The Case of the Tottering TBR by Sir Arthur Donan Coyle – Part 3

Chapter 3


(If you missed Part 1 and want to catch up, click here. And for Part 2, click here.)


The Dancing Men (1984)

Lady McFan looked a little surprised at Houses’ request for chocolate cake but, with true Highland hospitality, she bustled off to the kitchen to speak to the cook.

“Chocolate cake, Houses?” I was baffled. “Are you peckish? Personally, after that meal of cullen skink, venison served with clapshot, and cranachan to finish, I can’t imagine being hungry again for a week!”

Houses merely smiled wolfishly and shook his head.

“You have all the same information as I, Witless. Surely you can see what’s happening here?”

“Well, Houses, applying your own famous precept that having eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth, I do have a theory,” I said, rather proudly. “I suspect the culprits are the fairies at the bottom of the garden!”

cottingley fairies(The Cottingley Fairies)

Houses gazed at me for a long moment with what I could almost have mistaken for pity, and squeezed my shoulder gently.

“Well, you shall know all in time, my dear fellow. Meantime why not take a seat and write a description of the brilliance of my methods?”

I muttered indistinctly, fighting a sudden urge to use some improper language. Thank heavens my fine old English breeding stood me in good stead and enabled me to resist! I removed some books and a cat from an armchair and sat down. Not sharing my delicacy, the cat swore profusely.

Lady McFan returned bearing a huge chocolate cake on a silver salver. “Will this do, Mr Houses?” she inquired.

“Admirably, madam!”

Houses suddenly began to behave as if in the grip of madness. Had I not known he’d been staying clear of the opium dens for some weeks, I might even have suspected an onslaught of the midnight munchies. He took a slice of cake and began to chomp at it, while pacing furiously to and fro in front of the bookshelves. Back and forth he went, taking slice after slice and devouring them as if he were a fashion-plate model with bulimia! Crumbs sprayed disgustingly from his mouth and from the crumbling cake in his hands, leaving a trail over the room’s ancient tartan carpet. I was heartily ashamed of my friend and remonstrated severely, but he brushed me off with an incomprehensible and messy mumble. Lady McFan meantime contemplated the swift disappearance of her chocolate cake with a dismay that bordered on hysteria.

last slice

Finally, when the cake was almost gone, Houses ceased his restless pacing.

“Now, Effie, there is no more we can do this evening, so I suggest we lock this room and retire to our chambers for the night.”

“Don’t you want me to sit up with my trusty service revolver?” I asked, somewhat disappointedly.

“Would you really be willing to shoot a fairy?” responded Houses, with unanswerable logic and what I could almost have mistaken for a touch of sarcasm. We did as he said, checking that all three doors were securely fastened, and retired to bed.

We passed a quiet night, except for a brief period when the ghost of the Headless Lady began shrieking for her lost lover in the hallway. However, Tommy and Tuppence, the ferocious house cats, swiftly rounded her up and chased her into a corner, where they took turns in rolling her severed head around the floor until she promised to remain silent for the rest of the night.

The next morning, the three of us met in the hallway. Lady McFan unlocked the door of the drawing room and we entered. Her face paling, the Lady Laird gave a little scream and pointed to the side table. A brand new set of The Complete Works of Mark Twain lay there – surely the perpetrator of this madness had a streak of inhuman cruelty!


Houses however paid no attention – he was busily peering at the carpet in front of the bookshelves. With a sudden cry, he leapt forward and pulled at a section of the shelving! It swung open, revealing a set of winding stairs leading up the floor above. He sprang up the steps, with Lady McFan and myself in swift pursuit. At the top of the stairs, there was a door. Houses flung it open and we entered the room. There was Wullie the Piper, with a pile of new books in his hand, about to head down the stairs to carry on with his nefarious scheme!

Houses and I wrestled with the bounder and felled him like a tree trunk being prepared for the caber-tossing competition.


“You see, Effie,” Houses explained, once we had Wullie securely tied up and had set the cats to guard him, “I knew there must be another entrance to the room, so I spread some crumbs on the floor. As Wullie entered the room, the secret door in the bookshelves pushed the crumbs away, showing me where the door must be. As the illegitimate son of your father, Wullie hoped that he could drive you into an asylum or worse, and then come forward to claim the title and castle as his inheritance.”

