Friday, September 30, 2016

"The Next Time You Leave a Name As a Clue to Throw Suspicion You'd Better Get the Name Right"

Can you solve a mystery in one minute? Can anyone? Optimistic radio program producers thought so:
The Five [Minute] Mysteries Program is an audience participation radio series broadcast on the Mutual Broadcasting System August 10, 1947 – March 27, 1950. In 1947-48 it aired on Sundays at 2 p.m. . . . While the premise was simple, the mysteries were well written, requiring some thought to come up with the right answer. Similar to the Ellery Queen's Minute Mysteries, one listened to the story, evaluated the clues, and at the conclusion, matched wits with the sleuths to correctly identify the suspect. It was one of the few interactive radio shows. — Wikipedia (HERE)
Here are the scripts and audio recordings of three episodes of The Five Minute Mysteries program; you might want to listen as you read along—but be fair: At the commercial break you should stop reading and listening and try to solve it . . . as a kind of do-it-yourself Ellery Queenian Challenge to the Reader/Listener.

(1) "Murder of Mrs. Brooks" (a.k.a. "Three Scarlet Letters"):
"Apparently Mrs. Brooks was sitting here in this chair putting red polish on her fingernails when she was shot from behind. The polish has spilled all over the carpet and she was still holding the tiny brush in her hand. She must have recognized her attacker and since she did not die instantly she printed these three initials here on the floor with the polish. D-O-C."
     Script (HERE) . . . Audio (HERE) and (HERE).

(2) "My Pal Patsy":
". . . nowadays in this murder racket you need a college education!"
     Script (HERE) . . . Audio (HERE) and (HERE).

(3) "Death Calls at Dinner":
"Black? Let me see it. The only spoon that's tarnished, too. Well, I was beginning to think it was a heart attack or a perfect murder!"
     Script (HERE) . . . Audio (HERE) and (HERE).

Resources:
- Another installment, "Blind Confession" (a.k.a. "Prison Murder"), has been animated for YouTube (HERE).
- Several dozen episodes of the program are at Archive.org (HERE).

The bottom line: "Radio is the theater of the mind; television is the theater of the mindless."
Steve Allen

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"The Only Witness Against Him Was Himself"

"The Man Who Staked the Stars."
By Charles Dye (1925-60; ghost written by Katherine MacLean, born 1925).
First appearance: Planet Stories, July 1952.
Reprinted in High Adventure, March 2014 and Katherine MacLean Science Fiction Collection (2016).
Novelette (37 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and Project Gutenberg HERE.
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)
"Bryce Carter could afford a smug smile. For hadn't he risen gloriously from Thieves Row to director of famed U.T.? Was not Earth, Moon, and all the Belt, at this very moment awaiting his command for the grand coup? And wasn't his cousin-from-Montehedo a star-sent help?"
The Board of Directors of Union Transport (UT), a megacorporation that enjoys a monopoly on travel on Earth and in space, have just become aware of a serious threat coming from within their ranks, one that could bring down the company ("UT," we're told, "had a week more to live in respected public service before an outraged public tore it apart"—but only one man, the "mole" hiding in the organization, knows that); their best recourse (unless you consider outright murder as a valid course of action—and some Board members do) is to outsource and hire someone from a consulting firm called the Manoba Group, one of whose specialties is the use of psychology in ways that Freud never dreamed of . . .
Major characters:
~ Neiswanger:
   "I take it then that our corporation is being used as a criminal means of large scale smug-gling of drugs, transport of criminals on false identification and transport for resale of the goods resulting from their thefts. Is that correct? And you would say that the organization responsible is centered in this corporation?"
~ Stout:
   "We'll have to stop it, of course. I understand we have a good detective agency. If we put them on this with payment for speed and silence—"
~ Bryce Carter:
   "Suppose the top man is high in the company? What then?"
~ Sheila Wesley:
   "Aren't you Bryce Carter? We were introduced in there, I think, but the name didn't click."
~ Donahue:
   "You don't chant spells and hire ghosts, do you?"
~ Beldman:
   "That's right, start shootin' when you're surrounded by innocent spectators; when you know I can't draw on you. That's the way of a crook."
~ Roy Pierce:
   "I want to be your right arm. He told me you're on the way up. I want a slice of that, and I want it the easy way, hitching my wagon to your rocket. You can use me. A big man is too public. You need a new hand and a new voice, one that does what you want done, and can do it in the dark or the light, without your name—a stand-in for alibis, and a contriver of accidents so they break for you without your motion. A left arm that your enemies don't recognize as yours."

Comment: This story could just as easily be entitled (with apologies to Piers Anthony) Bio of a (Would-Be) Space Tyrant (According to Psychoanalytic Theory).

It could be verse:

   When the tubes conk out, the fuel runs down,
   The cold creeps in to where I lie.
   I'll take the meteor's trail—go home to Earth
   And make a Viking's funeral in the sky.
Snippets:

Of course, but then how would you measure it?
   ~ "Efficiency is, and should be, unnoticeable."

It pays to be cautious:
   ~ ". . . he who arrives first finds no ambush."

