Monday, May 20, 2019

"He Fell Off a Cliff"

"Policeman's Lot."
By Henry Slesar (1927-2002).
Illustration by [Leo] Summers (1925-85; HERE).
First appearance: Fantastic, August 1961.

Short story (10 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "As you'll see in my report, Saul Dexter is dead. I'll let the coroner decide why and how he died, but I don't think he'll know any more than I do."

Being a cop is seldom easy—and sometimes mind-blowing; take, for instance, how much more there is to an apparently innocuous indecent exposure case of a statistician employed by a small insurance company in San Diego . . .

- To judge from the story's title, it's obvious that our author was inspired by W. S. Gilbert's little ditty (PoemHunter.com HERE) from the comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance (1879; Wikipedia HERE and HERE):

   When a felon's not engaged in his employment,
   Or maturing his felonious little plans,
   His capacity for innocent enjoyment
   Is just as great as any honest man's.
   Our feelings we with difficulty smother
   When constabulary duty's to be done:
   Ah, take one consideration with another,
   A policeman's lot is not a happy one!


   When the enterprising burglar isn't burgling,
   When the cut-throat isn't occupied in crime,
   He loves to hear the little brook a-gurgling,
   And listen to the merry village chime.
   When the coster's finished jumping on his mother,
   He loves to lie a-basking in the sun:
   Ah, take one consideration with another,
   The policeman's lot is not a happy one!


The bottom line:
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Friday, May 17, 2019

"The More Detective Stories Are Unlike the Sort of Story I'm Living, the Better I'm Pleased"

SINCE THIS IS a detective fiction-related weblog, we were pleasantly surprised when a few years ago we first encountered the mystery fiction of well-known children's author and humorist A. A. Milne; a little research has shown our author's abiding interest in Sherlock Holmes and his own forays into the crime fiction genre. In "Not Guilty" (below), Milne tells us why having a good reputation for honesty could backfire; in "The Watson Touch" and "Dr. Watson Speaks Out" he has some fun with the Holmes-Watson dynamic; in "Introducing Crime" he scores humorous—but accurate—points against the prevalent detective fiction clichés of his time; and while "The Dear, Dead Past" and "Murder at Eleven" are rare examples of his short crime fiction, The Red House Mystery (1922) is even scarcer, his 
only detective fiction novel. [Note: All publishing data below are from FictionMags.]
~ ~ ~
   ". . . I knew that the day was bound to come when I should be arrested and hurried off to prison."

"Not Guilty."
By A. A. Milne (1882-1956).
First appearance: Unknown.
Reprinted in If I May (1920; HERE).

Vignette.
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE and scroll down).
(Note: Might require more than one click.)
~ ~ ~
   "You can understand now how The Red House Mystery came into being."

"Introducing Crime."
(Introduction to a later edition of The Red House Mystery.)
By A. A. Milne (1882-1956).
First appearance: Unknown.
Reprinted in By Way of Introduction (1929).

Short essay (5 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

~ ~ ~
   ". . . for though I am a man of even temperament (save when the weather adversely affects my old wound) I am not one who can sit down under injustice, and in the matter of this book 
I feel that a grave wrong has been done to me."

"Dr. Watson Speaks Out."
(A "review" of Sherlock Holmes: Short Stories.)
By A. A. Milne (1882-1956).
First appearance: Unknown.
Reprinted in By Way of Introduction (1929).

Review (8 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).


Note: The stories referenced—but not necessarily mentioned by name—in the article: "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" (HERE and scroll down), "The Retired Colourman" (HERE and scroll down), "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" (HERE and scroll down), "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" (HERE and scroll down), and "The Decentralized Tomato" (not HERE).
~ ~ ~
   "I am prepared to state, though I do not propose to make a song about it, that every nice man loves a detective story."

"The Watson Touch."
By A. A. Milne (1882-1956).
First appearance: Unknown.
Reprinted in If I May (1920; HERE).

Vignette.
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE and scroll down); also reprinted and featured (HERE).
(Note: Might require more than one click.)

