Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Death Was Already in the Room with the Two of Them"

"Dilemma of the Dead Lady."
By Cornell Woolrich (1903-68).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, July 4, 1936.
Reprinted in Detective Fiction, February 1951 and The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps (2008); collected in Dilemma of the Dead Lady (1949) as by "William Irish."
Novelette (24 pages).
Online HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"The Instant Babe Sherman Became Desperate, He Began to Make Mistakes—Just Two Mistakes, but Either Could Cost His Life!"
Chapter I: "He was a good-looking devil, if you cared for his type of good looks—and women usually did. Then later on, they always found out how wrong they'd been."
Chapter II: All Aboard!
Chapter III: Surprise
Chapter IV: Jockeying for Peace
Chapter V: Checkmate
Chapter VI: Hare-and-Hounds
Chapter VII: The Furies Laugh

A running battle of wits develops between an unnerved jewel thief turned killer and the man who just won't leave him alone, with a violent, doubly ironic finish.

Main characters:
~ Babe Sherman, until now a lady-killer in name only:
   "Get hep to yourself! I should marry you! Why, we don't even talk the same lingo!"
~ Manon, the girl from the jewelry shop:
   "But you are going to New York! This ticket is for one!"
~ Jacques, the porter:
   "M'sieu hasn't much time."
~ E. M. Fowler, the stranger on the train:
   "Lone wolf, I notice, though. Matter, Sûreté get your shill?"
~ "A fresh little flapper":
   "Oh, purrdon me! We've got the President with us!"
Nice phraseology:

   "He had a good reason, $75,000 worth of pearls. When they said it in francs it sounded like a telephone number."

   "She was staring, not at that, but at the lustrous string of pearls that spilled out of it like a tiny snake, their diamond catch twinkling like an eye."

   "Suddenly she dropped vertically, like a plummet, between his fumbling hands, twitched spasmodically for an instant at his feet, then lay there still, face black now, eyes horrible protuberances. Dead. Strangled by a thing of beauty, a thing meant to give pleasure."

   "Strangest of biers, for a little fool that hadn't known her men well enough!"

   "The driver had made the Gare like only a Paris driver can make a destination, on two wheels . . ."

   ". . . the ashes of a cigarette were the only obsequies she was getting."

   "He felt like someone who has just had a rattlesnake dropped down the back of his neck while he's tied hand and foot."

   "Water scotches a trail in more ways than one."

   "Something inside him curled up, but because there was no blade or voltage to follow the shock, he went ahead breathing and thinking."

   "Then one of those hunches that at times visit the deserving and the undeserving alike, smote him from nowhere . . ."

   "A minute later she was out there with him, and the end of his long, harrowing purgatory was in sight."

   "His face was a piteous blur against the night that would have wrung tears from the Evil One himself."

   "There was a rush of blood to his ears that drowned it out, and the laughter of the Furies seemed to shriek around him while they prodded him with white-hot irons."

Typos: "three time over"; "the coffe in Paris."
Resources:
- In The Black Lizard book, editor Otto Penzler characterizes the types of individuals who populate Cornell Woolrich's stories:
. . . so many of his characters are shades of gray. People with whom we empathize choose to murder someone, or are put in positions where there seems to be no choice. Policemen, the upholders of the law, are frequently fascistic thugs who enjoy torturing suspects. Pretty girls with faces of angels turn out to be liars and cheats, and often worse. His situations ended unjustly when other authors would have resolved them neatly, and a Woolrich character often still faces a future barren of love, joy, or hope at the end of a story.
The trick Woolrich plays on the reader in "Dilemma of the Dead Lady" is basically the one Alfred Hitchcock plays on the audience in some of his films—against his better judgment, the reader comes to identify with the villain.
- Woolrich's detective fiction has been previously featured on ONTOS several times: HERE, HERE, and HERE.

The bottom line: "I wear a necklace 'cause I wanna know when I'm upside down."
Mitch Hedberg

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"The Cat Must Know"

"Schrödinger’s Gun."
By Ray Wood (born 1990).
First appearance: Tor.com, February 15, 2015.
Novelette (28 pages).
Online HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Of all the crime scenes in all the timelines in all the multiverse, Detective O’Harren walks into the basement on West 21st. In every possible universe, Johnny Rivers is dead. But the questions that need answering—who killed him and why—are still a matter of uncertainty."
You'd think that a device that lets you examine and evaluate an event from millions of dif-ferent angles would help you perfectly determine what's been happening, with practically no possibility of error; but using that device in her quest to determine who murdered a two-bit mobster, Detective O'Harren of the Chicago PD will discover the killer from the one perspec-tive, out of a near infinity of them, that according to both theory and practice shouldn't be possible.

Principal characters:
~ Detective O'Harren, the narrator, a female detective with a heisen implant and the determi-nation to see this case closed:
   "I folded my arms across my chest and looked up at the light bulb. Why did I never get the universes where things were cut and dry?"
~ Johnny Rivers, an unmourned low-life bootlegger:
   No matter where or when you find him, he's still decorating the scenery with his bullet-riddled body.
~ Detective Moore, O'Harren's partner:
   "Nice little set-up he had here. You know half the joints in this neighborhood carry his booze and no one else’s? Not that he gave them much choice in the matter."
~ Kitty Rivers, the newly-minted widow:
   "'It was my fault,' she said, and looked at me with wet, red eyes, like a child."
~ Vincent Quine, a no-good hood:
   "His slick black hair was lovingly oiled. Chicago legend had it that he had a messy scar on his leg from a badly-healed bullet wound: he’d plugged it with a finger during a gunfight and had refused to go to a hospital."
Memorable lines:

   "It was one of those drab Chicago winters, the kind where every sunrise brings fresh bodies on the sidewalks. At least this one was indoors."

