Saturday, August 29, 2015

"This Point Writes Away the Life of the Living"

"Death Had a Pencil."
By Richard Sale (1911-93).
Short story (10 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, October 8, 1938.
Online HERE.
"Captain McGrail, that Scheherezade of the Homicide Bureau, rares back and lets fly with another of his yarns to prove that Manhattan can make Baghdad look like a one-night stand  . . ."
It's hard to decide who is more unbelievable, notorious raconteur Captain McGrail or a very worried Peter Hoff who says that with the stroke of a pencil he can kill people without being anywhere near them. Says McGrail:
. . . "I want to impress upon you that every one of these stories is the gospel truth." . . .
. . . but Peter Hoff seems certain that without really intending to he has killed more than once:
. . . "I didn't actually kill Wilbert Althouse with my own hands or anything like that, but I think—I know—I'm responsible for his death, and I wanted to give myself up."  . . .
. . . "Of all the men in the world, I said, this one would be a real test. A multi-millionaire, surrounded by guards with no chance of accident, no worry, in apparent good health. I drew an X on his picture. And he dropped dead last night."  . . .
". . . to try it out means that you condemn a living man. For I warn you, that pencil's mark will snuff the life out of the man you chose. If you chose anyone, don't do it foolishly, the way I did. Choose some one who might deserve to die—"  . . .
. . . "That dame was a plant and that dame—whoever she was—slipped him the cyanide. And between you and me, Morelli didn't commit suicide. He was no sap."  . . .
Resources:
- "The Dumas of the pulps" is how Richard Sale has been characterized; for more about him and his career in Hollywood see Wikipedia HERE and this long background article HERE.
- Besides Captain McGrail (for 15 other titles see his story list HERE), Sale created several other series characters, including Daffy Dill; go HERE for more about Daffy and HERE for a list of stories.

Category: The pen isn't always mightier than the sword

"The Murderer Is Here in This Room!"

"Murder on the Mike."
By Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936).
Short story (12 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, December 3, 1932.
Online HERE.
"Craig Kennedy, scientific detective, planned a radio third degree for the suspects in the broadcasting studio murder . . ."
Walter Jameson has written himself an exciting thriller that's going to be performed live in 
a radio studio—if, that is, his good friend Craig Kennedy can solve a real murder first. Of course Kennedy does, this time with the invaluable help of a circular paraboloid.

Some passages:
. . . "That interchange was like the dotted lines which cartoonists draw to carry dagger looks."  . . .
~ ~ ~
. . . At that instant a shot shattered through the plate glass picture window of the control room, and a steel-jacketed bullet pinged into the plaster over the head of the technician inside.
I started. That shot had been in this studio! It was not one of those revolver shots for the mike—a fingernail snapped against a piece of stiff cardboard. This one had been real.  . . .
~ ~ ~
. . . She had pitched forward, and he bent over her. A thin trickle of blood was slowly spreading upon the shiny cork floor of the studio, from the beautiful blond head now motionless against a shapely white arm. Wildly outstretched fingers seemed to grasp for something spectral in the thin air.  . . .
. . . Here was a real mystery, right in the midst of my own fiction drama mystery! . . .
. . . I TELEPHONED in a story with plenty of color—but I studiously left the deductions to Kennedy.  . . .
. . . The saxes wailed the finale of a rollicking ditty that should have romped allegro vivace, but they literally crept along, adagio lamentoso. That was the spirit of the occasion. It was more like an unusually dispirited wake than the liveliest mirth emporium that had so far escaped a padlock. How could it have been otherwise . . .
Resources:
- On his megasite HERE Mike Grost has a great deal of info about Arthur B. Reeve.
- As complete a listing of all of the Craig Kennedy short stories as you're likely to find is HERE.

Category: The plants have ears

"I Mean to Find Her Murderer!"

"Murder for Fun."
By Norman H. White, Jr. (?-?).
Short story (12 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, September 19, 1931.
Online HERE.
"It was begun for amusement, that fashionable game of 'Murder,' but it was to have a more startling outcome than even Dapper Dick Carleton, the district attorney, anticipated . . ."
To paraphrase Hamlet, the play's the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of . . . in this case, the murderer of "La Booth."

Snippets:
No one knew how Richard Carleton, or "Dapper Dick" as he was known to every one, from the big flat-foot who had the slaughter house beat to redheaded Captain McGinnis of headquarters, had ever found time both to make his brilliant record as district attorney and to keep up his contact with the circle of society which was his birthright.  . . .
. . . "Gloria Booth was a colorful, unconventional, passionate creature," he said softly. "Laws meant nothing to her—she lived and loved—and three weeks ago to-night she was murdered. I mean to find her murderer!" He raised his dark sardonic eyes slowly from his glass and searched the faces of the well-groom-ed men sitting about the room almost challengingly.  . . .
. . . "There is the fatal ace of spades," he said with a smile, holding up the card which for centuries has been the grim omen of death.  . . .
. . . "I now think I am ready to denounce the murderer of the beautiful young lady whose body lies near the piano."  . . .
. . . His thin face, a mask of demoniac fury, peered through the narrow aperture of mahogany.  . . .
. . . His voice rose to a shriek. He steadied his shaking right hand with his left and took careful aim . . .
Resources:
- Our author, Norman H. White, Jr., seems to have been active producing crime fiction, usually for Dime Detective and DFW, only in the early '30s; see The FictionMags listing for him HERE.
- As with a previous author (HERE), we can't for the moment say whether White produced any other "Dapper Dick" Carleton adventures.

