Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Deliberately, Cleverly, and Diabolically Murdered"

"But the Patient Died."
By Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75).
First appearance: Collier's, October 18, 1947.
Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine, June/July 1953; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), October 1954; The Saint Detective Magazine (UK), December 1954; and Mystery Digest, March 1958.
Collected in Diagnosis: Homicide (1950).
Short story (7 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 104).
(Note: Poor illustrations, but the text is readable.)
"Her relatives were all terribly upset—but one of them was a murderer."
This is the first appearance of a character that this author would come back to often over the next quarter century:
Blochman's Dr. Coffee tale, "But the Patient Died" (1947), is a straightforward Dr. Thorndyke imitation. The first tale in the Dr. Coffee series, it furnishes a good summary of both the daily hospital work and routine of Dr. Coffee, and of his and his police friend Max Ritter's personalities. It makes for pleasant reading, although quite mechanical in its approach to mystery. The best touches in the story deal with politics in Coffee's hometown of Northbank. — Mike Grost, the GAD Wiki (HERE)
When a young woman mysteriously dies after a routine operation, Dr. Coffee's skills as a pathologist lead him to only one possible diagnosis: murder.

Main characters:
~ Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee, Chief Pathologist at Pasteur Hospital:
   "Lab tests showed Mrs. Baron in good physical shape this morning. Her blood clotted in the normal time of three minutes. A few hours later her blood just wouldn't clot at all, so that she bled to death despite a technically perfect operation. I've got to find out what happened to her in those few hours."
~ Doris Hudson, Coffee's lab assistant:
   "She was tall and slim and wore her white smock as though it had been custom-tailored."
~ Dr. Andrews, the surgeon:
   "It was a simple operation—an old appendix. I've done dozens and dozens, and never lost a patient before." 
~ Mrs. Harriet Baron, the victim:
   "'She was a beautiful thing, Dan.' Dr. Andrews seemed to be talking to himself reproach-fully. 'Young. Long golden hair. Married only a year. . .'"
~ Jerry Baron, the husband:
   "Mr. Baron and Miss Price drowned their sorrow for a while and then departed, with my boys right behind. The bereaved husband drove the sorrowing Miss Price to her home on the Heights. They went in and turned on a light. My boys say that after one minute and twenty seconds of the first round Miss Price broke the clinch, went to her own corner, and pulled down the shade."
~ Margery Grey, the sister:
   "Whatever she saw there seemed to frighten her. Her eyes widened. Then her lips closed again with some newfound strength. She was no longer plain-looking. She was suddenly mature, resolute, even beautiful; it was the beauty of character."
~ Steve Forest, the ex-boyfriend:
   "And if I were in Northbank tonight, instead of out here on the other side of the world, I'd like nothing better than killing you with my own hands. Yes, you and that hairless lap dog you say you love so much."
~ Diana Price, the friend:
   "'Something's wrong with her,' Dr. Coffee said. 'Did you notice the skin around her eyes? And her lips?'"
~ Miss Green, the head nurse:
   "Miss Price has always shown a great interest in her work."
~ Lieutenant Max Ritter:
   "There's nothing like a little high-class science to scare hell out of a wrong guy."
~ Dr. Thomas Vane, the Northbank County coroner:
   "'Just as I thought,' said the coroner. 'Surgical shock and internal hemorrhage.' He winked at Dr. Coffee. 'Nothing criminal here. Nobody to blame. I'll just sign the death certificate'."
Nice moments:

   "THE waiting room in the surgical wing of Pasteur Hospital was very much like a hundred other waiting rooms in a hundred other hospitals in the American Middle West. The last cheerless light of the setting sun filtered through the many windows to scatter shadows over the impersonal neatness of the wicker furniture and the potted rubber plants. The false casualness of visitors awaiting word of life or death made subdued voices as hollow as the fierce efforts at concentration of those who pretended to read."

