Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"There Was a Sullen, Vicious Air About These Two"

"My Sister Mary."
By Keith Edgar (?-?).
First appearance: Collier's, April 24, 1948.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"He told me to start painting—so I did."
Pretty is as pretty does, even in a hostage situation, where a pretty girl does pretty well . . .

- FictionMags describes our author: "Born in Toronto, Canada; reporter and press photographer"; that's all we know.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"I Don’t Thee Why They Have to Have Thankthgivin’ Anyway"

OUR AUTHOR TODAY, Johnston McCulley, is best known as the creator of Zorro (first appearance: "The Curse of Capistrano," 1919), a character that Hollywood returns to time
and again with movies and TV productions; but he had another really long-running series character that few remember today: Thubway Tham, who appeared in (if we've counted
right) 142 stories from 1918 all the way to 1960 [data from FictionMags].
McCulley defined what a pulp writer should be in those days as he churned out reams of highly readable multi-genre copy for the pulps and the slicks (the FictionMags listing runs
to six pages). In addition to "the fox" and the subway dip, he had other series characters: Dawson Clade ("The Bat") under a house name; El Torbellino ("The Whirlwind"); the Mongoose (Detective Fiction Weekly); the Spider, John Flatchley ("The Thunderbolt"),
Black Star, The Avenging Twins, Speed Sparke, Richard Staegel, Delton Prouse ("The Crimson Clown"), and Terry Trimble (Detective Story Magazine); Danny Blaney ("The
Green Ghost") (Thrilling Detective); James Peters ("The Rollicking Rogue") (All Star Detective); Peanut Pete (Clues); and Doctor Quartz (with McCulley writing as "Nick

"Thubway Tham's Thanksgiving Dinner."
By Johnston McCulley (1883-1958).
First appearance: Detective Story, November 26, 1918.
Reprinted in Best Detective Magazine, November 1931.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"It appears that about every time you take a ride in the subway, some gentleman of means reports that his pocket-book is unaccountably missing."
Call it a generous impulse or call it self-pity, but Thubway Tham, the subway pickpocket, promises to buy a bunch of newsies a Thanksgiving dinner, only he doesn't have the moolah—and, of course, there's Detective Craddock constantly breathing down his neck. What's a mild-mannered dip to do?
- There's more about Johnston McCulley at Wikipedia (HERE), and about Thubway Tham (HERE) and the GAD Wiki (HERE); the IMDb listing (HERE) shows that Zorro got all the attention from Tinseltown, with no visible credits for Tham.
- If you're in the mood for other Thanksgiving mysteries, see the lists at Cozy Mystery (HERE), Mystery Fanfare (HERE), and Mystery Sequels (HERE).

The bottom line:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-two

LAST WEEK we heard Rex Stout's ideas of what constitutes good detective fiction; now let's hear from the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey twenty years earlier . . .

"A Sport of Noble Minds."
By Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957).
First appearance: The Saturday Review, August 3, 1929.
Article (2 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
(Note: Text is small and faded; use Ctrl + for better results.)

Dorothy Sayers held certain fixed views about detective fiction, many of which the passage of time has validated:

~ Poe wasn't just there first but brought with him a spirit of innovation:
  "In 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' and, with a certain repulsive facetious-ness, in 'Thou Art the Man' he [Poe] achieved the fusion of the two distinct genres and created what we may call the story of mystery, as distinct from pure detection on the one hand and pure horror on the other. In this fused genre, the reader's blood is first curdled by some horrible and apparently inexplicable murder or portent; the machinery of detection is then brought
in to solve the mystery and punish the murderer."
~ Every detective fiction since the day of the Raven has followed his lead:
  "As regards plot also, Poe laid down a number of sound keels for the use of later adventurers. Putting aside his instructive excursions into the psychology of detection—instructive, because we can trace their influence in so many of Poe's successors down to the present day—putting these aside, and discount-ing that atmosphere of creepiness which Poe so successfully diffused about nearly all he wrote, we shall probably find that to us, sophisticated and trained on an intensive study of detective fiction, his plots are thin to transparency. But in Poe's day they represented a new technique. As a matter of fact, it is doubtful whether there are more than half a dozen deceptions in the mystery-monger's bag of tricks, and we shall find that Poe has got most of them, at any rate in embryo."
~ Detective fiction's gestation period was unduly prolonged:  "It is rather puzzling that the detective story should have had to wait so long to find a serious exponent. Having started so well, why did it not develop earlier?"
~ Certainly social attitudes had something to do with it:
  ". . . though crime stories might, and did, flourish, the detective story proper could not do so until public sympathy had veered round to the side of law and order. It will be noticed that, on the whole, the tendency in early crime litera-ture is to admire the cunning and astuteness of the criminal. This must be so while the law is arbitrary, oppressive, and brutally administered."
~ Then along came Sherlock:
  ". . . with Sheriock Holmes, the ball—the original nucleus deposited by Edgar Allan Poe nearly forty years earlier—was at last set rolling."
~ Sayers echoes Rex Stout:
  ". . . the job of writing detective stories is by no means growing easier.  . . .  How can we at the same time show the reader everything and yet legitimately obfuscate him as to its meaning?"
~ Aristotle would be proud:
  "In its severest form, the mystery story is a pure analytical exercise, and, as such, may be a highly finished work of art, within its highly artificial limits. There is one respect, at least, in which the detective story has an advantage over every other kind of novel. It possesses an Aristotelian perfection of beginning, middle, and end."
~ Sayers shares Conan Doyle's reservations about whether detective fiction could ever "transcend" itself:
  "It [the detective story] does not, and by hypothesis, never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement."
~ Unless they're carefully handled, emotions can upset the apple cart:
  "A too violent emotion flung into the glittering mechanism of the detective story jars the movement by disturbing its delicate balance.  . . .  it is better
to err in the direction of too little feeling than too much."
~ The same goes for characterization:
  "To make the transition from the detached to the human point of view in one of the writer's hardest tasks. It is especially hard when the murderer has been made human and sympathetic. A real person has then to be brought to the gallows, and this must not be done too lightheartedly. Mr. G. K. Chesterton deals with the problem by merely refusing to face it."
  ". . . modern taste rejects monsters, therefore, the modern detective story
is compelled to achieve a higher level of writing, and a more competent delineation of character."
  "Just at present, therefore, the fashion in detective fiction is to have
characters credible and lively; not conventional, but, on the other hand,
not too profoundly studied—people who live more or less on the Punch
level of emotion. A little more psychological complexity is allowed than formerly . . ."
~ Another apple-cart-upsetting element can be the "love interest":
  ". . . some of the finest detective stories are marred by a conventional love story, irrelevant to the action and perfunctorily worked in.  . . .  A casual and perfunctory love story is worse than no love story at all and, since the mystery must, by hypothesis, take the first place, the love is better left out."
~ Another echo of Stout:
  "The mystery-monger's principal difficulty is that of varying his surprises. 'You know my methods, Watson,' says the detective, and it is only too painful-ly true. The beauty of Watson was, of course, that after thirty years he still did not know Holmes's methods; but the average reader is sharper witted."
~ Is there some sort of expiration date after which detective fiction will disappear?
  "There certainly does seem a possibility that the detective story will some-time come to an end, simply because the public will have learnt all the tricks. But it has probably many years to go yet, and in the meantime, a new and
less rigid formula will probably have developed . . ."
~ Like other critics, Sayers hypothesizes that there may be an inverse relationship between world conditions and the demand for detective fiction:
  "Probably the cheerful cynicism of the detective tale suits better with the spirit of the times than the sentimentality which ends in wedding bells. For, make no mistake about it, the detective story is part of the literature of
escape and not of expression."

Mentioned in passing:
~ Poe's stories: (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
~ Conan Doyle's stories: (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
~ Chesterton's story (HERE).
~ Martin Hewitt (HERE).
~ Raffles (HERE).
~ Dr. Thorndyke (HERE).
~ Mason's Hanaud (HERE) and novels (HERE) and (HERE).
~ Poirot (HERE).
~ Philo Vance (HERE).
~ Gaboriau (HERE).
~ Milne's novel (HERE).
~ Bentley's novel (HERE) and (HERE).
~ Brock's novel (HERE).
~ Crofts (HERE).
~ Father Knox (HERE).
~ Philip Guedalla (HERE) and (HERE).

