Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Ye'll Never Make a Fool Out o' Me No More, Guv'nor!"

"The Manikin."
By John D. Swain (?-?).
First appearance: Munsey's Magazine, October 1924.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"A story of the strange ending of a long professional partnership."
According to the song, "breaking up is hard to do"; but a lifetime (if that's the right word) of abuse and neglect must inevitably lead to someplace dark and unforgiving and spiteful: "I growed a soul o'sorts—just enough to suffer with."

- Personal information about John D. Swain is practically nonexistent on the Internet; FictionMags lists dozens of short stories by Swain that appeared in quite a few pulps
and slicks from 1900 to 1939.
- Wikipedia has an article about ventriloquism (HERE), and a website called Travalanche

has "A Short History of Evil Ventriloquists in the Movies" (HERE).

Friday, July 21, 2017

"They Are Subject to a Higher Law, and You Have Forced Them to Break It"

"The Helpful Robots."
By Robert J. Shea (1933-94).
First appearance: Fantastic Universe, September 1957.

Reprints info (HERE).
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and (HERE).

"They had come to pass judgement on him. He had violated their law—wilfully, ignorantly, and very deliberately."
Rankin knew how to handle robots—but they also knew how to handle him . . .

- Our author, Robert Shea, struck gold when he and Robert Anton Wilson "exposed" the insidious machinations of the Illuminati (the secret rulers of the world, according to some)
in their Illuminatus! trilogy (HERE); for more about Shea see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line: "Whether we are based on carbon or on silicon makes no fundamental difference; we should each be treated with appropriate respect."
2010: Odyssey Two

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"The Fatal Fourth Paragraph"

"How It Ended."
By C. Randolph-Lichfield (?-?).
First appearance: Macmillan's Magazine, January 1906.
Reprinted in The Living Age, February 17, 1906.
Short story (10 pages).

Online at (HERE).
(Note: Some text slightly mangled but decipherable.)

"But in all the State there was only one heart that failed to rejoice, and that heart nurses its sorrow yet in crabbed old age."
Bob Hill is more than willing to defer to "Slim" Essex, his older and more experienced partner in crime. Neither is moved to retrospective tears when they escape from gaol:

   "Law loses some of its terrors for those who indulge in years of lawlessness; and the warder whose neck they had broken was not the only man they had killed in unfair fight."

Both reluctantly accept the grim prospect of being on the run, with all that entails:

   "Every now and then a twig cracked sharply or a creature of the bush, alarmed at human presence, caused a sudden noise, which set the men's tense nerves jumping and sent their right hands quickly to the revolvers they had stolen from prison."

Essex's lover can be counted on to help where she can:

   "Then they passed into the shadows of the thick bush, leaving the woman standing at the window praying for a villain to the only god she understood, the god of hope."

But even that glimmering of hope flickers dimly when they come across a wanted poster bearing a fateful message for them all:

   "Essex read the proclamation aloud in a tone of hearty derision, until he came to the fourth paragraph, when his voice dropped to a whisper. . . ."

- "How It Ended" is the author's only story so far listed on FictionMags.
- The only other piece by C. Randolph-Lichfield that we could locate was "A Terrible Adventure with Hyenas" (dated January 1, 1912), online (HERE) and (HERE).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"The Trigger in the Dark"

By Wilbur Daniel Steele (1886-1970).
First appearance: The Century Magazine, August 1917.
Short story (9 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and (HERE).

"His fumbling hands had found what they were after at last, and the listeners beside the bed heard the sharp click as the hammer came back under his thumb and the trigger was set."
Montaigne once remarked, "Death, they say, acquits us of all obligations." Could it actually come to that when John, faithfully performing his familial obligations, brings home Luke,
his ex-con brother, after five years in prison, to Belle, a now-mature woman who was once promised to Luke, but whose heart has turned another way?
~ ~ ~
"Through Road."
By Wilbur Daniel Steele (1886-1970).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, March 16, 1940.
Reprinted as "The Frightened Girl" in The Saint Detective Maga-zine, February 1955; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), September 1956; and The Saint Detective
Magazine (U.K.), November 1956.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ (start HERE) and (continue HERE; scroll down to page 64).
"She was back in a cower in her corner again. 'Okay,' said Shag. He let a car that was coming go by."
What happens between Shag and Irma on that dark and stormy night is best summed up by Shaw: "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

- Wilbur Daniel Steele's stories, with their sometimes twisty endings, have often been favorably compared to those of O. Henry; it's therefore noteworthy that they were both
born in the same locale in North Carolina; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE), as well
as an O. Henry-related post (HERE).
- Steele sometimes forayed into fantasy fiction, usually ghost stories, which earns him
an entry on the ISFDb (HERE).
- The IMDb (HERE) has a relatively short filmography; the editors of the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies deemed four of his stories worthy of inclusion (HERE).

Monday, July 17, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Seventeen

"From Lonely Outback to Multicultural Cities."
By Rowena Johns.
First appearance: Booktopia Australia.
Article (6 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).

