Miles Kington Remembered: No stone left unturned in the heist of prehistory

10 September 1991
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The Independent Online

Fictional detectives are becoming ever more varied: rabbis, gays, women, even medieval monks have come on the scene in recent years. But nobody is quite exotic as the first fictional detective of all time, Thog, the Stone-Age investigator!

Thog stood on the hill and looked out over the wide plain separating him from the bump that would, thousands of years later, become known as Box Hill. Nobody knew whether there was anything beyond the bump. When one of the tribal caves became vacant because of the death of its occupier, the estate agents' ad could justifiably have read: "Cave for sale, with site overlooking entire known world". There were, however, no estate agents as yet. It was in many ways a golden age.

"Ug," said Thog out loud, which was his way of saying that he couldn't stand around all day. He was about to start looking for one of those succulent marsh rats that his wife, Quogga, so loved to cook, when he became aware of a form running up the hill to him. It was Zag, the young chief of the tribe.

"Ug!" panted Zag when he arrived. Thog was startled. Could it be true? The great art treasure of the tribe had vanished? This was terrible news.

"Ug," Zag added, meaning that Thog had established himself as the chief brain of the tribe when he had solved the mystery of the last chief's murder, and he was now officially being offered this case as well.

"Ug," said Thog, looking at him inquiringly. Zag nodded. A flint axe as down payment and 10 cowrie shells a day seemed a fair rate. Both men set off at a l oping run back to the village. The sacred place of the village, or what we would now call the municipal art gallery, was a small cave. In it was a painting of a buffalo being attacked by two badly drawn men. It had been there for as long as anyone could remember. Perhaps longer. Perhaps 30 years or more. To the tribe it was magical. And now it was gone.

"Ug," said Thog, looking at the square hole where the rocks had been cut away. Zag nodded. Yes, it would have taken a long time to do that, and somebody must have heard it. Especially Baggo, the guardian of the cave, who at that very moment came shuffling in, bent and gnarled.

"Ug," asked Thog. Baggo shook his head. No, he had seen nothing or heard nothing. Nor was he guilty himself. A man of his age, chipping away at rock? Impossible.

"Ug," said Thog firmly to Zag. Zag gasped. Had Thog really solved the crime already? Did he want the tribe gathered together so that he could tell them what was so obvious to him, Thog, the eagle-eyed, Thog the deductive?

"Ug," said Thog, meaning the whole thing is open and shut, so get on with it, as I have some marsh rat hunting to do before the light fails.

The whole village had assembled, except for Brig, Zag's younger brother, who was assumed absent on a hunt. Thog explained that someone must have taken the painting to copy and return it later, but its absence had been discovered in time. "Ug!" someone cried. Yes, they all wanted to know – who?

"Ug," shouted Thog. They gasped. Was it true? Had Baggo claimed to have heard nothing? And did Thog maintain that it was impossible for Baggo to have heard nothing? This did not make sense. The primitive tribe had extreme trouble in reconciling two contradictory statements. Several people fainted and had to be carried away.

"Ug!" shouted someone. Stop shilly-shallying and get to the point. Thog stepped forward and tore the skins and matted wig off Baggo, the ancient guardian. They all gasped. Underneath was the unmistakable form of Brig, Zag's younger brother, who had disguised himself as Baggo. But why?

"Ug," said Thog, meaning that anyone who cared to go to Brig's cave would find the painting at the back, and anyone else who cared to go into the sacred cave would find Baggo's lifeless corpse at the back. Meanwhile, what should be done with Brig?

"Ug!" they all shouted. It was true. Murder was not a nice thing to do, but taking a sacred treasure was damn serious. So they closed in and beat Brig to death, and Thog went back to hunt marsh rats.

Coming next: "Thog and the Great Dinosaur Insurance Scandal".