- Consult the GAD Wiki (HERE) for more about Dorothy Sayers.
- For comparison, also see the GAD Wiki (HERE; scroll down to Part Two: "A History of the Type," number 6) for a few excerpts from Sayers's Introduction to her first Omnibus of Crime (1929) and UNZ for the Introduction to The Second Omnibus of Crime (1932; HERE).

The bottom line: "The sensational story-teller does indeed create uninteresting characters, and then tries to make them interesting by killing them. But the intellectual novelist yet more sadly wastes his talents, for he creates interesting characters, and then does not kill them."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Rex Stout on Detective Fiction

"Grim Fairy Tales."
By Rex Stout (1886-1975).
First appearance: The Saturday Review, April 2, 1949.
Article (3 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 34).

The creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin lectures us on his theory of how mankind arrogantly prefers to view itself as the reasoning animal, and about how that presumption
has shaped the contours of detective fiction; it's noteworthy that he's careful to distinguish between the mystery and the detective story.

~ More than human:
  "Sherlock Holmes is the embodiment of man's greatest pride and greatest weakness: his reason. I have heard it said by sneerers that he isn't even human. Certainly he isn't; but he is human aspiration."
~ There's an almost universal (if seldom admitted to) admiration for a man who can use his brains:
  "We enjoy reading about people in the same fix. We enjoy reading about people who love and hate and covet—about gluttons and martyrs, misers and sadists, whores and saints, brave men and cowards. But also, demonstrably, we enjoy reading about a man who gloriously acts and decides, with no exception and no compunction, not as his emotions brutally command, but as his reason instructs. So Sherlock Holmes is on his peak. This basic principle, this essence, of detective stories and the public's insatiable appetite for them, is understood (or felt) quite well by some of the writers in the genre, imper-fectly by others, and not at all by some."
~ Emotions have their place, however:
  "Philo Vance, not content to exclude emotions from his Board of Directors, wouldn't tolerate them around the place at all, which was a mistake, since

the idea is not the extinction of emotions but merely their relegation to the auxiliaries, as is fitting in a reasoning animal."
~ You'll know when it's over:
  "A detective story ends when reason's job is done."
~ We can't argue with this:
  "All I ask of any story is that it give me my money's worth—and my time's worth—one way or another."
~ For the detective fiction writer there are obstacles that are unique to the genre:
  "Detective stories need all the talent they can get, since they confront the writer with two extraordinary handicaps."
~ It's not as easy as it it looks:
  "The writing job is to make a good story out of a man performing a feat of reason. The devil of it is that the most exciting and impressive part of the performance must be concealed from the reader—or at least the reader must not know what is exciting and impressive and what isn't. That is the pattern set by Poe, and no one has ever deviated from it without making a mess. I don't know why."
~ One-night stands are limiting:
  ". . . nearly all of the finest detective stories are about detectives who appear not in one tale but in a series."

~ For the writer, deciding who narrates is an all-important consideration:
  "It is impossible to have the detective himself tell the story."
~ Although they resemble each other, the conventional novel and the detective tale are two very different animals:
  "A detective story is not a tale about the motives and acts and emotions of people, as a novel is, but about the detective's investigation of their motives and acts and emotions in his pursuit of a relentless purpose."
~ Keep it simple:
  "Since the proper and only theme of a detective story is the progress of the hero to his triumph, anything that happens beyond the horizon of his senses and sense has no pertinence."
~ One of the greatest difficulties the detective fiction author faces is orchestrating a series of delaying tactics without causing the reader to tire or lose interest:
  "The one thing that must be reserved is the identity of the culprit; the nearer you can come, before that fatal disclosure, to dusting everything else off, the better."
~ . . . but is it literature?
  "No one would dream of speaking of Doyle in the same tone of voice as of Thackeray, though one is still being read in twenty languages and the other is not read at all."

- Rex Stout caused an uproar with "Watson Was a Woman" (1941), online (HERE) and (HERE).