Category: McMillan & Wife without the wife

Friday, August 28, 2015

"If That Don't Yell Murder Out Loud Then I Don't Belong in the Detective Division"

"The Phony Alarm."
By Richard Howells Watkins (1895-1980).
Short short story (7 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, May 4, 1935.
Online HERE.
There's no fooling this flatfoot when he's on the beat:
. . . "Clues, problems, mysteries—you look for 'em like—"
"Like you do pay, promotion an' ham and egg sandwiches," Francis X. Muldoon retorted.  . . .
~ ~ ~
. . . "A properly executed confession, all right," he said dryly, moving toward the telephone. "Executed is right."  . . .
. . . "He wasn't so tough with the chair facing him."  . . .
Resources:
- Here's the most we could find of our author's background [from the Online Archive of California HERE]: "Richard Howells Watkins was an author in the adventure/detective genre, a World War I veteran, an inveterate traveler, and an auto racing, aviation, and maritime enthusiast. He was born in New York City on May 26, 1895, later residing in Riverside, Connecticut, and finally moving to Santa Barbara in 1956."
- The FictionMags list of Watkins's voluminous short fiction, the first of three pages, begins HERE.

Category: Hardboiled Oirish crime fiction, begorrah

"He Almost Wished a Black Cat Would Cross His Path"

"Superstition's the Bunk."
By Charles Victor Knox (?-?).
Short short short story (3 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, March 10, 1934.
Online HERE.
" 'Nothing's unlucky except carelessness,' was the motto of Wolf McGowan, slickest of crooks . . ."
. . . and Wolf would never be careless, would he?
. . . Then he saw, right ahead of him, a ladder leaning against the side of a building. He smiled again, as he deviated slightly from the flow of pedestrians, in order to pass beneath it.  . . .
Category: No such luck

"I Am an Old Man Who Has Retained the Use of His Brains"

"But Our Hero Was Not Dead."
By Manly Wade Wellman (1903-86).
Short short short story (4 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, August 9, 1941.
Online HERE (text somewhat faded).
"In England now there is an old and very famous gentleman who has never lived and will never die. This story is a moment of his greatness . . ."
In the gray early dawn a man with sinister plans encounters three very familiar people who, if only they knew, would never let him carry them out:
. . . "You're a devil!" he raged at his discoverer.
 The blue eyes twinkled. "Not at all. I am an old man who has retained the use of his brains, even after long and restful idleness." . . .
Resources:
- Manly Wade Wellman is fondly remembered for his high-quality, multi-award-winning fantasy stories (Wikipedia article HERE); going further afield Wellman incorporated Sherlock Holmes into some of his fiction: "His 1975 novel Sherlock Holmes' War of the Worlds was collected from a series of Sherlock Holmes pastiche stories co-written with his son Wade Wellman and originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction." About those pastiches Wikipedia says:
The story consists of the tales of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Professor Challenger in London during the Martian invasion. The underlying philosophy of the book is very different to, indeed contradictory to, the original Wells story in which the idea is repeatedly expressed of humans being completely helpless before the Martian invaders, as are other creatures before humans. Conversely, in the Wellmans' book Holmes, Watson, and Challenger continually confront and outwit the Martians, undeterred by the invaders' technological superiority. The story features a romantic relationship between Holmes and his landlady Mrs. Hudson, of which Watson is oblivious.

Category: Guess who

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"The Murderer Had Done His Work Well"

"The Unseen Death."
By Allan K. Echols (1896-1953).
Found in Argosy Weekly, May 30, 1931.
Short story (12 pages).
Online HERE.
"Rayno Barriton, amateur criminologist, was a scientist of note—but he needed more than science to cope with the phantom voice that promised murder . . ."
As both an experimental scientist and an unofficial detective, Barriton's amateur sleuthing works to the advantage of the authorities, as Police Commissioner Delaney readily concedes:
. . . Several times he had found that his friend the young amateur scientist had discovered things that he didn't believe existed. Thanks to a vast family fortune Barriton could and did spend most of his time in the experimental sciences, and his mind was a complete encyclopedia of little-known and obscure information. Delaney depended upon him heavily when it came to unraveling some of his problems that seemed to indicate the presence of factors that were not in the normal course of human and scientific affairs.  . . .
In this case Barriton and Delaney encounter a series of murders that could only have been committed by the little man who wasn't there. A few passages:
. . . "Well—I mean, Mr. Cromwell was stabbed while I was sitting facing him," the secretary blurted out fearfully, yet with a trace of defiance. "The door was locked and there was no one else in the room. We were talking when suddenly he sprang up and shrieked, then fell back in his chair. I ran across the room and saw him as he is now, with that knife in his side. That's all I know."  . . .
. . . "Just about a week before Mr. Cromwell was killed," he said haltingly, "the radio started suddenly, although we were both across the room from it. Then a voice began speaking from it, promising vengeance for something. It came from the radio, came out of nothing, out of thin air. After that it came anywhere, at his office, here, everywhere."  . . .
. . . A fleeting look of guilt flashed across the gray face, only to be driven away by one of obstinacy. It was clear that the man who had fought and amassed millions would not now, even with the fear of death hanging over his head, tell his secret even to those who would help him.  . . .
. . . He threw his hands upward, then tumbled to the floor and lay still. The long handle of a keen-bladed knife protruded from a bloody wound in his side. He was quiet in death as the clock boomed out the hour of nine.  . . .
. . . "Too late," Delaney groaned in utter helplessness, staring wildly about the room. He did not have to be told that the murderer had done his work well.  . . .
Resource:
- Allan K. Nichols is known to posterity as an author of Western fiction; see The FictionMags listings (they run to three pages) of Nichols's output HERE. He would occasionally produce crime fiction, but we're unsure whether he ever wrote any other adventures featuring Barriton and Delaney.

