Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Deal Me in Week #4: "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole"

This is my first year participating in Jay's Deal Me In Challenge . In a nutshell--we line up 52 short stories for the year, we match those stories up to a card in a regular deck of card, and each week we shuffle our deck (of real cards) and draw a card from whatever remains in the deck. Week #4 gives me the Seven of Hearts which matches up to "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" by Thomas Burke.

Photo Credit
The Burke story appears in Murder by Experts edited by Ellery Queen and was first published in A Tea-shop in Limehouse in 1931. When Ellery Queen included the story in 101 Years' Entertainment, it was introduced with a simply sentenc: "No finer crime story has ever been written, period." The story is quite remarkable. Burke manages to tell a fine tale of a serial killer who gets away with murder in a story of just 17 pages or so. In shortened form, you would expect to find less tension and less room for the true horror of multiple killings. After all, the author can't build things up and taunt the reader with victim after victim. And he can't spend a lot of time letting you become attached to the victims as they're casually strangled one by one. 

The power of Burke's story is in the fact that, although we don't know these people well, he makes us realize that any of these unfortunate people could be us. It's the average Londoner who is slain with no rhyme or reason--other than the idea just occurred to the killer. It is also a particularly affecting story because, for those who are encountering it for the first time, Burke manages to parade the killer around quite openly without giving him or her away. It will be a sharp reader indeed who spots the murderer before the surprise at the end. 

1 comment:

Jay said...

Beautiful playing card. It's always been a "mystery" how authors can pull off a good telling of a mystery in just the short story format. It sounds like Burke is another one who's succeeded at this. :-)