Space—it's really, really big:
   ~ "The secrecy of any meeting in space is practically absolute. If there is one thing which space has plenty of, it's distance—distance enough to lose things in, distance enough to hide in, distance enough so that even if you know where something is by all the figures of its coordinates, if it's smaller than a planet you can't find it even when you are there. To put it crudely, what space has is space. And finding something that doesn't want to be found in space is like looking for a missing germ in the Atlantic."

Saved by the Coriolis effect:
   ~ "He waited for a sign of motion, his magnomatic ready, looking up at the gunman lying overhead, forty feet away on the other side of the globe. The limp figure was unmoving, it looked badly tangled in vines, and its gun was gone. There was no need to shoot, but he wondered suddenly, if he had, what kind of a curve would the bullet have followed?"

One way to dispose of a corpse:
   ~ "They braced against the silver curve of the floating spaceship and gave the body a com-bined strong shove towards Earth. Spinning slowly end over end it dwindled into a dark speck against the glowing orb of Earth, destined to be a meteorite and make a small bright streak in the Earth sky several days later."

Out of the cradle:
   ~ "He looked at Earth hanging splendidly in space. It was beautiful and he was fond of it, but— He said, 'I don't think we'll ever go back.' Nor would mankind itself. Never again—through all conquests from this point in time—would mankind go back down into the mesh of gravity to be a thin film over the surface of a planet."

The final frontier:
   ~ "Man has reached space—do you think he'll ever go back to the ground? In space he has gravity only when he wants it, and any weight of gravity he likes, depending on how fast he spins his house. And no gravity when he wants that. You see what that means to engineers in the advantage of building things? No weight in transportation, no weight in travel, limit-less speed and almost no cost as long as he stays away from planet pulls. His house is in the sky, and when he steps out of it he can fly like a bird. And food. To grow food there is sunlight Earth never dreamed of. For heat and power there is sunlight to focus. Space is flooded with heat, irradiated with power— It's not child's play taming it, and those on the ground don't see it yet. But the next step of mankind is out into space, and it's never coming back."

Adventure can be found almost anywhere, even behind a desk:
   ~ "The adventures of explorers, research men, and detectives were written into stories, but not money men. The life and growth and death and blackmail of individuals were in the stories he had read, but not the murder of planets and cities, the control and blackmail of whole populations, in this odd legal game with the simple rules. Funny there hadn't been lurid stories about this in the magazines he read as a kid. He grinned— Well, the kids would read about him. In fifteen years he'd have everyone under his thumb and they'd smile and bow and be frightened just speaking to him."

Typo: "The roter drifted down"
Resources:
- For more about Charles Dye, go to the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE); for the scoop on Katherine MacLean, see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Apposite information relating to our story, especially about the space frontier, can be found on the Atomic Rockets hypersite (HERE).
The actual author of our story

The bottom line: "Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition."
Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"No Contributing Factors in the Way of Bullets, Poisons or Blows Were Found—It Was a Perfect Crime"

IF BY SOME miracle you've never seen a movie from the '30s, '40s, or '50s, then you've never been exposed to the screen work of Ben Hecht; he had a knack for film writing (and script doctoring) that kept him very busy in Hollywood (see "Resources," below); but on occasion he would produce a fine piece of prose having a criminous theme, such as the three stories that follow.

"Miracle of the Fifteen Murderers."
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, January 16, 1943.
Reprints (FictionMags data): The Avon Annual #3, 1946; The Saint Detective Magazine, Spring 1953; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), September 1954; The Saint Detective Magazine (UK), November 1954; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1962; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (UK), January 1963; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (Australia), March 1963; Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, May 1965; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #23, 1972.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 22).
"They were a congress of killers, but no jury, interested solely in justice, would find them guilty."
Doctor Alex Hume divulges what happened at a recent meeting of the X Club, an informal society of medical doctors who confess to the group their "murders" (i.e., unintentional medical blunders that kill a patient), unaware that what they've learned from their combined mistakes will lead to saving a life.


~ ~ ~
"Café Sinister."
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, August 21, 1943.
Reprints (FictionMags data): Avon Modern Short Story Monthly #37, 1947; The Saint Detective Magazine, October 1954; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), April 1955; and The Saint Detective Magazine (UK), June 1955.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 66).
(Note: Some text trimmed but readable.)
"Café El Granada — showcase for wealth, photographers' heaven, breeding ground of gossip and intrigue — spawns a revenge too long delayed, in a memorable tale told by a master."
A man of mystery is this Baron Corfus, an exile from his own country, indulging in ostentatious elitist dissipation while furtively working towards . . . what?


~ ~ ~
"Swindler's Luck."
(a.k.a. "The Sunset Kid").
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: The Saturday Evening Post, January 12, 1952.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Note: Some text distorted but barely readable.)
"The mobsters would kill him if they ever caught on to his game. He was betting his life they wouldn't."
In this age of specialization, the Sunset Kid has an especially dangerous specialty: he's been astoundingly successful as "a crook who devoted himself to swindling members of the un-derworld. He specialized in trimming big-shot bookies and professional card gamblers," it being an understanding "between the Kid and his victims that they would have to catch him only once," after which . . . well, you don't need much imagination to know what that would mean.

But now the Kid wants to get married and go legit; he figures he can take mob boss Rocky Blair for the ten grand he needs to start a new life, but it's going to involve some clever planning, including a blown fuse and five automobiles . . .

