Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"There Was an Arrow Sticking Out of His Chest"

"Murder Spends the Week-End."
By Donald Bayne Hobart (1898-1970).
First appearance: Triple Detective, Fall 1950.
Reprinted in Popular Detective, September 1952 and 

Triple Detective Novels #2 (U.K.) (FictionMags data).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

     "Uncle Hank liked jokes, but the corpse wasn't a bit funny!"

They shot an arrow into the air
And it fell to earth precisely where
  they aimed it.
But still they have a reason for regret
Because, you see, it
Came to rest inside the wrong @#$%&@ target.

~ Thomas Marshall:

  An insurance salesman.

~ "Mugs" Kelly (narrator):
  "'The name is Kelly,' I said. 'I’m six feet four, weight two hundred and ten, and the last fellow who made cracks about my looks is still recovering.'"
~ Dexter Blake:
  "As I told you in the taxi, I’m an old friend of Mrs. Clayville. She invited me for the weekend. I’ve never met her husband."

~ Fred Steele:
  "If you should ask me, which of course, you won’t, Kelly, you are a fool to go to the Clayvilles’."

~ John Porter:
  "The taxi driver apparently knew everything about everyone. 'Uncle Hank is just a boy at heart, and every time he pulls one of those practical jokes of his he nearly kills somebody.'"

~ Martin Clayville:
  "'Good Lord!' Clayville said. 'Uncle Hank has killed that friend of Nancy’s. He’s murdered Dexter Blake!'"

~ Uncle Hank Dawson:
  "You know that if anything should happen to me Nancy will inherit all my money. How you would enjoy hearing of my execution, Martin!"

~ Nancy Clayville:
  "She gasped as she saw the dead man, but she didn’t scream."

- Donald Bayne Hobart, FictionMags tells us, was "born in Baltimore, Maryland; died in New York City." Hobart could be described as one of those reliable, all-purpose pulpsters who churned out stories in many genres; in our author's case he specialized in Westerns and crime fiction, with a few romances tossed in. Hobart hit his stride in the mid-'20s and consistently produced copy for the next three decades, his last credit being "Rainy Night" in the January 1965 Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Hobart had several series characters weaving in and out of the pulps in the '20s, '30s, '40s, and '50s: Whistling Waddy (1928, 1933, 1935, 1947), Hal Denning (1930), and Wayne Morgan (The Masked Rider), a character he shared with a lot of other publishing house scribes (19 stories of his own, 1938-42, 1944, 1945, 1951). In addition to those, he had "Mugs" Kelly, the hardboiled dick in today's story, in 23 adventures (the first one, "Suicides Are Saps," is HERE) spread throughout Black Book Detective, Triple Detective, G-Man Detective, Popular Detective, 2 Detective Novels, Triple Detective, Detective Novel Magazine, Thrilling Detective, Exciting Detective, and Thrilling Mystery (1938-48, 1950, and 1952) (FictionMags data).
- If you want to read more by Hobart, Pulpgen has nine of his stories (HERE; scroll down).

Monday, November 12, 2018

"It Raises an Interesting Question: Is It Possible To Change the Future?"

"Cronus of the D.F.C."
(a.k.a. "D.F.C.").
By Lloyd Biggle, Jr. (1923-2002).
Illustration by Paul Orban.
First appearance: Worlds of IF, February 1957.
Reprinted as "D.F.C." (HERE).
Short story (14 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Maybe I didn't make myself clear. We saw the holdups on that screen but we couldn't prevent a single one."

You would think that being able to view yet-to-happen events would be a huge advantage to law enforcement, making "crime prevention" a literal reality. Nonetheless, when a young detective falls in love with a woman he's convinced is going to die soon, every time he makes a move it becomes more and more obvious that he won't be able to do anything about it . . .

Major characters:
~ Detective Jim Forsdon (narrator):

  "He lunged at me like a pile driver, and forced me back towards the open window. I got my gun out, and he just casually knocked it out of my hand."

~ Captain Marks (unofficially, "the Old Man"):
  "You looked at him and wondered how he'd ever gotten on the force in the first place, until you saw his eyes. I'd never felt comfortable in his presence."

