The Million-to-One Chance by Roy Vickers

by Arun

Source: Best of The Best Detective Stories – 25th Anniversary edition of the MWA Anthology

Story Number: 98

It’s not exactly an inverted detective story but it pretty much comes close it – the identity of the murderer is known from the beginning; the entire climax of the story depends on one question: what was the flaw in the murderer’s scheme that tripped him and how exactly was this message passed on to the police?

Crouch happens to have a dog with him when he was murdered and the dog happens to be a mastiff, the legendary dog of England which was only one among the 12 that could be found in the continent. The story is exquisitely built up to show the hatred between Stretton and Arthur Crouch, their fight over the same girl and their ultimate final showdown where Stretton breaks Crouch’s neck. He quickly buries him in his garden and the only other person who knows about Crouch’s presence in Stretton’s home is the mastiff who is patiently waiting outside the house in the car. When he takes a rifle to shoot the dog, he finds it sitting near the grave of his master. He shoots the fierce looking dog, buries it in the garden next to his master. Crouch’s wife complaints to the police when he doesn’t turn up for 24 hours but the police find absolutely no trace of the dog or Crouch and the case passes on to the department of dead ends. Meanwhile, Stretton has spent agonizing days looking out for the police but when nobody turns up on his doorstep for a month, he thinks he has got away with murder.

Six months down the line, he is surprised when the detectives from the police force come to his house with a warrant to search his garden! When he asks about the reason as to who informed them, the police detective says that the message indeed came from a mastiff! This breaks down Stretton and he quickly confesses explaining that he must have shot the wrong mastiff even though the probability of it happening was one in a million. Interestingly, it turns out that Stretton had shot the mastiff which Crouch owned and the way in which the message(where the bodies were buried) passes on to the police is something which is extraordinarily clever and brilliant!

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