“Readin’ all those books makes me wonder whether anyone ever dies natural,” said Ginger.
“They don’t,” said William mysteriously. “Robert says so. At least he says there’s hundreds an’ thousands of murders what no one finds out. You see, you c’n only find out a person’s died nacheral by cuttin’ ’em up an’ they’ve not got time to cut everyone up what dies. They’ve simply not got the time. They do it like what they do with our desks at school. They jus’ open one sometimes to see if it’s all right. They’ve not got time to open ’em all every day.”
- Number: 10.1
- Published: 1929 (1928 in magazine form)
- Book: William
- Synopsis: The Outlaws investigate a suspected murder.
William, with some justification, believes that his English master will be pleased with him. His last school report said he should read more; and, in common with Ginger, Douglas and Henry, he has developed a passion for detective novels and excitedly works his way through dozens of them.
He also makes some very apt remarks on the horrendous pressures facing the nation’s coroners.
The old man had only lately come to the village. The Outlaws did not know his name but had christened him Scraggy. The Outlaws never troubled to learn the family names of newcomers to the village. Like the savages they resembled in so many other ways, they preferred to call them by a name descriptive of their appearance or character.
So far so good for his literacy and political awareness, but so bad for the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood, which is now – to William’s eye – full of murderers and villains in need of being caught by him (not by the police: “Why, in all those myst’ry tales we’ve read, it’s not been the police that found the murd’rers at all. It’s been ordinary people same as you an’ me jus’ usin’ common sense an’ pickin’ up cigarette ends an’ such-like… Tell you what it is,” he said, warming to his theme, “policemen have gotter be stupid ’cause of their clothes. I mean, all the policemen’s clothes are made so big that they’ve gotter be very big men to fit ’em an’ big men are always stupid ’cause of their strength all goin’ to their bodies ‘stead of their brains. That stands to reason, dun’t it?”)
When a neighbour, Scraggy, goes away on holiday, the Outlaws assume he must have been killed by the man next door. So they hatch a cunning plan (which involves William dressing up as the decesased, on which Douglas kindly remarks, “Well, you look as if you might be tryin’ to look like him”) to expose the heinous crime.
This story is very silly, but no more so than the trashy detective novels which were ubiquitous at the time and which coloured William’s view of the world.