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The Undoing of Emily Bent


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

The butler and his wife directed each of us to our rooms, advising that lunch would be served in the dining hall at one o’clock. If either of them noticed they had an extra guest in the shape of my own dear wife, they made no mention of it. Strange too, that our names and those of our companions did not appear to be ticked off any list or schedule and no-one spoke any of our names aloud. This struck me as doubly odd in my case and I wondered if Rogers had already been alerted to my true identity, or if he simply presumed the matter was none of his business. Of course, it may be that, in true country-house-murder style, ‘the butler did it’, in which case he would be all too aware that Doctor Armstrong was not among the guests.

Our room proved to be adjacent to the one where I had observed the face at the window, so as soon as I’d unpacked, I took the liberty of unlocking the connecting door that led to the other room, and peeked in.

“Doctor Watson!” yelped Miss Bent, grabbing a towel and clutching it to her bare chest. “How very dare you.”

“Ahm, Miss Bent. Do excuse me, I was just…” But there was no explanation under which I could conceal my blunder. However, I did have one point in my favour. Having glimpsed the woman’s unclothed form, I now knew something none of our companions knew – Miss Emily Bent was a man.

“Oh, I say,” murmured Mary, who had appeared at my elbow. “Did I just see what I thought I saw?”

Miss Bent dropped the towel, revealing her nakedness, including the large appendage dangling between her legs. “Oh, what’s the bloody use,” she said with a tearful sigh.

“Come, come,” said I, grasping a blanket and wrapping it about her. “It seems Mary and I aren’t the only ones masquerading as other people.”

She sat down on the bed and covered her face with her hands. “I knew it’d never work,” she sobbed through her tears.

“Don’t be silly,” said Mary, sitting down beside her and sliding a protective arm around the woman’s shoulders. “If Johnny wasn’t such a nosy bugger, we’d never have known.”

“Really?” she sobbed.

“Really,” said Mary. She gave me a meaningful look and mouthed, ‘Say something nice’.

“Yes, indeed,” I began. “We’d never had guessed. A master of disguise.” I paused, then, “Nevertheless, I’d be interested to learn how you came to be invited to the island and why you chose this particular, er, outfit.”

Within a few minutes the whole story poured out, amid several more bouts of sobbing and much nose-blowing. It transpired that the real Emily Bent, a spinster with no known relatives, had died suddenly a few weeks earlier. Her maid Beatrice, realising she would be out of a job if the truth came out, had buried the old dear in the back garden and adopted the guise of Miss Bent in order to take over her employer’s house and the small, but regular, income from a long-established annuity. The fact that Beatrice too, was not, and quite clearly never had been, a woman, was omitted from the tale until I pointed it out.

“Oh, that,” she said, glumly. “Well, you’re the detective – you tell me.” She gave me a defiant look and would say no more, so with a glance at Mary (which offered no clue, though I suspected she had already formulated an explanation), I sat on the end of the bed and rubbed my chin the way Holmes always does when he’s ruminating on a problem. Recalling a case the Great Detective solved some years ago (The Adventure of the Poncing Man), I decided to put forward the same argument Holmes had on that occasion.

“Well,” I said, finally. “You are not a young woman, er, man, though you do hide your age well. From the structure of your face – high cheekbones, small mouth, rather petite nose, together with your slight build and smallish feet, I’d say you had discovered a talent for female impersonation, perhaps in one of those seedy Londen clubs where such things are popular. However, such work would be humiliating, and the ahm, carnal favours customers would naturally expect may have troubled you, so you sought out a more socially acceptable role.” I raised a questioning eyebrow. “Am I on the right track?”

Emily Beatrice nodded. “Near enough. Except that, a few weeks ago, a distant relative of Miss Bent’s turned up and I was forced to leave the house before they discovered my deception. But by then, I’d received the invitation to provide spiritual and religious support to Mr Owen, and with nowhere else to go, I thought I may as well give it a try.” Then with an imploring look, she said, “You won’t say anything to the others, will you?”

