Monday, July 15, 2019

"The Most Beguiling Mystery of Our Time"

MURDER IS NORMALLY a grubby affair, and who's responsible is often immediately and glaringly apparent; so when a murder occurs in a locked room under impossible circum-stances with no obvious explanation, an aura of mystery automatically attaches itself to 
the case. So it was with the real-life murder of a Polish immigrant ninety years ago, its impossibilities being mysterious enough to prompt today's fiction author to write . . .

"The Bird House."
By William March (1893-1954).
First appearance: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 1954.

Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (U.K.), 
February 1954; EQMM (Australia), April 1954; and 
Ellery Queen’s Anthologies #19 (1970) and #57 (1987).
Short story (13 pages, including introduction).
Online at (HERE).

     "When the homicide experts saw all this, they looked at one another in astonishment, and shook their heads."

Even the Park Avenue crowd have their own ideas about locked room murders; some are ingenious and some are . . . well . . .

Major characters:
~ Emmanuel Vogel:

  "He moved his lips three times, as if trying to speak, then shuddered and slumped somehow from within. His eyes opened and fixed themselves on the ceiling in the patient, impersonal stare of death . . ."
~ John Littleton:
  ". . . I think I know how it was done."
~ Walter Nation:
  ". . . he [the victim] had been shot from a distance of several feet, by a revolver held level with his head. It was murder, he said; it couldn't possibly be anything else."
~ Dr. Hilde Flugelmann:
  "Being killed by a pistol was not at all right for him."

~ Phil Cottman:
  "He might have picked up the pistol while he was alone in the room. Did anybody think of that?"
~ Marcella Crosby:
  "I think God happened to be over Harlem on the night of the laundryman's death."

Typo: "couldn't discoverer the murderer".

- William Edward March Campbell's novel The Bad Seed (1954) was adapted as a play before being filmed several times; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE; SPOILERS).
- To echo Ellery Queen, "we shall bring you the Hecht version soon." Stay tuned.


Friday, July 12, 2019

"Surely There Is a Simpler Explanation Than the Impossible"

"Inside the Box."
By Edward M. Lerner (born 1949).
First appearance: Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2008.

Reprints page (HERE).
Collected in Frontiers of Space, Time, and Thought: Essays and Stories on the Big Questions (2012).

Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "It was where something had happened. Only it couldn't have."

In a quantized universe, murder is so much easier . . .

~ Thaddeus Fitch:
  "Now you claim that my grandson traveled through time to kill me . . ."
~ Mr. McDowell:
  "Professor, the black board has a bullet hole."

- Edward M. Lerner collaborates frequently with fellow hard-SF author Larry Niven; see Wiki-pedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and his own website (HERE). If you're a regular ONTOS habitué, you know that we've already dealt at length with Niven's criminous-SFF mashups (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).
- Few felines, real or fictional, have been as famous as Professor Schrödinger's imaginary cat; see Wikipedia (HERE) for the full story.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

"This Punk Had Murdered Five People in Santa Cruz"

THERE IS NO such thing as a "typical" story by Arthur Porges, as this one shows . . .

"Chain Smoker."
By Arthur Porges (1915-2006).
First appearance: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, August 1965.

Reprinted in AHMM (U.K.), May 1967.
Collected in The Price of a Princess: Hardboiled Crime Fiction (2019).
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; scroll down to PDF page 65, which is magazine page 65).
(Note: Text is faded.)
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)

     "At that point when physical achievement is attained, one ordinarily feels replete, but under extraordinary circumstances, one might pursue an anti-climax for emotional satiation." (Say what?)

When lives are at stake, any weapon will do . . .

Comment: Not a mystery by any means, but this suspenser does have you wondering how the central characters are going to escape their predicament (think Cape Fear without the sleaze, or The Thing from Another World but with the monster from the house next door).