"The hansom cab murder had been placed in his hands for solution, and he was trying to think how he should make a beginning." — Fergus Hume
Crime fiction in the Land Down Under mirrors that of the Northern Hemisphere, certainly, but Australian crime fiction writers for a century and a half have been adding their own unique tweaks to the genre, changing it, as the Bard says, "into something rich and strange":

   "THE CRIME AND mystery section of Australian bookshops has never been more diverse, with writers hailing from every corner of the English-speaking world, especially from the US, UK and Scandinavia (in translation). Amid the wide range of crime subgenres—'cosy' crime, the urban American 'hardboiled' detective, police procedurals, and psychological or forensic thrillers—it may be surprising to discover that much of Australian crime fiction can be loosely classified under those same categories, albeit influenced by antipodean traditions, such as an ambivalent attitude towards authority and a love of laconic humour. The environment is also a crucial aspect of Australian crime fiction. An Australian setting, whether in the bush or the city, helps to shape atmosphere, plot, character and language."

In the beginning, Aussie crime fiction tended to be more insular:

   "Australians today are keen to read about crime on an international scale, but in the colonial era they were preoccupied with dangers at home, in the form of transported convicts, bushrangers, fraudsters using false identities, and other ruthless characters. Public imagination was captured by newspaper reports of crime, and crime fiction soon appeared. Force and Fraud (1865) by Ellen Davitt was the first novel to be serialized in the newspapers; the author’s name is preserved in the annual Davitt Awards for crime writing by Australian women. Other early crime writers include Mary Fortune, whose police proce- dural series, The Detective’s Album, was published under the pseudonym 'W.W.' from 1868 to 1908, and Fergus Hume, who is best remembered for The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886)."

When Australian crime fiction was getting started, the European model held sway—but with a slight twist:

   "Historical whodunits are probably the closest thing in Australian crime fiction to the 'cosy' subgenre, which in Britain or America features a civilian sleuth in a small community (think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple), and which spares readers the gory deaths and graphic violence of current forensic and psychological thrillers."

It wasn't long, however, before the influence of the putatively "realistic" American "hard-boiled" school began to be felt:

   "In the same year The Maltese Falcon was appearing weekly in America, British readers met Arthur Upfield’s Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte ('Bony') in The Barrakee Mystery (1929). However, the first 'Bony' novel published in Australia was The Sands of Windee (1931). Bony is part-Aboriginal, reflecting Upfield’s fascination with Indigenous culture and his knowledge of the outback from patrolling vast spaces in Queensland and Western Australia and working on sheep stations."

Australian writers have been combining "hard-boiled" with the police procedural for some time, even making a criminal a series protagonist:

   "Garry Disher grew up on a farm in South Australia, which seems to have inspired his latest effort, Bitter Wash Road (2013), a tale of a city cop who is demoted and sent to the sticks, where he is assumed to be a whistleblower and accordingly ostracized. Disher’s main police procedural series, featuring Detectives Hal Challis and Ellen Destry, is set on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. Apart from investigating the crimes of assorted serial killers, rapists and burglars, these novels tap into the personal lives of the police. Disher also writes a hard-boiled series with an unusual protagonist, Wyatt, a career crimi- nal who plans major robberies, is double-crossed, and seeks revenge and recovery of the money."

But all is not doom and gloom in Aussie crime fictiondom:

   "Although many Australian crime novels invoke dry humour, there is a particular type of larrikin yarn that gives equal weight to comedy and action. These stories usually involve a wise-cracking, accidental sleuth caught up in dangerous encounters with ruthless villains, while simultaneously juggling financial, family or romantic woes.  . . .  'Chicklit' crime is a description that can be applied to larrikin sleuths who are female. Marele Day’s Claudia Valentine series (1988–95) paved the way to some extent for the current generation of feisty, resourceful and quick-witted heroines."

Thus, all the permutations of crime fiction as we know it in northern climes are present in Australian mystery writing, but with a few local adaptations uniquely their own.

======================================================================== Resources:
- Here are just a few related links that you might find useful:

  ~ "The Transvestive Bushranger from Bundoora: The Beginnings of Australian Crime Fiction" by Lucy Sussex (HERE).
  ~ "A Woman of Mystery: Mary Fortune (1833-1909?)" by Lucy Sussex (HERE).
  ~ Fergus Hume (HERE) and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (HERE).
  ~ Arthur Upfield (HERE), The Barrakee Mystery (HERE), and The Sands of Windee (HERE).

   ~ "True Blue? Crime Fiction and Australia," by Stewart King, The Conversation, October 4, 2015 (HERE).
  ~ Goodreads: Australian Crime Fiction, 205 titles (HERE).
  ~ Fair Dinkum Crime (HERE).
- By sheer coincidence, today's posting relates to last week's Miscellaneous Monday (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "Sometimes I think I'm my own worst enemy."
   "Not when I'm around, Peter."
   — "The Course Whisperer"

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Salmagundi—Number Two

"Death and Taxes."
By S. Roger Keith (?-?).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, September-October 1974.
Non-fact article (5 pages).
Online at (HERE).

"The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets." — Will Rogers
As if Klingons weren't a big enough problem facing those who would boldly go where no CPA has gone before . . .

