Friday, March 23, 2018

"Strikes Me Both of Those Birds Have Skeletons in Their Mental Closets"

"The Monolith Hotel Mystery."
By Lloyd Lonergan (1870-1937).
First appearance: The Black Mask, August 1922.
Reprinted in Black Mask (U.K.), January 1929.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF).

"A detective who falls down as bad as you have done ought to jump into the river."
The discovery of that body in Suite 817 seems to have a fairly straightforward solution, but it isn't long before several other tantalizingly plausible suspects suddenly start popping up; too many cooks, they say, spoil the broth, and while this case seems to have too many people trying to serve up a conviction, what's really needed is a detective who knows how to, well, detect . . .

~ Daniel Henderson, the little man in a hurry:
  "Don't bother about the change. Give it to the bellboys."
~ Pennington Wilson, the room clerk:
  "Just now he ran down, checked out in a tearing hurry, with some silly story about having to go to Brooklyn. Nobody in Brooklyn is awake at this hour of the night."

~ Spencer, the house detective:
  "You'll get the gravy, all right, for I'm going to put you wise to a line of stuff that you must seem to find out for yourself. Get me?"

~ Mrs. Kenneth Johnson, the corpus delicti:
  "On the floor was the body of a well-dressed young woman, and a bullet wound in the side of her head showed clearly the cause of death."

~ Kenneth Johnson, the grieving husband:
  ". . . his wife was taking a nap and he didn't want to annoy her. That's his story. But, if Mrs. Johnson was taking a nap, why did she have on her hat when the body was found?"

~ Marty O'Donohue, "a Headquarters sleuth":
  "Call up the precinct, Spencer. It's their job. Good-night."

~ "Big Jim" Mahoney, police captain:
  "Desmond, there's some tall explaining coming from you. Headquarters has put it all over us on this case, and is giving us the merry laugh. What have you done? Nothing!"

~ Desmond, West Forty-seventh Street detective:
  "The murderer is now resting in one of our best little cells, and we have all night to chat with him, for we don't need to take him to court until the morning."

~ The District Attorney:
  "To tell the truth, it looks to me as if all of these three men are guilty, but it is also equally clear that if one of them is the murderer, the others are innocent."

~ James Dineen, Inspector of Detectives:
  "In the meantime I'll get everybody busy and see what we can dig up."

~ Tom Halloran, retired police captain:
  "Your worries are over on that particular case. This bright young nephew of mine has cleaned it up."

~ Neil Mooney, "a real, honest-to-God detective":
  "Of course this was only an idea of mine, based on the assumption that all three men under arrest had told absolutely true stories."

~ Nora Riley, "the girl":
  ". . . the whole bunch were out-classed by one little Irish chambermaid and one big Irish policeman."

- FictionMags credits Lloyd F. Lonergan with eight stories in Black Mask (1921-22) and three in Mystery Magazine (1923)—after that, silence; also, we're assuming that the entries in Wikipedia (HERE) and the IMDb (HERE) apply to our author.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"It Must Be a Great Consolation to You to Reflect That My Action, While Morally Reprehensible, Does Not Constitute Murder"

"The Mallinson Case."
By K. H. Hartley (?-?).
First appearance: Worlds of Tomorrow #24, Summer 1970.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text is faded.)

"Never again will that same individual go about in the world—he has forever been subtracted from the human sum."
In today's legal system, there seems to be a conscious effort to make the punishment fit the crime; in the case of the Crown v. Commander Mallinson of the Survey Service, however, the question is: Does the crime fit the punishment? . . .

Comment: The basic premise of this story was also the basis of a Babylon 5 episode (HERE) twenty-five years later.
- Our story is the only one credited to K. H. Hartley, whoever he or she is or was (HERE).

