Tuesday, February 18, 2020

"Four Times, Now, a Man Has Been Killed in a Locked Room with No Opening Larger Than a Barred Four-inch Ventilator"

AN INTERESTING AMALGAM of private eye, spy, and slightly shady character placed into a science fictional setting would be what we like to call the galactic troubleshooter (which others term "an interstellar troubleshooter"—same thing), and no better example of such a character would be Jack Vance's Magnus Ridolph, who first appeared in a story called . . .

"Hard Luck Diggings."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Magnus Ridolph No. 1.
First appearance: Startling Stories, July 1948.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE; go to page 145).

     "It's a homicidal maniac, no doubt as to that, but every time I think I've got him spotted, there's another killing."

Multiple murders at a planetary settlement development site, all following the same basic 
MO; it's up to Magnus Ridolph, with his orderly mathematical mind, to get at the root of 
the problem . . .

Major characters:
~ Captain Julic:

  "It's true, is it? We heard rumors in Starport, but I didn't—"
~ Superintendent James Rogge:

  "Do you know I've lost thirty-three men this last month? You'd be anxious yourself with 
two, three men strangled every day."
~ Magnus Ridolph, unofficially attached to the Terrestrial Intelligence Corps:
  "It is very clear. In fact, it is a logical necessity. You yourself would have arrived at the solution if you had manipulated your thoughts with any degree of order."

Comment: Once again the artist vitiates the mystery.

- The basic set-up of today's story puts us in mind of an original series episode of Star Trek (SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE; Memory Alpha HERE).
- John Holbrook Vance's fiction rivals—and sometimes surpasses—that of Ray Bradbury, especially with its sure grasp of language and SFF tropes; see the following: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the Library of Congress (HERE), Vance's webpage (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the few instances when Hollywood didn't ignore Vance, the IMDb (HERE).
- Magnus Ridolph appeared in 10 stories (ISFDb list HERE); also see The Thrilling Detective Website (HERE) for more background.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"The Easiest Way To Kill Anybody, As Every Cop Knows, Is To Stage a Convincing 'Accident'"

"The Scientist and the Bagful of Water."
Cyriack Skinner Grey No. 1.
By Arthur Porges (1915-2006).
First appearance: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 1965.

No reprints that we can find.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 55; slow load; faded text).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)

     "This isn't so involved that any normal person can't follow it. Simple scientific logic."

A couple of years before Raymond Burr's Ironside hit the small screen, EQMM editor Ellery Queen introduced us to the "first of a new series, carrying on the grand 'tec tradition of the howdunit . . .":

   "Meet Mr. Cyriack Skinner Grey, a new scientific sleuth and perhaps the first wheelchair (as distinguished from armchair) detective—at least the first wheelchair detective to appear in EQMM. And meet Lieutenant Trask, a sort of 'human shaggy dog.' And meet the immobilized detective's assistant—his 14-year-old son, with an I.Q. of 180, who serves as the scientist's legs . . ."

Major characters:
~ James Connors:

  ". . . was hit, so to speak, by a weight of over two hundred pounds falling one foot . . . Certainly enough to kill a man."
~ Preston Forbes Whitney:
  [Lieutenant Trask opines] "A little bag of water and a man's dead. It's pretty far-fetched, if you ask me, and awfully damned convenient for Preston Forbes Whitney, Junior."

~ Lieutenant Trask:
  ". . . tried to lose himself in the details of a new case, but his heart was still in the old one, hopeless as it seemed."

~ Cyriack Skinner Grey:
  ". . . before becoming a freelance crime consultant, Grey—a brilliant research scientist—had also taught graduate courses in physics."
~ Edgar Grey:
  ". . . the detective thought of Edgar as a likeable middle-aged genius, masquerading as a boy."