~ ~ ~
   "Sir Vernon knew that Scroope didn't like blackmailers—but would probably understand a youthful wild oat like murder."

"The Dear, Dead Past."
By A. A. Milne (1882-1956).
First appearance: Collier's, July 10, 1948.

Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM), November 1952; EQMM (Australia), March 1954; and EQMM (U.K.), September 1954 as "A Perfectly Ordinary Case of Blackmail."
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE; scroll down to page 62).
(Note: Might require more than one click.)
~ ~ ~
   "A straight detective story by a famous British poet and humorist."

"Murder at Eleven."
By A. A. Milne (1882-1956).
First appearance: A Table Near the Band, and Other Stories (1950).
Reprinted in EQMM, March 1954 and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (AHMM), April 1989.

Short story (11 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

~ ~ ~
   ". . . if any of ‘em should happen to be murdered, you might send for me. I’m just getting into the swing of it."

The Red House Mystery (1922; Wikipedia HERE, no spoilers).
By A. A. Milne (1882-1956).

Novel (109 pages as a PDF).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE); featured (HERE) and (HERE).


* * * * *
Resources:
- You can find out a lot about Alan Alexander Milne on Wikipedia (HERE), the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); during and beyond his lifetime Milne racked up a respectable 97 TV and movie writing credits on the IMDb (HERE). Some of his mystery fiction was adapted for television, including, several times, his original play The Perfect Alibi (1949 HERE; 1956 HERE; and 1960 HERE) and two stories for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater" (1957 HERE; SPOILERS) and "A Man Greatly Beloved" (1957 HERE).
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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Just Because You Work in the Ultroom Don't Get to Thinking Human Life Doesn't Have Any Value"

"The Ultroom Error."
By Jerry Sohl (1913-2002).
Illustration by Gari (HERE).
First appearance: Space Science Fiction, May 1952.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (13 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

     "Smith admitted he had made an error involving a few murders—and a few thousand years. He was entitled to a sense of humor, though, even in the Ultroom!"

Whatever Kanad wants, Kanad gets . . .

Characters:
~ Reggie:

  "I wonder why they want our baby? He's just like any other baby."
~ Nancy:
  "I shot him in the legs. The other—the other turned and I shot him in the chest. I could even see his eyes when he turned around."
~ Joe:
  "I'm going to take the baby for a while."
~ Martin:
  "I can't understand why you believed him. It's just—just plain nuts, Nancy!"
~ The police sergeant:
  ". . . looked at the father, at Nancy and then at the dog. He scribbled notes in his book."
~ Dr. Stuart:
  "Say, by the way, there's that bill you owe me. I think it's $32, isn't that right?"
~ Dr. Tompkins:
  "Dr. Stuart stood by him, making idle comment until Dr. Tompkins came down the stairs with the sleeping baby cuddled against his shoulder."
~ The chief of police:
  "We've had him in jail for a week and we've all taken turns questioning him. He laughs and admits his guilt—in fact, he seems amused by most everything. Sometimes all alone in his cell he'll start laughing for no apparent reason. It gives you the creeps."
~ The state's attorney:
  "Maybe it's a case for an alienist."
~ Arvid 6:
  "I guess I have made mistakes. From now on you be the boss. I'll do whatever you say."
~ Tendal 13:
  "I hope I can count on that."

Resources:
- Gerald Allan Sohl, Sr. was by no means a top-tier SFF author, but he could produce interest-ing stuff now and then; see the entries in Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE). The IMDb (HERE) shows Sohl's rare turns as a TV script doctor and teleplay writer, among them: four Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes (1959-61), three The Twilight Zone eps (1963-64), two The Outer Limits installments (1964), two of The Invaders stories (1967), and three Star Trek episodes (1966-69).
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Monday, May 13, 2019

Three Desperate Situations

IT'S RELATIVELY RARE that people get trapped in hostage situations, but it does happen. Today we have several fictional treatments of this popular theme (book and movie writers seem to love it), all of them featuring hostages who, against all odds, are able to get out of their predicament by unusual means: by having a police record, by noticing small details, 
and by doing exactly what they're told . . . exactly . . .
* * * * * * * * * *
"The Silent Witness."
By H. Frederic Young (1903-?; HERE).
First appearance: Ten Detective Aces, April 1941.

Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

~ ~ ~
"One Shot Trick."
By Benton Braden (?-?; HERE).
First appearance: Thrilling Detective, September 1945.

Reprinted in Thrilling Detective (Canada), September 1945 and Thrilling Detective (U.K.), January 1946.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE) and Archive.org (starting HERE) and (finishing HERE).

Typos: "of his blue eyes hard" [dropped text]; "the bank in went broke" [dropped text].
~ ~ ~
"My Sister Mary."
By Keith Edgar (?-?; HERE).
First appearance: Collier's, April 24, 1948.
Short short short story (1 page).
Featured (HERE).

* * * * *
Resources:
- Real-life hostage situations are covered on Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE); the IMDb lists a hundred and seventy-six "Kidnapping/Hostage Movies" (HERE), while the Taste of Cinema website selects their ten favorites (HERE).

The bottom line:
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Friday, May 10, 2019

"We Knew We Were Facing the Worst Threat in the History of Man"

"Mission: Murder!"
By O. H. Leslie (Henry Slesar, 1927-2002).
Illustration by Keith (HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, November 1958.

Short story (13 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "His mouth was open when he dropped to the ground, kicking his legs in protest at the brevity of life, while the gray automobile roared away from the scene of sudden, surprising murder."

Ergman, Molton, Curtis, Fletcher, and Skade might sound like a high-powered Wall Street investment firm—each one is an influential businessmen, after all—but these individuals have also become prime targets for "a new type of commando, with only one mission. Murder. . . ."
Major characters:
~ Steve Stryker:
  "I've been on a mission, and I'm afraid it's only beginning."
~ Kathy:

  "It's not just the gun that bothers me; Steve says that his work is sometimes dangerous, 
that he has to be armed."
~ Doug:
  "I saw him kill!"


Resources:
- So far we haven't encountered the prolific Henry Slesar very often, but that's certain to change; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

- Slesar was at home in crime fiction, as shown by his "The Only Thing to Do" (HERE), but sometimes he crossed it with science fiction, as in today's story and "The Invisible Man Murder Case" (discussed HERE, although the story link seems to be dead now).
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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

"Why Should a Girl Deliberately Marry a Bluebeard?"

"The Girl Who Married a Monster."
By Anthony Boucher (William Anthony Parker White, 1911-68).
First appearance: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 1954.

Reprinted in EQMM (U.K.), February 1954 and EQMM (Australia), April 1954.
Collected in Exeunt Murderers: The Best Mystery Stories of Anthony Boucher (1983; HERE and HERE).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)


     "I thought it'd be fun to see what a real, live, unconvicted professional Bluebeard was like."

The old saying, "Marry in haste, repent at leisure," never seemed more appropriate than when a ruthless killer, shooting for the perfect crime, says "I do" to a guaranteed hundred thousand dollars, a sure thing if ever there was one—but, wouldn't you know it, somebody else just as ruthless also has plans for that hundred grand . . .

Major characters:
~ Doreen Arlen:

  "I'm sorry. I don't need your wholesome Utah sympathy, thank you kindly. Doreen can look out for herself."
~ Marie Arlen:
  "Did I . . . did I fix the slats right, Mac?"
~ Luther Peabody:
  "It's true that many years ago Lieutenant Noble, presumably in order to advance his own police career, chose to hound me as a murderer because of the accidental death of my first wife."
~ Lieutenant Donald MacDonald:
  "Files? I think I have another source that's even better."
~ Nick Noble:
  "His eyes sort of glaze over and something goes tick inside . . . and then the facts make a pattern."


Resources:
- At his The Invisible Event website JJ has a related article, "The Nick Noble Stories of Anthony Boucher (1942-54)" (HERE), in which we find our protagonist characterized as . . .


