Friday, November 17, 2017

Rex Stout on Detective Fiction

"Grim Fairy Tales."
By Rex Stout (1886-1975).
First appearance: The Saturday Review, April 2, 1949.
Article (3 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 34.)

The creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin lectures us on his theory of how mankind arrogantly prefers to view itself as the reasoning animal, and about how that presumption
has shaped the contours of detective fiction; it's noteworthy that he's careful to distinguish between the mystery and the detective story.

~ More than human:
  "Sherlock Holmes is the embodiment of man's greatest pride and greatest weakness: his reason. I have heard it said by sneerers that he isn't even human. Certainly he isn't; but he is human aspiration."
~ There's an almost universal (if seldom admitted to) admiration for a man who can use his brains:
  "We enjoy reading about people in the same fix. We enjoy reading about people who love and hate and covet—about gluttons and martyrs, misers and sadists, whores and saints, brave men and cowards. But also, demonstrably, we enjoy reading about a man who gloriously acts and decides, with no exception and no compunction, not as his emotions brutally command, but as his reason instructs. So Sherlock Holmes is on his peak. This basic principle, this essence, of detective stories and the public's insatiable appetite for them, is understood (or felt) quite well by some of the writers in the genre, imper-fectly by others, and not at all by some."
~ Emotions have their place, however:
  "Philo Vance, not content to exclude emotions from his Board of Directors, wouldn't tolerate them around the place at all, which was a mistake, since

the idea is not the extinction of emotions but merely their relegation to the auxiliaries, as is fitting in a reasoning animal."
~ You'll know when it's over:
  "A detective story ends when reason's job is done."
~ We can't argue with this:
  "All I ask of any story is that it give me my money's worth—and my time's worth—one way or another."
~ For the detective fiction writer there are obstacles that are unique to the genre:
  "Detective stories need all the talent they can get, since they confront the writer with two extraordinary handicaps."
~ It's not as easy as it it looks:
  "The writing job is to make a good story out of a man performing a feat of reason. The devil of it is that the most exciting and impressive part of the performance must be concealed from the reader—or at least the reader must not know what is exciting and impressive and what isn't. That is the pattern set by Poe, and no one has ever deviated from it without making a mess. I don't know why."
~ One-night stands are limiting:
  ". . . nearly all of the finest detective stories are about detectives who appear not in one tale but in a series."

~ For the writer, deciding who narrates is an all-important consideration:
  "It is impossible to have the detective himself tell the story."
~ Although they resemble each other, the conventional novel and the detective tale are two very different animals:
  "A detective story is not a tale about the motives and acts and emotions of people, as a novel is, but about the detective's investigation of their motives and acts and emotions in his pursuit of a relentless purpose."
~ Keep it simple:
  "Since the proper and only theme of a detective story is the progress of the hero to his triumph, anything that happens beyond the horizon of his senses and sense has no pertinence."
~ One of the greatest difficulties the detective fiction author faces is orchestrating a series of delaying tactics without causing the reader to tire or lose interest:
  "The one thing that must be reserved is the identity of the culprit; the nearer you can come, before that fatal disclosure, to dusting everything else off, the better."
~ . . . but is it literature?
  "No one would dream of speaking of Doyle in the same tone of voice as of Thackeray, though one is still being read in twenty languages and the other is not read at all."

- Rex Stout caused an uproar with "Watson Was a Woman" (1941), online (HERE) and (HERE).

- Stout was a firm believer in the series detective; see The Thrilling Detective Web Site (HERE) and then go to SpeedyMystery (HERE) for a nice summary of his Nero Wolfe novellas: ". . . the reading public and various magazine publishers were so pleased with the result that Stout wrote forty more novella length adventures over the next twenty-three years. That Stout could dash off a Wolfe novella in days or weeks as opposed to months for a Wolfe novel certainly must have added to the charms of the shorter format for him. Stout was fortunate that a high-paying slick-paper magazine market lasted for so many years."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"George Had Thought of Everything"