- "the 20-inch slide rule": How people did hard calculations before you-know-whats came along. "The slide rule, also known colloquially in the United States as a slipstick, is a mechanical analog computer. As graphical analog calculators, slide rules are closely related to nomograms, but the former are used for general calculations, whereas the latter are used for application-specific computations. . . . Before the advent of the electronic calculator, it was the most commonly used calculation tool in science and engineering. The use of slide rules continued to grow through the 1950s and 1960s even as computers were being gradually introduced; but around 1974 the handheld electronic scientific calculator made them largely obsolete and most suppliers left the business." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "It didn't seem possible for Pasteur to hit on a way": Thanks to him we can drink milk without too much concern. "His medical discoveries provided direct support for the germ theory of disease and its application in clinical medicine. He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contam-ination, a process now called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of bacteriology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch, and is popularly known as the 'father of microbiology'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Sleuths using up-to-date scientific methods go back a long way in the history of detective fiction, as you can see from Mike Grost's megasite (HERE). "A number of important individual tales using scientific detection were written from 1865 on. Scientific detection began to flourish, according to Dorothy L. Sayers, with L. T. Meade and Halifax's Stories From The Diary of a Doctor (1894). L. T. Meade is the first known writer to create a large number of stories whose solutions were fundamentally based on technology and science. After her came the science-based O'Malley tales of C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne, which were apparently never collected in book form, but which are turning up in anthologies, and the much longer lasting series of Dr. Thorndyke tales by R. Austin Freeman (no relation to Mary)." We've featured one of Dr. Thorndyke's adventures (HERE).
- Arthur Porges (FictionMags HERE) is legendary both among mystery aficionados for his impossible crime stories and among SFF fans for his science fiction, being entertaining in either genre; consult Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) for more about him.
- Cyriack Skinner Grey starred in an even dozen short stories (FictionMags data):

  (1) "The Scientist and the Bagful of Water," Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (EQMM), November 1965 (above)
  (2) "The Scientist and the Wife Killer," EQMM, January 1966
  (3) "The Scientist and the Vanished Weapon," EQMM, March 1966
  (4) "The Scientist and the Obscene Crime," EQMM, September 1966
  (5) "The Scientist and the Multiple Murder," EQMM, February 1967
  (6) "The Scientist and the Invisible Safe," EQMM, May 1967

  (7) "The Scientist and the Two Thieves," Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM), 
June 1974
  (8) "The Scientist and the Time Bomb," AHMM, August 1974
  (9) "The Scientist and the Platinum Chain," AHMM, September 1974
  (10) "The Scientist and the Exterminator," AHMM, November 1974
  (11) "The Scientist and the Missing Pistol," Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, January 1975
  (12) "The Scientist and the Stolen Rembrandt," AHMM, February 1975.

- In the past we've featured other Porges narratives, most of them not of the impossible crime genus: "A Small Favor" and "No Killer Has Wings" (HERE); "Revenge" and "One Bad Habit", both SFF (HERE); and "Chain Smoker" (HERE). (As always, we regret that links might have gone dead in the interim, but it ain't our fault.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"What Some People Will Go Through To Try To Beat a Slot Machine"

FIRST CONTACT stories have been a staple of science fiction for over a century, with at least one television series being built around the idea; but today's narrative has to be the most offbeat first contact story that we have yet encountered, when our protagonists hit . . .

"The Cosmic Jackpot."
By George O. Smith (1911-81).
Illustration by [Vincent] Napoli (1907-81; HERE).

First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1948.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "His curiosity would probably kill him, but it might have killed him anyway. So— He pushed a lever . . . ."

Didn't Christopher Columbus set off looking for a shortcut to China? At least he had some idea of where he was headed; on the other hand Johnny Edwards, intrepid entrepreneur, doesn't have a clue . . .

~ Zintal:
  "Ve komacil weezro!"
~ Vorhan:
  "Obviously, Zintal, those coins came from some civilization extra-Martian."
~ Norma Harris:
  "Her hand came out quickly and she said, 'Oh!' in sharp surprise."
~ Johnny Edwards:
  "Me Johnny. Me good!"

