Friday, July 20, 2018

Two Bank Jobs and a Wedding

   "His enemy was escaping—and he had a missile in his hand."

"The Attempt on St. Mary's Branch."
By Harold Steevens (?-?).
Illustrations by Cyrus Cuneo, R.I.
First appearance: The Strand, December 1912.
Reprinted in the January 1913 issue.
Short short story (7 pages, 3 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Some text is faded.)

     "Unsupported by any visible agency, it appeared to be behaving in flagrant defiance of the law of gravitation."

In contrast to Americans, the English seem to prefer their bank robberies done differently
—you could say, with a certain flair; take that floating bag of gold sovereigns, for instance . . .

~ ~ ~

  "It was a fine shot and a lucky one . . ."

"The Service Revolver."
By Harold Steevens (?-?).
Illustrations by Norah Schlegel.
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, July 1919.
Short story (10 pages, with 6 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Some text is faded.)

     ". . . he was fresh from a sphere where the ethics of killing did not concern him."

Cool customers, these bank robbers, but they never reckoned on the power of love . . .

- FictionMags's story listing indicates that over the course of sixteen years Harold Steevens published infrequently, starting with "The Attempt on St. Mary's Branch" and ending (as 
far as can be determined) in 1928.
- It might be instructive to compare the tone of Steevens's first story about a bank job from pre-War 1912 with the second one from post-War 1919.
- In "The Service Revolver," mention is made of "the forged Bradbury"; see the Royal Bank of Scotland's article (HERE) for full details.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"When He Told the Police Who I Was, They Hit Me Over the Head with a Police Club Till I Was Quiet and Then Gave Me Some Coffee"

IT'S WIDELY ACCEPTED that humor is a highly subjective thing, so if you read the following sketches by Stephen Leacock and find them funny, you have no one to blame but him:

"The Criminal Face."
By Stephen Leacock (1869-1944).
Collected in The Iron Man & The Tin Woman: A Book of Little Sketches of To-Day and To-Morrow (1929).
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at Faded Page (HERE).

   "The brachiocephalic index of nearly every one of them was of a kind to alarm the police force, while the facial angle of those who had the hardihood to show it justified immediate arrest."

Biometric analysis can certainly be useful—if it's done by people with no preconceptions . . .
~ ~ ~
"Confessions of a Super-Extra-Criminal."
By Stephen Leacock (1869-1944).
Collected in The Iron Man & The Tin Woman: A Book of Little Sketches of To-Day and To-Morrow (1929).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Faded Page (HERE).

   "However, nothing would do me but loafing around with a loose crowd of boys and talking about this man or that who’d made a clean-up as a plumber or garage man or a dry cleaning explosives expert, and never got caught."

He really shoulda listened to his muddah . . .
~ ~ ~
"A Midsummer Detective Mystery."
By Stephen Leacock (1869-1944).
Collected in The Iron Man & The Tin Woman: A Book of Little Sketches of To-Day and To-Morrow (1929).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Faded Page (HERE)

   "Oh, yes, sir. What would you like, sir? We could give you a cold chicken, a made-up salad, sir, with a cold meat pie, if you care for it."

Ah, those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, when even murder must take a backseat to excellent brook trout . . .

~ ~ ~
"Living with Murder."
By Stephen Leacock (1869-1944).
Collected in Last Leaves (1945).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Faded Page (HERE).

   "I am a great reader of detective fiction. That is, I have been up to now, but I see I shall have to give it up."

If you're unwilling to chance contracting a case of full-blown paranoia, then by all means follow our narrator's example . . .
Pretend it says 7:01 . . . and ¼.
- This week marks our latest—and it saddens us to say it—possibly last encounter with Stephen Leacock, relative to crime fiction anyway; see (HERE) for last week's contact 
with him.