I glanced at Mary and said, “No. Provided you don’t kill anyone.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Why would I do that?” She looked at me, at Mary, then her eyes widened. “Oh God. You think the person who killed Mister Marston is here, on the island? That’s why you’re really here, isn’t it?”

It seemed appropriate to change the subject, so I said, “When you first came into this room, was anyone else present?”

She frowned and shook her head. “Only the butler.”

I walked across to the window and looked down to the place I’d been standing earlier. “Just wondered.”

Mary stood up and gestured that we should go. To Emily Beatrice, she said, “Why don’t you get changed and we’ll see you downstairs for lunch?”

Back in our own room, with the connecting door firmly closed, I said, “You think she’s telling the truth?

“If not, it’s an awfully convoluted tale.” She patted my arm. “Well done with your explanation for her disguise.”

I sniffed and puffed out my chest. “Yes, I thought so.”

“Almost sounded like one of Sherlock’s theories.” She gave me a sly wink and I knew she’d seen through my ploy. “Anyway, we should change for lunch.”

“Yes, I want to see the dining room before the others appear.”

And so a few minutes later, we made our way downstairs and entered the dining hall – a pleasant room with large windows looking across the lawn. On one side were the usual cabinets containing cutlery and silverware and on the other a long highly-polished table with twelve chairs arranged around it. Nine places had been set for lunch and in the centre of the table stood a line of miniature carvings, exactly like the one we had found on Marston’s body, each one depicted holding a bow and arrow and sporting a small feather in his headgear. The one furthest away from us had a small metal nail pushed through his chest.

“Marston,” I murmured.

“That’s funny,” said Mary. “In the book there are ten, but here there’s eleven.”

I nodded. “Eight invited people. Plus Rogers and his wife and…” I looked at her. “And you.”

 
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Posted by on March 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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To the Island


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

Leaving Lestrade to arrange for the body to be removed, Mary and I retired to our room. Jamming the chair against the door handle and sliding my revolver under the pillow, I snuggled up next to my dear wife and tried to sleep.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that the adventures of the night had not removed my ability to slumber, and I awoke this morning feeling brisk and alert to a rapid knocking at the door. It was Lestrade.

“Ah, Doctor,” said he. “Just to let you know I ‘ave ‘ad Marston taken to a suitable location in order to ‘old the post mortem.” He sniffed. “Though I don’t ‘old much ‘ope of discoverin anyfing else that could assist our investigation.”

I nodded. “You’ll want to talk to the others, I suppose?”

“Indeed. If you would be so good as to meet me downstairs in ten minutes, we’ll get started.”

I closed the door and stood for a moment, thinking.

“We’re due on the boat in two hours,” said Mary in a low voice.

I looked at her and couldn’t help but let out a long sigh. “Yes.”

She raised an eyebrow.” You haven’t changed your mind, then? About going?”

“Lestrade’s probably right,” I said. “The whole thing is utter folly, but even though we’ll be placing ourselves in danger, I feel we have to go through with it. Otherwise…”

She gave me a half-smile. “Otherwise the killer is free to do his worst.”

A few minutes later we made our way downstairs. Lestrade had assembled the other guests who were all sitting around the bar-room in the same seats they had occupied the night before. The only one missing was Marston.

“Now then,” said Lestrade. I’m Inspector Heehaw of Scotland–”

I harrumphed loudly, interrupting him. “Not sure there’s any point in aliases…”

He bit his lip and thought for a moment. “Quite. As I said, I’m Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. And this is…” He glanced at me.

“Doctor John Watson, and my wife, Mary.”

A few members of the group let out audible gasps.

General MacArthur raised a finger. “Not Armstrong, then?”

I shook my head.

He twirled a thin moustache between finger and thumb and gave a quick laugh. “Heard of you. Baker Street, etcetera. Your detective chap. Holmes. Be arriving at some point?”

I thought it best not to herald my companion’s entrance, so I said, “He has no plans to join us.”

Former police inspector Blah shifted in his chair. “So if you’re not Armstrong, what are you doing here?”

