My Book Notes: “The Tea Leaf” (1925) a short story by Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace

This short story is included in The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries: the Most Complete Collection of Impossible Crime Stories Ever Assembled / edited and with an introduction by Otto Penzler. A Vintage Crime/Black Lizar Original, 2014. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 10617 KB. Print Length: 962 page. eISBN: 978-0-8041-7279-0. ASIN: B00J1ISJJQ. “The Tea Leaf” was originally published in the October 1925 issue of The Strand Magazine.

25836643My Take: Two friends, Arthur Kelstern and Hugh Willoughton, were known for their bad character and their nasty temper and no one could believed that they would have become friends. One day, Hugh became engaged to Arthur’s daughter only to cancel it a year later. From then on they began to hate each other. They were both in the habit to have a Turkish bath twice a week, in the same place, at the same time, and on the same days. None of them changed their habits after their row and everyone sensed it was only a matter of time so that this relationship will end up in tragedy. Worst omens were fulfilled the day  in which they found themselves alone, sharing a bath in the hottest room. After a heated discussion Hugh left the room in a bad mood and, shortly after, another customer entered the room where he found Arthur stabbed to death. When the police arrived, Hugh was arrested. After a highly rigorous search, no trace whatsoever of the murder weapon was found. The autopsy revealed that the fatal wound was caused by a long circular weapon that would need at least a 4-inch handle to inflict such a deep and gruesome wound. Even in the absence of the murder weapon, Hugh is brought to trial.

Though now-a-days its denouement may seemed to us pretty obvious, it still makes a fascinating read.

About the Authors: Edgar Alfred Jepson (1863-1938) was an English author best known for his adventure and detective fiction. He also wrote supernatural and fantasy stories. Robert Eustace was the pen name of Eustace Robert Barton (1854-1943), an English doctor and author of mystery and crime fiction with a theme of scientific innovation.

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Edgar Jepson (1863 – 1938)

OIPEdgar Alfred Jepson (28 November 1863 – 12 April 1938) was an English author. He largely wrote mainstream adventure and detective fiction, but also supernatural and fantasy stories. He sometimes used the pseudonym R. Edison Page. Edgar Jepson was born on 28 November 1863 at Kenilworth, Warwickshire, as the second of five sons and three daughters raised by Alfred and Margaret Jepson. Jepson’s father, a dentist, originally hailed from Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, while his mother was a native of London. Edgar Jepson attended Leamington College for Boys (today North Leamington School and graduated from Balliol College, Oxford. After completing his education, Jepson spent some years living in Barbados, before taking up residence in the King’s Bench Walk area of London, where he began his literary career.

As an author, Jepson used a pseudonym, R. Edison Page, for some of his short stories. In other works he collaborated with such authors as John Gawsworth, Arthur Machen and Hugh Clevely. Jepson was also a translator, notably of the Arsène Lupin stories of Maurice Leblanc. He was a member of the Square Club (from 1908) of established Edwardian authors, and one of the more senior members of the New Bohemians drinking club. He was a good friend of the author Ford Madox Ford. Edgar Jepson died on 12 April 1938 at his home in Hampstead. (Source. Wikipedia)

I repeat here what I said  on my blog entry regarding Robert Eustace (1871–1943). “The Tea Leaf”, Eustace’s late (1925) collaboration with Edgar Jepson, finds him pursuing many of the same themes, some 20 years after his collaboration with Meade ended. There is the same interest in freezing, the same impossible crimes explained through chemistry, the same interest in the geometry of rooms and buildings, the same obsessive characters, and the same brilliant female scientists: here one serves as the detective. The plot of this story has been re-used and summarized so many times it has passed into the folklore of the detective story, so this tale has lost some of the punch it must have originally had. But it is still a very well done story. (Mike Grost  on Robert Eustace).

“The Tea Leaf” by Robert Eustace and Edgar Jepson can be found in several short stories collections, to my knowledge in The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries, Vintage Crime, 2014 edited by Otto Penzler and in Capital Crimes: London Mysteries (British Library Publishing Crime Classics, 2015) edited by Martin Edwards.