Monday, July 16, 2018

"By the Time the Police Get Through Questioning You You'll Be Meat for the Nut-hatch, Friend"

"Third Alternative."
By Sam Merwin, Jr. (1910-96).
First appearance: Fantastic Story, Spring 1952.
Reprinted in Science Fiction Yearbook, No. 2 (1968).
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).

"There was a third alternative open to him."

Personally, we don't believe in the multiverse (for one thing, its existence is unprovable as a practical matter); imagine, though, the complications—political, legal, and personal—that would result from such a thing. To save us the trouble, Sam Merwin has already imagined it, and the prospect isn't all that good for one man, a murderer who keeps seeing his victim everywhere, alive and well . . .

Typo: "wainscoats"

- Read all about Sam Merwin's accomplishments in the SFF genre (HERE; Wikipedia), (HERE; the SFE), and (HERE; the ISFDb). Our previous encounters with him can be found on this page (HERE).
- What used to be called the concept of parallel worlds but is now referred to as the multiverse is discussed fairly thoroughly on Wikipedia (HERE):

     "The multiverse (or metaverse) is a hypothetical group of multiple separate universes including the universe in which humans live. Together, these universes comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, energy, the physical laws and the constants that describe them. The different universes within the multiverse are called the 'parallel universes', 'other universes' or 'alternative universes.'"
See also the SFE theme entry on parallel worlds (HERE).
- It might be an illusory notion, but the multiverse has been a boon to SFF authors like Merwin (and daydreaming theoretical physicists fishing for research grants), all of them exploiting it shamelessly ever since the idea first bobbed up; see the short "Multiple Timelines" section of Atomic Rockets (HERE) for still more.

Friday, July 13, 2018

"The Man They Wanted Her to See Was Slumped Face Down Across His Desk"

"Corpus Cryptic."
By Lee Killough (born 1942).
First appearance: Stellar 5 (1980).
Novelette (24 pages).
Online at The Luminist League Archives (HERE; go down 

to page 100; then use Full Screen button).

     "Death was a hell of a thing to start Monday."

It's remarkable how much the very late Dr. Lawrence Morgan, a professor of physics at 
a Kansas university, and the very late Wicked Witch of the East, a professional menace, 
have in common, as the Munchkin coroner confirmed: "I must aver, I thoroughly 
examined her, and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead."

The professor, too, is most sincerely dead; in fact, it's safe to say he's way beyond that, 
as Dr. Dallas March, the coroner of a nearby town, discovers when she does a postmortem: "Dr. Morgan," she declares, "is the deadest man in medical history." Indeed, because it's impossible as a practical proposition for any preserved corpse to be that dead and because the police, lacking her expertise, don't see anything sinister in the case, Dallas initiates her own little investigation, which will, among other things, have her trying to find out just what the untimely demise of three rats has to do with the very late Dr. Morgan shuffling off this mortal coil . . .

Comment: This one is at least twenty years ahead of recent TV shows in its concern for the science that goes into a forensic investigation; you could think of it as a science fictional 
CSI episode.

Characters, one of whom is a murderer:
~ Dr. Lawrence Morgan:
  ". . . his face was peaceful, not distorted as it would have been after an agonal struggle. However he had died, death had come unexpectedly and unfought."
~ Dr. Dallas March:
  "Dr. Morgan's death bothered her more than most. Rigor gone but decomposition still minimal? That was most peculiar, and disturbing."
~ Death:
  "She finally recognized the tunnels as blood vessels when Death skimmed by her in a surfing position on an erythrocyte."
~ Dr. Esther Kastens:
  "Isn't one dead rat like another?"
~ Dr. Charles Nealey:
  "That's the way they come in pathology, sweetie."
~ Dr. Miles:
  "We never were able to determine exactly why they died . . . but they exhibited the same findings your patient does: broken DNA, wavy actin and myosin, and no living internal bacteria."
~ Dr. Morgan's graduate assistant:
  "That's why it was such a shock to find him there like that when I turned the light on."
~ Davis Oaks, campus security:
  "You were playing detective, I suppose. Look, life isn't like a television program. There's nothing more complicated than someone dying. It's bad enough if the death is suicide, 
but I'm not about to let you talk me into a murder investigation."
~ Sister Mary Luke:
  "I think I did something wrong."