- "It will be called a slot machine and it will be popular.": These days a bandit without arms. "A slot machine (American English), known variously as a fruit machine (British English, except Scotland), puggy (Scottish English), the slots (Canadian and American English), poker machine/pokies (Australian English and New Zealand English), or simply slot (British English and American English), is a casino gambling machine that creates a game of chance for its customers. Slot machines are also known pejoratively as one-armed bandits due to the large mechanical levers affixed to the sides of early mechanical machines and their ability to empty players' pockets and wallets as thieves would." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Is any house being heated with the power from the fission of uranium?": In 1948, no; 
today: "A nuclear power plant is a thermal power station in which the heat source is a 
nuclear reactor. As is typical of thermal power stations, heat is used to generate steam 
that drives a steam turbine connected to a generator that produces electricity. As of 
2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported there were 450 nuclear power 
reactors in operation in 31 countries. . . . Nuclear reactors usually rely on uranium to 
fuel the chain reaction." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Horatio at the Bridge": At one time a Macaulay poem that many a reluctant school child was required to memorize. "The story of 'Horatius at the Bridge' is retold in verse in the 
poem 'Horatius' in Lays of Ancient Rome by Thomas Babington Macaulay, which enjoyed great popularity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The details of the poem often vary from the traditional tale by poetic license. Winston Churchill wrote that while he 'stagnated in the lowest form' at Harrow, he gained a prize open to the whole school by reciting the whole 'twelve hundred lines' of 'Horatius'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "like the Lohengrin who sang the last aria too long": A reference to Wagner's opera, from which a universally recognized tune emerged. "Lohengrin, WWV 75, is a Romantic opera in three acts composed and written by Richard Wagner, first performed in 1850. The story of 
the eponymous character is taken from medieval German romance, notably the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach and its sequel Lohengrin, itself inspired by the epic of Garin le Loherain. It is part of the Knight of the Swan legend." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "an overly-wet world such as Terra": It all depends on what the neighborhood's like, doesn't it? "Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars due to low atmospheric pressure, which is less than 1% that of Earth's, except at the lowest elevations for short periods." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the constellation, Orion": Since Mars and Earth share the same solar system, the starry sky looks the same from both worlds. "Orion is a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous and recognizable constellations in the night sky. It is named after Orion, a hunter in Greek mythology. Its brightest stars are blue-white Rigel (Beta Orionis) and red Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis)." (Wikipedia HERE).
- First contact: ". . . is a common science fiction theme about the first meeting between humans and extraterrestrial life, or of any sentient race's first encounter with another 
one, given they are from different planets or natural satellites. The theme allows authors 
to explore such topics such as xenophobia, transcendentalism, and basic linguistics by adapting the anthropological topic of first contact to extraterrestrial cultures." (Wikipedia HERE).
- George Oliver Smith was an SFF fixture for a long time; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); Project Gutenberg's collection of Smith's works is (HERE).
- On two previous occasions we've featured Smith's enjoyable SFF-mystery mashup "The Undetected" (HERE) and hardcore SF baffler "Blind Time" (HERE).

Friday, February 7, 2020

Checking Into Hilton (and An Announcement)

TODAY'S AUTHOR is almost exclusively remembered for his work in the mainstream (leading to at least three Major Award-winning or -nominated film adaptations of his 
novels), so it may come as something of a surprise that he dabbled in crime fiction 
before hitting it big; one of his earlier efforts, known to the cognoscenti of our favorite 
genre as an "inverted," is . . .

"The Perfect Plan."
By James Hilton (1900-54).

First appearance: Britannia and Eve, September 1933.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1946 and July 1960; EQMM ("Overseas Edition for the Armed Forces"), March 1946; EQMM (Australia), November 1947 and September 1960; EQMM (U.K.), February 1961; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #13 (1967) and #60 (1989).

Short story (15 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (RGL; HTML; HERE).

     "He had always, since his school days, been interested in the science of crime, and never for a moment did he doubt his own capacity to do the job; 
it was merely a question of waiting until the perfect moment offered itself."

There's absolutely no mystery about who kills who or how or why, but there remains the looming question of will he get away with it? After all, "it was a comfort to realize that, by such simple means, he was fabricating an alibi that could be vouched for afterwards by hundreds of thousands of worthy folk all over the country" . . .