Resources:
- See Wikipedia (HERE) for biographical information about Ben Hecht and the IMDb (HERE) for his extensive filmography.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Three Years Running

Today, September 23rd, ONTOS celebrates its third year as a going concern. To be frank, when we started we didn't think it would last six months, and that we might get 50 postings out before closing our doors. But thanks to the warm support from you Wonderful Readers out there in the dark ONTOS keeps rolling along. Our weblog stats might not be very impres-sive—98,000 page views (after factoring out spambots) and 819 postings spread over roughly 155 weeks—but we believe that striving for quality is how any endeavor should be approach-ed. We hope you'll keep dropping in now and then to see where ONTOS is headed because, to be truthful, we don't know ourselves.

"The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the general care of humanity to escape." — Dr. Johnson

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"I Know You, and That You Are the Murderer of Mr. Blagden!"

"Murder Under the Microscope."
By "Waters" (William Russell, ?-?).
First book appearance: Autobiography of an English Detective, Volume 2 (1863).
Book chapter (43 pages).
Reprinted at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and Archive.org HERE.
"Seldom has evidence—almost supernatural it seemed to the astounded audience—produced a deeper impression . . ."
Arthur Blagden, a retired solicitor turned real estate wheeler-dealer, has been found dead and Joseph Gibson, an amateur in the art of farming, has been accused.

The mountain of circumstantial evidence against Gibson seems absolutely incontrovertible: It is common public knowledge among the locals that Blagden (just as he did with the previ-ous owner) had cheated Gibson, something of a naive city dweller, when he purchased a run-down farm for over twice its actual worth; that after Gibson hit difficulties in making his ren-tal payment, Blagden had flatly refused any extension of the deadline, leading to "a stormy scene" between the two men during which Gibson "leapt at his landlord, and inflicted a severe blow upon his face, at the same time howling forth threats of direst vengeance"; and that many auditors at the local pub had heard Gibson making even more ominous threats against Arthur Blagden.
When the very next day Blagden's dead body is found sprawled across a narrow road, his gig overturned and his horse tortured by a broken leg, everyone assumes at first it's an accident—but then comes a discovery that casts the spotlight of guilt on Joseph Gibson:
There was a deep wound in the back of the dead man's neck—apparently delivered by a sharp axe, which had cut through the stand-up fur collar of the cloak he wore. No question that he had been struck from behind.
The London detective officer called into the case isn't content to settle for the obvious explanation for a crime until he can account for those anomalies that crop up from time to time in an investigation, among them in this instance:

   ~ "a clothes-line, almost new, one end of which had been recently cut" and "carefully buried near the scene of the awful crime," an item which "might suffice to hang whoever could be proved to have had it in his possession on the night of the murder";
   ~ "a sharp billhook, the blade and handle of which were stained with blood," as well as a bloody apron;
   ~ the fact that none of the missing money belonging to Blagden, "neither notes nor coin—he had a small canvass bag full, or nearly so of sovereigns—had been found, nor had the gold watch";
   ~ how to account for Gibson's keeping of the "easily discoverable" and incriminating rent receipt;
   ~ the way Blagden's horse and gig were upset: "to do so was scarcely to be expected of a Cockney oil and colourman [Gibson]—one too prematurely feeble, aged. No, no; if that trick had been played, it was by some one whose eyes could see in the dark as well as daylight; one possessed of nerve, quickness, decision, which would bring down a partridge before it had fluttered its wings thrice";
   ~ and finally what the microscope reveals about the blood, fur, and human hair found on the apron, the billhook, and the victim's cloak collar.

Snippets:
   ~ "It was a very, very ugly affair."
   ~ "This expression was held to indicate a settled determination in Gibson's mind to kill his landlord, should the required favour be refused. A skilled detective would have drawn an inference just the reverse of that. No man, unless he be delirious with drink or rage, hints of his intention, under certain contingencies, to commit murder!"
   ~ "It can only be explained by the axiom that whom God determines to destroy he first deprives of reason."

Typos: "bark of the dead man's neck"; "suddenly tighteued."

Resources:
- An earlier book by "Waters" is online (HERE).
- Researchers maintain that "Waters" wasn't a police officer at all:
By 1842 the police presence in London had become acceptable enough to make possible the creation of a small, plain-clothes detective police force and it is the activities of the detective police that finally bring crime and detection together in popular literature, initially in fiction. In 1849 hack journalist William Russell, perhaps inspired by the 1830s and 40s fashion for pseudo-autobiographical narratives of professional men such as physicians, lawyers and barristers, produced the first fictional account of professional policing in his “Recollec-tions of a Police-Officer,” which were published in the popular Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 1849–53. Russell overcame the class problem by making “Waters,” his policeman protagonist, a gentleman forced into police work after losing his fortune to dishonest gamblers. The stories are set in the recent past prior to the establishment of the detective police, but “Waters” functions as a detective, working in plain clothes, and there are anachronistic references to his “fellow detective-officers.” The stories proved popular . . . — For more, see Chapter 1: "From The Newgate Calendar to Sherlock Holmes" by Heather Worthington, in Rzepka & Horsley's A Companion to Crime Fiction, 2010 (HERE, PDF).
- Concerning our story:
As a rare example of "Waters" fiction available today, "Murder Under the Micro-scope" is of fascinating historical interest. It is a landmark in the depiction of science to detect crime. It is in the anthology Isaac Asimov Presents the Best Crime Stories of the 19th Century (1988) edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg and Charles Waugh. — Mike Grost, "'Waters': Founder of the Casebook School" (HERE), A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection.

