C. Gordon: Solv-a-Crime

Solv-a-CrimeI’m quite partial to the quirkier end of crime publishing, so I was delighted to pick up Solv-a-Crime in subterranean bookshop Skoob Books last week.

47 ‘short short mysteries’ run alphabetically from ‘The Case of the Artist’s Accident’ to ‘The Case of the Woodpile Burial’. Each 2-page story asks you to solve a mini-mystery. Some are simple, some I got but for the wrong reasons, some are eluding me entirely.

Here’s an example to give you a flavour… answers will be revealed next week if nobody gets it (which seems unlikely). The first correct answer can choose the year for next month’s Crimes of the Century.

The Case of the Body in the Barn

You arrive at the large country house of wealthy Keith Kendall. Terry Ahearn and Don Benning, the junior partners in Kendall’s firm, lead you to the barn at the rear of the house. Inside, lying faceup on the floor, is Kendall’s corpse, with a kitchen knife sticking out of his chest.

You dust the handle of the knife and find one set of well-defined fingerprints. Then you take prints of Ahearn and Benning, and compare them with the ones on the knife.

“The only prints on the knife are yours, Ahearn,” you say. “But you’ve told me the knife comes from the kitchen in the house and that you haven’t been in the kitchen all day.”

“I can explain,” Ahearn replies. “Don and I drove here today on business. When we couldn’t find Mr. Kendall in the house, we started looking for him. The estate is so large, Don and I separated. When I got to the barn, there was Mr. Kendall, with that knife in him! I started to pull the knife out – that’s how my fingerprints got on it – and that’s just when Don came walking in.”

Don Benning says, “You can imagine my horror when I walked into the barn and found Terry bent over the body – holding a knife! His face turned pale when he looked up and saw me.”

“It happened as I said!” shouts Ahern. “I had no reason to -”

“How about that argument you had with him yesterday?” Benning says. “You told me afterwards that you were fed up with his constant criticism, and you were going to do something drastic about it!”

“I didn’t kill him,” Ahern mumbles. He turns to you. “Could it have been suicide?”

“No, it wasn’t suicide,” you say. “It was murder, and I’m taking one of you with me for questioning!”

Whom do you suspect, and why?

A. C. Gordon, adapted by Lewis Gardner
Published in the US, 1972, by Scholastic Book Services
96 pages
Source: Skoob Books
Final destination: A keeper

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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34 Responses to C. Gordon: Solv-a-Crime

  1. Keep changing my mind as to who is guilty as I’m not very good at these sorts of puzzles. I think Ahern is suspect because he said he hasn’t been in the kitchen all day, but it is also said that they looked for Kendall in the house so you’d assume they would go into the kitchen to look. But then that knife is pretty suspect as it only has one set of prints but was a kitchen knife so should have had more prints on it which suggests it has been cleaned which therefore suggests Don might have done the stabbing. For a GA detective fiction fan I should be a lot better at solving these things.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JJ says:

    I am overthinking this to the point that it now resembles ‘the game of wits’ from The Princess Bride.

    Who did the driving? They might have been wearing driving gloves (since removed) and so left no prints. How come Don walked in on Terry when the estate is “so large” that they had split up? Seems like suspiciously convenient timing. But then if Terry was the one searching the barn, why would Don be there? Perhaps Terry was anticipating not having anyone around, since they had split up. Who suggested splitting up? Equally, who <pulls a knife out of a dead body? Fine, you might not know the victim is dead, but why would you pull it out? How did the killer know that Keith would be in the barn so they knew to take the knife from the house? And how does Terry know the knife comes from the kitchen? Just because it looks like a kitchen knife, doesn;t mean it is.

    In fact, yeah, it’s Terry because he said it’s a kitchen knife. Don seems like a grass, but Terry’s pulling the old double bluff and I’m wise to his tricks.

    I would also like to add that Skoob Books is awesome. Anyone in London who hasn’t been there yet…why not?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I’m overthinking it too, and deciding it can’t be Ahearn because he’s too obvious – but is it a double bluff??? :s


  4. Brad says:

    I’ve read enough Minute, Two Minute, Three Minute and Five Minute Mysteries to know that all the facts HAVE to be presented in order for an answer to be fair. I think we pull a knife out differently than we push one in, but I’m not SURE, and since it hasn’t been spelled out, I can’t use that as a clue. Nor can I use the fact that a kitchen knife SHOULD have other fingerprints on it because we don’t know if the victim had washed it before it was killed.

    That said, I do know from reading the story who the killer is. It is Fiona Webb, Don’s girlfriend, who was angry that he hadn’t gotten a raise. She dressed up as the milkman, came to the house with deliveries and lured Keith out to the barn on the pretext of milking one of his cows and making butter. The clue that gave her away was that, in a casual conversation over cocktails three days later, she gave away that she knew the cow’s name was Bessie.

    Really, it’s all quite simple if you read it carefully. Let’s do 1948 next, okay, Rich?

    Liked by 4 people

  5. ravenking81 says:

    How does Ahearn know that the knife comes from the kitchen in the house, if he hasn’t been there all day? It could be of course that he went to the kitchen on a previous visit and noticed the knife or could it be that he is lying?

    And if he is innocent than how could he be that dumb to pull out that knife?

    It’s all very mysterious.