Typo: "the principle breadwinners"
"On the Floor of the Library."
By Simeon Strunksy (1879-?).
First appearance: Sinbad and His Friends (1921).
Short short short article (2 pages).
Online in Prof. David Stewart's Library (HERE) (PDF).
". . . a selected course in reading from Conan Doyle to Carolyn Wells is a guide to the institutions, culture, and life outlook of the nations from China to Chile."
After reading this, you won't be able to argue with the author when he observes: "The common belief that the British are an open-air people is utterly opposed to the facts"; or when he writes: "Economy and resourcefulness are not among the virtues of the classes addicted to being murdered in their bedrooms or in their libraries"; or when he concludes: "Nearly everybody in a mystery novel is a consummate athlete"; and other salient obiter dicta.

- We think Robert J. Casey's later essay (HERE) complements Strunsky's article rather nicely.
"Who Killed Who?"
Video, 1943.
Running time: 7 minutes 44 seconds.
Online at Dailymotion (HERE).

Ah, the Tex Avery touch . . .

Editor's note: This is the 1,000th posting for ONTOS since September 2013. Many thanks to those of you who have stayed with us.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Sixteen

TODAY'S SCHOLAR exhibits a fondness for polysyllabic academese; despite that she
makes her point clearly enough, that because "In the last thirty years crime fiction has
gained worldwide currency," there's been an unintended consequence, a de-emphasis
in mystery fiction of the crime and its solution due to the introduction of a third element,
namely the push to investigate the culture in which the crime occurs, an approach
which, paradoxically, has led to a noteworthy change in a lot of crime fiction.
"Nationality International: Detective Fiction in the Late Twentieth Century."
By Dr. Eva Erdmann, Romance Studies, University of Munich.
Translation by Fiona Fincannon.
First appearance: Investigating Identities: Questions of Identity in Contemporary International Crime Fiction (2009).
Article (16 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).

"It is the wide variety of new scenes of the crime that ensures that contrasts exist between the various novels. In recent decades, detective fiction has described so many customs and mores from different parts of the world that it is impossible to get an overview. The treatments of them are so detailed that many detective novels can also be considered milieu studies and social novels."
 Like it or not, we're well into the era of crime fiction as travelogue; as the author says:

   ". . . the crime novel of the last decades is distinguished by the fact that the main focus is not on the crime itself, but on the setting, the place where the detective and the victims live and to which they are bound by ties of attachment. The surroundings where the investiga-tions take place are portrayed with increasing inventiveness, to the extent that the crime
itself appears to be at best merely a successful stunt. It almost seems as if the inventories
of criminal motives and case histories have been exhausted, so that crime fiction’s primary distinguishing characteristic has become the locus criminalis."

Globalization has been blamed for a lot of ills, but few stop to consider that once in a while there might also be an upside to it. Wherever money goes, inevitably cultural influences, such as detective fiction, follow in its wake. So far afield have crime fictioneers gone these days that any scholar trying to keep up is faced with a daunting task:

   "In literature, the spread of crime has taken on topographic proportions that reflect the globalization processes of the late twentieth century. In crime novels at the beginning of the twenty-first century, investigations take place all over the world and anyone who went to the trouble of totting up the sum of fictional scenes of the crime would be undertaking a project of international cartography. On the map of the world there are hardly any areas uncharted by crime fiction, hardly any places that have not yet become the setting for a detective novel . . .  Crime plots have been located on every continent and in every country, even in the remotest of places."

In less than a hundred years, mystery fiction as a whole has undergone an important change of locale:

   "In the early twentieth century, the French and the English crime series were already well established, and the plot of a detective novel was expected to exhibit a certain national flair. The new crime series, as milieu studies and novels of customs and mores, have specialized in international background and location studies, becoming the exponents and chroniclers for the settings of their plots."

Today's authors in large numbers often reach for the exotic, the foreign, the alien in their stories, sometimes at the expense of the mystery plot, unfortunately:

   ". . . the seemingly necessary alien perspective continues to be a mechanism that endows the new crime novel with a touristic character. Even the publishers’ marketing blurb for successful crime novels today draws on the nomadic biographies of authors who travel throughout the world, authors like Henning Mankell, the Swede living in Mozambique, and Giorgio Scerbanenco and Donna Leon, the Russian and American living in Italy. Gradually, topographic references are becoming ever more exhaustive, profuse and detailed. The range of investigators and detectives operating at a national level is being expanded and complet-ed.  . . .  In crime novels and series, the heinousness of crime is increasingly being replaced by the search for more colourful settings and, by means of a specific local connection . . ."

. . . all of it leading to what Erdmann calls a paradox:

   "Deep within our crime fiction world as it comes alive in books and in film, there is a paradox that is hardly noticed any more. The unusual occurrence of murder has become the norm. The extensive production of crime series and the frequency with which they come into being have made capital crime into an everyday event. We have an uninterrupted daily supply of corpses, crime motives and convicted criminals . . . When there are murders waiting for us around every corner, the predetermined course of events in the plot becomes ever more ster-eotypical, the variations in crime motives, murder weapons and murderers’ profiles ever more transparent . . .  The enigmatic riddles of the detective stories of yore, which kept their secrets until the final pages, have given way to crossword puzzles in which the same combi-nations of letters always repeat themselves. The investigation works with stereotypical sentence patterns: 'Did the deceased have enemies?', 'Where were you between one and three in the morning?', 'Put the gun down, you’re only going to make things worse for your-self.' Serial production of detective fiction turns murder into a banality."

