Friday, September 30, 2016

"The Next Time You Leave a Name As a Clue to Throw Suspicion You'd Better Get the Name Right"

Can you solve a mystery in one minute? Can anyone? Optimistic radio program producers thought so:
The Five [Minute] Mysteries Program is an audience participation radio series broadcast on the Mutual Broadcasting System August 10, 1947 – March 27, 1950. In 1947-48 it aired on Sundays at 2 p.m. . . . While the premise was simple, the mysteries were well written, requiring some thought to come up with the right answer. Similar to the Ellery Queen's Minute Mysteries, one listened to the story, evaluated the clues, and at the conclusion, matched wits with the sleuths to correctly identify the suspect. It was one of the few interactive radio shows. — Wikipedia (HERE)
Here are the scripts and audio recordings of three episodes of The Five Minute Mysteries program; you might want to listen as you read along—but be fair: At the commercial break you should stop reading and listening and try to solve it . . . as a kind of do-it-yourself Ellery Queenian Challenge to the Reader/Listener.

(1) "Murder of Mrs. Brooks" (a.k.a. "Three Scarlet Letters"):
"Apparently Mrs. Brooks was sitting here in this chair putting red polish on her fingernails when she was shot from behind. The polish has spilled all over the carpet and she was still holding the tiny brush in her hand. She must have recognized her attacker and since she did not die instantly she printed these three initials here on the floor with the polish. D-O-C."
     Script (HERE) . . . Audio (HERE) and (HERE).

(2) "My Pal Patsy":
". . . nowadays in this murder racket you need a college education!"
     Script (HERE) . . . Audio (HERE) and (HERE).

(3) "Death Calls at Dinner":
"Black? Let me see it. The only spoon that's tarnished, too. Well, I was beginning to think it was a heart attack or a perfect murder!"
     Script (HERE) . . . Audio (HERE) and (HERE).

- Another installment, "Blind Confession" (a.k.a. "Prison Murder"), has been animated for YouTube (HERE).
- Several dozen episodes of the program are at (HERE).

The bottom line: "Radio is the theater of the mind; television is the theater of the mindless."
Steve Allen

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"The Only Witness Against Him Was Himself"

"The Man Who Staked the Stars."
By Charles Dye (1925-60; ghost written by Katherine MacLean, born 1925).
First appearance: Planet Stories, July 1952.
Reprinted in High Adventure, March 2014 and Katherine MacLean Science Fiction Collection (2016).
Novelette (37 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and Project Gutenberg HERE.
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)
"Bryce Carter could afford a smug smile. For hadn't he risen gloriously from Thieves Row to director of famed U.T.? Was not Earth, Moon, and all the Belt, at this very moment awaiting his command for the grand coup? And wasn't his cousin-from-Montehedo a star-sent help?"
The Board of Directors of Union Transport (UT), a megacorporation that enjoys a monopoly on travel on Earth and in space, have just become aware of a serious threat coming from within their ranks, one that could bring down the company ("UT," we're told, "had a week more to live in respected public service before an outraged public tore it apart"—but only one man, the "mole" hiding in the organization, knows that); their best recourse (unless you consider outright murder as a valid course of action—and some Board members do) is to outsource and hire someone from a consulting firm called the Manoba Group, one of whose specialties is the use of psychology in ways that Freud never dreamed of . . .
Major characters:
~ Neiswanger:
   "I take it then that our corporation is being used as a criminal means of large scale smug-gling of drugs, transport of criminals on false identification and transport for resale of the goods resulting from their thefts. Is that correct? And you would say that the organization responsible is centered in this corporation?"
~ Stout:
   "We'll have to stop it, of course. I understand we have a good detective agency. If we put them on this with payment for speed and silence—"
~ Bryce Carter:
   "Suppose the top man is high in the company? What then?"
~ Sheila Wesley:
   "Aren't you Bryce Carter? We were introduced in there, I think, but the name didn't click."
~ Donahue:
   "You don't chant spells and hire ghosts, do you?"
~ Beldman:
   "That's right, start shootin' when you're surrounded by innocent spectators; when you know I can't draw on you. That's the way of a crook."
~ Roy Pierce:
   "I want to be your right arm. He told me you're on the way up. I want a slice of that, and I want it the easy way, hitching my wagon to your rocket. You can use me. A big man is too public. You need a new hand and a new voice, one that does what you want done, and can do it in the dark or the light, without your name—a stand-in for alibis, and a contriver of accidents so they break for you without your motion. A left arm that your enemies don't recognize as yours."