~ Sir George Winthrop-Dunster:

  "A well-known figure in the City" and victim of a bullet to the brain in the country.
~ Richard Winthrop-Dunster:
  Sir George's brother.

~ Inspector Deane:
  ". . . of the local force . . ."
~ Scarsdale:
  The personal secretary.
~ Fanning:
  The gardener.
~ Wilkes:
  The butler.
~ The announcer:
  . . . says more than he knows.

Comment: Another instance of an author employing a double in his plot, just as Dame Agatha did on more than one occasion.

- Three of James Hilton's short stories have seen republication in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM) over the years (FictionMags data):

  (1) "The Mallet," Hutchinson’s Story-Magazine, July 1929
      Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1942 and April 1988
      EQMM (Australia), July 1947
      TV adaptation (1950; SPOILERS: IMDb HERE).
  (2) "The Perfect Plan," Britannia and Eve, September 1933 (see above).
  (3) "The King of the Bats," Collier’s, July 3, 1937 (as "The Bat King") (online HERE)
      Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1953
      EQMM (U.K.), April 1953
      EQMM (Australia), May 1953. 

- James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon (1933; filmed in 1937; SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE, HERE, HERE; IMDb HERE) crossed the mainstream and fantasy divide, earning him listings with the Science Fiction Encyclopedia (SFE; HERE) and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb; HERE).
- Roy Glashan's collection of James Hilton's works is (HERE).
   Due to pressing personal situations beyond our control, we'll have to reduce our postings to (we hope) no less than one and no more than two per week at irregular intervals in the near future. You might have noticed that we've been doing three posts a week for quite a while now, but it simply isn't sustainable.
   We don't express our appreciation often enough to you regular ONTOS readers; we know you're out there even if you don't communicate with us much. We're a lurker on a good many other websites as well, so we can't complain.
   This weblog takes no advertising (time, effort, and money are entirely out-of-pocket), it answers to no one, and whatever we recommend (or criticize) is based purely on our own personal preferences.
   With that out of the way, as Number Six would say, "Be seeing you."


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Disappointing Failure

WE DON'T normally feature mystery crossovers with "horror" fiction because we feel the two genres don't really mesh well; today's story was written by an author who specialized in such mashups, but we regretfully report that the "horror" aspects of it are confined exclu-sively to how badly the writer and his editors messed it up in publication—to such an extent that you're more than justified in giving it a miss (see "Comments" below). It's the 19th ad-venture (out of 22) starring occult detective (minimized) Lucius Leffing, which goes by the name of . . .

"The Apple Orchard Murder Case."
By Joseph Payne Brennan (1918-90).

First appearance: Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, July 1975.
Novelette (16 pages; 3 illos).
Collected in The Chronicles of Lucius Leffing (1977; TOC HERE).
An earlier Lucius Leffing collection is The Casebook of Lucius Leffing (1973; TOC HERE).

A later collection is The Adventures of Lucius Leffing (1990; TOC HERE).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "The murder was brutal and entirely senseless."

Brutal it certainly was, but "entirely senseless"? No way . . .

Major characters:
~ Franklin Selk:

  ". . . was strangled in an apple orchard on the outskirts of Cresswood."
~ Mrs. Lorna Kelvin, the victim's sister:
  "In spite of my brother's faults and his way of life, I loved him—we all did—and we want a thorough investigation. It was a horrible way for a poor old man to die."

~ Lucius Leffing:
  "Well, Brennan, what is your opinion of the case?"

~ Brennan, the narrator:
  "I hate to be eternally pessimistic, but I think you've taken on a tartar this time! The odds against a successful solution would seem to be astronomical!"

~ Chief Warwick:
  "I know Mrs. Kelvin isn't satisfied with our investigation of old Franklin's death, but we've been as thorough as we know how. We just can't come up with a suspect or a motive. Everyone in town liked the old man."
~ Mrs. Conliff:
  "He was carrying the bag and they found him in the orchard. Everyone here knows he scrounged around the fields and orchards . . ."

