Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Manifold Moods of Arthur Porges

In mystery readerdom Arthur Porges is most famous for what Mike Ashley calls "ingenious impossible crime stories," but as these two contrasting narratives show, he had sufficient range to tap effectively into his characters' emotions as well as their intellects.

"A Small Favor."
By Arthur Porges (1915-2006).
First appearance: Bestseller Mystery Magazine, January 1960.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"As a member of the midnight profession of burglary, Franz struck with rapidity and precision. Nothing stood in his way, until one night a woman's sobs. . . "
Like so many of his ilk, sooner or later a blackmailer will let greed overrule his better judgment; what this one doesn't count on is another criminal, with better ethics:

   "There was a tone in the blackmailer's voice he had heard often before. Sometimes tenor; then, again, bass. Even contralto. It was a note of pleasure; the purr of a cat with an injured mouse to play with. Franz fought an irrational urge to run, to cringe, to scream, to beg, to turn to wood and be as invulnerable to pain."

Resource:
- A while back we stumbled across another story dealing with a burglar and a lady in distress published fifty-seven years earlier; go HERE to link to it.

~ ~ ~
"No Killer Has Wings."
By Arthur Porges (1915-2006).
First appearance: AHMM, January 1961.
Reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries (2006) (for sale HERE).
Short story (~16 pages).
Online HERE (for the moment, anyhow).
". . . the victim is Colonel McCabe, a retired Army Officer, sixty-two years old. Yesterday morning, quite early, he went down to his private beach, as usual, accompanied by his dog. After a brief paddling in the shallows, he dozed on a blanket, and while he was dozing somebody came up to him, carrying a walking stick, and calmly smashed his skull with the heavy knob. It seems beyond a doubt that the killer must have been Larry Channing, the colonel’s nephew, a boy of twenty-four, who lives in the same house."
Like the policeman handling the investigation says, it all adds up to a "nice open-and-shut case" against Larry Channing. Dr. Hoffman warns his friends that he will go where the evidence leads irrespective of personal friendships, so that if Larry is guilty, so be it; but gathering the evidence will prove laborious, painstaking, and frustratingly inconclusive—until, that is, Hoffman has a brain-storm . . .

Principal characters:
~ Dr. Joel Hoffman, a pathologist and qualified expert in forensic medicine:
   "If Larry is innocent, you’ve got a real classic here – a locked room murder, basically. The tracks on the sand show plainly that nobody else came anywhere near the victim."
~ Dana, Lieutenant Ader's niece:
   "You’re the only one who can help us. Everything adds up all wrong. Larry couldn’t have done it, and yet there’s nobody else who went out there."
~ Lieutenant Ader, an honest cop:
   ". . . she thinks he’s innocent. Why, I don’t know. I’ve told her about your work before, and now she expects you to perform a grade A miracle to order. In other words, Dana’s picked you to smash my nice open-and-shut case to little pieces."
~ Wheeler, the curator of the family museum:
   "[He] was obviously proud of the collection, and had become a trained specialist on medieval warfare through his research for the colonel. He enthusiastically demonstrated the correct use of several outlandish weapons, handling them with the assurance of an expert."
~ Gustavus Adolphus:
   "If he could talk, our job would have been a lot easier."

Hoffmanisms:
   "Oddly enough, it occurred to me that these organisms, so loathsome to the laymen, were not only gracefully proportioned, and miracles of design, but never killed each other through greed or hate, and would never, never build a hydrogen bomb to destroy the world."
   ". . . in fact, I like playing detective. For that matter, who doesn’t?"
   "When you’ve met enough murderers, one thing soon becomes as clear as distilled water: there’s simply no way to tell a potential killer in advance of the crime."
   "I’ve known cops who wouldn’t mess with a case that was all sewed up to please their wives, children, or grandparents. He was doing it for a mere niece."
   ". . . I only do wonders on Wednesday and Friday; this is Tuesday, remember."
   ". . . the coroner, an ancient incubus who missed his forte as a meat-cutter for some supermarket."
   ". . . most murders are not subtle; they are chock full of blunders. When a man is keyed up to the point of killing, he’s not likely to be a cool planner."
   "How many of the other suspects fly? Because, believe me, it’ll take wings or teleportation to explain how the old man got killed without the murderer leaving tracks on the sand."
   "There’s a process called 'brain-storming', very popular on Madison Avenue. It consists of throwing the rational mind out of gear, and letting its motor race. You give your wildest fancies free rein, hoping to find gold among the dross. I tried that, and came up with some weird notions."
   ". . . I went home to bed, and dreamed of a skin-diving coach dog that terrorized the bathers."
   "Maybe John Dickson Carr can make up and solve these locked room puzzles on paper, but this was too much for me."
   ". . . it makes a difference, when you have a personal interest in an investigation."
   "A murderer is full of fears generally, and the worst of them is an eyewitness to the crime."
Resources:
- Wikipedia (HERE), Mike Grost (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) have oodles of information about Arthur Porges's mystery and science fiction.
- Several web sources focus exclusively on Porges and his writings: a fanpage HERE (The Arthur Porges Fan Site), an essay on his mystery fiction HERE ("A Talent to Burn" by Richard Simms), and a nicely compiled annotated list of many of his locked room stories HERE (The Locked Room Mystery).

The bottom line: "In terms of mystery stories that feature a locked-room, or impossible-crime puzzle, Porges was immensely prolific. A master at writing plots that revolve around a scientific idea, Porges produced, during his lifetime, a diverse body of work within this disciplined literary field."
Richard Simms

2 comments:

  1. I have one of his short stories in one of the many anthologies I have lying about. He's a writer I[d never heard of. Now I must dig that story out and give it a read.

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    1. Allan - Off and on over the years I've read stories by Porges, and was entertained by them all. Since, for whatever reason, he didn't bother with book publication of his short stories, hundreds of them are still uncollected, a deficiency which Richard Simms, for one, seems to want to correct.

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