Category: Crime fiction and science fantasy in collision

For Want of a Nail

"Murder Makes a Difference."
By George Harmon Coxe (1901-84).
Short story (16 pages).
First appearance: Liberty, May 5, 1945, as "The Painted Nail."
Reprinted in Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine, July 1956.
Online HERE.
Dr. Paul Standish seems to have a knack for figuring out crimes even before the police get their first inkling of what's going on; of course, it doesn't hurt that Standish is the medical examiner and therefore has intimate access to the crime scene. In this case, a missing cuticle puts him on the road to catching a killer. Dr. Thorndyke would be proud.

Snippets:
. . . Here, apparently, was a cut and dried suicide with ninety-five percent of the evidence supporting such a conclusion. All he had to do was sign a certificate as to the cause of death and he was about to say so when something he could not explain stopped him and discontent settled heavily upon him.  . . .
. . . as with so many other couples, absence began to work against this marriage which had, in the beginning, no solid foundation.  . . .
~ ~ ~
. . . "And what're we supposed to be looking for?"
"A piece of fingernail."  . . .
~ ~ ~
. . . There was no tangible warning. There may have been some whisper of a sound, there may have been a faint breath of air around his ankles where none had been there before; or perhaps it was pure instinct born of urgency that brought him here and nursed by nerves already taut and sharply tuned. What-ever the reason he glanced over his shoulder and in that same instant saw the figure loom darkly towards him.  . . .
. . . Then as he stared and something died inside him she came up on tiptoe and kissed him.  . . .
. . . "I don't know yet if she was blackmailing him or whether she threatened to go to his wife, but he had to get rid of her."  . . .
~ The FictionMags Index (HERE) has this list of Dr. Paul Standish short stories:
(1) "The Doctor Makes It Murder," Cosmopolitan, September 1942; also as “The Doctor Calls It Murder.”
(2) "The Painted Nail," Liberty, May 5, 1945; also as "Murder Makes a Difference."
(3) "The Canary Sang," Mystery Book Magazine, October 1945; also as “Frightened Canary.”
(4) "Murder to Music," Liberty, September 7, 1946
(5) "Post Mortem," Liberty, November 16, 1946
(6) "Cause for Suspicion," Liberty, February 1, 1947
(7) "Death Certificate," Liberty, December 1947
(8) "Circumstantial Evidence," Liberty, September 1949
(9) "Black Target," The American Magazine, March 1951; also as “The Appearance of Truth.”
A Dr. Paul Standish novel
Resources:
- The Wikipedia entry for the truly prolific (63 novels in 40 years) George Harmon Coxe is HERE.
- Mike Grost has plenty of information about Coxe's writing HERE: "Another Coxe detective, Dr. Paul Standish, practiced medical detection in the 1940's and early 1950's, somewhat in the spirit of R. Austin Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke. This means that Coxe has elements of Scientific Detection in his ancestry. However, he only occasionally emphasized these scientific aspects as much as most full fledged members of this school did."
- James Reasoner's appreciation of Coxe is HERE: "Coxe had a number of strengths as a writer, most notably his ability to put together strong, complex plots and to create tough, likable heroes. His prose, like his protagonists, is blunt and straightforward, interested primarily in moving the story along."
- According to IMDb (HERE), only a few of Coxe's many works were translated to film.
- A lengthy Coxe bibliography is HERE, and Pretty Sinister Books reviews one from that long list HERE.

Category: Physician, wound that heel

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"I Was Dead the Minute You Opened That Envelope"

"The Only Thing to Do."
By Henry Slesar (1927-2002).
Short short story (5 pages).
First appearance: Mercury Mystery Magazine, February 1959.
Online HERE.

You know, of course, that the badger game doesn't really have anything to do with badgers:
. . . His eyes swept over this gallery of horrors and the heartbeats exploded inside his chest. He tried to say something, but his tongue had gone hard and dry and immobile.  . . .
Resources:
- For decades the writing machine known as Henry Slesar (see Wikipedia HERE) churned out high-quality copy in many markets, with television being especially lucrative for him (e.g., see the IMDb HERE for his involvement with The Edge of Night soap opera—over 300 episodes—and Alfred Hitchcock's TV series—over 50 installments).

