The Adventure of the Missing Fiancé…
Although loads of classic out of copyright stories are available around the internet, I still struggle from time to time to find one for this little section, since general searches tend to bring up the best known stories again and again, leaving the more forgotten ones to remain in obscurity. So over the last few months I’ve found myself turning often to the Megapacks series published for Kindle by Wildlife Press. Each one costs pennies and contains a real mix of stories, and they do horror, crime and sci-fi packs.
Today’s story comes from The Detective Megapack, which has 30 stories, most of them old but with a few recent ones thrown in, including one that is original to this collection. Of course, the quality of the stories is always very mixed, with lots of them showing exactly why they’ve been forgotten, but there are always some goodies in them too. This one, which cost 59p ($0.89) has two Dashiell Hammett stories, Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, Sherlock Holmes in The Five Orange Pips, and a story from R Austin Freeman, to go along with the many other authors I’ve never heard of. The packs do tend to have some typos, but considering the cost I think they’re great value and a fun way to be guided towards some stories that are a bit off the beaten track.
So I’ve randomly picked one of the authors I haven’t come across before (though I feel I should have) for this week’s…
The Taggart Assignment by Vincent Starrett
Our narrator “Gilly” Gilruth has turned up at the rooms of his friend, private detective Jimmie Lavender, to discover a client there telling her tale of woe. A week before she is due to marry, Miss Dale Valentine’s betrothed has gone mysteriously missing. Rupert Parris had phoned Miss Valentine on the previous Sunday evening to say he would arrive at her house in an hour and that was the last that had been heard of him. The enterprising Miss Valentine had managed to trace the call…
“Admirable!” my friend exclaimed. “The most sensible thing you could have done. Where did it come from?”
“That is strange too, and I can’t quite believe it. Perhaps the operator made a mistake and traced the wrong call; but I was told that it had come from the office of the Morning Beacon!”
Sending the young lady off with a reassuring promise to keep the affair confidential, Lavender wonders aloud if the obvious answer can be the correct one…
“A fine girl,” said my friend at length. “If this Parris has jilted her and run away for any reason, I’ll – well, I’ll make him regret it, Gilly, if he’s living!”
Now stand by for a Big Coincidence, for at that very moment our narrator remembers a letter, addressed to Lavender, which the postman had handed him on his way in. And the letter is from the office of the Morning Beacon! It transpires that the proprietor of the paper wishes to consult Lavender about an employee of his, a Mr Moss Lennard, who has been missing since Sunday evening! Lavender (like the reader) is quickly convinced the two disappearances must be linked. Poor old Gilly is struggling to cope though…
Lavender looked questioningly at me, and I looked back at him without a glimmer of light in my brain.
“Muddle is right!”, I said at length. “You guessed it, Jimmie!”
The muddle becomes even muddlier when the drowned corpse of poor Moss Lennard is fished out of a lake the following day – dead since Sunday. There are no obvious signs of violence but Lavender is convinced that Lennard had been blackmailing Parris and Parris has done away with him. But is he right? And if he is, how will he prove it? And where is Parris now??
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This is quite a fun little mystery, owing a huge debt to the Holmes and Watson stories. In fact, Vincent Starrett was apparently well known as a Sherlockian and writer of Holmes pastiches in his day, and apart from name changes and the fact that this is set in America, this could easily be another. I’m not convinced it’s fair-play since the final clue comes from the discovery of a book called The Montreville Mystery, of which I can find no trace. If it existed and was well-known at the time this story was written (1922) then yes, anyone who had read it could probably have solved the mystery. But if, as I suspect, it is a made up title then I fear the greatest brain would be baffled. Except Lavender’s of course. Or anyone’s who had read the particular Holmes story which I suspect is the actual source for the plot – I won’t name the story since that would give the game away to all Holmes’ fans immediately.
However despite the familiarity of aspects of the plot and the mild feeling of cheating in the solution, this is well-written and enjoyable – light, very readable and held my attention throughout. I’d cheerfully read more of Lavender and Gilly’s adventures, and do recommend these Megapacks as a great starting point for finding introduction to “new” old authors.
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Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓
Overall story rating: 😀 😀 😀 😀