Setting, then, eventually diminishes, if not outright usurps, the essential component of mystery fiction, the plot:

   "Even in fiction, film and the modern fairy tale, a daily murder ritual becomes boring in the long run if there are no other elements of suspense. These are created when the foreseeable riddle of the whodunnit is replaced by mysterious surroundings that the investigative troops explore; knowledge of the local environment becomes the fundamental competence neces-sary to investigative work . . . If Auguste Dupin began his analyses from the armchair and arranged his hypotheses in a logical chain of statements, today’s social thriller definitely takes place at the scene of the crime. The reading of crime novels becomes an ethnographic reading; the scene of the crime becomes the locus genius of the cultural tragedy."

As Erdmann sees it, international crime fiction has lapsed into a retrograde mode of thought that is ages old:

   "In the second half of the twentieth century, gradually at first, and then increasingly, as the boom in crime fiction took off, the pursuit of the criminal was displaced by the search for cultural identity. The genre of crime fiction has thus thematically returned to the tradition of the search for identity of classical antiquity, as typified by the crime of Oedipus Rex, where the murder of the king sets in motion a process of questioning and revelation of identity.  . . .  The criminological search for the trail of evidence is transposed to epistemologies of cultural anthropology, ethnographic and national characteristics, and the structure of the genre is governed by the spectrum of cultural identities. The new crime novels are characterized by their variously staked out territorial contexts that encompass ethnic groups, nations, regions, provinces or cities, but only by degrees. The distinguishing feature that they share remains the representation of the territory and its cultural conditions."

Finally, Erdmann points to "an important shift" in crime fiction:

   "Within contemporary crime narrative, as the dual narrative strands of crime and inves-tigation come together in the resolution, the reader is offered yet another strand, that of cultural investigation, the inclusion of which constitutes an important shift within the

genre. In certain novels the resolution of the murder can be seen to coincide with a restoration of cultural order, whereas in other cases these very orders are questioned."
- The International Crime Fiction Research Group has a weblog (HERE), while the one for International Noir Fiction is (HERE).
- The Independent can get you "Around the World in 80 Sleuths" (HERE).

The bottom line: “What was Dr. Mera's motive for murder? I don't need to tell that to a writer of detective novels such as yourself. You know well enough yourself that even without a motive, a murderer lives to kill.”
Edogawa Rampo

Sunday, July 9, 2017

"It Is Surprising, Then, That a Scholar of This Type Should Stoop to the Lowly Murder Yarn"

FUNNY THE THINGS you can stumble across while surfing the 'Net; case in point: these two short mystery book reviews that first appeared in Ohio periodicals aimed at engineers. The first one features S. S. Van Dine, the ne plus ultra detective fiction writer of the time (or so he and everyone thought), while the second review introduces us to an obscure Golden Age author who, to judge from the mostly positive responses to her work, deserves a larger-scale reprint revival.
========================================================================= The Ohio State Engineer, October 1928.
"The Book Shelf."
The Greene Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine.
Reviewed by Charles A. Merz (HERE).

   "A current magazine gives a very interesting account of the author of this book. S. S. Van Dine, it appears, is a nom de plume which the author has assumed for fear of compromising his high position in other fields of literature. He claims that he is the author of several books on abstract subjects as well as being a recognized critic of art and literature. By 'recognized' we mean a critic whose opinion is eagerly sought after. A liberal education in this country and abroad is the scholastic background of this mysterious writer.

   "It is surprising, then, that a scholar of this type should stoop to the lowly murder yarn. Mr. Van Dine accounts for this in a convincing manner. During his recovery from a nervous breakdown he was allowed to read only light fiction. He spurned, as do most learned men, the mushy romance. There remained only the mystery story, so he devoured all he could lay hands on. His massive intellect was arrested by the questioning thought of what constituted the underlying principle on which the 'good' murder or mystery story was based. Like a great scholar and investigator he did the job in a scientific manner. He read every mystery story that he and his book dealer could lay hands on. Being a student of foreign languages he imported French and German thrillers. After wading through this gruesome mass of 20,000 mystery stories in three languages, Mr. Van Dine may be readily conceded the honor of having read more crime tales than any man alive.

   "He kept notes while reading these stories and finally evolved his construction of the mystery story. The popularity of his first mystery story, The Canary Murder Case, proved he had the right idea. His second, The Benson Murder Case, was even a better seller. The book being reviewed has surpassed the sales of the first two put together. The author has decided to complete a set of six tales and then retire from the murder business and return to his philosophical and professional critique. The lure of the lucre, it appears, holds this scholar
to the writing of thrillers.

   "Mr. Van Dine has demonstrated that when an educated man turns his interest to some subject and applies his learning, he will turn out a better piece of work than his less educated co-worker. This author has undoubtedly opened up a new era in this type of literature. The reading public is demanding more in their mystery stories — not more thrills but more sense."

