Monday, August 21, 2017

"This Is the Most Perplexing Case That Has Come to My Notice Since I Recovered My Sanity"

SHERLOCK HOLMES must be the most pastiched and parodied fictional character in history, and, starting with the character's inception, more stories having fun with the Sage of Baker Street have been appearing all the time, with no end in sight. (See the amazing Sherlock Holmes Pastiche Characters megasite HERE).

Unable to resist the temptation to send up Holmes, Augustus Wittfield gave us "The Star Detective of the Pole-to-Pole Railway," Carlock Bjones, and his faithful chronicler Watchem, in three mercifully brief parodies:

  (1) "The Gold Coupler," The Railroad Man’s Magazine, July 1910 (below)
  (2) "The Goat Degree," The Railroad Man’s Magazine, September 1910 (below)
  (3) "The Alcohol Annihilator," The Railroad Man’s Magazine, March 1911 (below).


Wittfeld had several other short-lived series characters: Dorothy and Arthur for Top-Notch (6 stories), and Dugan (3 stories, one of them below), Loquacious Louie (2), and Monk Hausen (2) for The Railroad Man's Magazine. (Data from FictionMags.)


Are the Carlock Bjones tales funny? We say "fitfully so," but you might disagree. We're including them here purely for the sake of completeness.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"I am not baffled. I am never baffled. I may be perplexed, but not baffled. Perplexity is what gives zest to my art."

"The Gold Coupler."
By Augustus Wittfeld (1861?-1935?).
First appearance: The Railroad Man's Magazine, July 1910.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Faded text; click the "Zoom In" function 3 or 4 times.)

"The Star Detective Uses His Skill and Mental Telepathy to Penetrate a Mystery."
Someone has sent master detective Carlock Bjones a gold coupler and, while he insists he's never baffled, just who did it has him . . . perplexed . . .

* * *

"Watchem, will you never learn that it is unethical to ask a suspect to explain anything?
The proper course is to secure evidence, or, failing in this, to resort to the expedient of manufacturing evidence to fit the case."

"The Goat Degree."
By Augustus Wittfeld (1861?-1935?).
First appearance: The Railroad Man's Magazine, September 1910.
Reprinted in The Owosso (Michigan) Times, May 30, 1919 (HERE).
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Faded text; click the "Zoom In" function a few times.)

"Carlock Bjones Follows a False Clue, and Finds That He Has Been Initiated into an Ancient Order."
Time is of the essence as supersleuth Bjones, being in the employ of the Pole-to-Pole Rail-way, tries to discover who was responsible for the disappearance of a box of Fat-Reducio
en route to Mr. O. B. C. Osofat . . .

* * *

"As Carlock's biographer, it was up to me to try and discover how and by whom he had been robbed of his wonderful discovery . . ."

"The Alcohol Annihilator."
By Augustus Wittfeld (1861?-1935?).
First appearance: The Railroad Man's Magazine, March 1911.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Faded text; click the "Zoom In" function a few times.)

"Carlock Bjones, Detective, Does Some Inventing as Well as Sleuthing, with the Customary Results."
A formidable chemist, Carlock Bjones synthesizes a compound which will revolutionize society—but there will always be elements of society that resist being revolutionized . . .

* * *

"Say, pardner, you don't happen to have a ticket to Pittsburgh in your clothes? I'm beginning to think New York is too strenuous for an humble bridge-worker."

"Dirk Johnson's Bank Robbery."
By Augustus Wittfeld (1861?-1935?).
First appearance: The Railroad Man's Magazine, November 1910.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Faded text; click the "Zoom In" function 3 or 4 times.)

"An Amateur Detective Gets a Hot Clue but Fails to Reap the Reward."
In one of his many stories of doubtful authenticity, Dugan regales Curran with an adventure starring Dirk Johnson, his trip up the outside of a skyscraper, and his eventful encounter
with "a lone robber, with a red Vandyke and a brace of blued steel barkers" . . .

