Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Your Mimi Has a Heart Like an Artichoke with a Leaf for Every Man"

"Riviera Renegade."
By Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, November 20, 1948.
Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine, February 1956; The Saint Detective Magazine (U.K.), October 1956; and Creasey Mystery Magazine, May 1957.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at UNZ (start HERE) and (finish HERE; scroll down to page 72).
"It is not often that such a desirable woman so richly deserves to be murdered"
Sometimes war produces casualties years after the fighting has ended—and the guilty, too often, seem to escape their just punishment:
ACCORDING to the newspapers, Monsieur le Juge, you are the examining magistrate in the case of James Patterson, the American soldier who was arrested last night while carrying the body of a woman named Mimi Lacourt from a bench on the Promenade des Anglais. The papers say the soldier was about to dispose of the body in the sea, but—
A story told in the first person, it's a plea to spare the life of an American soldier accused of murder, offered by an expatriate artist who sat out the German occupation of France. As you'll see, he has good reason to defend his young friend . . .
Principal characters:
~ James Patterson:
   "Deliberately, Monsieur le Juge, as though I were doing penance, I forced myself to make friends with the G.I.s. I was in turn adopted by one of them from Iowa, my own state, a lad named Jim Patterson, who called me 'Pop.'"
~ Mimi Lacourt:
   "You knew Mimi Lacourt, of course. Everyone knew her—many quite intimately. She was a glittering ornament to our casinos before the war. She was extremely beautiful, as you know, with dark eyes that turned men's blood to strong wine. She wore clothes with an art that displayed her superb body as a jeweler exhibits a fabulous gem in his showcase."
~ Paul Murdock:
   "I hesitated about coming to you, Monsieur le Juge, because people in Nice call me a renegade, a bad American, and a collaborationist. It is true that I did not return to America when Marshal Pétain surrendered—perhaps because I was too comfortable in my Riviera villa, perhaps because I have lived in France for forty years, perhaps because, although I am no longer young, I still love to paint the red sea cliffs and the olive-covered hills and the houses drowsing in the sun beside the blue Mediterranean."
~ Major (now Mr.) Giacomo:
   "In Cannes I again ran into my friend Major Giacomo, only now he was Mr. Giacomo and wore civilian clothes. After the Americans came to Italy, he had thrown away his Fascist uniform, produced his U.S. citizenship papers, and gone to work for the military government to help locate stolen art treasures."
Resources:
- Our latest contact with Lawrence G. Blochman was (HERE).
- Blochman mentions the Negresco hotel, which almost had delayed casualties just last year; see (HERE).

The bottom line: "To be a femme fatale you don't have to be slinky and sensuous and disastrously beautiful, you just have to have the will to disturb."
Alice Munro

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"To Many Authors the Solution of Crime in a Science Fiction Setting Was Little More Than a Tongue-in-Cheek Literary Toy"

LONG-TIME (or perhaps that should be LONG-SUFFERING) READERS of ONTOS might have noticed that we've been on an extended "science fiction crossovers with detective fiction" jag, since over the last couple of years we've been scouring the Internet searching for stories that combine our two favorite genres—and so far there seems to be no end of them.

Half a century ago Sam Moskowitz, the premier historian of science fictiondom, noticed the same thing and published two articles in issues of Worlds of Tomorrow that briefly survey the sui generis SF-tec subgenre from its beginnings with Poe to the mid-1960s—parts of which, we regret to say, reveal the solutions. Caveat lector!

"The Sleuth in Science Fiction."
By Sam Moskowitz (1920-97).
First appearance: Worlds of Tomorrow, January 1966.
Survey (12 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Occasional SPOILERS.)
"Sam Moskowitz traces the history of detectives in science fiction—with new clues on every page!"
Of course, Moskowitz rightly designates Edgar Allan Poe as the one who started it all, being the originator of both the modern detective story and science fiction tale, but Poe never tried combining the two.

Instead, Moskowitz points to Balmer and MacHarg's Luther Trant stories as the first full-fledged SF-detective crossovers, in whose wake followed Arthur B. Reeve and his durable character Craig Kennedy, and occasional interlopers like Sax Rohmer, with his archvillain Fu Manchu, armed to the teeth with world-conquering superscientific gizmos, and tirelessly pursued by Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie, the Holmes and Watson of Rohmer's oeuvre.

Hugo Gernsback played no small role in this, constantly promoting scientific detection in all of his publications, consistently printing crossovers in his otherwise popular general science magazines. Gernsback failed, however, to catch the public's imagination as completely as the early Luther Trant and Craig Kennedy stories, and was forced to transform his high-quality Scientific Detective Monthly into a more conventional crime fiction magazine; the fact that America was deep into the Depression didn't help matters.

Resources:
- On his megasite (A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection) Mike Grost has entries about the early SF tecs discussed by Moskowitz (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- Two issues of Scientific Detective Monthly (SDM) are available at the Comic Book Plus site (HERE) and (HERE).
- One story that just missed publication in SDM but did see the light of day elsewhere in another Gernsback magazine is "The Murders on the Moon-Ship" (1931), also available at Comic Book Plus (HERE; select page 48); unfortunately, Moskowitz blabs the solution.