   ". . . a genius detective in the Nero Wolfe mold, an ex-cop with a mind like a trap who is able to puzzle out the links in the most confounding of cases brought to him. And the cases must be brought to him as, since being kicked out of the Force following some political maneuvering by a savvy higher-up, he is to be found in a cheap Mexican bar slowly drinking himself to death with water glasses full of cheap sherry.
   "Noble is possibly the most heartbreaking central character I’ve yet encoun-tered . . . and Boucher gives you someone who is cracked beyond repair and yet still has enough about him for some light to shine through while skipping nimbly over the tropes into which a lesser author would be unavoidably wrenched."

- It would seem that today's story was the 9th and final Nick Noble adventure, all but one of which ("Death of a Patriarch") initially appeared in EQMM; see FictionMags's series listing 
for this character (HERE).
- In case you're wondering, the author tells us that MacDonald "had self-confidence, a 

marked lack of desire to warn the murderer by ringing a bell, and a lock-gun," meaning 
one of these . . .
. . . and we also get allusions to two real-life crimes: the "English 'blazing car' murderer back around the time of Peabody's debut," said killer being Alfred Arthur Rouse, although in an unusual twist his victim's identity is still unknown (see Wikipedia HERE); and to "Raymond Fernandez, New York's 1949 Lonely Hearts killer" (HERE).
- The legendary Bluebeard (HERE) lent his name to a category of murderer that doesn't seem to be as common as he used to be.
- Another of Boucher's stories, this one with a fantasy slant, is examined (HERE); he made the cover of Arthur Vidro's Old-Time Detection (HERE); one of his all-out science fictional tales is featured (HERE); and Boucher's involvement in radio is touched upon (HERE).


The bottom line:
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Monday, May 6, 2019

"I Moved Cautiously Through the Old House Fanning Every Inch of Air Ahead of Me with a Phone Book"

"Bleedback."
By Winston Marks (1915-79).
Illustration by Ed Emshwiller (1925-90; HERE).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, August 1955.

Short story (18 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and Archive.org (HERE).

     "It was just a harmless, though amazing, kid's toy that sold for less 
than a dollar. Yet it plunged the entire nation into a nightmare of mys-
tery and chaos . . . ."

Weapons come in many varieties, from H-bombs to handguns to bare fists to tiny pills, 
but at least you can understand and deal with them; Calvin's lethal laboratory surprise, 
on the other hand, is, for all practical purposes, incomprehensible—and just might be unstoppable . . .

Characters:
~ Calvin Baxter:
  "As I looked down at the sprawled length of the big man on the tiled floor, the Mutt and Jeff angle didn't fit at all. David and Goliath was a better bet. This Goliath seemed also to have met his fate from a hole in the forehead."
~ Leo Baxter:
  "I was telling the truth when I said I didn't know what he was doing. I still don't understand 

it, and I've been losing sleep over these formulae. . . .[but] whether I understand it or not, Calvin's gadget, happens to work."
~ Dr. Thorsen:
  "All right, then what else but a flying particle could drill a hole in a man's forehead the diameter of a piece of 16-gauge wire?"
~ Gene, our narrator and a police detective:
  "When Doc's x-rays revealed nothing but a blood clot deep in the brain at the end of the tiny tunnel piercing the skull, I was left without even a 'modus operandi,' let alone a substantial suspect."
~ Paul Riley:
  "We've got to figure a way of getting those things out of the way."
~ Collins:
  "Why not just shoot them back into wherever it is they go . . .?"
~ Chief Durstine:
  "By the time we got him to the hospital this morning he was running a hundred and five. Docs were too busy with bleeders. Wouldn't listen to me until it was too late."


Resources:
- You can find more about Winston Kinney Marks in the online SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Wikipedia has articles dealing with other dimensions in literature (HERE) and science (HERE), and one by Sten Odenwald at Astronomy Cafe (HERE) discusses other science fictional encounters with hyperspace.

- A lot of electrons have flowed through the 'Net since we last considered Marks's "Slay-Ride" (HERE).
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