Lady McFan looked shocked, so Houses suggested we return to the drawing room for a nice cup of tea. As we passed Wullie on the way to the stairs, Lady McFan accidentally kicked him hard on the shins, twice.

We arrived in the drawing room to find it occupied by a tall woman, whose general appearance of ethereal beauty was only a little marred by the chocolate cake crumbs on her chin. Lady McFan hastily introduced her to us as her dear cousin, Lady Fancyboots.

Lady Fancyboots walked over and embraced her cousin, saying “Happy Birthday, dear Effie! Had you forgotten?”

She handed over a parcel, which Lady McFan hastened to open. The Complete Works of Tolstoy! Poor Lady McFan was so overcome with gratitude she swooned quite away…


The End!

58 thoughts on “The Case of the Tottering TBR by Sir Arthur Donan Coyle – Part 3

  1. And to think, chocolate crumbs solved the case! You see? Chocolate is always the right choice! I love this story, FictionFan, it’s wonderful. And you’ve really caught all the nuances so very effectively in your writing. I can even picture the cat swearing… 😉 Only, if Wullie is guilty, then who’s been adding to my TBR?


  2. WONDERFUL! I was anxious and terrified that you were fingering poor, misjudged Lady Fancyboots for your perp. I SUSPECT like all good crime writers your used your straw poll to discover who was least suspected, and then nailed your butler from a perfectly sensible direction no-one saw coming (to mangle a metaphor, not to mention a chocolate cake of enormous proportions.

    AND you managed to work in the most obviious Effie is mad conclusiion into the story as well, with Wullie’s modus operandi and motivation.

    I think this qualifies for golden age crime. Not a dismembering sociopathic serial killer in sight (unless you count Houses’ dismemberment of the chocolate cake) No complicated technology which the reader doesn’t understand as a cop out to explain the unexplainable, and a deduction which seems perfectly OBVIOUS, if only we had the many little grey cells in the mind of the great man.

    PS – enjoy the Tolstoy.


    • Well, I suspect Lady Fancyboots may have been conspiring with Wullie to be honest – probably, like all femmes fatales, she duped him into it with her womanly wiles! I just don’t understand why everyone seems to think lovely Lady Effie could possibly have been mad, though… she’s clearly a delighfully level-headed creature.

      Haha! Personally I thought the cats’ treatment of the severed head might be taking the story perilously close to Val McDermimd territory. But that wasn’t nearly as terrifying as the idea of Twain and Tolstoy… *shudders*


  3. Skink and clapshot! Sounds like ammo. Hahahaha.

    *laughs* Also a tad surprised Effie put up with the chocolate cake getting devoured. That was surprising, I must say. Must’ve take much restraint.

    Wullie (Woola?) must like Twain. Good thing. I say that was his birthday gift to you, you ungrateful thingy! The complete works of Twain. They might look nice on a shelf, don’t you know. (T&T are vicious!)

    I would faint, too, if I got Tolstoy, see.


    • *laughs* And could probably be used as such! Especially th cullen skink, which I have to say strikes me as being nearly as revolting as it sounds…

      *shudders* That was a dreadful experience – but the demands of Highland hospitality mean one must allow one’s guests to eat all one’s cake if they choose – of course, it’s quite traditional to then murder them in their beds afterwards…

      *laughs* I might have known you’d be on Wullie’s side! In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if you were part of the conspiracy to drive poor Effie insane, after practising on me for so long… *narrows eyes suspiciously*

      Yeah, that was just mean of Lady Fancyboots…


      • So…what is a cullen skink exactly?

        There’s such a thing as Highland hospitality? I’ve never been offered a cherry cake! Or chocolate. Or even a cullen skink!

        *laughs* I practice on you? I do not! I try to help you decrease the TBR, but will you listen? No. You should always listen to the professor, see. Life lesson right there.

        That was really mean. Meaner than what Wullie did.


        • *laughs* It’s a kind of fish and milk soup thing. Yucketh! (BigSister probably loves it!)

          Oh, yes! But, you see, Effie is a Highlander but I’m a Lowlander – so I keep all my chocolate to myself!! You can have the cullen skink though…

          Yes, but you want to get rid of all the good stuff and fill it up with Mr Twain!! I do always listen to your advice though… (Might not always act on it!)