Category: Badgers get bit

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Ah, Gentlemen, That Is Art! Criminal, Perhaps. Cowardly. But Art! And I Have Known Artists . . ."

"Murder à la Carte."
By Jean-Toussaint Samat (1891-1944).
Found in The Living Age, June 1, 1931.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online HERE.
The next time you sit down to table with strangers (or even with loved ones, for that matter), you might think about this one:
. . . 'All in all, [poisoning is] not a very clever method. But there is a possibility that the crime will not be discovered? Of course. Out of every ten cases of poisoning, four are due to carelessness. To drinking or eating poison by error. These four cases are banal, uninteresting. Five cases have criminal intent at their origin. Of these five, three are never suspected of being crimes, two are prosecuted as such. Only one of these two results in a conviction. A conviction, I said—not punishment. Four cases plus three cases plus two cases; that makes nine. Nine deaths due to poison. Banal, all nine of them. But the tenth? Ah, there is something worthy of real admiration! Yes, I mean admiration. For the tenth case is one of poisoning by a nonpoisonous substance!'  . . .
Resources:
- There's an article from the French Wikipedia about thriller writer Samat HERE (English translation).
- One of Samat's thrillers is for sale HERE.
- HERE is a Wikipedia list of fictional poisons, as if the actual ones weren't bad enough . . . speaking of which, you can go HERE for a National Geographic article about the real thing.

Category: Culinary crime fiction

"Begin with capital 'E', then 'm-b-e-z', now another 'z' and 'l-e-m-e-n-t'"

"The Detectives."
By Will Payne (1858-1919).
Short short story (5 pages).
First appearance: The Atlantic Monthly, December 1899.
Reprinted in AHMM, September 2004.
Online HERE.
People, even when they're criminals, still know right from wrong:
. . . Coming in, the young man had noticed the policemen. He looked at them now with an apathy which was like the dying down of his last sense of contact with the world. Even policemen were only passive and idle figments in a scheme of things all idle and indescribably remote. All of those beings at their little tables, — it seemed to him that he had only to wink his eyes and they would vanish; the broad, hot, still sunshine would pour over a garden empty of all but him. He thought that he did not care, particularly. Caring was too active a state of mind. He felt the perception of a sorrow so big and immutable that any merely human activity was quite grotesque.  . . .
Resource:
- Many a man of note has been named Will Payne; go HERE for more about this Will Payne who made it into Who's Who a couple of times.

Category: Crime fiction with heart

Friday, August 21, 2015

"A Nice Example of the Locked Room Mystery"

"The Mystery of the Slip-Coach."
By Sapper (real name: H. C. McNeile, 1888-1937).
Short story. Collected in RONALD STANDISH (1933).
Story (with typos) online HERE.
A Ronald Standish Kindle megapack is for sale HERE.
"Did he throw a raw egg at you?"
"What in the world is a slip-coach?" we hear you mumbling. Wikipedia explains:
A slip coach or slip carriage is a British and Irish railway term for passenger rolling stock that is uncoupled from an express train while the train is in motion, then slowed by a guard in the coach using the brakes, bringing it to a stop at the next station. The coach was thus said to be slipped from its train. This allowed passengers to alight at an intermediate station without the main train having to stop, thus improving the journey time of the main train. In an era when the railway companies were highly competitive, they strove to keep journey times as short as possible, avoiding intermediate stops wherever possible.
Slip-coaches, with and without the hyphen, were in use from 1858 to 1960—and if that's not enough, HERE is a page explaining them in exhaustive detail.
Sapper is best known for creating Bulldog Drummond, so the more thoughtful detective Ronald Standish is something of a departure for him. The estimable Mary Reed (HERE) characterizes Standish this way:
Wealthy and something of a sportsman — particularly keen on golf and cricket — Standish only takes cases that interest him and having done so persists until he solves them or, according to [his good friend Bob] Miller and unusually for amateur detectives, must own himself beaten. His greatest assets when investi-gations are afoot are an excellent memory for faces and unusual facts and a talent for noticing small details others have missed.
As for this particular story, Mary writes:
It takes Standish some thought to solve THE MYSTERY OF THE SLIP COACH, wherein a man is found shot to death on a train with a smashed egg splashed about his compartment in a nice example of the locked room mystery.
Resources:
- If you want to recreate the experience of reading a story that's been published in a news-paper, with all of that intervening material (adverts and so forth) interrupting your concen-tration, go HERE and find Sapper's story scattered throughout the June 12, 1937 issue of 
The Australian Women's Weekly.
- Movie makers seem to have ignored Ronald Standish completely; McNeile's filmography (HERE) almost exclusively favors Bulldog Drummond productions.