I coughed in preparation for the lie. “Doctor Armstrong is ill. Terminal, in fact, but he wished that I, and my wife, should replace him, taking advantage of his good fortune in being invited to the island. Of course, he had no notion he might be thrusting us into a dangerous situation.”

Vera Claymore leaned forward. “Are you insinuating there may be another murder?”

I glanced at Lestrade and he jumped in.

“I expect this er – incident – was merely an unfortunate coincidence. After all, you lot are not actually on the island yet, are you, so no reason to assume Mister Marston’s death and your visit are connected, eh? Probably just some local lunatic on the rampage.” He looked around the room using his ‘optimistic’ expression.

“Well,” said Lawrence Warmonger in a voice loaded with sarcasm, “that is a relief.”

Lestrade continued. “If anyone has any further information that might ‘elp wiv enquires, I should be obliged if you would speak to me privately before you leave.”

No-one said anything more, and the following hour or so was spent attending to our individual needs regarding breakfast and preparations for the trip.

Lestrade took Mary and I aside as our companions drifted back upstairs.

“I don’t know what your pal ‘as planned, but I do ‘ope he gets ‘is proverbial finger out before anyone else gets the chop.”

He wasn’t the only one with concerns regarding the non-appearance of Holmes – I was beginning to think the Great Detective might be leaving his grand entrance a little late. We chatted for a few minutes about communications, as the only sure way of getting messages onto the island would be via carrier pigeon. Lestrade had come prepared with a dozen or so police-trained birds. He suggested we leave a portion of bird seed on our windowsill in preparation for such messages.

“This should keep you going,” he said, handing me a small paper bag. He turned and stared out of the window. From here we could just make out the island itself – a dark blotch on the distant horizon.

“Keep in touch, then,” I said, patting his arm.

He looked at me then with an expression of sadness I’d not deemed him capable of, and he laid his hand on mine. “Don’t go an get yerselves bloody murdered, will yer?”

“We’ll try not to,” I said, forcing a smile.

Twenty minutes later, together with the remaining travellers, Mary and myself made our way down to the harbour where a battered old paddle steamer waited by the meagre jetty. I was heartened to see it was a decent-sized vessel, though its obvious unsuitability for the journey across to the island did not fill me with hope. The captain, too, turned out to be a sad stereotype of that traditional old sea-dog – the drunken sailor whose knowledge of the sea had long since been overtaken by his familiarity with hard liquor. He stood by the jetty smoking a clay pipe and caressing a grizzled grey beard.

“Ar,” he muttered as I approached him. “Be thou one o’ they bound fer Huge Island?”

“That’s right,” I said, peering into his piggy little eyes. His skin was dark and leathery, and reminded me of a football I’d had as a boy.

“It be a grand day fer a crossin, ey?” He gazed up at the sky and I took the opportunity to examine him closely.

His height was about right and the sharp angle of his jawline too familiar to fool me for long. Giving him a playful punch in the shoulder, I said, “Nice one, Holmsey.”

The sailor swivelled his head toward me. “Say summat?”

I nodded and winked.

With a sudden movement, he reached out and grabbed my lapel. “Now lissen ‘ere, Mister. Oi don’t want no screamin bend-overs on moi boat, so if’n you’ve got any of that sort o’ nonsense in mind, ye can take yerself an’ yer whore of a wife back ter where ye came from.”

Recognising that I had perhaps granted my detective friend more talent for disguise than he actually had, I muttered a quick apology, grabbed Mary’s hand and hurried to our allotted places aboard the boat.

Once seated on one of the benches in the prow, Mary leaned over and whispered, “You surely didn’t think that was Sherlock, darling?”

I coughed. “It had crossed my mind.”

She laughed lightly and patted my knee.

A few minutes later, steam was up and the vessel pulled away from the dock, turning its nose towards our destination.

I couldn’t help wondering if we’d ever see Dolphin Cove again.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Strangers in the Night


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

With seven faces turned towards us and a silence I could have sliced with a knife, we were faced with little choice but to take the bull by the horny bits. Clearing my throat in a manly way, I stepped forward.

