The Memorial Hall Murder

The Memorial Hall Murder

by Jane Langton

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With “ebullience and good humor,” the award-winning author brings back former detective Homer Kelly, now a Harvard professor, to solve a killing on campus (Eudora Welty).
 An explosion rocks the foundations of Harvard University’s stately Memorial Hall. Built a century ago to honor alumni who died defending the Union in the Civil War, the hall is a focal point of the campus. Now it is a crime scene. A corpulent body is found inside, decapitated by the blast. The dead man is Hamilton Dow, conductor of the school orchestra and one of the most beloved men on campus. The university’s president, James Cheever, couldn’t be more pleased. Dow had opposed every one of Cheever’s attempts to improve and enlarge Harvard, and this terrible accident means that Cheever’s path to complete domination of the campus is clear. But was it an accident? Homer Kelly, Harvard professor and occasional sleuth, is not so sure. Cheever was not the only man on campus who wanted Dow dead, and as Homer looks for the culprit he finds a terrible secret behind the bombing that turned the Civil War memorial into a tomb.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453252307
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 04/17/2012
Series: The Homer Kelly Mysteries , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 247,729
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Winner of the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award, Jane Langton (1922–2018) was an acclaimed author of mystery novels and children’s literature. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Langton took degrees in astronomy and art history before she began writing novels, and has set much of her fiction in the tight-knit world of New England academia.
She published her first novel, The Majesty of Grace, in 1961, and a year later began one of the young adult series that would make her famous: the Hall Family Chronicles. In The Diamond in the Window (1962) she introduced Edward and Eleanor, two New England children whose home holds magical secrets. Two years later, in The Transcendental Murder, Langton created Homer Kelly, a Harvard University professor who solves murders in his spare time. These two series have produced over two dozen books, most recently The Dragon Tree (2008), the eighth Hall Family novel.
Winner of the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award, Jane Langton (1922–2018) was an acclaimed author of mystery novels and children’s literature. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Langton took degrees in astronomy and art history before she began writing novels, and has set much of her fiction in the tight-knit world of New England academia.
She published her first novel, The Majesty of Grace, in 1961, and a year later began one of the young adult series that would make her famous: the Hall Family Chronicles. In The Diamond in the Window (1962) she introduced Edward and Eleanor, two New England children whose home holds magical secrets. Two years later, in The Transcendental Murder, Langton created Homer Kelly, a Harvard University professor who solves murders in his spare time. These two series have produced over two dozen books, most recently The Dragon Tree (2008), the eighth Hall Family novel.

Read an Excerpt

The Memorial Hall Murder

By Jane Gillson Langton

Copyright © 1978 Jane Gillson Langton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-5230-7


The biggest noise wasn't the muffled sound of the explosion. It was the fall of shattered glass from the rose windows. Blue and red fragments rained down. Little shields of black-and-gold-painted glass bearing Harvard's motto—Veritas—burst on the stone steps. The wooden doors at either end of the memorial transept hung swaying on broken hinges.

Across Cambridge Street in the firehouse there were startled cries. Men ran outside and stood looking up at the vast sunlit bulk of Memorial Hall. A bell began sounding a long claaaaaaaaang, and then a loudspeaker said, Box 48, Memorial Hall.

John Campbell had been typing a letter in his office on the second floor of the firehouse. He jumped up and put on his helmet and coat with the men who were on duty and ran across Cambridge Street, while the sirens of the rescue truck and Engine No. 1 set up a high whine and pulled out of the garage to park across the street. Three of Campbell's men ran to the congested crossings around the firehouse and began rerouting traffic.

Cautiously John Campbell walked up the steps on the south side of Memorial Hall, his rubber boots crunching on the broken glass. A reddish cloud of smoke was rolling out of the broken door.

Only one side of the tall double door had been splintered and smashed. The other was intact, and the poster on its central panel was still fresh and clean.

The Chief of the Cambridge Fire Department and two of his fire fighters stepped over the fallen half of the door and peered into the gloom. Water was pouring from the high ceiling. It fell on Campbell's helmet and ran backward down the brim. "There's somebody in there," he said. "See there, on the floor. Eddie, go downstairs and turn off the main valve."

There was no sign of fire. Dampened by the falling water from the sprinklers in the wooden vaults, the cloud of brick dust was thinning, settling on the floor and on the body of the fat man who lay half in and half out of a hole in the floor.

