Sunday, June 25, 2017

"He Wished This Had Been Robbery and Murder, Instead of Just Murder"

"The Fellow Who Killed Felix."
By Thomas W. Duncan (1905-87).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly,
September 19, 1936.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"The Evidence Pointed to Cliff Barton as the Murderer. But Old Jim Laurel, Veteran Sheriff at Broken Ax, Found It All Added to: Frame-Up!"
He might call himself "a dumb hick sheriff," but the spirit of Sherlock Holmes lives on in Jim Laurel ("That's my business, to know things"), with nothing getting past him unnoticed: the missing wallet at the crime scene, the overlooked diamond ring, the handkerchief with the brown splotch under the victim's hand (a dying clue not left by the dead man), and the killer's rare ability to walk a straight line. In the end, however, Sheriff Laurel modestly attributes his ability to solve this case to one thing: "You know, it's a great advantage for a man to enforce the law among the fellows he's known all his life. It's hard for 'em to put anything over."

Nice phrasing: "The wind came to them and sniffed at them and then rustled away through the bushes."
Unusual verb: "body blurted back into the room."
Typo: "do have money enough" [left out you]

- FictionMags's
thumbnail about Thomas William Duncan: "Poet and writer. Born in Casey, Iowa; lived in California." FictionMags lists Duncan's short story output in both the pulps and the slicks as running from 1930 to 1947, most of which seems to have been crime fiction.

The bottom line:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Hat Tricked

"Long Odds."
By Hugh MacNair Kahler (1883-1969).
First appearance: Collier's, September 6, 1930.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"He saw that he'd been a sucker, after all, kidding himself that he was safe."

That's funny. Normally Pinner isn't particularly antisocial, but now that everybody wants his attention, he won't let them have it . . .

- A thumbnail from FictionMags about Hugh MacNair Kahler: "Born in Philadelphia; educated at Princeton University; contributed fiction to numerous magazines"—for thirty years, we might add, from 1913 to 1943.
- Our last meeting with Kahler was (HERE).
- Not only can hats be used in the commission of a crime (HERE, HERE, and HERE), but they can also lead to crime (HERE).

The bottom line: "Every day's an adventure when I step out of my door. That's why I usually wear a hat and keep my head low."
Steve Buscemi

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"The Only Safe Plan When You Hold a Fortune on Your Knees Is To Trust Nobody"

"The Thieves' Terror."
By W. E. Norris (1847-1925).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, April 1907.
Reprinted in The Strand Magazine (U.S.), May 1907.
Short short story (6 pages, with 4 illos by Sidney Paget).
Online at (HERE).

"They call me 'The Thieves' Terror,' I'm told; and between you and me, I don't know but what I've fairly earned the name."
Moving a fortune in diamonds safely from one continent to another has always been a knotty problem for those entrusted with the task, and it's no different with bailiff John Henderson:

   "It would have been permissible even to the one who was not fidgety by temperament
to feel some anxiety respecting the custody of the famous Alstonborough diamonds,
which would never have left England if their owner could have helped it. But as his wife
had accompanied him on a special mission of ceremony to an important Court, it had been thought necessary that she should exhibit herself there in full splendour, while certain engagements stood in the way of an immediate return to Alstonborough Castle. Thus it
came to pass that John Henderson, a huge, powerful, stolid fellow, who looked no
promising subject either for violence or cajolery, was given the precious cases,
together with very precise instructions for his guidance, during the long journey
which lay before him."

Even with the unexpected intervention of Inspector Barnes of Scotland Yard, a sleep-deprived Henderson will nevertheless be subjected to violence and cajolery; a wide-awake thief will fatally underestimate our bailiff's resolve; and a would-be biter will get bit . . .

Plothole: A thief would always check the swag before absconding with it, wouldn't he?

- A remarkably prolific author, William Edward Norris's writing career straddled the late 19th and early 20th centuries, generating reams of what is nowadays called "mainstream" copy, but like some other authors he sometimes strayed into crime fiction; see the Wikipedia book and story listing (HERE) for more.
- The Online Books Page offers rapid access to more of his works (HERE).