Typo: "hit it from sight".
Comments: The Holmes-Watson dynamic is fully in play here, e.g., "Leffing's gas-lit Victorian living-room at Seven Autumn Street," the magnifying glass, "You know my methods, Brennan," and so forth—and, as is all too often the case with Doyle, fair 
play for the reader isn't a consideration. Other editorial errors: As far as we can tell, 
the killer is never properly introduced into the story and his name isn't even mention-
ed until the Reveal at the end, out of thin air; the whole thing seems unfinished, chop-
ped off at the end. A potentially good story marred by poor execution on everybody's 

- "the Lost Dutchman gold mine": Another fixture of popular culture. "The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine (also known by similar names) is, according to legend, a rich gold mine hidden in the southwestern United States. The location is generally believed to be in the Superstition Mountains, near Apache Junction, east of Phoenix, Arizona. There have been many stories about how to find the mine, and each year people search for the mine. Some have died on the search." (Wikipedia HERE). It was the entire subject of a memorable movie, Lust for Gold (1949; SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE and the IMDb HERE).
- "A 1913 Liberty-head nickel!": Be sure to check your change. "The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is an American five-cent piece which was produced in extremely limited quantities unauthor-
ized by the United States Mint, making it one of the best-known and most coveted rarities in American numismatics. In 1972, one specimen of the five cent coin became the first coin to sell for over US$100,000; in 1996, another specimen became the first to sell for over US$1 million. In 2003, one coin was sold for under three million dollars. In 2010, the Olsen piece sold for US$3.7 million at a public auction. Only five examples are known to exist: two in museums and three in private collections." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Information about Joseph Payne Brennan is freely available at Wikipedia (HERE), the IMDb (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- About Lucius Leffing, we have this from the Wikipedia article (HERE):

   In the tradition of the psychic or paranormal detective, Brennan introduced his character Lucius Leffing, a sarsaparilla-sipping occultist private detective and psychic investigator, who resides at Number 7 Autumn St, New Haven, and collects antique glass. The character first appeared in the story "The Haunted Housewife" (Macabre XII, Winter 1962-1963). Leffing was quoted, and briefly appeared at the end of the story "In The Very Stones" which appeared in Scream At Midnight (1963). Macabre published two more of his adventures ("Apparition in the Sun" and "In Death as in Life") before the series began to run in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, where a further thirteen tales appeared prior to the 1973 publication of The Casebook of Lucius Leffing.
   The stories comprising the Lucius Leffing canon are akin to the Holmes and Watson stories of Conan Doyle, and to the Solar Pons and Parker stories of August Derleth. In the stories, Leffing's adventures are chronicled by his protege and friend - Brennan himself. Three collections of Leffing stories, plus the novel Act of Providence (in which Leffing investigates the bizarre happenings at the First World Fantasy Convention) include all the stories in the series. Stefan Dziemianowicz has pointed out how Leffing's status as a psychic detective changed over time: "Leffing began life as a psychic detective, but after his third escapade, Brennan felt compelled to minimize the supernatural content of the stories to ensure their acceptance in the mystery/detective magazines. With the revival of the horror market in the 1980s, Leffing turned ghostbuster once again - a career move that mirrors Brennan's own resurrection in the horror mainstream following his years of exile in the small press".
   Frank Belknap Long explains that while there had been occult detectives before, "Lucius Leffing is in all respects unique. He seldom engages in drama-

tic confrontations on a mundane human plane, and he does not shout at the reader, his clients, or anyone else. But in his scholarly reserve and quietness there is a sagacity of a high order, a brilliance that blazes and sears and shatters the horrific as if it were a vessel of glass with the deadly precision 
of a rapier thrust. He has a comforting way with clients who come to him for help, for he is wise enough to know that the most fatal error a victim of dark and mysterious forces can make is to doubt his own sanity at the start. He questions nothing that he has been told until every aspect of a strangeness has been explored in depth."

- Here, courtesy of The FictionMags Index, are all of the (so far) known—and we hope better—Lucius Leffing stories. (Note: ss = short story; nv = novelette).

