Title: The Teahouse Detective: The Old Man in the Corner
Author: Emmuska Orczy (Baroness Orczy)
First published in 1901 (Republished on 11 June 2019 by Pushkin Vertigo)
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
There is no such thing as a mystery in connection with any crime, provided intelligence is brought to bear upon its investigation.
The Old Man in the Corner is a collection of 12 stories.
- The Fenchurch Street Mystery: William Kershaw disappears out of the blue. He’s last seen to visit a rich Siberian man – Francis Smethurst. Francis was previously Kershaw’s accomplice in crime. Kershaw’s body is found eleven days after he was reported missing. His body was found highly decomposed and could be identified only by the jewelry he wore on him when he went to visit Smethurst. Francis is found guilty of murdering Kershaw.
- The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace: A constable is on his rounds in the middle of the night in Phillimore Terrace when he sees a tramp walking by. He follows the tramp. Out of nowhere jumps a man wearing only a shirt and accuses the tramp of stealing his master – Mr. Knopf’s diamonds. The tramp is found to be innocent and let out. Mr. Knopf’s gone to see his sick brother after selling a few diamonds to his neighbor. When the police come over to inquire, the neighbor finds his diamonds missing. The police decides to keep an eye on the ‘innocent’ tramp.
- The York Mystery: Lord Arthur Skelmerton creates a commotion which brings cops to the grounds. He is found holding down a man. He says that the man has murdered a bookmaker. After the inquest, Lord Skelmerton is found guilty of murder and arrested. His wife, Lady Skelmerton goes into a state of coma after hearing about her husband’s arrest and her chances of survival are nil.
- The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway: A porter finds a young woman sitting alone in a carriage. He asks her to get down as it is the last stop but she doesn’t seem to move. Her face looks pale and her eyes seem to stare into oblivion. The police and doctor are called in – the lady died of poisoning. Her description is put in the papers and a day later, a young man comes to the morgue wanting to see the dead body. He recognizes the dead lady as his wife. Now, did she commit suicide or was she murdered?
- The Liverpool Mystery: A rich and famous prince calls upon a famous jeweler and asks him to get his best pieces to the hotel where the prince is currently staying. The jeweler sends his nephew with the jewels. But the nephew fails to come back on time. The next day, the jeweler and his partner leans that the nephew was a victim of a con man. Who was the con man? The prince? Or, someone else?
- The Edinburgh Mystery: Lady Donaldson plans to give diamonds worth one lakh euros to the would-be wife of her nephew, David. The day after the wedding party, Lady Donaldson is brutally murdered and the suspect/killer is none other than Miss Edith Crawford, David’s fiance. Did the gentle and charming girl really commit a gruesome murder?
- The Theft at the English Provident Bank: Mr. Ireland is in a shock to see that his safe has been broken into and emptied. Nobody except Mr. Ireland, the manager of the bank owns the key so how did the robber(s) get in?
- The Dublin Mystery: Millionaire Brooks’ will is contested by one of his sons. The will that Mr. Brooks made hours before his death is found to be forged. His lawyer, Patrick Wethered was brutally murdered a day before the old man’s death.
- An Unparalleled Outage: Mr. Morton, the British husband of a wealthy American woman, goes missing one fine day. After 36hours of searching, the police find him tied to a chair with a shawl stuffed in his mouth in a lodging owned by an old woman. As the case proceeds, it is believed that Mrs. Morton’s past life played a major role in this ghastly business of kidnapping and disappearance.
- The Regent’s Park Murder: Aaron Cohen of 30, Park Square West, is found dead in the middle of the night. After a lucky night of gambling and heavy winnings, Mr. Cohen was on his way home when someone killed him. On further investigation, it is found that a young man owed Mr. Cohen quite a lot of money and he might have killed Mr. Cohen in a fit of rage. But as the case proceeds, the young man is found not guilty of killing Mr. Cohen.
- The De Genneville Peerage: Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville arrives at the Castle Hotel for his wedding and the next morning, he’s discovered lying on the floor of his bedroom – murdered. To add to this mess, his lawyer has gone missing.
- The Mysterious Death in Percy Street: Mrs. Owen’s death has gripped the streets of London. Was she murdered? Was it suicide? Or, Was it an accident? The caretaker of the Rubens Studios, Mrs. Owen is found dead in her room. The window is open and it is believed that she froze to death. Her head seemed to be bashed too, so, was it really a suicide or accident? Mrs. Owen had spoken of a nephew but he’s nowhere to be found. With no evidence of a killer on prowl, the case has now gone cold.
Each of the above mentioned stories are as told by the old man to Polly Burton. Polly Burton works at the Evening Observer. She meets the old man at the tea house. He’s always there when she arrives, in the same corner, wearing remarkable tweed suits and fidgeting with a piece of string. As the story proceeds, she looks forward to meeting him at the tea house. She and her fiance would have had a discussion about the death of Mrs. Owen and she finally asks the old man about his opinion on the case.
As he tells her the details of the case, Polly discovers something about the old man. Before she could question him, he disappears and that was the last time the old man made his presence felt in the tea house.
Each of these twelve stories are interesting. All of these are unsolved cases and the old man reveals the real reason behind the crimes in each of these stories. The storytelling is simply fantastic. The final story – the mystery of the old man – is the showstopper! Seriously! I can’t tell you more details without making this review a spoiler but just like Polly, even I was shocked when the mystery was revealed.
Overall, it is an entertaining collection of short stories. There are a total of 36 chapters in the book, each story is three chapters. The writing is excellent too – neither too complex nor too simple – a perfect blend of both.
Thank you, Pushkin Vertigo and Edelweiss+ for the ARC.