock Holmes would utilise his skills in observation, logical reasoning and all-round clever-dickiness to save the day. After all, he’d pulled us back from the edge of death many times before.

“Besides, “ said Mary, butting into my musings, “Holmes won’t let us die – he’d have no-one to write up his adventures.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” said I, but my resolve had begun to slide away and I had the awful feeling that this time, Holmes had made a terrible error of judgement.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Game’s Afoot

Exchanging a meaningful look with Holmes, I approached our visitor and knelt down beside him.

“How long have you had this cough?” I said.

He shrugged. “Three weeks, maybe four.”

Looking at his jacket I saw that it hung rather loosely about his torso. “And you’ve lost weight?”

He nodded.

“Night fevers? Sweats?”

Again he nodded, then looking into my eyes, I saw he knew as well as I did what the trouble was.

Returning to my seat, I allowed myself a moment before confirming my diagnosis. “Consumption, I’m afraid.”

Holmes waved the white card. “You think a spell on this island might help?”

“Of course, if it happened to be in the Caribbean, but the Devon coast is too cold at this time of year.” I cast a sidelong glance at Doctor Armstrong. “It might finish him off.”

“That’s it, then,” said Holmes, leaping to his feet. Crossing the room, he pulled the doctor from his chair and patted him heartily on the back. “Off to Barbados with you, my man. My colleague and I shall deal with this other matter.”

The visitor muttered his thanks and left.

“This other matter?” I said, when Holmes had seated himself again.

My friend took a few moments to fill his pipe and light it, puffing away until a cloud of blue smoke had almost engulfed him. “This doctor has been invited to an island, all-expenses paid, for reasons neither he nor we can guess, except for the ‘wonderful opportunity’ mentioned in the invitation. The doctor does not know his benefactor and has no conception of what may occur on his arrival. Following my initial interview with Armstrong and my investigations yesterday, I took the liberty of amending the doctor’s tickets to include another passenger – your wife.”

“You wish me to go in his place? And with Mary?” I sat back, aghast.

“To the Eastern Isles, yes.” Holmes dropped his voice. “My enquiries have unearthed a few odd, but important facts – as well as the good doctor, seven other individuals have been invited to this island. I suspect each of them has no idea as to why, which is suggestive, don’t you think?”

“Of what, Holmes?”

“Of murder, Watson. This has all the hallmarks of a master plan – something that has put the perpetrator to a great deal of trouble.”

A short burst of laughter escaped my lips before I could stop it. “Sorry, Holmes, but this whole thing sounds completely ridiculous.”

Holmes nodded. “Indeed it does, and I should think so to if it were not for one small fact.” Standing, he reached behind his chair to the bookshelf and took down a single volume, sheathed in a colourful paper dust-jacket with white and red lettering. “Here,” he said, waving the item. “A piece of fiction by the female authoress we know as Mrs Christie – I believe your wife has read a few of her efforts.”

I took the proffered volume and looked at the cover. “They changed the title?”

Holmes grunted. “Ah yes, some issue with offending certain communities, I believe. However, the point is that this story starts off with eight individuals being invited to a mysterious island where they are picked off, one by one, until there are none.”

I considered this for a moment, then said, “And you want Mary and I to go there and find out if this is some copycat killer?”

“Precisely.”

“And you don’t think this mysterious person may cotton on to the fact that I am not Doctor Armstrong?”

Holmes shook his head. “I suspect Armstrong has never actually met his intended benefactor and the latter’s knowledge of him likely relates to personal details, education and so forth. Also, as it happens, you do bear a vague resemblance to Armstrong in terms of height, bearing etcetera, though I suggest the application of a little hair dye and the removal of your moustache will aid the charade.”

“Shave off my moustache?” I exclaimed, fingering my facial development. “But I grew it especially for Mary – she likes the way it tickles her–”

“Yes, yes, spare me the details, Watson. The point is, the only fly in the ointment from the point of view of our would-be murderer, will be the appearance of Mary. And I’m certain you’ll be able to explain that away without arousing his suspicions.”

“But surely,” I protested, “It would be easier to simply prevent each of these people from going to the island in the first place?”

“Of course it would, Watson, but then we should not find out who the murderer is.”

I let out a long sigh, though I could not conceal my curiosity. “Seems a bit of a risk.”

“Yes, which is why I shall be coming along too, though no-one must know of my presence in order that I may have time to evaluate the situation and catch the killer before he, or she, strikes.” He raised an eyebrow. “Is the game afoot?”

I smiled. “Yes, Holmes, the game’s afoot.”

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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