The bottom line:
   Let every eye negotiate for itself
   and trust no agent.
   — Claudio

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Curtain Call

ONE OF THE German authors mentioned in Grace Isabel Colbron's article (covered in the previous post HERE) committed the following—to paper, that is:

"Well-Woven Evidence."
By Dietrich Theden (1857-1909).
First appearance: Unknown.
Short story.
Reprinted in The Lock and Key Library (Volume III,

1909) and World's Great Detective Stories (1928).
Online at UNZ (HERE, 10 pages), Google Books
(HERE, 14 pages), and in Prof. David Stewart's
collection (HERE, 8 pages).

"Isn't it pretty? but look at this coronet here! What should we want with a coronet? I am just ripping it out, and it's no easy work, I assure you!"
Police Commissioner Wolff learns of an entreating letter from Johann Behrend to an old friend, Police-senator Lachmann, asking for whatever help he can offer: "On Sunday, the 18th of June," it reads, "the safe in my business office was robbed of the sum of 58,000 marks." A cursory investigation has led Behrend to believe, reluctantly, that it was an inside job:

   "There remains, therefore, only the, to me, very sad explanation that some member of my business force must have thus ill repaid my confidence. I could easily lose the actual amount of money but my relations with my employees are such that the thought that I might find the thief among them would depress me most terribly. There is nothing proven as yet, and I can still hope that some outsider may have committed this crime — indeed I wish from the bottom of my heart that it may be so."

Almost as an afterthought Behrend adds a postscript:

   "P.S. — Simply to complete my report, not because I believe it to be of any importance, I would add that the thief took also a large package of lace curtains which lay in my own private office."

More than anything else in this case, however, it will be that offhand P.S. which will lead an undercover detective straight to the thief, confirming a good rule of thumb in just about any investigation: you can hardly go wrong if you cherchez la femme . . .

The characters:
~ Commissioner Wolff:

  ". . . dropped the letter and sat in deep thought. Then he turned his cold gray eyes on his chief . . ."
~ Police-senator Lachmann:
  "I have, as you know, an only daughter. It is the heartfelt wish of the parents in both families that my child and my friend's son should be united in a bond that will bring us all still closer together."
~ Johann Behrend, business owner:
  "Behrend, Sr., was not particularly imposing in appearance, not quite so much so as Engel had imagined he should be as the head of a great enterprise, and a self-made man. But the high forehead and clear eyes of the delicate looking man of scarcely medium height had an expression of such high intelligence that it was quite easy to understand his success."
~ Bernhard Juritz, the firm's cashier:
  "Juritz's sharp-featured face showed energy, but the dull glance of his eyes and the foolish play with the evidently unheeded instrument in his hands showed a physical and mental weakening, for the moment at least. His low forehead and broad, full-lipped mouth pointed to strong animal desires, and the dark rings about his eyes were evidence of dissipation."
~ B. Düfken, a widow:
  "There was nothing refined or aristocratic in her appearance, her manner was awkward, her clothing very ordinary. She was one of a kind that could be seen by the hundred anywhere, a woman brought up in quite other surroundings than these, and who had evidently not yet been able to adapt herself to affluence."
~ Lore Düfken, her daughter:
  "In the next room they found a young woman in a white house-gown, who turned her

bright brown eyes on the stranger in curiosity, and then quickly pushed aside her work,
which covered almost half the floor, so that they might enter. The young lady, evidently
the daughter of the other woman, was very pretty, slender, and graceful, with a delicate
face and attractive expression."
~ "Engel":
  "A single passenger descended from the ten o'clock train of the same evening in Neuenfelde, a gentleman of military bearing, in clothes of fashionable cut, with a

sharply marked face and cold gray eyes."

Comment: Our author apparently believes that physiognomy is a certain indicator of moral character.
- There's more about Dietrich Theden on the German Wikipedia (HERE) and the German Project Gutenberg (HERE). In her article, Grace Colbron briefly mentions him:

   ". . . Theden's The Counsel for the Defence [is a] clever story of the conventional sort."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Fourteen

"The Detective Story in Germany and Scandinavia."
By Grace Isabel Colbron (1869-1948).
First appearance: The Bookman, December 1909.
Article (6 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
(Note: Plot SPOILERS for some stories.)

John Thaw in "The Sensible Action of Lieutenant Holst" (1973), from 'The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes' TV series.
HERE IS THE FictionMags thumbnail about Grace Isabel Colbron:

   "Born in New York City; stage actress; reader of European language books for New York publishers, theatrical managers and play-brokers; lecturer on economic and literary subjects; translator from German and Scandinavian languages."