“Good evening. I understand that my wife and I, along with several other individuals will be ferried across to Huge Island in the morning, so I suggest we all introduce ourselves. My name’s Armstrong and this is my good lady.” Turning to our young companion, I gave him an encouraging nod.

“Oh, right,” said he, clearly feeling I’d put him on the spot. “Marston. That’s me.” He sniffed and looked purposefully at the nearest of our fellow travellers, an elderly chap sitting alone by the fire.

“Ah-ha,” announced the man, giving Marston a surly stare. “Righto. MacArthur. Jack. Major. Retired. Veteran of the Crimea, don’t you know.” He twirled a thin moustache between finger and thumb and gazed at the rest of us as if expecting a round of applause.

At the next table, a spinsterish-looking woman in a raincoat and headscarf, mumbled something inaudible. The man closest to her held up a finger.

“Says she’s called Bent Emily.” The woman tapped him on the arm and whispered in his ear. ”Sorry,” said the man, “Emily Bent.” The woman smiled appreciatively. Her saviour lifted his head in a superior sort of way and told us he was a former police inspector. “Blah’s the name. Billy Blah. Private investigator these days, if anyone’s interested. Cheap rates.”

The other three persons in our happy band turned out to be Dilip Lombardi, a middle-aged ex-soldier, Vera Claymore, a twenty-eight year-old teacher whose haggard face gave her the appearance of a lady of the night, and our last companion, a bald-headed mean-faced man named Lawrence Warmonger, who declared himself to be a Justice of the Peace and who did not relish sharing a room, let alone a house with anyone else.

“Right, then,” I said. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” I forced a smile and raised my glass in a toast. “To the island.”

The others responded half-heartedly, apart from Warmonger who simply peered at me over the top of his spectacles, his pale forehead furrowed like a ploughed field on a rainy day.

“Well done, Johnny,” whispered Mary, giving me a peck on the cheek. “Now, how about some food?”

“You’ll be bleedin’ lucky,” said Marston, indicating the toothless crone behind the bar. “Cheese toasties is all they’ve got, and I reckon we’ll be getting ‘em for breakfast an’all.” He laughed heartily and threw back the remains of his pint. “Another one, squire?”

Ordering more drinks and a helping of the aforementioned toasties, Mary, myself and our new friend settled down at a table close enough to our travelling companions to listen in on their conversations. Unfortunately, it seemed everyone else had the same idea, and apart from the crackle and hiss of the fire, the room remained obstinately silent for the remainder of the evening.

Retiring to bed shortly after eleven, I took the precaution of bracing a chair against the door.

“Expecting visitors, darling?” said Mary, pulling a flannelette nightie over her head.

“I’m hoping not,” said I. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if the would-be killer decided to get one in the bag before morning.” Tucking my trusty revolver under the mattress, I crawled into bed and prepared myself for a sleepless night.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Victims Gather…


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

By the time we’d reached our destination, Johnny had finished his book and for the past several minutes had sat opposite me with a look of total confusion on his face. I smiled to myself as I recalled he’d worn that very same expression on our wedding night.

“Any the wiser, darling,“ I asked, patting his knee.

“Wiser,” said he, “but no happier. I do hope this Mr UN Owen does not intend to follow the plot of the book to the letter, otherwise we’ll all be in the shit.” He cast the novel aside and with slumped shoulders and a downturned mouth, gazed mournfully out of the window.

“Don’t forget, Johnny,” I said, “it’s likely that none of the others who’re invited will react according to their counterparts in the story either. I should think Mr Owen will have his work cut out if he means to kill us all off.”

We said no more about it, for the train had pulled into the station at Saint Just and we spent ten minutes hauling our bags across the platform and down the hill to the market square. Considering that it was only six o’clock, the place was deserted and only the light from an inn (appealingly titled The Budgie Smuggler) showed any signs of life. On questioning the innkeeper, we were directed to a gnarled individual huddled near the fire nursing a tankard of ale. After some prompting and the promise of six shillings, he agreed to transport us the five miles to Dolphin Cove in his cart.