The bottom line: "We are only tenants, and shortly the great Landlord will give us notice that our lease has expired."
Joseph Jefferson

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"I've Got a Score to Settle on Earth"

"Creegar Dares to Die."
By David Wright O'Brien (1918-44).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, August 1942.
Novelette (45 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (with 8 illos).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Death meant nothing to Creegar when he came out of prison. He had something to do, and he did it!"
Thorne Creegar—framed by the man he worked for, deprived of the woman he loves, sen-tenced to years on the most isolated penal planet—is determined to get revenge; Creegar thinks he's come up with a way of doing it, unaware that he's actually part of someone else's larger, much more intricate plan, a subtly conceived frame-up which that someone will regard as being successful only when Creegar is lying dead . . .

Chapter I: "Free and alone, and filled with bitterness"
Chapter II: "Bellham Builds a Frame"
Chapter III: "Building a Snare"
Chapter IV: "The Web Tightens"
Chapter V: "The Trap Is Sprung"
Chapter VI: "The Black Network"
Chapter VII: "Hudge Closes In"
Chapter VIII: "Inside New York"
Chapter IX: "Hudge Strikes"
Chapter X: "Hudge Returns"

Characters:
~ Thorne Creegar:
   "His knees, as he hit the rusty wharf planking, seemed for an instant to refuse to support his tortured body. And then he found balance, and moved lurchingly, almost blindly, to the machines ahead of him."
~ Sherry Bennet:
   "Her cheeks were wet, her hazel eyes misty, her lovely mouth forming a tremulous smile of joyous relief."
~ Nana:
   "Your fear has driven you into this bargain. You are afraid of Judson Bellham, afraid of what he might do to Thorne if you didn't comply with his wishes."
~ Judson Bellham:
   "My first hunch, on his release, proved damnably correct. I knew he'd try to get back."
~ Lee Hudge:
   "Lee Hudge was no larger than a small atomic cannon. He was also just as deadly."
~ Captain Treowlan, of the Venusian space freighter, Verieshu:
   "You can't try to jump ship and slip onto Earth Federation without getting a death ray through your hard young head."
~ A bandy-legged space tar:
   "The skipper just didn't like the way you tried to make him run small-time errands. But he's dumping the shipment tonight. Space port. Smart thing to get down there."
~ Mecks:
   "You'll need a few of the boys, then?"

Typos: "he would face Cregar"; "An as Thorne began to stride"; "Then Venusian captain"; "a few minutes before learned"; "the storm of abuse an invective"; "its still in one piece"; "seedy litle man"; "his indominatable will."
Resource:
- Our last session with David Wright O'Brien, a World War II combat casualty, was (HERE).

The bottom line: "Revenge, the sweetest morsel to the mouth that ever was cooked in hell."
Walter Scott

Monday, September 19, 2016

August's Top 5


Being in the center of summer, when just about everybody (including us) in the Northern Hemisphere should be outside doing something, August has typically been a slow month here at ONTOS, but for some inexplicable reason August of 2014 saw all-time high record viewership numbers. We're not complaining, however, and welcome any and all readers with open arms (although open pixels might be more accurate).


~ August 2016 ~
(1) "You Were a Fool to Let Ruzza and Me Live" (HERE)
(2) "Luck Followed Him As It Sometimes Does the Evildoer" (HERE)
(3) "The Beloved Fable of Baker Street" (HERE)
(4) "Fred Stone Could Have Been Killed Last Night and Yet Be Walking Around Full of Life Today" (HERE)
(5) "Maybe I'd Better Call the Morgue and See If They're Missing You" (HERE)

~ August 2014 ~
(1) "A Thoroughly First Rate Detective Story, Rapid, Absorbing, and Credible" (HERE)
(2) "Witty, Decorously Exciting, and Brilliantly Written" (HERE)
(3) "There Is Even a Twist at the End, As If There Were Anything Left to Twist" (HERE)
(4) "What Good Is a Mystery Yarn If in Retrospect It Is Illogical and Silly?" (HERE)
(5) The International Society of Infallible Detectives (HERE)


~ August 2015 ~
(1) "It May Not Be Terribly Original, but Shooting Someone Tends to Be Pretty Effective" (HERE)
(2) "I Am an Old Man Who Has Retained the Use of His Brains" (HERE)
(3) "A Nice Example of the Locked Room Mystery" (HERE)
(4) "Proves That Mirth and Murder Can Mix" (HERE)
(5) SCRIBNER'S Reviews III (HERE)

"It Was a Series of Intangible Clews That Led Me to This Concrete Bit of Lined Paper"

