Friday, April 20, 2018

"He Said He Was Sure Glad His Kid Wasn't a Detective-story Fan"

"Lone Bandit."
By Dennis Wiegand (?-?).
First appearance: Astounding Science Fiction, June 1954.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).

"The autopsy report shows the guy was so full of lead it must have taken four men to carry him on a stretcher out of his shack."
Is a man or a Martian responsible for these crimes? While somebody, referred to in the
press as the Lone Bandit, is knocking over banks with the greatest of ease, a large cast
of characters struggles to cope with that mind-boggling, whiz-bang piece of technology
the Bandit is using to make his "withdrawals"; in the final analysis, it's the kind of
conundrum only a kid addicted to TV space operas could solve . . .
- FictionMags credits Dennis Wiegand with only three SFF stories, the remainder being almost entirely detective fiction.

The bottom line:
   "Maximum setting. If you had fired, you'd have vaporized me."
   "It's my first ray gun."
   — Somewhere on the Final Frontier


Thursday, April 19, 2018

"I Can't Electrocute a Clew!"

"The Frame Up."
By Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916).
First appearance: Metropolitan, August 1915.
Novelette (13 pages as a PDF).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

"If their object was to lead him into a trap, of all baits they might use the promise to tell him who killed Banf was the one certain to attract him. It made their invita-tion to walk into the parlor almost too obvious."
For an acrobat, walking a wobbly tightrope isn't easy; for District Attorney Wharton—up for re-election, hamstrung by an irresponsible brother-in-law, and hounded by political enemies just waiting for a chance to discredit him—walking a tightrope would, in comparison, be a piece of cake . . .

Comment: Our author seems to be besotted with the inverted sentence; in other words, with the inverted sentence our author seems to be besotted.

Typo: "it [?] an air of peaceful inactivity" [missing a verb]; "George, the water" [waiter].

- Few school children have escaped hearing about the infamous Tammany Hall, but if you're a little hazy on the subject see Wikipedia (HERE).

- Richard Harding Davis did more than write fiction, as Wikipedia attests (HERE):
   ". . . [being] an American journalist and writer of fiction and drama, known foremost as the first American war correspondent to cover the Spanish–American War, the Second Boer War, and the First World War. His writing greatly assisted the political career of Theodore Roosevelt. He also played a major role in the evolution of the American magazine. His influence extended to the world of fashion, and he is credited with making the clean-shaven look popular among men at the turn of the 20th century."

- Davis is primarily associated with "yellow journalism"; see the PBS page (HERE).
- Project Gutenberg has fifty titles by Davis in their library beginning (HERE).
- The IMDb (HERE) lists 58 film and TV adaptations of Davis's works from 1910 to 1968.

The bottom line: "The king! I thought he was philosopher enough to allow that there was no murder in politics. In politics, my dear fellow, you know, as well as I do, there are no men, but ideas—no feelings, but interests; in politics we do not kill a man, we only remove an obstacle, that is all.”
  ― Alexandre Dumas (père)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"What’s the Proposition—You Want Somebody Knocked Off?"

"It's a Cinch!"
By Jordan Cole (?-?).
First appearance: Secret Agent X, November 1934.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"He recently pulled a heavy job—about two hundred thousand dollars in cold cash, and he gave her the money to hide for him."
Two hundred G's can buy an awful lot of doublecross . . .

The conferees:
~ Malthus:

  ". . .  was handsome, without doubt; handsome in a weak sort of way, which was why the women liked him. There was a little sweat now on his well modeled face; his shifty little eyes darted around the office, awestruck."

~ Ringler:
  ". . .  massive, wide shouldered, with a huge thatch of red hair, a battered nose and a square chin, sat behind the desk and scowled . . ."

- The only other story credited to Jordan Cole by FictionMags is "Silenced Partner," Secret Agent X, December 1934, which is not to be confused with G. Fleming-Roberts's "The Silenced Partner" (1933).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"He Was Willing to Take a Risk"

"Death by Radio."
By Edward Podolsky (?-?).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, December 1932.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text is faded.)

"Van Sicklen evidently did not want this note-book to reveal its contents to anyone, for he had taken special pains to lock it away where it would not ordinarily be found."
A knotty problem manifests itself when a scientist, alone at the time, dies of hydrocyanic gas poisoning in what could be described as a hermetically-sealed room:
   "How had the cyanogen gained entrance to the laboratory when there had been no means of it doing so. The windows had been barred, the door did not have the conventional keyhole. The room was made sound-proof, and was almost air-tight; there were no crevices or other means by which the gas may have seeped in from the outside. There was nothing within the room, no chemical compounds, which by being mixed would react to give off any cyanogen compound. And yet this was the gas by which Van Sicklen had come to his death."