- Stout was a firm believer in the series detective; see The Thrilling Detective Web Site (HERE) and then go to SpeedyMystery (HERE) for a nice summary of his Nero Wolfe novellas: ". . . the reading public and various magazine publishers were so pleased with the result that Stout wrote forty more novella length adventures over the next twenty-three years. That Stout could dash off a Wolfe novella in days or weeks as opposed to months for a Wolfe novel certainly must have added to the charms of the shorter format for him. Stout was fortunate that a high-paying slick-paper magazine market lasted for so many years."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"George Had Thought of Everything"

HELEN REILLY was primarily a crime fictioneer who very often featured her series character, Inspector Christopher McKee, in both novels and short stories [data from FictionMags]:
 (1) Murder in the Mews, serialized novel, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, June 20, 1931-July 25, 1931

 (2) Three Women in Black, novella, Random House (1941)

 (3) Murder on Angler’s Island, novel, Random House (1945)

 (4) "The Phonograph Murder," short story, Collier’s, January 25, 1947 (below)
 (5) Tell Her It’s Murder, novel, Star Weekly, August 14, 1954
 (6) Compartment K, novel, Star Weekly, June 4, 1955

 (7) "Follow Me," novelette, Star Weekly, May 21, 1960 (discussed HERE)

 (8) "Certain Sleep," novelette, Star Weekly, June 17, 1961

. . . and quite a few other titles as well (see "Resources," below).

"The Phonograph Murder."
By Helen Reilly (Helen Margaret Kieran, 1891-1962).
First appearance: Collier's, January 25, 1947.
Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine, May 1955; The Saint Detective Magazine (U.K.), September 1955; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #8 (1965) and #56 (1987).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 26).

"The murder was perfect—no clues, no suspicion. George had thought of everything."
These people who strive to commit the perfect murder—when will they ever learn?

~ George Bonfield:

  "It was then, as he stood beside the stove in the kitchen, that the idea came to him. He fingered the clock."
~ Louise Bonfield:
  "Her skin was soft and a little moist. He shivered, and fought down a sudden sickening
soul-shaking wave of nausea."
~ Joe Tyler:
  "Joe was in the next room every single minute of the time, and he couldn't be mistaken."
~ Mr. Gamble:
  "Promptly at eleven Mr. Gamble was roused by piercing screams issuing from the red-brick house next to his own. He rushed out, a coat thrown hastily over his pajamas, and found . . ."
~ Hannah Swenson:
  ". . . the maid, shrieking at the top of her lungs . . ."
~ The local precinct lieutenant:
  "You'll understand that this is just routine."
~ Inspector Christopher McKee:
  "Mrs. Bonfield trained Hannah well."
- The book that basically kicked off a trend in stories with a similar premise as in today's tale receives a short, sharp review (HERE).
- There's a lot of information to be gleaned about Helen Reilly from Mike Grost's Mystery*File article (HERE) and one by Steve Lewis (HERE), and the GAD Wiki has more (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It's Joe Doyle, Not That Conan Guy

"Not According to Doyle."
By Carter Critz (house pseudonym).
First appearance: Popular Detective, November 1947.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"When a bodyguard’s wished on him and a blonde lovely asks him to tackle a mystery, this snooper has his hands full!"
Fifty grand missing from a bank, a wise guy wanting to hire himself out to protect the detective, two plug-uglies willing to do a little kidnapping, a dishy tomato looking for
her missing brother—just another day in the life for this P.I.  . . .

Comment: Our detective has a distinctive voice . . .

  "DOYLE is the name, Joe Doyle. I’m a private detective so I spend my time minding other people’s business. Not that I’m too nosy—I only get curious when I’m hired to do some snooping. Remember the case of the Singing Parrot, and the one about the Headless Taxi Driver? Well, I didn’t solve

either of those. I only read about them in the newspapers—but I get along
all right. I live in a hotel on a side street in the Forties and, as hotels go, a tramp steamer couldn’t take this one far enough away to suit me. But be it ever my grumble, it's still my home."

Regrettably, though, the story doesn't measure up.