   "Snow scrunched beneath my boots as I made my way home that night. It was cold, and quiet: only the occasional hum of a car or smatter of distant voices on the wind disturbed the silence."

   "It helps if your life’s already in pieces when you get the heisen implant. Less to adapt to, that way."

   "For an awful moment I thought I was going to end up splattered across the wall, then someone laughed and the tension broke. Heads turned away; conversations resumed."

   ". . . he was a judge so crooked you could use him to uncork wine."

   "'Why bother?' he had asked me once. 'Even if you bring this guy down now there’s gonna be about a million other universes where he gets away scot free, right?'"

  "I’d become a ghost in my own family. I should have done something, but I couldn’t—somehow I couldn’t turn my back on all those possibilities."

Resources:
- Ray Wood is a relatively new author; see his bibliography at the ISFDb HERE.
- As far as we know, Schrödinger’s cat never owned a gun, but, dead and/or alive, he has still managed to permeate popular culture; go HERE for more.
- The idea of parallel universes (the "multiverse") has proven irresistibly attractive to science fiction writers the world over; go HERE (TV Tropes), HERE (Wikipedia), and HERE (also Wikipedia) to see why.
- Similarly, the notion of a multiverse has been equally seductive to scientists, and this despite the lack of any empirical evidence for its existence; according to Wikipedia (HERE):
The physics community continues to debate the multiverse hypothesis. Prominent physicists disagree about whether the multiverse exists. Some physicists say the multiverse is not a legitimate topic of scientific inquiry. Concerns have been raised about whether attempts to exempt the multiverse from experimental verification could erode public confidence in science and ultimately damage the study of fundamental physics. Some have argued that the multiverse is a philosophical rather than a scientific hypothesis because it cannot be falsified. The ability to disprove a theory by means of scientific experiment has always been part of the accepted scientific method. Paul Steinhardt has famously argued that no experiment can rule out a theory if the theory provides for all possible outcomes.

The bottom line: "If I get a parking ticket, there is always a parallel universe where I didn't. On the other hand, there is yet another universe where my car was stolen."
Max Tegmark

Thursday, May 26, 2016

OLD-TIME DETECTION, Spring 2016

(GIVE ME THAT) OLD-TIME DETECTION.
Spring 2016. Issue #41.
Editor: Arthur Vidro.
Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd.
36 pages (including covers).
Cover image: E. C. Bentley's Elephant's Walk (1950).

It's simple enough to state: If you have even the slightest interest in detective fiction then you should get every available issue of Arthur Vidro's (Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION (OTD to its friends). This one, as with all of them, more than repays its cost.

CONTENTS:

(1) Essay: "The Classical Detective Novel in America" by Jon L. Breen (5 pages):
   Breen's fine essay from 1984 highlights the current neglect of some really good American Golden Age proponents of the pure detective novel, a neglect which is only now in the early 2000s being corrected (including a surge in e-book reprints) that makes these "forgotten" authors widely accessible once more.

(2) Author Spotlight: "Edmund Clerihew Bentley" by Charles Shibuk (3 pages):
   While Bentley's detective fiction output was never large, he proved to be quite influential in the field.
   Stories discussed at some length: Trent's Last Case, the "Greedy Night" parody, Trent's Own Case, Trent Intervenes, and Elephant's Walk.
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE and the GAD Wiki HERE.

(3) Review: The Decagon House Murders by Michael Dirda (2 pages):
   ". . . a terrific mystery, a classic of misdirection very much in the manner of Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr.  . . .  this book really is a pleasure for anyone who enjoys locked room mysteries, impossible crimes, or Golden Age 'Challenges to the Reader'."
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE and HERE.
(4) Fiction: "The Adventure of the Haunted Cave" (1940) by Ellery Queen (7 pages):
   "He had been strangled to death. And his footprints, which later measurements proved could only have been made by his bare feet, showed plainly that he was the only human being who had walked across the clearing."
   For Ellery, Nikki, Inspector Queen, and Sergeant Velie, what should have been a relaxing weekend in the mountains turns first into a ghost hunt, then rapidly escalates into a full-fledged locked cave murder mystery. With a "Challenge to the Reader"!
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE and the GAD Wiki HERE.

(5) Christie Corner by Dr. John Curran (1.5 pages):
   "I had always assumed that no screen version of Christie could be as consistently bad as the Marple series. Little did I know . . ."
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE and the GAD Wiki HERE.
(6) At the Cinema by William K. Everson (1.5 pages):
   Reviews of two films: The Kennel Murder Case (1933), "which not only has an unusually intriguing mystery, but a logical and well-arrived-at solution too"; and Bulldog Jack (a.k.a. Alias Bulldog Drummond, 1935), "not only a pungent and subtle spoof of the genre, but also an excellent if tongue-in-cheek thriller in its own right."
   Resources: The GAD Wiki HERE and the IMDb HERE; the GAD Wiki HERE and the IMDb HERE.
(7) "The Paperback Revolution" by Charles Shibuk (2 pages):
   Books discussed: The Big Four, The Labors of Hercules, Third Girl, And Then Put Out the Light, Panic in Box C, The Venus Trap, A Taste for Violence, Blue City, Black Orchids, Love Lies Bleeding, and Buried for Pleasure.
(8) The Readers Write (1 page):
   "I was so pleased to see Cat of Many Tails emerged as the top choice in your survey of crime fiction experts . . ."