Comment: Starting out as he does with a really great locked room premise, our author could have presented us with a nicely turned out puzzler, but didn't.
- The only things we know for sure about Edward Podolsky—and that's not much—are to be found on the Internet Science Fiction Database (HERE).
- Our author could well be the Edward Podolsky, M.D., who wrote a non-fiction article for The American Mercury about "The Radio Knife" (HERE; PDF).
- Some of the science in this story has a suspicious aroma about it; even so, there could be something to the whole idea after all—see the Quora Q & A (HERE).
We have no idea what this man is doing, but it's interesting, isn't it?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-seven

IF AFTER NINETY-TWO YEARS you still haven't read or learned about the Big Reveal in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), then we recommend you avoid Davis's article until you do; however, it won't be necessary to do that with the following posting, because we always endeavor to avoid plot spoilers.

"Playing by the Rules."
By J. Madison Davis.
First appearance: World Literature Today, May 1, 2015.
Critical article (3 pages as a PDF).
Online at The Free Library (HERE).

"All writers invent within the contexts of their genres and times, but those who cannot reach beyond them are only good for a laugh."
  If there were ever any immutable rules for writing detective fiction, you can bet they've been violated by now:
   "Writers are a classroom of rude boys, ready to chuck spitballs and erupt with razzberries as soon as the teacher turns to the blackboard. Tell them they must follow a set of instructions and they will immediately think of ways to undermine and oppose it. The number of articles and books instructing us how to write a mystery is legion, and when these proscribe one thing or another, an imaginative writer's immediate thought is of how to subvert the rule and still produce something dazzling."

  As for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd:
   "The kerfuffle that resulted from this trick—not to mention her mysterious disappearance that same year—helped make Christie one of the most famous writers in the world and, ultimately, the best-selling novelist of all time. Christie was never averse to manipulating readers' expectations."

"Yes, Mr. Wilson, it is pointless. What is your point?"
  Ackroyd also served to disturb that sense of complacency into which the detective fiction "industry" had settled:
   "That there is a controversy at all, however, implies that a mutual conspiracy of publishers, authors, and readers has created a set of rules that crime novels are obligated to obey. The existence of a genre implies a set of expectations in readers. Writers, by inclination or with an eye toward economic well-being, are usually happy to accommodate it. 'If you have any comments,' Erie Stanley Gardner once told an editor, 'write them on the back of a check.'"
  Not even that formidable array of writers who comprised The Detection Club felt any strong obligation to follow their own rules, especially if the opportunity to contrive "something dazzling" should present itself:
   "Behind the mock seriousness of the rules, the masters are sniggering at inferiors who resort to any obvious, and often ludicrous, device to get them-selves out of a corner. The Detection Club, after all, was a supper club for highly talented people with a similar vocation who would share tips, perhaps offer suggestions to one another, try out ideas, and laugh about particularly hideous examples they had encountered. Writers like to hang out with writers like cops like to hang out with cops.
   "It is extraordinary, however, that Christie or one of the others was threat-en
ed with expulsion because she had violated some part of the oath or the 'Ten Commandments' composed by member Ronald Knox. Try to imagine
them giving Agatha Christie the boot!"
  Despite the passage of a turbulent century in which the hardboiled school has dominated the mystery field with an unbecoming arrogance, however, the traditional mystery is never-theless still with us, dei gratia, and enjoying something of a renaissance:
   "Much of the pleasure of the traditional mystery is that it is a game of playing 'catch me if you can' with the author. Many times it isn't really about crime or its consequences, or even about character, but rather the comfortable pattern of the form. In many ways, the genre is an improvisational game . . ."

- The GAD Wiki has info about The Detection Club (HERE); you can also find Father Knox's "Ten Commandments" on, for instance, Wikipedia (HERE).
- Our previous Miscellaneous Monday, which was about Edmund Pearson's "Vanishing Favorites," can be found (HERE), while the last time we saw J. Madison Davis was (HERE).


Friday, April 13, 2018

"None of This Plays Fair with the Reader"

Snippet from an interview with Ron Goulart (born 1933).
Amazing Stories, August 1980.
Interview with Darrell Schweitzer (born 1952) begins (HERE); relevant passage (HERE) reproduced below.