Using her translation skills to good effect, she rendered crime fiction stories by German author Augusta (or August or Auguste) Gröner into English, as well as several other obscure (to Anglophones, at any rate) Northern European writers, such as Danish author Palle Rosenkrantz's "Letter from Another World" (1909), which saw American publication in the July 1943 issue of EQMM.
Colbron divides her article into two areas:

I. In Germany:

In Colbron's opinion, pride of place belongs to a Viennese author:

    "THE best writer of detective stories in Germany to-day is undoubtedly Augusta Gröner [1850-1929], of Vienna. Her name is never mentioned in the magazines that set a standard of criticism, and the essayists who discourse on modern literature know not her fame. This is natural, for detective stories are not literature, according to German ideas. But Augusta Gröner's novels are sold in cheap editions in enormous quantity, and there is a steady demand for her work.

   "With Anna Katherine Green she shares a lonely niche as an example of what women can, but usually do not, do as writers of detective stories. Mrs. Gröner's work is uneven, but in the best of it her skill in inventing and unravelling a mystery places her in the front rank. She makes no pretence at literary style; her manner of writing is quaint and old-fashioned, but most of her characters are alive, and there is no disputing her gift as a spinner of yarns. The plot is full of interest always, and grips from the beginning. There are a few isolated examples of good detective stories by other German writers, and there is an immense deal of poor work of the same kind to be found. But there is no other writer of detective stories whose collective work would stand comparison with the books of the best French and English writers in the same field.

   "Within the limits of her chosen line of work Augusta Gröner is very versatile. She does not tie herself down to any particular method, no two of her novels are alike in construction. She gives us the crime-mystery where the main interest hinges on the revealing of the truth by the work of skilled professionals; and she gives us also the crime-mystery sufficient unto itself, the story where the theme centres in the fate of those near to the victim. But there is always a mystery, and a good one, which does not let the reader's attention flag.  . . . Taken all in all, Mrs. Gröner's work is excellent and entitles her to be named with the best of other lands. She improves as she goes on, her later works are free from a certain old-fashioned style of narrative which dulls the others at times, the action is quicker, the method of construction more up to date."

Colbron then briefly surveys other contemporary German detective fiction authors, few of whom in her opinion equalled, much less excelled, Mrs. Gröner: Dietrich Theden, Carl Rosner, Frederick Thieme, J. Kaulbach, and August Schrader. She also covers what could
be termed near-detective writers who dabbled in mystery but didn't commit themselves
fully to the detective tale: Zschokke, Wilhelm Hauff, Baroness de la Motte Fouqué, E. T. A. Hoffman, Paul Lindau, and Ernst von Wildenbruch.

II. In Scandinavia:

Since Colbron's time, things have really changed for Nordic detective fiction authors, to say the least:

   "Detective, or even mystery, stories are rare in Scandinavian literature. But good examples may yet be found, because whatever the writers of the wonderful Little Nations of the North essay to do, they do well."

Colbron does single out one Danish author as commendable:

   "Among contemporary Scandinavian writers, the Dane, Baron Palle Rosenkrantz [1867-1941], is already known to American readers as the author of two detective stories which have recently appeared in English. Another of his novels, What the Forest Pool Hid, publish-ed as yet only in the original Danish, is a better story than either of those done into English. Both in the inventing and unravelling of the mystery, and in the sheer human interest of the story which lies back of the murder, this novel ranks high. It is full of action, and the plot is an unusually strong one in its tragic intensity. It is even in construction and the style is very modern."

- If you're interested in any of Colbron's subject matter, these might help:

  (1) "The Sensible Action of Lieutenant Holst" is outlined on the IMDb (HERE).
  (2) A short bio of Augusta Gröner at Google Books (HERE), part of Early German and Austrian Detective Fiction: An Anthology (1999) by Tannert and Kratz (for sale HERE).
  (3) A Mobileread thread (HERE).
  (4) The Online Books page (HERE); unless you're a major institution, you will have to

settle for reading these online.
  (5) The short SFE entry (HERE) about Augusta Gröner's only known fantasy.