Some readers like seeing stories in their original serialized form; if you're one of those, then follow these links to The Greene Murder Case (1928) as originally published in Scribner's:

   Part 1: (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 111).
   Part 2: (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 245).
   Part 3: (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 375).
   Part 4: (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 502).

. . . or, if you're not one of those, you can find it in six formats at FadedPage (HERE).

"The Engineer's Bookshelf."
By Wilson R. Dumble.
February 1936 (HERE).

   "Chills: If you want a good new mystery story, spend the evening with The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers. For the armchair fan it is a splendid brain-twister, a few chills, a clean-cut story, and very well put together. Still another good mystery is The String Glove Mystery by Harriette R. Campbell. It is one of those every-body guilty stories, very complicated and quite exciting. The mysterious murder at a fox hunt is made to look like an accident."

From this brief review you'd never know that the author of The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers (1936) (reviewed HERE) was R. A. J. Walling (1869-1949; GAD Wiki HERE); it's
online at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE):
Practically no information is out there on the WWW about Harriette R. Campbell, except that she was born in 1883. The GAD Wiki (HERE) can offer very little save that she had a series sleuth named Simon Brade, who stars in The String Glove Mystery (1936; online HERE; Resurrected Press reprint on sale HERE). Even S. S. Van Dine thought highly of one of her books. (Note: Resurrected Press did reprintings of three of her books but no longer lists Campbell in their catalog.)

We found another review in a mass circulation magazine:
   "Horsey young gambler with malicious animal magnetism falls on English hunting field. Effeminate Mr. Simon Brade traces the action. Promising characterizations overshadowed

by too intricate plot, and the sleuth will give you a pain, but it has its points. Verdict: Fair."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, January 18, 1936

Other Campbell reviews:

~ THE PORCELAIN FISH MYSTERY (1937) (Resurrected Press reprint on sale HERE):
   "Crippled English socialite slain by fireside. San T'sai fish and irritable cairn terrier help Simon Brade solve crime. Well bred and highly cultured opus with much display of huntin' pink, good writing, and clever solution. Verdict: Cerebral."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, June 5, 1937

   "Poisoning of London derelict and violent deaths of peer and secretary in Scotland strangely linked, as detective Simon Brade discovers. Consolidation of clues and
motives by ivory cube device fascinating—also brilliant writing, likable people, and
deeply laid plot. Verdict: For connoisseurs."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, February 18, 1939

   "The chapter headed 'Brade's Bricks' in The Moor Fires Mystery, by Harriette R. Campbell (Harper, $2), is an interesting elucidation of the odd methods of perhaps the most unobtru-sive detective in fiction. But Stephen Brade's deductions are sound, and the solution of the murder of Lord Serbridge and his secretary in the former's Scottish castle, is a well-guarded surprise. As an intellectual exercise this is among the best."
   — S. S. Van Dine, Scribner's, April 1939

   "Scotland Yard, in desperation at inroads of thievish 'Left Shoulder,' calls in Simon Brade who juggles his ivory cubes successfully. Thefts of antiques and Ruritanian murder-intrigue mingled in deftly-written tale that carries Mr. Brade's unique methods to deductive extremes. Verdict: Able but arid."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, June 15, 1940

   "Simon Brade, who hates the very word murder, solves two, one old, t'other new, in lonely house on stormy Scottish loch. Murderer of hapless Graeco-Irish sisters revealed in super-dramatic finish after Chinese ivory cubes clarify strange problem for observant sleuth. Verdict: For deduction-lovers."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, May 31, 1941

   "Suspicious injury of Englishman steeped in occultism provides Simon Brade, and his

ivory cubes, with a shivery case. Brade's original method of detecting plus background
full of black magic, etc., and interesting group of characters make good reading. Verdict: Unusual."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, April 17, 1943

~ CRIME IN CRYSTAL (1946) (Resurrected Press reprint on sale HERE):
   "Lady Vanessa Lorrister bludgeoned in boudoir. Her dressmaker is slain, too. Simon Brade and his ivory cubes solve riddle. Enigmatic girl suspect most interesting person in highly emotional blend of crime, clairvoyance, and canny deduction. Verdict: Adequate."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, January 19, 1946

The bottom line: "On the whole, the reader who does not wish to waste his time will do well not to read melodramatic novels of lower grade than those of Wilkie Collins, or detective stories of smaller merit than those of Conan Doyle."
   — William H. Hills, editor of The Writer, May 1899

Friday, July 7, 2017

"It Is the Cleverest Criminal Who Always Makes the Most Striking Blunder"

MELVILLE DAVISSON POST is remembered today in mysterydom primarily for two
of his series characters, the sternly righteous Uncle Abner and his polar opposite, the unscrupulous-bordering-on-scurrilous (most of the time) lawyer Randolph Mason (no
relation to Perry, as far as we know); but he had other continuing characters as well:
Sir Henry Marquis, who appeared in the high-paying slicks from before World War One
to the late '20s; Colonel Braxton, confined exclusively to The American Magazine in
the '20s; the Gallic police detective Monsieur Jonquelle; and today's sleuth, Walker
of the Secret Service. (All data above and below are from FictionMags.)