Comment: This story could just as easily be entitled (with apologies to Piers Anthony) Bio of a (Would-Be) Space Tyrant (According to Psychoanalytic Theory).

It could be verse:

   When the tubes conk out, the fuel runs down,
   The cold creeps in to where I lie.
   I'll take the meteor's trail—go home to Earth
   And make a Viking's funeral in the sky.

Of course, but then how would you measure it?
   ~ "Efficiency is, and should be, unnoticeable."

It pays to be cautious:
   ~ ". . . he who arrives first finds no ambush."

Space—it's really, really big:
   ~ "The secrecy of any meeting in space is practically absolute. If there is one thing which space has plenty of, it's distance—distance enough to lose things in, distance enough to hide in, distance enough so that even if you know where something is by all the figures of its coordinates, if it's smaller than a planet you can't find it even when you are there. To put it crudely, what space has is space. And finding something that doesn't want to be found in space is like looking for a missing germ in the Atlantic."

Saved by the Coriolis effect:
   ~ "He waited for a sign of motion, his magnomatic ready, looking up at the gunman lying overhead, forty feet away on the other side of the globe. The limp figure was unmoving, it looked badly tangled in vines, and its gun was gone. There was no need to shoot, but he wondered suddenly, if he had, what kind of a curve would the bullet have followed?"

One way to dispose of a corpse:
   ~ "They braced against the silver curve of the floating spaceship and gave the body a com-bined strong shove towards Earth. Spinning slowly end over end it dwindled into a dark speck against the glowing orb of Earth, destined to be a meteorite and make a small bright streak in the Earth sky several days later."

Out of the cradle:
   ~ "He looked at Earth hanging splendidly in space. It was beautiful and he was fond of it, but— He said, 'I don't think we'll ever go back.' Nor would mankind itself. Never again—through all conquests from this point in time—would mankind go back down into the mesh of gravity to be a thin film over the surface of a planet."

The final frontier:
   ~ "Man has reached space—do you think he'll ever go back to the ground? In space he has gravity only when he wants it, and any weight of gravity he likes, depending on how fast he spins his house. And no gravity when he wants that. You see what that means to engineers in the advantage of building things? No weight in transportation, no weight in travel, limit-less speed and almost no cost as long as he stays away from planet pulls. His house is in the sky, and when he steps out of it he can fly like a bird. And food. To grow food there is sunlight Earth never dreamed of. For heat and power there is sunlight to focus. Space is flooded with heat, irradiated with power— It's not child's play taming it, and those on the ground don't see it yet. But the next step of mankind is out into space, and it's never coming back."

Adventure can be found almost anywhere, even behind a desk:
   ~ "The adventures of explorers, research men, and detectives were written into stories, but not money men. The life and growth and death and blackmail of individuals were in the stories he had read, but not the murder of planets and cities, the control and blackmail of whole populations, in this odd legal game with the simple rules. Funny there hadn't been lurid stories about this in the magazines he read as a kid. He grinned— Well, the kids would read about him. In fifteen years he'd have everyone under his thumb and they'd smile and bow and be frightened just speaking to him."

Typo: "The roter drifted down"
- For more about Charles Dye, go to the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE); for the scoop on Katherine MacLean, see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Apposite information relating to our story, especially about the space frontier, can be found on the Atomic Rockets hypersite (HERE).
The actual author of our story

The bottom line: "Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition."
Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"No Contributing Factors in the Way of Bullets, Poisons or Blows Were Found—It Was a Perfect Crime"

IF BY SOME miracle you've never seen a movie from the '30s, '40s, or '50s, then you've never been exposed to the screen work of Ben Hecht; he had a knack for film writing (and script doctoring) that kept him very busy in Hollywood (see "Resources," below); but on occasion he would produce a fine piece of prose having a criminous theme, such as the three stories that follow.