HELEN REILLY was primarily a crime fictioneer who very often featured her series character, Inspector Christopher McKee, in both novels and short stories [data from FictionMags]:
 (1) Murder in the Mews, serialized novel, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, June 20, 1931-July 25, 1931

 (2) Three Women in Black, novella, Random House (1941)

 (3) Murder on Angler’s Island, novel, Random House (1945)

 (4) "The Phonograph Murder," short story, Collier’s, January 25, 1947 (below)
 (5) Tell Her It’s Murder, novel, Star Weekly, August 14, 1954
 (6) Compartment K, novel, Star Weekly, June 4, 1955

 (7) "Follow Me," novelette, Star Weekly, May 21, 1960 (discussed HERE)

 (8) "Certain Sleep," novelette, Star Weekly, June 17, 1961

. . . and quite a few other titles as well (see "Resources," below).

"The Phonograph Murder."
By Helen Reilly (Helen Margaret Kieran, 1891-1962).
First appearance: Collier's, January 25, 1947.
Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine, May 1955; The Saint Detective Magazine (U.K.), September 1955; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #8 (1965) and #56 (1987).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 26).

"The murder was perfect—no clues, no suspicion. George had thought of everything."
These people who strive to commit the perfect murder—when will they ever learn?

~ George Bonfield:

  "It was then, as he stood beside the stove in the kitchen, that the idea came to him. He fingered the clock."
~ Louise Bonfield:
  "Her skin was soft and a little moist. He shivered, and fought down a sudden sickening
soul-shaking wave of nausea."
~ Joe Tyler:
  "Joe was in the next room every single minute of the time, and he couldn't be mistaken."
~ Mr. Gamble:
  "Promptly at eleven Mr. Gamble was roused by piercing screams issuing from the red-brick house next to his own. He rushed out, a coat thrown hastily over his pajamas, and found . . ."
~ Hannah Swenson:
  ". . . the maid, shrieking at the top of her lungs . . ."
~ The local precinct lieutenant:
  "You'll understand that this is just routine."
~ Inspector Christopher McKee:
  "Mrs. Bonfield trained Hannah well."
- The book that basically kicked off a trend in stories with a similar premise as in today's tale receives a short, sharp review (HERE).
- There's a lot of information to be gleaned about Helen Reilly from Mike Grost's Mystery*File article (HERE) and one by Steve Lewis (HERE), and the GAD Wiki has more (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It's Joe Doyle, Not That Conan Guy

"Not According to Doyle."
By Carter Critz (house pseudonym).
First appearance: Popular Detective, November 1947.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"When a bodyguard’s wished on him and a blonde lovely asks him to tackle a mystery, this snooper has his hands full!"
Fifty grand missing from a bank, a wise guy wanting to hire himself out to protect the detective, two plug-uglies willing to do a little kidnapping, a dishy tomato looking for
her missing brother—just another day in the life for this P.I.  . . .

Comment: Our detective has a distinctive voice . . .

  "DOYLE is the name, Joe Doyle. I’m a private detective so I spend my time minding other people’s business. Not that I’m too nosy—I only get curious when I’m hired to do some snooping. Remember the case of the Singing Parrot, and the one about the Headless Taxi Driver? Well, I didn’t solve

either of those. I only read about them in the newspapers—but I get along
all right. I live in a hotel on a side street in the Forties and, as hotels go, a tramp steamer couldn’t take this one far enough away to suit me. But be it ever my grumble, it's still my home."

Regrettably, though, the story doesn't measure up.

- According to FictionMags, the "Carter Critz" alias was used at least two dozen times in Thrilling Detective, Popular Detective, and the like from 1931 to 1953, the one exception

being in Popular Sports Magazine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Big Sleep

BEING MURDERED in your sleep, while you're totally defenseless, is a profoundly disturbing prospect; there's some comfort for us survivors in knowing that the unfortunate victims in the following stories have been spared that knowledge . . . or have they?

  "I see you’ve got an alibi that can’t be broken . . ."