~ Rex Morland:

  "The heavy police revolver was pointing directly at Morland's chest, and for a moment he knew that the boy was ready to pull the trigger."
~ Julie Morland:
  "She caught on quickly; Julie was always bright . . ."
~ Kathy Morland:
  ". . . was only sixteen, and too pretty; right now, Morland wished she were fat and raucous like her chum, Selma."
~ Fred Kessler:
  "When I leave, you'll howl copper; sure. Only you won't, because I'll have one of them with me."

Typo: "an automation worked by wires".

- This past May we highlighted several other stories involving hostage situations (HERE).
- If you're curious about butane, see the Wikipedia article (HERE); some foolish people have even managed to kill themselves with it without an open flame (HERE).

- Info about Arthur Porges is freely available on Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE; only fantasy and SFF works), a dedicated webpage (HERE), and the fine bibliography at ISFDb (HERE; fantasy and SFF works only).
- We're no stranger to the versatile Arthur Porges's work, which could be SFF, crime/mystery/ miracle problems, or "horror" fiction; the ones we've featured so far: "A Small Favor" paired with "No Killer Has Wings" (HERE) (Note: the link to the latter is nonfunctional unless you 
can read Russian), and "Revenge" with "One Bad Habit" (HERE) (Dead link note: The Locked Room Mystery site seems to have closed up shop).

The bottom line:

Monday, July 8, 2019

"The Machine Disintegrated Under Me, Blasted into Virtual Nothingness"

"The Adventure of the Global Traveler or: The Global Consequences of How the Reichenbach Falls into the 
Wells of Iniquitie."
By Anne Lear.
Illustrations by Freff (born 1954; HERE).
First appearance: Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (IASFM), September-October 1978.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE; 2 illos) and Google (HERE; no illos).

     ". . . I found it necessary in the spring of 1891 to abandon a thriving business in London."

Well, of course! It had to be him . . .

- FictionMags credits Anne Lear with only two stories, this one and the novelette "Mermaid's Knell," IASFM, May 1979.

- According to Wikipedia (HERE):

  "The Third Murderer is a character in William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth (1606). He appears in one scene (3.3; HERE), joining the First and Second Murderers to assassinate Banquo and Fleance, at the orders of Macbeth. The Third Murderer is not present when Macbeth speaks to the First and Second Murderers, and is not expected by his partners. Although the Third Murderer is a small role, the identity of the character has been the subject of scholarly debate, and various productions have equated him with other characters."

- Roundheads and Cavaliers played huge roles in the English Civil War of 1641-52; see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE).
~ ~ ~
. . . but we're not finished with time travel just yet . . .

By F. M. Busby (1921-2005).
First appearance: Vertex, October 1974.
Collected in Getting Home (1987).
Short short short story (1 page; no illos).
Online at (HERE).

     "He was inside a shimmering, transparent bubble . . ."

An unconventional epitaph, but appropriate: "They didn't do their homework."

- Francis Marion Busby, Jr. was a published SFF author from 1957 on; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).


Friday, July 5, 2019

P.S. Gets Mysterious

FictionMags INFORMS US that the short-lived P.S. magazine (three issues) was a "companion magazine to F&SF [Fantasy & Science Fiction] featuring non-fiction by 
many of the same authors." The topic being focused on in most of this issue is crime 
fiction as filtered through the private eye (P.I.) subgenre, written either by or about 
old pros Ron Goulart, holding forth here about the origins and development of the 
private eye; Ed Lacy about his career as a hardboiled P.I. author; James Thurber, 
who fictionally gives us a zoological take on private eyes; and Rex Stout, who work-
ed his own revolution in the field with Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. We've also 
added some offsite links for those of you who, with or without a subscription to the 
National Enquirer, might have enquiring minds.

P.S. Magazine, August 1966.
Periodical (68 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text is waterstained but readable.)
   Related: The Thrilling Detective (HERE).