The bottom line: "It was wrong. It was like arresting the gun for murder."
The Player on the Other Side

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Already It Was No More Than a Puddle of Heavy Mist, Warping in Slow Tendrils Out the Slightly Open Window to Mingle with the Fog"

THE ORIGINAL BERSERKER, according to an online dictionary, was "an ancient Norse warrior who fought in a wild frenzy." SFF author Fred Saberhagen took that basic notion
and, as Wikipedia notes (HERE), built "a series of space opera science fiction short stories and novels in which robotic self-replicating machines strive to destroy all life"—stories like this one, which features a couple of famous characters you might recognize . . .

"Metal Murderer."
By Fred Saberhagen (1930-2007).
First appearance: Omni, January 1980 as "Adventure of the Metal Murderer."
Reprinted many times since (HERE).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Baen Books (HERE: HTML).

"The temple of Earth's safety had been horribly profaned."
If you bear in mind the story's locale ("within one hundred kilometers of fifty-one degrees, eleven minutes north latitude; zero degrees, seven minutes west longitude"), you might be able to anticipate some of what's about to happen—but probably not all of it . . .
- The late Fred Saberhagen and his Berserker Saga were and still are quite popular; for plenty of information about them both see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and a homepage (HERE).

- The chess-playing automaton in our story was doubtless inspired by the infamous one that was the subject of an exposé by Edgar Allan Poe (HERE) and (HERE).

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"So We Just Had to Page the Murderer—and He Comes with All the Evidence!"

"Page the Murderer."
By C. K. M. Scanlon (housename).
First appearance: Popular Detective, April 1937.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at PulpGen (HERE).

"Years Pass and the Ways of Men Part – But the Hideous Poison of Vengeance Remains Alive!"
Sometimes all you have to do to catch a killer is to call out his name . . .

- The Pulp Wiki briefly discusses our author's alias (HERE)

Monday, March 19, 2018

"They Were His First Burglars, and They Rather Shocked His Preconceived Notions of the Type"

"Mr. Penfound's Two Burglars."
By E. A. Bennett (Arnold Bennett, 1867-1931).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, December 1899.
Short short story (6 pages, 4 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

"You go and take yer tale and yer pistols and yer bloomin' burglars somewhere else. 'Ear?"
Like millions of other citizens from the beginning of time who've been victimized by criminals, Mr. Penfound will come to wonder: Where's a cop when you need one? . . .
- For information about London's coffee-stalls at the time of our story, see the late Dr. Bruce Rosen's article on the Victorian History website (HERE):
   "The Victorians were 'fast food' consumers, but what they ate
came largely from individual purveyors on the streets of London
and the other large cities. Food and drink was readily available
at all hours of the day and night, purchased from individual
entrepreneurs. . . . For those who were either up late or rose
early there were the coffee stalls.  Some opened as early as
midnight, while others did not start trading until three or four
in the morning. The former appealed to 'night-walkers—fast
gentlemen and loose girls' while those that opened in the
morning were more likely to be patronized by working men."
- We last met up with Arnold Bennett this past January (HERE).

Friday, March 16, 2018

"If Anybody'd Murdered 'im, 'ow Could 'e Possibly 'ave Left the Train?"

YESTERDAY Fred White spun out the tale of an apparently impossible crime involving murder and robbery aboard a moving train; today he goes one step further with a story
of murder, robbery, and blackmail aboard the Northern Express . . .

"One Foggy Night."
By Fred M. White (1859-1935).
First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, May 1916.
Short story (17 pages as a PDF).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE).

"I did it, right enough, and I don't know that I regret it, either."
Superficially, every bit of evidence would seem to point to suicide as explaining the death of a reclusive London businessman aboard the Northern Express en route to Newcastle—until the case is taken up by a wily Scotland Yard inspector who understands the victim's psychology, the significance of a torn sheet of white paper at the crime scene, the fog, railway tunnel repairs, an empty safe, and the numbers 18975. "There are," he assures us, "no trivial details in our business."