(9) Feature: "The Life and Times of Gideon Fell" by Marvin Lachman (7.25 pages):
   Treating Carr's fictional characters as if they were real, Lachman offers a brief but excellent bibliographical biography (or biographical bibliography) of the great solver of seemingly impenetrable problems, Dr. Gideon Fell, book by book; there's also a fascinating addendum presenting Lachman's theory of what happened to Mrs. Fell.
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE and the GAD Wiki HERE.

(10) Mini-Reviews (2 pages):
   Short but smart reviews by Amnon Kabatchnik, Charles Shibuk, Bruce Dettman, Ruth Ordivar, and Arthur Vidro.
   The books: Death to the Rescue (1931), The Needle's Kiss (1929), The Art of the English Murder (2014), Dangerous Landing (1975), and The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy (1975).
   Resource: The GAD Wiki HERE.
(11) Puzzle (.25 page).

Subscription information:
- Published three times a year: spring, summer, and autumn.
- Sample copy: $6.00 in U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else.
- One-year U.S.: $18.00 ($15.00 for Mensans).
- One-year overseas: $40.00 (or 20 pounds sterling or 25 euros).
- Payment: Checks or cash or U.S. postage stamps.
Mailing address:
   Arthur Vidro, editor
   Old-Time Detection
   2 Ellery Street
   Claremont, New Hampshire 03743
Web address:
   oldtimedetection@netzero.net

Resource:
- Our review of the Autumn 2015 issue of OTD is HERE.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"He Was a Very Fit and Proper Person to Be Made into an Awful Example, and So They Set the Mill of the Law in Motion"

"The Banknote Forger."
By C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne (1866-1944).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, September 1899.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and Vintage Short Mystery Classics HERE (PDF).
"Of course, it isn't often that he comes into use; but I'll give him credit for working up some cases into a win which would otherwise have turned out an absolute fizzle."
Master Willie Cope inherited quite a fortune in his youth and began squandering it almost immediately; even now, a little older but no wiser, he's still disposing of it at an amazing rate (his "domestic motto" being, according to his defence counsel, Grayson, QC, "Whilst we live, don't let's have any doubt about it").

Such a situation can go on only so long before the debt bubble bursts; in Willie Cope's case, the joyride has terminated not simply in incipient impoverishment but also in scandal and the threat of imprisonment:
". . . It was when, in his own particular line, Cope [relates Grayson] had created himself the biggest celebrity in the country, that his earthquake arrived. He was accused of systematically uttering forged Bank of England thousand-pound notes. It seemed that he had negotiated at least fifty-four of them, and there might be others which had not yet come in.  . . .  this is a crime which, in the British decalogue, comes very little short of brutal murder . . ."
Grayson and Barnes, Master Cope's counsellors, both agree that their client isn't smart enough to pull off these forgeries:
". . . it's too big an order for Cope. His inventive faculties are stimulated just now; he's got as good and solid a scare in him as a man can well carry amongst his ribs without tumbling down; but even that hasn't screwed him to the necessary pitch. He no more knows how those notes got into his pocket than Elk, your clerk, does."
But, while he may not know everything, Elk does know his onions, so to speak, with his personal hobby, an interest in photography, leading him to the very person who has been forging the bills, an individual with "small and nicely shaped" hands who makes one—just one—critical error with them.

Resources:
- C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne isn't as well known for his SF/Fantasy and crime fiction as he is for his mainstream novels: Wikipedia HERE, the GAD Wiki HERE, the SFE HERE, and the ISFDb HERE.
- Photography is essential to our story; a short history of the technique is on Wikipedia HERE, while Victorian Web has a timeline of 19th century photography HERE.
- Master Cope would have been prosecuted under the Forgery Act of 1870, which, if you're of a mind to, you can read HERE.
- Hyne's short story about an indefatigable ship's purser named Mr. Horrocks, "The Looting of the Specie Room" (1900), was adapted for the second season of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1973); go HERE and behold the IMDb title error.

The bottom line:
   Hast thou betrai'd my credulous innocence
   With visor'd falshood and base forgery?
   — Milton

Friday, May 20, 2016

Death in the Mirror

"Crash Beam."
By John Barrett (?-?).
First appearance: Planet Stories, Fall 1947.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE.
"Dan Kearns, sick and shaking, could already hear them talk: 'Yeah, come in on the Kearns beam—it's a new way to die!'"
We've heard of cutthroat competition, but this is ridiculous:
The doctor shook his head. "Some sort of convulsion. Muscles violently con-tracted. Funny he didn't fall to the floor. Must have affected the whole nervous system. Even the eye pupils are down to pin points." He looked around at Rawlins. "I may be sticking my neck out, sir, but off hand I'd say Stevens was killed."
"Killed?" Rawlins blinked at the form in the chair. "But that's impossible. The door was locked. The room hasn't been disturbed and there aren't any holes in the glass. Nothing could get in here except light."
Resources:
- A current safety concern (see HERE) just happens to relate to our story.
- We tried, honest we did, but we couldn't find any biographical information about our author.

