Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"He Was a Very Fit and Proper Person to Be Made into an Awful Example, and So They Set the Mill of the Law in Motion"

"The Banknote Forger."
By C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne (1866-1944).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, September 1899.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and Vintage Short Mystery Classics HERE (PDF).
"Of course, it isn't often that he comes into use; but I'll give him credit for working up some cases into a win which would otherwise have turned out an absolute fizzle."
Master Willie Cope inherited quite a fortune in his youth and began squandering it almost immediately; even now, a little older but no wiser, he's still disposing of it at an amazing rate (his "domestic motto" being, according to his defence counsel, Grayson, QC, "Whilst we live, don't let's have any doubt about it").

Such a situation can go on only so long before the debt bubble bursts; in Willie Cope's case, the joyride has terminated not simply in incipient impoverishment but also in scandal and the threat of imprisonment:
". . . It was when, in his own particular line, Cope [relates Grayson] had created himself the biggest celebrity in the country, that his earthquake arrived. He was accused of systematically uttering forged Bank of England thousand-pound notes. It seemed that he had negotiated at least fifty-four of them, and there might be others which had not yet come in.  . . .  this is a crime which, in the British decalogue, comes very little short of brutal murder . . ."
Grayson and Barnes, Master Cope's counsellors, both agree that their client isn't smart enough to pull off these forgeries:
". . . it's too big an order for Cope. His inventive faculties are stimulated just now; he's got as good and solid a scare in him as a man can well carry amongst his ribs without tumbling down; but even that hasn't screwed him to the necessary pitch. He no more knows how those notes got into his pocket than Elk, your clerk, does."
But, while he may not know everything, Elk does know his onions, so to speak, with his personal hobby, an interest in photography, leading him to the very person who has been forging the bills, an individual with "small and nicely shaped" hands who makes one—just one—critical error with them.

- C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne isn't as well known for his SF/Fantasy and crime fiction as he is for his mainstream novels: Wikipedia HERE, the GAD Wiki HERE, the SFE HERE, and the ISFDb HERE.
- Photography is essential to our story; a short history of the technique is on Wikipedia HERE, while Victorian Web has a timeline of 19th century photography HERE.
- Master Cope would have been prosecuted under the Forgery Act of 1870, which, if you're of a mind to, you can read HERE.
- Hyne's short story about an indefatigable ship's purser named Mr. Horrocks, "The Looting of the Specie Room" (1900), was adapted for the second season of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1973); go HERE and behold the IMDb title error.

The bottom line:
   Hast thou betrai'd my credulous innocence
   With visor'd falshood and base forgery?
   — Milton

Friday, May 20, 2016

Death in the Mirror

"Crash Beam."
By John Barrett (?-?).
First appearance: Planet Stories, Fall 1947.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE.
"Dan Kearns, sick and shaking, could already hear them talk: 'Yeah, come in on the Kearns beam—it's a new way to die!'"
We've heard of cutthroat competition, but this is ridiculous:
The doctor shook his head. "Some sort of convulsion. Muscles violently con-tracted. Funny he didn't fall to the floor. Must have affected the whole nervous system. Even the eye pupils are down to pin points." He looked around at Rawlins. "I may be sticking my neck out, sir, but off hand I'd say Stevens was killed."
"Killed?" Rawlins blinked at the form in the chair. "But that's impossible. The door was locked. The room hasn't been disturbed and there aren't any holes in the glass. Nothing could get in here except light."
- A current safety concern (see HERE) just happens to relate to our story.
- We tried, honest we did, but we couldn't find any biographical information about our author.

The bottom line: "The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it."
Dudley Moore

Two Impossibilities from William Brittain

Editor Mike Ashley characterized William (Bill) Brittain, while he was alive, as . . .

   ". . . one of those authors who has consistently produced clever crime stories for the magazines for the last forty years and yet has had none collected in book form. That in itself is a mystery. He has written a long-running series featuring Leonard Strang, also a high-school teacher, who unravels unusual problems and whose adventures are long overdue for book publication." — Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes (2000)

. . . a statement that is still true today.

