The Crime At Big Tree Portage by Hesketh Prichard

by Arun

Source: The Dead Witness – A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories edited by Michael Sims

Story Number: 102

A unique story for the following reason as cited in the introduction to this story: Hesketh Prichard has created an original and intriguing variation on the Sherlock Holmes type of detective in November Joe – a detective of the woods! He notices seemingly irrelevant minutiae in the wilds of the north; like Holmes, he turns coy about the clues’ importance until he is ready to talk – and, when he solves a case, doesn’t hesitate to serve as a vigilante judge and jury.

This story originally appeared as the third chapter of November Joe: Detective of the Woods and is set in the autumn of 1908. The narrator James Quartich has been asked to take a sabbatical and he decides to spend a few months hunting in the wilds of Canada but he ends up tagging along with Joe, who has been asked to investigate a murder at a camping site. The dead body of Henry Lyon and the woods are closely inspected for clues but both the gentlemen end up with different views of the murderer.  James is amazed at the keen observation skills of his companion who has pointed out that the murderer hasn’t left a single clue and that all the clues would be present in the previous camp which the gentlemen might have used. When they reach this camp, sure enough, they are able to make out that two men spent the night together and Joe propounds a series of observations about the characteristics of the murderer from the various clues strewn around, though he doesn’t explain as to how he inferred them from the available clues. To find the murderer, they go to the city where the murdered man lived, find out the names of the men who were absent (turns out to be 5) from the settlement during the crucial period, track down each one of them and just match the characters as propounded by Joe to one of them. Only then does he explain the significance of the clues!