~ Dr. Howard F. Walker:
  ". . . we can't get that kind of support by predicting a few piddling holdups. But a murder, now—that would make someone sit up and take notice."

~ Stella Emerson:
  "Then I dispensed with the handshaking. She clung to me, and it might have been her first kiss. In fact, it was."

~ Mike Gregory:
  "He's not a criminal—but he is a potential criminal, and he doesn't know that."

- Philip K. Dick's novelette with a very similar theme of preventing crime before it happens ("The Minority Report," Fantastic Universe, January 1956; movie, 2002; TV series, 2015), was published a year earlier than "Cronus of the D.F.C." If you've already read Dick's story or have seen the movie/series, then you may (or may not) benefit from the Wikipedia articles (HERE; SPOILERS), (HERE; SPOILERS), and (HERE; SPOILERS).

- For decades starting in 1956, Lloyd Biggle was a steady source of entertaining SFF and mystery fiction, but he had other interests and talents as well; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFWA (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

- Biggle wrote science fiction mysteries featuring Jan Darzek, whom the SFE characterizes as . . .

   ". . . a late-twentieth-century private eye who becomes involved in adven-tures made possible by matter transmission, from investigating aliens sabo-taging Earth's matter transmitters to chairing the Council of Supreme, which itself governs the home galaxy; by the third volume he is pitted against the inimical Udef, a Dark Force destroying civilization after civilization in the Smaller Magellanic Cloud."

The Jan Darzek books:
  (1) All the Colors of Darkness (1963)
  (2) Watchers of the Dark (1966)
  (3) This Darkening Universe (1975)
  (4) Silence Is Deadly (Worlds of IF, October 1957; expanded and revised in 1977)
  (5) The Whirligig of Time (1979).
- Biggle also wrote straight mysteries starring several of his own creations and one you've almost certainly heard of:
A. Grandfather Rastin:

   (1) "The Face Is Familiar" (a.k.a. "The Greatest Robbery on Earth"), AHMM, August 1957
   (2) "A Case of Heredity," EQMM, June 1959
   (3) "Grandfather and the Gentle Swindler," EQMM, February 1960
   (4) "Grandfather Predicts a Murder" (a.k.a. "The Lesser Thing"), EQMM, August 1960
   (5) "Grandfather and the Great Horseshoe Mystery" (a.k.a. "The Great Horseshoe Mystery"), EQMM, April 1962
   (6) "Have You a Fortune in Your Attic?" (a.k.a. "The Fabulous Fiddle"), EQMM, May 1963
   (7) "The Great Alma Mater Mystery" (a.k.a. "The Unmurdered Professor"), EQMM, November 1964
   (8) "Grandfather and the Labor Day Mystery" (a.k.a. "The Pair of Knaves"), EQMM, October 1965
   (9) "Grandfather and the Phantom Thief" (a.k.a. "The Phantom Thief"), EQMM, May 1968
   (10) "Grandfather and the Automation Mystery" (a.k.a. "The Automation Mystery"), EQMM, August 1969
   (11) "Grandfather and the Right Question" (a.k.a. "The Unasked Question"), EQMM, October 1971
   (12) "Grandfather and the Little Bone" (a.k.a. "The Mother Goose Murder"), EQMM, January 1972
   (13) "The Knave of Hearts" (a.k.a. "A Matter of Friendship"), EQMM, November 1998 (FictionMags data).

   These were collected by Crippen & Landru as:
   ~ The Grandfather Rastin Mysteries (2007)