Resources:

- Practically no information to speak of about Augustus Wittfield resides on the Interweb; everything we know comes from FictionMags.


The bottom line:

Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Of All the Things He Did Not Want to Do, Getting Nab-bed on a Murder Charge Was Right Up Near the Top of the List"

"Ready, Aim, Robot!"
By Randall Garrett (1927-87).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, July 1959.
Reprinted in Science Fiction Greats, Summer 1969.
Novelette (21 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).


"The featureless round ball hovered in the air—and only one man knew the secret of its mask of innocence."
The circumstantial evidence that points to Ross Underhill, a roboticist by profession, as the one who murdered Quentin Thursday, a shifty "businessman," seems irrefutable—but of course he didn't do it. Ross had been suing Thursday over a breach of contract, and he
and Sergeant Hurst, a pal with the police, were serving a subpoena when they discovered Thursday, killed with a coagulator pistol, a nasty way to die:

   "The corpse had the all-over blue look and the odd, bloated stiffness that indicated the protein change within the cells and the nearly instantaneous clotting of the blood that resulted when a coagulator was used."

The D.A. is satisfied enough with the circumstantial evidence to press charges against Ross, who hasn't helped his case any by using a gamma projector and leaving it covered with his fingerprints in Thursday's office the day of the murder—bad enough, but the real killer certainly wouldn't mind if Ross were to take the fall for not only Thursday's death but also those eight other murders-by-coagulator he's helped to commit in the past two months.
If there's one thing Ross Underhill needs more than anything else right now, it's a good lawyer . . .
Comment: The last half of the story is a preliminary hearing in a courtroom, which plays out
a lot like a Perry Mason episode with futuristic dialogue—also, despite the title, this isn't a comedy.
Resources:
- Another of the great pulp writers, Randall Garrett is gone but definitely not forgotten; there's more about him at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the International Review of Science Fiction (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and Noah Stewart's weblog (HERE); at the moment 46 of his shorter works are online (see HERE for links).


The bottom line: "The world of the future will be an even more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to

be waited upon by our robot slaves."
Norbert Wiener

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"My Sins Are Many and Long, but Murder Is Not Among 'em"

JOHN STEPHEN STRANGE was, in reality, Dorothy Stockbridge Tillett, a fact she seems to have successfully kept concealed throughout her writing career. Strange's primary output was detective fiction novels, most of them being lauded by contemporary critics (see end of article); according to FictionMags, she seldom produced short works, so the two true (or so they say) crime articles that follow could be considered atypical of our author.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

". . . the inspector had long since learned that the murderer does not wear a visible mark of Cain to help bewildered police officials."

"Tied with a Shoe Lace."
By John Stephen Strange (Dorothy Stockbridge Tillett, 1896-1983).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, February 18, 1928.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at UNZ (start HERE and finish HERE; scroll down to page 41).

"The true story of a put-up job and how a clever inspector discovered it."
Many a Sunday sermon has cautioned against bearing false witness, which is why you aren't likely to find in the congregation many murderers who've recently crushed in a little old lady's skull for six pounds and change and then tried to pin it on someone else. Continuing in this theological vein, we feel that the killer could have benefitted from a lesson in Greek mytho-logy— you know, the one about the Fates who spin the thread of life, measure it out, and cut
it at their whim. After all, another name for "thread" is "lace," isn't it . . .

~ ~ ~

"And then luck, or fate, or Providence, or whatever it is that deals out the cards in this poker game of life, dealt Detective Thatcher an ace."

"The Harvey Murder."
By John Stephen Strange (Dorothy Stockbridge Tillett, 1896-1983).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, April 21, 1928.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at UNZ (start HERE and finish HERE; scroll down to page 48).
"The story of a cold-blooded murder and how a mother's love solved the mystery."
If someone is going to inherit, someone else has to die—which is why on a chilly winter's morning the furnace man finds the cold, cold corpse of Dr. Harvey "lying on the hearth, fully dressed and quite dead. Beside him on the rug lay the poker with which he had been killed." The trouble is that while the obvious suspects have an obvious motive, there seems to be no provable connection between them and the victim that would lead them to commit murder. It will take a determined police detective, in one of those "Ah ha!" moments we sometimes experience, to finally get all the loose threads to knit together . . .