"Jeez, what in the name of Gawd was that?" Crawley, the building superintendent, looked out of the shattered door of his office. Somebody else, a very tall man with a lot of hair on his head, was blundering over the broken doors of the great hall, holding up his arms as a shield against the rain from the ceiling.

John Campbell looked at the tall man and held up his hand in warning. "No," he said. "Get back. You too, Crawley. Everybody out of the building."

The building superintendent withdrew an inch or two and the hairy man backed up a few paces and stopped, as Campbell walked forward and bent over the body, then groaned and turned his head aside.

"Mother of God," said the man at his heels.

John Campbell stood up. "Everybody out, I said. Come on. You heard me. Go on outdoors."

But people were still coming out of the walls. Someone had run up behind him and was digging thin fingers into his arm. "All right now, miss," said Campbell. "That goes for you too. Out with you. You never know if there might be another explosion."

"Ham?" said the girl. "It's not Ham? Oh, no." She was falling back, her hair streaming in the rain from the ceiling, her hands over her mouth. She was whimpering, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no."

The blackened body of the man who lay on the floor was hanging down, draining blood into the hole. Most of the clothing had been burned off. The head was missing.


The floor had thundered like a cannon, and opened up its blazing mouth and thrown him down. He was falling and shouting, and the cannon were firing all around, and he went on shouting and falling until he hit the ground at last and smashed his forehead against a rock. The battle raged over his head, an army trampled his tody, and then something immense fell on his back and crushed him. Slowly he struggled forward, squirming through the blinding storm of dust, until he was free of the terrible burden and could rest his bleeding head on his arm.

Then something else slammed down on the back of his head. He lay still while the raging night rolled over him.


The President of Harvard was drinking coffee at his desk and looking out the window. Massachusetts Hall was the oldest building in the Yard, and the window glass should have been old as well, giving a pleasantly distorted view of the oak trees in front of Straus Hall. But there had been a disturbance in Massachusetts Hall back in 1972, when a rowdy bunch of students had occupied the building, and after that the old windows had been replaced with imitations in aluminum and impregnable plastic. No callow young barbarians would smash those windows in.

Idly James Cheever watched the late-morning sun strike through the plastic panes and move across the floor, picking out the soft colors of the old Caucasian rug. Moment by moment the patch of sunshine crept closer to the glass case containing the Great Salt, that precious piece of seventeenth-century silver that had been placed before him at the time of his installation as president, along with the silver keys and the seal and the charter of 1650. Soon the sunlight would touch those curving silver surfaces and scatter a brilliant pattern of light on the north wall. It happened every morning. In the five years since he had been elected to the presidency by the Harvard Corporation, James Cheever never tired of savoring this small daily miracle. At such times he wondered whether his predecessor was ever homesick for this room, whether he ever regretted his elevation to the Supreme Court. President Cheever smiled, remembering that there had been those who had questioned whether it could be considered an elevation, to exchange the presidency of Harvard University for even so august a national distinction.

If only his high office carried with it the rights and privileges he had expected, to balance the cares and responsibilities that had at once descended on his shoulders! President Cheever frowned at the Great Salt, struck by the notion that ill-mannered students were not the only barbarians at Harvard. After all, a voting majority of the Harvard Corporation were no more than aesthetic philistines. Even Hemenway and Bowditch, who were themselves collectors of art objects, had joined the others in voting against his Museum of Decorative Arts. The five Fellows had opposed him unanimously. The more he had argued in its favor, explaining the long-overdue need for a small museum devoted to the university's scattered collection of small precious things, the more they had got their backs up. Bowditch, the Senior Fellow, had even taken him aside and presumed to warn him against this "very serious error of judgment." The faculty would never stand for it," Bowditch had said. Well, Bowditch was a senile old fool. Sloan Tinker had gone to bat for the project, of course, arguing the case with Bowditch, even carrying the matter to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. But then that self-righteous young prig, the Dean of the Faculty, had responded by calling for Cheever's resignation. And there had even been murmurs of the name of the President's old enemy. "It just keeps coming up all the time," Tinker had said, "the same damn dangerous name. You'd think they'd bring up another one now and then. It looks like some kind of conspiracy."