   "The same things that bothered the heroes of Hemingway, Dos Passos and Fitzgerald began to unsettle the private detectives. And the Twenties' preoccupation with the 
American language, the dissatisfaction with Victorian rhetoric and polite exposition 
began to hit detective story writers."

(1) "The Private Eye."
By Ron Goulart (born 1933).
Article (6 pages).
Starts (HERE) and finishes (HERE).

"Our problems and preoccupations," writes Goulart, "have grown from the alleys and the mean streets of the 1920s."
   Related: Wikipedia (HERE).

Typo: "effected the detective story".
~ ~ ~
   "You'd be astonished at the creative drive and skill needed to turn out formula stories."

(2) "I Dunit."
By Ed Lacy (Leonard S. Zinberg, 1911-68).
Article (7 pages).
Online (HERE).

Writing as a career can be precarious, writes Lacy: "Money has always been an 'iffy' deal, as compared to the wage earner who can expect, with reasonable certainty, his Friday check. I approach my mail box each day as if entering a gambling casino." His mid-'60s assessment of the state of his art: "The mystery novel is presently at such a low tide that some publishers flatly refuse even to read a suspense manuscript today, except for spy yarns or Gothic tales.
. . . for the run of the mill writer, like myself, it's tough going."
   Related: Wikipedia (HERE) - The GAD Wiki (HERE) - The Thrilling Detective (HERE).

~ ~ ~
   "Once a gumpaw, always a gumpaw."

(3) "The White Rabbit Caper."
By James Thurber (1894-1961).
First appearance: The New Yorker, November 19, 1949.

Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, February 1953; EQMM (Australia), April 1953; EQMM (U.K.), October 1953; Compact: The Young People’s Digest, July 1954; Ellery Queen’s Anthology #6 (1964); and P.S., August 1966.
Collected in Thurber Country (1953).
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online (HERE).

"As the boys who turn out the mystery programs on the air might write a story for children."
   Related: Wikipedia (HERE) - (HERE).

~ ~ ~
   "I don't know a helluva lot about what's going to happen."

(4) "An Interview with Rex Stout" (1886-1975).
By Anonymous.
Interview (6 pages).
Online (HERE).
(Parental caution: Profanity.)

   ". . . the last dozen books that I've seen which deal with literature in the English language in the last century almost never even mention the book that I would rather have written than any other one book in our language in the last century . . ."
   Related: Wikipedia (HERE) - The GAD Wiki (HERE) - The Thrilling Detective (HERE).
~ ~ ~
(5) Detective Quiz (HERE).

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"You Must Be One Lousy Shot"

ABOUT SIX YEARS before today's story appeared, Ray Bradbury published "A Sound of Thunder" (online HERE), originally in Collier's, a time travel tale which seems to have been continuously in print ever since; the underlying premise of "Thunder" even gave rise to a pseudoscientific notion (but not the phrase itself) called "the butterfly effect," which, despite its unconfirmability, has gained some cultural traction (HERE). We're just speculating, but it looks as if Alfred Bester, ever the contrarian, decided to thumb his nose at Bradbury's idea 
and write his own version. If you know what solipsism is, you're already ahead of the curve.

"The Men Who Murdered Mohammed."
By Alfred Bester (1913-87).
First appearance: Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1958.

Reprinted many, many, many times (HERE).
Short story (12 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text is faded.)
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)

     ". . . I'd better warn you that this is not a conventional time story."

Judging from what happens in our tale, a time machine just might be the one means that a murderer should never try to use . . .

~ Henry Hassel:

  ". . . professor of Applied Compulsion at Unknown University in the year 1980."

~ Jessup:
  "I'm not married yet."
~ Marie Curie:
  "He taught her."
~ Sam:
  "What are you trying to do, Henry?"
~ Library:
  "You must have missed."
~ George Washington:
  "You talk funny, stranger. Where are you from?"
~ Fermi:
  "Police! Police! Spy!"
~ Wiley Murphy:
  ". . . ignored Hassel, as did Mrs. Hassel."
~ Israel Lennox:
  "We've committed chronicide."

