(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An affable, but not very bright, traveling salesperson named Smethers begins sharing a London flat with an Oxford-educated gentleman named Linley, who displays extraordinary mental gifts. (Their relationship is similar to that between Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.) One day Smethers calls his friend’s attention to a newspaper account of a murder case that has the police baffled and challenges Linley to solve it.

A man named Steeger is suspected of murdering a pretty blond companion named Nancy Elth in order to get his hands on the money she had brought to their cottage in the south of England. The local police have kept the place surrounded but have been unable to find a trace of the young woman’s body and cannot arrest Steeger without a corpse. Steeger claims that the woman has left the country, but he has a large amount of cash that he cannot account for.

Because Linley is constitutionally lazy, he sends Smethers to study the crime scene and talk to everyone in the neighborhood. Smethers reports back that there appears to be no way in which Steeger could have buried the body on the premises or spirited it away undetected. The most curious fact is that Steeger obtained his landlord’s permission to chop down a stand of ten larch trees and cut them into two-foot logs, but he has never used the wood for any purpose. Smethers reports that two bottles of Numnumo—the brand of relish that he himself peddles as a...

(The entire section is 484 words.)