Thursday, January 29, 2015

"The Writing Is Better Than Hemingway, Since It Conceals not Softness but Hardness"

"Ex-Detective Hammett."
By Elizabeth Sanderson.
Appeared in The Bookman (January 1932), pages 516-518.
Online HERE.
A brief interview with a hard-boiled detective writer at the apex of his career. A few excerpts:
. . . If hardness consists of writing about criminals as though they were human, of looking on detectives with an unbiased eye and setting them down as less than paragons of shrewdness and integrity, of admitting corruption, human frailty and occasional pleasant qualities in both his man-hunters and their quarry, Dashiell Hammett's hardness is the main reason for his success.  . . .
. . . He is, in addition, a master of terse, abrupt prose, and he can tell more in one sentence of it than many an earlier mystery novel writer managed to convey in a chapter.  . . .
. . . A detective is not actually a romantic figure, and few thieves or murderers are ever pure "criminal types." So Dashiell Hammett left the Philo Vances to Mr. Van Dine and wrote of what he had seen as a hard-working man among men of very little culture or nobility.  . . .
. . . With all his experience to draw on, and in spite of the remarkable success that has come to him from his detective stories, Mr. Hammett does not want to go on writing them.  . . .
. . . He considers The Dain Curse a silly story, The Maltese Falcon "too manufactured," and The Glass Key not so bad—that the clews were nicely placed there, although nobody seemed to see them.  . . .
Resources:
- The GAD Wiki entry for Hammett is HERE.
- The Thrilling Detective website has a Hammett page HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

"High-Brow Horror"

"On Intellectual Thrillers."
Short article.
Appeared in The Bookman (March 1933), pages 253-254.
Online HERE.
If mere murder isn't stimulating enough for you, this anonymous writer has his own prescription: the intellectual shocker, which, he insists, is "none too easy to find." (It's obvious, by the way, that he holds a very low opinion of detective fiction.)
. . . The requirements for the pure type of intellectual thriller are hard to meet: there should be a good, tight plot, an author for a taste for the occult and the supernatural, a conclusion which refuses to beg any questions.  . . .
He believes those
. . . maddening stories which turn out to have a prosaic explanation for mysterious occurrences [should] go into the deepest limbo.
and he dismisses
. . . mere Gothic tales which get nowhere . . . Stories of the supernatural alone will not serve the purpose we have in mind . . .
He points to Englishman Charles Williams as
 . . . the modern master of high-brow horror . . .
Charles Williams
but
. . . for those who are new to the taste, there is an American writer who turns out very good ones: A. Merritt [who] is well worth looking up when the Hemingways, the Faulkners, the Dos Passos and the Dreisers begin to pall.
A. Merritt
He complains, though, that
. . . the cerebral shocker is seldom written by an American; perhaps that is the reason why it is lumped indiscriminately with the detective stories for review, or overlooked entirely.
Among the books and authors our critic mentions:

~ Rider Haggard: She (online HERE).
~ Bulwer-Lytton: Zanoni (online HERE), Phra the Phoenician.
~ Charles Williams: The Place of the Lion, War in Heaven, The Greater Trumps, Many Dimensions, Shadows of Ecstasy.
~ A. Merritt: The Moon Pool (online HERE), Burn, Witch, Burn! (online HERE).
~ Guy Endore: The Man from Limbo, The Werewolf of Paris.


Category: Horror and supernatural fiction

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Robophobia!

DOCTOR WHO.
TV series: 1963-89, 695 episodes.
"The Robots of Death" (1977) (script HERE).
IMDb data (with SPOILERS): Part 1, Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.
"I have an uncomfortable feeling that if the murderer doesn't kill us, the commander will. That is assuming they're not one and the same person."
A science fiction series has a go at combining a couple of Agatha Christie plots (can you tell which ones?) and succeeds. By the third part you'll know whodunit but you won't have a clue about how the Doctor intends to cure the problem:
The TARDIS materializes aboard a sandminer, a mining ship on a desert planet run by a robot labor force headed by a fairly small but sniping human crew. As one crewman is discovered strangled to death, the Doctor and Leela arrive just in time to become the prime suspects. — Written by statmanjeff on IMDb
Other memorable quotes:

"Yes, I suppose it's also a coincidence that, as soon as you two arrive, three of our people are killed. Well?"
"Oh, sorry, I thought it was a rhetorical qu... Yes, it's just a coincidence."

"You're a stowaway. What could be more suspicious than a stowaway?"
"A dead stowaway."

"He was murdered!"
"How do you know?"
"Because people don't strangle themselves."

"I don’t suppose there are any weapons aboard this mine."
"They aren’t necessary."
"They are now.

"Have you never heard of the double bluff?"

"There are three types of robots aboard this mine: Dumbs, Vocs, a Super-Voc, and then there's you. Would you care to explain that?"

"Please do not throw hands at me."
Resource:
- The most detailed description of "The Robots of Death" (a complete SPOILER, of course) is on the amazing DOCTOR WHO REFERENCE GUIDE HERE.

Category: Science fiction mysteries

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Serial Murders

THE "CANARY" MURDER CASE.
By S. S. Van Dine [Willard Huntington Wright, 1888-1939].
Scribner's.
1927. 343 pages.
Filmed in 1929 (IMDb).

THE GREENE MURDER CASE.
By S. S. Van Dine [Willard Huntington Wright, 1888-1939].
Scribner's.
1928. 388 pages.
Filmed in 1929 (IMDb).

Both of these novels were serialized in Scribner's magazine before seeing hardcover publication. To save you a few bucks, we're linking to those serial installments below. You can thank us later.
THE "CANARY" MURDER CASE:
Part 1 HERE.
Part 2 HERE.
Part 3 HERE.
Part 4 HERE.
THE GREENE MURDER CASE:
Part 1 HERE.
Part 2 HERE.
Part 3 HERE.
Part 4 HERE.