"The Intangible Clew."
By Reita Lambert (?-?).
First appearance: Munsey's Magazine, October 1925.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"How Émile Duret Worked on Novel Lines to Solve the Mystery of the Murder of André Garnier"
Congreve assures us that "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak"—but in the case of the untimely death of André Garnier, Congreve not-withstanding, music has, in a manner of speaking, moved an otherwise placid individual to commit murder:
WHEN the body of André Garnier was found, one spring morning, with an ornate knife still protruding from the dead man's breast, there was little reason to believe that his murder would be difficult of solution. He was the sort of person whose biography, had it been written, would lead the reader to expect a tragic ending.
. . . During the first few days following the murder it appeared as if the case would make no trying demands upon the police. A few weeks later, however, it was a hardy individual indeed who broached the subject of the Garnier murder to monsieur le préfet.
The gendarmes are indeed baffled, primarily by a surfeit of suspects, nearly all of them of the feminine persuasion:
Preliminary investigations showed, rather appallingly, that there were as many probable reasons for André Garnier's murder as there had been ladies who had temporarily shared his success. It is almost as confusing to discover twenty motives for a crime as to discover none.
Yet they all, even potentially jealous husbands, have rock solid alibis and, upon closer scrutiny, no strong motive for murdering M. Garnier. Exasperated, the chief of police calls in Émile Duret:
M. Duret was a dapper, gentle-mannered little man with a neatly trimmed Van-dyke and a preoccupied manner. After thirty years of notable services to his country, he had ostensibly retired, and was consulted only on occasions when the endeavors of the police had failed of results.
And fail of results they have, primarily because the police haven't bothered to delve as deeply into the circumstances of the case as our dapper sleuth normally does in his investigations:
M. DURET never took up a case where the police had left off. He made it a rule to go back beyond the place where the police had begun.
Patiently and methodically, Duret assembles clues, both tangible and intangible, all of them individually of no apparent importance:

   ~ ". . . André Garnier had been considered a criminal—a despicable thief who stole the output of his fellow worker's souls . . ."
   ~ ". . . he was to meet a new amoureuse at the Claridge that evening, and to dine with her."
   ~ ". . . a dirty-faced, dark-eyed boy digging in a neglected garden with a broken spoon, and singing as he dug . . ."
   ~ ". . . she did not know of her master's return, contrary to his plans, on the evening before she discovered the body . . ."
   ~ ". . . he was eccentric, irresponsible, undependable . . ."
   ~ ". . . She had sung half a dozen bars when Duret's hand clutched the railing before him spasmodically . . ."
   ~ ". . . no notes or sketches of new songs or verse on either piano or desk . . ."
   ~ ". . . he had drunk a full pot of coffee . . ."
   ~ ". . . The cup was on the piano—within easy reach . . ."
   ~ ". . . he left no manuscript . . ."

Comment: "The Intangible Clew" is apparently M. Duret's only case available to us.

The bottom line: "Everyone is a potential murderer — in everyone there arises from time to time the wish to kill — though not the will to kill."
Hercule Poirot

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"Why Not Look Around for a Few Clues Before They Die of Old Age, Spurlock?"

"Murder in the Blue Room."
Script, pencils, and inks by J. A. Patterson (?-?).
First appearance: Detective Picture Stories (1936).
Comic book story (7 pages).
Online at Bill Peschel's website HERE and at Comic Book Plus HERE (select page 11).
"Oh, Mr. Spurlock, my husband's secretary, Miss Lovelace, has been murdered the same way as poor Hector. Oh, me!"
Another four-color Sherlock Holmes story, this one a mild spoof featuring master sleuth Spurlock and his put-upon assistant Doctor Watkins.
Comment: It's a Holmes parody, and not a very good one at that, so don't expect much.

Typos: Numerous, including "your left handed" and "I'm broadmined."
Resources:
- Our previous encounter with Sherlock Holmes comics is (HERE).
- Concerning the silly names that parodists employ in their Sherlock spoofs, Ellery Queen wrote in the Introduction to The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (HERE):
As a general rule writers of pastiches retain the sacred and inviolate form Sherlock Holmes and rightfully, since a pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author. But writers of parodies, which are humorous or satirical takeoffs, have no such reverent scruples. They usually strive for the weirdest possible distortions and it must be admitted that many highly ingenious travesties have been conceived. Fortunately or unfortu-nately, depending on how much of a purist one is, the name Sherlock Holmes is peculiarly susceptible to the twistings and misshapenings of burlesque-minded authors.
That is why you will meet in this volume such appellative disguises as:  Sherlaw Kombs - Picklock Holes - Thinlock Bones - Shylock Homes - Hemlock Jones -Purlock Hone - Holmlock Shears - Herlock Sholmes - Shamrock Jolnes - Solar Pons - Shirley Holmes . . . and, by comparison, such moderately warped Watsonisms as:  Whatson - Potson - Whatsoname - Jobson - Whatsup . . .
. . . to which we might add Shorleck Humes, Doctor Wadson, Mrs. Hubson, and Professor Moreyorey (HERE) and (HERE).
- A properly done Holmes parody, picked at random, can be found (HERE).
- Bill Peschel has been compiling an impressive list of parodies and pastiches; go (HERE) for more.

The bottom line: "Crime travels on odd highways, my dear Watkins."
— Spurlock

Friday, September 16, 2016

"How Did He Get Out of the House with a Dozen Detectives Watching Every Possible Exit?"