Comment: Didn't they do this one in a Perry Mason episode—and, before that, in the Bible?
Typo: "he indentified without hesitation"

Resources:

- There's more about John Stephen Strange on the GAD Wiki (HERE), Mike Grost's megasite (HERE), and Fantastic Fiction (HERE).
- Below are links to reviews, most of them contemporary thumbnails, of some (but not all) of Strange's novels:
  ~ The Man Who Killed Fortescue (1928) (HERE; scroll down to page 251).
  ~ The Clue of the Second Murder (1929) (HERE; scroll down to xxvi).
  ~ The Strangler Fig (1930) (HERE and HERE).
  ~ Black Hawthorn (1933) (HERE).
  ~ The Bell in the Fog (1936) (HERE).
  ~ Silent Witness (1938) (HERE).
  ~ Rope Enough (1938) (HERE and HERE; scroll to page 53).
  ~ A Picture of the Victim (1940) (HERE).
  ~ Murder Gives a Lovely Light (1941) (HERE).
  ~ Look Your Last (1943) (HERE and HERE).
  ~ Make My Bed Soon (1948) (HERE).
  ~ All Men Are Liars (1948) (HERE).
  ~ Reasonable Doubt (1951) (HERE).

  ~ Deadly Beloved (1952) (HERE).

  ~ Let the Dead Past (1953) (HERE).
  ~ Night of Reckoning (1958) (HERE).
  ~ Eye Witness (1961) (HERE).

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"A Newspaper Crime Investigator and a Scotland Yard Detective Approach a Mystery from Different Points of View"

JIMMIE SILVERDALE, a crime-solving Fleet Street newspaper reporter, was evidently intended to be a series character, but we've been able to unearth only two works with him, one a short story (below) and a novel (see "Resources"). We don't doubt that there were probably others, but for the nonce this will have to do. The FictionMags short note about George Dilnot, Silverdale's creator, gives us confidence that, as far as the journalism background is concerned, it should be true to life: "Born in Hayling Island, Hampshire, England; died in Esher, Surrey; journalist, author, and editor of the famous trials series published by Bles. Brother of Frank Dilnot."

"Silverdale of Brain Street."
By George Dilnot (1888-1952).
First appearance: The Royal Magazine, August 1916.
Short story (10 pages, 4 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Text is distorted [341, 342, 347] and cut down [345] in a few places, but legible enough.)

"In the unwritten table of values of Fleet Street, a mystery with a beautiful and rich woman as central figure is far beyond an exhaustive and possibly sordid explanation of crime."
Thanks to an anonymous tipster at Scotland Yard, ace crime reporter Jimmie Silverdale of the Daily Wire scoops the Fleet Street competition about a recent sensational murder:

MRS. RILEY SHOT DEAD.
Beautiful Widow of Millionaire Mysteriously Murdered in Taxi.
Woman in Black.
Secret Meeting with Veiled Lady at Islington.

Not only does Jimmie get the scoop, but after some major research he also finds, well in advance of the police, the seemingly inconsequential factoids which will, when correctly conjoined, lead straight to the murderer . . .

Major characters:
~ Greenford:
 "Taxi-driver picked a lady up in Bond Street an hour ago. Instructed to drive to the Palatial Hotel. Commissionaire who opened the cab door there found a woman dead — shot."
~ The burly man:
 "It's no suicide. I've been talking to Chinnery, who's handling the case. There's no pistol, for one thing. She'd only been shot a few minutes before she reached the Palatial—point twenty-two bullet. Taxi-driver hadn't stopped since he picked her up. It's a puzzle how it was done."
~ Mrs. Westmeon:
 "I never killed her. I never! I never! I can prove I had nothing to do with it."
~ D. I. Chinnery:
 "Chinnery looked at the calm young man who was taking it upon himself to issue orders to a divisional detective-inspector of the Criminal Investigation Department. Then he lifted his hat and scratched his head."
~ The Superintendent:
 "What I want to know is how Chinnery let you get ahead of him."

