A Series of Unfortunate Events

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Interns at Gladstone’s Library are encouraged to contribute periodic blogs on aspects of William Gladstone, the Library and its collections which really spark their interest or tie in with their own areas of expertise.

In the recent past, we’ve had pieces ranging from Samuel Wesley’s Life of Christ to Welsh naturalist and explorer, Thomas Pennant to William Gladstone’s German annotations. We’ve never had a murder mystery before though…

With the acquisition of the British Crime Writing Archives at Gladstone’s Library and our first ever Alibis in the Archive event taking place to launch that archive (now SOLD OUT!), Intern Danielle set about coming up with a murder mystery of her own to really get into the criminal spirit of things to come…

A brief preface by the author:

When we give inductions to new users of the library, we always advise them to check the adjacent gap when moving the rolling stacks in the Annex to make sure nobody is standing in between. A running joke between the interns (slightly morbid, perhaps) is that if a murder was to occur in the Reading Rooms, it’d probably be by someone getting squashed between those stacks. However, for anyone that’s found themselves in that situation, you’ll realise murder-by-stacks is an impossibility. So, with my chief method of murder thwarted, I considered the question ‘how and where would you murder someone in the library?’ and conducted a survey of my own on the premises.

Bloody murders aside, I couldn’t think of a motive that was actually likely to lead to murder. So, whilst this may not be as violent as those who know my penchant for a good murder mystery might expect of me, below is the most likely murder, given my experience of living and working in the library. Don’t go getting any ideas though!

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. If, in the event of ever coming across an actual dead body in the Reading Rooms, please call the relevant authorities. Don’t be a Helen!

And so the curtain rises…

6:48pm - Gladstone’s Library Exterior (Car Park: Near the end, facing the statue)

CATHERINE: There’s been a murder in the Reading Rooms!

(Looking over CATHERINE’s shoulder towards her parked Ford KA, HELEN makes her way determinedly, mid-sentence, and throws up her arms in frustration.)

HELEN: There’s been a murder in the Library? Cathie, it looks as though there’s been a murder outside! Just look at the state of my car! It’ll take me ages to clean this off.

(Taking her keys from her bag, she tentatively scrapes at one of the patches with the tip of her car key to ill effect. The stains have been baked on and now exhibits a distasteful dun-mottled brown colour that looks like rust against the cherry-red shine of the car’s roof.)

HELEN: Uhh…What a mess. You see? (Pointing out that even with the most ardent scraping, her efforts are in vain). That’s happened a while ago that has, it’s been baked on with the sun.

CATHERINE: Can’t you think of anything but the state of your car? Helen, there’s been a MURDER – a loss of human life. Where’s your sense of compassion, woman!

HELEN: Aye. Well, it’s alright for you to say that; you don’t have to clean it later.

(Both figures turn back and head into the building; HELEN takes one last look at her car with a despairing look over the shoulder, and follows CATHERINE inside.)

6:58pm - Gladstone’s Library (Interior - Corridor; leading to Reading Rooms)

HELEN: So where is everyone anyway? I don’t think I’ve ever seen the place looking so deserted.

CATHERINE: It’s dinner time.

(Spoken as if that explains everything when a murder has been afoot. CATHERINE opens the door to the Reading Rooms, and leads CATHERINE inside. A male body is lying prone on the panelled floor next to the display cabinet in the History Room. He stares with unseeing eyes towards The Memoirs of Marie Antoinette with a broken nose, and the two trails of smeared red shows the point where he began to leak onto the floor.)

HELEN: Which is where we should be if we want anything decent. (A pause as she looks at the body. Looking round). So why is nobody else here? You’d think a murder would stir up some degree of interest; at least enough to put people off their dinner.

CATHERINE: It’s because they don’t know about it yet.

HELEN: I assumed as much. (Nodding her assent, arms crossed she begins to circle the body, taking a survey of the room before returning to her original position next to Catherine) The question is how do you know about it? Did you hear a thwack, followed by a thud and decide to investigate; or has some frightened soul told you in confidence, hoping not to alert the perpetrator or cause a general panic?


HELEN: Well what happened then?

CATHERINE: I killed him. (Pauses to study HELEN’s reaction, and is surprised by the calm she sees there). You’re taking this remarkably well.

HELEN: (HELEN shifts to sit half on-half off the display cabinet. Her left leg is bent at the knee, leaning on the cabinet surface; her hands are crossed on her lap). And why did you do that?

CATHERINE: I’ve been in the library all day, you see, on that desk by the door in the History Room that you know I like so much, and I had my books, and my blanket, and Mr. Flossy – (gesticulates with her hands) you know Mr. Flossy, the rabbit teddy that my favourite Uncle bought me after my graduation; and you know he’s been such a comfort after he died last year – the rabbit that is - and I was struggling with my thesis, and my deadline’s due soon, and all day long all I’ve heard is him periodically sucking on his sweet. And if he wasn’t emanating this wet, sucking sound (pulling a disgusted look), he was playing with the damn sweet in his mouth and making this wretched hollow sound that went straight through me!

HELEN: And that was enough to kill the poor sod?

(A pause as she turns her head to the left and takes a moment to think).

CATHERINE: No. It was definitely the music that did it. About ten blissful minutes after everyone had left for dinner, and it was finally quiet, he turned up the volume of his laptop so the tinny noise he was subjecting his own ears to polluted my own work space. So, naturally, I thought I’d make him aware of my presence and distribute a little vengeance in the process.

HELEN: What? By pushing him off the balcony and killing the man? That’s hardly the mark of a compassionate nature, Cathie. What did you do? Subdue him by hitting him over the head with the heaviest book you could find?

CATHERINE: No. I dropped it on him – the book that is…On his hand to be specific. 

HELEN: And he ended up face first over the balcony from that did he?

CATHERINE: No. I dropped the book on his hand and, whether it was from shock or pain, he gasped in some air and started choking on one of those hard-boiled sweets he’d been sucking on all day. Then he tried to stand and forgetting he still had his earphones in, got wrenched back by the ears (Demonstrating the movement). Making these awful wheezing kind of sounds, he started staggering against his desk, leaned on the balcony for a brief moment, and then just tipped over. (A pause). It’s tragic really. And it all happened so quickly. 

HELEN: So it was an accident then?

CATHERINE: Technically. (A pause). I may have given him some help over the balcony, but I don’t think it counts as murder if he was going to fall anyway.

HELEN: Okay, so why did you come and get me then? Aside from hiding the body, you’ve done everything else perfectly well yourself; as well as make me an accessory to murder.

CATHERINE: Well, I needed an alibi.

HELEN: Right (gets up off the display cabinet and makes her way to the exit.) Best get my money’s worth then, mightn’t I?

CATHERINE: (Slightly worried. CATHERINE takes a few steps towards HELEN as if to follow her out, though she’s evidently torn about leaving the body there) What about the body?

HELEN: Leave it. If someone does come back earlier than expected, I’d prefer not to be seen carrying a limp 180lb man. I’ll only throw my back out anyway.

CATHERINE: Where are we going then?

HELEN: For a drive.

(Walking away)

CATHERINE: To do what?

HELEN: (Stops at the library door and turns toward CATHERINE). To clean the bird crap off my car!