When two literary genres mix, the result can be a pleasant medley or a deplorable mess. As we've discovered since we started this weblog, science fiction and mystery are often joined (or, conversely, mashed together); in our postings, we usually leave it up to you to decide how successful such a "marriage" is. SFF pro Ron Goulart has been working both sides of that street and briefly comments on his experiences:

   Goulart: "I’m very fascinated with the mechanics of suspense and mystery, so I tend to mix them with science fiction, even though I’ve had editors annoyed with it. Asimov does that, and Fredric Brown did it in the past, producing science fiction detective stories, or mysteries with fantasy elements. Again, none of this plays fair with the reader, I guess, which
is why there is some annoyance from some circles."
   Schweitzer: "A mystery with fantasy elements should be fiendishly difficult to do, but a science fiction mystery shouldn’t be too hard, as I see it, as long as you state your premises ahead of time instead of suddenly coming into the locked room through the fourth dimension."
   Goulart: "I’ve never done anything like that. I've always followed the rules, but I get the feeling that sometimes there is a certain kind of reader who wants a mystery to be a mystery and a science fiction novel to be a science fiction novel and deliver certain ingredients."

- There's a lot of information on the Interwobblie about Ron Goulart: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE).
- A few years back Crippen & Landru (HERE and HERE) published Adam and Eve on a Raft (2001), a collection of Goulart's short mystery fiction.
- He's also written a detective fiction series starring Groucho Marx . . .
  1. Groucho Marx, Master Detective (1998)

  2. Groucho Marx, Private Eye (1999)
  3. Elementary, My Dear Groucho (1999)
  4. Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders (2001)
  5. Groucho Marx, Secret Agent (2002)
  6. Groucho Marx, King of the Jungle (2005)

. . . as well as the John Easy California P.I. series, about which Kevin Burton Smith admits his surprise at "how convincingly he pulls off the Chandleresque tone and the Ross Macdonald sensibility" (HERE):
  1. If Dying Was All (1971)
  2. Too Sweet to Die (1972)
  3. The Same Lie Twice (1973)
  4. One Grave Too Many (1974).

Artwork by Robert Odegnál

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"I've Seen Something Enough to Tempt a Saint to Swerve from Virtue"

"A Case of Diamonds: Showing How Robbery May Become an Art."
By Huan Mee (Charles Herbert Mansfield, 1864-1930, and Walter Edward Mansfield, 1870-1916).
Illustrations by Frank Richards (1863-1935; HERE).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Magazine, April 1901.
Short short story (6 pages, 3 illos).

Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Some of the text is slightly faded.)

". . . they're a nice little haul, not so big as some things we've had it's true, but little fish are remarkably sweet, and they ought to be easier to land than the salmon of Bond Street."
Whether you're going fishing or planning to pull off the perfect robbery, the rules are pretty much the same, especially the one about using the proper lure . . .
Those concerned:
~ Caleb Winter:
  ". . . a rather curious old man, with greyish beard and thick, bushy eyebrows, whose
sole amusement was reading."
~ Harry Newbold:
  "He was a tall, dark, good-looking fellow, stylishly dressed in the latest frock-coat,

grey trousers, and a very glossy silk hat. He was evidently waiting for some one, for
he constantly consulted his watch . . ."
~ Ted Radnor:
  "He was short, and inclined to be sandy. His appearance was distinctly horsey, not

only in the cut of his clothes, but in his general style . . ."

- FictionMags informs us that the only series character generated by our bicameral author "Huan Mee" was Aide Lerestelle (billed as "A Diplomatic Woman"), star of a half-dozen adventures published in Cassell's in 1899. The collected stories are on Project Gutenberg (HERE).
- Steve at Bear Alley has an article about Charles H. Mansfield (HERE):
   "Mansfield said that he felt 'thoroughly at home' writing detective tales, often written in collaboration with his younger brother, Walter, under the
pen-name Huan Mee. The two collaborated on short stories (for Everybody's, Pearson's, Penny Pictorial and various other magazines) and novels. Charles was also a poet, his verse appearing in The Red Magazine."

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"I Am Pleased to Say We Have Found a Slight Clue to the Criminal"

"The Murderer in the Dark."
By F. Britten Austin (1885-1941).
Illustrations by S. Seymour Lucas (1878-1954; HERE and HERE).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, June 1922.
Short short story (8 pages, 3 illos).
Online at (HERE).