"Miracle of the Fifteen Murderers."
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, January 16, 1943.
Reprints (FictionMags data): The Avon Annual #3, 1946; The Saint Detective Magazine, Spring 1953; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), September 1954; The Saint Detective Magazine (UK), November 1954; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1962; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (UK), January 1963; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (Australia), March 1963; Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, May 1965; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #23, 1972.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 22).
"They were a congress of killers, but no jury, interested solely in justice, would find them guilty."
Doctor Alex Hume divulges what happened at a recent meeting of the X Club, an informal society of medical doctors who confess to the group their "murders" (i.e., unintentional medical blunders that kill a patient), unaware that what they've learned from their combined mistakes will lead to saving a life.

~ ~ ~
"Café Sinister."
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, August 21, 1943.
Reprints (FictionMags data): Avon Modern Short Story Monthly #37, 1947; The Saint Detective Magazine, October 1954; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), April 1955; and The Saint Detective Magazine (UK), June 1955.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 66).
(Note: Some text trimmed but readable.)
"Café El Granada — showcase for wealth, photographers' heaven, breeding ground of gossip and intrigue — spawns a revenge too long delayed, in a memorable tale told by a master."
A man of mystery is this Baron Corfus, an exile from his own country, indulging in ostentatious elitist dissipation while furtively working towards . . . what?

~ ~ ~
"Swindler's Luck."
(a.k.a. "The Sunset Kid").
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: The Saturday Evening Post, January 12, 1952.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Note: Some text distorted but barely readable.)
"The mobsters would kill him if they ever caught on to his game. He was betting his life they wouldn't."
In this age of specialization, the Sunset Kid has an especially dangerous specialty: he's been astoundingly successful as "a crook who devoted himself to swindling members of the un-derworld. He specialized in trimming big-shot bookies and professional card gamblers," it being an understanding "between the Kid and his victims that they would have to catch him only once," after which . . . well, you don't need much imagination to know what that would mean.

But now the Kid wants to get married and go legit; he figures he can take mob boss Rocky Blair for the ten grand he needs to start a new life, but it's going to involve some clever planning, including a blown fuse and five automobiles . . .

- See Wikipedia (HERE) for biographical information about Ben Hecht and the IMDb (HERE) for his extensive filmography.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Three Years Running

Today, September 23rd, ONTOS celebrates its third year as a going concern. To be frank, when we started we didn't think it would last six months, and that we might get 50 postings out before closing our doors. But thanks to the warm support from you Wonderful Readers out there in the dark ONTOS keeps rolling along. Our weblog stats might not be very impres-sive—98,000 page views (after factoring out spambots) and 819 postings spread over roughly 155 weeks—but we believe that striving for quality is how any endeavor should be approach-ed. We hope you'll keep dropping in now and then to see where ONTOS is headed because, to be truthful, we don't know ourselves.

"The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the general care of humanity to escape." — Dr. Johnson

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"I Know You, and That You Are the Murderer of Mr. Blagden!"

"Murder Under the Microscope."
By "Waters" (William Russell, ?-?).
First book appearance: Autobiography of an English Detective, Volume 2 (1863).
Book chapter (43 pages).
Reprinted at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and HERE.
"Seldom has evidence—almost supernatural it seemed to the astounded audience—produced a deeper impression . . ."
Arthur Blagden, a retired solicitor turned real estate wheeler-dealer, has been found dead and Joseph Gibson, an amateur in the art of farming, has been accused.