  (1) "The Haunted Housewife," (ss), Macabre #12 1962/’63
  (2) "Apparition in the Sun," (ss), Macabre #13 1963
  (3) "In Death as in Life," (nv), Macabre #14 1963/’64
  (4) "The Strange Case of Peddler Phelps," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1965
  (5) "Death Mask," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 1965
  (6) "Were You Searched?", (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, October 1965
  (7) "The Mystery of Myrrh Lane," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, December 1965
  (8) "Whirlwind of Blood," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, April 1966
  (9) "The Intangible Threat," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1966
  (10) "The Ransacked Room," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1966
  (11) "Death at Draleman’s Pond," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January 1967
  (12) "Death of a Derelict," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1967
  (13) "The Walford Case," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, May 1967
  (14) "The Enemy Unknown," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, January 1968
  (15) "The Dismal Flats Murder," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, November 1968
  (16) "Fingers of Steel," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, December 1970
  (17) "The Case of the Hertzell Inheritance," (nv), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, August 1974
  (18) "The Dead of Winter Apparition," (nv), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, February 1975
  (19) "The Apple Orchard Murder Case," (nv), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, July 1975 (above)
  (20) "The Murder of Mr. Matthews," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, July 1975
  (21) "Fear," (nv), Weird Tales #2, ed. Lin Carter, Zebra (1981) (online HERE)
  (22) "Observations on Lorimer Street," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, May 1984.


Monday, February 3, 2020

OLD-TIME DETECTION, Autumn 2019/Winter 2020

Autumn 2019/Winter 2020. Issue #52.
Editor: Arthur Vidro.
Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd.
36 pages (including covers).
Cover image: The 12.30 from Croydon.

With many Golden Age (GAD) writers nowadays seeing reprints for the first time after years of neglect, Arthur Vidro's Old-Time Detection (OTD) is more timely than ever, an invaluable resource for neophyte and experienced readers alike. The insights and information contained in any given issue of OTD make it a worthwhile reservoir from which Golden Age enthusiasts may drink with pleasure.

~ From the Editor by Arthur Vidro:
  Vidro echoes the sentiments of many devotees of classic detective fiction: ". . . every time a publisher [such as Penzler Publishers] reprints a novel of an old-time author, or (as Crippen & Landru does) collects into a book for the first time the short stories of an old-time author, it is cause to rejoice."

~ Looking Backward by Charles Shibuk and A Sidebar by Arthur Vidro (2 pages):
  Shibuk disusses the comments supplied by Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor for 

A Book of Prefaces to Fifty Classics of Crime Fiction, 1900-1950: "The collaborators have endowed these highly literate prefaces with all the wisdom of their many years of reading experience. Their pithy remarks are always interesting, enlightening, and a good example 
of their critical expertise and mandarin tastes." Arthur Vidro helpfully appends a complete 
list of those "Fifty Classics."

~ Christie Corner by Dr. John Curran (2 pages):
  The world's foremost expert on Dame Agatha summarizes recent developments in Old Blighty, with comments of the newest collection of Christie stories, The Last Séance: Tales 

of the Supernatural, many of them coming from The Hound of Death (1933); TV adaptations 
of Christie's works, some more successful (i.e., being true to the originals) than others; and two festivals honoring She Who Had a Talent to Deceive.

~ Give Me That Old-Time Detection Film Music by Marvin Lachman (3 pages):
  Lachman highlights the musical scores of classic detective/mystery/crime movies from the 1930s, '40s, '50s, and a little beyond, many of which are very memorable, even haunting, such as the ones in The Letter and Double Indemnity (both by Max Steiner); Laura (David Raksin); The Big Sleep (Steiner again); Spellbound, The Naked City, and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Miklos Rozsa in all three cases); Sunset Boulevard (Franz Waxman); and Murder on the Orient Express from 1974 (Richard Rodney Bennett).

