27 Apr 2016
Perhaps the funniest example of following a thread of logic to its inescapable conclusion was supplied by one of Canada’s most popular humorists. Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was imported into Canada from Hampshire at the age of six, and there built a career as a political scientist, teacher, and humorist. From 1910 to 1925, he was considered the most widely-read author in the world, and an influence on Robert Benchley, Jack Benny, and even Groucho Marx. Although little read today, his name lives on in an annual award for the best humorous book by a Canadian writer.
Today’s story came from “Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919“, available at all fine online book and ebook sellers, plus New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop.Want to read more parodies and pastiches? The complete list can be found here.
An Irreducible Detective Story
Hanged by a Hair,
or a Murder Mystery Minimized
The mystery had now reached its climax. First the man had been undoubtedly murdered. Secondly, it was as absolutely certain that no conceivable person had done it.
It was therefore time to call in the great detective.
He gave one searching glance at the corpse. In a moment he whipped out a microscope.
“Ha! Ha!” he said, as he picked a hair off the lapel of the dead man’s coat. “The mystery is solved.”
He held up the hair.
“Listen,” he said, “we have only to find the man who lost the hair and the criminal is in our hands.”
The inexorable chain of logic was complete.
The detective set himself to search.
For four days and nights he moved, unobserved, through the streets of New York scanning closely every face he passed, looking for a man who had lost a hair.
On the fifth day he discovered a man, disguised as a tourist, his head enveloped in a steamer cap that reached below his ears. The man was about to go on board the Gloritania.
The detective followed him on board.
“Arrest him!” he said, and then drawing himself to his full height, he brandished aloft the hair.
“This is his,” said the great detective. “It proves his guilt.”
“Remove his hat,” said the ship’s captain sternly.
They did so.
The man was entirely bald.
“Ha!” said the great detective without a moment of hesitation. “He has committed not one murder but about a million.”