Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Problem of the Vanishing Man by Jacques Futrelle

A wealthy businessman enters his high-rise office and vanishes, seemingly able to disappear at will. When his staff discover his absence, they recruit The Thinking Machine to try and determine how he accomplishes such a feat, and why...

Jacques Futrelle's Professor Van Dusen ("The Thinking Machine") has investigated murders, unexplained horrors, and all sorts of bizarre occurrences. In The Problem of the Vanishing Man, Van Dusen turns his attention to the corporate world.

Douglas Wilmer as Professor Van Dusen. Source: Double O Section
Charles Carroll, head of a prospering brokerage firm, enters his corner office on the fourth floor of the building. When a member of staff follows him in, he is nowhere to be found. How can he have escaped the building without being seen, and what possible motivation could he have for doing so?

The Problem of the Vanishing Man

The short story is available in its entirety for free at or The University of Adelaide. If you want to read on your Kindle you can download it here (send to Kindle instructions here).

Author: Jacques Futrelle
Word Count: 5,400 (about 21 pages)
The interesting setting (high stakes corporate stockbroking) and cast of shady characters gives The Problem of the Vanishing Man an air of mystery right from the off. Carroll seems to disappear and reappear at will, leaving the reader questioning whether he is actually accomplishing the impossible or simply being framed by a jealous colleague.

With the future of a multi-million dollar company at stake, Futrelle manages to add a layer of immediacy often absent from similar stories. At around 20 pages the tale whisks along briskly, bringing proceedings to a climax with accusations of theft. While Carroll is the titular vanishing man, it is his treasurer Gordon Swayne on which much of the suspicion lies.

The story may well have been one of Futrelle's best if the method of Carroll's miraculous escapes matched the cunning of his motivation, but unfortunately the technique falls flat. The setting, characters, and motivations all fit into an entertaining story of corporate espionage, but the impossible crime element is sorely lacking.

6/10 - An enjoyable story that is let down by a somewhat weak locked room mystery.

The Problem of the Vanishing Man is available as part of the Jacques Futrelle Megapack on Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US).

No comments:

Post a Comment