"Mr. Short and Mr. Long."
(a.k.a.: "The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore").
By Ellery Queen (1905-71; 1905-82).
An episode of The Adventures of Ellery Queen radio series. First broadcast: January 14, 1943.
Reprinted in The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (1944) (online HERE, with an EQ preface) and The Adventure of the Murdered Moths (2005).
Play script at The Generic Radio Workshop HERE.
(Note: At least seven websites claim to have the audio version, but what they really have is the same wrong title. Does anybody listen to their own content?)
"I looked my eyes out! Every room. . . . He ain't here."
Characters:

   MR. JAMES PHILLIMORE . . . who disappears 
   BIGGS . . . . . . . . . . his man 
   COAL MAN . . . . . . . . briefly 
   TELEGRAPH MESSENGER . . . briefly 
   NIKKI PORTER . . . . . . Ellery's secretary 
   INSPECTOR QUEEN . . . . . Ellery's father 
   SERGEANT VELIE . . . . . the Inspector's subordinate 
   ELLERY QUEEN . . . . . . . who solves a difficult case, perforce, on his back
   and
   SHERLOCK HOLMES . . . . . present in spirit only.

Little Jim Phillimore, "The 20 Per Cent King," is a slippery cuss, as Inspector Queen knows well from experience, but it still comes as an unpleasant surprise when he and Sergeant Velie and just about the entire detective squad aren't able to nab Little Jim before he com-pletely vanishes from beyond mankind's ken in a disappearing act that could easily be a headliner in Vegas.

The Inspector, having to restrain himself from pulling out what little hair he has left in frustration, is forced to consult his bed-ridden brainiac son Ellery, who, between coughs, employs that brilliant logical reasoning he's noted for and comes up with . . . bupkis. It's impossible for Little Jim to have escaped from a house that is encompassed on all sides and under constant observation by a dozen detectives—unless (you knew there'd be an "unless," didn't you?) he hasn't escaped, at least not yet. Such an eventuality, however, would reflect badly on Sergeant Velie, who has thoroughly searched the place with his usual skill, even to the point of risking his wife's ire by getting coated in coal dust. As for Ellery's pretty secre-tary, Nikki, her theory is it was done with stilts.

In the end, of course, Ellery's reasoning abilities will pay dividends (of considerably more than 20 per cent) when he finally sees that the best place for someone to hide, despite what common sense might tell you, is right under your nose . . .
Resources:
- Just recently we went on another radio adventure with EQ (HERE).
- If you'd like a more scholarly approach to Ellery Queen, there's an academic thesis (HERE, PDF) (WARNING: SPOILERS).

The bottom line: "The thought of you dictating a book while driving a car boggles the imagination."
Inspector Richard Queen

"Why Are We Fighting Over Unworkable Earthside Rules?"

"Mars Trial."
By Theodore L. Thomas (1920-2005).
First appearance: Future Science Fiction, Summer 1957.
Novelette (41 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Note: Text fuzzed up in a few places but still legible.)
"The Auerbach Case was crucial for the Mars colony, for the complications of four sectors brought on a controversy as to whether the English, Russians, Germans, or Americans would try the murderer. And that was the start of ruinous conflict . . ."
Long before he emigrated to Mars, Gray Landers had given up being a lawyer and went into operations management; besides, as he tells a friend, the two thousand people in the Mars colony, who come from just about every advanced nation, are totally dedicated to sustaining themselves, making a success of the colony, and overcoming the Red Planet's harsh condi-tions, so:
"There's no room for lawyers; they don't contribute enough to our kind of society."
And that is the case—until there's a murder, upsetting the whole carefully balanced social order on Mars, threatening to cause all of that international comity to evaporate like fog on
a hot summer morning, and pushing the colonists towards civil war.
A reluctant Landers finds himself caught in the middle of this muddle:
"Everybody keeps telling me I'm a lawyer and then giving me hell when I talk like one."
He doesn't like it, but Landers will need to figure out how to apply common sense to this explosive situation to avoid a total disaster—and if that means starting a revolution, then
so be it.

Comment: This story isn't crime fiction per se, but rather an account of how people deal with a crisis precipitated by a crime.

Typos: "The went into the living room"; "the entire hanger crew"; "the increase difficulty in breathing."
Click on image to enlarge. (Credit: National Geographic Kids Magazine.)
Resources:
- You can read plenty about our author, Theodore Thomas, (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- The story mentions the Irresistible Impulse Rule (see HERE) and the McNaughten Case (discussed HERE).
- At least by the summer of 1957 science fiction authors knew enough about Mars to give their characters protective clothing ("outsuits" in the story); Wikipedia has more about the Red Planet in fact (HERE), fiction (HERE), and culture (HERE).
Mars compared to the Earth
- Wherever people go—and that includes outer space—there'll always be a need for some sort of legal organization to protect lives and property (as much as they can, anyhow); see "Space Law" on the Atomic Rockets supersite (HERE) for many ideas gleaned from fact and science fiction (basically, "No laws = no civilization nor the benefits thereof").
- Since our story takes place in a colony on Mars, you can read all about "Planet and Space Colonies" (HERE), also on Atomic Rockets; because Earth governments make the colonists' situation worse, scroll to "Decay of the Fatherland" (HERE). In the end, of course, space colonization might never happen because of that ineluctable bottom line:
The sad fact of the matter is that it is about a thousand times cheaper to colo-nize Antarctica than it is to colonize Mars. Antarctica has plentiful water and breathable air, Mars does not. True, the temperature of Mars does occasionally grow warmer than Antarctica, but at its coldest Mars can get 50° C colder than Antarctica. In comparison to Mars, Antarctica is a garden spot. Yet there is no Antarctican land-rush. One would suspect that there [will be] no Martian land-rush either, except among a few who find the concept to be romantic.
Click on image to enlarge. (Credit: National Geographic Kids Magazine.)