- As a novelist specializing in SFF mysteries and horrorfic, Karen Lee Killough has enjoyed considerable success; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and (for a bibliography) the 
- At the time it was written the prospects were bright for an L5 program like the one mentioned in the story, but economic and political considerations have put it on
for now; see Wikipedia (HERE) for background.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"It Is Not So Much the Crime Itself That Attracts As the Unraveling of the Mystery by the Super-brain of the Great Detective, As Silent As He Is Efficient"

FOR FAITHFUL READERS of this weblog (and, to be serious for a moment, we really do appreciate you), Canadian polymath and humorist Stephen Leacock needs no introduction. Our experience is that somewhere (or several somewheres) in one of his pieces the reader won't be able to resist laughing out loud, something that can't always be said of every writer wearing the label of "humorist." Today Leacock returns to one of his favorite themes . . .

"The Great Detective."
By Stephen Leacock (1869-1944).
Chapter (10 pages as a PDF) in Short Circuits (1928).
Online at Faded Page (HERE; go down to page 203).

     "The tempting point about a detective story—both for the writer and the reader—is that it is so beautifully easy to begin. All that is needed is to start off with a first-class murder."

Since the essence of humor is in how it's told, we won't interfere with the author any 
further. Enjoy.
   Bonus story:

"The Mariposa Bank Mystery."
By Stephen Leacock (1869-1944).
Chapter IX of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912).
Online at Faded Page (HERE; go down to page 187).

     "But apart from the general merits of the question, I suppose there are few people, outside of lovers, who know what it is to commit suicide four times in five weeks. Yet this was what happened to Mr. Pupkin, of the Exchange Bank of Mariposa."

. . . and what, you're probably wondering, do Mr. Pupkin's multiple suicides have to do with a bank job? Read on, Macduff . . .

- Previous ONTOS encounters with Stephen P. H. Butler Leacock can be found (HERE) and (HERE).

Monday, July 9, 2018

"My Admiration Is Reserved for the Detective Who Detects, Whose Claim to Fame Is His Mind Rather Than His Way with a Girl or a Jury"

WHEN ONE THINKS of crime fiction authors the name of Kingsley Amis doesn't immediately spring to mind; SFF aficionados may remember him for his salubrious influence on science fiction and fantasy when the New Wave was cresting:

   ". . . we have noted an unfortunate tendency . . . to demand of [science fiction/fantasy] works . . . all the structures and depths and levels and characterizations and completenesses which, emerging from the English departments, have for so many decades now hung threateningly above ordinary fiction—without noticeably improving it. It would be a pity if 
science fiction were to become yet another well-policed province of 
today's or yesterday's literary ideologies.  . . .  The science-fiction 
writer introduces interplay of character at his peril."
   — Introduction to Spectrum V (1967), edited by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest

The very same could be said for detective fiction.

While he was lionized by the Literary Establishment for such mainstream efforts as Lucky Jim (1954; the one he's most remembered for in Academia) and condemned by the same people for his political views, he never lost interest in what he regarded as the minor genres, including SFF and crime fiction, producing such works as The Anti-Death League (1966), The Riverside Villas Murder (1973), and The Crime of the Century (1975), as well as his own idio-syncratic take on James Bond (Colonel Sun, 1968).

Amis was quite conversant with detective fiction, including the exploits of the Sage of Baker Street, and that brings us to the following story:

"The Darkwater Hall Mystery."
By Kingsley Amis (1922-95).
Collected in Collected Short Stories (1980).
Reprinted in The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories (2015).
Filmed for TV (IMDb HERE).
Short story (18 pages).
Online at The Luminist League Archives (HERE; scroll down to page 226).
(Note: Be prepared for a very slow load—or no load at all.)