~ Mega-Review: Mycroft and Sherlock (2018) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse; reviewed by Michael Dirda (2 pages):
  A former basketball superstar (with an acknowledged writing partner) has another go at modifying the Sherlockian mythos in this sequel to Mycroft Holmes (2015). The story intro-duces a character many readers may have heard of, an "intense young man" who is "arro-
gant, stubborn, argumentative, and almost bloodthirsty in his taste for newspaper accounts of the latest crimes and atrocities." Dirda concedes that "it moves along briskly, and the reader's interest never flags," but it does have its flaws.
  Related: The Kirkus Review of Mycroft Holmes (HERE).

~ Spotlight on Freeman Wills Crofts by Charles Shibuk (4 pages):
  For mystery fans Crofts needs no introduction, being a pioneer of the police procedural subgenre starting with The Cask (1920, published the same year as Agatha Christie's first book), a novel which received high praise from Anthony Boucher: "Possibly the most completely competent first novel in the history of crime, it is the definitive novel of alibis, timetables — and all the absorbing hairsplitting of detection . . ." With some exceptions, Crofts's later works adhered pretty much to the same pattern, especially after he intro-
duced his most famous detective, Inspector French.

~ 35 Years Ago: Mystery Reviews by Jon L. Breen (3 pages):
  Deadly Reunion (1975; 1982 in the U.S.) by Jan Ekström:
  Unlike other Scandinavian writers who have achieved fame in the Anglophonic world, Ekström takes a less common approach to crime fiction, being "solidly in the tradition 
of the Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s, with an enthusiasm for locked room and impossible crime situations that has marked him as the Swedish John Dickson Carr"
—high praise indeed.
  Related: Pretty Sinister Books review (HERE).

    Ice by Ed McBain:
    Starting in the mid-fifties, Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels chronicled the ups and downs of a "family" of police officers, focusing on the group's various adventures and misadven-
tures in crime solving, and Ice is no different: "Police procedurals come in two types: the single-case type and the modular type. In the latter, truer to life but harder for a writer to 
bring off successfully, several unconnected cases are involved. McBain has experimented with both types but usually concentrates on one investigation, as he does in Ice."
  Related: Wikipedia (HERE).

~ Fiction: "Murder in the Hills" by T. S. Stribling (The Saint Detective Magazine, February 1956), a Henry Poggioli short story (12 pages):
  Poggioli and his "Watson" walk straight into an old-fashioned Southern feud when they're persuaded to investigate a possible murder; mercurial Mercutio could bitterly wish Romeo 

"A plague a' both your houses," but Poggioli takes a different approach.

~ Book Reviews:
  That Day the Rabbi Left Town (1996) by Harry Kemelman; reviewed by Ruth Ordivar:
  Kemelman's last book about Rabbi Small seems more noteworthy for its depiction of the inner world of education than its central mystery.
  Related: Wikipedia (HERE).

  Murder Fantastical (1967) by Patricia Moyes; reviewed by Kathleen Riley:
  It's hard to go wrong with a writer who "gives you warm and fuzzy British in a skillfully written package — and an engaging series character to boot," namely Chief Inspector 

Henry Tibbett.
  Related: Wikipedia (HERE); Pretty Sinister Books review (HERE); Mystery Scene review (HERE).

  Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective (1934) by Agatha Christie; reviewed by Rita Hurvord:
  Unlike Christie's better-known professional heavesdropper Hercule Poirot, Parker Pyne, whose specialty is being a professional helper-outer, "does not proclaim himself a sleuth, because he isn't one. But he does some sleuthing nonetheless."
  Related: The Corpse Steps Out review (HERE).

~ The Non-Fiction World of Ed Hoch—Biography: John D. MacDonald by Edward D. Hoch:
  Hoch didn't just write detective fiction, he wrote about it and the authors who produce it, in this case John D. MacDonald, most remembered for his Travis McGee series.

~ Royal Archives: Dannay-Stribling Part Five by Arthur Vidro:
  Examining the correspondence between Fred Dannay, editor of EQMM, and other authors, in this case, T. S. Stribling, best known as the creator of the Poggioli series.

~ Random Thoughts on Writing the Paperback Revolution by Charles Shibuk:
  "In conclusion I think that about one-fourth of the review copies I receive are absolute junk, half of them are—shall we say—uninteresting, and the remainder are of some interest even if they don't qualify for review."

