The art of deduction involves more than simply observing. It is not sufficient to notice details, or even to recognise their meaning. The importance is recognising their relevance to the matter at hand.
One may infer that a murder victim is a left-handed stamp collector who has recently holidayed in the Algarve, but does that aid the investigation?
So how does one know if these details are important? The simple answer is that one cannot. An investigation is like a jigsaw puzzle; you cannot simply reach into the box, withdraw a piece at random and see the greater picture. It is necessary to group the pieces together, spread them out, work out how they relate to one another before slotting them into place.
Enough metaphors, time for an example.
The following is an extract from The Urban-Smith Casebook, penned by my friend and colleague, Dr Rupert Harker.
Rupert and I had been summoned by the local constabulary to the Golders Green home of Rabbi Schmendrics Cohenstein, following his apparent suicide. Poor Rabbi Cohenstein was laid out upon the floor, his white shirt and knitted grey cardigan open, his bare chest exposed. The noose was still tied around his neck, though loosened, and the rope had been cut so as to lower him to the floor.
The ambulance crew had attempted cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, but with no real hope of success. The rabbi’s face was bloated and blue, his tongue lolling (not to be confused with L.O.L’ing) and there was spittle and blood tinged froth congealed in his short, greying beard. The Room’s furniture had been pushed back against the walls to make more room for the paramedics to work, but there were no other signs of a disturbance.
“Who invited you ****s onto my patch?” I immediately recognised the dulcet tones of Detective Inspector Gadget (pronounced Gad-jay), and was unable to suppress a groan. Urban-Smith wheeled about, and thrust out his hand.
“Inspector Gad-jay. What a delight.”
“That’s Detective CHIEF Inspector Gadget, to you.”
DCI Gadget was a little under six feet, with a grizzled pencil moustache and a fine perimeter of hair about his pate. His shirt strained against his wide chest and expansive belly, and despite the cold, there was a fine sheen of sweat upon his crown. He sneered at us and furrowed his brow.
“A promotion,” cried Urban-Smith. “Long overdue. No doubt due to your sterling efforts in the Gorshkov case.”
Without Urban-Smith’s help in the aforementioned, I have no doubt that the Police would still be flailing and floundering, but in the interests of self-preservation, I hesitated to say so. Urban-Smith was able to personally attest to the effectiveness of the DCI’s right cross.
“You’re wasting my time here,” growled Gadget. “Open and shut. Found hanging, no sign of forced entry, suicide note in the pocket.”
“Suicide note? May I see it,” asked Urban-Smith.
Inspector Gadget produced said note, now sheathed in a plastic evidence bag.
“Oy vay!” it read. “Am I depressed, already? Life is so fercockt. But you should care?”
The note was signed, “S Cohenstein (MRCUK, not that you care.)”
“MRCUK?” I asked.
“Member of the Rabbinic Council for the UK,” clarified Urban-Smith. “Odd for a fully kosher rabbi to resort to suicide,” I observed. “I understand that it is frowned upon in the old testament.”
“An exception can be made for those in severe mental or physical distress.” Urban-Smith held the note up to the light. “It is written on standard budget stationary in blue biro. The handwriting is very poor, presumably due to the contents of that now empty wine bottle. May we examine Rabbi Cohenstein?”
“Only if you promise to **** off immediately afterwards?” said Gadget. We agreed.
I elected to wait until the autopsy, but Urban-Smith descended upon the late rabbi with gusto. He examined the feet, peering between the toes, he rolled up the trouser legs and examined the knees, calved and shins, then ran a hand across the abdomen and chest. He examined the noose briefly, then spent a minute checking under the rabbi’s fingernails. Next he examined the ligature marks around his neck, shone a torch into his mouth, and finally turned his attention to the rabbi’s cardigan.
“Hmmm,” he mused. “In which pocket did you find the note, Chief Inspector?”
Urban-Smith reached into his own pocket and withdrew a handkerchief, which he laid out upon the dead man’s chest. He rummaged in the cardigan pocket and withdrew a few crumbs, which he then sprinkled onto the handkerchief.
“You see,” he declared triumphantly. “It would seem that your initial hypothesis is erroneous, Chief Inspector. Rabbi Cohenstein neither wrote that note, nor tied that noose.”
DCI Gadget became very still, his cheeks flushed red and his nostrils flared.
“What are you on about?” he hissed.
“These crumbs.” Urban-Smith motioned with his hands. “Potato crisp fragments.” He carefully picked up the kerchief and handed it to Gadget. “Look closely.”
Gadget peered at the proffered debris.
“There are one hundred and thirty one different flavours of crisp currently available in the UK (one hundred and thirty two if you include hedgehog). I have written several monograms on the subject. These are prawn cocktail. Never would a rabbi allow these willingly into their home; especially this close to Passover.“
“My God!” whispered Detective Chief Inspector Gadget. “Are you sure?”
“I would stake Rupert’s life on it.”
Gadget summoned an uniformed constable who had been lurking in the wings.
“Constable. Bag these crumbs and start waking up the neighbours. This is now a murder investigation.”
(Extract from, A spoonful of meshugga.)
As you can see from this example, even the most mundane of findings can have a huge impact on an investigation. Had the crumbs proved to be salt and vinegar, kipper or even locust and paprika, then the true circumstances of the case may have remained undiscovered. As it transpired, the murderer’s decision to consume non-kosher potato chips before placing the suicide note in Rabbi Cohenstein’s pocket was to prove their undoing.
In summary; remain vigilant. Even the smallest detail may prove to be the butterfly’s beating wing that provokes the tsunami.
May I recommend the following website, aguidetodeduction.tumblr.com. It has some excellent content (though in my opinion, too little about deep fried root vegetable based snacks).