Artwork by Edward Gorey
   "Thus it was that events conspired to embroil me in what I must describe as a truly singular adventure."

This time a fatigued Sherlock Holmes is shunted off to the Musgrave estate for a rest cure and Dr. Watson must step up to solve a mystery that isn't a mystery and disport himself in 
a most ungentlemanly fashion.

Comment: The "mystery" is negligible, by intention; the author could have practiced what he preached (see above), but character interaction gets the most emphasis, which is precisely 
what this story is all about.
Typo: "would have stolen hat weapon"

~ ~ ~
AMIS ALWAYS evinced his own unorthodox views in his nonfictional writings, including the following piece that should be of interest to regular readers of this weblog:

"Unreal Policemen."
By Kingsley Amis (1922-95).
First appearance: Where - unknown; when - 1966.
Reprinted in What Became of Jane Austen? And Other Questions (1970).
Article (18 pages).
Online at The Luminist League Archives (HERE; go down to page 108).

It's pretty hard to shock anyone these days, and we're not going to assert that such is the case here; but it is, let's say, surprising that Amis, a life-long socialist by habit, should hold such conservative-sounding opinions about detective fiction. Rather than steal Amis's thunder, we'll content ourselves with an outline of his article (and remember, he's writing in 1966, when venerable old pros like John Dickson Carr, Edmund Crispin, and Agatha Christie were still alive and producing fiction):

   - Nicolas Freeling (". . . one of the most promising arrivals on the post-war crime-fiction scene . . .") and Van der Valk (". . . very much a real policeman").
   - Inspector Maigret ("None of those brilliant intuitions, those miraculous leaps in the dark, those questions about what seem to be insanely irrelevant matters, that are so firmly in the middle of the great detective tradition inaugurated by Poe's Auguste Dupin").
   - Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade; Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe; Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer ("Spillane is the best of the three cited—an unpopular view, 
which I would defend hotly").
   - Erle Stanley Gardner and Perry Mason (". . . Mason has an impressive claim to being considered the most boring foe of criminality in our time . . .").
   - Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. Watson, and Sherlock Holmes ("The magnifying lens and the dozen red roses belong to different worlds").
   - Edgar Allan Poe and Dupin ("Apart from his irritating mannerisims, all three of Dupin's cases are very shaky").
   - Dorothy L. Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey ("With few shining exceptions, the heirs of Sherlock Holmes are an undistinguished lot.  . . .  Here I should in fairness make it plain 
that Wimsey is no more of a fag that Holmes is: he merely looks and sounds like one . . .").
   - Agatha Christie; Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple ("I have never understood the fame of 
the two Agatha Christie characters, both of whom seem straight out of stock—Poirot the excitable but shrewd little foreigner, Marple the innocent, helpless-looking old lady with the keen blue eyes").
   - Ellery Queen ("Ellery of the silver-coloured eyes is seldom much more than an extension of the plot").
   - Michael Innes and Sir John Appleby ("The Appleby method of detection is to sit back 
and wait for the unconscious to come up with a solution, though the sitting back is purely 
mental . . .").
   - Edmund Crispin and Gervase Fen (". . . an eccentric after the fashion of Holmes or Wimsey, but funnier and in one sense grander than they, in that he seems to create 
his own kind of adventure").
   - "The three great successors of Sherlock Holmes": G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown 
(". . . the good ideas are many and marvellous"); Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie 
Goodwin ("The weakness of Stout's hugely readable stories is always the story.  . . . 
I can seldom be bothered with the details of the investigation, which usually proceeds 
by revelation and discovery rather than by actual deduction"); and John Dickson 
Carr/Carter Dickson's Dr. Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale ("In Carr-cum-Dickson 
it [the detective story] does [offer ingenuity raised to the point of genius], perhaps 
two dozen times in all, and this author is a first-rate artist").
- Like a lot of other writers, Sir Kingsley William Amis was done in by chronic overdoses of booze and babes; see Wikipedia (HERE) for details.
- Amis's involvement with SFF is chronicled (HERE; SFE) and (HERE; ISFDb).
- No surprise that Lucky Jim wound up on television as both TVMs and series (HERE).