B. The Fletcher and Lambert books:
   (1) Interface for Murder (1987)
   (2) A Hazard of Losers (1991)
   (3) Where Dead Soldiers Walk (1994)
   (4) Murder Jambalaya (2012).
C. Sherlock Holmes novels:
   (1) The Quallsford Inheritance (1986)
   (2) The Glendower Conspiracy: A Memoir of Sherlock Holmes: From the Papers of Edward Porter Jones, His Late Assistant (1990).
D. A non-series book completed by Kenneth Lloyd Biggle:
   Murder Applied For: A Classic Crime Mystery (2013)
E. Stories featuring Lady Sara Varnley:
   (1) "The Case of the Headless Witness," AHMM, November 1999
   (2) "The Case of the London Safari," AHMM, June 2001
   (3) "The Case of the Wolf with Two Tales," AHMM, April 2002
   (4) "The Case of the Fractured Puzzle," AHMM, September 2002
   (5) "The Case of the Sickley Mansion," AHMM, July/August 2003
   (6) "The Case of the Chinese Santa Claus," AHMM, January/February 2004
   (7) The Case of the Unrepentant Ghost," AHMM, September 2006 (FictionMags data).

The bottom line:
   The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
   Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
   Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
   Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
   — Omar Khayyam (via Edward Fitzgerald)


Friday, November 9, 2018

"Only a Fool Like You Would Try To Save a Memory by Wiping It from Your Mind"

"The Memory Ward."
By Wendy Nikel (?-?).
Illustration by JACEY.
First appearance: Nature/Futures, 9 June 2016.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE).

     "That’s the difference between us. You put stuff in there to remember it; I put stuff in there to forget it."

Liza would readily understand what the poet meant when she wrote about how "last year’s bitter loving must remain heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide. And so stand stricken, so remembering him." For Liza, however, "remembering him" will always carry with it a bitter memory of death . . . unless—"The glimmer of a Cube caught her eye. She gripped the knife, the answer now crystal clear . . ."

- Wendy Nikel has a respectable story listing to her credit; see the ISFDb (HERE) and FictionMags (HERE).
- Editing memories, which seems to be just around the corner in neuroscience research, doesn't have to be a threat; see the Scientific American article (HERE). Of course, if you can control people's memories (see "Memory" in Wikipedia HERE) you're basically controlling them, and that can be dangerous; see Wikipedia's articles on "Mind control in popular culture" (HERE), "Drug-induced amnesia" (HERE), and "Mindwipe" (HERE). Who knows? Maybe neuralyzers already exist (HERE).


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

"Plucky Girl Reporters"

"Polly, Nancy, and Torchy Crack the Case: Those Relentless Women Reporters."
By J. Madison Davis.
First appearance: World Literature Today, January 1, 2018.
Essay (3 pages).
Online at The Free Library (HERE).

     "The device of using women reporters as detectives appeared early in the rise of the mystery . . ."

If you broadly define the term "reporter" (anyone who describes events), then "reporters" have been in modern detective fiction from the genre's start:

   "Almost from the beginnings of the modern mystery, fictional reporters have been used to provide a character whose occupation can put him or her in proximity to crime, offering a motivation and compulsion to dig up the hidden facts and the pretense to knock on doors and butt into other people's busi-ness. In a sense, Watson and the unnamed narrator of Poe's mystery stories function like reporters with exclusive access to Holmes and Dupin."

But it wasn't until decades later that female "reporters" (narrowly defined as individuals working for news organizations) invaded mystery fiction in a big way:

   "Baroness Orczy, most known today for having written The Scarlet Pim-pernel, began a series of mystery stories in 1901 featuring an unnamed armchair detective who irascibly deduces the solutions to difficult crimes in a London tea shop. In the first story, he sits uninvited at the table of Mary 'Polly' Burton, is described as 'a personality' and a 'member of that illustrious and world-famed organization known as the British Press,' and explains a crime that has—you guessed it—baffled the police. In the stories that follow, Polly returns to hear the solutions to more baffling crimes and serves as his 'Watson' in her newspaper."

One character from 1928 underwent a sex change twelve years later:

   "Immediately one thinks how easy it was to add some romantic spice to Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928 play The Front Page by casting the male character of Hildy Johnson with Rosalind Russell in the 1940 adaptation, His Girl Friday."