Mike Grost elaborates:

   "Brittain's best stories generate considerable intellectual excitement as the sleuth reveals their solution. It is very interesting to any true mystery fan to see a whole hidden pattern come to light out of a surface story. The fact that the solutions are often rich in detail adds to their excitement.

   "Brittain's best stories are true mysteries, with puzzle plots and solutions. He and his technique are much weaker on suspense plots, or tales that reveal most of the facts about the crook and his schemes early in the tale. Such tales are strictly among the minor works in his output.

   "William Brittain is clearly an intuitionist writer. His techniques are those of the intuitionist school: ingenious mysteries solved by pure thinking, often by an amateur, genius detective. Brittain's works are full of references to earlier detective writers, and these are typically of the intuitionist tradition: Doyle, Christie, Carr, Queen, Rex Stout. Several of Brittain's best works can be seen as armchair detective stories, where the sleuth solves the problem immediately after the facts are presented to him, without any further on scene investigation or sleuthing. This too is in the intuitionist tradition. Brittain often shows little interest in investigative technique, moving right from the puzzle to the solution. The fact that his works are compact short stories probably encouraged this approach. But it most deeply reflects his intuitionist emphasis on pure thinking." — Michael Grost, "William Brittain," A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

The first story below might not have Mr. Strang, but it is a very clever impossible crime tale with a most unusual amateur detective; whereas the second story highlights our perspica-cious pedagogue's ingenuity at its best.

"The Impossible Footprint."
By William Brittain (1930-2011).
First appearance: AHMM, November 1974.
Short story (17 pages).
Online HERE.
"An’ that’s the way it wuz, ez they say on the tellyvision."
In this murder mystery, the game is not afoot; the game is a foot.

Main characters:
~ Matt Kehoe, a cop on holiday:
   "I understood [says Joshua Red Wing] ye wuz one o’ them detective chaps like oi’ve read about in the penny-dreadful magazines. Oi thought ye’d be used to a bit uv hardship, what with runnin’ down alleys an’ climbin’ fire escapes like I see on the tellyvision. It’s a sad disappointment to discover yer as soft as the rest uv the hunters from the city. Next oi’ll be findin’ out ye can’t shoot worth a damn, neither."
~ Joshua Red Wing, a woodsman's guide who, says Matt, sounds "like an Irish Geronimo":
   "Joshua turned to Kehoe, a look of intense interest on his face. 'Do that, Mr. Kehoe,' he said. 'Talk to me about how the police ignore clues that’s right in front of their noses'."
~ Tip Spearing, the victim's son:
   "Tip Spearing was in his mid-twenties, at the peak of his manhood, but judging from the ghastly expression on his face, he had looked into the deepest pit of hell itself."
~ Sheriff Vernon Lefner, the local law:
   "'Murder!' Lefner’s face turned a beet-red. 'Josh, I’ve heard enough already. Nothing’s been said at all about Karl Spearing’s being murdered."

. . . but he was.
~ ~ ~

"Mr. Strang Accepts a Challenge."
By William Brittain (1930-2011).
First appearance: EQMM, November 1976.
Novelette (21 pages).
Online HERE.
"'Last July twenty-first,' he began, 'over in the Bay Ridge section of Aldershot, Simon Winkler died. The cause of death was a blow on the head – a fantastically powerful blow, since not only was the skull shattered, but two of the cervical vertebrae were crushed.
"'Now Simon’s aunts, Agnes and Lucille Winkler, were within a few feet of him when he died. Furthermore, they both had every reason to want him dead. And yet it’s impossible that either of them struck him down. The police even investigated the possibility that the whole thing was an accident. But that was just as impossible. You see, we not only can’t find out how the blow was landed, but also, whatever object struck Simon Winkler seems to have disappeared.'
"The students leaned forward like bloodhounds on the scent. 'I don’t have to worry about withholding information,' the detective went on, 'because there’s nothing to withhold. By the time we’re through here today, you’ll know as much about the case as I do, and I was the man in charge of it. But the police are really stumped by this one'."
When he's challenged by his students to use the applied logic he's been teaching them in figuring out how Simon Winkler was murdered even though there's no proof that he was, Mr. Strang reluctantly agrees to try. For him, determining whodunit is a no-brainer, but how-they-dunit could be a lot tougher, as he must match up the murder weapon with the abilities—or, you could say, the disabilities—of the killer.