Friday, July 6, 2018

"I'll Be Lucky If, After These Other Cops Get Through Making Out Their Reports, Anybody Knows I Was Even on the Case"

BRINGING BACK FOR YOUR DELECTATION (we hope) another almost forgotten fictional detective whose adventures at one time were a regular fixture in popular magazines, in this case the old Collier's slickzine, mainly throughout the Depression Era and only just over-lapping with the Second World War; inexplicably, O'Malley, a smart police detective who ain't afraid of bad grammar, has faded into the dim mists of time. (There could be many reasons why he's so obscure, but we suspect one of them might have something to do with America's insane copyright laws.) At any rate, here are O'Malley's first two cases:

   ". . . the water spread out over the uneven, cracked concrete and then gathered into several small puddles and one larger one."

"Green Paint."
By William MacHarg (1872-1951).
Illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele (1873-1944; HERE).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, November 29, 1930.

Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine, March 1957; 
The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), November 1957; 
and The Saint Detective Magazine (U.K.), January 1958 
as "Green Paint and Neat Knots" [FictionMags data].
Short short short story (2 pages, 1 illo).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

   "Meet Detective O'Malley, who will show you how a big-town sleuth actually goes after his man."

Finding a murderer isn't always simply a matter of following his tracks; sometimes a detective has to take other, unlikely things into consideration, such as flecks of paint, 
how knots have been tied, and the way water can behave when it's poured on the floor.

~ ~ ~

   "He was found in Manhattan, so we'll start in Brooklyn; if he'd been found in Brooklyn we'd do the other way about."

"The Ring."
By William MacHarg (1872-1951).
Illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele (1873-1944; HERE).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, December 13, 1930.

Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine, May 1956; 
The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), July 1956; 
and The Saint Detective Magazine (U.K.), September 
1956 as "The Murderer's Ring" [FictionMags data].
Short short short story (2 pages, 1 illo).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

   "Wherein Detective O'Malley sets an ingenious trap and tests the truth of that popular saying: 'It pays to advertise.'" 

Something as unpromising as a theater ticket stub in a dead man's pocket can prove useful in a murder investigation; for O'Malley, though, that ring is the icing on the cake . . .

- The GAD Wiki has more about William Briggs MacHarg (HERE); if the name seems familiar, that's because we featured him along with writing partner Edwin Balmer just last month (HERE). A few years back William F. Deeck gave a concise once-over to the only collection so far of our detective's exploits, The Affairs of O'Malley (1940) (HERE): "Delightful hard-boiled police procedural tales from the ’30s." You can also consult Mike Grost's article on his megasite (HERE): "The brief tales are heavily plot oriented. Some of them have mystery puzzle plots, in others the killer's identity is simply found through police work." A contem-porary reviewer wrote:
   "Matter-of-fact New York cop solves thirty-three murders in short order. Crisp, straight-to-the-point short stories briskly written and ably plotted. Verdict: Hors d'oeuvres."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, March 2, 1940
If you want a first edition, Yesterday's Gallery & Babylon Revisited has one for a cool grand (HERE).

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"Each Time He Went Step by Step Over the Mechanics of the Robbery, It Seemed More Gemlike and More Work-able"

"The Dusty Drawer."
By Harry Muheim (1920-2003).
First appearance: Collier's, May 3, 1952.

Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March 1956; 
EQMM (U.K.), March 1956; and EQMM (Australia), May 1956.
Filmed for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series (1959; see HERE: SPOILERS).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and concluding (HERE; scroll down to page 70).