The cast:
~ Joe, the ticket collector:
  ". . . there's a passenger all by 'imself in a first-class carriage dahn there, and 'e's dead. Looks to me as if 'e'd bin murdered."
~ The guard:
  "Murdered be hanged! That's impossible. Why, the train 'asn't stopped since we left London, an' there wasn't no murdered man in the train then, I'll take my oath."
~ Jabez Thornton, the dearly departed:
  "He was a man who lived by line and rule, with one object in life, and that the piling up of money. His business as a money-lender appeared to be somewhat extensive, but that branch of the concern had been carried on entirely by the dead man at his cottage, through the medium of the post office."
~ Inspector Thomas Fadden:
  "To the ordinary eye the carriage conveyed nothing. Fadden, however, examined it with the greatest care, especially the woodwork on the inside frame of the windows, and, when he had finished, he smiled with the air of a man who feels that he has not been wasting his time."
~ Mary Gaylord:
  ". . . a little, faded woman with a very white and pathetic face, that must have been pretty and attractive before care and trouble had aged it so terribly. The woman's eyes had a suggestion of fear in them as she stood before Fadden in a neat little sitting-room, waiting for him to speak."
~ Richard Gaylord:
  "The man was bloodshot as to his eyes, and unshaven, and obviously had not yet recovered from what he himself would term 'a thick night'."
A clew.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"There Are Limits, Of Course, Both to a Novelist's Imagination and a Clever Thief's Process of Invention"

"The Night Express: The Story of a Bank Robbery."
By Fred M. White (1859-1935).
First appearance: Golden Stories: A Selection of the Best Fiction by the Foremost Writers (1909).
Novelette (23 pages as a PDF).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE: HTML).

(Artwork by BelleDeese.)
"There was a hole with something horribly red and slimy oozing from it."
After a man is murdered and eight thousand pounds of bullion, along with the killer, vanish from a train that never goes below fifty miles per hour, there seems to be no possible way it could have been done—but a smart detective, playing a long shot ("the most amazing piece of luck I have ever had"), nets, you could say, the guilty bird before he takes wing . . .

~ Mr. George Skidmore:
  ". . . of the Imperial Bank, had his share of ordinary courage, but he had an imagination, too, and he particularly disliked these periodical trips to branch banks, in convoy, so to speak. He took no risks."
~ Catesby:
  "Two of the carriages in the coach are quite full, as you see, and the other two are reserved. As a matter of fact, my lord, we are taking a body down to Lydmouth. Gentleman who is going to be buried there. And the other carriage is for the Imperial Bank of Scotland. Cashier going up north with specie, you understand."
(Artwork by Philip D. Hawkins.)
~ Joseph Bianca:
  ". . . a matter the most inexplicable. I gave him up. From the very first I gave him up. If the guard Catesby was not the guilty person, then I admit I have no theory."
~ "a laborer in a roadside public house":
  "Thousands and thousands of duck and teel and widgeon they catches at this time of year. There's miles of nets along the road—great big nets like fowl runs."
~ Inspector Merrick:
  ". . . he was after what looked like a million to one chance. But then Merrick was a detective with an imagination, which was one of the reasons why he had been appointed to the job. It was essentially a case for the theoretical man. It baffled all the established rules of the game."
- The sensational Percy Lefroy Mapleton railway murder case of 1881 (HERE and HERE) gets a mention in our story. (Note: As far as we can determine, the town of Lydmouth is an invention of the author; there is, however, a Lynmouth in the same general vicinity.)
- There's more than just a passing resemblance between this railway crime and the Great Gold Robbery of 1855; see Wikipedia for more background on the actual event (HERE) and the 1978 film made about it (HERE; SPOILERS).
- It has been well over a year since we last encountered Fred Merrick (just like the Inspector!) White with his story about a multi-talented policeman (HERE).

The bottom line: "The great green and gold serpent with the brilliant electric eyes fought its way sinuously into the throat of the wet and riotous night."
  — From our story


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

". . . Even Ten Seconds Can Mean a Great Deal . . ."

"10 Seconds from Nowhere."
By David Wright O'Brien (1918-44).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, July 1941.
Reprinted in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Winter 1941.
Short short story (8 pages as a PDF).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE: HTML and HERE: EPUB) and (HERE).
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)

"Keep your bungling paws off that machine!"
It's like what that guy in a movie once said: "Don't fool around with something when you don't know what it is."
- If he hadn't been killed in combat, David Wright O'Brien would have been a major voice in SFF in the post-war era.