Principal characters:
~ Mr. Leonard Strang, Aldershot High School science teacher:
   "The method of murder was not only heartless, as all murders are, it was also devilishly clever . . ."
~ Jerome Lockley:
   "We want you to figure out how Simon Winkler was wasted."
~ Detective Sergeant Paul Roberts, shanghaied into helping "because he hadn’t been alert enough to think of a plausible excuse when Mr. Strang had called him yesterday evening to ask him to come to the classroom and discuss the Winkler case":
   "So there you have it. The death of Simon Winkler. Was it a perfect crime? Was it an accident? We just don’t know. Frankly, this case seems immune to any logical approach. But I’d be very happy if Mr. Strang could shed any light on it. I don’t like cases that remain in the Open File. And neither does the lieutenant."
~ Father Raymond Penn, "the perfect, incorruptible, unimpeachable witness":
   "The thing holding open the storm door was the body of Simon Winkler. He was lying on the front stoop with blood gushing from his head. There were some gardening implements on the stoop – a bushel basket and some other things – and the blood had stained them all red, even in the rain. I was numb. Didn’t know what to think or do. Finally I felt for a pulse. There was none. Winkler was dead."
~ Agnes and Lucille Winkler, the victim's aunts:
   ". . . at the time Simon Winkler came to call on his aunts, he was in the process of trying to take their house away from them by some kind of sharp legal ploy. The two old women hated his guts. They made no bones during the entire investigation about how much they despised their nephew. So Simon Winkler’s visit to his aunts was hardly a social call."
- Both Wikipedia HERE and the ISFDb HERE have some things to say about William (Bill) Brittain.

The bottom line: "I defy gravity."
Marilyn Monroe

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"I Had the Destiny of the System Riding in the Holds Behind Me, and Nobody Really Knew or Cared That I'd Break My Heart to Keep It Safe"

"Blood on My Jets."
By Algis Budrys (Algirdas Jonas Budrys, 1931-2008).
First appearance: Rocket Stories, July 1953.
Collected in Blood on My Jets and Others (for sale HERE; reviewed HERE WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS in both places).
Short novel (44 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Parental caution: Violence and very strong language.)
"They were the hired gun-rabble of the System, engaged in the dirtiest, most thankless racket in all the worlds. But Ash Holcomb was doing all right, until the girl walked out of his past with high stakes in her pockets and murder in her eyes!"
It's reasonable to expect that, unless there's a radical change in human behavior, on the High Frontier of the distant future we'll have tough guys tangling with low life criminal types, the classic tarnished knights cleaning up the mean streets (with guns, not brooms), even if those streets happen to be on another planet.

In the aftermath of interplanetary war there's a scramble for power, with some bent on being top dog in defiance of the duly constituted central authorities; in such a situation, war veterans, the people with highly refined combat skills, choose up sides—and when they do, old friends can suddenly turn into bitter enemies.

Ash Holcomb is no angel, having been forced to kill many times as a soldier in war and now as a gun for hire in what passes for peace; he's forced to walk a tightrope of suspicion when he's assigned the task of delivering a power source to a research bubble on Titan. Like his fictional noir predecessors, Ash becomes enmeshed in a tangle of doubt about just whom he should trust, and if he makes the wrong choice he probably won't live long enough to regret it—indeed, there are two old acquaintances who, given the chance, would gladly make sure of that.
Major characters:
~ Ash Holcomb, the narrator:
   "I was a D.O.—a Detached Operative. It was a crummy job, but it suited me.  . . .  There were a lot of us boys out in space, most of us just drifting from one port to the next, picking up a living by our wits, and by our skill with a gun, some of us. Earth government had quietly picked out the ones they considered trustworthy, sworn us in, and turned us loose with a few standing orders and a lot of dependence on our discretion."
~ Ming:
   "Ming puckered his mouth and winked. I used to try and figure out how he did it, standing behind his bar all day, never going out, never talking much except to a few people like me. But I knew for sure that he could have told me exactly how much I'd made on that Venus job—and the gimmick I'd pulled to get it past Customs, too."
~ Pat McKay:
   "I watched her eyes acquiring dangerous highlights. The temper that went with that hair was beginning to stir."
~ Mort Weidmann:
   "Mort's attitude hurt. He didn't have any respect for me—he couldn't have, for a man who'd resigned his commission and become a planet-hopper. He stood at the window in his office, his phony arm tucked into a pocket, his moustache moving up and down as he talked to me. 'I don't know why they picked you, Ash,' he said."
~ Lou Foster:
   "I found him, curled around a rock, his head and arm supported on a rifle that was leaned against a stone."
~ Harry Thorsten:
   "His voice started in the pit of his stomach, and worked its way up. When he chuckled, the sound was almost operatic, deeper than I remembered it.
   "'Why shouldn't I kill you, Holcomb?' he said."
Eye-catching passages:

   "I sat on a bar stool and watched the fog trying to infiltrate the open door. It didn't have a chance against the tobacco smoke that rolled out to meet it. Outside, the streets and alleys would be choked with wet, creeping darkness, full of quiet footsteps, and the cops would find empty-pocketed corpses behind the ashcans in the morning."

   "A gun clattered on cement. I poked my head cautiously around the corner. Silence blanketed Rocket Row, and then was tempered by a scuffing noise. Up the street, a leather belt was being pressed against the side of a building by the weight of a body that was sliding slowly downwards. I spotted a glowing dot that was a tunic smoldering around a Colt burn."

   ". . . so help me, you wave one of those things at me again, and I'll ram it down your throat catty-cornered!"

   "It sounds silly, but the way she held herself reminded me of a thing I'd seen once; a rocket transiting the sun, fire sparkling from the shimmering hull, and the Milky Way behind it. I finally caught what I was trying to phrase; she looked as if she was poised for flight."

   "The ship arced over, singing her death-song in snapping stanchions and straining plates, in the angry howl of the converters, in the drumfire of jets that coughed and choked as fuel poured into them, but which opened their throats and bellowed just the same."

   "All of a sudden, it had hit me. I'd been asking a lot of questions lately, and getting only partial answers. Now I had all the answers, and I hated every one of them.  . . .  I stood there—Ash Holcomb, the toughest man in space, maybe. Not the smartest—no, not the smartest. The dumbest, the stupidest chump who'd ever fallen for the oldest gag in history."

Typo: "the Asteriod"
- With very little effort you'll find info about Algis Budrys on Wikipedia HERE, an author interview at the SF Site HERE, the SFE HERE, the ISFDb HERE, and a small collection of his stories on Project Gutenberg HERE.
- Titan, Saturn's largest moon, figures into our story; you can read about Titan in fiction (HERE) and in fact (HERE).

The bottom line: "She was bad. She was dangerous. I wouldn't trust her any farther than I could throw her. But ... she was my kind of woman."
Rod Reilly

Monday, May 16, 2016

April's Top 5

For T. S. Eliot, April might have been the cruelest month but for us here at ONTOS it wasn't half bad (and the same goes for the past two years):

April 2016
(1) An Odd Assortment from '28 - HERE
(2) A MacDonald Duo - HERE
(3) "You Might Say This Is the Story of a Murder — Although Nobody Was Killed" - HERE
(4) "It Was a New Strategy in Criminal Warfare, Killing People with Laughter" - HERE
(5) WHODUNIT Comics - HERE

April 2014
(1) "The Author Outdoes Himself in the Number of People Upon Whom He Brings Suspicion" - HERE
(2) "It Shows Just How Bad a Detective Story Can Be" - HERE
(3) True Crime Roundup - HERE
(4) Samuel Lyle, A Very Obscure Criminologist Indeed - HERE
(5) "He Is Concerned Mainly to Give His Readers the Indispensable Thrill" - HERE

April 2015
(1) A Short Note About Victorian Detective Fiction - HERE
(2) Levram Niatpac! - HERE
(3) A Noir Film (or Maybe It Isn't) That Isn't Noir (or Maybe It Is) - HERE
(4) "I Do Not Dismiss Logic Because I Have Faith" - HERE
(5) SCRIBNER'S Reviews I - HERE