Moskowitz followed up his first installment with:

"The Super-Sleuths of Science Fiction."
By Sam Moskowitz (1920-97).
First appearance: Worlds of Tomorrow, March 1966.
Survey (12 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Occasional SPOILERS.)
"Science fiction's favorite historian tells us about the early days of sf detective stories—and who dun it!"
Moskowitz resumes his short history of the science fictional detective with a character he discussed at some length in the previous piece, David H. Keller's Taine of San Francisco ("The Taine stories were uneven in quality and loosely constructed"), and notes again the major influence exerted by Hugo Gernsback:
Though the publication of Scientific Detective Monthly and Amazing Detective Tales had done much to refine the art of the scientific detective story, progress was not continuous, nor was it uniform in all publications. The thinking of the editors of that day was that if a crime is committed or solved through the utilization of established scientific principles, it constituted a legitimate science fiction story, regardless of whether any element of fantasy was present. Their logic was not shared by their readers. Other than Taine, scientific detective stories enjoyed small popularity, though editors continued to use them.
Moskowitz points to other fictioneers besides the professional SF pulpsters who tried their hands at SF-tec fiction during the 1920s, the most surprising instance being Erle Stanley Gardner (laboring for top dollar at Argosy):
It was inevitable that he [Gardner] would attempt to incorporate the crime and detective theme into his science fiction, just as he had done in his desert yarns.
As for one of those professional SF pulpsters:
. . . undoubtedly the crime story in a science fiction setting that created the greatest impact during this period [the '20s] was Murray Leinster's "The Darkness on Fifth Avenue.". . . In referring to the supplementary crimes committed under the cloak of darkness by people in the darkened area, Leinster also provided graphic sociological comment. . . .[He] would use the detective and scientific invention both in and out of the science fiction magazines.
The template, if you will, for James Bond and others of his ilk was basically fashioned in the pulps of the 1920s:
The foregoing tales of Erle Stanley Gardner and Murray Leinster were actually popularizers and prototypes of a formula involving a criminal genius threaten-ing a city, country or planet with scientific horror and an official or specialized agent battling the menace.
Moskowitz wraps up his survey with three brilliant SF-tec stories that just about every science fiction reader should be aware of: Hal Clement's Needle (1949), Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man (1953), and . . .
. . . the most inspired of all. It was written by Isaac Asimov, who had previously built two reputations in science fiction, one with his robot stories and the three laws of robotics and the second with his Foundation series of the galactic empire. The Caves of Steel (1953) is the supreme masterpiece to date of the detective story in science fiction, so much so that it has received mention in at least one important book on the development of crime fiction.
So ends Moskowitz's overview of the science fiction-detective subgenre. In the fifty years since then a newer generation of writers and film makers have been mashing SF and tec fiction together, admittedly not always successfully, but often enough to tell us there's still a lot of life left in the science fictional detective after all.

Resources:
- David H. Keller's output is well represented on Amazon (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE); Keller's non-SF detective story featuring the Taine character, "Hands of Doom" (1947), is available at Pulpgen (HERE).
- There's plenty of information about Sam Moskowitz on the Web: his New York Times obituary (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- On Tor.com (HERE) David Cranmer also acknowledges Asimov's contribution:
When trail-blazing editor John W. Campbell of Astounding Science Fiction (eventually renamed Analog Science Fiction and Fact) boldly declared that mystery and science fiction genres were incompatible, Isaac Asimov disagreed. In response, Asimov wrote The Caves of Steel, successfully creating a futuristic whodunit and proving Campbell wrong. Today, it seems like a passé point that science fiction can be injected into any literary genre, but it took Asimov’s mid-twentieth century vision to help pave the way. — David Cranmer, "Eight Essen-tial Science Fiction Detective Mash-Ups" (2014)
Artwork by Frank Kelly Freas

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Try to Look Harmless" (Update)

Back in 2014 we highlighted Larry Niven's story "The Soft Weapon" and how it was filmed for the Star Trek animated series (HERE). Since then the text of the original story has become available online, and you can read it (HERE).

It was predictable that the video would disappear from unpaid general access.

Memory Alpha covers "The Slaver Weapon" (HERE), but with a detailed plot summary, so expect SPOILERS galore.

Cards on the Table

If you have a criminal mind (or just one that leans that way) and wish to share your thoughts with friends (or enemies) this Christmas, here is the perfect Yuletide card, "A Murder Mystery Christmas," available from many retailers:
Click on image to enlarge.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

"God Gave Me a Brain Beyond the Normal, and I Use It"

ONE OF THE MANY aliases adopted by logorrheic Englishman John Russell Fearn included Thornton Ayre; according to FictionMags and the ISFDb, "Ayre" produced a short-lived series character, Brutus Lloyd, "the scientific detective" ("Detective! I, sir, am a specialist!"), who evidently appeared in only four adventures, two of which we were able to locate online. Here is Lloyd's exiguous curriculum vitae:

   (1) "The Man Who Saw Two Worlds," Amazing Stories, January 1940 (a.k.a. "Blind Vision")
   (2) "The Case of the Murdered Savants," Amazing Stories, April 1940 (below)
   (3) "The Case of the Mesozoic Monsters," Amazing Stories, May 1942 (below)
   (4) "The Copper Bullet," Vargo Statten British SF Magazine, January 1954.

"The Case of the Murdered Savants."
By Thornton Ayre (John Russell Fearn, 1908-60).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, April 1940.
Reprinted in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1940 and A Case for Brutus Lloyd: Science Fiction Mystery Stories (2013).
Novelette (24 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Even the scientific detective, Brutus Lloyd, was baffled by the mystery that surrounded the murder of America's finest men of science . . . or was it murder?"
   Chapter I: "At the morgue he went through the ordeal without a word, merely nodding his head dazedly as he gazed on the waxen face of his dead twin—a face so like his own."
   Chapter II: "The Stained Scalpels"
   Chapter III: "The Dead Undead"
   Chapter IV: "Ambition Diabolical"
Somebody is killing off research scientists at an alarming rate, all of them stabbed through the heart with surgical scalpels, and with no reason for it in sight. When a young radio engineer, suffering from visions relating to his recently murdered brother, appeals to dimin-utive Dr. Brutus Lloyd for help, it's up to the little man with the gigantic ego to see to it that these malefactions cease—assuming, that is, he can keep his Derby hat out of his eyes.

Comment: This story asks us to believe that experienced forensic pathologists, when they're performing autopsies, don't know what a dead body looks like.