Category: The locked train car mystery (if there is such a category)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"The Only One of Dickens's Novels Which He Did Not Finish Was the Only One That Really Needed Finishing"

"John Jasper - Strangler."
By Howard Duffield (?-?).
In The Bookman, February 1930.
Article (8 pages).
Online HERE and HERE.
In what we hope will be our last engagement with Charles Dickens's enigmatic classic The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), we offer this clever excursion into literary speculation. A few excerpts:
[Edmund Pearson's introductory note] The foremost problem in detective fiction—that is what Dickens bequeathed to his readers in the unfinished "Mystery of Edwin Drood". Mr. Chesterton says: "The only one of Dickens's novels which he did not finish was the only one that really needed finishing. He never had but one thoroughly good plot to tell; and that he has only told in heaven".
The puzzle of "Edwin Drood" will never be solved. It is, therefore, perfectly futile to some folk; perfectly fascinating to others. From the year of Dickens's death to the present, continuations and solutions have occupied second-rate novelists and first-rate critics. Plays, and even a film-play, have been founded on the plot. Andrew Lang in England and Harry B. Smith in America each wrote an essay based on the idea of putting Sherlock Holmes on the case. Two great mock-trials have been held in which Jasper was tried for murder. One, in London, was in the hands of authors: Gilbert K. Chesterton was the judge and Bernard Shaw the foreman of the jury. The other, in Philadelphia, was conducted by lawyers, business men and scholars. The chief controversies have raged around two points: did Jasper succeed in committing the murder, or was Drood—as one of the tentative titles for the book suggests—in hiding, after an attempt on his life? The other question is: who was the detective, Datchery?
In this article. Dr. Duffield passes by these problems and studies the antecedents of Jasper, Precentor of the Cathedral, and strangest of villains. Mr. Cuming Walters (himself the inventor of an odd theory about Datchery) has compiled "The Complete Edwin Drood", which is a veritable encyclopedia of the whole controversy. If you look at it, you will see that in this study by Dr. Duffield there is a plausible suggestion which all the other critics have missed. Dr. Duffield, picking up a hint in one place, and a clue in another, has done something which I should have thought impossible. He has contributed to the discussion something really new.
. . . From the outset John Jasper takes the limelight, as a study in criminal psychology, the exponent of an idea which Dickens asserted was "very curious", "very strong", "not communicable" and "difficult to work". It becomes quickly apparent that the clue to the role for which Jasper is cast must be sought for in Oriental antecedents. The story is enveloped in Oriental atmosphere.  . . .
. . . The revealing clue as to Jasper's personality is furnished by Dickens himself. With sedulous care he kept out of the story everything which might disclose its central secret, but in a confidential conversation with Luke Fildes, the illustrator of the novel, he made a statement which unveils Jasper with startling clearness.  . . .
. . . The basal fact of the Drood story is a mysterious disappearance, and it was the frequency of "mysterious disappearances" (to quote the Police Reports) which first arrested the attention of the Government.  . . . Travellers who set out upon a journey never reached their journey's end. Neighbors vanished. Soldiers on furlough failed to return to the ranks. Nothing was ever known concerning a victim, except that he was gone.  . . .
. . . A Phansigar motif would be peculiarly alluring to Dickens. The mystery which cloaked the very existence of this murder guild, the weird psychology of its members, the uncanny dexterity with which they wrought at their fiendish craft, would strongly appeal to one so temperamentally attracted by the melodramatic elements of human expression and who was such a keen and constant observer of their expression in criminality.  . . .
. . . A conspiracy of circumstances seemed to thrust upon Charles Dickens, as a ready-to-hand theme for his final bit of pen-work, the malign activities in England of one whose antecedents in the Far East linked him with the most subtle and abhorrent fraternity of crime known to history.
Resources:
- From an article in The Wall Street Journal [HERE] a few years ago concerning a couple of novels with Edwin Drood's mystery as their focus: " 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' stands apart. It's no 'Bleak House' or 'Great Expectations,' but it nevertheless has held a curious grip on certain readers. Ever since 'Drood' was published shortly after Dickens's death, people have puzzled over how it might have ended—and specifically whether the character of Edwin Drood was murdered and who might have killed him. Critics have clashed over the clues. Scholars have scoured archives for hints. Novelists have tried to knock off the manuscript on their own."
- ONTOS's last encounter with Dickens's unfinished melodrama is HERE; follow all the subsequent links and you'll eventually know as much about the story as we do.

Category: Drood Drood Drood Drood Drood and so forth

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

SCRIBNER'S Reviews IV

The mystery fiction reviewer for Scribner's magazine for August 1938 [HERE] had much to admire that month. Full reviews follow, with offsite links to more info [in brackets]:

~ Death from a Top Hat:
Death from a Top Hat, by Clayton Rawson [HERE] (Putnam, $2), wins all the prizes this month, hands down. It mixes murder, magic—and considerable mirth—to the queen's taste. The first man killed is a nasty delver into the occult, appropriately named Sabbat. The second corpse is Tarot, "King of Cards." The quicker-than-the-eye detecting is done mainly by the Great Merlini, who achieves amazing things with coins—and, in the end, practically the whole Society of American Magicians is called in. It's a dexterous yarn, amazingly well written and cram-jammed with hair-raising surprises.
~ The Wall:
Mary Roberts Rinehart's [HERE] The Wall (Farrar & Rinehart, $2)—a tale of triple homicide in a New England coast summer resort—packs more thrills, suspense, action, and Mrs. Rinehart's own particular brand of humor than anything of hers in this genre since the glorious days of The Man in Lower Ten [HERE] and The Circular Staircase [HERE]. The local sheriff bests the slick city fellers complete-ly, the plot is most intricately tangled, and the unraveling, barring some annoying forecasting of sinister events which aren't too important, is quite satisfactory.
~ Madmen Die Alone:
All the evidence in two murders pointed toward the homicidal maniac who escaped from the asylum in Madmen Die Alone, by Josiah Greene [HERE and HERE] (Morrow, $2), but Capt. Prescott thought differently. Whether he was right or wrong, and what finally "broke" a particularly spooky series of slayings, composes this good example of the Hospital School of murder stories.
~ There Is No Return:
Not long ago someone complained about the dearth of female detectives. The ladies, bless 'em, are coming into their own this month. In There Is No Return, by Anita Blackmon [HERE and HERE] (Crime Club, $2), Miss Adelaide Adams and her friend Ella Trotter, along with a young newspaperman, effectively solve the seemingly supernatural murders which horrified the guests at a dismal inn atop a lonely mountain. Somebody with devilish designs had been fooling around with spirits—ghostly not alcoholic—and the inn is strewn with disemboweled cats, bats, and slaughtered guests. It pans out a little too pat, but the creepy feeling is continuous.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

"A Grip Like Steel Closed Around My Throat"

"The Adventure of the Sealed Room."
By Adrian Conan Doyle (1910-70) and John Dickson Carr (1906-77).
Short short story (6 pages).
Found in Collier's Weekly, June 13, 1953.
Online HERE.
"A man and his wife had been shot. All entrances to the room had been locked from the inside. And it was not a case of murder and suicide . . ."
As we noted in a previous post, Sherlock Holmes made maximal use of every one of his faculties in order to sniff out the culprit, especially so in this adventure.
Artwork by Robert Fawcett
Snippets:
. . . "You hoped it might be the work of a burglar?"  . . .
. . . I WAS much annoyed by the acidity of Holmes's tone, though I could not help divining its cause. Ever since, in the previous month, he had been outwitted and beaten by Mrs. Godfrey Norton, nee Irene Adler, his attitude toward the whole female sex had become more bitter than ever.  . . .
. . . FOR a moment Holmes stood motionless before the fire. "It is possible that there may be a hundred and forty-first sort," he observed thoughtfully.  . . .
~ ~ ~
. . . "You would speak of feminine intuition?"
"Sir, what are your own boasted judgments but masculine intuition?"
"They are logic, madam!"  . . .
~ ~ ~
. . . "My dear Watson, I neither encourage hope nor do I discourage it. I examine evidence."  . . .
. . . "What are ye driving at, mon!" he cried suddenly. "Why, it's as plain as a pikestaff. The colonel and his wife are both shot in a room that is locked, bolted and barred from the inside."  . . .
". . . what the devil have oysters to do with it?"  . . .
. . . A grip like steel closed around my throat, and as I raised my arm to force back the head of my dimly seen assailant, he buried his teeth in my forearm like some savage hound.  . . .
. . . "My dear fellow, there was no great difficulty in the problem. The facts were obvious enough, but the delicacy of the matter lay in the need that the murderer himself should confirm them by some overt act. Circumstantial evidence is the bane of the trained reasoner."  . . .
Resources:
- "The Adventure of the Sealed Room" was collected together with 11 other original stories by Doyle and Carr into The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (1954); see HERE for an overview, HERE for more background about this tale, and HERE for concise summaries (Warning: Possible SPOILERS) of all of the stories.
- P. J. Bergman has a spoiler-free review of "Sealed Room" HERE: "Not the strongest Holmes story or locked room mystery, but it's enjoyable to see the two combine."

Category: Locked room mysteries (what else?)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"It Is One Thing to Hear What Men Say and Another to Hear What They Mean"

"The White Pillars Murder."
By G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936).
Short story.
First appearance: English Life, January 1925 (as "Dr. Hyde, Detective, and the White Pillars Murder").
Reprinted in EQMM, September 1945.
Online HERE and HERE.
An important lesson for any detective: If you're going to eavesdrop, pay attention! Several excerpts:
. . . 'They say the cleverest murderer forgets something.'  . . .
. . . 'Don't you feel by this time that it's the atmosphere of the whole place? It's not a bit like those delightful detective stories. In a detective story all the people in the house are gaping imbeciles, who can't understand anything, and in the midst stands the brilliant sleuth who understands everything. Here am I standing in the midst, a brilliant sleuth, and I believe, on my soul, I'm the only person in the house who doesn't know all about the crime.'  . . .
. . . 'I don't believe in all this detective romance about deducing everything from a trifle.'  . . .
Resources:
- Roy Glashan has produced a handsome website of classic stories of many types, wherein we located Chesterton's story; see his homepage HERE.
- Our latest visit with GKC was HERE.

