Collins’s genius for intricate plotting and breakneck narrative pacing is vividly displayed in these two stories written after his masterpieces The Woman in White, Armadale, and The Moonstone. The brief 1881 title story is a former policeman’s tale of his unhappy investigation of a murder in a boardinghouse, seemingly committed by a distraught young widow. The now-clichéd plot elements of sleepwalking and locked doors are deployed with genuine skill, but the story is a tad abrupt and probably ought to have been longer. Its novella-length companion piece, “John Jago’s Ghost” (1873–74), is narrated by a London barrister whose vacation among American relatives (unprophetically prescribed as a rest cure) enwraps him in an “atmosphere of smouldering enmities” among two brothers of contrasting temperaments, their eponymous rival and enemy, a “melancholy” Bible-toting spinster, and a stalwart girl who’ll believe no ill of the man she thinks she loves. Collins misdirects and teases with a master’s hand, and the tale races to a smashing, satisfying ironic final paragraph.
Stylish and superlative entertainment: perfect for a wintry eve with the wind howling dutifully outside.