- Repetition is one thing, but time loops can be a real nightmare; see Wikipedia (HERE)
and (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the Edge interview with physicist Paul Davies (HERE),
and (we couldn't resist) TV Tropes (HERE).
- Our last visit with O'Brien was just over a week ago (HERE).

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fitzgerald's First Felonious Fledgling Flight

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD is justly famous for The Great Gatsby (1925) and his other stories of the Jazz Age, but few know that he also wrote fantasies such as "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (online HERE) and even some crime fiction; indeed, his first published story, dealing with murder, is the one we've featured below:

"The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage."
By F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940).
First appearance: Now and Then (St. Paul Academy), October 1909.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March 1960 and Ellery Queen's Mystery Annual #15 (1960).
Collected in The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1965).
Short short story (6 pages as a PDF).
Online at Famous (and Forgotten) Fiction (HERE) (HTML).
Be kind to our author; he was, after all, only a teenager at the time . . .
- It's hard not to find information about Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald on the Interweb: Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE).
- Bob Gay at Famous (and Forgotten) Fiction does a good job of characterizing our story:
   "Scott was only 13 years old at the time of its writing and the fledgling
effort shows the influence of the popular mystery writers of the time,
including Doyle and Poe. The story itself contains some of the stylistic
traits that Fitzgerald would use in his later writings, but, although the
work shows youthful enthusiasm, and a good premise, the tale itself
is a mere curiosity due to numerous plot holes and the inconclusiveness
of the ending—reading in many ways like the rough outline for a longer

Monday, March 12, 2018

"You Don't Mean to Tell Me That You Drench That Rag with Chloroform and Put It Over People's Faces?"

"The Escaping Burglar."
By Don Marquis (1878-1937).
First appearance: Collier's, May 12, 1928.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 1954, as "The Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove."
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE; scroll down to page 58).
"You can't smoke cigarettes in bed, any more than you can eat crackers, without unpleasant results."
A burglar should always be careful about whom he intends to burgle—very careful . . . very, very careful . . .
~ ~ ~
"An Old Charge."
By Don Marquis (1878-1937).
First appearance: Collier's, August 4, 1928.
Reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1983.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

"Who would have thought the bum was worth $60,000 in his stocking feet?"
We're always telling ourselves that we'll do better, that if we can just get that lucky break life will be different; for Malkin, it's practically a prayer—and when, at long last, that chance does come along, the only things standing between him and a better life are a drunken bum and a gun . . .

- Wikipedia has more about the life of Donald Robert Perry Marquis (HERE), who had the distinction of having a ship of the United States Navy to be named for him (HERE).


Friday, March 9, 2018

"A Man Pulls You from Certain Death—and Instead of Thanking Him You Arrest Him!"

"Out of the Smash-Up."
By Phil. Ashford (?-?).
First appearance: Top-Notch Magazine, February 1, 1912.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Pulp Magazine Project (HERE, slow-load PDF; scroll down to page 30).

"I'm not much on sentiment, and I always scoff at it, but, jingo! she's got the softest hands and the most healing touch Heaven ever gave to woman!"
  Chapter I: "The Hunter and the Game"
  Chapter II: "Difference of Opinion"
  Chapter III: "Not Scheduled"
  Chapter IV: "Professional Honor"
  Chapter V: "A Prisoner Taken"
  Chapter VI: "In the Cigar Case"

Nine hundred dollars are missing and it's Detective Cole's duty to put the cuffs on the malefactor; how far, though, does that duty extend when, contrary to his usual experience, Cole is confronted with genuine contrition from the thief, especially since, as he insists,
he's not the sentimental type . . .