The mountain of circumstantial evidence against Gibson seems absolutely incontrovertible: It is common public knowledge among the locals that Blagden (just as he did with the previ-ous owner) had cheated Gibson, something of a naive city dweller, when he purchased a run-down farm for over twice its actual worth; that after Gibson hit difficulties in making his ren-tal payment, Blagden had flatly refused any extension of the deadline, leading to "a stormy scene" between the two men during which Gibson "leapt at his landlord, and inflicted a severe blow upon his face, at the same time howling forth threats of direst vengeance"; and that many auditors at the local pub had heard Gibson making even more ominous threats against Arthur Blagden.
When the very next day Blagden's dead body is found sprawled across a narrow road, his gig overturned and his horse tortured by a broken leg, everyone assumes at first it's an accident—but then comes a discovery that casts the spotlight of guilt on Joseph Gibson:
There was a deep wound in the back of the dead man's neck—apparently delivered by a sharp axe, which had cut through the stand-up fur collar of the cloak he wore. No question that he had been struck from behind.
The London detective officer called into the case isn't content to settle for the obvious explanation for a crime until he can account for those anomalies that crop up from time to time in an investigation, among them in this instance:

   ~ "a clothes-line, almost new, one end of which had been recently cut" and "carefully buried near the scene of the awful crime," an item which "might suffice to hang whoever could be proved to have had it in his possession on the night of the murder";
   ~ "a sharp billhook, the blade and handle of which were stained with blood," as well as a bloody apron;
   ~ the fact that none of the missing money belonging to Blagden, "neither notes nor coin—he had a small canvass bag full, or nearly so of sovereigns—had been found, nor had the gold watch";
   ~ how to account for Gibson's keeping of the "easily discoverable" and incriminating rent receipt;
   ~ the way Blagden's horse and gig were upset: "to do so was scarcely to be expected of a Cockney oil and colourman [Gibson]—one too prematurely feeble, aged. No, no; if that trick had been played, it was by some one whose eyes could see in the dark as well as daylight; one possessed of nerve, quickness, decision, which would bring down a partridge before it had fluttered its wings thrice";
   ~ and finally what the microscope reveals about the blood, fur, and human hair found on the apron, the billhook, and the victim's cloak collar.

   ~ "It was a very, very ugly affair."
   ~ "This expression was held to indicate a settled determination in Gibson's mind to kill his landlord, should the required favour be refused. A skilled detective would have drawn an inference just the reverse of that. No man, unless he be delirious with drink or rage, hints of his intention, under certain contingencies, to commit murder!"
   ~ "It can only be explained by the axiom that whom God determines to destroy he first deprives of reason."

Typos: "bark of the dead man's neck"; "suddenly tighteued."

- An earlier book by "Waters" is online (HERE).
- Researchers maintain that "Waters" wasn't a police officer at all:
By 1842 the police presence in London had become acceptable enough to make possible the creation of a small, plain-clothes detective police force and it is the activities of the detective police that finally bring crime and detection together in popular literature, initially in fiction. In 1849 hack journalist William Russell, perhaps inspired by the 1830s and 40s fashion for pseudo-autobiographical narratives of professional men such as physicians, lawyers and barristers, produced the first fictional account of professional policing in his “Recollec-tions of a Police-Officer,” which were published in the popular Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 1849–53. Russell overcame the class problem by making “Waters,” his policeman protagonist, a gentleman forced into police work after losing his fortune to dishonest gamblers. The stories are set in the recent past prior to the establishment of the detective police, but “Waters” functions as a detective, working in plain clothes, and there are anachronistic references to his “fellow detective-officers.” The stories proved popular . . . — For more, see Chapter 1: "From The Newgate Calendar to Sherlock Holmes" by Heather Worthington, in Rzepka & Horsley's A Companion to Crime Fiction, 2010 (HERE, PDF).
- Concerning our story:
As a rare example of "Waters" fiction available today, "Murder Under the Micro-scope" is of fascinating historical interest. It is a landmark in the depiction of science to detect crime. It is in the anthology Isaac Asimov Presents the Best Crime Stories of the 19th Century (1988) edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg and Charles Waugh. — Mike Grost, "'Waters': Founder of the Casebook School" (HERE), A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection.