- According to FictionMags, the "Carter Critz" alias was used at least two dozen times in Thrilling Detective, Popular Detective, and the like from 1931 to 1953, the one exception

being in Popular Sports Magazine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Big Sleep

BEING MURDERED in your sleep, while you're totally defenseless, is a profoundly disturbing prospect; there's some comfort for us survivors in knowing that the unfortunate victims in the following stories have been spared that knowledge . . . or have they?

  "I see you’ve got an alibi that can’t be broken . . ."

"The Will."
By Richard B. Sale (1911-93).
First appearance: Popular Detective, September 1935.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"A Cold-Blooded Murder Perpetrated for Gain—and the Aftermath!"
A neat plan, this one, smooth and uncomplicated, only there's a snag the murderer hasn't anticipated: If he inherits, it's the electric chair for sure. Decisions, decisions . . .


- FictionMags's description of Richard Sale: "Mystery novelist and short story writer. Born in New York City; lived in California."
- Nearly two-and-a-half years have elapsed since we first featured Sales's "Death Had a Pencil" (HERE).

~ ~ ~

  "Somebody must have been digging there . . ."

"No Blood."
By John L. Benton (house pseudonym).
First appearance: Popular Detective, January 1936.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"There was to be no shedding of blood."
Even in the best-laid schemes, the unexpected sometimes bubbles up, you might say, seemingly out of nowhere . . .

- Just who "John L. Benton" was is still unclear; see Cullen Gallagher's Pulp Serenade (HERE).

Monday, November 13, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-one

IT WILL SOON be ten years since we lost Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008); just after he passed away, J. Madison Davis published this assessment of the lamentable state of the detective short story and why almost no one nowadays can do what Hoch did, make a living writing them.

"The Last Good Man: Edward D. Hoch and the World of
the Short Story."
By J. Madison Davis.
First appearance: World Literature Today, July 1, 2008.
Article (4 pages as a PDF).
Online at The Free (HERE).

Just a few snippets:

  "He was a Titan in another sense: a towering giant of the older gods. He was probably the last mystery-story writer, certainly the last major one."
  "Since the 1930s, the situation of the short story is much like that of the poem, having moved further and further to the peripheries of popular culture."
  "Ironically, perhaps Alfred Hitchcock, who built his very profitable television series around the best stories by authors he enjoyed—like Henry Slesar, Saki, Stanley Ellin, and Roald Dahl—contributed to the weakening of the short story by demonstrating how effectively such stories could be converted to the screen."
  "Although many people groan about the limited reading habits of Americans, writers in other countries are often under the impression that the situation for the short story is much better here than there. In other countries, the situa-tion is much the same or even grimmer."
  "It remains to be seen if the mystery short story can be revived on electronic media, but its inexpensiveness implies that supplying such a market might never be a way to make a living."
  "The mystery short story is unlikely to disappear, even if it does not find a rebirth, but the likelihood of short-story specialists like Ed Hoch ever gracing the mystery scene again seems sadly unlikely, and if they do, no one will grace it as well as Ed did."

- A few years before Hoch died, Steve Lewis at Mystery*File interviewed him (HERE); Hoch also contributed a short blog post to Criminal Brief, "Why the Short Story?" (HERE); see also Steve Steinbock's tribute to Hoch (HERE); the Wikipedia article (HERE); the GAD Wiki (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE); and The Passing Tramp (HERE).
- The Locked Room Mystery megasite has several pages devoted to Hoch (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- Occasionally Ed Hoch would wander into science fiction/fantasy (SFF); see (HERE) for more.
- Hoch picked up an Edgar for "The Oblong Room" (HERE).
- With few exceptions, Hoch's brilliant stories have been largely ignored by Hollywood; see "Hoch and Tinseltown" (HERE).
- Podcasts of two of Hoch's Sam Hawthorne mysteries are still online: "The Problem of the Covered Bridge" (HERE) and "The Problem of the Old Gristmill" (HERE).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Three from Oscar

"No Nerve."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: Liberty, December 5, 1936.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE).

"Considering the probable reward, you two sure are lucky."
Honesty isn't merely the best policy—it just might save your life . . .