The Walker stories:

 (1) "The Secret Agent," McClure’s November 1918
 (2) "The Expert Detective," Everybody’s Magazine, October 1920 (below)
 (3) "The Man Who Threatened the World," Hearst’s Magazine, December 1920 (online HERE and HERE) (Note: Text reproduction is lousy.)
 (4) "The Girl in the Picture," Pictorial Review, January 1921
 (5) "The 'Mysterious Stranger' Defense," Everybody’s Magazine, June 1921 (below)
 (6) "The Inspiration," The Red Book Magazine, December 1921
 (7) "The Diamond," The Red Book Magazine, June 1922.

(Note: WorldCat, below, lists 13 stories in the Walker collection; where the other 6 tales

first appeared is, for the moment, a mystery. As for the two stories below, they might not
be related to the Walker series, but for the time being we'll assume that they are.)
"The Expert Detective."
By Melville Davisson Post (1869-1930).
First appearance: Everybody's Magazine, October 1920.
Collected in Walker of the Secret Service (1924).
Short short short story (4 pages, with 1 illo).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

"The futility of human ingenuity in crime—this is the theme of the intense drama packed in these few words. The same unique quality of suspense and surprise as this story has marks Mr. Post's next, in an early number."
It looks for all the world like an open-and-shut case against Old Bill and Lying Louie, known criminals, who are standing trial for bank robbery and murder; even their defense counsel behaves at times as if they might be guilty. Actually, however, the cagey Colonel knows a lot more than he lets on, and with the help of two polka-dot handerkerchiefs he plans to catch the real killer . . .

Comment: Because of the shallow suspect pool, an experienced detective fiction reader might see the Big Reveal coming long before it happens, but half the fun is getting there, n'est–ce pas?
Further comment: The defense attorney's surname is never mentioned, being referred to

only as "Colonel."
Typo: "an old-fashoined civilization"


"The 'Mysterious Stranger' Defense."
By Melville Davisson Post (1869-1930).
First appearance: Everybody's Magazine, June 1921.
Collected in Walker of the Secret Service (1924).
Short short story (5 pages, with 2 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
"A marked departure from the familiar detective story is Mr. Post's unraveling of this murder mystery. Here both the circumstances of the crime and its solution are masterfully presented together in the tense, hushed atmosphere of a crowded court-room by an attorney whose methods are none too ethical, but whose skill is extraordinary."
A young woman is accused of murdering an attorney with whom she is known to have had violent quarrels; in fact, the prosecutor believes that logically it can't be anyone else:

   ". . . it was not a 'mysterious stranger.' We have shown who it was. It was the person who had a motive to kill him, the opportunity to kill him, and who not only threatened to do it, but who had prepared a weapon with which to do it. Here are the elements that the law requires, time, place, opportunity, motive and conduct. Why, she as good as said it . . ."

. . . and he's absolutely right. The Colonel, her attorney, is going to be hard-pressed to mount an effective defense, especially because, while three shots were clearly heard, only two bullets were fired from the victim's gun, and not the slightest trace of a third bullet has been revealed anywhere at the crime scene . . .

The Colonel in this story is surnamed "Armant."

- Both Wikipedia (HERE) and the GAD Wiki (HERE) have information about Melville
Davisson Post.
- Here's the TOC for Walker of the Secret Service from WorldCat (HERE); the cheapest copy we could find goes for $25.00:
   "The Outlaw"
   "The Holdup"
   "The Bloodhounds"
   "The Secret Agent"
   "The Big Haul"
   "The Passing of Mooney"
    "The Diamond"
   "The Expert Detective" (above)
   "The 'Mysterious Stranger' Defense" (above)
   "The Inspiration"
   "The Girl in the Picture"
   "The Menace"
   "The Symbol"

- Sir Henry Marquis's exploits were collected into The Sleuth of St. James's Square (1920), reviewed by Mary Reed (HERE) and online (HERE); Monsieur Jonquelle: Prefect of Police of Paris (1923) is also available as an e-book (HERE).

- While he was still alive, Post was profiled (HERE). (Warning: Numerous story SPOILERS):

   "The book stalls have been filled to weariness with tales based upon plans whereby the detective or ferreting power of the State might be baffled. But, prodigious marvel! no writer has attempted to construct tales based upon plans whereby the punishing power of the
State might be baffled. Deducible from the preceding paragraph is the originality of Mr.
Post's inventions. . . . To write a series of detective stories wherein the criminal must go unpunished presupposes ability to differentiate between crime in the sense of social wrong and crime punishable by law. For law is not reason: not all wrongs, great though they may
be, are crimes."

