CARTER DICKSON  “The Footprint in the Sky.” Short story. Colonel March. First published in The Strand, January 1940, as “Clue in the Snow.” Collected in The Department of Queer Complaints (Morrow, hardcover, 1940). Also collected in Merrivale, March and Murder (IPL, hardcover, 1991) as by John Dickson Carr. Reprinted in Murder in Spades, edited by Ellery Queen (Pyramid, paperback, 1969), also as by Carr.

   Strictly speaking, perhaps, not a locked room mystery, but an impossible crime, once you accept the fact that the young girl framed for the crime is innocent, a premise hard to believe, given the facts. A woman living in the house next door, separated by a tall hedge, has been clubbed several times on the head and robbed. It has snowed overnight and the only footprints going back and forth between the two houses are hers. She has size four shoes and the bottoms of hers are soaking wet.

   Carr’s books and stories are always permeated with eerie settings and backgrounds, and this one is no exception. The girl is known for sleepwalking and waking up having no idea what she may have done while doing so. For all she knows, she may have done it. Only Colonel March, head of Scotland Yard’s Department of Queer Complaints, believes her story at once, as soon as he’s on the scene.

   Carr was also known for playing “fair” with the reader, and again this one is no exception, but only once the reader, as soon as the rather outrageous solution is revealed, says, “Hey! What?” (quoting me exactly) and goes back into the story to discover what it was the March used to base his deductions on. Sure enough, it’s there. Right in plain sight, but totally buried in a paragraph used quite innocuously to describe a room.

   Note my use of the word “outrageous” in the paragraph above. I still don’t believe what he says happened could actually be done, but I guess I’d have to grant you that it *could* have.