          I’m wondering if Houses caught the wrong villain…


          • Why are fish always incorporated into fairly disturbing recipes? I’m thinking about stargazy pie, one of the specialties of Cornwall, I’ve read. That fish head poking through the crusty surface would be enough to squelch my hunger immediately. But fish and milk? Well, now that I think about it, milk/cream chowders do just that, don’t they. And I have to admit, I’ve had some pretty tasty chowder. Please tell me that cullen skink is like a fish chowder…and not, as I first thought, a stew made with skinks culled from someone’s garden.


            • Ha! Yes, it is a kind of chowder and probably tastes OK these days when made in a restaurant. But I suspect in line with most Scottish ‘Cuisine’ it would have been made with all the leftover bits of fish poking out not unlike in stargazy pie! Scottish cookery isn’t noted for its delicacy… poverty food! Hehe! I didn’t know what a skink was so had to google – I’m delighted to say I live in a pretty much lizard-free zone…

              Liked by 1 person

          • Yucketh doubly yucketh! Gross. That sounds horrid. Goodness. Well, maybe Tommy would like. I bet BUS does not!

            Who’s more powerful: the Highlanders or Lowlanders?

            Nah, I wouldn’t give you Twain. Maybe just some cool action movies to watch. And definitely PP&Z.

            I think he might’ve. Must go back for Effie, too.


            • I bet she does! You have no idea the strange things BUS is willing to eat… *shudders*

              Hmm… interesting question! Well, the Lowlanders hugely outnumber the Highlanders, so in a battle, I’d say the Lowlanders. But on a one-to-one basis, it’d be a brave Lowlander who could stand up to a Highlander, I’d say – the Highlanders are way more ferocious!

              *laughs* You know, since I watched those trailers, I have an almost irresistible urge to read PP&Z. See what you’ve done to me now??

              Effie wasn’t a villain!! She was a sweet and lovely example of womanhood… *stomps off*


            • Like fried frog legs, for instance?

              Are the Highlanders usually bigger? This is cool. It’s like two different tribes messing about!!

              I’m sure my mom recommends it… You should! And then review it, of course. I take full blame for this goodness.

              Well, that is a definition of a great villain.


            • Hmm… I don’t know, but I bet she’d be willing to try! You can always tell whenever BUS looks at a poor little creature, she’s thinking up a recipe… except cats.

              Probably not much difference now, but historically Highlanders would have been smaller, I think. Lots of poverty in the Highlands – bad diet etc – which is partly why they were so warlike. The Lowlanders were better fed – therefore soft (though still harder than the English!). That’s kinda why I wish I was a Highlander… only without the rotten food… they were more heroic.

              *tries not to laugh* How dare you, sir!


            • Haha. I might try one, too, just to say that I have. Now, I’m thinking cats wouldn’t make a very good meal.

              *laughs* I think I’d want to be a Lowlander, but I’d creep into the highlands for fun. Yes, that’s it.

              Oh I”m always daring such things, you know.


            • Poor little frog! So cruel! Nah, there’s not enough meat on a cat – all skin and muscle…

              But you’d need to wear a kilt or thy’d immediately recognise you weren’t a real Highlander,,, and then you’d be in trouble… *fearful face*

              I do know! *sticks out tongue*


            • *relieved face* I shall tell Tommy he can come out from behind the sofa then…

              It would! But they’d have bagpipes! You better bring the clarinet too…


    • *curtseys* Thank you! When will the people in power realise chocolate solves most problems?? Haha! I had to hastily insert the bit about the cats at the last minute when it became clear their fanclub would be devastated if they didn’t appear… 😉 Wullie was definitely a bad lot, but I still have some suspicions that he was led on by that enigmatic Lady Fancyboots…


    • Aha! Your deductive powers are impressive! It was the skirt that gave him away, I think… 😉

      *laughs* Thank you, but that was most definitely a one-off! I’ve used up every Holmes cliche I know…


  4. A most satisfying conclusion, FF!! I love how Tommy and Tuppence came to the rescue, and it was brilliant the way you described the chocolate cake. Suddenly, I’ve a strong yen for some myself!


  5. I was wrong! A fine finale to this excellent story, so glad to see the appearance of the cat, and the chocolate cake. I had a proper chuckle when Homes asked Witless if he’d be prepared to shoot a fairy – a brilliant tale in three parts!


  6. I was sure it was Lady Fancyboots! I roared laughing when Houses suggested Witless shoot the fairies, and at Tommy and Tuppence playing with the head. Please, please write another so I can try again to solve the mystery before Houses does.


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