Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

It was a typical Friday afternoon. I had just finished up a report on my last stone failure case. I grabbed my fedora and headed out for an early dinner. Suddenly, there was a heavy knock on my door. 

“Hello, Mr. Stone Detective?” said a nervous-looking man in a trench coat. “My name is Henry Mason, and I need your help.”

“What seems to be the problem?” I said, gesturing for the man to come in and take a seat.

“It’s my wife,” replied Henry. “She was walking on the bathroom floor and noticed some loose tiles. She asked me to fix it, but I’m no tile installer, and I need to get to the bottom of this before she asks me for a divorce.” I told him I am not a marriage counselor, but I do know my stone and tile so I told him I could come and take a look. He handed me a wad of cash and asked if I could come over right away. He sounded like a desperate man, and I already had my fedora on. So, I grabbed my coat and I followed him over to his place.

I arrived at this huge mansion. It looked like the house from the movie Gone with The Wind. For a moment I thought it might even have been the house they used in the film. 

Mr. Mason got out of his car and waved for me to park behind him.  He took me aside and said that his wife was a bit of a talker and she was going to chew my ear off, so be prepared. I just smiled back as we walked in the front door. 

As soon as I entered the door his wife greeted me. She was wearing a long gown and smoking one of those tiny cigarette-looking cigars. She placed the cigar in her mouth and started mumbling about how unprofessional the tile installer was. She ranted about the color of the tile, the way he was slow, and on and on and on. I just listened patiently and when her tirade wound down I asked if she could show me the floor. As we walked up the staircase to the main bath she didn’t stop to take a breath. She did nothing but complain. Mr. Mason just followed behind us not saying a word.

As soon as I walked on the floor I noticed that all the tiles were loose. Every single one. I have seen many stone and tile floors and have spotted a loose tile here and there on some of them, but never have I seen every single tile as loose as this floor.  I reached into my inspection kit and pulled out a small suction cup and lifted several tiles up. They came up as if they were just laid on the floor with no setting material. The back of the tile was as clean as a baby’s butt. The subfloor had a very strange appearance. The color wasn’t your normal setting bed color, it was a pink. Not just a pink tint, but a deep pink. It wasn’t soft and sticky, but hardened like thin set, and it also had a very powdery feel to it. 

This was a new one for me and so I sat there scratching my head. Well, in these cases I find it best to ask lots of questions, and was sure Mrs. Chatter Box would have plenty to say. So I asked several questions, and then the clincher: “Did you see what he used to set the tile?” As expected, she starting going on and on about how unprofessional he was – “Yada, yada, yada” – and then she said, “Wait — I think he left a bag of it in the closet.”

 She opened a storage closet near the bathroom, and there on the floor sat a bag of grout. I looked at it and said, “This is just the grout he used, not the setting material.” Then, as I examined the bag more closely I noticed that it was pink grout! Well, now – finally, a real clue, because the grout in her bath was definitely not pink.  The installer – and I use that title loosely – had apparently used grout to set the tile! 

I simply shook my head and looked up at her and told her what this meant – he used grout, (an completely unsuitable material) to set the tile instead of a standard setting material that would anchor the tile to the substrate. She started crying and ran out of the room exclaiming “I told you so!” to her husband. I was left there with Mr. Mason, just shaking his head. He looked at me and said, “I told her she shouldn’t have used the carpenter.”  I wonder if I saved their marriage? Somehow, I doubt it. Another case solved, and a new one for me. 

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to entertain and educate. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world.  Send your comments to