Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Three Adventures with John Dyce, Blind Detective (and One Without Him)

He had the grotesque and serene majesty of an Eastern idol, comic to the vulgar.
The idea of a blind sleuth is an appealing one: he or she "sees" what the sighted completely overlook, leaving the reader to savor the irony inherent in the situation.
". . . you sighted people look always at the eyes; is that not true? The eyes are the man to you, and always the same; but I have no eyes. As for my slight power of altering my voice, remember that people are only voices to me."
Over the years there have been attempts by writers to establish an ongoing series about a blind person who is also a first-rate detective, and a few have succeeded rather well (see "Resources" below); Thomas McMorrow's John Dyce, however, seems to have enjoyed only a limited run. Dyce's character was introduced in another story series by McMorrow about an astrologer and spun off into only (as far as we can tell) two adventures of his own.
He was memorizing the house in all its quantities, its echoes and scents, its obstacles and voids, its feel to foot and hand. Memory in such matters had been bluntly enjoined upon him by his first sally from the cradle. In his forehead—he assigned it to his forehead—was the sort of unlighted vision that apprised him of mass and texture and density about him. John Dyce was not unique in this awareness; it is one of our human constitutional rights, usurped in most of us by sight.
(1) "The Sign of the Fishes."
By Thomas McMorrow (1886-1957).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, September 7, 1935.
No known reprints.
Short short short story (4 pages, with 2 illustrations).
Online beginning HERE and wrapping up HERE (scroll to page 54).
"Another curious adventure of Astrologer Tarat, wherein a very clever blind man learns the lesson of his life—by the light of the kindly stars . . ."
John Dyce, this "very clever blind man"—a swindler up to his neck in crooked deals ("His machine for the redistribution of wealth was adequate and standard") but also an affectionate father—is faced with a dilemma:
. . . "There is a twofold problem, for her and for me—my daughter in love, and with an agent of the Department of Justice."  . . .
Tarat the astrologer, however, has a solution that, while not at all agreeable to John Dyce, nevertheless solves not only the blind man's problem but also benefits society as a whole.

(2) "Blind Man's Eyes."
By Thomas McMorrow (1886-1957).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, December 14, 1935.
No known reprints.
Short short story (5 pages, with 2 illustrations).
Online starting HERE and finishing HERE (scroll to page 64).
"The mystery of the Van Dam robberies, featuring John Dyce, who did not have to see a crook to spot one . . ."
John Dyce first enters the story like this:
. . . THE somber figure in the doorway was a familiar one to midnight New York. It was in conventional black and white, and the eyes were masked by lenses, black and opaque. The man tapped the floor with a straight-handled stick of balsa wood and moved his head in peremptory summons. The black lenses cupped the light, and the headwaiter came hurrying, making appeasing gestures.
"Yes, Mr. Dyce! Two?"
John Dyce followed the consequential footsteps. A pace in his rear walked a thin and lantern-jawed man who was evidently a servant. John Dyce heard the whisper of a chair drawn back, and seated himself. The attendant sat at his elbow, hands in lap, silent and immobile like his blind master.
The average among the blind man's neighbors regarded him with conventional pity. A tipsy group sniggered. He had the grotesque and serene majesty of an Eastern idol, comic to the vulgar.  . . .
A threatening note, a desperate woman, missing jewels, a shot in the dark, and an impersonation—all in a night's work for John Dyce.

(3) "Sight Unseen."
By Thomas McMorrow (1886-1957).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, April 4, 1936.
No known reprints.
Short short story (6 pages, with 2 illustrations).
Online commencing HERE and concluding HERE (scroll to page 58).
"An ingenious mystery story, featuring John Dyce, blind detective, who does not have to use his eyes to see things . . ."
Alarums and excursions when a young lawyer, naive and besotted with his young and pretty client, lets seventy thousand of her dollars be abducted from his wall safe:
. . . To all appearances, P. Mortimer was a very likely prospect for some future trip of the green van that takes the convicts from the Tombs to the Grand Central on their way "up the river." And then John Dyce intervened: the case had had newspaper publicity, and the blind man didn't agree with the general belief in the young lawyer's guilt.  . . .
To solve this one, all Dyce has to do is . . . turn around.

Distinctions: Bearing a faint resemblance to Poe's Dupin, John Dyce, a reformed swindler, sleeps in the day, prowls at night, and employs a personal secretary whose job is to "keep an ear" on others, as well as having two formidable body guards working for him who it would be unwise to tangle with. This blind detective could have had a long career in print, but it never happened.

Bonus story (no Dyce):

"False Face."
By Thomas McMorrow (1886-1957).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, June 8, 1940.
No known reprints.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online starting HERE and finishing HERE (scroll to page 46).
"Crook meets impostor, and a foolproof racket dies of an overdose of ingenuity"
If you're Teraghan, an ex-con just released from prison in the Depression Era, and see a help wanted ad placed by someone who doesn't care about your background—an ad that fits you to a "T"—you can't afford to be too picky; but imagine Teraghan's surprise when this individual declares: "I wish to travel as your valet." Not only that, Teraghan will also be required to adopt his new employer's identity. By now, you're probably thinking there's something decidedly fishy about all this, but you might be surprised yourself at just which way the fish are going to swim.

- Other blind sleuths were created by Frederick Irving Anderson (go HERE), Ernest Bramah (HERE), Clinton Stagg (HERE, HERE, and HERE), and Baynard Kendrick (HERE); there were even a couple of TV series about blind detectives (HERE and HERE, and also HERE).
- About Thomas McMorrow we know this, thanks to those wonderful folks at FictionMags: "Writer, lawyer, newspaperman. Born in New York City; died in New York"; see his story listings HERE and HERE.

The bottom line: Thou tell'st me there is murder in mine eye.
— Shakespeare

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