A Case for Solomon

“Frank Hugh Smallwood was first murdered on the 15th of April, 1927.”

Bookseller Theodore Terhune investigates an old homicide case after he stumbles on the freshly murdered corpse of seaman Frank Smallwood, a man thought to have been killed nearly twenty years previously during a houseboat party on the Thames. Smallwood’s alleged killer, Charles Cockburn, was convicted and served a lengthy prison sentence before being killed in the war. So who wants Smallwood dead now? And what actually happened between Smallwood and Cockburn all those years ago? A book of poetry found lying near the body puts Terhune on the trail of an unlikely murderer, in this entertaining blend of detective story and courtroom drama.


By Bruce Graeme  (pseudonym of Graham Montague Jeffries)

Introduction by J F Norris, vintage crime historian

First published in 1941 by Hutchinson & Co Ltd

ISBN 9781899000302

Available August 2021


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From Chapter 1:

They walked on and, leaving behind them the outskirts of the small
market town, soon found themselves approaching a small rise from
the far side of which they would be able to see the large expanse of
flat countryside which lay between Bray-in-the-Marsh (a misnomer,
indeed, for Bray was on a higher elevation than the reclaimed marshland)
and the coast.
They reached the summit of the rise, and a lovely vista of quiet,
natural beauty. The scene was not one, at first sight, to affect one’s
emotions, for it contained nothing that was arresting or unusual.
There was little to be seen other than a chequered pattern of green
fields and wooded patches, bisected by the startling straightness
of a muddy, man-made canal, and the grey-blue background of a
quiet sea. Only after contemplation was one able to appreciate the
subtleties of the landscape, whereupon the cropping sheep, the variegated
autumn shades, the wheeling gulls, the unhurried progress of
a hay-piled wagon, the coruscating sheen on the water, the smudgy
formlessness of a coasting tramp, merged into a timeless poem of
serenity and blended colour such as few other corners of the world
could equal.
The scene was a familiar one to the two walkers, so they absorbed
it in passing, and enjoyed it almost automatically. While discussing
Terhune’s trip to the U.S.A., which subject the conversation had
reached by a series of devious and untraceable divergencies, they passed
over the canal and presently left the quiet, winding road in order to take
a short cut, a footpath through a wood of several hundred acres known
locally as Windmill Wood, no doubt because some long-forgotten
windmill had once occupied a site not far away.
In mid-summer the path resembled a cool, green tunnel, but this
effect was already passing, for leaves had begun to fall, turning the
mossy path into a slippery, yellow-brown carpet, and the roof into a
pattern of delicate tracery through which the cold blue of the sky was
to be seen.
They had penetrated into the wood a matter of a hundred yards
or so when Terhune, in stepping aside from the footpath to avoid a
pronounced puddle, struck his right toe against a hard substance which
moved forward under the impact. He glanced down at the ground,
and saw beneath a partial covering of leaves a square brown object.
Because of its temporary camouflage it was not easy to identify it from
above, so he stooped and picked it up. His action prompted Helena
to halt, and turn.
“What is the matter, Tommy?”
He chuckled. “Look at what I have just found.”
She echoed his laughter. “A book! It would have to be you, of all
people, to find a book. Of course it is a detective story. Let me guess.
By Georges Simenon? Or Michael Innes?”
“You are hopelessly wrong, Helena. It is a copy of Swinburne’s
Rosamund. Quite a nice copy, too.” He passed it over to her.
“Where did you find it?”
“By the side of the path.” He pointed to the spot.
“I wonder how it came to be there,” she mused aloud, as she turned
over the pages. Unexpectedly, she smiled. “Here is a chance to reveal
your detective skill, Mr. Theodore Terhune. Tell me everything you
can about the owner of this book, how long it has been here in the
wood, and why it was lying where it was.”
“I can tell you how long it has been lying here, my dear Miss
Watson,” he informed her with simulated solemnity.
For a moment she was surprised by his apparent gravity. Then she
entered into the mood of the moment. “How long, Mr. Terhune?”
“Between twenty-one and twenty-two hours.”
“Indeed! By what simple process of deduction have you arrived
at that period?”
“The back cover is limp with damp, isn’t it?”
She examined the book. “Yes.”
“The front cover, although damp, is still moderately stiff.”
“About what time did that rainstorm stop yesterday afternoon?”
“About four-thirty. It started at four, and lasted nearly thirty
“Exactly! Therefore the book must have been dropped later than
about one hour after the rain had stopped. Had it been dropped before
then the front cover would also have been impregnated with damp.
As it has not rained since, I conclude that the book must have been
dropped here between five-thirty and six-thirty.”
For the first time she realized that Terhune was not entirely joking
with her. Her interest became even keener.