~ ~ ~

"Family Affair."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: Collier's, November 7, 1942.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"If you don't save him I'm going to see that everybody knows about us."
Sometimes it's better to keep it in the family . . .

~ ~ ~

"Nine Roses for the Commissar."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: This Week Magazine (1959).
Reprinted in Bestseller Mystery Magazine, January 1960.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"Jan Karic's rise to power was based largely on his eagerness to kill, a drive so blinding that his own wife no longer knew him. Yet, irony, in the form of a gift proved his undoing . . . "
Flowers symbolize good things like marriage and bad things like funerals, but Jan Karic is about to discover another use for them . . . revenge . . .

- A Wikipedia article about the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 is (HERE).

- Oscar Schisgall, who was either Belgian or Russian by birth, generated tons of multi-
genre material (over 4,000 stories according to his obit) for the pulps and the slicks
(HERE), including some SFFnal fiction; see (HERE) and (HERE) for that.
- Schisgall got positive notices with stories featuring his "international criminologist,"
Barron Ixell: "In disguise, immensely rich, hugely clever, the Baron [sic, sp.] is a pre-
cursor of Superheroes like Doc Savage, though his adventures are relatively tame":

~ Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker. By Oscar Schisgall. Longmans, Green, 1929. $2.00.
 "Four mystery novelettes, designed to feature the extraordinary detection powers of Ixell, an American sleuth at work abroad on sensational Continental crimes, make up the present volume. The plot of each story is an infinitely complicated, not to say, original piece of invention, the scenes of action, successively, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and Geneva. It is in the last named city that Ixell solves a crime problem which, if not his supreme triumph, seems fully typical of the man's ratiocinative genius. While the League of Nations is in session, a Russian delegate is abducted and held for a large ransom, but Ixell quickly discloses that the missing personage has hidden himself away and aims to collect for his own use the sum demanded for his release. The book seems to be something of a novelty in this over-populous field."
  — "The New Books," The Saturday Review, September 14, 1929

~ Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker by Oscar Schisgall (Longmans, Green. $2.00).
  "WE REVISE our opinion of Scotland Yard, for the exploits of Barron Ixell, international criminologist, contain no end of intrigue and adventure. In Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Geneva the American crime-breaker pits his cunning against four gangs of criminals and successfully puts them to

rout. A very well-written piece of detective fiction."
  — "Notes on New Books: Detective and Mystery," The Bookman, September 1929 (scroll down to second page)

~ Oscar Schisgall's Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker, Longmans.
  "We thought Barron Ixell was one of these titled furrin sleuths until we noticed the second r. Then we found that he was an American criminologist, who, called in on four difficult cases by the baffled police of Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Geneva, wanders in faultless evening dress through the salons of the haut monde in the aforesaid capitals, and nails the criminals almost without disarranging his white tie. These are written-to-formula stories, but there are several new criminal methods in them which we haven't before encountered."
  — "Picked at Random," W. R. Brooks, The Outlook, August 28, 1929

- Here, from FictionMags, is a listing of the Barron Ixell adventures ("nv" = novelette):
  (1) "The Circle of Terror," (nv), Clues, July 1927
  (2) "The Devil’s Pigeons," (nv), Clues, February #1, 1928
  (3) "The King of Crime," (nv), Clues, April #1, 1928
  (4) "The Avenging Horde," (nv), Clues, September #1, 1928
  (5) "The Red Revolver," (nv), Clues,  April #2, 1929
  (6) "Chinaman’s Chance," (nv), Clues, October #2, 1929
  (7) "Murder in a Coffin," (nv), Clues, June #1, 1930
  (8) "They Die Laughing," (nv), Clues, November #2, 1930
  (9) "One by One They Perish," (nv), Clues, October 1931
  (10) "Shoot to Kill!," (nv), Clues, January 1932
  (11) "Horror in the Night," (nv), Clues, May 1932
  (12) "The Crime of the Century," (nv), Clues-All Star Detective Stories, October 1932
  (13) "Signals Mean Death," (nv), Clues-All Star Detective Stories, January 1933

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"Looks Like a Planted Clue"

"Murderer's Clock."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Liberty, January 19, 1935.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE).