Sunday, May 15, 2016

"It Appears To Be An Impossible Crime, but There Are No Impossible Crimes, Only Misunderstood Crimes"

"The Stolen Saint Simon."
By Michael Kurland (born 1938).
First appearance: The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes (2000).
Reprinted in Images, Conceits & Lollygags (2003).
Novelette (24 pages).
Online HERE.
"It's this old picture. It's disappeared. The way they tell it, there's no way it could have gone, and there isn't anyone who could have taken it, but it's gone any-way."
A painting worth $1.2 million and with a pedigree up to here goes missing from an LA apartment under impossible circumstances, irritating the insurers enough to hire the services of Continental Investigations & Security, who quickly drop the case squarely in PI Stanley Baum's lap.

Before he can complete his investigation of the missing masterpiece, however, Baum is confronted with another crime, a murder in a locked room just across the street from the first one. Are the two cases somehow related? Initially they don't seem to be, but some smudges on a glass pane, a little dab of putty on a window sill, some plaster dust, a coil of rope on top of a garage, a misplaced rung on a curtain rod, and some undue hostility on the part of a suspect all, in our detective's mind, add up to one crime.

Main characters:
At Continental Investigations & Security's Los Angeles branch:
~ Abe Wohlstein (a.k.a. Junior):
   ". . . older than sin and not at all presentable, but he knows everything there is to know and he runs the place."
~ Stanley Baum, our narrator:
   "There was a copy of the original insurance application; an international form with all the questions asked in three languages above neat rectangular boxes just too small to write in the answers. The questions had been answered in English, I noticed, in a small, round hand written with a fine point fountain pen. We detectives notice details like that."
At Fid Mut:
~ Jamieson:
   "A short, narrow, prissy-looking man with a thin black moustache above thin lips, he looked as though he was prepared to disapprove of me at the slightest provocation. But maybe that's just the way he looked."
At large:
~ Graf Maximilian Czeppski:
   "A tall man with rounded corners wearing a brown suit, a white, button-down shirt with vertical green stripes, and a forest-green tie as wide as his smile, he shook my hand with a hardy, vice-like grip. I managed to pull the hand free before any of the larger bones were broken, and returned his smile."
~ Grafin Sylvia Czeppski:
   "She seemed distinctly annoyed at having to speak to me. I couldn't tell whether it was because I was a detective or because the lapels on my jacket were too narrow."
~ Paula Czeppski:
   "The daughter, sitting on the couch at the short end of the L, was the woman I had been dreaming about at least once a week since I was seventeen. I won't tell you what sort of dreams they were, but I imagine you can guess."
~ Gibson:
   "'Don't say anything else until I read you your rights. This time we’ve got you cold!' His name was Gibson, and we'd worked together on a few cases here and there in the past."
~ Feodore, Maria, Estafia, and Dr. Gadolfus.
Arresting passages:

   "'The way they tell it, it's simply impossible.' He smirked. 'But we know there's nothing impossible, don't we?'
   "I told Jamieson that I'd take his word for it, that epistemology wasn't my field, and sug-gested that he get on with the story. He looked at me with a hurt expression, as though he had just been bitten by a pet guppy."

   "'You offering a reward?' I asked. A polite way of asking whether Fiduciary Mutual was willing to buy the painting back from the thieves. They always were unless they thought it was an inside job. Most insurance companies have the ethical standards of rattlesnakes without the rattles. They should be required by law to tie rattles on as a warning when dealing with claimants."

   "'The police and I have different goals.'
   "'Yes,' Grafin Sylvia said. 'The police are trying to catch the miscreant who took our picture. You are trying to find a way to avoid paying us one million and two hundred thousand dollars'."

   "'I think what we got here is the invisible man. You know – like the Shadow. The guy possesses the power to walk out of rooms without nobody seeing him.'
   "I raised one eyebrow, a gesture I've been trying to perfect since high school. 'Life is a glorious cycle of song!' I said. 'Two impossible crimes on the same day'."

