The Long Way Down by Edward D. Hoch

Because this month’s theme is short stories, I was faced with the delightful problem of choosing one to feature. Over the years, I’ve read so many great stories, from a variety of genres, penned by accomplished writers. I decided to go with “The Long Way Down” by Edward D. Hoch, the latest short story I’ve read that made my jaw drop with astonishment at both the plot twists and the expertise in which the author crafted them.

I read “The Long Way Down” last spring when my husband surprised me with the anthology, The 50 Greatest Mysteries of All Time, complied by Otto Penzler. Since it’s considered one of Mr. Hoch’s best short stories, I was surprised I’d never read it before in other collections. A word about Edward D. Hoch. The man was a master of short stories, writing almost a thousand of them before his death in 2008. Although he wrote in several genres, crime fiction was his specialty, and his specialty within that specialty was impossible crime stories.

Published in 1965, “The Long Way Down” begins with the main character McLove, chief of security for the Jupiter Steel and Brass Corporation, walking to work in Manhattan through the fog on a March morning. He goes to his office on the twenty-first floor, where the executives are waiting for the president of the company, Billy Calm. Billy has been out of town, working on a merger, and is supposed to return that morning for a meeting, announcing his success in getting it.

While in Billy’s empty office, McLove hears voices in the hall. He comes out just in time to see the door close to the meeting room. A crash from that room brings McLove, the secretary, and the executives into it on the run. They find a shattered window. The secretary says, “Billy jumped.”

McLove races down the elevator to the ground floor and runs outside but finds no body. Neither do the police. No one can figure out how a man could leap off a skyscraper and not hit the earth.

While McLove and the secretary take lunch in a nearby diner, a commotion draws them back to the Jupiter building. A crowd surrounds Billy Calm’s smashed body. He hit the ground three hours and forty-five minutes after he jumped. As one executive puts it, he took “the long way down.”

Not only is the mystery memorable, the solution left me reeling but agreeing that it made perfect sense. The reason it all works so well is that every component of the story has a purpose, even down to the names of the characters and the weather, which I didn’t realize until the last line. If you want to write mystery short stories, this is one you can study to learn how to write lean and mean while still delivering plenty of punch.

For more reviews of my favorite short stories, click on the stories below

“A Scandal in Winter” by Gillian Linscott

“The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by G.K. Chesteron

“Owls Hoot in the Daytime and Other Omens” by Manly Wade Wellman

“Summer Job” by Amanda Witt

“The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries” by Otto Penzler

What are your favorite short stories?

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