The Corporation had voted against him. So had the faculty. Very well, then, he would take the matter to the Board of Overseers. He would go over the heads of the Harvard Corporation, or, rather, since there was nothing over the Fellows' heads but God, he would go around and behind them and consult the larger body, the Harvard Overseers. After all, the Senior Fellow himself was always cautioning him to remember that the university was a diversity as well—how the man loved his pious little joke! And then old Bowditch never lost an opportunity to remind him of the broad range of needs of all the scattered professional schools, Medicine, Business, Law, Divinity, and of the requirements of all the multitudinous departments under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, from the largest and most prestigious down to the humblest department of Sanskrit or Celtic languages. And then Bowditch would waggle his old head and talk about the students, all twenty-one thousand of them, drinking thirstily at all these fountains, and about how complex and important their wants and necessities were. Well, then, it was only proper that he should take his request to the Harvard Overseers, whose task it was to visit all of these various schools and departments. He wouldn't be acting behind the Corporation's back. In fact, he might ask the President of the Board of Overseers to do something unheard of—invite the Fellows to attend the meeting in person. The whole matter would be right out in the open. Bowditch was practically asking for it.

James Cheever sipped his coffee and lifted his eyes to the two portraits hanging on the south wall of his office. It always calmed his mind to contemplate the two paintings he had chosen from the Harvard Portrait Collection to hang in the presidential chamber. It never failed to amuse him to examine them together. The subjects of both portraits had been benefactors of Harvard College, but there the resemblance ended. The likeness of William Stoughton had been daubed by a primitive hand, and it scowled back at Cheever with all the superstitious malice of the man who had been Chief Magistrate at the witchcraft trials in Salem. Stoughton looked like a badger. The glowing face of Count Rumford, on the other hand, seemed still glistening from the brush of Gainsborough. How the lively face shone with humanity and reason! What a paradox that the dour faith of the one should have resulted in a physiognomy so savage, while the love of natural science in the other had kindled a countenance so angelic!

President Cheever's door burst open.

His door never burst open. It was always opened quietly after a soft knock and his own gentle, "Yes, Mrs. Herbert?"

Mrs. Herbert was on her hands and knees. She had stumbled over the sill. "A bomb," said Mrs. Herbert. "There's been a bomb."

The President of the Board of Overseers was running around Mrs. Herbert. "Jim, the most God-awful thing has happened," said Julia Chamberlain. "A bomb just went off in Memorial Hall."

"Oh, is that what that noise was? I thought I heard something. The window rattled." President Cheever glanced back at the Great Salt. Only another moment now.

"Somebody put a bomb under the floor. And, oh, the most terrible thing." Julia Chamberlain's voice broke.

Dazzling reflections sprayed the wall! The President smiled, then pulled his face together and turned to Mrs. Chamberlain. "You mean the building has been destroyed? Memorial Hall?"

"It's Ham. Ham Dow, the chorus conductor. He's dead. He was the best person in the whole place. All the students were crazy about him. Oh, it's absolutely ghastly."

"Good Lord. And the building?"

"Oh, the building's all right. There's a big hole in the floor, and the stained glass in the transept has been blown to bits. The Brimmer window and the one on the other end too. But all in all, it's not as bad as it might have been. I mean, at Princeton last week they blew up the entire stadium. It could have been worse. But Ham Dow ..."

The President reckoned losses and gains. Of course, it was too bad about the building. Too bad it hadn't been blown up altogether, because it was a monumental eyesore. A blot on the architectural landscape of the university. One could not, of course, ever have hoped to persuade the other members of the Harvard Corporation and the Vice President for Administration that it should be torn down altogether. You couldn't deliberately tear down a building sacred to the memory of the Harvard men who had died in the Union cause in the Civil War. But if a bomb had done the work for him ... Well, it was too bad.

But as for Ham Dow ...

James Cheever rose from his chair. He supposed he must take command. He loathed taking command. "Ham Dow. That is a loss indeed. I suppose they have called the police?" He was doing his damnedest to suppress the smile that was tugging at the muscles of his cheeks.

His enemy was dead.


John Campbell ran down the steps to meet Captain McCurdy from the Boston Police Department Bomb Squad. McCurdy was parking a patrol car in the circular driveway on the north side of Memorial Hall.

Captain McCurdy slammed the door of his car. "Is everybody out of the building?" he said.

Campbell gestured at the crowd pressing against a rope barrier on the other side of Kirkland Street. "Oh, we cleared everybody out right away. It's a miracle nobody else was hurt. They poured out of every crack in the wall. You'd be amazed. I mean, the place always looks so empty. Well, it was chock-full. There was a big class going on in the lecture hall down at the other end, and I don't know where all the other characters came from. They kept corning out of the woodwork, and I had to keep shoving them all out."