Resources:
- George Dilnot co-authored several books with ex-Scotland Yard man Frank Froest (1858-1930), some without Dilnot's byline, so there seems to be uncertainty as to who wrote exactly what. A note at Hathi Trust seeks to clear it up: "The Grell Mystery, 1914, and The Maelstrom, 1916, were published under the name of Frank Froest as author ... 'George Dilnot is really the co-author of The Grell Mystery and The Maelstrom.' — Letter of publisher, Aug. 19, 1920." In other words, Froest contributed the police background while Dilnot supplied the writer's skills.
- More information about Dilnot is available (HERE), and about Froest (HERE) and (HERE).
- If you're not familiar with a rook rifle, see Wikipedia (HERE) for enlightenment.
- Dilnot is credited with the following crime fiction novels, all of which are online for the moment (his articles and short stories—and he wrote dozens of them—don't seem to have been collected yet):
 ~ The Grell Mystery (1913) (HERE).
 ~ Scotland Yard: The Methods and Organisation of the Metropolitan Police (1916) (HERE).
 ~ The Maelstrom (1916) (HERE and HERE).
 ~ Suspected (1920) (HERE). Amazon's product description:


  "Jimmie Silverdale, the top crime reporter on the Daily Wire, thought he was onto a real scoop with the murder of the industrialist Sir Harold Saxon. Until, that is, he discovered that the chief suspect is the woman that he has fallen in love with. Could it be possible that the woman who had nursed him back to health during the war was really a murderer? Silverdale finds that he must work hand in hand with one of Scotland Yard’s finest in order to prove the innocence of the woman he wants to marry."


- The Online Books Page has a Dilnot listing (HERE).
- The first of four pages devoted to Dilnot is at Amazon.com (HERE).
- At one point in the story the author tells us:


  "In present-day circumstances, a person with information to divulge is as likely to go to a newspaper office as a police-station. Yet, a newspaper man is sometimes a dangerous ally for a detective. His aim is essentially to tell what the police are doing to hunt down their quarry—matters on which the police do their best to keep quiet."


  Haia Shpayer-Makov has examined how the newspapers and the police interacted at about the same time as our story in this paper: "Journalists and Police Detectives in Victorian and Edwardian England — An Uneasy Reciprocal Relationship" (2009) (HERE) (HTML) (25 pages as a PDF):

   "Detectives are sometimes likened to historians and vice versa. On closer examination, the resemblance between detectives and journalists is no less noticeable. The latter likeness, specifically between police detectives and journalists who wrote for newspapers on crime and policing, was particularly striking during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Interestingly, the two occupations were not only similar, but also evolved in parallel. More impor-tantly, in the process they developed links and interdependencies that helped them perform their respective duties. However, while contacts between them were mutually beneficial, they were also marked by tension and conflict. This duality of interdependence and conflict continued to characterise relations between journalists and detectives (and the police generally) after the First World War . . ."


  We've encountered Shpayer-Makov's scholarship before (HERE).

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"It Was a Femme, and She Sure Was Looking Fatale"

"Dead Wolf in a Hat."
By Graham Edwards (born 1965).
First appearance: Realms of Fantasy magazine, October 2005.
Reprinted in The Dragon Done It (2008).
Short story (13 pages as a PDF).
Online at Baen Books (HERE).
(Parental caution: Adult themes and language throughout.)