The bottom line: "If we found a ticket to Disneyland would you think we should arrest Mickey Mouse?"
Diane L. Randle

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"It Was with Something of a Shock That I Found Myself Looking Directly Along the Barrel of a .45 Automatic Pistol"

TODAY'S AUTHOR, Dornford Yates, had a series comic character in Bertram “Berry” Pleydell, apparently meant to rival Bertie Wooster; ninety percent of Berry's short story appearances were in The Windsor Magazine, according to the data at FictionMags:
 (1) "A Bébé in Arms," The Windsor Magazine, August 1914
 (2) "Contempt of Court," The Windsor Magazine, September 1914
 (3) "For Better or for Worse," The Windsor Magazine, June 1919
 (4) "Beauty Repeats Itself," The Windsor Magazine, July 1919
 (5) "The Desert Air," The Windsor Magazine, August 1919
 (6) "As Rome Does," The Windsor Magazine, September 1919
 (7) "Valérie," The Windsor Magazine, October 1919
 (8) "Nemesis," The Windsor Magazine, November 1919
 (9) "A Trick of Memory," Everybody’s Magazine, April 1921 (below)
 (10) "The Law and the Prophet," The Windsor Magazine, July 1935.

"A Trick of Memory."
By Dornford Yates (Cecil William Mercer, 1885-1960).
First appearance: Everybody's Magazine, April 1921.
Short short story (7 pages, 3 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

"The monstrous audacity of the proceedings and the business-like way in which they were conducted, were almost stupefying."

Cave canem is a piece of wisdom dating from Roman times, if not before; it's also good advice for a suave burglar who thinks he has everything under control, which he actually does—until he meets Nobby . . .

Comment: When it comes to burglars, we think the artist has miscounted.

- Wikipedia
has some information about Dornford Yates (HERE), as does (HERE). Even better is G. A. Michael Sims's reference page (HERE), which provides a fine bibliography as well as this background information on the Pleydell series:

   "The main characters of the Berry Books are the Pleydell family who reside at 'White Ladies' in Hampshire, comprising:
   Berry Pleydell
   Daphne Pleydell, his wife (and cousin)
   Boy Pleydell (Daphne's brother and narrator of the books)
   Jonathan (Jonah) Mansel (cousin to all the above)
   Jill Mansel (Jonah's sister)
with occasional appearances by Boy's American fiancée (and later wife), Adèle. Comment has been made about the parallel between the 'Boy' character and 'Dornford Yates' himself, both of whom were barristers and married to and then separated from an American but it was never admitted that the character was autobiographical."

- As long ago as eight years, David L. Vineyard clued us in on the Pleydells' adventures:

   "From the early twenties into the fifties, Yates wrote some of the most delightful books of his era. The Wodehousian books about Berry and Company are light-hearted romps featuring upper middle class Englishmen and women and their hijinks at home and abroad (smuggling of goods to avoid the duties was virtually a sport in Yates novels). The tone is light and playful, and the books retain much of their original charm."
   — "Dornford Yates and the Clubland Heroes," Mystery*File, May 15, 2009

- There were quite a few stories involving Berry and his family, many of them being recently reprinted; see (HERE) for more info.
- We last bumped into Dornford Yates (HERE) in an OLD-TIME DETECTION review, well over a year ago.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Fifteen

"THE FIRST DETECTIVE," Ellery Queen informs us, "(although he was not called that,
since the word did not come into usage until the Nineteenth Century) made his debut
in the Apocryphal Scriptures. In The History of Bel Daniel solves a mystery . . ."; and
from the same group of writings, "In The History of Susanna Daniel becomes the
prototype of our modern legal sleuth." In the non-Apocryphal Bible text I Kings 3,
King Solomon also solves a mystery concerning a child's parentage, for which some
are willing to endue the monarch with Holmesian detectival percipience, but given
the culture of the time and the methods used, the author of the following article isn't
so sure that's accurate.

"Solomon, Daniel, and the Detective Story: The Social Functions

of a Literary Genre."
By Stuart Lasine (born 1945).
First appearance: Presented as a paper, December 1987.
Article (20 pages, 38 footnotes).
Online (HERE) (PDF).

"I will argue that the fair-play rule is not observed in I Kings 3, and, more importantly, that the social function of this biblical narrative is based more on the portrayal of Solomon as a detective hero than on the presence of any formal traits typical of the genre. Here I will be clearly at odds with critics like Winks, who are willing to entertain the possibility that detective stories might be present in texts like the Bible, but still insist that they do not contain detectives."
WHEN WE THINK about detectives and how they operate, we usually picture Sherlock Holmes with his magnifying glass or Mike Hammer with his fists; however, one of the
wisest people portrayed in the Bible utilized methods of resolving a conundrum that are
at variance with such methods:

   "Solomon is what might be called a 'detective of human nature,' as opposed to a 'hero of scientism' like Sherlock Holmes, or a divinely driven interrogator like Daniel. Human nature detectives, among whom should be included Dickens' Inspector Bucket and Collins' Sergeant Cuff, solve crimes by attending to the apparently unfathomable behavior of human beings, ultimately showing that human nature need not remain an unsolvable riddle, at least for those who possess godlike wisdom. That this might also be a basic message of the judgment story takes on added significance when one considers that a number of scholars have recently described human character in the Bible as mysterious, impenetrable, or undecidable."

Below are a few excerpts.

1. The Facts of the Case and Available Evidence

   "Clearly, it is inappropriate to apply the fair-play rule to I Kings 3, as does Sternberg, who claims that 'the two detectives [Solomon and the reader] must weigh the same evidence by the same lifelike standards.' Leaving aside the issue of whether detective fiction ever gives more than the appearance of fair play with the reader, it is apparent that Solomon has more evidence and investigative options at his disposal." . . .
   "In any event, Solomon's failure to examine obviously relevant evidence shows that his judicial wisdom must be anything but what McKane supposes it to be, namely, 'skill in sifting the evidence.' The king also makes no attempt to locate either unnoticed fact-witnesses or character-witnesses."