~ The Readers Write:
  "Issue #51 was top-notch, with illuminating contributions by the veteran mavens of detective literature . . ."

~ Puzzle Page:
  If you know your Poirot backwards and forwards, then this issue's puzzle will be a snap.

~ ~ ~
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- Our latest look at OTD was the Summer 2019 issue (HERE).

Friday, January 31, 2020

"Each Voice Was Raised Against the Interloper When Crime Stained the Last Inheritors of the Great House"

"The Missing Husband."
By H. C. Bailey (1878-1961).

First appearance: Flynn's Weekly, September 18, 1926.
Reprinted in Mystery and Detection No. 2 (1934).
Short story (13 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "Slight flavor of the late Dr. Crippen upside down."

Inspector Lomas accidentally on purpose gets his friend Reggie Fortune, who is recovering from injuries incurred in a previous case, involved in what the local authorities assume to be a likely instance of suicide but which, as Lomas says, spirals into "a cursed mess of a case." Recuperating he may be, but Reggie's abilities at rightly interpreting the evidence don't seem to be seriously impaired: ". . . shot in the left temple at close quarters by a service revolver 
. . . death was immediate . . . he died some days ago . . . It wasn't suicide, you know . . . the blood wasn't there . . . not a drop on the ground. Very tidy of him . . . he wasn't killed where you found him." When pressed as to what it all means: "You supply the sense. I only pro-
duce the facts."

Major characters:
~ Julian Brase, very late of Brase Hall, Wessex:

  ". . . has been found. This morning his body has been found in his own park. Of course this alters the whole case."
~ The Hon. Sidney Lomas, Chief of the C.I.D.:
  [Speaking to Reggie] "You're really not yourself, you know. It's not like you to be so keen."
~ Reginald Fortune, "our medical expert":
  "Well, look at it. He was missing a week ago. His wife bolted yesterday. He was found this morning. Not quite normal crime, Lomas, old thing. Very odd sequence."
~ Superintendent Bell, Lomas's able assistant:
  "Not himself, Mr. Lomas. Not up to it yet, he isn't."
~ Inspector Warnham and Dr. Harcourt:
  ". . . conferred and agreed that Mr. Fortune was too clever by half."
~ The Chief Constable of Wessex:
  "Cherchez la femme, what, what?"
~ Roger Brase, the brother:
  "Knelt down and stuffed something into a rabbit hole."

~ Mrs. Julian Brase, the subject of an APB:
  "The case against her is that the rector's wife don't like her, the county don't like her, the county police don't like her and the county inspector is God's own ass."
~ Timothy Arnold, the artist:
  "I'm here to say she didn't kill the man."

Comment: We have no patience with careless proofreaders, especially with their negligence regarding quotation marks.

- "Dr. Crippen": At the center of one of the most sensational murder cases of the early 20th century and the subject of a major motion picture; see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE), Brit-movie (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE).
- Henry Christopher Bailey held his own among detective fiction writers, with his favored series character, Reginald Fortune, appearing more or less continually in short stories and novelettes from 1923 onward; see Wikipedia (HERE) and Mike Grost's megasite (HERE). Concerning today's story, Grost writes:

   "'The Missing Husband' shows sound detective work, with Fortune using logical steps to track down the killer. This work makes absorbing reading. SPOILER. 'The Missing Husband' is an early example of modern-day ballistics work used to identify a gun. Such an approach is standard today, but was perhaps innovative in the 1920's. Fortune also makes deductions using blood stains. In addition to such scientific forensic techniques, Fortune uses a non-technological but sound approach: finding out who was the last person to 
see the victim alive."

- Alongside Bailey, detective fiction's successors to Sherlock were hyperactive at this time, as a Times Literary Supplement reviewer couldn't help noticing (HERE). (Note: Some links may have gone the way of all flesh in the past five years, such is the nature of the evanes-
cent Internet.)
- We've bumped into H. C. Bailey before, the latest collision being almost two years ago (HERE).