Major characters:
~ Inspector Branson:
   ". . . we can't yet see why this steady murdering of scientific men is going on. No apparent motive. It's the damnedest thing I ever heard of!"
~ Rex Thomas:
   "He was murdered, and yet last night I had the strangest dream. In fact, it wasn't a dream—more a kind of vision. In that vision my brother was still alive, yet only a few hours before I had seen him in the morgue."
~ Beryl, Rex's fiancée:
   "It's a pretty highbrow affair, I suppose, but there'll be lots of ignorant folks there, like you and me, who aren't interested in scientific mumbo-jumbo."
~ Jonathan Clayton, Beryl's stepfather:
   "Big, gray-headed, strong-necked, he looked more like a champion athlete than an inventor—and probably the best inventor the United States Government had ever employed for regu-lar service."
~ Professor Eliman, a brain surgeon:
   "The maniacal killings of scientists are not worth considering. At least, I am not afraid."
~ Joseph Clough, the Wall Street financier:
   "Waste of time, in my opinion. I made my money soaking people, not helping them."
~ Dr. Brutus Lloyd:
   ". . . a gnomelike little man under five feet in height, with an immense forehead down which curled a lock of hair shaped in a Napoleonic 'J.' You can call him an expert in any branch of science and criminology, and be right every time."

A typical Brutus Lloyd outburst:
   "Bloodstains! Bah! The stain on this knife contains proportions of sodium chloride—salt, to the uneducated; phosphate, lime, a trace of sulphuric acid, and cochineal for coloring. No man with that mixture in his veins could ever live. No man—not even I, and I can do most things."

Typos: "Crandal, the scultpor"; "Bronson asked."
~ ~ ~
"The Case of the Mesozoic Monsters."
By Thornton Ayre (John Russell Fearn, 1908-60).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, May 1942.
Reprinted in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Winter 1942 and A Case for Brutus Lloyd: Science Fiction Mystery Stories (2013).
Novelette (20 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Brutus Lloyd had never faced a more amazing mystery than the one that confronted him when he saw those incredible dinosaur footprints!"
   Chapter I: "Dammit man, dinosauria died out millions of years ago—and even supposing otherwise they'd sure have more sense than choose a dump like Trenchley to park in!"
   Chapter II: "Seance Extraordinary"
   Chapter III: "Monsters Over New York"
   Chapter IV: "Trail's End"

An infestation of dinosaurs isn't too common nowadays, so when Inspector Branson asks Brutus Lloyd to tag along to where there is one, at first the deeply dubious minuscule mastermind is totally underwhelmed at the whole idea. Soon, however, Lloyd will have to change his monumental mind, not about the dinosaurs per se, but about that infestation—for something very strange and unusual is going on in little Trenchley, events that have less to do with nature gone wild than with base human nature reasserting itself.

Principal characters:
~ Inspector Branson:
   "Seems a group of villagers, residents, saw two dinosaurs on the outskirts of the village last evening. I've questioned them all, and they all have the same story."
~ Dr. Brutus Lloyd:
   ". . . I would point out I require no aid in this matter, Dr. Phalnack. I am Lloyd—therefore self-sufficient."
~ Dr. Phalnack, a spiritualist, and Ranji, his servant:
   "It disturbed my communion with Beyond. I was aware of an unwanted dangerous element."
~ Ted Hutton, a skeptic, and his credulous wife, Janice:
   "I saw them as I was coming back from an electrical survey just out of the village. . . Gigantic! Dinosaurs . . . !"
~ Sheriff Ingle:
   "I was so surprised I don't remember."
~ The vicar:
   "I saw two huge monsters against the sunset, just outside the village. They seemed to be coming towards me."
~ Murgatroyd, a salesman:
   "Guess I saw them as I was driving into the village."

Typo: "where he'd the instruments"
Resources:
- The Brutus Lloyd stories have been collected in A Case for Brutus Lloyd: Science Fiction Mystery Stories (2013), described on Amazon this way:
Dr. Brutus Lloyd was no more than four feet ten inches tall, an amazingly gnome-like man. The most surprising thing about him was his deep bass voice. A brilliant scientist and criminologist, his unorthodox methods caused conster-nation to Inspector Branson of the New York City Police when: an accident caused a mining engineer to see into 'another world,' four scientists were murdered for their collective brainpower, and when dinosaurs were seen on the outskirts of a village ...
- So far there are only two reviews of A Case for Brutus Lloyd on Amazon (HERE):
"A humorous novel of short stories of a brilliant little fellow with a giant brain and not afraid to let everyone know it as he solves cases and uses Latin phrases." — Larry Boutin
. . . versus . . .
"This is a set of four stories: Blind Vision, The Case of the Murdered Savants, The Case of the Mezoic [sic] Monsters, and The Copper Bullet. They were originally published in 1940, 1942, and 1954. They are billed as sci-fi mysteries, but they are pretty disappointing on both counts. There are much better sci-fi stories from this era: the science isn't very imaginative or coherent, and the plots are pretty dull. As mysteries, they are probably even worse off: there's no sense that you can follow along with the story and anticipate the resolution ... the plot is too arbitrary. The characters don't make much sense and aren't very appealing, and the writing style, while well edited, is pretty flat. John Russell Fearn wrote like a million stories, I think you could find better ones than these." — Frances Nashua
- Writers in all media love hypnosis because it opens up all kinds of possible storylines (as well as making it possible to get away with otherwise weak plots); see how much hypnosis has penetrated the zeitgeist (HERE).
- As usual TV Tropes nails it down; see "Mind-Control Device" (HERE) and follow (if you dare) all of its subsidiary links.

The bottom line: "The ancient demagogue could only appeal to as many people as his voice could reach by yelling at his utmost, but the modern demagogue could touch literally millions at a time, and of course by the multiplication of his image [in newsreels and on TV] he can produce this kind of hallucinatory effect which is of enormous hypnotic and suggestive importance." — Aldous Huxley

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Through the KEYHOLE

THOSE GOOD FOLKS at SFFAudio have added stories to their Public Domain Page from the second issue of Keyhole Mystery Magazine (June 1960), some of them by heavyweights in both the SF and crime fiction fields. A couple of postings ago we briefly visited there to snag Blochman's "A Kiss for Belinda"; we now invite you to sample the other tales from that particular issue.

