Friday, September 21, 2018

"Dead Men Don't Start Walking Without a Reason"

"The Mental Gangster."
By Thornton Ayre (John Russell Fearn, 1908-60).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, August 1942.
Reprinted in Fantastic Adventures Quarterly (Reissue), Spring 1943.
Short story (14 pages, 1 illo).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and Archive.org (HERE).

(Note: The illo doesn't have any relation to the story.)
     "Murder took place on this ship in space over a treasure—a perfect crime. But then the dead man came to life to confront his killer!"

When you're stuck in a four-point sink hole, even conversations with the Great Beyond don't seem as unlikely as they used to . . .

Comment: A Jimmy Cagney prison break flick, complete with 1930s tough guy slang, translated to the far future—and yet another British writer struggling with American 
criminal patois.
Typos: "cold gray eyes scowled at the electric clock "; "The scrambled and struggled"; 
"that Blackie well know".

Characters:
~ Blackie Melrose and his "associates":
  "'Get this!' Blackie snapped suddenly, swinging round. 'This dame means nothing to us, see? Nothing! Just a free passenger. Because she's a woman doesn't mean any of you 
mugs can get funny ideas. One pass at her and I'll plaster you all over the wall. Okay?'"
~ Dorothy Wilson:
  "Looking at you I was thinking there might be something to the recessive unit theory, after all. However, I'm not scared of any of you—least of all Dead Pan over at the controls there. I'm a girl who's been around, see. . . . And now, if you gallants have no objection, I'll find me a bunk."

~ Conroy:
  ". . . stopped speaking, his knees gave way and he thudded to the floor."


Resources:
- John Francis Russell Fearn, dead though he be, seems to being enjoying a revival (so to speak), to judge from how the Interweb is practically bulging with information about him: FictionMags (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), DarkFantasy (HERE), and the 
ISFDb (HERE).
- We've featured some other stories by Fearn; see the collection (HERE).
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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"My Plot Was Working Out Along New and Radical Lines"

(Post-Hurricane Florence Edition)

"Not As Plotted."
By Guy Archette (Chester S. Geier, 1921-1990/91).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, March 1947.
Short story (11 pages, 1 illo).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and Archive.org (HERE).

(Note: The story's headnote is incorrect, naming the wrong character.)
     "I was air. I was less than air. I was nothingness itself."

Authors are known to be merciless with their characters, subjecting them to terrible trials and tribulations without an eyeblink; what if, however, an author should take pity on one of them and try to save his life—only to discover that no matter what he does, it looks like he's help-
less to change things . . .

Characters:
~ Dave Naylor:

  "I've already sent your yarn to the printer—it's probably set in type by now."
~ Ted:
  "Mouth open, eyes bulging, I stood there—floppy carpet slippers, threadbare smoking jacket, and all. And not one of the people passing by showed the slightest sign of interest. They didn't even so much as glance my way. It was for all the world as though I were invisible."
~ Steve Hillis:

  "In love with rich and beautiful Irene Sprague, he was too poor to marry her. The girl's father, Nathan Sprague, had offered Hillis an important position in his steel business—
provided, however, that Hillis bought up a large share of stock. The obstacle was the necessity of Hillis buying his way in. He didn't have the money."
~ Irene Sprague:
  "There was a weary resignation about her, an utter lack of hope, that made my blood boil."
~ Nick Bardon:
  "Irene Sprague will have to be nice to me, because if she isn't, I can make a lot of trouble 
for her."
~ Pug Webber:
  ". . .  reached into his pocket for the gun. He pulled it out, raised it high."
~ Nathan Sprague:
  "What's this? What's going on?"


Typos: "Bardon responded sauvely"; "but I never thought he [would missing] stoop to thievery."
Resources:
- FictionMags indicates that "Guy Archette" also sometimes wrote under his own name.
- As usual, see the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE) for more about Geier's SFFnal career; "Not As Plotted" appears to be the first story to which he attached the "Guy Archette" byline.
- The idea of characters fiddling with their own story has been utilized by other writers in print and film; the Star Trek franchise, for example, used it a few times, most particularly in "The Big Goodbye" (1988), "The Royale" (1989), and the paired episodes "Elementary, Dear Data" (1988) and "Ship in a Bottle" (1993) (HERE).

The bottom line: "The best part of the fiction in many novels is the notice that the characters are imaginary."
   ― Franklin P. Adams
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Monday, September 17, 2018

"It Was Simply Unthinkable That He Should Make a Slip Anywhere"

(Hurricane Florence Edition)

"Without Finger-Prints."
By Charles Lee Bryson (1868-1949).
First appearance: Munsey's Magazine, June 1927.
Short short story (5 pages).

