Theme: Crippen & Landru Series
Source: The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries
Story Number: 115
Anthony Berkeley, The Master of the Final Twist is most famous for his novel The Poisoned Chocolates Case. This collection starts off with the story “The Avenging Chance” – which is a shorter version of his most popular novel. The next best story which shows all the trademarks of his ingenuity is the strange phenomenon of the Horne’s Copse.
The story is told from the point of view of Hugh Chappell, the rich heir to the Ravendean family. After a party in his neighbor’s house, he decides to walk back to his house via the patch known as Horne’s Copse instead of getting the flat tire fixed. In the dark, he stumbles across a body with a bullet hole in the head – he strikes a series of matches to identify the body – which turns out to be that of his cousin Frank, who is supposed to be vacationing in Europe. He continues to his home and calls the police but the police fail to find neither a dead body nor any other sign like the burnt matches. A month down the line, he again comes across the dead body of his cousin Frank in exactly the same position but this time he has been stabbed with a knife. He makes sure that it is indeed his cousin by identifying a mole near the neck. Further to make sure that he is very much dead, he lights the matches and holds it near the open staring eyes and notices that there’s no flicker, the hands are ice cold, there’s no pulse and no heartbeat. He runs down to his house, calls the police and runs back to the spot where he saw the dead body to await the police. But to his dismay, the body seems to have vanished again!
He sends a mail to his cousin who is still in Europe and gets a reply back from him. When everybody starts thinking that there’s something wrong with his mind, he stumbles on the dead body for a third time! This time, he just leaves the countryside and goes into hiding in London. A few days later when he ventures out to visit a shop, he reads about the news of his cousin’s murder. And he realizes that the police are on the hunt for him as he is their chief suspect! Luckily for him, he bumps into none other than Roger Sheringham, who decides to hide Hugh in his house till he solves the puzzling events of the Horne’s Copse and provides a most satisfying explanation to all the strange things witnessed by the narrator.