- The five stories that FictionMags credits to Phil. Ashford all appeared in Top-Notch, 1910-12, with "Out of the Smash-Up" being the last—and that is, for the moment, all we know about our author.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

"Trouble Is Fun When You’ve Got the Perfect Escape Hatch"

"The Miracle of Ivar Avenue."
By John Kessel (born 1950).
First appearance: Intersections—The Sycamore Hill Anthology (1996).
Multiple reprints (HERE).
Novelette (22 pages).
Online at Baen Books (HERE) (HTML).
(Note: Parental caution: Some strong language.)

"You should have seen us trying to get the body out of the car and onto the boat. What a comedy of errors."
STORIES about a hardboiled alcoholic detective who is divorced and not enjoying life are fairly common, as are tales with a Hollywood background—but there can't be too many stories about a hardboiled alcoholic Hollywood detective trying to collar a dead man
who's doing his level best to avoid being suspected of his own murder . . .
Typo: "Could an impostor could pick up"
- John Kessel's SFFnal accomplishments are the subject of a Wikipedia article (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); he also has a webpage (HERE).
- Yes, there really was a Preston Sturges; his career is limned (HERE), and one of his most famous films, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), which figures heavily in our story, is detailed (HERE).
"You know, he looks like that director, Sturges."
   "Sturges was a temperamental talent who fully recognized his own worth.
He had invested in entrepreneurial projects such as an engineering company and The Players, a popular restaurant and nightclub at 8225 Sunset Boulevard, which were both net losses. At one point the third highest paid man in Ameri-ca—for writing, directing, producing, and numerous other Hollywood proj-ects—he was often known to borrow money (from his stepfather and studio, amongst others)."
(Weird Fiction Review image.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"All Crime Is Stupid"

AS WE'VE SAID BEFORE, whenever possible we like to seek out the first appearance of a mystery story in a magazine, especially when the periodical's editors have commissioned artwork to accompany it; you've probably read the following EQ story in one of the cousins' collections, but you might never seen it in its debut . . .

"The Hollow Dragon."
By Ellery Queen (1905-71; 1905-82).
First appearance: Redbook Magazine, December 1936.
Artwork by William Reusswig.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1959; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (Australia), August 1959; and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (U.K.), August 1959.
Collected in The New Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940).
Short story (9 pages).
Online at starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

"This business of the pilfered door-stop is provocative."
When a well-to-do businessman disappears under a cloud of suspicion, that's one thing; but when a soapstone door-stop vanishes with him, it's enough to get Ellery Queen, pince-nezed supersleuth, searching for an even greater crime . . .
The likely suspects (and one sleuth):
~ Mr. Jito Kagiwa:
  "Only when ruin stared him in the eyes did his resolution waver, and then it was too late to do more than salvage the battered wreck."

~ Bill Gallent:
  "He must have gone crazy."

~ Miss Letitia Gallent:
  "I always said that slinky yellow devil would come to no good."

~ Miss Merrivel:
  "But I've always been a fool, and I did open the door; and the moment I opened it and gawped like an idiot into the darkness, something hit me on the head."

~ Mr. Cooper:
  "Look here, old man: What has that confounded door-stop to do with Kagiwa's disappear-ance?"
~ Mr. Ellery Queen:
  "This mess of statistics means everything to me. Pity if it had been lost. It's like the Rosetta Stone—it's the key to an otherwise mystifying set of facts. The old adage was wrong. It isn't safety that you find in numbers, but enlightenment."

- Ellery Queen Reader at Reading Ellery Queen (HERE; SPOILERS) doesn't think much of this story:
   "The plot is not too interesting, and neither are the characters, or even the mystery. Perhaps the cousins were finding that simple stories, without any need for complex thought, were the ones that popular magazines would pay top dollar for. Maybe Hollywood was beginning to take its toll on Ellery Queen."
- On the other hand, Mike Grost (HERE) thinks more highly of it:
   ". . . Ellery solves this case twice, as in 'The Teakwood Case' and The Greek Coffin Mystery. And once again, the two explanations interact in ingenious ways. The twin solutions are less complex than those of the earlier stories: this tale is constructed on a smaller scale than earlier works. But it is still a satisfying instance of Queen's imagination."
- Our last encounter with the works of EQ (as distinct from their magazine) was about a year and a half ago (HERE).