Looking for the title of a short story I read some years (10+) ago. I think it was in an anthology or possibly a book of linked stories, not sure on that.

What I can remember of the story is as follows:

  • The story is set on a space station or similar edifice in space, someone has been killed.
  • The hero is approached by the owner/manager? of the station, to identify who the killer is.
  • There are a number of suspects, but the hero uses deduction based on his knowledge of the suspects races/psychology to work out who the killer is.
  • The story was all knowledge driven, no action really, it keeps reminding me of Sherlock Holmes in space for some reason.

I'm not sure of the ending, but I seem to recall the space station owner being worried when finding out who the killer was?

I recall the book being a slim (maybe 100 - 200 pages in total) small hardback book. The cover was black with a white abstract? illustration on it. The tone of the book seems to me to suggest that it was written during or shortly after the "golden age" of SciFi so maybe later 40's or 50's?

Can anyone help identify the story?

  • Did the solution involve a tour guide mentioning Australia and that caused the earth spy/killer to look down and all the space born people kept looking straight ahead? – Vicpylon Mar 22 '19 at 23:03

I propose "Coup de Grace" by Jack Vance.

  1. Takes place on a space station and yes, the hero is approached by the manager of the station, to identify who the killer is.
  2. Several suspects, the detective uses reasoning to determine the killer and as Lorendiac commented, his deductive reasoning was heavily based on his knowledge of the cultural characteristics of each possible suspect's homeworld
  3. The manager of the space station is worried when the killer is revealed to be "the bonze", "a devout believer in reincarnation." The bonze kills the victim "as a happy release for the poor tormented" person.
  4. In a collection of linked stories, all featuring the same detective.
  5. Black cover with white abstract art, ~175 page book

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  1. All but one story (this one, from 1958) were written in the late 40s/early 50s

It ends with a witty Vanceian conversation:

"Now I feel worse than ever," Pascoglu moaned.

"Best to conceal it from the bonze," said Magnus Ridolph.

  • 3
    I saw the question earlier today, and thought I'd answer it with this story if no one else beat me to it before I had the chance. You beat me. One thing: Magnus Ridolph's deductive reasoning process, eliminating one person after another, was heavily based on his knowledge of the distinctive cultural characteristics of each possible suspect's homeworld, which matches the third bullet point in Alith's post. – Lorendiac Mar 22 '19 at 22:55
  • Thanks, that's a good point. Will edit it in. – Organic Marble Mar 22 '19 at 22:56
  • Yes! :) this is it, thanks so much. I’ll go and find a copy to read again. – Alith Mar 23 '19 at 13:10
  • @Organic Marble - Yes, I would have said it was a Magnus Ridolph story if you hadn't beaten me to it, and remembered the name of the story too. – M. A. Golding Mar 23 '19 at 16:07

It's only a partial match, but my immediate though was of The Dying Night by Isaac Asimov.

The victim, Romero Villiers, had invented the first matter transfer device and is due to announce it at a conference. Three old college aquaintances (not friends - Villers was an embittered man) are also at the conference and one of them kills Villiers. The manager of the conference, calls in Wendell Urth to identify the killer. Urth identifies one of the college friends, Stanley Kaunas, as the killer because Kaunas had been working on Mercury and had forgotten that the day length on Earth is much shorter than the day length on Mercury. Kaunas had left a film with an image of the transporter on Villier's window ledge forgetting that the Sun would rise and destroy the unprocessed film.

The story is from 1956 so it matches your time frame, and the plot is roughly as you describe. The big difference is that it happens on Earth not on a space station. However all the action is inside the conference venue so it has the same slightly claustrophobic feel that a story set on a space station would have.

Wendell Urth is a vaguely Holmesian figure. Asimov wrote several stories featuring Urth that are basically just detective stories.

There's a list of all the anthologies that The Dying Night has appeared in on the ISFDB entry for the story. You can check the covers to see if any of them match your memory, but there are a lot of them.


Could be Asimov's The Dying Night, (F&SF July 1956)

There are three suspects, all astronomers, working respectively on Mercury, the Moon and the planetoid Ceres.It turns on the fact that the culprit left a strip of unexposed film outside on a ledge during the night. The detective realises that only the one from Mercury would make this error, since that planet (supposedly at the time of writing) kept always the same face to the Sun, so that there would never be a sunrise to ruin the film. He had overlooked that on most worlds the case was otherwise.

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