Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"I Guess We Can Call the Mystery Unravelled!"

THE FOLLOWING bit of nonsense, one of a legion of Sherlock Holmes spoofs, does make at least one noteworthy point about ACD's Holmes/Watson duo, namely how Sherlock didn't always employ his vaunted deductive prowess to find a solution to the crime . . .

"The Mystery of the Missing Shirt."
By A. E. Swoyer (?-?).
"(With abject apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.)"
First appearance: The Black Cat, October 1911.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and (HERE).

     "The real brainy criminal has learned that it is easier and more genteel to start a bank than to break into one; while the monetary results are the same."

The solemn task of every Great Detective is to bring together the various clue threads into a fabric which elucidates the mystery; some Great Detectives, however, just aren't that good at knitting . . .

- FictionMags credits Alfred Edward Swoyer with 10 stories (1911-16), with today's story being his second sale. Apart from that, we know nothing else about him.

Monday, September 16, 2019

"How Are You Going to Make a Law About a Crime That Can't Be Committed?"

"10:01 A.M."
By Alexander B. Malec (1929-2014).
Illustration by John Schoenherr (1935-2010; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, March 1966.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; slow load; scroll down to magazine page 130).

     "One thing that psychologists agree on is that the less the time-lapse between crime and punishment, the more effective it becomes in conveying the message DON'T DO THAT!"

Society, as the Bard of Avon noted, has its frustrations, including that all-too-common one resulting from "the law's delay"; James Smith and Rodney Cooper, however, will soon discover that in their future world "the law's delay" has become a thing of the past . . .

Major characters:
~ Cynthia Marie DeSantis:

  "Looks just like a rag doll. You know, no frame, no nothin'."
~ Slick:
  "These things happen."
~ Poxie:
  ". . . jammed the accelerator fully to its limit."
~ Officer John Cramdon:
  ". . . never really insular from his job, wept slightly taking a Retina Identification Check . . ."
~ Captain Roland Reese:
  ". . . for the nth time, drew his courage together—which was parcel of his job of police captaincy—and pressed the studs on the telephone . . ."
~ Interrogating officer:
  "Your trial is over."

Typo: "cancellors".

- Just about everything available on the World Wide Wobbly concerning Alexander B. Malec is on the German Wikipedia (HERE), obits for him are on the Niagara Gazette (HERE) and the SFSite (HERE) pages, and more info is on the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE). He had 12 stories published in his lifetime, his only magazine sale being "10:01 A.M." to Analog, and then he quit writing. If you've looked at the Reprints page, you might have noticed that this story was republished in an anthology called Criminal Justice Through Science Fiction (1977; HERE), which appears to be a follow-up to Sociology Through Science Fiction (1974; HERE), as well as several other books in the . . . Through Science Fiction series.

The bottom line:
   "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
   - Scripture


Friday, September 13, 2019

"While the Real Murderer Stood Guard Below the Window, He Sent Some One More Nimble Up the Rain-pipe to Shoot the Poisoned Dart"

"The Curio Shop."
By Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936).

First appearance: Cosmopolitan, June 1914.
Reprints page (HERE).

Short story.
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE; HTML) and (HERE; EPUB).

At one point Kennedy has to admit, "This is becoming quite an international affair," what with Europeans, Mexicans, Japanese, Ainus, and Russians threading their way through a baffling case of murders involving antiquities—but never fear, Kennedy's prowess with the radio-graph, a microscope, and his vast knowledge of biochemistry will sort it all out . . .