"There was a low choking gurgling groan as the old man rose out of his chair, spun on buckling legs, and fell on his back, with the knife handle standing like a little cross from his chest where the blood was welling with a crimson stain."
It goes without saying that murderers defy the law, but in order to catch this killer a clever cop will himself have to defy the law—of gravity . . .

- We last made contact with Ray Cummings (HERE).

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Here Was a Community Almost As Large As That of a Small Town and With No Clue to Go Upon"

"The Umania Affair."
By Orme Agnus (John C. Higginbotham, 1866-1919).
First appearance: The Royal Magazine, February 1902.
Short short story (6 pages, 3 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

"But, Monsieur, you are wrong, the doctor is wrong, my poor dear father has been murdered."
The "great detective" De Warr is recuperating from an attack of influenza by taking what begins as a restful transatlantic cruise, when a fellow passenger collapses and dies in plain sight of a dozen witnesses, with none of them being closer than six feet; the ship's doctor at first believes it to be a heart condition, but the victim's daughter knows better, and a post-mortem reveals the fatal wound was caused by a bullet, fired from a gun that absolutely nobody saw or even heard . . .

The usual suspects:
~ Captain Sibley, in command of the

  "The Atlantic is the finest tonic in the world, I always maintain."
~ De Warr (no other name):
  "I have been a great fool in this matter. I deserve to be kicked. I felt so satisfied with myself that I forgot."
~ Monsieur Monteil:
  "De Warr delicately hinted his surprise that so ardent a patriot could tear himself away from his country, but to that Monseiur returned no answer, but changed the subject."
~ Mademoiselle Monteil:
  "You have sent for me to tell me my father was murdered, is it not so?"
~ Selwyn, the ship's doctor:
  "Here is the bullet. It was hollow and contained prussic-acid . . ."
~ Herr Arndt:
  ". . . an old, white-haired German, bent as if with rheumatism . . ."
Comment: Although an English detective (and, to be frank, not really a "great" one),
De Warr shares—in fact, anticipates—mannerisms belonging to a certain little Belgian "heavesdropper"; and the murder weapon prefigures one used in a Dr. Thorndyke
story eight years later.
- The most we could find about our author were this notation about one of his novels, which confirms us in thinking that his preferences ran to mainstream rather than detective fiction:
  "Although born in Cheshire, Higginbotham lived throughout his life at Wareham in Dorset, where he was a schoolteacher. He specialized in the depictions of rural life that were so popular at the turn of the century.
Love in Our Village (1900) describes the idyllic side of village life seen
through the eyes of a convalescent from London. It owes much to the
works of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), but a more ebullient tone predom-inates. - Kemp, Mitchell and Trotter, [The Oxford Companion to] Edward-
ian Fiction [2002], page 3."
. . . and this bibliography page:
  "Born in Cheshire. At the age of 18, he moved to Wareham, Dorset, where he worked as a school teacher until his death. A disciple of Thomas Hardy, but not a pessimist. Has been compared in turn, and not without reason, to George Eliot, Hardy and Barrie."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"I'll Try the Whole Cause and Condemn You to Death"

"I'll Be Judge, I'll Be Jury."
By John Taylor (1931-2012).
First appearance: Galaxy, November-December 1971.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at (HERE).

"Even though no one was watching, not even the machine, Braun’s face burned as if the skin had been peeled away."
 It's an age-old dilemma: Who does watch the watchers?
- At least in the future robotic world of our story humans are still in the loop; see the Wikipedia articles about robots (HERE) and robotics (HERE), as well as the Atomic

Rockets page on "Man Amplifiers and Robots" (HERE; slow load).
- For notions of what non-humanoid robots like the ones in the story could look like, go (HERE).
- The story's title—and theme—come from a passage in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland (1865); see Wikipedia (HERE).
- This was the author's first published SFFnal story; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Monday, November 6, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty

"The Rise and Fall of the Detective Novel."
By A. Craig Bell.
First appearance: Contemporary Review, April 1998.
Article (5 pages as a PDF).
Reprinted in The Free (HERE).