“Why do you place the time at five-thirty, Tommy? Could it not
have been at a quarter to five?”
“I do not think so, Helena. You see, after heavy rain such as we
had yesterday trees drip for some time after the rain has ceased. As
the front cover does not seem to have been dripped upon, I have made
allowance for the dripping to cease.”
Her eyes glowed with pride and admiration. “Tommy, you really
are a detective.” Then she continued triumphantly: “Now explain why
you think the book was dropped at five-thirty last night, and not at
nine-thirty this morning?”
“Suppose we deal with last night first. It was dark soon after six-thirty,
so I assume that the person who was carrying that volume of Swinburne
about with him—or her—was not likely to have passed through these
woods once the night had become really black. Therefore, I assume
that it was dropped between the hours of five-thirty and six-thirty.”
“But why not this morning?”
“The front cover is almost covered with damp leaves which have
stuck to it. It was the high wind during the night which probably
caused many of those leaves to fall. As the wind dropped with the
dawn probably not many have fallen since then.”
“Of course! How simple the answers become—when they are
explained.” A mischievous light played in her eyes. “Now tell me the
name of the owner?” she challenged.
“I can tell you his initials.”
“Tommy, I do not believe you.”
“They are G.H.”
She shook her head. “This time I know you are teasing me.”
“Weren’t you teasing me when you asked the question?”
She nodded her head.
“All the same, Helena, I am sure the owner of that book possesses
the initials G.H.”
She continued to doubt him. “How could you possibly tell the
initials of its owner merely by looking at a book?”
He chuckled. “Because he has written them on the flyleaf. Look
for yourself.”
Her expression was rueful as she opened the book, but she persisted
obstinately: “How can you be sure G.H. has not borrowed the book
from its owner?”
“Because he—or she—has inked in the initials. He might have
pencilled the initials in a borrowed book, but I feel sure he would not
have used ink—unless, of course, he had no intention of returning it.”
She made a face at him before turning back to the book again.
After a few seconds’ inspection she lifted her head once more; her
expression was triumphant.
“There are also some initials in the upper corner of the flyleaf. To
whom do they belong?”
“What are the initials?”
“I could make a joke about those particular letters, but I will refrain
from the obvious. D.T.! You have asked a hard question this time, my
girl. Are the initials pencilled or inked?”
“Pencilled. There is a downward stroke between the D and the T.”
He laughed joyfully. “You cuckoo! That is the price of the book.”
“The price?”
“In code. Surely you have seen goods priced with letters instead of
figures. Each seller usually has his own code.” He started. “Did you
say D.T., Helena?”
“Let me have it back. I want to examine it again.”
Helena passed back the book: he peered at the price code. “Well,
I’ll be damned!”
“What is the matter?”
“This is my own code. D stroke T stands for two shillings and
threepence. I use the first initial of the French numbers—un, deux,
trois, and so on. I must have sold this book to its present owner.”
“That is not very strange, Tommy. You are the only person between
Ashford and the coast who sells books.”
He frowned in thought. “I remember buying a copy of Swinburne’s
Rosamund more than a year ago—it was one of a collection of English
poets, collected by the Reverend Fergus Macdonald, of Rye, which
I purchased from his widow—but I’m hanged if I can remember
selling it again.”
“Perhaps Miss Amelia sold it while she was looking after the shop.”
“Probably.” He was silent for some seconds. “G.H. Who do we
know with those initials, Helena?”
“Doctor Harris. Colonel Hamblin.”
“Alec Hamblin! Can you imagine his enjoying anything by
Swinburne! As for the doctor, he confines his reading exclusively
to detective stories. Then there is Bram Hocking. He belongs to my
lending library, but he has never bought a book within my recollection—
not from me, at any rate. Besides, none of the people I have
mentioned are G.H.”
“How about Hilda Hughes? Her full name is Hilda Gertrude
“Our Hilda!” He shook his head. “Now, if this were a novel by
Ursula Bloom or Denise Robins one might have cause for thinking it
belongs to her. But not Swinburne.” He shrugged his shoulders, and
slipped the book into a pocket of his jacket. “Shall we make a move?
We could stay here all afternoon making wild guesses, without getting
any forrader.”
She stepped across the puddle which had caused him to find the
book, and slipped her hand through his arm.
“Come along, impatient. You have disappointed me. You are not
so clever a detective as I had hoped. Besides, you haven’t deduced
any reason to account for the book’s being where it was. Somebody
must have been—–”
Her words tailed off into a choking gasp. He glanced quickly in her
direction, and saw that she was staring at the foot of an old oak tree
some ten yards in front of them, to their half right. His eyes followed
the direction of her gaze. Protruding from what appeared to be a pile
of fallen leaves was a limp, muddy hand.