Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"You Won't Be Able to Talk—Not When You're a Corpse!"

JOSEPH COMMINGS is best known as one of the few pulpsters who specialized in impossible crimes, but in the following story there's not even a glimmer of that ingenuity. Instead we have a tough guy yarn that in its short span could serve as a perfect model of hardboiled noir: the compromised lone wolf private eye who draws the line at murder, a prize everybody wants but nobody deserves, brutal cops, and a lethal femme fatale . . .

"Gems Glow with Blood."
By Joseph Commings (1913-92).
First appearance: Crime Fiction Stories, December 1950 (only issue).
Short story (14 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE; select page 22).
"Twelve states know about you. Why be shy with me?"
Being a shamus can have its perks:
She was a come-hither blonde. She was carrying a quarter-million dollars' worth of stolen rubies. She was the type who needed very little urging to make herself at home.
However . . .
I leaned in the doorway. She'd have to go through me to get out. There was nothing aimless in the way her automatic was pointing. I started to reach out. She pulled the trigger. . . .
That's not an automatic.
Characters:
~ Gertie Sale:
   "Her eyes were sea-blue. Like watery graves."
~ Hod Danto:
   "I wasn't what the police would call an absolutely scrupulous private operator."
~ Renny Jordahl:
   "Jordahl, with the big Fifth Avenue jeweler's front to cover up his crooked business."
~ Jan Bardijov:
   "He came on to the United States, smuggling in a quarter of a million in the best pigeon's blood."
~ Cougar and O'Neil:
   "Cougar hit me. I tried to ride the punch and topple over backwards toward the emergency stairway. I rolled over into the dark at the foot of the stairs. Both of them came in after me. Cougar's partner, O'Neil, was wearing copper-toed bulldog shoes. And he was a kicker."

Resources:
- As this obituary (HERE) for Joseph Commings perceptively indicates, he excelled at the impossible crime problem; there's more at a relatively small entry at Wikipedia (HERE), a more substantial GAD Wiki article (HERE), and the admirably thorough The Locked Room Mystery website (HERE). The latest collection of Commings's fiction, Banner Deadlines (2004) from Crippen & Landru, is reviewed (HERE) on Mystery*File and still barely available for sale (HERE).

The bottom line: "It's a bonny thing. Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed."
Sherlock Holmes

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