McCurdy and Campbell hurried up the steps and through the north door, where another poster advertising the performance of Handel's Messiah hung flapping from one thumbtack. "See—there," said Campbell. "We left the body where it fell."

McCurdy barely glanced at the mounded shape under the tarpaulin. He walked around the hole, stepping carefully to avoid the smears of blood and the fragments of broken marble that littered the floor. A blaze of warm October sunshine was flooding through the empty stone mullions of the rose window to the south, slanting down in dusty shafts on the clutter below. Uneasily Captain McCurdy looked at the other men in uniform milling around the lofty hall. He recognized the insignia of the police departments of Harvard University and the city of Cambridge, and there were fire fighters from across the street in rubber coats and boots. "The first thing we've got to do is make sure nobody else is buried under all that fallen debris. Are all these people authorized personnel? If not, they should clear out. Who's that guy in the gray suit?"

"That's Maderna. He's the mechanical foreman for the North Yard. Harvard Buildings and Ground. Hey, Donald, you got everything turned off now?"

"Yes," said Donald Maderna. "Heat, gas, water, electric power. If there's anything else you want us to do, just let me know. And as soon as you people are through in here we'll want a go-ahead, so we can get the building back in shape. We'll bring in steamfitters, carpenters, plumbers, everybody; get the place back in use as soon as possible."

"Right you are," said McCurdy. "Now let's get most of these people out of here. We've got to go through all this debris with a fine-tooth comb. Who's that? Oh, Frank. Come on in, Frank. Mr. Campbell, this is Frank Harvey from the U.S. Treasury Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Hey, Frank, you think this is some more work by that crazy Nepalese Freedom Movement?"

"I wouldn't be surprised. Damn fools. I suppose they'll call up sooner or later and take the credit."

"Well, let's get started. We've got to sift through all this wreckage. And then we'll have to go over the entire building to make sure there aren't any more explosive devices hidden anyplace."

Someone else was elbowing his way into the conversation. "But, my God, man, that will take a year."

McCurdy and Campbell and Harvey looked up in surprise at the tall man with the bushy head of hair. "Look," said John Campbell, "I already told you, the building is closed to unauthorized personnel. Nobody from outside is supposed to be in here."

But instead of explaining himself, the big man in the mismatched coat and pants was rumbling on in a kind of excited babble. "You can't search every nook and cranny in this place in less than a year. The building is as convoluted as the human brain. There are a hundred rooms in the basement alone. I know that for a fact. Why, you can't even get from one floor of the building to the other. It's different universes. Whole different geometrical nonconnected dimensions. It's like trying to take off your vest without removing your coat. And the tower. Just think of the tower. And the big spaces between the wooden vaults and the roof. My God, man, just think. Say, listen—oh, please, Chief, could I come along when you go up there? I mean, I'm really crazy about towers. If there's one thing in this life I'm really crazy about, it's crawling around on the tops of vaults."

They were looking at him vacantly.


Excerpted from The Memorial Hall Murder by Jane Gillson Langton. Copyright © 1978 Jane Gillson Langton. Excerpted by permission of
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Memorial Hall Murder 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
thornton37814 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bomb goes off in Memorial Hall at Harvard during a rehearsal for the Messiah. The conductor is found somewhat mutilated and dead. There are bombings occurring in other parts of New England, but the group responsible for those did not claim responsibility for this one. Who is responsible for the bombing? Are things as they seem? Homer Kelly, a visiting professor at Harvard, gets involved because of his previous assistance to police in their investigations and at the request of one of the professor's students. This is an engaging installment in the Homer Kelly series. With each chapter prefaced by parts of the score and with the author's own illustrations, one can't go wrong with this one.
Kenkwa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being a musician, there is nothing better than mixing music and murder! I ran across this author when I read Divine Inspiration, where the murder was involved in the death of an organist - I being one, was fascinated. Langton pulled another great book with murder and choral music - in this book, the selection was Handel's Messiah being performed by a choral group at Harvard. I enjoyed this book! Homer Kelly, a retired investigator, has become one of my favorite fumbling characters - reminiscent of Columbo! This book was definitely a page turner, and would highly recommend to any of you mystery readers!
tzelman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Murder in a Harvard basement--affectionate, compelling, obvious, improbable--all in one
Anonymous More than 1 year ago