The bottom line: "The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it."
Dudley Moore

Two Impossibilities from William Brittain

Editor Mike Ashley characterized William (Bill) Brittain, while he was alive, as . . .

   ". . . one of those authors who has consistently produced clever crime stories for the magazines for the last forty years and yet has had none collected in book form. That in itself is a mystery. He has written a long-running series featuring Leonard Strang, also a high-school teacher, who unravels unusual problems and whose adventures are long overdue for book publication." — Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes (2000)

. . . a statement that is still true today.

Mike Grost elaborates:

   "Brittain's best stories generate considerable intellectual excitement as the sleuth reveals their solution. It is very interesting to any true mystery fan to see a whole hidden pattern come to light out of a surface story. The fact that the solutions are often rich in detail adds to their excitement.

   "Brittain's best stories are true mysteries, with puzzle plots and solutions. He and his technique are much weaker on suspense plots, or tales that reveal most of the facts about the crook and his schemes early in the tale. Such tales are strictly among the minor works in his output.

   "William Brittain is clearly an intuitionist writer. His techniques are those of the intuitionist school: ingenious mysteries solved by pure thinking, often by an amateur, genius detective. Brittain's works are full of references to earlier detective writers, and these are typically of the intuitionist tradition: Doyle, Christie, Carr, Queen, Rex Stout. Several of Brittain's best works can be seen as armchair detective stories, where the sleuth solves the problem immediately after the facts are presented to him, without any further on scene investigation or sleuthing. This too is in the intuitionist tradition. Brittain often shows little interest in investigative technique, moving right from the puzzle to the solution. The fact that his works are compact short stories probably encouraged this approach. But it most deeply reflects his intuitionist emphasis on pure thinking." — Michael Grost, "William Brittain," A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

The first story below might not have Mr. Strang, but it is a very clever impossible crime tale with a most unusual amateur detective; whereas the second story highlights our perspica-cious pedagogue's ingenuity at its best.

"The Impossible Footprint."
By William Brittain (1930-2011).
First appearance: AHMM, November 1974.
Short story (17 pages).
Online HERE.
"An’ that’s the way it wuz, ez they say on the tellyvision."
In this murder mystery, the game is not afoot; the game is a foot.

Main characters:
~ Matt Kehoe, a cop on holiday:
   "I understood [says Joshua Red Wing] ye wuz one o’ them detective chaps like oi’ve read about in the penny-dreadful magazines. Oi thought ye’d be used to a bit uv hardship, what with runnin’ down alleys an’ climbin’ fire escapes like I see on the tellyvision. It’s a sad disappointment to discover yer as soft as the rest uv the hunters from the city. Next oi’ll be findin’ out ye can’t shoot worth a damn, neither."
~ Joshua Red Wing, a woodsman's guide who, says Matt, sounds "like an Irish Geronimo":
   "Joshua turned to Kehoe, a look of intense interest on his face. 'Do that, Mr. Kehoe,' he said. 'Talk to me about how the police ignore clues that’s right in front of their noses'."
~ Tip Spearing, the victim's son:
   "Tip Spearing was in his mid-twenties, at the peak of his manhood, but judging from the ghastly expression on his face, he had looked into the deepest pit of hell itself."
~ Sheriff Vernon Lefner, the local law:
   "'Murder!' Lefner’s face turned a beet-red. 'Josh, I’ve heard enough already. Nothing’s been said at all about Karl Spearing’s being murdered."

. . . but he was.
~ ~ ~

"Mr. Strang Accepts a Challenge."
By William Brittain (1930-2011).
First appearance: EQMM, November 1976.
Novelette (21 pages).
Online HERE.
"'Last July twenty-first,' he began, 'over in the Bay Ridge section of Aldershot, Simon Winkler died. The cause of death was a blow on the head – a fantastically powerful blow, since not only was the skull shattered, but two of the cervical vertebrae were crushed.
"'Now Simon’s aunts, Agnes and Lucille Winkler, were within a few feet of him when he died. Furthermore, they both had every reason to want him dead. And yet it’s impossible that either of them struck him down. The police even investigated the possibility that the whole thing was an accident. But that was just as impossible. You see, we not only can’t find out how the blow was landed, but also, whatever object struck Simon Winkler seems to have disappeared.'
"The students leaned forward like bloodhounds on the scent. 'I don’t have to worry about withholding information,' the detective went on, 'because there’s nothing to withhold. By the time we’re through here today, you’ll know as much about the case as I do, and I was the man in charge of it. But the police are really stumped by this one'."
When he's challenged by his students to use the applied logic he's been teaching them in figuring out how Simon Winkler was murdered even though there's no proof that he was, Mr. Strang reluctantly agrees to try. For him, determining whodunit is a no-brainer, but how-they-dunit could be a lot tougher, as he must match up the murder weapon with the abilities—or, you could say, the disabilities—of the killer.