   "The smartly dressed woman crossed her silken legs and opened her suede bag. The emerald-cut diamond on her right hand sketched an arc of cold fire as she raised a fragrant wisp of lace to dab at her dark eyes."
Resources:
- Wikipedia (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE) have info about Lawrence G. Blochman and his output, while Only Detect discusses one of Blochman's novels (HERE).
- Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee appeared in just over two dozen shorter works between 1947 and 1974 (ten are available free online); here is the FictionMags list of his appearances ("ss" = short story; "nv" = novelette):

   (1) "But the Patient Died" (nv) Collier’s, October 18, 1947 [online HERE and HERE]
   (2) "Rum for Dinner" (ss) Collier’s, February 7, 1948 [online HERE and HERE]
   (3) "Sleepwalker" (ss) Collier’s, May 15, 1948; also as “Catfish Story” [online HERE and HERE]
   (4) "Deadly Backfire" (ss) Collier’s, January 22, 1949 [online HERE, HERE, and HERE]
   (5) "Brood of Evil" (ss) Collier’s, April 2, 1949 [online HERE, HERE, and HERE]
   (6) "Diagnosis Deferred" (ss) Collier’s, December 24, 1949 [online HERE and HERE]
   (7) "The Swami of Northbank" (ss) Collier’s, July 15, 1950 [online HERE and HERE]
   (8) "Kiss of Kandahar" (nv) Collier’s, February 17, 1951; also as “A Kiss for Belinda” [online HERE and HERE]
   (9) "Calendar Girl" (nv) Collier’s, September 20, 1952 [online HERE]
   (10) "If You Want to Get Killed" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1955
   (11) "Stacked Deck" (ss) Collier’s, June 8, 1956; also as “A Case of Poetic Justice” [online HERE]
   (12) "The Man Who Lost His Taste" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 1958
   (13) "Murder in a Motel" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, April 1959
   (14) "The Wolf and the Wayward WAC" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1963
   (15) "Young Wife" (ss) This Week, November 17, 1963
   (16) "The Killer with No Fingerprints" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1964
   (17) "Goodbye, Stranger" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, October 1964
   (18) "Death by Drowning?" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, April 1965
   (19) "Dr. Coffee and the Philanderer’s Brain" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, August 1966
   (20) "Missing: One Stage-Struck Hippie" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1970
   (21) "Dr. Coffee and the Amateur Angel" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, October 1971
   (22) "Dr. Coffee and the Pardell Case" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1972
   (23) "Dr. Coffee and the Whiz Kid" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1972
   (24) "Dr. Coffee and the Other Twin" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1973
   (25) "The Hate Collector" (ss) Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, March 1974

- Dr. Coffee's first appearance on screen was in the Lux Video Theatre episode "Diagnosis: Homicide" (August 1957) (see the IMDb HERE).
- There was also a short-lived TV series featuring this character (July-September 1960; just 9 shows), with Patrick O'Neal (1927-94) as Dr. Coffee, Chester Morris (1901-70) as Max Ritter, and Phyllis Newman (born 1933) as Doris Hudson; according to Jimbo Berkey at his Free Classic TV Shows website (HERE), apparently only one episode still survives:
The Diagnosis: Unknown television show was the summer replacement for the Gary Moore Show, and aired every Tuesday evening at 10 p.m. Dr. Coffee was a scientist that solved crimes using science to interpret clues. This was the first television show that brought the scientist into the crime field as the main pro-tagonist. Unfortunately, I can only find one surviving episode, and it isn't in great shape, but it is a wonderful look at a brand new genre of television crime show, long before C.S.I. and the shows we are familiar with today.
Also see Wikipedia HERE for more about the show, including an episode list; as the article makes plain, Diagnosis: Unknown can be regarded as a precursor to the Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis: Murder.

The bottom line: "A doctor who lacks doubt is not a doctor. He's an executioner."
Hercule Poirot

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