Category: Detective fiction, Ackroyd School (it's a small school)

Monday, August 17, 2015

"His Murder Stories Are Practically Perfect, While His Fantasies, Mostly Diabolic, Usually Break Down Right at the End Like a Delicate Bamboo Rod with Too Big a Fish on It"

As we've observed before, John Collier is sui generis, with his fiction defying neat classification, as the two following examples demonstrate:

"Deferred Payment."
By John Collier (1901-80).
First appearance: Collier's, April 27, 1940.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online HERE.
Sometimes help comes from an unlikely place:
. . . "Here's a straw," he said. "Clutch at that."  . . .
"Thus I Refute Beelzy."
By John Collier (1901-80).
First appearance: The Atlantic Monthly, October 1940.
Reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1952.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online HERE.
. . . and sometimes help comes from an even more unlikely place:
. . . Small Simon stopped at the door. "He said he wouldn't let anyone hurt me," he whimpered.  . . .
THE TOUCH OF NUTMEG AND MORE UNLIKELY STORIES.
By John Collier (1901-80); Foreword by Clifton Fadiman (1904-99).
Collection: 26 stories.
The Press of the Readers Club.
1943. 247 pages. $2.00
Online HERE.
Contents:
1. "The Touch of Nutmeg Makes It"
2. "De Mortuis" (reprinted in EQMM, November 1955; filmed in 1946, 1951, and 1956)
3. "Wet Saturday" (filmed in 1956 and 1984)
4. "Little Memento"
5. "Mary"
6. "Midnight Blue"
7. "Back for Christmas" (reprinted in EQMM, Fall 1988; filmed in 1956 and 1980)
8. "Evening Primrose"
9. "The Frog Prince"
10. "Rope Enough"
11. "The Chaser" (reprinted in AHMM, May 1988; filmed in 1960)
12. "The Devil, George, and Rosie"
13. "Great Possibilities"
14. "Half-way to Hell"
15. "Possession of Angela Bradshaw"
16. "The Right Side"
17. "Another American Tragedy"
18. "Bird of Prey" (filmed in 1952 and 1984)
19. "Thus I Refute Beelzy" (see above)
20. "Night! Youth! Paris! And the Moon!"
21. "Variation on a Theme"
22. "Old Acquaintance"
23. "Ah, the University!"
24. "After the Ball" (reprinted in F&SF, November 1959)
25. "Hell Hath No Fury"
26. "Green Thoughts"

Excerpts from a thoughtful review:
 JOHN COLLIER has an extremely pretty wit, usually bland, unexpected, and deceptive, which is the best kind.  . . .
. . . Collier has an infallible instinct for horror. The best contemporary one there is—far out in the lead. So much so, that I think frequently, and abruptly, he must frighten himself.  . . .
. . . In these tales, whenever there is enough horror, the horror keeps the wit in order, and so the combination cannot be improved upon. But in the twelve or so fantasies included, with a couple of exceptions, there is something inherently wrong . . . .
. . . I may be wrong, but fantasy has always appeared to me as one of the few literary expressions in which virtue, even if it is shabby, must win.  . . .
. . . Like the devil, or the jinn, or the bad-fairy, the author also is completely powerful in a fantasy. Moving in a never-never world, he can do exactly what he pleases, and therefore most exactly cannot do what he pleases. Released from any necessity of the rational, or the realistic, or the human, he must use his freedom with discrimination and, if anything, become more human. Faust had to turn against the world and undergo a long period of degeneration before the devil got him, and Dr. Jekyll did the same. You can't take any old scrubby human being and turn him over. If you do, it's like some undergraduate joke. And when John Collier remembers this, his fantasies are as perfect as his murder stories.  . . .
. . . In short, I, for one, wish John Collier would forget his preoccupation with the Devil, who's really a dull and unpleasant fellow, and too much around at present, anyway, with a lot of his lesser demons, and concentrate on murder long or short. Long, I hope, and lots of it. — Struthers Burt, "Lineal Descendant of Saki," The Saturday Review (February 5, 1944 HERE)
NOTE: These stories saw republication in FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS (1951); see the article HERE.
Resource:
- There's a Wikipedia article about Collier HERE.

Category: Mainstream fiction . . . fantasy . . . something else?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"In an Instant Sherlock Holmes Was Down on His Knees, Examining the Footprints with a Stethoscope"

"The Coldslaw Diamond Robbery."
By Anonymous.
First appearance: Current Literature, April 1895.
Online HERE (PDF, 2 pages).
We've suspected for some time that Holmes's prodigious proboscis could sniff out even the most unlikely malefactor:
. . . Without a word Holmes drew out his pocket-lens and examined the atmosphere. “The whole thing wears an air of mystery,” he said quietly.  . . .
Category: SH parodies

"Proves That Mirth and Murder Can Mix"