You can go (HERE) and type in "Keyhole" in the Search box for a linked story list, or you can go to each one using the links below. These stories are in the PDF format; we've also added a few off-site links for further information about the authors.

   (1) "The Trap" by Norman Daniels (Norman Arthur Danberg, 1905-95) (12 pages) - Online (HERE) - GAD Wiki (HERE).
   (2) "Night Ride" by Theodore Sturgeon (Edward Hamilton Waldo, 1918-85) (13 pages) - Online (HERE) - Wikipedia (HERE).
   (3) "Concealed Path" by Melville Davisson Post (1869-1930) (12 pages) - Online (HERE) - GAD Wiki (HERE).
   (4) "The Diamonds" by Frank Atterholt (?-?) (7 pages) - Online (HERE).
   (5) "A Case of Homicide" by Rog Phillips (Roger Philip Graham, 1909-65) (13 pages) - Online (HERE) - Wikipedia (HERE).
   (6) "The Deadliest Game" by Joseph Whitehill (1927-2011) (14 pages) - Online (HERE).
   (7) "Wife Killer" by Rod Reed (?-?) (3 pages) - Online (HERE).
   (8) "I.O.U." (a.k.a. "I.O.U.—One Life" and "Debt of Honor") by Cornell Woolrich (Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich, 1903-68) (15 pages) - Online (HERE) - GAD Wiki (HERE).
   (9) "A Matter of Life" by Robert Bloch (1917-94) (7 pages) - Online (HERE) - Wikipedia (HERE).
   (10) "Born for Murder" by John Collier (1901-80) (17 pages) - Online (HERE) - Wikipedia (HERE).
   (11) "Rest in Peace" by Avram Davidson (1923-93) (6 pages) - Online (HERE) - Wikipedia (HERE).
   (12) "A Christian Burial" by Mary Thayer Muller (?-?) (6 pages) - Online (HERE).
   (13) "A Kiss for Belinda" (a.k.a. "Kiss of Kandahar") by Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75) (17 pages) - Online (HERE) - GAD Wiki (HERE).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"There Weren't Any Fingerprints on Atoms"

"Round About Rigel."
By J. Harvey Haggard (1912-2001).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1937.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE) (PDF).
"Raiders Meet Grim Starlight Justice in the Interstellar Void"
There's an old expression about going to the well once too often; in this instance, going to the same planet once too often can be just as risky . . .

Characters:
~ Lieutenant Eon Hermer of the Space Guard:
   ". . .  don’t get me wrong. I’ve never heard of you, and I’d never have been on Vaporia 
if I hadn’t been shoved off, very much against my will."
~ Jewel Collahan:
   "Shoved off! You were marooned! And I’ve been waiting for two years to get off this biological madhouse."
~ Alf and Mope, the Mason brothers:
   "Two grotesque figures, clad in transparent bell-like helmets with shoulder tanks, came cautiously out of a low airlock, each with dissembler at hip."

Typo: "a small dissembler revolver" ("disassembler" is probably meant).
~ ~ ~
"The Atombomb Clue."
By J. Harvey Haggard (1912-2001).
First appearance: 10-Story Detective Magazine, November 1946.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE) (PDF).
"Professor Cadler aimed to make a getaway with an atombomb sample. But though he’d figured on homicide and grand larceny to help him, Cadler forgot to make the payoff to a little atomic tattletale."
You'd think a guy as brainy as our murderer would know better, but ego has a way of short circuiting clear thinking.

Characters:
~ Professor Nelton:
   ". . . the little scientist was nothing to look at. Only his bald head, with corrugated lines that encased a powerful brain, gave a suggestion at being stupendous. Very few knew that Professor Nelton was on the verge of creating a new atomic bomb out of radium."
~ Professor Cadler:
   ". . . he let the grey cells of Professor Nelton’s brain ooze gently into outer air through a bullethole that neatly intersected the frontal bone and the superciliary arch."
~ Wade Norrister:
   "Where did I get this?"
~ Fields, the police photographer:
   "Mind if I mug the guys, Sarge?"
~ Sergeant Brade Wesley:
   "Funny thing. Fields is a good photographer. All the other pictures came out fine. Except yours."

Typo: "to put a ballet through"

Resources:
- J. Harvey Haggard produced pulpy SF and crime fiction throughout the '30s and '40s; for more about Haggard see these Web sources (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- The star Rigel has been popular with science fictioneers for years; see more about it in fact (HERE) and fiction (HERE).

The bottom line: "The 20th century was a test bed for big ideas — fascism, communism, the atomic bomb."
P. J. O'Rourke

Monday, November 21, 2016

"The Murderer Was Well Acquainted with Her Intimate Habits"

