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The Case of the Seven Sneezes by Anthony…
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The Case of the Seven Sneezes (1942)

by Anthony Boucher

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Fergus O'Breen solves a series of murders on a sparsely populated island off the California coast. An isolated house party murder with roots in an ugly crime 25 years in the past.

Detective Fergus O'Breen can smell it — the tangled loves and hates, the isolated island, the twenty-five-year-old mystery haunting them all... everything points to murder within hours! Pick the killer... pick the corpse...

The Bride — in love for twenty-five years with the wrong man...

The Bridegroom — possessively jealous of his wife, bitterly jealous of the millionaire bachelor responsible for his marriage and wealth...

The Maid of Honor — her days of beauty, fame and adulation had long passed, but one way remained to relive the glories of the past...

The Best Man — passed over by the woman he loved for a man he despised a generation before and now faced with a weirdly similar situation...

The Flower Girl — too young to have been responsible for the first murder but with more motives than any other to cause the second...

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The cat, Valentino, started it. Even though he was dead, his throat neatly slit, and his corpse just as neatly buried, he started it. Because if it hadn't been for Valentino, Fergus O'Breen wouldn't have sneezed seven times. And if Fergus hadn't sneezed he wouldn't have crashed the anniversary party on Blackman's Island, the silver anniversary of a wedding and a murder.

In 1915, Horace and Catherine Brainard had been married, with all the conventional trimmings — and one rather unique feature. The night of the wedding a bridesmaid's throat had been slit. For twenty-five years that gruesome murder had remained unsolved.

In 1940, Horace and Catherine Brainard collected their original wedding party around them on Brainard Island — a sentimental journey into the past that turned into a weekend of terror and death. The dreadful pattern of that first murder began to repeat itself, over and over. For twenty-five years death had been waiting in rigid immobility until it could crawl again to the faint echo of the Wedding March. The wedding party was older, warier. This time they knew that one of them was a murderer.

Who?

Could it be the pompous Horace or his bride Catherine? The gentle, scholarly James Herndon, with his passion for pipes and recondite poetry? Or Dr. Hugh Arnold, who had changed from an intense young intern into an inscrutable and cynical psychiatrist? Or Alys Trent, the passionate sophisticate who had once been an enchanting little flower girl? Or Lucas Quincy, whose ruthless financial genius was all that was left of an eager, ambitious boy? Or Stella paris, whose name had rocketed across the theatre marquees of a continent in a quarter of a century?

Fergus O'Breen saw them as they were, he had to imagine what they once had been, for only in that way could he discover the truth about the murders, old and new.

It was a fatal moment for the murderer — when Fergus sneezed seven times.

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