As 2020 draws to a close (what a year!) and we look back on what we've read, published...achieved, despite all the landmines laid in our path by this global annus horribilis, which is Latin for either "horrible year" or "horrific anus", we cast our minds back to the launch of our 5-star anthology (just check the reviews!) of armchair mysteries, PI investigations, and noir escapades. Yes, 2020 gave the world "The Black Beacon Book of Mystery", and let's make sure 2021 spreads (hmmm, poor choice of word?) it far and wide, ensuring it lands on the bookshelf or in the e-reader of every mystery fan! Ambitious? Well, yes...unashamedly so! Here's a sneak peek for you...
The Problem of the Snowbound Shack
Jon Matthew Farber
Jason Hawthorne sighed contentedly as he savoured his double malt, looked across at his guest, and said, ‘I suppose you want to hear about some of the “impossible” crimes I’ve had the good fortune to be involved with, and been lucky enough to solve. Well, I guess the beginning’s as good a place to start as any.’
My earliest such case also happened to be the first one where I was given the chance to take the lead. I still don’t know whether it was because my captain was worried because he thought it might never be closed, or if he was trying to teach me some humility with an impossible problem. Looking back at my early career, I agree I was quite cocky, and this would’ve been a good lesson for me, had I indeed failed. Either way, I was in charge. Let me set the background for you.
It was 1965 and I was almost one year out of training, but already moving up fast, having been promoted to Trooper First Class. My Captain was Leo Ark. I was based out of Upper Clifton, the capitol seat in a rural county. This was a quintessential small New England town with a strong sense of community, where most everybody knew everyone else. As such, I already had a good sense of the locals.
The murder I’m going to tell you about took place around three weeks after the annual Winterfest. This was the major social event of the season, with pretty much the entire county turning out. One highlight was our local genius, Thomas A. Edison, who demonstrated his latest invention. Don’t laugh, that was his real name, only the A stood for Alan. He even owned several patents, and this time he showed off his “flying saucer”, a two-foot-in-diameter metal contraption that used compressed air to skim above a surface. In retrospect, this was a precursor to what would now be called a true hoverboard, and may have led to something big, except that Edison lacked the 99% perspiration that his namesake had, so that most of his projects were never completed. The saucer actually travelled several feet on a couple of different runs.
In the talent portion of the festival, our librarian, Miss Ives, won the baking contest for her lemon chiffon pie—her cooking was to die for—while in target shooting, William Monroe, the mill foreman, needed his perfect score to just beat out Thomas Farley, our local carpenter, and Barney Snow, the hunting guide, in a tense match. In the artistic competitions, the widow, Mrs. Holt, won for her quilt depicting the local flora and fauna, while Mr. Farley got his moment to shine in the collectibles category for his 1894 Smith and Wesson 38 5-chamber double-action model 4 revolver, a piece that was beautifully restored and faithfully cared for, while second place went to Richard Simpson’s Pre-war Lionel Model Train 413 Colorado Passenger Car Model.
Anyway, around three weeks later I was in police headquarters when a call came in one morning from Michael Swift. It seems he was supposed to meet Monroe, having spoken with him the previous night around 10 pm, but he hadn’t showed. As things were quiet, the captain, our newest recruit, Larry Whitman, and myself piled into our 1964 Chevy Biscayne and headed over. This was a hard-driving full-size car, known for having two taillights on each side, and the choice at the time of many police departments throughout the country. The department had sprung for the more powerful V8 engine.
Monroe lived in a one-room (plus bathroom) shack in a clearing, perhaps a hundred yards in diameter, in the local woods. When we arrived, the ground was covered by around three inches of snow that had fallen until late yesterday afternoon. The weather was a little warmer than the frequent well-below freezing, so the snow was still powdery, and the absence of any significant breeze meant there were no drifts. The driveway was unspoiled, and the path to the front door was smooth and undisturbed.
We padded up to the door and knocked, but there was no answer. The cabin had many knotholes in it, stuffed with cloth, so I pulled the cloth from one to the right of the door and looked inside. Monroe lay directly in front of me, sprawled out on the ground beside the bed, by the entrance to the bathroom...