American Detective Fiction    April 1841-July 1891

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  Published in
The Atlantic Monthly, April 1858, p. 706-722

Note: Although published in The Atlantic Monthly anonymously, the author was Wilkie Collins and the story was later published under the title “The Biter Bit.”

Who is the Thief?

(Extracted from the Correspondence of the London Police)


London, 4th July, 18—


This is to inform you that you are wanted to assist in looking up a case of importance, which will require all the attention of an experienced member of the force.  The matter of the robbery on which you are now engaged you will please shift over to the young man who brings you this letter.  You will tell him all the circumstances of the case, just as they stand; you will put him up to the progress you have made (if any) towards detecting the person or persons by whom the money has been stolen; and you will leave him to make the best he can of the matter now in your hands.  He is to have the whole responsibility of the case, and the whole credit of his success, if he brings it to a proper issue.


    So much for the orders that I am desired to communicate with you.  A word in your ear, next, about this new man who is to take your place.  His name is Matthew Sharpin; and between ourselves, Sergeant, I don’t think much of him.  He has not served his time among the rank and file of the force.  You and I mounted up, step by step, to the places we now fill; but this stranger, it seems, is to have the chance given him of dashing into our office at one jump—supposing he turns out strong enough to take it.  You will naturally ask me how he comes by this privilege.  I can only tell you, that he has some uncommonly strong interest to back him in certain high quarters, which you and I had better not mention except under our breaths.  He has been a lawyer’s clerk; and he looks, to my mind, rather a mean, underhand sample of that sort of man.  According to his own account—by the bye, I forgot to say that he is wonderfully conceited in his opinion of  himself, as well as mean and underhand to look at—according to his own account, he leaves his old trade and joins ours of his own free will and preference.  You . . .


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