"A Kiss for Belinda."
By Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, February 17, 1951 (as "Kiss of Kandahar").
Reprinted in The Saint Mystery Magazine, September 1959; EQMM (Australia), February 1960; EQMM (U.K.), February 1960; and Keyhole Mystery Magazine, June 1960.
Short story (16 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF) and UNZ (start HERE) and (end HERE; scroll down to page 67).
(Note: The UNZ Collier's version is poorly reproduced but still readable.)
"Belinda was blonde and beautiful and kissable, too. But unfortunately someone gave her a kiss—of death!"
It's an election year, and Northfield's Coroner is even more useless than usual after the life-less body of an attractive woman is found in her bathtub; in Lieutenant Ritter's experience, the Coroner is "prone to regard all unexplained deaths as due to heart failure, apoplexy, or accident—unless of course the head was missing or a knife protruded from the back." Obviously the victim is this case hasn't been decapitated or stabbed and definitely not shot, but Ritter's policeman's instincts tell him it was no accident, either; moreover, since just about every person involved in this imbroglio doesn't seem to feel it necessary to adhere strictly to the truth, it's lucky for the Lieutenant that he has a clear-thinking man of science, Dr. Coffee, to help sort it all out . . .
Principal characters:
~ Belinda Holliday:
   "The woman in Suite 232 of the Southside Apartment Hotel was certainly young, probably on the exuberant side of twenty-five."
~ Detective Lieutenant Max Ritter:
   "Slim, dark, sad-eyed Lieutenant Ritter made his way to Suite 232 without a word. When he entered the bathroom, and instinctively took off his soft felt hat, his big ears gave him the silhouette of a pogo stick."
~ Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee:
   "Ritter telephoned his friend, pathologist at Northbank's Pasteur Hospital, who had a great and useful scientific curiosity."
~ Roy Manson:
   "Somehow his big, well-muscled hands seemed to call for blue denims and precision tools, instead of the green wax-paper cornucopia of flowers they were holding awkwardly."
~ Anne Devoto:
   "She was a dark, demure little woman, past the first bloom of youth but attractive in a virginal, wholesome way. Her eyes were alive, positive, passionate . . . ."
~ Warren Holliday:
   "He had tired gray eyes and a hesitant smile. His walk was slow and lumbering, but his handclasp was firm."
~ Dr. Motilal Mookerji:
   "Not only was the little Hindu broad of beam, but his fore-and-aft dimensions precluded side-slipping through the narrow channels that separated the autoclave, centrifuge, and 
other pieces of standing gear which cluttered the laboratory."

Resources:
- Keyhole Mystery had a very good start but quickly went downhill during the great fiction digests implosion of the late '50s-early '60s; William G. Contento (and/or Phil Stephensen-Payne) at FictionMags explains:
"Initially Keyhole Mystery Magazine presented a good array of the more stand-ard mystery and detective short stories by many of the better-known mystery fiction authors, but was unable to sustain sales and folded after only three issues. It was relaunched over a year later, by a different publisher, under the title Keyhole Detective Story Magazine, with an emphasis on a more violent, fast-action clip, heavily laced with tough and coarse characters and, above all, sex."
- It was just the other day that we met with Lawrence G. Blochman in one of his stand-alone mysteries (HERE) without Dr. Coffee.

The bottom line: "An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup."
H. L. Mencken

Sunday, November 20, 2016

"In the Midst of All This, the Cause and Purpose of It All, Sat the Legendary Eel"

"The Eel."
By Miriam Allen de Ford (1888-1975).
First appearance: Galaxy, April 1958.
Reprinted several times (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).
"The punishment had to fit more than just the crime—it had to suit every world in the Galaxy!"
Some people are really good at what they do, even if what they do isn't really good:
HE was intimately and unfavorably known everywhere in the Galaxy, but with special virulence on eight planets in three different solar systems. He was eagerly sought on each; they all wanted to try him and punish him—in each case, by their own laws and customs. This had been going on for 26 terrestrial years, which means from minus ten to plus 280 in some of the others. The only place that didn't want him was Earth, his native planet, where he was too smart to operate—but, of course, the Galactic Police were looking for him there too, to deliver him to the authorities of the other planets in accordance with the Inter-planetary Constitution.
FOR all of those years, The Eel (which was his Earth monicker; elsewhere, he was known by names indicating equally squirmy and slimy life-forms) had been gayly going his way, known under a dozen different aliases, turning up sudden-ly here, there, everywhere, committing his gigantic depredations, and disappear-ing as quickly and silently when his latest enterprise had succeeded. He special-ized in enormous, unprecedented thefts. It was said that he despised stealing anything under the value of 100 million terrestrial units, and most of his thefts were much larger than that.
HE had no recognizable modus operandi, changing his methods with each new crime. He never left a clue. But, in bravado, he signed his name to every job: his monicker flattered him, and after each malefaction the victim—usually a govern-ment agency, a giant corporation, or one of the clan enterprises of the smaller planets—would receive a message consisting merely of the impudent depiction of a large wriggling eel.
THEY got him at last, of course . . .
But that's not the end of the story, not by a long shot . . .

Comment: A satire on bureaucracy, with special relevance to law and order.
Resources:
- Background info on our author is online at Wikipedia (HERE), the Internet Science Fiction Database (HERE), and the Science Fiction Encyclopedia (HERE).
- The theme of criminality and what to do about it has preoccupied science fiction/fantasy writers for a long time; you'll see how much when you consult these SFE entries: "Crime and Punishment" (HERE), "Prisons" (HERE), "Memory Edit" (HERE), and "Psychology" (HERE).
- In the story, the Agskians let political considerations influence their criminal justice system; depending (probably too much) on Earth history, SF writers have dreamed BIG when it comes to galactic government—go to the SFE (HERE) and Atomic Rockets (HERE) to see 
just how big.
- The author mentions the Guanches, an extinct Earth society; see Wikipedia (HERE).

The bottom line: "It is a question whether, when we break a murderer on the wheel, we do not fall into the error a child makes when it hits the chair it has bumped into."
Georg C. Lichtenberg

Saturday, November 19, 2016

"Gazette Reporter Cracks N.Y. Mystery: Writer Captures Model's Killer Singlehanded"

"The Girl with the Burgundy Lips."
By Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, December 27, 1952.
Reprinted in EQMM, August 1953 and EQMM (U.K.), August 1953.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"Two models lived in the tiny apartment. One had sleek, dark hair; the other was blonde. One was simple and severe; the other wore ruffles. And one was dead"
. . . and one was missing . . . undetectable . . . indiscernible . . . inconspicuous, impercep-tible, unseen, unnoticed, unobserved, hidden, veiled, obscured, out of sight—which, you'd think, would absolutely be the last thing an artist's model would want. The police have drawn a similar inference and, you guessed it, believe the missing girl murdered her flatmate and hurriedly decamped.