"How? Why? How? Why? These two questions besieged him incessantly, battering at his crumbling mind."
An incriminating brooch, a missing button, a small splotch of paint, an empty cartridge in the revolver—that ancient Greek guy knew what he was talking about when he cautioned us, "No man is free who cannot command himself . . ."

Comment: This one would have had an afterlife of reprintings if it had been better written.
- You can find out much more about Frederick Britten Austin at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers in the Great War (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE).
- Wikipedia has an article that relates to the plot of our tale (HERE), but READ THE STORY FIRST.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"The Fiery Stars in the Murderous Sky"

"The Night the World Ended."
By Fredric Brown (1906-72).
First appearance: Dime Mystery, January 1945.
Collected in Mostly Murder (1953; HERE) and Carnival of Crime: The Best Mystery Stories of Fredric Brown (1985; HERE and HERE).
Filmed for TV in 1957 (see "Resources").
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at starting (HERE) and concluding (HERE).
(Parental warning: Strong language.)

". . . his throat and his soul felt raw, and there was no surcease in the quiet of the water below him."
A joke is just a joke—until somebody takes it for gospel . . .

Comment: The editor's headnote blabs too much; the story reads better if you skip to the first sentence.
- The barebones e-zine (HERE) has a detailed and SPOILERS-filled discussion of "The Night the World Ended," both text and TV episode; the latter is detailed (SPOILERS again) on the IMDb (HERE). In any event, READ THE STORY FIRST.
- As possibly the greatest exponent of the twisty short story since O. Henry, Fredric Brown has never been far from our notice (HERE).

Monday, April 9, 2018

"I Will Probably Not Be the Same Again"

"With Intent to Kill."
By John Jakes (born 1932).
First appearance: Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy, November 1953.
Reprinted in Science-Fiction Monthly (Australia) #6, February 1956.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text somewhat faded.)
(Parental caution: Strong language.)

"They're coming to examine me, do things to me, check me."
One day our instrumentalities could revolt; if they do, that might not be such a bad thing in every instance, corrupt human nature being what it is . . .
- John William Jakes hit the jackpot with his historical novels: Wikipedia (HERE); but in his early career he produced SFF fairly regularly; see the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "It doesn't think anything we don't want it to think."
   "That's sad," said Montag, quietly, "because all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that's all it can ever know."
   ― Bradbury


Friday, April 6, 2018

"He Lifted the Gun with a Steady Hand and Pointed It"

"5 Minutes to 12."
By Max Brand (Frederick Schiller Faust, 1892-1944).
First appearance: Cosmopolitan, November 1936.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at (HERE).

(Parental note: Some strong language.)

"The cold-blooded sort of a devil who wrote those letters would stick to his timetable or die. That's his game, to be precise. That's his dirty sport."
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—that and a loaded automatic . . .
- Under the alias of Max Brand, Frederick Schiller Faust churned out millions of words for
the pulps and, beginning in 1934, the high-paying slicks in his day, giving us, among other things, Doctor Kildare and the Western hero Destry; see Wikipedia (HERE) and Pulp Fiction Writers (HERE) for more.
- We've already highlighted a couple of Brand's stories: "The Silent Witness" (HERE) and "Hole-in-the-Wall Barrett" (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "But if I want to murder somebody, will it really be the best plan to make sure I'm alone with him?"
   Lord Pooley's eyes recovered their frosty twinkle as he looked at the little clergyman. He only said: "If you want to murder somebody, I should advise it."
   ― "The God of the Gongs"