The bottom line: "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."
Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Why Should He Want to Murder You?"

"The Scorpion's Thumb."
By Ellery Queen (1905-82; 1905-71).
First appearance (as a radioplay): "The Adventure of the Scorpion's Thumb" in The Adventures of Ellery Queen series, December 31, 1939.
Short story version in Radio and Television Mirror, December 1940 (7 pages).
Online HERE (PDF) (pages 26-28 and 55-58).
(Illustration posed by cast members: Hugh Marlowe as Ellery Queen and Marian Shockley as Nikki Porter.)
"Murder, lurking beneath the hectic gaiety of a holiday party, offers radio's master sleuth one of his most baffling puzzles, to be solved with only stolen money, a broken engagement, and a cocktail glass for clues."
It's the day after Christmas, and who should darken Ellery Queen's door but Mr. Herbert Weaver:
He was small, with a big head on which grew a poor crop of lank white hair, he wore sombre black clothes and a necktie of a dreary seaweed pattern, and he had a cough which he always produced with an air of great apology. 
Ellery Queen's first impulse, when Mr. Weaver explained that he had recently discovered a shortage of $25,000 in his firm's accounts, was to tell the little man to consult the police. Embezzlement didn't in the least intrigue Ellery's mind, used as it was to more dramatic puzzles.
But Mr. Weaver's pale lips pursed into an O of dismay at the suggestion. He couldn't possibly, he said with a cough, do that, because the thief could only be one of two people. "And I wouldn't want to prosecute either of them," he said.
Ellery's lack of interest in the case, however, suddenly turns when he hears more about "them," neither of whom would make a good suspect:
Ellery felt the first faint prickings of the curiosity that always came when a puzzle began to fascinate him. A crime that — if Weaver weren't mistaken — could have been committed by only two possible men, one of them a millionaire and one a paragon of honesty — this sounded like an impossibility, and Ellery doted on impossibilities.
Before Ellery can wrap this one up, embezzlement will be proven, someone will attempt suicide and fail and someone else will commit suicide without meaning to, Ellery will have to deal with not just too many suspects but too many motives—and, after all that, Sergeant Velie will get the credit for solving the case.
Dramatis personae:
~ Ellery Queen:
   "So you each took out insurance policies making each other the beneficiaries?"
~ Nikki Porter:
   "His gaze strayed past Mr. Weaver to where Nikki Porter, his secretary, was demurely taking short-hand notes, and he thought, for perhaps the two million and forty-first time, how pretty she was. . . ."
~ Inspector Queen:
   "He must have been reading too many old-fashioned novels. But I don't see that we're any nearer to finding out who killed him."
~ Sergeant Velie:
   "It's got your thumbmark on it too. But here's the funny thing — the other piece has your thumbmark on it too. Your thumbmark and a picture of a Scorpion!"
~ Herbert Weaver:
   "Won't you please investigate for me — confidentially?"
~ Steve McKay:
   "If you'll destroy that evidence when you get it, and then shut up about the whole business, I'll make it worth your while."
~ David Robinson:
   "The police will find the evidence and I'll be arrested. I can't face that. Please forgive me for what I am about to do . . ."
~ Sheila Robinson:
   "I've carried this burden so long."
~ Viola Weaver:
   "Poor Sheila!"
~ Dr. Temple:
   "Why shouldn't I get plashtered ... gonna stay plashtered all year ..."
~ Conrad Long:
   "I can't understand this. He was perfectly sober when Steve and I visited him before — and he never struck me as being the sort of chap who would drink too much."
Resources:
- There's a lot of information about the Ellery Queen radio series on Wikipedia (HERE) and on Ellery Queen: A Website on Deduction, starting (HERE).

The bottom line: "There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or
you stop looking in mirrors."
Tennessee Williams

Monday, September 12, 2016

"This, Too, Was Worthy of the Melodramatic Ingenuity of a Blood-and-Thunder Playwright"

ARCH OBOLER was a show biz legend, involving himself in all aspects of the business, including Broadway, the movies, and TV—but it was in radio where he made his reputation. Wikipedia (HERE) tells us:
He generated much attention with his radio scripts, particularly the horror series Lights Out, and his work in radio remains the outstanding period of his career. Praised as one of broadcasting's top talents, he is regarded today as a key inno-vator of radio drama. Oboler's personality and ego were larger than life. Radio historian John Dunning wrote, 'Few people were ambivalent when it came to Arch Oboler. He was one of those intense personalities who are liked and disliked with equal fire.'"
Since Oboler was so versatile, we weren't too surprised to come across some of his short stories with criminous angles (although he must have dropped the "Archie" from his byline relatively early). Here's the FictionMags list of his pulp stories, some of which, to judge from the titles and venues, are clearly crime fiction:

~ "A Chap Named Paul," Breezy Stories, October 1927
~ "Gangster Hate," Racketeer Stories, October 1930
~ "Boomerang Bullets," Top-Notch Magazine, December #1, 1930
~ "The Death in Death," The Popular Magazine, December #2, 1930
~ "Squad Car," The Popular Magazine, September 1931
~ "Mr. Minkle Is Vigilant," Nickel Detective, January 1933
~ "Lead Curtains," Greater Gangster Stories, February 1933
~ "A Long Rope," Ten Detective Aces, April 1933 (see below)
~ "Miss Information," Snappy, August 1933
~ "The Murder Game," Nickel Detective, August 1933 (see below)
~ "Murder Below," Dime Mystery Magazine, March 1934
~ "Collegiate Knuckles," The All-America Sports Magazine, August 1934
~ "The Night of Ka-Sam," Dr. Yen Sin, May-June 1936
~ "Burnt!" Zippy, November 1938
~ "The Ugliest Man in the World," The Saint’s Choice No. 7, 1946 (1943 radioplay online HERE)
~ "Come to the Bank," Weird Tales, Fall 1984 (1942 radioplay online HERE).

"A Long Rope."
By Archie Oboler (1909-87).
First appearance: Ten Detective Aces, April 1933.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
"The woman’s free hand was in the right pocket of the coat of her tailored suit; suddenly it came out with a small automatic in it."
When it comes to faking a jewel robbery, two can play at that game . . . And speaking of games . . .
~ ~ ~
"The Murder Game."
By Archie Oboler (1909-87).
First appearance: Nickel Detective, August 1933.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
"To us crime is a game, pure and simple. It is the thrill of matching our wits against mankind that interests us, not a desire for additional wealth. We know no right, no wrong, no laws, no sentimentality. Since our brains are keener than society, we take what we want and answer to no man."
Three bullets, a bell, and one hour to live: for private eye Lee Andre crawling around blindly in the dark, it looks like the big sleep—until he sees the light . . .

Resources:
- For more about Arch Oboler go to Gary Westfahl's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Film (HERE); you can find Lights Out episodes on MP3 (HERE).
- We previously encountered a Lights Out episode (HERE), but we aren't sure if Oboler had any involvement with it.

The bottom line: "It seems to me that you and I were made for each other. I am your best friend’s best friend and we both have a taste for stealing other people's jewellery."
P.G.W.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"How Could the Pirate Know Exactly When and Where to Intercept His Victims in Space, Where Ships Are As Hard to See As Motes in the Dark?"

"Lunar Loot."
By Edwin Benson (house name).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, March 1940.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Parental caution: Strong language and violence.)
"Allan Ryan and John Kane sweated hard for that gold quartz, and they weren't going to give it up to a pirate, no matter how clever he was . . ."
For Ryan and Kane mining gold-laced quartz in the Moon's Tycho crater is dangerous work in itself, but now there's the added threat of pirates to worry about. The two miners have a lucrative arrangement with Lunar Mining Company (LMC)—provided they can make that last quarter of a million miles to Earth without getting way-laid and murdered, as other hapless travelers have been, by a mysterious space criminal known only as Murgot:
Time after time he'd sacked ships, forcing the crews to step from the airlock, just as old-time pirates made their victims walk the plank.
As bad as that is, there's something of a mystery about the whole thing:
Murgot seemed to possess an uncanny knowledge of the time and place to intercept LMC ships. When you worked for LMC you staked your life against riches with all the chances on the side of failure. That's why LMC split fifty-fifty with miners.
. . . which to these guys amounts to a cool four million dollars for this load. Collecting it, however, isn't going to be all that easy, because Ryan and Kane are about to find themselves jammed into a situation where, if they don't get skinned alive first, they'll certainly get blown sky high . . . literally.
Tycho crater, 53 miles across and 3 miles deep
Principal characters:
~ Allan Ryan:
   "It'll mean over ten thousand miles of air-travel after we reach Earth, and taking a space ship through air is no cinch. It ain't like a plane. I can't see why that crazy stunt is neces-sary."
~ John Kane:
   "The old man says Murgot won't be expecting us to take off then. I'd a darn sight rather meet him though, than crack up in some jungle on Earth, or in the middle of the Sahara.
But I guess he knows what he's about."
~ Lawrence, the LMC dome boss (a.k.a. "The old man"):
   "You guessed it the first time."
~ Murgot:
   ". . . the scourge of the Lunar Mining Company . . . [his] chief occupation was piracy."
~ Drago:
   "He's always been interested in biology, but he gets so few subjects to vivisect that he hasn't made much progress."

Resources:
- For an idea of what real moonbases would be like, go to Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets hypersite (HERE) and scroll down to "Sample Lunar Base" and "Sample Lunar Base 2," both of which are enhanced by many artists' conceptualizations.
- It's a mystery which author using the house name of "Edwin Benson" wrote "Lunar Loot." One of the most consistent contributors to Fantastic (and one who has always made for good copy) was the spectacularly controversial Richard S. Shaver (1907-75); if you've never heard of Shaver you might want to read more about him (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

The bottom line: "One could mention many lovable traits in Smee. For instance, after killing, it was his spectacles he wiped instead of his weapon."
J. M. Barrie