Major characters:
~ Professor Archer Northrop, the dearly departed:

  ". . . had been dead at least twelve hours, perhaps longer. All night the deserted museum had guarded its terrible secret."
~ Walter Jameson, the narrator:
  "How it happened, I don't know, but, an instant later, I was sprawling."
~ Doctor Leslie, the coroner:
  "I thought at first that we had at last a genuine poisoned needle case. You see, that looked like it. But I have made all the tests for curare and strychnin without results. There was no poison, absolutely none that any of our tests could discover."
~ Otaka, the enigma:
  "His eyes were perhaps the most noticeable feature. They were dark gray, almost like those of a European."
~ Doctor Bernardo, the museum curator:
  "Yes, Northrop and I were to follow the directions after we had plotted them out and were to share it together on the next expedition, which I could direct as a Mexican without so much suspicion."
~ Sato, the curious curio shop owner:
  "It's well all are not so keen."
~ Señora Herrería, the woman of mystery:
  "Then, too, the toe- and shoe-prints were not hers. But, I figured, she certainly had a part in the plot."
~ Craig Kennedy, the supersleuth:
  "You have all read of the wealth that Cortez found in Mexico. Where are the gold and silver of the conquistadores? Gone to the melting-pot, centuries ago. But is there none left? The Indians believe so. There are persons who would stop at nothing—even at murder of American professors, murder of their own comrades, to get at the secret."

- Mitla, a real location, is, as we read in Wikipedia (HERE), "the second most important arch-eological site in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the most important of the Zapotec cul-ture." The Mixtecs were also active there; background about them is in a Wikipedia article (HERE).
- The poison of choice in our story is termed "aconitin," which has acquired a final "e" since then; see "Aconitine" in the Wikipedia (HERE). Other writers have also employed it in their plots:

   "Aconitine was also made famous by its use in Oscar Wilde's 1891 story 'Lord Arthur Savile's Crime'. Aconite also plays a prominent role in James Joyce's Ulysses, in which the protagonist Leopold Bloom's father used pastilles of the chemical to commit suicide. Aconitine poisoning plays a key role in the murder mystery 'Breakdown' by Jonathan Kellerman (2016)."

- For better and worse the antiquities trade has been thriving for centuries:

   "Illicit or illegal antiquities are those found in illegal or unregulated excavations, and traded covertly. The black market trade of illicit antiquities is supplied by looting and art theft. Artifacts are often those that have been discovered and unearthed at archeological digs and then transported internationally through a middleman to often unsuspecting collectors, museums, antique dealers, and auction houses. The antiquities trade is much more careful in recent years about establishing the provenance of cultural artifacts. Some estimates put annual turnover in billions of US dollars."
   — "Antiquities trade—Illicit trade," Wikipedia (HERE)

- The Mexicans and the Japanese have had a long and involved relationship starting in the 19th century; see Wikipedia (HERE) for the full story. One of our characters is identified by Craig Kennedy as an Ainu, an obscure people group about whom Wikipedia has a lengthy article (HERE).
- Arthur Benjamin Reeve turned out over eighty short stories featuring his series character, technowhiz Craig Kennedy, as well as novels; see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE). There's a Literary Digest article ("Science and Crime," Sep-tember 23, 1911) about Reeve and his contemporary assessment of crime and criminals (HERE), from which we quote

   "IS SCIENCE on the side of the law or the criminal? Both may summon its aid. Some of the greatest criminals in history have been men with expert scientific knowledge, but such knowledge is also widely and successfully used in detecting them. Arthur B. Reeve, who writes on the subject in Popular Electricity (Chicago, September), thinks that the balance-sheet shows a margin in favor of the public. The successful criminal of to-day no longer has to rely on the strong arm, the black-jack, and the jimmy. He is a scientist, crude and limited, but very practical, and must employ up-to-date methods or go out of the 'profession.' He may have a serviceable knowledge of chemistry, physics, toxicology, often microscopy, but most of all electricity. Science, however, is on the side of the law, nine times to every time it is of use to the lawbreaker, and the new scientific crime pays even worse than the old; otherwise it might be regarded as impolitic to describe the methods of the scientific criminal, as is done by Mr. Reeve."

Compare that article with one from just over a century later ("Crime Has Gone High-Tech, and the Law Can't Keep Up," Wired Magazine, March 21, 2015, HERE): "The fact that narcos in Mexico are going to colleges of aeronautical engineering to hire drone engineers would be a surprise to people."
- We featured a much later Craig Kennedy story, "Murder on the Mike," just over four years ago (HERE).