". . . even though I knew I should be calling the cops, I did the next best thing: I started looking through the Big Dictionary."
Ordinarily your average tough guy PI, like our unnamed narrator (can you say "Mike Hammer"), has enough trouble figuring out what's going on when he first takes on a
case, but in this instance it's going to be a lot harder sorting through what a bullet-
riddled lycanthrope, a dishy but dangerous dame, and a treacherous hat have to do
with one other—necessitating a nothing-short-of-terrifying consultation with the
Search Engine:

   "Soon I heard a rumbling sound, more metallic than the throat-clearing, twice as loud and getting louder all the time. The wind gusted, blasting into me from the same direction as the approaching smear of light. Then I heard a whistle, long and glutinous, and suddenly it was on me, an immense iron lobster with two hundred wheels, all interconnected with rods and dripping sinews and sprung cables and grinding cylinders. Brakes engaged and the mammoth train screeched to a halt. Steam erupted from a thousand greasy sphincters, oil oozed through toothsome grilles, chains with links as thick as my arm cracked like whips and flaming coals spilled from a great brazier perched high behind the funnel, half a mile above my head."


Toss in a gambling syndicate run by Titans (they expect you to pay up or else), and

our gumshoe will have all he can do to be around long enough to deliver his next
wisecrack . . .
Resources:
- If all of Graham Edwards's fantasy fiction is this witty, he might be worth your time; see Wikipedia (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Wikipedia has summary articles about lycanthropes (HERE) and (HERE), but our author

has added a clever twist of his own to the legend.
- Some refresher info about the Titans can be found on Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).

- We highlighted another fantasyland private eye last year (HERE).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Without a Doubt This Was the Sacrilegious Thief"

"Parson and Policeman."
By Victor L. Whitechurch (1868-1933).
First appearance: The Windsor Magazine,  March 1930.
Short short story (9 pages, 3 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

"I almost feel like a detective myself."
If we disregard Father Brown, Rabbi Small, and 358 others of their profession, then it would probably be true to say that men of the cloth like the Vicar of the little village of East Camford seldom get a chance in their everyday lives to capture someone wanted by the police—but, as events will show, here we have a parson who could definitely benefit from some divine inspiration . . .

Comment:
. . . and so could the author.


Resources:
- Philip Grosset's Clerical Detectives website does a fine job of keeping up with the rather large field of clergy-sleuths (HERE).

- We tend to associate Victor L. Whitechurch with railway mysteries, and for good reason; see the GAD Wiki (HERE) and one of our posts from about a year ago (HERE).

The bottom line: "I've been a Danish prince, a Texas slave-dealer, an Arab sheik, a Cheyenne Dog Soldier, and a Yankee navy lieutenant in my time, among other things, and none of 'em was as hard to sustain as my lifetime's impersonation of a British officer and gentleman."
Flashman

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"So Yer Wouldn't Come Across with Two Hundred Grand, Wouldn't Yer?"

ALTHOUGH HE'S BEEN DEAD for seventy years, the name of William Moulton Marston, the Harvard University psychologist who co-developed the modern "lie detector," resurfaces now and then in association with his most famous fictional creation, this year especially after the release of a highly successful motion picture. The story that follows, which doesn't feature his celebrated character, is an interactive writer-reader experiment that proves Marston was much better at psychology than detective fiction—and, yes, there will be a test later.

"Kidnapers' Contact."
By William Moulton Marston (1893-1947).
First appearance: Liberty, January 19, 1935.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Archive.org (start HERE and finish HERE).

"At Last a NEW Kind of Detective Story — One in Which the Reader Is Really the Detective! Follow the Directions and Try Your Sleuthing Talent on This Baffling Tale of a Black-Bordered Envelope and an Artist's Eye."
 A gang of kidnapers that couldn't crook straight should've known that if you're going to put the bag on somebody, you should at least snatch the right somebody . . .

Resources:
- William Moulton Marston (Wikipedia HERE) is most remembered these days for creating the comic book character of Wonder Woman (HERE); People.com (HERE) has more background on Marston—and it is, as the article says, "kinky."

- It's ironic that, of his forty-two IMDb credits (HERE), all but two are posthumous.

The bottom line: "The longer I observe the way people really act, the happier I am that I never pay attention to them."
George Alec Effinger