But Hildy wasn't the only one who switched gender; there was this blonde ball of fire who became a 1930s Tinseltown favorite, at least for a time:

   "Torchy Blane was a creation of Hollywood but was hugely popular before World War II. [S/he was invented by] Frederick Nebel (1903-67), a friend of Dashiell Hammett and a very productive pulp writer . . . He created a detective, Captain Steve MacBride, with a drunkard newspaper friend, Kennedy. Warner Brothers, which had evolved into the studio of edgy crime stories, bought the rights, and, as Hollywood does, made one small change, turning Kennedy into the best reporter in the city, a sexy, wisecracking blonde in love with Mac-Bride, Torchy Blane. Nebel didn't care, as long as he didn't have to write for the movies. He took the money and had nothing to do with the movie series that followed."

The celluloid female reporter seems to have dropped out of sight since the '40s, but she's still very much alive in written fiction:

   "After the war, the wisecracking, plucky girl reporter might have begun to seem quaint, but the character proved as persistent as she was in the stories. There is certainly no loss of women reporters solving mysteries, right up to the present. Detecting Women 2 (1996), a directory of female detectives created by women authors, lists thirty-four newspaper reporter series and four 'one-offs,' mostly of the 1980s and 1990s, not counting the radio, television, mag-azine, and photographic journalists. Nothing has changed in the last twenty years except the addition of a few blogging detectives. The character type has gone international, and the examples are legion."

- Our author covers a lot of ground in his brief article; here are some links related to female detective-reporters:

  ~ Nellie Bly (who started it all): (HERE).
  ~ Baroness Orczy: (HERE) and (HERE).
  ~ Hildy Johnson: (HERE).
  ~ Nancy Drew: (HERE) and (HERE).
  ~ Lois Lane: (HERE).
  ~ Torchy Blane: (HERE) and (HERE).
  ~ Kate Henry: (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
  ~ Lindsay Gordon: (HERE) and (HERE).
  ~ Annika Bengtzon: (HERE).
  ~ Jimm Juree: (HERE) and (HERE).
- Many film lovers, including our author, seem to regard the movie Private Detective (1939) with Jane Wyman and Dick Foran as a Torchy Blane entry, even though Wyman's character is named Myrna "Jinx" Winslow. Timing in at 55 minutes, the film not only zips along but it's also that rarest of Hollywood products, an actual whodunit. Watch the movie before you go (HERE) and (HERE), where there be SPOILERS. The original film trailer is at TCM (HERE; 52 seconds).

Monday, November 5, 2018

"Have We Polluted the Cosmos, or After All Enriched It?"

"When the Music Ends."
By Philip Ball (born 1962).
Illustration by JACEY.
First appearance: Nature/Futures, 20 November 2014.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE; PDF).

     "It was when I got to Bach that I began fully to understand how perilous this stuff was."

The key to a social revolution doesn't have to be hard lead bullets; it can be as brittle as vinyl . . .

- Philip Ball's writing credits are overwhelmingly of the science fact variety; see Wikipedia (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE) for confirmation. He has published another SFF story, "A Leap of Faith" (2000; online HERE; PDF), under the "Theo von Hohenheim" alias (FictionMags).

- The condition of amusia is real and has been the subject of much study; see Wikipedia (HERE). Equally real was Henry Purcell, a child of the 17th century and composer of Baroque music; Wikipedia has ample data about him (HERE and HERE) and the composition mentioned in our story (HERE).
- For those of you too young to remember, when the author writes, "I think of Bach sent floating in golden grooves a century ago towards other stars," he's referring to (THIS).


Friday, November 2, 2018

"He Was Kicked to Death"

"Calendar Girl."
By Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75).
First appearance: Collier's, September 20, 1952.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (EQMM), July 1953; EQMM (U.K.), July 1953; and EQMM (Australia), September 1953.
Short short story (6 pages, 3 illos).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

     "Ken Wyman's death was no loss to anyone—except the company which had insured his life. In fact, Dr. Coffee discovered, there were a lot of people who considered it a blessing."