Typo: "Fid Must"
- Unlike so many authors who have appeared in these webpages, Michael Kurland is still happily very much with us, turning out fine Sherlock Holmes/Professor Moriarty and Lord Darcy pastiches, with more than a few nifty impossible crimes tossed into the mix: Wikipedia HERE, the SFE HERE, the ISFDb HERE, and his own webpage HERE.

The bottom line: "'I have committed another crime, Hadley,' he said. 'I have guessed the truth again'."
Gideon Fell

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"This Bandit Robs with the Law Behind Him"

"Prospectors of Space."
By Malcolm Jameson (1891-1945).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, September 1940.
Collected in The Giant Atom (2013).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"'Join Spaceways and See the Universe' Was the Slogan for All Pilots—But Not if You Wanted a Place in the Sun!"
First come the pioneers, the explorers who take all the chances; afterwards, usually sooner than later, comes bureaucracy to stifle free enterprise, at which point even the entire Solar System isn't big enough.

Neil Allen and his dad, freelance asteroid prospectors and miners on the Klondike, are feeling the dead hand of corporate state monopoly clamping down on their shoulders, pushing them away from what is theirs by right and, indirectly, costing the old man his life:

   "Allen closed his eyes. Neil waited, but the old man had dropped off to sleep. He never woke up . . ."

Unlike his father, though, young Neil refuses to give in to the pressure:

   "After his father's funeral on Earth, Neil Allen wasted no time in the personnel offices of the big companies. There was only one that he knew much about. But the thought of that one filled his heart with bitter rage, a hatred he focused on Horvick, its managing director and principal stockholder. His love of independence, inherited from his father, made him scorn employees as mere robots manipulated by schemers. Instead, he planned . . ."

Along with his planning Neil will do some smart lateral thinking, including a clever applica-tion of the jū yoku gō o seisu principle, letting his enemies bring themselves down.

Major characters:
~ Old man Allen, Neil's father:
   "Let's face facts, Neil! Space prospecting is a thing of the past. As a freelance, I was able to follow my hunches and not have to wrangle with a bunch of Earth-bound directors. You won't be able to freelance. You've learned an obsolete occupation. In my day, there was the whole Solar System to work in . . ."
~ Horvick, General Superintendent of Space Mines:
   "You have your notice, Allen. Call your men and get out."
~ Neil Allen, captain of the Klondike:
   "I appeal to you in the name of the Law. This man has no right to put me off my ship into the void."
~ Sam Bowen, captain of the Golconda:
   ". . . Horvick won't take it lying down. Our dads were pretty foxy, and he cleaned 'em every time. I'm with you a hundred per cent, but he's got me plenty worried."

Typo: "transcient vessels"
- Malcolm Jameson's great-granddaughter, Wendy McClure, has a site dedicated to him HERE.
- There's more about our author HERE (Wikipedia), HERE (the SFE), and HERE (the ISFDb).
- Jameson evolved his own analog of Horatio Hornblower in a popular sequence of stories; Fletcher Pratt briefly reviewed a posthumous collection of them:
"Bullard of the Space Patrol," by the late Malcolm Jameson, which is quite frankly a series of connected shorts and quite as frankly directed at the upper level of adolescent readers. Jameson, a Naval officer himself, has simply and ingeniously altered the problems and customs of the U. S. Navy to what might be encountered in a space navy, taking his Bullard from cadet up to high admiral. The result is really good reading for the age group intended. — Fletcher Pratt, "Fiction Flights in Space & Time," The Saturday Review, February 23, 1952 (HERE).
The Bullard stories:
   1. "Admiral's Inspection" (1940)
   2. "White Mutiny" (1940)
   3. "Blockade Runner" (1941)
   4. "Slacker's Paradise" (1941)
   5. "Devil's Powder" (1941)
   6. "Bullard Reflects" (1941)
   7. "Brimstone Bill" (1942)
   8. "The Bureaucrat" (1944)
   9. "Orders" (1945)
   Collection: Bullard of the Space Patrol (1951) (for sale HERE).
- Jameson's science in this story is a little sketchy, especially regarding the Draconids meteor shower; go HERE for facts about the Draconids.

The bottom line: "Wealth stays with us a little moment, if at all: only our characters are steadfast, not our gold."