Online at UNZ (HERE).
     "When the president of the Parkville Bank came to grips with trouble, he worked out a clever scheme, but even a clever schemer may be outwitted."

Clever murder schemes, it hardly needs to be said, are guaranteed to unravel—and 
the clever schemers along with them . . .

Comment: You know what's coming; the fun is in how it gets resolved. A nice little howcatchem from the '20s.

Characters:
~ Philander Parks:

  "But now that trouble had assumed a dangerously menacing air, and stared him brutally 
and mockingly in the face instead of sitting passively at his side. Philander was determined to do something. He would play the part of a man. He would meet and fight trouble on its 
own ground, and defeat it."
~ Fred Wemby:
  ". . . was the cashier, but he was a colorless, unimportant plodder. He should not stand in the way of Philander's success."
~ The coroner:
  "Cushman and I must go over everything very carefully and collect all the evidence. Nothing must be handled by any one else."
~ Cushman:
  "That guy's too keen to make it out a suicide!"


- FictionMags about Charles Lee Bryson: "Author. Born in Dade County, Missouri; lived in Glen Ellyn, Illinois." The preponderance of his known short fiction was in the form of crime stories, most of them appearing in Flynn's Detective Fiction Magazine in 1927.
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Friday, September 14, 2018

"It Was About As Ugly a Fix As a Chap Could Be In"

"In the Rockhurst Tunnel: The Ganger's Story."
By Victor L. Whitechurch (1868-1933).
Illustrations by S. H. Vedder.
First appearance: The Harmsworth (London) Magazine, June 1901.
Short short story (6 pages, 4 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Some text slightly faded near illos.)

     ". . . we'll give you a chance of seeing one of the biggest railway accidents known, and of telling your friends about it—if you're lucky enough to escape yourself, which I doubt."

Some men are willing to give their lives for their country, but how many would sacrifice their teeth?

Resources:
- FictionMags has an extensive listing of The Reverend Victor Lorenzo Whitechurch's short fiction.
- A movie with a similar theme of a plan to assassinate a V.I.P. (Very Important Politician) on a train is Suddenly (1954) (HERE).
- Whitechurch's railway stories are his chief claim to fame, but he didn't confine himself to them; see previous ONTOS postings (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"When You Tamper with What Has Passed It Is Wise to Remember That Certain Elements in the Present Also Change"

"24 Terrible Hours."
By John York Cabot (David Wright O'Brien, 1918-44).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, May 1942.
Short story (about 16 pages as an EPUB).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE: HTML) and (HERE: EPUB).

     "Professor Campbell loved his wife, but he was aware that she didn't love him. This led him to a strange act—he gave her the freedom she wanted, via a time machine!"

It's the same old story; people make the mistake of confusing jealousy with love, thinking that somehow justifies anything—even murder . . .

Characters:
~ Calvin Campbell:

  "He himself was neither young nor handsome. He was just a rather old professor in a somewhat obscure college, holding down a young and beautiful wife."
~ Kathleen Campbell:

  "Campbell sighed. He deeply regretted what was to happen. But the situation as it was had finally become unendurable. He couldn't stand it any longer. Loving Kathleen the way he did, 
it was impossible to go on like this."
~ Vickers:
  "Vickers had come to teach at the college over a year ago. He'd started as an instructor. Campbell had been responsible for his rise to a professorship; had made sort of a protege 

of him until he finally realized what was going on."

Resources:
- David Wright O'Brien's SFF is very good, which is why we keep returning to it; see our coverage of a few more of his stories (HERE, in reverse chronological order).
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Monday, September 10, 2018

"The Telegram, the Desire for the Perfect Crime, Killing Him in the Dark—They All Add Up to Thymocentric Subparathyroid"

"The Mental Bloodhound."
By Helmar Lewis (Lewis [or Louis] Helmar Herman, 1905-72).
First appearance: Mammoth Detective, March 1943.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

     "Here is a banquet hall full of criminologists and detectives and a murder is committed and nobody knows who did it."

Embarrassing, isn't it? Even more embarrassing, the victim is killed right in the middle of 
his lecture before that attentive audience of experienced crime solvers. The average stage magician could probably finger the culprit right away, but this case won't be solved until a man who can barely move is able to, as one character tells him, "figure this one out accord-
ing to your glands and what-nots."

Comment: Like a lot of Englishmen, our author's grasp of American slang is shaky, at best.

Characters:
~ Lester Gould:

  "At the beginning of the banquet, Gould read off some telegrams. Some were congratula-
tions and good luck and that sort of thing and some were from fellas who couldn’t come. Then, when he starts to read one of them, he stops and then he laughs."
~ Professor Ogden Wright:
  ". . . was a guy what hadn’t been outa bed for three years . . ."
~ Nurse Grace Chesley:
  "You'd murder but you wouldn't steal."
~ Mrs. Gummins:
  ". . . has a good share of postpituitary, only she’s obviously subthyroid."
~ Hennessey:
  "That American bobby wi’ the red ’air and the green suit."