". . . nothing less than a debasement, a desecration, a literary debauch . . ."
Creative people aspiring to great literature, our author seems to be saying, have better things to do than concern themselves with producing crime and detective fiction; the detective story reached its zenith two centuries ago, and it's been on a downhill slide ever since:

   "IN this day and age of the crime novel, the who-dunnit, the detective hero; when half the novels, plays and TV programmes (or so it seems) consist of the genre; when Agatha Christie's lucubrations run for years in the West End, and spatter the TV programmes; and when a whole clutch of fiction purveyors have made their names and fortunes by turning out nothing else, it is interesting and instructive to look back and trace the origins of such a state of affairs."

The author does a good job of tracing in outline the development of the detective novel beginning with the Chevalier de Mailly in the 18th century until, however, he gets to Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone (1868), where, in his view, it reached its apogee, and beyond which no further improvements have been made, since all subsequent crime fiction inevitably fails as literature:

   ". . . why, it may be asked, is the novel [The Moonstone] so highly acclaimed by the cognoscenti? The answer is simple, namely, that quite apart from its merits as a tale of mystery and detection it is at the same time 'literature'—a word and status easy to understand but difficult to explain. A novel is 'literature' when it fulfils certain vital criteria: when it has style, intellect, individuality; when its characters live and the narrative does not date; when (even if its theme is detection and crime) it can be enjoyed apart from its theme; can be read again and again with pleasure. The number of such novels which fulfil this category can be counted on the fingers. The Moonstone is one of them. It has the virtues of its period without any of its faults. It is an enduring piece of workmanship, has humour, genuine characterisation, style. No other work of detective fiction can measure up to it. It is the doyen of its type. It is a classic. It is literature."

If Conan Doyle himself could deprecate his Sherlock Holmes stories as being subliterary—"It was not to my mind high work, and no detective work can ever be, apart from the fact that all work dealing with criminal matters is a cheap way of rousing the interest of the reader"—then our author feels justified in declaring:
". . . not to my mind high work . . ."
   "We are informed triumphantly that Agatha Christie has been more often
and more widely translated and published than any English writer, even Shakespeare, than which a more damning indictment of general reading standards cannot be imagined. For let apologists for the breed say and write what they will; let them assert along with Day Lewis that crime fiction is only 'a harmless release of an innate spring of cruelty present in everyone,' or that it can be regarded as a sort of 'intellectual (sic!) game,' like chess, the truth is, at least to anyone with a love of and respect for great literature, that such fiction is nothing less than a debasement, a desecration, a literary debauch, and it is doubtful whether any post-Conan Doyle example will outlive our century."

Dame Agatha and Hercule would probably disagree.

- We've met up with Wilkie Collins several times already, including (HERE) and (HERE).

Friday, November 3, 2017

"They Were Voting Against Being Shot"

"At Close Quarters with Death: A Story of the Rail."
By Cutcliffe Hyne (1865-1944).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, April 1899.
Short short story (8 pages, 8 illos).

Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
"Although he did attempt most callously to slay me in my boots within half an hour of our ceasing the game, I will say that Quintal played dollar-limit poker like a gentleman."
On what up to this point has been a tranquil tour of the (former) American colonies, an unsuspecting Englishman named Calvert suddenly finds himself embroiled up to his
eyeballs in a life-or-death situation involving ruthless train robbers and two hundred thousand dollars . . .

Notable characters:
~ Mr. Calvert:

  "My reception surprised me: practically there was no reception at all."
~ Hugh H. Quintal:
  "He had no time to raise a pistol higher than his hip, but as I came to his view round the angle of the door, he pulled on me from there, and the bullet raked the skin above my ribs

like a hot iron, and the powder lit my clothing with a splash of flame."
~ The fat man:
  "His beady eye caught me on the moment of my entrance, and the pistol muzzle swung up and covered me. Though the whole length of the car separated us, that tube of iron seemed

to grow till its black depths were wide enough for a dog to crawl in."
~ The train engineer:
  "I allow you are queer, mister. No fancy shootin' for me. 'Sides, I've me engine to see after."
- We last touched base with Cutcliffe Hyne in re his "The Bank Note Forger" (HERE).