Newspaper reporter and mystery novelist Marshall T. Custer, a man who is not above taking mucho dinero for his sleuthing, will eventually turn up the significance of traces of wine, cucumber, and raspberry seeds in the victim's stomach contents, a toothbrush, a silk slip, and a striking resemblance—if, that is, he can manage to stay out of jail (two trips to the hoosegow, courtesy of Detective Kilkenny, are more than enough).

The Custer Method (explication by Custer himself):
   "The Custer Method involves the study of live characters, not dead ones. Why, it just stands to reason. Pure logic and deduction. Given the set of circumstances and character relationships, it couldn't possibly be anybody else."

Comment: Blochman tries his hand at the epistolary form as applied to the detective tale, and does so without noticeably retarding the story's pace.
Main characters:
~ Marshall T. Custer:
   "My blonde amanuensis ran away to be a bareback rider in the circus. I now rely exclusively on my faithful hip flask and my little gray cells."
~ Olivia Brenn:
   "As all the world knows by now, Olivia was an artist's model. She was small, slim and shapely. She wore her sleek dark hair boyishly short. She posed in the nude. About two months ago when the posing season was slack and the pickings slimmer than a nine-day diet, she took in Ruby to share the rent."
~ Ruby Loring:
   "Ruby modeled, too, but not in the nude. She was about the same size as Olivia, except she had more chest expansion. She also had long blonde hair. And whereas Olivia wore severe suits and blouses. Ruby went in for girly-girly fluffs and flounces. She was fine for modeling big picture hats and full sleeves and filmy furbelows."
~ Henry Pallett:
   "I'll make the break someday."
~ Pierre Duval:
   "I am an oenologist, sir. An oenologist."
~ Franz Ziegler:
   "I was crazy about her. I still am. We're going to be married as soon as her divorce is final."
~ Jeanne Woods:
   "I didn't even try to get through Jeanne Woods's painted war mask and supplementary hostile grimaces. For my money, her Nile-green hostess pajamas could have been made of cast iron."
~ Kenneth Kilkenny, detective first grade, Homicide Squad:
   "Look. Why don't you go write another book? You're not invited to this murder."
Resources:
- As far as we can determine, Lawrence G. Blochman used the Custer character in only two stories:
   (1) "The Girl with the Burgundy Lips," Collier’s, December 27, 1952 (above)
   (2) "The Man with the Blue Ears," EQMM, November 1954 [reprints: EQMM (U.K.), November 1954 and EQMM (Australia), January 1955]
- Blochman is best known for his Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee series; see ONTOS (HERE) for more.

The bottom line: "Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only."
Samuel Butler

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Murder Was Not Popular, These Days"

"Bircher."
By A. A. Walde (?-?).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, July 1966.
Reprinted several times (HERE).
Novelette (30 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
"The police methods of tomorrow always work — except this time, when the victim did not exist!"
In a world not far removed from the one anticipated by Orwell, where everyone's activities are monitored infinitely more closely than they are today, how do you commit a murder and hope to get away with it? The answer, obviously, is you don't . . . but, as if in defiance of such a tightly regulated society, a confused robot finds a corpse lying in an alley, fresh as 
a daisy . . .
Principal characters:
~ The police commissioner (our unnamed narrator):
   "There were very few of us, at least those of us who had jobs worth having, who went to their work instead of having it come to them. I had to put up with it, though. A policeman's lot was not a happy one."
~ Betty, the commissioner's secretary:
   "She was smart, reliable, flexible and even quite attractive. Luckily, she never found out how to make the most of her good points. Homicide department was no place for happily married people. Homicide department was no place for happy people. At least, we never 
had any."
~ The victim:
   ". . . was male, I guessed his age at seventeen, possibly nineteen. He was either nude or naked, depending on whether he wanted to be that way. One of his arms was under him, the other thrown back with the elbow bent in a way unbroken bones could not manage. He was heavily bruised, and his face was bloody."
~ M'Pher, the former police commissioner:
   "He recoiled slightly, then examined it closely, but without touching it. He was mesmer-ized, like the mythical bird hypnotized by a serpent."
~ O'Moore, the high mayor:
   "The mayor spoke again. 'But there are still stilyegi?' He was shocked just as I had been."
Typos: "when he shaw the body"; "didn't realize than anyone"; sloppy punctuation.

The bottom line: "If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination."
Thomas de Quincey

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Top 5 in October

Here are ONTOS's most popular postings for the past four Octobers. As usual we offer this caveat first: Since the most ephemeral things mankind has devised are whatever we place on the Internet, don't be surprised if pictures evaporate and links die unremarked. That, more than anything else we can think of, signals the superiority of the old-fashioned book; only with the printed page do we have unlimited access to information without the intervention and, worse, the interference of third parties; i.e., when you read, there are only the author's words and you.

~ October 2016 ~
(1) "It Killed Him Like That—Squeezed the Life Out of Him in No Time" - (HERE)
(2) Norman A. Daniels—Nearly Forgotten Uberpulpster - (HERE)
(3) The Top 5 in September - (HERE)
(4) "GENUINE—PASSED AS COUNTERFEIT" - (HERE)
(5) "We Need Your Planet" - (HERE)

~ October 2013 ~
(1) The Correspondence School Detective - (HERE)
(2) Why Aren't There More—and Better—Science Fiction Mysteries? - (HERE)
(3) "A Cleverly Disguised Homage" - (HERE)
(4) Clay-footed Gumshoes - (HERE)
(5) Criminal Scholarship - (HERE)

~ October 2014 ~
(1) OLD-TIME DETECTION, Summer 2014 - (HERE)
(2) Who Was Dexter Drake? - (HERE)
(3) "You Fancy Yourself Quite a Toff But I'll Show You I'm Toffer Than You Are" - (HERE)
(4) "There Are Murders, There's a Detective, and Sleuthing of a Sort, but the Solution Is in the Stratosphere" - (HERE)
(5) "The Story Is Not Badly Done" - (HERE)

~ October 2015 ~
(1) "A Master of the Psychology of Fear, of the Torments of the Crime-Burdened Conscience" - (HERE)
(2) "Something Had, Obviously, Gone Wrong" - (HERE)
(3) "It Is a Difficult Thing, However, to Hush Up As Serious a Matter As Murder, Particularly on Shipboard" - (HERE)
(4) Four More for EQ and One That Didn't Make It - (HERE)
(5) "There Wasn't a Chance Any Life Remained in That Torn Flesh, in Those Broken Bones" - (HERE)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Oh, Prophetic Soul! The Rubies Were Gone, and the Box Was Empty!"