Principal characters:
~ Mr. Leonard Strang, Aldershot High School science teacher:
   "The method of murder was not only heartless, as all murders are, it was also devilishly clever . . ."
~ Jerome Lockley:
   "We want you to figure out how Simon Winkler was wasted."
~ Detective Sergeant Paul Roberts, shanghaied into helping "because he hadn’t been alert enough to think of a plausible excuse when Mr. Strang had called him yesterday evening to ask him to come to the classroom and discuss the Winkler case":
   "So there you have it. The death of Simon Winkler. Was it a perfect crime? Was it an accident? We just don’t know. Frankly, this case seems immune to any logical approach. But I’d be very happy if Mr. Strang could shed any light on it. I don’t like cases that remain in the Open File. And neither does the lieutenant."
~ Father Raymond Penn, "the perfect, incorruptible, unimpeachable witness":
   "The thing holding open the storm door was the body of Simon Winkler. He was lying on the front stoop with blood gushing from his head. There were some gardening implements on the stoop – a bushel basket and some other things – and the blood had stained them all red, even in the rain. I was numb. Didn’t know what to think or do. Finally I felt for a pulse. There was none. Winkler was dead."
~ Agnes and Lucille Winkler, the victim's aunts:
   ". . . at the time Simon Winkler came to call on his aunts, he was in the process of trying to take their house away from them by some kind of sharp legal ploy. The two old women hated his guts. They made no bones during the entire investigation about how much they despised their nephew. So Simon Winkler’s visit to his aunts was hardly a social call."
   
Resources:
- Both Wikipedia HERE and the ISFDb HERE have some things to say about William (Bill) Brittain.

The bottom line: "I defy gravity."
Marilyn Monroe

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"I Had the Destiny of the System Riding in the Holds Behind Me, and Nobody Really Knew or Cared That I'd Break My Heart to Keep It Safe"

"Blood on My Jets."
By Algis Budrys (Algirdas Jonas Budrys, 1931-2008).
First appearance: Rocket Stories, July 1953.
Collected in Blood on My Jets and Others (for sale HERE; reviewed HERE WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS in both places).
Short novel (44 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Parental caution: Violence and very strong language.)
"They were the hired gun-rabble of the System, engaged in the dirtiest, most thankless racket in all the worlds. But Ash Holcomb was doing all right, until the girl walked out of his past with high stakes in her pockets and murder in her eyes!"
It's reasonable to expect that, unless there's a radical change in human behavior, on the High Frontier of the distant future we'll have tough guys tangling with low life criminal types, the classic tarnished knights cleaning up the mean streets (with guns, not brooms), even if those streets happen to be on another planet.

In the aftermath of interplanetary war there's a scramble for power, with some bent on being top dog in defiance of the duly constituted central authorities; in such a situation, war veterans, the people with highly refined combat skills, choose up sides—and when they do, old friends can suddenly turn into bitter enemies.

Ash Holcomb is no angel, having been forced to kill many times as a soldier in war and now as a gun for hire in what passes for peace; he's forced to walk a tightrope of suspicion when he's assigned the task of delivering a power source to a research bubble on Titan. Like his fictional noir predecessors, Ash becomes enmeshed in a tangle of doubt about just whom he should trust, and if he makes the wrong choice he probably won't live long enough to regret it—indeed, there are two old acquaintances who, given the chance, would gladly make sure of that.
Major characters:
~ Ash Holcomb, the narrator:
   "I was a D.O.—a Detached Operative. It was a crummy job, but it suited me.  . . .  There were a lot of us boys out in space, most of us just drifting from one port to the next, picking up a living by our wits, and by our skill with a gun, some of us. Earth government had quietly picked out the ones they considered trustworthy, sworn us in, and turned us loose with a few standing orders and a lot of dependence on our discretion."
~ Ming:
   "Ming puckered his mouth and winked. I used to try and figure out how he did it, standing behind his bar all day, never going out, never talking much except to a few people like me. But I knew for sure that he could have told me exactly how much I'd made on that Venus job—and the gimmick I'd pulled to get it past Customs, too."
~ Pat McKay:
   "I watched her eyes acquiring dangerous highlights. The temper that went with that hair was beginning to stir."
~ Mort Weidmann:
   "Mort's attitude hurt. He didn't have any respect for me—he couldn't have, for a man who'd resigned his commission and become a planet-hopper. He stood at the window in his office, his phony arm tucked into a pocket, his moustache moving up and down as he talked to me. 'I don't know why they picked you, Ash,' he said."
~ Lou Foster:
   "I found him, curled around a rock, his head and arm supported on a rifle that was leaned against a stone."
~ Harry Thorsten:
   "His voice started in the pit of his stomach, and worked its way up. When he chuckled, the sound was almost operatic, deeper than I remembered it.
   "'Why shouldn't I kill you, Holcomb?' he said."
Eye-catching passages:

   "I sat on a bar stool and watched the fog trying to infiltrate the open door. It didn't have a chance against the tobacco smoke that rolled out to meet it. Outside, the streets and alleys would be choked with wet, creeping darkness, full of quiet footsteps, and the cops would find empty-pocketed corpses behind the ashcans in the morning."

   "A gun clattered on cement. I poked my head cautiously around the corner. Silence blanketed Rocket Row, and then was tempered by a scuffing noise. Up the street, a leather belt was being pressed against the side of a building by the weight of a body that was sliding slowly downwards. I spotted a glowing dot that was a tunic smoldering around a Colt burn."

   ". . . so help me, you wave one of those things at me again, and I'll ram it down your throat catty-cornered!"

   "It sounds silly, but the way she held herself reminded me of a thing I'd seen once; a rocket transiting the sun, fire sparkling from the shimmering hull, and the Milky Way behind it. I finally caught what I was trying to phrase; she looked as if she was poised for flight."