   "There was no flaw in Logan's plan for revenge. He had calculated cleverly, rehearsed every move. Tritt was vulnerable—weak, vain, and smug—and Logan would turn his self-righteousness against him."

Weak, vain, smug, and self-righteous he may be, but is William Tritt really the thief that Norman Logan thinks he is? Don't be too quick with your answer . . .

- What biographical data we could locate about Harry Miles Muheim comes from the Internet Movie Database (HERE).

Monday, July 2, 2018

"You See, I Had To Get It at Any Cost"

"The Bowstring Murder."
By Maurice Procter (1906-73).
First appearance: Collier's, November 1, 1952.
Reprinted as "The Million Dollar Mystery" in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 1960; EQMM (Australia), March 1960; EQMM (U.K.), March 1960; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #15 (1968).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE; scroll down to page 60).

   "What linked the atomic scientist to this bold jewel theft? Scotland Yard had to find the answer itself. Dr. Tempest could not give it to them. He was dead."

U.S. Treasury agent John Norton is in England searching for a stolen million dollars, unaware that the problem is bigger than that, as Chief Inspector Warwick of the Special Branch informs him: "Know what you've done? Walked smack into the middle of the biggest murder job in years. It's only two hours old, but it's started a Security flap from one end of Whitehall to the other." As if that weren't enough, by the end of the day Norton will have more than missing money and somebody else's murder to deal with; there'll be the very real dilemma 
of being cremated alive or blown to tiny bits . . .

Comment: One of the few short stories that would have worked better as a novel.

- FictionMags describes Maurice Procter thusly: "Novelist. Born in Nelson, Lancashire, England. The name was sometimes spelled Proctor"; also see the GAD Wiki entry (HERE).
- An informative Wikipedia article about Procter is (HERE):
   "Procter is best known for his series of police procedural novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Harry Martineau of the Granchester City Police. In his novels Granchester was an industrial city in the north of England. Procter based the city on Manchester. When his novel Hell Is a City (which was published in the United States with the title Somewhere in This City) was filmed in 1960 with Stanley Baker as Martineau, it was shot on-location in Manchester."
- Here are links to very brief reviews of a few of his novels:
  ~ Hurry the Darkness (HERE): "Well-handled irony."
  ~ The Ripper (HERE): "Top flight."
  ~ Killer at Large (HERE): "Good show."
  ~ The Devil Was Handsome (HERE): "Superb detection number."
  ~ A Body to Spare (HERE): "Fast motion all the way . . ."
  ~ The Graveyard Rolls (HERE): "Good straight-out police job . . ."
  ~ Two Men in Twenty (HERE): "An absolute knockout!"
  ~ Homicide Blonde (HERE): "Professional as usual . . ."
  ~ His Weight in Gold (HERE): ". . . excellent chase sequence."
See the Fantastic Fiction page (HERE) for more.

Friday, June 29, 2018

"The Charges Are Planetary Slavery and Mass Murder"

"Kill Me If You Can!"
By S. M. Tenneshaw (Randall Garrett, 1927-87).
First appearance: Imagination, June 1957.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at (HERE).

   "Every five years the Autarch in power was murdered. Bartol knew this was why he had been picked as a stand-in for the reigning tyrant!"

You'd better pay attention to that man behind the curtain—because he plans to send his androids to burn you down . . .

Comment: This one moves so fast, especially through the resolution, that you might experience reader's whiplash.

- Other stories that feature societies which approve of murder include Robert Sheckley's classic "Seventh Victim" (HERE) and Jeffrey Goddin's "Who Murders, Who Dreams" (HERE).
- Being as prolific as he was it's not surprising that we would bump into Gordon Randall Phillip David Garrett fairly often in our never-ending quest to find stories that combine crime fiction with other genres. Garrett seemed to delight in mashing science fiction together with tecfic, tales of espionage, and political intrigue; see (HERE) for ONTOS's latest encounter with him.