GRANT ALLEN is known primarily to mystery aficionados because of his widely reprinted "African Millionaire" story series featuring roguish Colonel Clay, but Allen also produced other crime fiction like "A Deadly Dilemma" (below), which saw publication in the very first issue of George Newnes's magazine, The Strand, soon to be famous for stories featuring the world's first, and only, consulting detective.

"A Deadly Dilemma."
By Grant Allen (1848-99).
First appearance: The Strand, January 1891.
Short story (8 pages, with 8 illos).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
"For another indivisible second of time Ughtred Carnegie's soul was the theatre of a terrible and appalling struggle. What on earth was he to do? Which of the two was he to sacrifice? Should it be murder or treachery?"
A lovers' spat unexpectedly leads to a life-and-death situation for both of them.

Main characters:
~ Netta Mayne:
   "The ways of women are wonderful; no mere man can fathom them."
~ Ughtred Carnegie:
   "She wouldn't allow him to see her home, to be sure, and that being so, he was too much of a gentleman to force himself upon her. But he was too much a man, too, to let her find her way back so late entirely by herself. Unseen himself, he must still watch over her. Against her will, he must still protect her."
~ ~ ~
"The Great Ruby Robbery: A Detective Story."
By Grant Allen (1848-99).
First appearance: The Strand, October 1892.
Short story (12 pages, with 7 illos).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
"I told you the very last person you'd dream of suspecting was sure to be the one that actually did it."
To her very great annoyance, Persis will discover what magicians have known for centuries: The hand is quicker than the eye.

Principal characters:
~ Persis Remanet, an American heiress:
   ". . . [who] as a free-born American citizen, was quite as well able to take care of herself, the wide world over, as any three ordinary married Englishwomen."
~ Sir Justin O'Byrne, an acquaintance:
   "Sir Justin was one of those charming, ineffective, elusive Irishmen whom everybody likes and everybody disapproves of. He had been everywhere, and done everything—except to earn an honest livelihood."
~ Lady Maclure, a gracious hostess:
   "All the diamond-cutters in the world are concentrated in Amsterdam; and the first thing a thief does when he steals big jewels is to send them across, and have them cut in new shapes so that they can't be identified."
~ Bertha, a lady's maid:
   "Such a nice, noiseless girl; moves about the room like a cat on tiptoe; knows her proper place, and never dreams of speaking unless she's spoken to."
~ Harry, the postman:
   "There was a minute's pause, inarticulately filled up by sounds unrepresentable through the art of the type-founder. Then Harry spoke again. 'It's an awful lot of money!' he said, musing. 'A regular fortune!'"
~ Officer Gregory, a police detective:
   "Nobody was safe from his cultivated and highly-trained suspicion—not Sir Everard in his studio, nor Lady Maclure in her boudoir, nor the butler in his pantry, nor Sir Justin O'Byrne in his rooms in St. James's. Mr. Gregory kept an open mind against everybody and every-thing. He even doubted the parrot, and had views as to the intervention of rats and terriers."
Resources:
- There is a Wikipedia article about Grant Allen (HERE) and a website dedicated to him (HERE); also see Mike Grost's page on Allen (HERE).
- You can find Allen's An African Millionaire (1897) at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE) and Project Gutenberg (HERE).
- Allen also wrote a dozen stories for The Strand featuring Miss Lois Cayley, which were collected in book form in 1899; go to Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE) for those. Mike Grost (HERE) writes about the Miss Cayley stories:
"The tales form a story sequence, with each story building on characters and plot developments that have been introduced in previous ones. Most of the stories are not detective tales, in any sense of the word. Some are romances, some social comedies, others adventure tales. . . Eventually, this story sequence turns into something of a novel. The last stories in the book all deal with one common mystery case, whose unraveling carries over from story to story. The individual tales become episodes in the working out of this mystery. I cannot think of any other Victorian or Edwardian sequences that work this way — most of them have a self contained mystery in each short. Each story does have its own subject matter — one deals with a courtroom drama, another with a suspenseful chase — and its own tone. The whole thing produces a mosaic effect. . . Because of its unity of plot, readers should probably read all of Miss Cayley's Adventures, and in order, to get the book's full effect. This does not mean all chapters are equally good, far from it . . . ."

The bottom line: "Whatever hysteria exists is inflamed by mystery, suspicion and secrecy. Hard and exact facts will cool it."
Elia Kazan

Monday, November 14, 2016

"A Toad, a Wistful Toad, with Jewels in Its Head"

"The Witness."
By Eric Frank Russell (1905-78).
First appearance: Other Worlds, September 1951.
Reprinted multiple times (HERE).
Short story (20 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
"The eyes of the world were focused on the courtroom where the monster from space was on trial. The Prosecutor had an air-tight case built on the testimony of sixteen witnesses, while the Defense—well, they did manage to find one witness!"
Unexpected guests can be an unwelcome surprise, a strain on one's hospitality, but what if they're from another planet . . .