Resources:
- FictionMags's list for "Helmar Lewis" shows that he had 7 SFF stories placed in Amazing/Fantastic (see the ISFDb HERE) and 4 crime fiction stories published in 
Mammoth Detective in 1943-44; after that, nada.
- Nurse Chesley helpfully provides a thumbnail description of a usual armchair 
detective's modus operandi: "You're never at the scene of the crime. You never 
see the victim or the suspects and yet, you always can figure out who did it." 
Go to Wikipedia (HERE) and Old Time Radio Downloads (HERE) for more.
- Professor Wright believes criminality stems from our glandular activity; in a previous 
story (HERE), the main character believes it's possible to find it in the blood.
- Finally, a variation of the trick used by the killer here turned up in an episode of the 

TV series Death in Paradise seventy-plus years later.
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Monday, September 3, 2018

"They Call L.A. the City of the Angels, but a Private Dick Knows Better"

HERE WE HAVE a story that, according to the author, "is meant to be both an hommage to the works of Raymond Chandler and a criticism of them." Let's see if it is . . .

"The Big Dream."
By John Kessel (born 1950).

First appearance: Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 
April 1984.
Collected in Meeting in Infinity (1992); reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (34 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Parental caution: Strong language and adult situations.)


     "He started up the walk toward the street and a blow like someone dropping a cinder block on the back of his neck knocked him senseless."

Some people are gifted with charisma, effortlessly attracting others to them, garnering followers who are willing to go to ridiculous lengths to please these charmers; that, in itself, isn't necessarily a bad thing (freakish, yes). For PI Mike Davin, however, the charm with which this guy Chandler seems to be endowed is proving unmistakably fatal to the man's friends and associates—and, as a prospect of intense personal interest to our gumshoe, unless Davin can avoid falling under Chandler's spell, he's next . . .

Characters:
~ Michael Davin:
  "The jasmine smelled good, but lying under a bush in a flower bed dimmed your apprecia-tion. Davin rolled over and started to look for the back of his skull. It was not in plain sight."
~ Raymond Chandler:
  "Everyone who loved this man defended him, and he remained oblivious to it all, self-pitying and innocent when he ought to be guilty."

~ Cecily Chandler:
  "'Mr. Davin—I'm paying you for information. Don't leave me in the dark.' The voice that had been so thrillingly sexy two days before was that of a worried old woman."
~ Estelle Lloyd:
  ". . . was kneeling on the bed, shaking. She had a small automatic pointed at him."
~ May Peterson:
  "'He hired me himself. Maybe he didn't think he hired me because I got a nice figure, but I figured out pretty quick that was in the back of his mind.' She smiled. 'Pretty soon it was in front.'"
~ John Abrams:
  "A year later Ballantine drops dead in the office. Chandler helps the coroner and the coroner decides it was a heart attack. Mr. Dabney gives up and makes Chandler the new auditor, and within another year he's office manager and vice-president. Very neat, huh?"

~ Quintanella and Sanderson:
  "You tell me to talk, he tells me to shut up. Every time you guys get a burr in your paws, you make guys like me pull it out for you. Call me Androcles."
~ Big Lou:
  "As I tried to get up I got hit in the ear with a fist that felt like a baseball bat. Just to show there were no hard feelings, Lou kicked me in the ribs."


Typo: "he though about getting"

Resources:
- The Big Three databases have ample info about John Joseph Vincent Kessel: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb's bibliography (HERE).

- If you'd like to compare the Raymond Chandler in our story with the Raymond Chandler in real life, see Wikipedia (HERE):

  "After the armistice [ending World War I], [Chandler] returned to Los Angeles by way of Canada, and soon began a love affair with Pearl Eugenie ('Cissy') Pascal, a married woman 18 years his senior and the stepmother of Gordon Pascal, with whom Chandler had enlisted. Cissy amicably divorced her husband, Julian, in 1920, but Chandler's mother disapproved of the relationship and refused to sanction the marriage. For the next four years Chandler supported both his mother and Cissy. After the death of Florence Chandler on September 26, 1923, he was free to marry Cissy. They were married on February 6, 1924. Having begun in 1922 as a bookkeeper and auditor, Chandler was by 1931 a highly paid vice president of the Dabney Oil Syndicate, but his alcoholism, absenteeism, promiscuity with female employ-
ees, and threatened suicides contributed to his dismissal a year later."
  — "Raymond Chandler," Wikipedia

- We encountered Kessel earlier this year with his "The Miracle of Ivar Avenue" (HERE).

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