The Case of the Broken Bow by Paul Miles

Monday, September 9, 2019
During the Great Purge in Stalinist Russia, two senior party members attend the scene of a murder, and the author invites you to work out whom they will arrest; by Paul Miles.

Doctor Artymov, logician and advisor to Comrade Stalin, was watering his garden one spring afternoon in 1936 when his friend Police Commissioner Bunin stuck his head over the fence.

"Artymov, I am on my way to a murder in the Sokiol District."

Doctor Artymov, for whom crime was always a matter of interest, immediately gathered his hat and walked with Commissioner Bunin to the latter's car.

When they arrived at the scene of the crime, a two bedroom apartment on the twelfth floor of one of the district's newest worker housing units, Sergeant Korshev - that burly veteran of Pulkovo - was already there. The Sergeant had secured the murder room and gathered the attendants in the side kitchen.

The Commissioner nodded towards the room with the body.

"Let's take a look here first."

Then to the Sergeant: "Let no one leave."

Comrade Vladimir Obstrayovich Vlasov's body was slumped in a wooden chair in the middle of the room. His head lolled back and what appeared as a greenish spittle ran down from the left side of his mouth to stain his starched open white collar. His eyes rolled up towards the ceiling. His hands still gripped his cello. Comrade Vlasov had been second string cellist in the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

Commissioner Bunin took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at the drool. He held it to his nose.


Next to Vlasov on either side were three other chairs, a string quartet. There were music stands with sheet music in front of the chairs. Two of the chairs were spilled on the floor, and next to them on the floor were the viola and a violin. The third chair was upright and the second violin had been placed in the seat. There were ten or so other chairs against the wall in various states of disarray. This had been the audience.

Doctor Artymov walked around the room with his hands behind his back. He leaned in to look at the sheet music. Police Commissioner Bunin nodded to the Doctor. He said, "Look here at this broken bow."

Surely enough, the cello bow still ensnared in Vlasov's tight dead hand had been broken midway, forming an L shape.

"Send the others in!" Bunin called to Sergeant Korshev.

Three comrades from the quartet shuffled into the room, each cutting their eyes to avoid the corpse. They were two men and a woman. Sergei Andreivich Rothstein, a man with thinning hair, a van dyke'd chin and red wet lips, was a violinist. He edited a short story quarterly. Pawel Trulev, a curly haired olive-skinned young Georgian chemist, was the violist. Finally, Natasha Bei, a poet and actress of renown, was the first violinist of the quartet. She was in her late fifties but still captivating, still the woman many called the most beautiful they had ever seen.

They stood in the corner waiting for the Commissioner to begin.

"Well? What happened here?"

The woman spoke. "Comrade Bunin, we are a group of friends who gather every week to play the music we love. Today we were assaying a new quartet by Dmitry Dmitrievich when -"

"Enough," cried Doctor Artymov. "We need hear no more!"


Turn to page 156 for the answer...

The identity of Vlasov's murderer was irrelevant. Doctor Artymov demanded the Sergeant arrest all three musicians and deliver them to Lubyanka Prison. The quartet had been playing a new work by the disgraced composer Dmitry Dimitrievich Shostakovich, whom Stalin himself had denounced for formalist tendencies. Their willingness to brazenly play his music evidenced an anti-statist attitude coupled with the arrogance common to the elitist class.

The Doctor himself conducted the examinations. In due time, they denounced one another - Rothstein the editor was a committed Zionist whose loyalty was split between his religion and the state. The chemist Trulev had expressed to colleagues his disdain for the Georgian Academy of Sciences' abandonment of pure science in furtherance of the current three year plan.

Finally, Comrade Bei was in secret contact with some of her admirers from abroad. Her letters described to them her life in the Soviet state and theirs to her held reminders of the romantic life she once had led. On her knees, Bei told the Doctor that Vlasov had discovered her letters and threatened her with blackmail. She had replaced his rosin with poison so that death was instantaneous when his fingers touched the powder. Uninterested in the confession, Doctor Artymov shot her twice in the back of the head.


  1. Liked the way the story turned suddenly at the end and became more than a police procedural.

  2. Well written and very Russian in its style and tone. Very black humor. Indeed, Stalin was not a big fan of Shostakovich......

    1. Read this one again. Very well conceived and written.

  3. Loved this tight little bundle of dark humor! Well done.

  4. Wow surpise ending but very Russian and loved how well it tied in real history.

  5. “The Case of the Broken Bow” is reflective of the implacability of the remorseless, soul-grinding authoritarian state. The stage could almost be moved to North Korea today. When Paul began describing in detail the scene of the crime, it brought to mind Dame Agatha. Nice job.