Resource:
- We last encountered Van Dine about a year ago HERE.

Category: Detective fiction (pure variety)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Murder on the Final Frontier

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.
TV series: 1987-94, 178 episodes.
"A Matter of Perspective" (1990), "Aquiel" (1993), and "Suspicions" (1993).
"I was beginning to find out that investigating a murder was a little more perilous than I'd thought."
For some strange reason, regardless of the medium (print, film, etc.), science fiction (SF) and the detective story have never seemed to mesh well (or have never been made to mesh well). Why this is so would probably make a fine subject for a doctoral dissertation, but we just don't have the time. Suffice it to say that these ST:TNG episodes really did try to put the two genres together with, at best, mixed results; they did, however, successfully adhere to one of Theodore Sturgeon's obiter dicta, that (paraphrasing here) you don't write a Western with ray guns and try to pass it off as SF. The solutions to the mysteries in all three shows depend entirely on their own internally consistent fantasy elements, regardless of how nonsensical and far-fetched those elements might be.

"A Matter of Perspective" (script HERE):
"Investigator, in our system of jurisprudence a man is innocent until proved guilty."
"In ours, he is guilty until he is proved innocent — and you are under our jurisdiction."
Commander Will Ryker is charged with murder after returning from a space station that exploded just as he was being beamed aboard the Enterprise. Before Captain Picard turns him over to the appropriate authorities, however, he wants to examine all of the evidence. Using the holodeck, they recreate events from the perspective of those involved. As far as Ryker is concerned he acted properly throughout and did nothing wrong. When the dead man's wife testifies, however, she insists that Ryker made improper advances towards her leading Ryker to kill her husband. It's up to Data and the others to find the solution to what really happened. - Written by garykmcd on IMDb
In the 24th century they have a forensic scientist's wet dream, the holodeck, a device that can reproduce past events in amazing detail; even so, a computer is only as smart as its programming. This episode puts one in mind of Rashomon (IMDb).
"Aquiel" (script HERE):
"You know me better than anyone here. Do I seem like the kind of person who would murder someone?"
Murderous intrigue abounds for the Enterprise when one of the crew aboard a subspace station is believed dead, and suspected to have taken part in it until the Klingons show up with the young lieutenant, to Geordi's taste. — IMDb
Call this one an unofficial remake of Laura (IMDb), right down to the picture on the wall (er, monitor).
"Suspicions" (script HERE):
"I couldn't help but admire his tenacity. He just wasn't going to accept defeat, and I hoped he would prove himself. But that was the last time I saw him alive."
Dr. Crusher puts her career on the line to prove a scientist's theoretical new shielding technology which may have cost him his life. — IMDb
This one has enough technobabble to satisfy any sci-fi fan, and Beverly Crusher makes a pretty good detective. Plot development-wise, it's reminiscent of The Third Man (IMDb).
Resources:
- MEMORY ALPHA, the ultimate Star Trek resource, has DETAILED descriptions of these episodes, but beware of SPOILERS: "A Matter of Perspective" is HERE; "Aquiel" is HERE; and "Suspicions" is HERE.
- Our last visit with the Enterprise crew was HERE.

Category: Science fiction mysteries

Sunday, January 18, 2015

True Crime Roundup V

According to these articles, in the '20s Prohibition was being vigorously, if nonsensically, enforced, drug addiction was on the rise, criminals weren't being prosecuted vigorously enough, and there was concern that young boys were rotting their brains with pulp fiction.

~ "Rum at Sea" (1923) [3 pages]:
. . . There seems to be a very general feeling among the papers, irrespective of their attitude toward Prohibition, that it would not be becoming for the Government to profit from the sale of liquor on the ships it actually owns, while forbidding such sale on foreign-owned ships in American waters.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (May 12, 1923)
~ "Our Million Drug Addicts" (1923) [2 pages]:
. . . To stop illicit distribution suddenly, with more than 50 per cent. of the physicians of the country still adhering to the 'vice' theory of opiate addiction, would only add to the suffering of thousands of innocent addicts who are forced by our laws to depend upon smugglers and peddlers for their narcotic supply. — THE LITERARY DIGEST (August 25, 1923)
~ " 'America First' - In Crime" (1923) [1 page]:
A 'SPORTING PUBLIC' which showers on the criminal, if he escapes, the sympathy usually extended to athletic and movie heroes, is largely to blame for the crime record of this country. This, at any rate, is the impression left in the minds of many American editors who are commenting on the vigorous indictment of our national lawlessness to be found in a recent report . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (September 15, 1923)
~ "What the Boys Are Reading" (1923) [1 page]:
. . . Dime novels began as rather good historical novels; at their worst they were no more than exciting stories written sometimes, but not always, in careless English. They were never immoral; on the contrary they reeked of morality.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (September 15, 1923)
Resources:
- Our last True Crime Roundup was HERE; you can find True Crime Roundups I HERE, II HERE, and III HERE.

Category: True crime

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Aye, There's the Ruby

"Here is your imitation stone," I cried, tossing the case on to the table. "Hand over the real one, or I shall shoot you like a dog."
"The Ruby of Khitmandu: A Serial Story Told in Alternate Chapters by Arth-r C-n-n D-yle and E. W. H-rn-ng."
By Hugh Kingsmill (1889-1949).
First appearance: The Bookman (April 1932), pages 10-15.
Holmes and Watson versus Raffles and Bunny. The question is: Who wins?
Resources:
- Hugh Kingsmill Lunn was a journalist and inveterate parodist; the Wikipedia article about him is HERE.
- The Guardian has an article about Raffles HERE.

Category: Sherlock Holmes-Raffles parody