Deal Me In Lite, Week 8: “Who Do You Think Did It?” by Stephen Leacock
This week we go back to the humorous short stories with the six of hearts and a story by the famous Canadian humorist, Stephen Leacock. His style of humor is definitely in the vein of Robert Benchley’s works, and in fact Leacock is said to have greatly admired Benchley. Among famous admirers of Leacock’s humor were Jack Benny and Groucho Marx, to name two, so if you are unfamiliar with his writings, that should give you some idea of his style – dry wit, with a penchant for wordplay and absurd situations and ideas.
A little about Leacock: he was born in England but went to college in Canada and basically ended up in Canada for the majority of his life. One thing I did not know was that he earned a doctorate in political science and political economy from the University of Chicago, and spent most of his career at McGill University where he held an endowed chair in political economy.
Before I read “Who Do You Think Did It?” just about the only Leacock story I was familiar with was “Gertrude the Governess.” It’s very funny and I think has probably been widely anthologized. The present story, as the title implies, is Leacock’s send-up of the typical murder mystery. It’s not a “knee-slapper,” as the saying goes, but it is humorous in a dry, understated way.
For example, Leacock lampoons the classic murder mystery way of gathering clues:
“Now, then,” continued Kent, “what about tracks, footmarks? Had you thought of them?”
“Yes, first thing. The whole lawn is covered with them, all stamped down. Look at these, for instance. These are the tracks of a man with a wooden leg”—Kent nodded—“in all probability a sailor, newly landed from Java, carrying a Singapore walking-stick, and with a tin-whistle tied round his belt.”
“Yes, I see that,” said Kent thoughtfully. “The weight of the whistle weighs him down a little on the right side.”
And it gets even better:
“I must try in another direction,” said Kent. “Let me reconstruct the whole thing. I must weave a chain of analysis. Kivas Kelly was a bachelor, was he not?”
“He was. He lived alone here.”
“Very good, I suppose he had in his employ a butler who had been with him for twenty years—” Edwards nodded. “I suppose you’ve arrested him?”
“At once,” said the Inspector. “We always arrest the butler, Mr. Kent. They expect it. In fact, this man, Williams, gave himself up at once.”
“And let me see,” continued the Investigator. “I presume there was a housekeeper who lived on the top floor, and who had been stone deaf for ten years?”
“She had heard nothing during the murder?”
“Not a thing. But this may have been on account of her deafness.”
“True, true,” murmured Kent. “And I suppose there was a coachman, a thoroughly reliable man, who lived with his wife at the back of the house—”
“But who had taken his wife over to see a relation on the night of the murder, and who did not return until an advanced hour. Mr. Kent, we’ve been all over that. There’s nothing in it.”
The plot of this story hardly matters because it borders on the absurd. Suffice it to say that everything gets wrapped up in a completely implausible way, adding to the ridiculousness of the plot. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of this kind of story, but as an occasional respite from more serious types of stories, it was very welcome.