  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    First, it definitely cannot be suicide since the victim’s fingerprints are not on the handle.
    Second, it is not a spur-of-the-moment crime but a planned murder since the murderer first went to the kitchen to get the knife and then to the barn to commit the crime. Hence he would be careful to either wear a glove or wipe the handle clean after the crime.
    Since there is only one set of finger-prints on the handle, it indicates that the handle was indeed wiped clean before Ahearn put his fingerprints. Now. if Ahearn was the murderer, it means that either he first wiped the handle clean and then committed the murder or after committing the murder, he wiped the handle clean but again put his fingerprints on the handle ! Would he be so foolish ?
    Hence Don Benning is the suspect and to be taken for questioning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brad says:

      I totally agree with you, Santosh! However, Kaggsy makes a point above, and Agatha Christie would be the first to agree that Ahearn could be doing the whole thing to double bluff us and frame Don! Still, I think Don IS the killer, too.


      • Santosh Iyer says:

        The theory of double bluff is not feasible. By immediately going away after wiping the handle clean, he avoids any suspicion on himself. Why should he take the risk of double bluff which may boomerang on him ?


    • JJ says:

      Santosh of the Yard has caught ‘im!


  7. carol M says:

    Don did it. He says that when he found them, Terry was holding a knife; but Terry found the knife in the body and started to pull it out. This chimes with the knife still being in the body. So Don is lying.


  8. carol M says:

    Forgot to mention. If you like this sort of thing, look also for ‘Minute Mysteries’, by Harold Austin Ripley, written in 1932. Now in the public domain and available free from Project Gutenberg.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Ho-Ling says:

    I’ve read enough of these kind of super short stories that the clues are supposedly all in the text, but that authors also often try a bit to hard at being clever. Not having read any of Gordon’s stories, I don’t know how ‘clever’ I’m supposed to be, so some solutions ranked in terms of ‘cleverness’:

    (1) (Simple): A is the suspect. Fingerprints on the knife. Knife came from the kitchen, so it was clean from the start.
    (2) (Still simple): B is the suspect. The real murderer wouldn’t leave any fingerprints, so he wiped them off. Story happened like A said.
    (3) (Sorta clever): A is the suspect. According to B, A’s “face turned pale when he looked up and saw me” Meaning he was not looking pale (shocked) before B’s arrival. Meaning he was not shocked by the victim’s death, only by being discovered by B. Ergo, A’s the one.
    (4) (Trying too hard): A is the suspect. The story mentions one set of fingerprints were found, but not in what direction. In a very shocking ending, the detective reveals the knife was held in reverse grip, meaning A wasn’t trying to pull the knife out of the victim’s chest; he plunged the thing in the chest. (As for why the detective didn’t take him with him right away: he wanted to hear what excuse A had).

    Liked by 2 people

  10. pastoffences says:

    OK everyone, here we go…

    You suspect Don Benning. The only fingerprints on the knife were Ahern’s, which leads you to believe he is innocent, and that someone wiped the handle clean after the murder and before Ahern touched it. If it had been suicide, Kendall’s prints would have been on the handle too. And if Ahern had done it, he would not have been so foolish as to wipe the handle clean and then deliberately incriminate himself by putting his prints back on the handle.

    … I now have to solve the mystery of who got the answer first 🙂 Give me a few minutes…


  11. pastoffences says:

    It’s definitely not Brad, sorry Brad.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. pastoffences says:

    Well, that required some proper adjudication.

    Kate got it right first, but mentioned other options. Carol and Ho-Ling also got it correct. But Santosh gave the fullest answer earliest, so I think we’re awarding him the Golden Deerstalker. Santosh – pick a year 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. John says:

    Ah yes, Scholastic Book Service — I remember it well. This was a book sold to elementary and middle school kids via a special subscription. “Not available in stores!” as the saying goes on infomercials these days. My memory of these stories is that they are just like logic puzzles as Ho-ling as has outlined in his comment. The solutions tend to be very simple as is the case here.

    Back in the 1960s and 1970s Scholastic Book Services was an American based book subscription service available through public schools. You got the catalog from your English teacher and could place orders with your school. It was very exciting when the books were delivered to the school. Now that I think of it this must’ve been my first introduction to mail order book buying! I had a very large library of SBS books when I was a kid, almost all of them were mystery and ghost stories. I’m not sure if SBS still exists or if it lasted into the 1980s.

    BTW – This book is very similar (a rip-off?) to Donald Sobol’s “Two Minute Mysteries” which later were embellished for the Encyclopedia Brown series, also offered through the SBS. Or was it the other way around? I forget.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brad says:

      John, you have brought back such rapturous memories of those days during elementary school when our SBS orders would arrive. I always ordered the latest Encyclopedia Brown book, a few mysteries and some regular novels. (I remember one called “Follow the Leader” about a boy who is blinded in an explosion and learns to work with a seeing eye dog.) The boxes would come, and our teacher would give us a period of time to receive and peruse our orders. For this obsessive reader, that time was golden, as I caressed my stack of new books and started making plans for the reading order. The Encyclopedia Browns always went first, as he was the first detective with whom I matched wits!


  14. Anonymous says:

    You prodded me into doing some internet research, Rich. I wondered if SBS was the same as Scholastic, the giant children’s book publisher known for delivering Harry Potter into the world and it turns out they are. I thought it was just a coincidence in the name. The company has been around since 1920. They’re quite a media giant having acquired several educational publishing businesses in addition to reaping in millions through the Potter franchise.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. John says:

    And I thought the name was just a coincidence. After a brief Google search I learned that SBS and Scholastic, the giant children’s book publisher responsible for delivering Harry Potter into the world are one and the same. And Holy Sorting Hat! are they ever a very wealthy media conglomerate now.

    Liked by 1 person

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