Here are two stories so similar to each other it makes me wonder whether there’s a decades-old case of plagiarism going on. (An online search doesn’t reveal anyone comparing these together.) Nevertheless, the initial idea is suitably tantalising that I can also plausibly see these two authors writing their stories independently.
Both stories star a banker: Seamark’s story has Mr Pogarty, and Sinclair Lewis’ story has Jasper Holt. Each one has worked his entire career at the same bank, cultivating over the years an unshakeably good reputation. But as he approaches retirement he realizes how meagre his pension will be, and becomes tempted by the money he handles every day.
He conceives of a scheme that will take years to achieve. He will set up an alternate identity, and for several years live this alternate so meticulously that when he finally makes his one perfect theft, he will abandon his old life and live fully in the new.
Much of Mr Pogarty’s story is about him setting up a separate life in a different part of London, changing his clothes from one identity to another on the train. He becomes deeply involved in the local community, donating generously to the local policeman’s fund, and becomes a quiet, amiable part of the community.
Jasper Holt’s scheme is even more audacious. He invents a twin brother named John who lives in the countryside, and starts visiting him regularly. John is completely different in personality, to the point that when his bank manager meets John: “…he didn’t really see much resemblance. The features of the two were alike, but John’s expression of his chronic spiritual indigestion, his unfriendly manner, and his hair – unkempt and lifeless brown, where Jasper’s was sleekly black about a shiny bald spot – made the president dislike John as much as he liked Jasper.”
The appeal of both of these stories is the lengths the bankers go to their deception. Mr Pogarty’s story has more emphasis on the little details he attends to in perfecting his deception, while Jasper Holt dwells on the psychological disparity between himself and John.
The Willow Walk by Sinclair Lewis
Availability: free online, print
Word count: 13,200
First published: The Saturday Evening Post, August 10 1918
Where to find it: it is out of copyright, so you can find it on various websites including Wikisource here
Selected Short Stories of Sinclair Lewis, collection, 1937, Doubleday Doran
The Ghost Patrol and other stories, collection, 1946, Avon Books
The Perfect Crime by Seamark (pseudonym of Austin J. Small)
Availability: print, e-book
Word count: 5,200
First published: Strand Magazine, Sept 1923
Where to find it: An e-book is available from Barnes & Noble website here
Detective Stories from the Strand, edited by Jack Adrian, 1992, Oxford University Press