The ride was not in the least comfortable, so I distracted myself by asking our driver a series of questions regarding other visitors bound for the same destination.

“To Dollen Co, yer mean?

“That’s what I said – Dolphin Cove.”

“Rum ol’ place that. No near nob’dy ner go there this time o’ yur. No’tin there, ‘ceptin the ol’ house. No doins nor not’in.”

“We’re going to the island.”

At this, the surly fellow turned his face to me and stared hard. “What’n go there fer?”

“We’ve been invited.”

“Wouldn’t go there meself. Not fer nobody.”

“But have you seen anyone else going there?” I persisted.

“Ye mean apart from yerslves?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

Johnny rolled his eyes. “Helpful chap.” Then digging into his pocket he produced a sovereign. “Look here my man, we’d like some information…”

The driver’s eyes lit up at the sight of the coin and he snatched it out of Johnny’s hand in an instant.

Two minutes later we knew all he knew – that seven other people had arrived in Saint Just that day and all had been transported to Dolphin Cove via this very cart (except for one fellow who had insisted on making the journey on foot).

“Strange that none of them were on our train,” murmured Johnny. “Surely we’re not the only travellers from London?”

I knew what he was thinking. “I’m sure our companion will have made alternative arrangements. He wouldn’t want to meet any of the others face to face just yet.”

Johnny nodded. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right.”

Half an hour later, we arrived at our hotel. I use the word in a very general sense, as the resemblance to anything I’ve previously experienced was similar only in that the building had a roof and four walls.

Johnny and I were billeted in a sparse room at the top of the house with a window that looked onto a back yard containing several pigs and a small horse. As we’d eaten nothing since lunchtime, we decided to forgo unpacking and seek refreshment in the bar. It was there that we met the first of the other invitees.

Leaning against the bar stood a young man in a pin-striped suit. His hair was greased back in the American fashion and a cigarette hung limply from the corner of his mouth. On seeing me, he withdrew the item and flicked it into the hearth.

“What’s a gal like you doin’ in a place like this, then?” he gushed, staring at my chest.

“Smacking you in the gob, if you don’t stop looking at my tits,” said I with a smile.

The man’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened so much I thought they might fall out of his face.

Johnny stepped in front of me and patted the stranger’s chest. “Don’t mind my wife,” he said, “just her little joke. Can we buy you a drink?”

“Oh, yeah, course you can, son, course you can. I’ll have a dry martini, mate.”

“You’ll have a pint of bitter and like it,” said Johnny with admirable masculinity. He leaned on the bar and ordered the drinks, while I took in our surroundings.

Looking around the room, there were several other individuals sitting in twos or threes and keeping their conversations to general chit-chat. There were seven of them, a figure which corresponded with the number of people invited to the island. It seemed odd that each would have chosen this particular dwelling as their overnight lodging, but then again, the likelihood of the village being able to offer anything more suitable in terms of accommodation was minimal.

“On holiday?” asked Johnny, handing the man his drink.

“What, oh no, nothing like that.” Taking a sip of his beer he wiped a hand down his trousers and held it out. “Tony Marston’s the name. Greetings cards and related ephemera.”

“Ah,” said Johnny, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “I’m Doctor Wa…Wa…” He stammered and coughed, then regaining his composure, said, “Doctor Armstrong. Wedward Armstrong. Though you can call me Edward.”

“And this must be your old lady, eh?” said Marston, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on my face.

“That’s right,” I said. “So…Marston. That’s an interesting name.” I glanced at Johnny and unseen my our companion, he mouthed The first victim. I nodded. “Related to the Marston’s of Kent?”

“No love, I mean, Mrs Armstrong. “Just a common-or-garden Marston.”

“So you’re going to the island?” I said, giving him a sly grin.

Once more, the man’s mouth dropped open. “You two going there an’all?”

“We are,” I said, gazing around the room. “Along with seven others.”

As my eyes slid around the room, all heads turned towards me and the hum of conversation came to an abrupt halt.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 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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