   "The ship arced over, singing her death-song in snapping stanchions and straining plates, in the angry howl of the converters, in the drumfire of jets that coughed and choked as fuel poured into them, but which opened their throats and bellowed just the same."

   "All of a sudden, it had hit me. I'd been asking a lot of questions lately, and getting only partial answers. Now I had all the answers, and I hated every one of them.  . . .  I stood there—Ash Holcomb, the toughest man in space, maybe. Not the smartest—no, not the smartest. The dumbest, the stupidest chump who'd ever fallen for the oldest gag in history."

Typo: "the Asteriod"
Resources:
- With very little effort you'll find info about Algis Budrys on Wikipedia HERE, an author interview at the SF Site HERE, the SFE HERE, the ISFDb HERE, and a small collection of his stories on Project Gutenberg HERE.
- Titan, Saturn's largest moon, figures into our story; you can read about Titan in fiction (HERE) and in fact (HERE).

The bottom line: "She was bad. She was dangerous. I wouldn't trust her any farther than I could throw her. But ... she was my kind of woman."
Rod Reilly

Monday, May 16, 2016

April's Top 5

For T. S. Eliot, April might have been the cruelest month but for us here at ONTOS it wasn't half bad (and the same goes for the past two years):

April 2016
(1) An Odd Assortment from '28 - HERE
(2) A MacDonald Duo - HERE
(3) "You Might Say This Is the Story of a Murder — Although Nobody Was Killed" - HERE
(4) "It Was a New Strategy in Criminal Warfare, Killing People with Laughter" - HERE
(5) WHODUNIT Comics - HERE

April 2014
(1) "The Author Outdoes Himself in the Number of People Upon Whom He Brings Suspicion" - HERE
(2) "It Shows Just How Bad a Detective Story Can Be" - HERE
(3) True Crime Roundup - HERE
(4) Samuel Lyle, A Very Obscure Criminologist Indeed - HERE
(5) "He Is Concerned Mainly to Give His Readers the Indispensable Thrill" - HERE

April 2015
(1) A Short Note About Victorian Detective Fiction - HERE
(2) Levram Niatpac! - HERE
(3) A Noir Film (or Maybe It Isn't) That Isn't Noir (or Maybe It Is) - HERE
(4) "I Do Not Dismiss Logic Because I Have Faith" - HERE
(5) SCRIBNER'S Reviews I - HERE

Sunday, May 15, 2016

"It Appears To Be An Impossible Crime, but There Are No Impossible Crimes, Only Misunderstood Crimes"

"The Stolen Saint Simon."
By Michael Kurland (born 1938).
First appearance: The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes (2000).
Reprinted in Images, Conceits & Lollygags (2003).
Novelette (24 pages).
Online HERE.
"It's this old picture. It's disappeared. The way they tell it, there's no way it could have gone, and there isn't anyone who could have taken it, but it's gone any-way."
A painting worth $1.2 million and with a pedigree up to here goes missing from an LA apartment under impossible circumstances, irritating the insurers enough to hire the services of Continental Investigations & Security, who quickly drop the case squarely in PI Stanley Baum's lap.

Before he can complete his investigation of the missing masterpiece, however, Baum is confronted with another crime, a murder in a locked room just across the street from the first one. Are the two cases somehow related? Initially they don't seem to be, but some smudges on a glass pane, a little dab of putty on a window sill, some plaster dust, a coil of rope on top of a garage, a misplaced rung on a curtain rod, and some undue hostility on the part of a suspect all, in our detective's mind, add up to one crime.

Main characters:
At Continental Investigations & Security's Los Angeles branch:
~ Abe Wohlstein (a.k.a. Junior):
   ". . . older than sin and not at all presentable, but he knows everything there is to know and he runs the place."
~ Stanley Baum, our narrator:
   "There was a copy of the original insurance application; an international form with all the questions asked in three languages above neat rectangular boxes just too small to write in the answers. The questions had been answered in English, I noticed, in a small, round hand written with a fine point fountain pen. We detectives notice details like that."
At Fid Mut:
~ Jamieson:
   "A short, narrow, prissy-looking man with a thin black moustache above thin lips, he looked as though he was prepared to disapprove of me at the slightest provocation. But maybe that's just the way he looked."
At large:
~ Graf Maximilian Czeppski:
   "A tall man with rounded corners wearing a brown suit, a white, button-down shirt with vertical green stripes, and a forest-green tie as wide as his smile, he shook my hand with a hardy, vice-like grip. I managed to pull the hand free before any of the larger bones were broken, and returned his smile."
~ Grafin Sylvia Czeppski:
   "She seemed distinctly annoyed at having to speak to me. I couldn't tell whether it was because I was a detective or because the lapels on my jacket were too narrow."
~ Paula Czeppski:
   "The daughter, sitting on the couch at the short end of the L, was the woman I had been dreaming about at least once a week since I was seventeen. I won't tell you what sort of dreams they were, but I imagine you can guess."
~ Gibson:
   "'Don't say anything else until I read you your rights. This time we’ve got you cold!' His name was Gibson, and we'd worked together on a few cases here and there in the past."
Others:
~ Feodore, Maria, Estafia, and Dr. Gadolfus.
Arresting passages:

   "'The way they tell it, it's simply impossible.' He smirked. 'But we know there's nothing impossible, don't we?'
   "I told Jamieson that I'd take his word for it, that epistemology wasn't my field, and sug-gested that he get on with the story. He looked at me with a hurt expression, as though he had just been bitten by a pet guppy."

