The success of stories of mystery, crime and detection rely inevitably and heavily on the persona of the central character. The eccentric detective or the sleuth with his ever faithful, not always especially bright assistant are familiar and often welcome stereotypes. Familiar too is the self effacing small man, the man who would not and does not wish to stand out in a crowd, the plain, humble, apparently harmless man with an unpleasant surprise up his sleeve for criminals. This kind of man is not a man of physical action but one with an observant incisive intellect finely tuned to his purpose—bringing villains to book! Edgar Wallace’s J. G Reeder was such a man and the hero of these stories by Groner, Detective Joseph Müller is another. With promotion denied as a result of a tainted past and a spell in prison, Müller is, nevertheless, the man to be brought in when the task seems most daunting. Detective Müller’s stage is an unusual one, for he is a member of that secret and shadowy organisation, the Imperial Austrian Police. Set in the period that led up to the Great War, the twilight years of the decadent and declining Hapsburg Empire, these fascinating tales of crime and detection from a lost era have become true classics.
Volume one of this special Leonaur two volume collection contains The Man With the Black Cord, The Pocket Diary Found in the Snow, The Case of the Pool of Blood in the Pastor’s Study & The Case of the Registered Letter. Available in softback and hardback with dust jacket for collectors.
Wednesday—is it Wednesday? They brought me a newspaper today which had the date of Wednesday, the 20th of November. The ink still smells fresh, but it is so damp here, the paper may have been older. I do not know surely on what day it is that I begin to write this narrative. I do not know either whether I may not have been ill for days and weeks; I do not know what may have been the matter with me—I know only that I was unconscious, and that when I came to myself again, I was here in this gloomy room. Did any physician see me? I have seen no one until today except the old woman, whose name I do not know and who has so little to say. She is kind to me otherwise, but I am afraid of her hard face and of the smile with which she answers all my questions and entreaties. ‘You are ill.’ These are the only words that she has ever said to me, and she pointed to her forehead as she spoke them. She thinks I am insane, therefore, or pretends to think so.<br>
What a hoarse voice she has. She must be ill herself, for she coughs all night long. I can hear it through the wall—she sleeps in the next room. But I am not ill, that is I am not ill in the way she says. I have no fever now, my pulse is calm and regular. I can remember everything, until I took that drink of tea in the railway station. What could there have been in that tea? I suppose I should have noticed how anxious my travelling companion was to have me drink it.<br>
Who could the man have been? He was so polite, so fatherly in his anxiety about me. I have not seen him since then. And yet I feel that it is he who has brought me into this trap, a trap from which I may never escape alive. I will describe him. He is very tall, stout and blond, and wears a long heavy beard, which is slightly mixed with grey. On his right cheek his beard only partly hides a long scar. His eyes are hidden by large smoked glasses. His voice is low and gentle, his manners most correct—except for his giving people poison or whatever else it was in that tea.<br>
I did not suffer any—at least I do not remember anything except becoming unconscious. And I seem to have felt a pain like an iron ring around my head. But I am not insane, and this fear that I feel does not spring from my imagination, but from the real danger by which I am surrounded. I am very hungry, but I do not dare to eat anything except eggs, which cannot be tampered with. I tasted some soup yesterday, and it seemed to me that it had a queer taste. I will eat nothing that is at all suspicious. I will be in my full senses when my murderers come; they shall not kill me by poison at least.<br>
When I came to my senses again—it was the evening of the day before yesterday—I found a letter on the little table beside my bed. It was written in French, in a handwriting that I had never seen before, and there was no signature.<br>
This strange letter demanded of me that I should write to my guardian, calmly and clearly, to say that for reasons which I did not intend to reveal, I had taken my own life. If I did this my present place of sojourn would be exchanged for a far more agreeable one, and I would soon be quite free. But if I did not do it, I would actually be put to death. A pen, ink and paper were ready there for the answer.<br>
‘Never,’ I wrote. And then despair came over me, and I may have indeed appeared insane. The old woman came in. I entreated and implored her to tell me why this dreadful fate should have overtaken me. She remained quite indifferent and I sank back, almost fainting, on the bed. She laid a moist cloth over my face, a cloth that had a peculiar odour. I soon fell asleep. It seemed to me that there was someone else besides the woman in the room with me. Or was she talking to herself? Next morning the letter and my answer had disappeared. It was as I thought; there was someone else in my room. Someone who had come on the tramway. I found the ticket on the carpet beside my bed. I took it and put it in my notebook!<br>
I believe that it is Sunday today. It is four days now since I have been conscious. The first sound that I remember hearing was the blast of a horn. It must come from a factory very near me. The old windows in my room rattle at the sound. I hear it mornings and evenings and at noon, on week days. I did not hear it today, so it must be Sunday. It was Monday, the 18th of November, that I set out on my trip, and reached here in the evening—(here? I do not know where I am), that is, I set out for Vienna, and I know that I reached the Northern Railway station there in safety.<br>
I was cold and felt a little faint—and then he offered me the tea—and what happened after that? Where am I? The paper that they gave me may have been a day or two old or more. And today is Sunday—is it the first Sunday since my departure from home? I do not know. I know only this, that I set out on the 18th of November to visit my kind old guardian, and to have a last consultation with him before my coming of age. And I know also that I have fallen into the hands of someone who has an interest in my disappearance. <br>
There is someone in the next room with the old woman. I hear a man’s voice and they are quarrelling. They are talking of me. He wants her to do something which she will not do. He commands her to go away, but she refuses. What does he mean to do? I do not want her to leave me alone. I do not hate her any more; I know that she is not bad. When I listened I heard her speaking of me as of an insane person. She really believes that I am ill. When the man went away he must have been angry. He stamped down the stairs until the steps creaked under his tread: I know it is a wooden staircase therefore.