Typo: "an you detect"
Resources:
- Information about Eric Frank Russell isn't hard to come by on the Internet; see (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- You can read about Procyon (about 67 trillion miles from here) in fact (HERE) and fiction (HERE).
- In science fiction aliens come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and psychologies; see Winchell Chung's plush Atomic Rockets webpage on "Aliens" (HERE). After reading the story, you can decide which type of alien, as defined below, that Russell has made Maeth, our protagonist:
"ALIENS. Intelligent races who are not EARTH HUMANS. The term as such is never used for non-intelligent species, however unearthly, though in TECH-JARGON these may be called Alien Life Forms. Nor is it used for Earth Humans who must register with the immigration service. In general, Aliens fall into two distinct groups, REALLY ALIENS and ALIENS WITH FOREHEAD RIDGES." — Rick Robinson, The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy (HERE)

The bottom line: "My folks came to the U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien."
Leonard Nimoy

Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Does a Train Vanish into Thin Air in England in Broad Daylight?"

MEDIA ADAPTATIONS OF WRITTEN FICTION (i.e., radio, television, and motion pictures) are problematic at the best of times: You've probably experienced disappointment when a favor-ite story gets so mauled on TV or up on the silver screen as to be nearly unrecognizable because of major changes the producers have made to it; of course, usually these alterations can be justified due to the different presentation requirements resulting from the transition from the printed page to the dramatic environment—but, in our opinion, not always. To be fair, though, we must acknowledge that a few, a very few, stories which have been adapted to other media actually underwent improvement in the process.

We suggest that you first read (or re-read) Doyle's "The Lost Special" before listening to the two radio versions below, after which you can decide whether or not the adapters did justice to it.

"The Lost Special."
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, August 1898.
Collected in Round the Fire Stories (1908), Tales of Terror and Mystery (1922), and The Black Doctor and Other Tales of Terror and Mystery (1925).
Adapted in 1932 as a Western movie serial; see (HERE) and (HERE).
Adapted for radio in 1943 and 1949 (see below).
Short story (11 pages).
Online just about everywhere, including (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
". . . one of the most inexplicable crimes of the century—an incident which is, I believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any country."
When "the powerful engine called Rochdale (No. 247 on the The London and West Coast Railway Company's register) attached to two carriages" and carrying five people seems to disappear off the surface of the earth, consternation and incredulity naturally ensue; but while everybody (including "an amateur reasoner" whom you might recognize) has a theory of what happened, it will be a long time before the truth (assuming it is the truth) emerges.

Characters of note:
~ Mr. James Bland:
   "The thing is preposterous. An engine, a tender, two carriages, a van, five human beings—and all lost on a straight line of railway!"
~ "An amateur reasoner of some celebrity at that date, attempted to deal with the matter in a critical and semi-scientific manner":
   "I should certainly advise the company to direct all their energies towards the observation of those three [railway] lines, and of the workmen at the end of them. A careful supervision of the pawnbrokers' shops of the district might possibly bring some suggestive facts to light."
~ Monsieur Louis Caratal and his companion Eduardo Gomez:
   ". . . they had both been struck silent by what they saw. And yet they could not withdraw their heads. The sight seemed to have paralysed them."
~ Mr. Horace Moore:
   ". . . a gentlemanly man of military appearance, who alleged that the sudden serious illness of his wife in London made it absolutely imperative that he should not lose an instant in starting upon the journey."
~ James McPherson:
   "The guard of the special train was James McPherson, who had been some years in the service of the company."
~ William Smith:
   "The stoker, William Smith, was a new hand."
~ John Slater:
   "Regret to report that the dead body of John Slater, driver of the special train, has just been found among the gorse bushes at a point two and a quarter miles from the Junction. Had fallen from his engine, pitched down the embankment, and rolled among the bushes. Injuries to his head, from the fall, appear to be cause of death. Ground has now been carefully exam-ined, and there is no trace of the missing train."
~ Herbert de Lernac:
   "They looked round for an agent who was capable of wielding this gigantic power. The man chosen must be inventive, resolute, adaptive—a man in a million. They chose Herbert de Lernac, and I admit that they were right."
Resource:
- In her review of Doyle's Round the Fire Stories (1908) on Mystery*File (HERE), Mary Reed pinpoints this story's weakness as a mystery that doesn't play fair when she writes:
"Louis Caratal and his companion, newly arrived in Liverpool from central America, must get to Paris without delay. Caratal charters a train to London but 'The Lost Special' disappears between St. Helens and Manchester, the only trace of its passage being the dead body of its driver, found at the foot of an embank-ment. The truth comes out some time later, and even then it’s as the result of a confession rather than an investigation."

~ ~ ~
"The Lost Special."
An episode of the Suspense radio program.
Based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).
Original air date: September 30, 1943.
Online (HERE) and (HERE).
Run time: Approximately 30 minutes.
(Note: Sound quality is poor.)

Cast and crew:
   Announcer: Howard Duff
   Orson Welles: Herbert de Lernac (and others)
   Writer: Jack Finke
   Musical conductor: Bernard Herrmann
   . . . plus other unidentified cast members.

It's remarkable how Orson Welles has modified Doyle's original story, adding plot complex-ities that, had Doyle included them, would have resulted in a novel-length story; in this version, not surprisingly, Welles's over-the-top characterization of Lernac preponderates.

Resource:
- We recently encountered Conan Doyle and Orson Welles colluding with one another (HERE).

~ ~ ~
"The Lost Special."
An episode of the Suspense radio program.
Based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).
Original airdate: February 12, 1949.
Online (HERE).
Run time: 29 minutes 10 seconds.

Cast and crew:
   Ben Wright (as Inspector Collins)
   Parley Baer
   Edgar Barrier
   John Dehner
   Lawrence Dobkin
   Paul Frees
   Music: Ivan Ditmars
   Adaptation: Les Crutchfield
   Editorial supervisor: John Dunkel
   Producer/director: Norman MacDonnell.

In contrast to Orson Welles's convoluted version, this is a different adaptation of the story; there have been important changes in the plot, and Inspector Collins, a minor character in both Doyle's and Welles's accounts, becomes the narrative focus here, behaving remarkably like Sherlock Holmes's smarter brother.

The bottom line: "Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine; to them, alas! we return."
E. M. Forster