  (6) Four of Gröner's Joe Müller stories are readily available in Prof. David Stewart's online PDF collection . . .
    ~ "The Case of the Registered Letter" (1910; 19 pages) (HERE).
    ~ "The Case of the Pocket Diary Found in the Snow" (1910; 22 pages) (HERE).
    ~ "The Case of the Pool of Blood in the Pastor's Study" (1910; 26 pages) (HERE).
    ~ "The Case of the Golden Bullet" (1910; 22 pages) (HERE).
. . . plus one more anthologized in Julian Hawthorne's Lock and Key Library:
    ~ "The Story in the Notebook" (1909; 39 pages) (HERE):

Augusta Gröner

Friday, June 16, 2017

"Everyone Slips Sometimes, and He Was No Exception"

"Mystery on Base Ten."
By William P. McGivern (1922-82).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, January 1942.
Reprinted in Amazing Stories Quarterly (Reissue), Summer 1942 and The First William P. McGivern Science Fiction Megapack (2014).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF).

"Veya Mallon knew her father wasn't a traitor, so she blasted spaceward to prove it—right into a hornet's nest of conspirators."
True, Veya is spunky and determined but not, unfortunately, subtle . . .

The characters:
~ Space Commander Wilson:

  "Believe me, I'm as anxious as you are to clear your father's name. Unfortunately, the facts point to his guilt."
~ Veya Mallon:
  "My father was killed because the information he possessed would have incriminated some Earth officer as a traitor. For that reason he was murdered."
~ Lieutenant Tom Vickers:
  "Everything, somehow, had lost its meaning, when Veya had dropped his ring contemptu-ously at his feet."
~ The second lieutenant at Base Ten:
  "The quieter things are, the better we like it."
~ The mastermind:
  "Without those papers, your case will be declared ridiculous."

Comment: You could replace our heroine with Dale Evans, our hero with Roy Rogers, the villain with Roy Barcroft, the incriminating papers with the deed to the ranch, and the rocket ships with horses and you'd basically have a typical '40s B-Western.

How many mystery story protagonists have experienced this?

   "He felt as if he were in a labyrinth of strange motives and actions, and if he could find the right path to follow it would lead directly to the heart of the puzzle. And it was a puzzle. He appreciated that with greater force as each instant slipped past. Looking back he could see the puzzle. But he knew he would have to look forward and move forward to find the key."

Techno-fail: They have rocket ships and electron guns, but important documents are committed to paper and carried in leather cases.

An interesting footnote:

   "Squeelah—a potent drink fermented from the carnivorous plant forms that exist in great abundance on the dank planet of Saturn. It is green in color, bittersweet in taste and TNT if imbibed in quantity. — Ed."

Typos: "Vickers hands clenched" [missing apostrophe]; "his eyes glitteringly triumphantly behind the concealing mask" [should be glittering].
- Hollywood was very kind to William P. McGivern, making classic films from some of
his works and providing him with steady employment as a script writer, mostly for TV
(see IMDb HERE); there's more info on him and his crime and SFF product on Wikipedia
(HERE), the GAD Wiki (quite a lot HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- If you carefully examine those posters just above, preferably with a magnifying glass,
you should be able to find McGivern's name.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"There Is Someone Lying Dead Under the Stars—Because of Her"

"Death Comes in Motley."
By Tom Gallon (Thomas Henry Gallon, 1866-1914).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, October 1907.
Reprinted in The Strand Magazine (U.S.), October 1907.
Short story (7 pages, with 4 illos).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Some fuzzed-up text, but readable.)

"He was in the way—and I hated him."
Two complete strangers confront each other at four in the morning; one is a hardened criminal with no regrets, the other, as he admits, "with the brand of Cain upon me"—and between them a loaded revolver . . .

The characters:
~ The man in motley:

  "You'll start up at my elbow when I'm most secure; you'll put in an appearance when I least expect you; you'll be my shadow, haunting me, as another shadow will haunt me, till I die."
~ Jim Filer:
  "After all, you've got to pay for sich a little game as this 'ere."

- Street juggling dates from ancient times, and still goes on today (HERE), but unfortunately it has criminal associations (HERE).

- There's more about Tom Gallon on Wikipedia (HERE) and the IMDb (HERE); Steve at Bear Alley also has a succinct bio of Gallon (HERE). We think—but we're not sure—that before his death Gallon managed to revise and expand "Death Comes in Motley" to novel length as The Man in Motley (1915), subsequently filmed the following year (HERE). The FictionMags listing indicates that he was both versatile and prolific, his short story output, running from 1897 to 1916, almost entirely in the mainstream but with occasional excursions into crime fiction and the macabre.

The bottom line: "I had killed a man, for money and a woman. I didn't have the money and I didn't have the woman."
Walter Huff