"The Will."
By Richard B. Sale (1911-93).
First appearance: Popular Detective, September 1935.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"A Cold-Blooded Murder Perpetrated for Gain—and the Aftermath!"
A neat plan, this one, smooth and uncomplicated, only there's a snag the murderer hasn't anticipated: If he inherits, it's the electric chair for sure. Decisions, decisions . . .


- FictionMags's description of Richard Sale: "Mystery novelist and short story writer. Born in New York City; lived in California."
- Nearly two-and-a-half years have elapsed since we first featured Sales's "Death Had a Pencil" (HERE).

~ ~ ~

  "Somebody must have been digging there . . ."

"No Blood."
By John L. Benton (house pseudonym).
First appearance: Popular Detective, January 1936.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"There was to be no shedding of blood."
Even in the best-laid schemes, the unexpected sometimes bubbles up, you might say, seemingly out of nowhere . . .

- Just who "John L. Benton" was is still unclear; see Cullen Gallagher's Pulp Serenade (HERE).

Monday, November 13, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-one

IT WILL SOON be ten years since we lost Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008); just after he passed away, J. Madison Davis published this assessment of the lamentable state of the detective short story and why almost no one nowadays can do what Hoch did, make a living writing them.

"The Last Good Man: Edward D. Hoch and the World of
the Short Story."
By J. Madison Davis.
First appearance: World Literature Today, July 1, 2008.
Article (4 pages as a PDF).
Online at The Free (HERE).

Just a few snippets:

  "He was a Titan in another sense: a towering giant of the older gods. He was probably the last mystery-story writer, certainly the last major one."
  "Since the 1930s, the situation of the short story is much like that of the poem, having moved further and further to the peripheries of popular culture."
  "Ironically, perhaps Alfred Hitchcock, who built his very profitable television series around the best stories by authors he enjoyed—like Henry Slesar, Saki, Stanley Ellin, and Roald Dahl—contributed to the weakening of the short story by demonstrating how effectively such stories could be converted to the screen."
  "Although many people groan about the limited reading habits of Americans, writers in other countries are often under the impression that the situation for the short story is much better here than there. In other countries, the situa-tion is much the same or even grimmer."
  "It remains to be seen if the mystery short story can be revived on electronic media, but its inexpensiveness implies that supplying such a market might never be a way to make a living."
  "The mystery short story is unlikely to disappear, even if it does not find a rebirth, but the likelihood of short-story specialists like Ed Hoch ever gracing the mystery scene again seems sadly unlikely, and if they do, no one will grace it as well as Ed did."

- A few years before Hoch died, Steve Lewis at Mystery*File interviewed him (HERE); Hoch also contributed a short blog post to Criminal Brief, "Why the Short Story?" (HERE); see also Steve Steinbock's tribute to Hoch (HERE); the Wikipedia article (HERE); the GAD Wiki (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE); and The Passing Tramp (HERE).
- The Locked Room Mystery megasite has several pages devoted to Hoch (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- Occasionally Ed Hoch would wander into science fiction/fantasy (SFF); see (HERE) for more.
- Hoch picked up an Edgar for "The Oblong Room" (HERE).
- With few exceptions, Hoch's brilliant stories have been largely ignored by Hollywood; see "Hoch and Tinseltown" (HERE).
- Podcasts of two of Hoch's Sam Hawthorne mysteries are still online: "The Problem of the Covered Bridge" (HERE) and "The Problem of the Old Gristmill" (HERE).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Three from Oscar

"No Nerve."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: Liberty, December 5, 1936.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE).

"Considering the probable reward, you two sure are lucky."
Honesty isn't merely the best policy—it just might save your life . . .

~ ~ ~

"Family Affair."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: Collier's, November 7, 1942.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"If you don't save him I'm going to see that everybody knows about us."
Sometimes it's better to keep it in the family . . .

~ ~ ~

"Nine Roses for the Commissar."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: This Week Magazine (1959).
Reprinted in Bestseller Mystery Magazine, January 1960.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"Jan Karic's rise to power was based largely on his eagerness to kill, a drive so blinding that his own wife no longer knew him. Yet, irony, in the form of a gift proved his undoing . . . "
Flowers symbolize good things like marriage and bad things like funerals, but Jan Karic is about to discover another use for them . . . revenge . . .