The principal reason that Coffee comes to be involved in the case of Wyman's demise at all is on this wise:

    "If Kenneth Wyman had been gathered to his fathers twenty-four hours sooner, he would have been quietly buried with few flowers, fewer tears and no suspicion that he had been murdered. The coroner had signed him out as a case of heart failure. Even the insurance company which had written a fifty-thousand-dollar policy on his life was not fussy about how Wyman had died; it was when that mattered.
   "Kenneth Wyman had neglected to pay his last insurance premium. . . . How-ever, the claims adjuster for the Northbank agency of the insurance company was a fair-minded man, and he consulted Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee, chief pathologist for Pasteur Hospital, who occasionally did an autopsy for the company. Was it possible, the claims adjuster wanted to know, to determine scientifically whether death had occurred before midnight?"

And so the good doctor's inquiry starts out innocently enough, but it isn't long before he comes up against an oddly passive—but beautiful—grass widow, a love-stricken photog-rapher, an overly-modest business partner, a calendar girl with very dainty feet, an elusive airline ticket, and a very revealing spectrograph.

~ Kenneth Wyman:

  He went out for cigars and never came back.
~ The claims adjuster:
  Fifty grand ain't hay, even to an insurance company.
~ Helen Wyman:
  "Gray rain veiled the cemetery, blurring the outlines of tombstones and the dark silhouettes of gaunt cypresses. Dr. Coffee studied the faces of the mourners huddled at the graveside. Helen Wyman still appeared more winsome than wet-eyed. She stood between granite-faced Joe Prentiss and pink-cheeked Ray Bowes. She was looking neither at the pastor nor at the grave. Whatever she was staring at seemed to upset her more than the funeral service. Her face was tense; her mouth was set in a tight, hostile line."

~ Ray Bowes:
  "'Oh, Ray's been carrying the torch for Helen for years, ever since they were in school together. He gets sore when you kid him about it. Purely platonic, he says.' Prentiss raised his handkerchief to hide a smirk."

~ Max Ritter:
  "The lieutenant is an honor graduate of the cherchez-la-femme school."

~ Dr. Mookerji:
  "Regretfully report only retrograde progress. Foreign substances present in scalp wound in such minute quantities that cannot devise analytical technique without exhausting suspected material."

~ Joseph Prentiss:
  "'No, Ken didn't put much cash into the business. But as for taking it out—' Prentiss cough-

ed into a green plaid handkerchief."
~ Gladys Channing:
  "My hard luck. I wouldn't go for Joe Prentiss if he was the last millionaire on earth, tax free."

~ Dr. Coffee:
  ". . . stopped abruptly. He heard footsteps on the walk—and a faint click as Ritter moved the safety catch of his gun."

Typo: "autops"

- Drs. Coffee and Mookerji's field, of course, is pathology (HERE), with an unofficial sideline of forensic pathology (HERE), but neither of them is technically the coroner (HERE).

- Lawrence Goldtree Blochman didn't invent the medical detective (see, for example, HERE), but he certainly brought it up to 20th century standards; see (HERE) and (HERE) about previous Dr. Coffee adventures. Blochman also gave us the all-too-brief career of Marshall T. Custer: "The Girl with the Burgundy Lips" (HERE) and "The Man with the Blue Ears" (EQMM, November 1954), as well as non-series fare (HERE) and (HERE). Other continuing characters were Detective Sergeant Pete Portrero in The Saint Detective/Mystery Magazine (1958, 1959, 1963); Mike Farraday in Thrilling Detective (1935, 1936); Terrence O'Reilly in Argosy (1936, 1937, 1941); Inspector Leonidas Prike in Argosy (1933, 1936, 1937, 1941); and, making only one appearance that we know of, Dr. Frank Belling in The American Magazine (1941; EQMM reprint in 1950) (FictionMags data).


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"The Best of All Possible Worlds"

"Reversal of Misfortune."
By J. W. Armstrong (?-?).
First appearance: Nature/Futures, 4 December 2014.
Illustration by JACEY.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE; PDF).

     "As I waited, an hour before my execution, my unfocused mind ranged freely . . ."

Maybe, sometimes, it is better not to know . . .

- The ISFDb informs us that so far our author, J. W. Armstrong, has three SFFnal stories to his credit.

- Previous encounters with the multiverse (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) are Ray Woods's story "Schrödinger’s Gun" (HERE) and Sam Merwin's "Third Alternative" 
(HERE); you'll find plenty of links in those places if you want to explore it further.