Typos: "honsom cab"; "rememered his promise"; "strands of sphagetti".
- Plenty of info about Alfred Bester is available on Wikipedia (HERE), Galen Strickland's The Templeton Gate (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); Wikipedia also has a SPOILERIFIC short article about our story (HERE), unless you skip the synopsis.
- The reference to a person "who might have passed for the third Smith Brother" undoubtedly applies to (THIS):

- More time travel lowjinks can be found in Robert Sheckley's "A Thief in Time" (HERE).

Monday, July 1, 2019

"But There Was Nobody There"

TODAY WE'RE FEATURING what is universally regarded as a classic, in the words of Ellery Queen, "the particular kind of 'miracle' problem which is perhaps the most fascinating gambit in detective fiction. All that and a 'locked room'"; it's also the first short work in which Sir Henry Merrivale (H.M. to all and sundry) appeared, after years of starring in Carter Dickson's novels. It seems that whenever "The House in Goblin Wood" gets mentioned anywhere, it's always with approval; Queen, writing over seventy years ago, said: "It is safe 
to predict that 'The House in Goblin Wood' will become one of the anthological favorites of 
all time." 
   As a bonus not to be missed, after the story EQ has added several pages of commentary [SPOILERS!] about "Goblin Wood" that should interest detective fiction aficionados. EQ opines that it is "not only typical John Dickson Carr-Carter Dickson but it is Carr-Dickson at the peak of his prowess [being] almost a complete manual of detective-story theory and practice . . . the perfect story to re-read, re-examine, and re-appraise."

"The House in Goblin Wood."
By Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr, 1906-77).
First appearances: The Strand Magazine, November 1947 and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 1947.

Reprinted in MacKill’s Mystery Magazine, October 1952; 
Ellery Queen’s Anthology #33, Spring-Summer 1977; and 
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, November 1990.
Collected in The Third Bullet and Other Stories (1954).
Short story (19 pages, including commentary).
Online at (HERE).

     "They say it was one of the great mysteries, twenty years ago, that the police failed to solve."

In his time H.M. has lost more than a few things: his balance on a banana peel just recently and his temper on countless occasions; but this could be the first time he's ever lost an attractive young woman with a reputation for being "an elfin sprite" inside—believe it or 
not—a locked and closely-watched cottage . . .

THE PLACE: London and Goblin Wood.
THE TIME: "that hot July afternoon three years before the war . . ."

~ Vicky Adams:
  "A little girl of twelve or thirteen, the child of very wealthy parents, disappeared one night out of a country cottage with all the doors and windows locked on the inside. A week later, while everybody was havin’ screaming hysterics, the child reappeared again: through the locks and bolts, tucked up in her bed as usual. And to this day nobody’s ever known what really happened."
~ Eve Drayton:

  "I kn-know it’s all a trick! I know Vicky’s a faker! But let’s get out of here. For God’s 
sake let’s get out of here!"
~ Bill Sage:
  "Look at the lock and bolt on the back door!"
~ Chief Inspector Masters:
  "Did you say . . . murder?"
~ Sir Henry Merrivale:
  "All that had to be done was remove the body from the house, and get it far away from 

there . . ."
- To judge from Dickson/Carr's FictionMags list, when it came to writing fiction, he saved most of his energy and clever ideas for novels.
- Our last contact with the works of John Dickson Carr featured his involvement with "The Adventure of the Sealed Room" (HERE), a Sherlock Holmes pastiche from the '50s.

The bottom line:
   ". . . detective-story writers are still held too lightly, especially by critics who have never tried to write one. But master craftsmen like John Dickson Carr, with the help of so many other unwept, unhonored, and unsung heroes of the genre, will ultimately raise the detective story to its just and proper position in literature, win for it the respect and honest admiration so long denied to one of the most difficult literary forms ever invented by the mind of man. . ."
   — Ellery Queen