Thursday, April 5, 2018


By S. S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright, 1888-1939).
First appearance: Scribner's, March 1939.
Review column (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"The literary crime wave of 1939 has got under way with bounce and gusto," the creator of Philo Vance tells us with a wink, "and several highly meritorious murders have already been committed."
   "The Rhadamanthine Doctor Thorndyke is at his magisterial best in The Stoneware Monkey, by R. Austin Freeman (Dodd, Mead, $2). Although the book is made up of several narratives by different people, the sum total is satisfactory, and the puzzle is excellent. There is considerable skulduggery afoot in its pages, with the remains of one victim turning up in the shape of a calcined finger bone and some bits of porcelain teeth salvaged from a potter's furnace. The ultimate, and startling, discovery clears up two murders and elucidates the mystery of the hideous simian from which the story takes its name. All details are painstakingly worked out, and though there are few pyrotechnics, the story marches."
   Related: The GAD Wiki (HERE) - Detection by Moonlight (HERE) - A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection (HERE).
   "Arrogant Alibi, by C. Daly King (Appleton, $2), attempts the most difficult of all mystery-story devices—namely, the disintegration of the multiple alibi. And it succeeds amazingly well. Though Freeman Wills Crofts is the undisputed dean of the alibi mechanicians, Mr. King is well forward. Furthermore, he has two related crimes to clear up—the murder of a great Egyptologist's widow, Mrs. Timothy, and that of Elisha Spingler, a co-worker of the late Doctor Timothy. When the vorpal blades go snicker-snack Michael Lord, a New York Police Inspector, and his close friend, Doctor Pons, an 'integrative psycho-logist,' are luckily present in the musty residence-museum to apprehend the arrogant slayer. It all adds up to an ingenious, carefully planned, and highly literate tale for the advanced student in literary detection."
   Related: The GAD Wiki (HERE) - Death Can Read (HERE) - A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection (HERE).
   "Speaking of that old master in crime, Freeman Wills Crofts, behold! here he is with an excellent yarn for adult minds, Antidote to Venom (Dodd, Mead, $2). The story is different in manner and approach from The Cask—indeed, it is a detective story written backwards, somewhat in the manner of the tales in Austin Freeman's The Singing Bone. But for all its patent heterodoxy, it ranks high in the current output. Viper venom causes the death of Professor Burnaby; but, the fiendish subtlety of the murderer notwithstanding, our old friend, Inspector French of Scotland Yard, does an excellent bit of deduction. Here is a masterpiece of its kind, wherein the reader has no temptation to turn to the last page because the author lets him in on the secret long before the doughty Inspector arrives. But don't let that innovation prejudice you."
   Related: The GAD Wiki (HERE) - Pretty Sinister Books (HERE) - A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection (HERE).
   "Greetings and a hearty welcome to Margaret Erskine, a newcomer in the mystery field. The Limping Man (Doubleday, Doran, $2) is a well-written,
well-constructed document, far superior to the usual thriller. Despite its overemphasis on the eerie and the legendary, I commend the book, and hopefully await future forays into crime by the same author."
   Related: The GAD Wiki (HERE) - Do You Write Under Your Own Name? (HERE).
   [Note: The Limping Man was also published as And Being Dead and The Painted Mask.]
- Our previous Van Dine review was last November (HERE).

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

"He Is Bearing Her Thither, the Villain"

"The Abduction of Alexandra Seine: A Tale of the Twentieth Century."
By Fred C. Smale (1865-1917).
Illustrations by R. W. Wallace.
Reprints listing (HERE).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Magazine, November 1900.
Short short story (8 pages, 6 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Some of the text is faded.)

"With a whiz and a flutter they rose through the cool evening air and, after soaring undecidedly over the ancient dome of St. Paul's, sped away in an easterly direction."
Reminiscent of that time Prince Paris of Troy ran off with what's-her-name, the purloining of Alexandra Seine has her love-struck swain Jack Arbuthnot in a lather; seeking the help of Bowden Snell, an elderly crime reporter graphist for the Hourly Flash, young Arbuthnot doesn't know—and neither does Snell—just how much Alexandra means to both of them . . .
~ Bowden Snell:
  ". . . was not young, being over fifty, and the more rapid methods of the times made it difficult for him to compete with younger men; but the Flash people retained him chiefly because of his extensive knowledge of the great province of London."

~ Jack Arbuthnot:
  ". . . he peered anxiously forward, and at length his bloodshot eyes detected a fluttering object between himself and the full-orbed moon."

~ Jim Travers:
  "Anything special on? If so, telepath us at the office, there's a good fellow."

~ 'Eagle Malvowley:
  "Curse you! I'll wreck you; I'll send you all to eternity!"

~ Alexandra Seine:
  "It seems like one of the old-fashioned novels, doesn't it?"

Comment: If you didn't know better, you might conclude that this one was written tongue-in-cheek by a genre author just the other day; take it for what it is, an amusing but, not surprisingly, science-challenged look ahead to a 20th century that never happened.
- FictionMags credits Frederick Charles Smale with 17 stories, including another tale that was just good enough to be reprinted, "The 'V' Force"; once you view the illustrations and read it, you'll see why "The Abduction of Alexandra Seine," a prime specimen of steampunk (see the SFE HERE) if there ever was one, has found a place on the Internet Speculative Fiction Data-base (HERE).