2. The Judgment Story and Modern Detective Fiction as Responses to Urban Cognitive Anxiety

   "The fact that Solomon shows no interest in physical evidence or additional witnesses implies that these factors cannot, in themselves, resolve difficult cases. Clues derived from these sources, as well as the verbal testimony available to the reader, remain inconclusive if the investigator does not already know the true characters of those involved. Many biblical texts also recognize that evidence and witness-testimony can be manipulated to make investigators reach erroneous and unjust conclusions [such as the attempted murder of Joseph]." . . .
   "Anxiety over one's vulnerability to betrayal by 'brothers and neighbors' is also discernible in modern detective fiction. As Knight points out, seven of the first twelve Sherlock Holmes stories focus on breaches of fidelity and a failure to respect the rights of others. Even more significant is the fact that deception is often practiced by members of one's own family, particularly fathers, husbands, and fiances. In many of these cases no 'actionable' crime ever occurs, as Holmes himself points out to Dr. Watson. Such acts of deceit and betrayal may have devastating or even fatal effects on those whose trust is abused, but, as biblical law also recognizes, they are not the kind of 'crimes against the state' which are punishable by society as a corporate entity.
   "Finally, even some of the most common conventions of the classical detective story assume that ordinary people cannot detect the malefactors in their midst. This is most clear with the 'least likely person' rule. The fact that the criminal can turn out to be the person considered least likely by both reader and others in the text, means that ordinary cognitive powers cannot distinguish between an evildoer and his total opposite."

3. Solomon as a Detective of Human Nature

 A. Solomon and Modern Detective Heroes

   "While many modern fictional detectives rely on logical analysis and the examination of seemingly trivial details to discover the truth, most of the famous detective heroes of the nineteenth century do use their insight into the human heart to solve the riddle of crime. Thus, Poe's Dupin boasts that 'most men, in respect of himself, wore windows in their bosoms.' Similarly, Dickens' Bucket can 'dip down to the bottom' of a person's mind in a moment, while one of Sherlock Holmes' prospective clients tells him that she has heard
that he 'can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the human heart'."

 B. Solomon and Daniel as Detective Heroes

   "At the same time, Daniel's procedure differs from Solomon's in several crucial ways. Unlike Solomon, Daniel does not trick the complainants into voicing their true feelings in order to unmask their true character; he merely trips them up over a detail. His technique does not function equivalently to God's insight into the human heart."
4. Ideology and the Social Function of the Judgment Story

   "If the judgment story leads the reader to challenge prevailing assumptions about human cognition, the new perspective it fosters merely reconfirms that human nature is stable and knowable. In this it agrees with the classical detective story. Admittedly, Callois overstates his case when he proclaims that, unlike the novel genre, detective fiction 'would abolish human nature altogether if it could.' Cawelti is closer to the mark when he contrasts novels which intensify 'the inexhaustible mystery of human ... character,' to detective stories, in which the detective's explanation 'is precisely a denial of mystery and a revelation that human motivation and action can be exactly specified and understood'."
Bibliography (4 pages)
- The relevant Bible text is I Kings 3:16-28, available in dozens of translations (HERE).
- Our author has appeared on television; see the IMDb (HERE). Presently he has a book
for sale at a hefty price; see (HERE).
- There seem to have been parallels in social development between ancient Israel in the
900s B.C. and Industrial Age European cultures in the 1800s A.D., especially with regard
to increasing urbanization leading to escalating crime rates and the need for organized policing; see (HERE).

The bottom line: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

Sunday, July 2, 2017

"In This Room, Gentlemen, Is a Frightened Man, Acutely Aware That His Life Is at This Moment Hanging in the Balance"

"A Nose for Crime."
By John Michel (1917-1968/9).
First appearance: Ten Detective Aces, October 1943.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE) (PDF).

"When he could see no visible clue to that international murder, Scotland Yard’s Harringay was not left in the dark. He simply borrowed . . . A Nose for Crime."
Harringay might be "the scourge of criminals of three continents," but he's also on the run from his ex-wife ("She’s still looking for alimony, y’know"); so when Fothergill, an old friend, comes to him hoping to clear himself from a murder charge, Harringay isn't above asking (sub rosa, of course) for a fee: "I shall be pleased to accept some slight remuneration for my services—say fifty pounds." As Fothergill will soon see, it'll be money well spent . . .

Typo: "eoncentratedly"
- FictionMags credits John B. Michel with roughly a half dozen crime stories, with most of his other work being SFF-nal; for the latter, including his tragic death, see Wikipedia (HERE), the Fancyclopedia (HERE), ZineWiki (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
John B. Michel, second from right.
The bottom line:
   "What do you think of the suicide theory now, Sergeant?"
   "Well, it's slightly complicated since the man shot, slugged and stabbed himself—especially in the back."
Philo Vance and Sergeant Heath