MURDER WITHOUT TEARS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CRIME.
Edited by Will Cuppy (1884-1949).
Anthology: 28 items (chiefly short stories).
Sheridan House.
1946. 561 pages. $3.00 (seventy years ago).
No e-texts available.
For sale HERE.
Contents:
1. "What Makes a Good Murder?" / "Rules for Murderesses" - Edmund Pearson
2. "Malice Domestic, or, The Balham Mystery" / "The Wolves of West Port, A Tale of Terror" - William Roughead
3. "A Sort of Genius" - James Thurber
4. "Belle of Indiana" / "Murder at Harvard" - Stewart H. Holbrook
5. "The Tale of the Murderous Philologist with but One Big Toe" - Carl Carmer
6. "The Restless Bones of Lizzie Lowell" - Richard Dempewolff
7. "Murder Wholesale" - Frederick A. Mackenzie
8. "Fatal Occasions" / "Wife's Progress" / "Marriage à la Mode" / "Lessons in Love" - Newgate Calendar
9. "De Mortuis" - John Collier
10. "The Sailor-Boy's Tale" - Isak Dinesen
11. "An Introduction to Eric" - Ellis St. Joseph
12. "The Turn of the Tide" - C. S. Forester [filmed in 1983; go HERE]
13. "An Attempt at Murder" - Karel Čapek [reprinted in AHMM, October 1996]
14. "The Sins of Prince Saradine" - G. K. Chesterton [online HERE]
15. "The Gioconda Smile" - Aldous Huxley [online HERE]
16. "A Jury of Her Peers" - Susan Glaspell [online HERE]
17. "Accident" / Agatha Christie
18. "In the Teeth of the Evidence" - Dorothy L. Sayers
19. "Green Ice" - Stuart Palmer
20. "The Curate of Churnside" - Grant Allen [online HERE]
21. "They Can Only Hang You Once" - Dashiell Hammett [online HERE]
22. "Maddened by Mystery, or, The Defective Detective" - Stephen Leacock [online HERE]
A couple of contemporary reviews:
Versatile Mr. C, crime-critic, author, and humorist, sifts short murder yarns and comes up smiling with 28 unlugubrious examples. - Collection of works by American and English writers, including pungent nuggets from Newgate Calendar, proves that mirth and murder can mix. - Verdict: Very Good. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (July 27, 1946).
High level selection for this anthology of real and fictional crime stories which includes top notch fanciers, Roughead and Pearson, accounts from the Newgate Calendar, fiction from Collier, Forester, Chesterton, Huxley, Glaspell, Christie, Sayers,  Palmer, Hammett, and a spoof from Leacock. There are essays on a good murder, rules for murderesses, a survey of wholesale murders, and Father Brown, Peter Wimsey and Sam Slade [sic] among the sleuths. Among the anthologies - better taste and more smiles. — KIRKUS REVIEWS (July 1946)
Also collected by Will Cuppy:

WORLD'S GREAT MYSTERY STORIES.
Edited by Will Cuppy (1884-1949).
Anthology: 20 stories.
World Publishing Co.
1943. 299 pages.
No e-texts available.
A review is HERE.
Contents:
1. William Faulkner, "A Rose for Emily" [online HERE, PDF]
2. Agatha Christie, "The Adventure of the Clapham Cook"
3. Francis Brettt Young, "A Message to Laura"
4. Dorothy L. Sayers, "Suspicion"
5. Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Fiend of the Cooperage" [online HERE]
6. Edith Wharton, "Miss Mary Pask" [online HERE]
7. Charles Dickens, "The Signal-Man" [online HERE]
8. Arthur Machen, "The Cosy Room" [online HERE]
9. Irvin S. Cobb, "A Bird in the Hand"
10. Algernon Blackwood, "The Listener" [online HERE]
11. F. Scott Fitzgerald, "A Short Trip Home" [online HERE]
12. Edgar Wallace, "The Magic of Fear" [online HERE]
13. H. G. Wells, "The Door in the Wall" [online HERE]
14. W. W. Jacobs, "The Interruption" [online HERE]
15. Wilkie Collins, "The Dream Woman" [online HERE]
16. Ambrose Bierce, "The Boarded Window" [online HERE]
17. Katharine Fullerton Gerould, "Vain Oblations"
18. Edgar Allan Poe, "The Masque of the Red Death" [online HERE]
19. William Mudford, "The Iron Shroud" [online HERE, PDF]
20. Stephen Leacock, "Who do You Think Did It? or, The Mixed-Up Murder Mystery" [online HERE]

WORLD'S GREAT DETECTIVE STORIES: AMERICAN AND ENGLISH MASTERPIECES.
Edited and introduction by Will Cuppy (1884-1949).
Anthology: 14 stories.
World Publishing Co.
1943. 320 pages.
No e-texts available.

Contents:
1. "The Man with Copper Fingers" - Dorothy L. Sayers [online HERE]
2. "A Man Called Spade" - Dashiell Hammett
3. "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez" - A. Conan Doyle [online HERE, PDF]
4. "The Man Who Was Missing" - Mignon G. Eberhart
5. "The Yellow Diamonds" - H. C. Bailey
6. "The Mystery of the Missing Wash" - Octavus Roy Cohen
7. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" - Edgar Allan Poe [online HERE]
8. "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" - Agatha Christie [online HERE, PDF]
9. "The Seal of Nebuchadnezzar" - R. Austin Freeman [online HERE]
10. "The Adventure of the House of Darkness" - Ellery Queen
11. "The Elusive Bullet" - John Rhode [online HERE]
12. "The New Invisible Man" - Carter Dickson
13. "The Policeman's Cape" - David Frome
14. "The Stolen White Elephant" - Mark Twain [online HERE]

Resource:
- Satirist Will Cuppy's life wasn't so much fun, with him ending it as a suicide; see the Wikipedia article HERE.

Category: Mystery anthologies