Wednesday, September 11, 2019


"The Near-Zero Crime Rate on JJ Avenue."
By Wilson Tucker (1914-2006).
Illustration by Janet Aulisio (HERE).
First appearance: Analog, April 1978.

Short story (14 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; scroll down to magazine page 53).
(Parental caution: Adult themes and strong language.)

     "Even in the field of law enforcement, if you can't beat them . . ."

"Trust no one" is good advice when you're on the run; unfortunately, it's all too easy to 
forget that . . .

~ The block patrolman:

  "Welcome to JJ Avenue, citizen Paro. This is a quiet family neighborhood with a near-zero crime rate . . ."
~ Solly Paro:
  "I ask for a woman and get a little girl."
~ Stevie:
  "Thirty or forty seconds if you're lucky, Loverpops. I guess you were lucky."

Comment: Like our author, people have been confusing overcrowding with overpopulation, and the much-anticipated population bomb has yet to explode.

Typo: "kept his eyes shot".

- The term "waldo," meaning a "remote manipulator," originated with a Robert Heinlein story (Wikipedia; HERE; SPOILERS), although in our story the author uses it loosely to mean a robot's arm; also see the Wikipedia article (HERE).
- Our latest story featuring robot law enforcement officers is "Brillo" (HERE).

~ ~ ~
By Wilson Tucker (1914-2006).
First appearance: Universe Science Fiction, November 1954 (as "MCMLV").

Reprinted in Suspense (U.K.), August 1958.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "There, in print, was a concise summary of millions of secret words!"

If a little man with a walrus moustache and a cheerful demeanor should ring your doorbell, 
do not, under any circumstances, answer it . . .

~ Henry Mason (a.k.a. Cary Carew):

  "My neighbours are always watching me. They think I'm eccentric. Camouflage. It lends 
an aura of glamour and mystery to my activities . . ."
~ Inspector Arthur Groves, of Scotland Yard:
  "Between the enemy spy and Dan Devlin, several cats were let out of the bag in that one."
~ Clark, of the Special Branch:
  "I hope you've got a good alibi."

~ The salesman:
  "Mr. Carew, you may well pride yourself on your advanced mental faculties."

- "Very well—if he was being sent to the Tower he would go with head high," a reference to the Tower of London (Wikipedia; HERE)—very noble of Henry, although, as we're told, "The Tower's reputation for torture and imprisonment derives largely from 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century romanticists. . . . much of the Tower's reputation is exaggerated . . ." Henry also mentions "my Woomera story," referring to a high-technology research installation in Australia that in those days was called the "Woomera Rocket Range" (Wikipedia; HERE): "During the 1950s and 1960s, the complex was the second busiest rocket range in the world next to Cape Canaveral." And at the time our story takes place, Britain's newest Prime Minister had just assumed office (Wikipedia; HERE): "Maurice Harold Mac-millan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC, FRS (10 February 1894 – 29 December 1986) was a British Conservative statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1963."
More resources:
- There's plenty to read about Arthur Ingold Wilson Tucker on the Wide World Web: 
Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the Fancyclopedia (HERE), Midamericon (HERE), Printsations (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Tucker also produced a healthy amount of novel-length crime fiction, some of it 
with his series character, Charles Horne (data and cover images from the ISFDb):
~ Charles Horne Mysteries:
  (1) The Chinese Doll (1946)
  (2) To Keep or Kill (1947)
  (3) The Dove (1948)
  (4) The Stalking Man (1949)
  (5) Red Herring (1951)
~ Other novels:
  (1) The Man in My Grave (1956)
  (2) The Hired Target (1957)
  (3) Last Stop (1963)
  (4) A Procession of the Damned (1965)
  (5) The Warlock (1967)

Monday, September 9, 2019

"What Would Any Sane Man Do?"

