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chapter twenty-two

In a Definition-and-Letter-Mixture puzzle, each clue consists of a sentence which contains a definition of the answer and a mixture of the letters

(Don Manley, Chambers Crossword Manual]

there were just the two of them in Strange's office the following morning, Tuesday, 14 July.

It had surprised Strange not a little to hear of Morse's quite unequivocal refusal to postpone a few days of his furlough and return immediately to HQ to take official charge of the case especially in view of the latest letter surely the break they'd all been hoping for. On the other hand there were more things in life than a blonde damozel who might or might not have been murdrered a year ago. This bloody 'joy' (huh!)-riding, for a start now hitting the national news and the newspaper headlines. It served, though, to put things into perspective a bit like the letter he himself had received in the post ('Strictly Personal') that very morning:

To Chief Superintendent Strange, Kidlington Police HQ

Dear Sir,

It is naturally proper that our excellent whodunnit writers should pretend that the average criminal in the UK can boast the capacity for quite exceptional ingenuity in the commission of crime. But those of us who (like you) have given our lives to the detection of such crime should at this present juncture be reminding everyone that the vast majority of criminals are not (fortunately!) blessed with the sort of alpha-plus mentality that is commonly assumed.

Obviously if any criminal is brought to book as a result of the correspondence etc. being conducted in sections of the national press, we shall all be most grateful. But I am myself most doubtful about such an outcome, and indeed in a wider sense I am very much concerned about the precedent involved. We have all heard of trial by TV, and we now seem to be heading for investigation by correspondence column. This is patently absurd. As I read things, the present business is pretty certainly a hoax in any case, with its perpetrator enjoying himself (or I suppose herself?) most hugely as various correspondents vie with one another in scaling ever steeper and steeper peaks of interpretive ingenuity. If the thing is not a hoax, I must urge that all investigation into the matter be communicated in the first instance to the appropriate police personnel, and most certainly not to radio, TV, or newspapers, so that the case may be solved through the official channels of criminal investigation.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Armitage

(former Assistant Commissioner, New Scotland Yard)

PS I need hardly add, I feel sure, that this letter is not for publication in any way.

But this must almost certainly have been written before its author had seen the latest communiqu'e from the most intrepid mountaineer so far: the writer of the quite extraordinary letter which had appeared in the correspondence columns of The Times the previous morning, Strange now turned to Lewis. 'You realize it's the break, don't you

Lewis, like every other police officer at HQ, had read the letter; and yes, he too thought it was the break. How else? But he couldnt understand why Strange had asked him him along this morning. He was very tired anyway, and should by rights have been a-bed. On both Saturday and Sunday nights, like most officers in the local forces, his time had been spent until almost dawn behind a riot-shield, facing volleys of bricks and insults from gangs of yobbos clapping the skidding-skills of youths in stolen cars amongst whom (had Lewis known it) was a seventeen-year-old schoolboy who was later to provide the key to the Swedish Maiden mystery.

`'Lewis! You're listening, aren't you?'

'Sorry, sir?'

'You do remember Morse belly-aching about transferring the search from Blenheim to Wytham?'

'Yes, sir. But he wasn't on the case more than a day or so.'

'I know that,' snapped Strange. 'But he must have had some reason, surely?'

'I've never quite been able to follow some of his reasons.'

'Do you know how much some of these bloody searches cost?

'No, sir.'

Nor perhaps did Strange himself, for he immediately changed tack: 'Do you think Morse was right?'

'I dunno, sir. I mean, I think he's a great man, but he sometimes gets things awfully wrong, doesn't he?'

'And he more often gets things bloody right' said Strange with vehemence.

It was an odd reversal of roles, and Lewis hastened to put the record straight. 'I think myself, sir, that-'

'I don't give a sod what you think, Sergeant! If I want to search Wytham Woods I'll bloody well search 'em till a year next Friday if I If I think it's worth the candle. All right?'

Lewis nodded wordlessly across the table, watching the rising florid exasperation in the Super's face.

'I'm not sure where I come into all this ' he began.

'Well, I'll tell you! There's only one thing you can do and I can't, Sergeant, and that's to get the morose old bugger back to work here smartish. I'm under all sorts of bloody pressure'

'But he's on holiday, sir.'

'I know he's on bloody holiday. I saw him yesterday, drinkin shampers and listening to Schubert with some tart or other.'

'Sure it was champagne, sir?'

But quietly now, rather movingly, Strange was making his plea 'Christ knows why, Lewis, but he'll always put himself out a for you. Did you realize that?'

He rang from Morse's own (empty) office.

'Me, sir. Lewis.'

'I'm on holiday.'

'Super's just had a word with me-'

'Friday that's what I told him.'

'You've seen the letter about Wytham, sir?'

'Unlike you and your philistine cronies, Lewis, my daily reading includes the royal circulars in The Times, the editorials '

What do I tell the Super, sir? He wants us you and me to take over straightaway.'

Tell him I'll be in touch tomorrow.'

'Tell him you'll ring, you mean?'

'No. Tell him I'll be back on duty tomorrow morning. Tell him be in my office any time after seven a.m.'

'He won't be awake then, sir.'

'Don't be too hard on him, Lewis. He's getting old and I think he's got high blood pressure.'

As he put down the phone, with supreme contentment, Lewis knew that Strange had been right about Morse and himself; realized that in the case of the Swedish Maiden, the pair of them were in business again w.e.f. the following morning.

In his office, Strange picked up the cutting from The Times and read the letter yet again. Quite extraordinary!

From Mr Lionel Regis

Sir, Like most of your other correspondents I must assume that the 'Swedish Maiden' verses were composed by the person responsible for the murder of that unfortunate young lady. It is of course possible they were sent as a hoax, but such is not my view. In my opinion it is far more probable that the writer is exasperated by the inability of the police to come anywhere near the discovery of a body, let alone the arrest of a murderer. The verses, as I read them, are a cry from the murderer not the victim a cry for some discovery, some absolution, some relief from sleepless, haunted nights. But I would not have written to you, sir, merely to air such vague and dubious generalities. I write because I am a setter of crossword puzzles, and when I first studied the verses I had just completed a puzzle in which the answer to every clue was indicated by a definition of the word to be entered, and also by a sequenced anagram of the same word. It was with considerable interest therefore and a good measure of incredulity that I gradually spotted the fact that the word wytham crops up, in anagrammatized form, in each of the five stanzas. Thus: thaw my (stanza 1); [stre]AM why T[ellst] (stanza 2); what my (stanza 3); [s]aw thym[e] (stanza 4); and [no]w thy MA[iden] (stanza 5).

The occurrence of five such instances is surely way beyond the bounds of coincidence. (I have consulted my mathematical friends on this matter.) 'Wytham', I learn (I am not an Oxford man), is the name of some woods situated to the west of Oxford. If the verse tells us anything then, it is surely that the body sought is to be found in Wytham Woods, and it is my humble suggestion that any further searches undertaken should be conducted in that quarter.



16 Cathedral Mews,


Like Lewis, Strange remembered exactly what Morse had on his postcard: 'I reckon I know what the poem means!', and pushed the newspaper aside, and looked out across the car park.

'Lionel Regis, my arse!' he said quietly to himself.

chapter twenty-one | The Way Through The Woods | chapter twenty-three