   "'You offering a reward?' I asked. A polite way of asking whether Fiduciary Mutual was willing to buy the painting back from the thieves. They always were unless they thought it was an inside job. Most insurance companies have the ethical standards of rattlesnakes without the rattles. They should be required by law to tie rattles on as a warning when dealing with claimants."

   "'The police and I have different goals.'
   "'Yes,' Grafin Sylvia said. 'The police are trying to catch the miscreant who took our picture. You are trying to find a way to avoid paying us one million and two hundred thousand dollars'."

   "'I think what we got here is the invisible man. You know – like the Shadow. The guy possesses the power to walk out of rooms without nobody seeing him.'
   "I raised one eyebrow, a gesture I've been trying to perfect since high school. 'Life is a glorious cycle of song!' I said. 'Two impossible crimes on the same day'."

Typo: "Fid Must"
Resources:
- Unlike so many authors who have appeared in these webpages, Michael Kurland is still happily very much with us, turning out fine Sherlock Holmes/Professor Moriarty and Lord Darcy pastiches, with more than a few nifty impossible crimes tossed into the mix: Wikipedia HERE, the SFE HERE, the ISFDb HERE, and his own webpage HERE.

The bottom line: "'I have committed another crime, Hadley,' he said. 'I have guessed the truth again'."
Gideon Fell

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"This Bandit Robs with the Law Behind Him"

"Prospectors of Space."
By Malcolm Jameson (1891-1945).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, September 1940.
Collected in The Giant Atom (2013).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"'Join Spaceways and See the Universe' Was the Slogan for All Pilots—But Not if You Wanted a Place in the Sun!"
First come the pioneers, the explorers who take all the chances; afterwards, usually sooner than later, comes bureaucracy to stifle free enterprise, at which point even the entire Solar System isn't big enough.

Neil Allen and his dad, freelance asteroid prospectors and miners on the Klondike, are feeling the dead hand of corporate state monopoly clamping down on their shoulders, pushing them away from what is theirs by right and, indirectly, costing the old man his life:

   "Allen closed his eyes. Neil waited, but the old man had dropped off to sleep. He never woke up . . ."

Unlike his father, though, young Neil refuses to give in to the pressure:

   "After his father's funeral on Earth, Neil Allen wasted no time in the personnel offices of the big companies. There was only one that he knew much about. But the thought of that one filled his heart with bitter rage, a hatred he focused on Horvick, its managing director and principal stockholder. His love of independence, inherited from his father, made him scorn employees as mere robots manipulated by schemers. Instead, he planned . . ."

Along with his planning Neil will do some smart lateral thinking, including a clever applica-tion of the jū yoku gō o seisu principle, letting his enemies bring themselves down.

Major characters:
~ Old man Allen, Neil's father:
   "Let's face facts, Neil! Space prospecting is a thing of the past. As a freelance, I was able to follow my hunches and not have to wrangle with a bunch of Earth-bound directors. You won't be able to freelance. You've learned an obsolete occupation. In my day, there was the whole Solar System to work in . . ."
~ Horvick, General Superintendent of Space Mines:
   "You have your notice, Allen. Call your men and get out."
~ Neil Allen, captain of the Klondike:
   "I appeal to you in the name of the Law. This man has no right to put me off my ship into the void."
~ Sam Bowen, captain of the Golconda:
   ". . . Horvick won't take it lying down. Our dads were pretty foxy, and he cleaned 'em every time. I'm with you a hundred per cent, but he's got me plenty worried."

Typo: "transcient vessels"
Resources:
- Malcolm Jameson's great-granddaughter, Wendy McClure, has a site dedicated to him HERE.
- There's more about our author HERE (Wikipedia), HERE (the SFE), and HERE (the ISFDb).
- Jameson evolved his own analog of Horatio Hornblower in a popular sequence of stories; Fletcher Pratt briefly reviewed a posthumous collection of them:
"Bullard of the Space Patrol," by the late Malcolm Jameson, which is quite frankly a series of connected shorts and quite as frankly directed at the upper level of adolescent readers. Jameson, a Naval officer himself, has simply and ingeniously altered the problems and customs of the U. S. Navy to what might be encountered in a space navy, taking his Bullard from cadet up to high admiral. The result is really good reading for the age group intended. — Fletcher Pratt, "Fiction Flights in Space & Time," The Saturday Review, February 23, 1952 (HERE).
The Bullard stories:
   1. "Admiral's Inspection" (1940)
   2. "White Mutiny" (1940)
   3. "Blockade Runner" (1941)
   4. "Slacker's Paradise" (1941)
   5. "Devil's Powder" (1941)
   6. "Bullard Reflects" (1941)
   7. "Brimstone Bill" (1942)
   8. "The Bureaucrat" (1944)
   9. "Orders" (1945)
   Collection: Bullard of the Space Patrol (1951) (for sale HERE).
- Jameson's science in this story is a little sketchy, especially regarding the Draconids meteor shower; go HERE for facts about the Draconids.