GENERALLY CONSIDERED a genius by most of his contemporaries, Silas Weir Mitchell was quite the polymath, a practicing medical doctor who wrote fiction and poetry; however, a couple of his contemporaries who were profoundly unimpressed with his medical expertise were literary lionesses Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Virginia Woolf (see Wikipedia HERE for why). Regardless of Mitchell's abilities as a physician, Ellery Queen (the editor, as distinct from the author and character) came to regard a couple of Mitchell's short stories as worthy of reprinting, the first of them being . . .

"The Waters of Oblivion."
By S. Weir Mitchell, M.D. (1829-1914).
First appearance: The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 

May 1902.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 1944.
(Data from FictionMags.)
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

     "An ass of a doctor declared I had had sunstroke."

East is East and West is West and, of course, you know the rest . . .

 - Simla (a.k.a. Shimla) is a real place in India (Wikipedia; HERE), at the time of our story being under British control; "Two years after the Mutiny" refers to the Indian Rebellion of 1857-59 (Wikipedia; HERE), usually termed the Sepoy Mutiny in history books.

~ ~ ~
"A Dilemma."
By S. Weir Mitchell, M.D. (1829-1914).
First appearance: The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, July 1902.

Reprinted in The Golden Book Magazine, June 1930; Ellery 
Queen’s Mystery Magazine, December 1948; and EQMM 
(Australia), November 1950.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

     "For hours at a time I sat looking at that box and handling the key."

Human nature being what it is, the ordeal literally bequeathed to our young legatee makes 
the tortures of Tantalus look like a slap on the wrist . . .

Friday, September 6, 2019


"From the Desk of Jarrod Foster."
By Biren Shah.
First appearance: Nature/Futures, 20 July 2006.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short short story (1 page; PDF).
Online at Nature (HERE).

     "Although potentially dangerous, off-label uses have clear appeal to 
diverse demographics."

As technology advances, lawyers are eternally grateful that people are constantly 
finding ways to misuse it that leave the innovators perpetually looking anxiously 
over their shoulders . . .

- For more background, see the Wikipedia articles on brain implants (HERE) and human augmentation (HERE); not everyone is overjoyed at the prospect of poking around inside people's heads, however, as emphasized (HERE; Wikipedia).


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

"Stabbed in Eleven Places!"

A BURLESQUE is "a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects" (Wikipedia; HERE).

Although it helps to be familiar with the work being burlesqued, in the following instance (transmuting a self-improvement book into a crime story) written by the man who gave us Winnie the Pooh (and, incidentally, just as funny as the man who gave us Jeeves), we think you'll agree that it isn't necessary to know anything at all about Eustace Miles and his serial Healthward Ho! to get a kick out of it . . .

"A Didactic Novel: The Mystery of Gordon Square."
By A. A. Milne (1882-1956).
First appearance: Punch (date unknown).
Collected in Once a Week (1914).

Short short short story (3 pages as a PDF).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) or, failing that, (HERE; scroll to TOC).
(Note: Gutenberg URLs are slippery; it might require several clicks to get there.)

     "Roger returns home quickly, and decides to practise breathing through the ears."

As usual with the best comic writers, we'll refrain from further comment and let the author work his charms.

- A good starting place with Alan Alexander Milne is the Wikipedia entry (HERE). As 
for Eustace Miles (1868-1948)—yes, he was for real—FictionMags lists 18 articles by 
him prior to 1914 promoting a healthy lifestyle, with titles like "What to Eat to Keep 
Fit" (1900), "The Art of Exercise" (1902), "The ABC of Daily Physical Life" (1903), 
and so on.
- We've already featured The Red House Mystery (1922) several times (HERE), (HERE), 
and (HERE), and some of his other short works having criminous themes (HERE).
- Another surge of waggishness on Milne's part, also from Punch, is his three-act play 
The Double Mystery (1914), online at (HERE; slow-load PDF; 1 page; go 
down to PDF page 932). (Note: Due to printing errors, the letter "e" might sometimes 
resemble an "o".)