The bottom line: "We are only tenants, and shortly the great Landlord will give us notice that our lease has expired."
Joseph Jefferson

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"I've Got a Score to Settle on Earth"

"Creegar Dares to Die."
By David Wright O'Brien (1918-44).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, August 1942.
Novelette (45 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (with 8 illos).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Death meant nothing to Creegar when he came out of prison. He had something to do, and he did it!"
Thorne Creegar—framed by the man he worked for, deprived of the woman he loves, sen-tenced to years on the most isolated penal planet—is determined to get revenge; Creegar thinks he's come up with a way of doing it, unaware that he's actually part of someone else's larger, much more intricate plan, a subtly conceived frame-up which that someone will regard as being successful only when Creegar is lying dead . . .

Chapter I: "Free and alone, and filled with bitterness"
Chapter II: "Bellham Builds a Frame"
Chapter III: "Building a Snare"
Chapter IV: "The Web Tightens"
Chapter V: "The Trap Is Sprung"
Chapter VI: "The Black Network"
Chapter VII: "Hudge Closes In"
Chapter VIII: "Inside New York"
Chapter IX: "Hudge Strikes"
Chapter X: "Hudge Returns"

~ Thorne Creegar:
   "His knees, as he hit the rusty wharf planking, seemed for an instant to refuse to support his tortured body. And then he found balance, and moved lurchingly, almost blindly, to the machines ahead of him."
~ Sherry Bennet:
   "Her cheeks were wet, her hazel eyes misty, her lovely mouth forming a tremulous smile of joyous relief."
~ Nana:
   "Your fear has driven you into this bargain. You are afraid of Judson Bellham, afraid of what he might do to Thorne if you didn't comply with his wishes."
~ Judson Bellham:
   "My first hunch, on his release, proved damnably correct. I knew he'd try to get back."
~ Lee Hudge:
   "Lee Hudge was no larger than a small atomic cannon. He was also just as deadly."
~ Captain Treowlan, of the Venusian space freighter, Verieshu:
   "You can't try to jump ship and slip onto Earth Federation without getting a death ray through your hard young head."
~ A bandy-legged space tar:
   "The skipper just didn't like the way you tried to make him run small-time errands. But he's dumping the shipment tonight. Space port. Smart thing to get down there."
~ Mecks:
   "You'll need a few of the boys, then?"

Typos: "he would face Cregar"; "An as Thorne began to stride"; "Then Venusian captain"; "a few minutes before learned"; "the storm of abuse an invective"; "its still in one piece"; "seedy litle man"; "his indominatable will."
- Our last session with David Wright O'Brien, a World War II combat casualty, was (HERE).

The bottom line: "Revenge, the sweetest morsel to the mouth that ever was cooked in hell."
Walter Scott

Monday, September 19, 2016

August's Top 5

Being in the center of summer, when just about everybody (including us) in the Northern Hemisphere should be outside doing something, August has typically been a slow month here at ONTOS, but for some inexplicable reason August of 2014 saw all-time high record viewership numbers. We're not complaining, however, and welcome any and all readers with open arms (although open pixels might be more accurate).

~ August 2016 ~
(1) "You Were a Fool to Let Ruzza and Me Live" (HERE)
(2) "Luck Followed Him As It Sometimes Does the Evildoer" (HERE)
(3) "The Beloved Fable of Baker Street" (HERE)
(4) "Fred Stone Could Have Been Killed Last Night and Yet Be Walking Around Full of Life Today" (HERE)
(5) "Maybe I'd Better Call the Morgue and See If They're Missing You" (HERE)

~ August 2014 ~
(1) "A Thoroughly First Rate Detective Story, Rapid, Absorbing, and Credible" (HERE)
(2) "Witty, Decorously Exciting, and Brilliantly Written" (HERE)
(3) "There Is Even a Twist at the End, As If There Were Anything Left to Twist" (HERE)
(4) "What Good Is a Mystery Yarn If in Retrospect It Is Illogical and Silly?" (HERE)
(5) The International Society of Infallible Detectives (HERE)

~ August 2015 ~
(1) "It May Not Be Terribly Original, but Shooting Someone Tends to Be Pretty Effective" (HERE)
(2) "I Am an Old Man Who Has Retained the Use of His Brains" (HERE)
(3) "A Nice Example of the Locked Room Mystery" (HERE)
(4) "Proves That Mirth and Murder Can Mix" (HERE)