The bottom line: "Wealth stays with us a little moment, if at all: only our characters are steadfast, not our gold."
Euripides

Friday, May 13, 2016

"A Concentrated Silent Rage"

"Levison's Victim."
By Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915).
First appearance: (?).
Collected in Weavers and Weft, and Other Stories (1877).
Reprinted in Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (1992).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and HERE (go to page 228).
"Ah, Horace, I see there is a woman at the bottom of your trouble!"
A couple of college chums encounter an old acquaintance during their holiday in Germany—Horace Wynward, a young man who seems far different from how they remember him, now damaged with life's cares and so distracted that at first he doesn't even recognize them. He finally, if reluctantly, relates his tale of woe to his friends; and what a story it is, a sad account of unrequited love, violent jealousy verging on madness, blackmail leading to a forced marriage—and murder (in other words, Victorian sensation fiction at its best). Poor Horace has every right to just curl up into a ball and die, but he refuses to do that until he has tried a little "experiment" first . . .

Principal characters:
~ George Theobald:
   "I saw quite enough. His face has a worn haggard expression—he looks like a man who never sleeps; and there's a fierceness about the eyes—a contraction of the brows, a kind of restless searching look—as if he were on the watch for some one or some thing."
~ Horace Wynward:
   "I would shoot that man down with as little compunction as I would kill a mad dog."
~ Francis (Frank) Lorrimore:
   "I hope you may never meet him."
~ Emily Daventry:
   "The experiment which you proposed has succeeded only too well."
~ Laura Daventry:
   ". . . to my mind, the loveliest girl that ever the sun shone upon.  . . . She was the dearest, brightest of girls, with a happy disposition that won her friends in every direction; and a man must have had a dull unimpressionable nature who could have withstood her charm."
~ Mr. Daventry:
   "He was very ill, with the stamp of death upon his face, and had a craven look that convinced me it was to him I was indebted for my sorrow."
~ Michael Levison:
   "He told me that he had never seen anything so appalling as Levison's jealousy; not an open fury, but a concentrated silent rage, which gave an almost devilish expression to the man's parchment face."

Resources:
- Several articles that discuss Mary Elizabeth Braddon are HERE (Wikipedia), HERE (Dr. Pete Orford), HERE (Victorian Web), and HERE (Curtis Evans); for her supernatural tales she rates a mention on the ISFDb HERE.
- ManyBooks, for one, has quite a few of Braddon's productions HERE.

The bottom line:
   "You seem to have quite a taste for discussing these horrible subjects," she said, rather scornfully; "you ought to have been a detective police officer."
   "I sometimes think I should have been a good one."
   "Why?"
   "Because I am patient."
   Lady Audley's Secret

"What's So Risky About a Hop to Venus?"

Herbert B. Livingston turned out a substantial amount of pulp fiction over the years under the "H. B. Hickey" alias, with some of it combining SF/fantasy and crime fiction tropes into an agreeable mélange. Here are two such:

"Finished by Hand."
By H. B. Hickey (Herbert B. Livingston, 1916-87).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, May 1946.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Parental caution: Violence.)
"Carney and Mose thought it was a smart trick to cut off a thief's hands—but they were thieves too!"
An old saying assures us there's no honor among thieves; when Mose, Carney, and Guido carry out a plan to circulate counterfeit bills, one of them proves it by framing one of his partners in crime and then murdering him. The way looks clear for the traitor, until a dead man gives him a hand—in fact, two of them:

   ". . . The red flame that followed the impact engulfed both car and truck. In a few minutes they were fused together in an inseparable tangle . . ."


~~~
"To Dust Returneth."
By H. B. Hickey (Herbert B. Livingston, 1916-87).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, February 1948.
Novelette (22 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Parental caution: Violence.)
"They went to Venus in search of a rare metal — but found instead a dread life-force that crumbled life to dust."
The prospect of a fortune worth millions of dollars has been known to move men to take great risks, but what if that fortune is buried in the crust of a hostile planet twenty-five million miles away, and just getting at it means putting your life in danger every moment? More to the point: When does a legitimate search for wealth turn into an excuse for homicidal greed?

   "He stopped abruptly and stared at Simms. There was complete understanding in the glance that passed between them. Why split at all?"

It's the same old story: Murderers never seem to learn that sooner or later there's a bill coming due for their treachery:

   ". . . across the fantastically jumbled red wasteland of Hanan the living dead implacably plodded toward revenge!"
Nice phraseology:
   "Gathering dusk spread its mantle and the breeze whispered a requiem."
   "The sea had become luridly phosphorescent and the rocket ship showed black against the sea of cold flame."
The planet Venus as imagined in the '40s . . .

   "THE very air glowed red about them, colored by the land beneath. Rock was piled on rock and where there were no rocks the red sand shifted like the waves of a sea. And the sea! Wine red, its roaring surf was like the froth of Sparkling Burgundy. Jim Moyne broke the silence. 'Well, I'll be damned, but this beats 'em all! A grapejuice ocean!'"

   "It was apparent that the storm would be on them in a matter of seconds. The darkness grew ever deeper and was broken only by flashes of lightning which illuminated the scene with a red flame as from an inferno. Thunder which threatened their eardrums rolled in, wave upon wave, until the ground beneath trembled, and the rain was no rain but rather the ocean being inverted."

. . . and Venus as understood today (HERE).
Typo: "If this water is so viscuous"

Resources:
- There's an H. B. Hickey fan page HERE and, of course, bibliographical info at the ISFDb HERE.
- Project Gutenberg (HERE) and ManyBooks (HERE) have precious few of Hickey's works available.
- Last year we highlighted another criminous SF story by this author HERE.

The bottom line: "We are but dust and shadow."
Horace