- A Wikipedia article about the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 is (HERE).

- Oscar Schisgall, who was either Belgian or Russian by birth, generated tons of multi-
genre material (over 4,000 stories according to his obit) for the pulps and the slicks
(HERE), including some SFFnal fiction; see (HERE) and (HERE) for that.
- Schisgall got positive notices with stories featuring his "international criminologist,"
Barron Ixell: "In disguise, immensely rich, hugely clever, the Baron [sic, sp.] is a pre-
cursor of Superheroes like Doc Savage, though his adventures are relatively tame":

~ Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker. By Oscar Schisgall. Longmans, Green, 1929. $2.00.
 "Four mystery novelettes, designed to feature the extraordinary detection powers of Ixell, an American sleuth at work abroad on sensational Continental crimes, make up the present volume. The plot of each story is an infinitely complicated, not to say, original piece of invention, the scenes of action, successively, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and Geneva. It is in the last named city that Ixell solves a crime problem which, if not his supreme triumph, seems fully typical of the man's ratiocinative genius. While the League of Nations is in session, a Russian delegate is abducted and held for a large ransom, but Ixell quickly discloses that the missing personage has hidden himself away and aims to collect for his own use the sum demanded for his release. The book seems to be something of a novelty in this over-populous field."
  — "The New Books," The Saturday Review, September 14, 1929

~ Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker by Oscar Schisgall (Longmans, Green. $2.00).
  "WE REVISE our opinion of Scotland Yard, for the exploits of Barron Ixell, international criminologist, contain no end of intrigue and adventure. In Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Geneva the American crime-breaker pits his cunning against four gangs of criminals and successfully puts them to

rout. A very well-written piece of detective fiction."
  — "Notes on New Books: Detective and Mystery," The Bookman, September 1929 (scroll down to second page)

~ Oscar Schisgall's Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker, Longmans.
  "We thought Barron Ixell was one of these titled furrin sleuths until we noticed the second r. Then we found that he was an American criminologist, who, called in on four difficult cases by the baffled police of Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Geneva, wanders in faultless evening dress through the salons of the haut monde in the aforesaid capitals, and nails the criminals almost without disarranging his white tie. These are written-to-formula stories, but there are several new criminal methods in them which we haven't before encountered."
  — "Picked at Random," W. R. Brooks, The Outlook, August 28, 1929

- Here, from FictionMags, is a listing of the Barron Ixell adventures ("nv" = novelette):
  (1) "The Circle of Terror," (nv), Clues, July 1927
  (2) "The Devil’s Pigeons," (nv), Clues, February #1, 1928
  (3) "The King of Crime," (nv), Clues, April #1, 1928
  (4) "The Avenging Horde," (nv), Clues, September #1, 1928
  (5) "The Red Revolver," (nv), Clues,  April #2, 1929
  (6) "Chinaman’s Chance," (nv), Clues, October #2, 1929
  (7) "Murder in a Coffin," (nv), Clues, June #1, 1930
  (8) "They Die Laughing," (nv), Clues, November #2, 1930
  (9) "One by One They Perish," (nv), Clues, October 1931
  (10) "Shoot to Kill!," (nv), Clues, January 1932
  (11) "Horror in the Night," (nv), Clues, May 1932
  (12) "The Crime of the Century," (nv), Clues-All Star Detective Stories, October 1932
  (13) "Signals Mean Death," (nv), Clues-All Star Detective Stories, January 1933

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"Looks Like a Planted Clue"

"Murderer's Clock."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Liberty, January 19, 1935.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE).

"There was a low choking gurgling groan as the old man rose out of his chair, spun on buckling legs, and fell on his back, with the knife handle standing like a little cross from his chest where the blood was welling with a crimson stain."
It goes without saying that murderers defy the law, but in order to catch this killer a clever cop will himself have to defy the law—of gravity . . .

- We last made contact with Ray Cummings (HERE).