Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Timely Dying Clue

"Time Will Tell."
By Robert Arthur (1909-69; Wikipedia HERE and FictionMags Index HERE).

First appearance: Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine, 
May 1940.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "It was a slim reed, but it was all he could give us to go on."

The murder and robbery of an elderly shop owner would seem to have had no witnesses to testify about it—but then there's the testimony of that electric clock, "humming busily on the counter" . . .

Principal characters:
~ Hans Wetzel:

  "The clocks ticked on, but Hans Wetzel lay where he had fallen—behind the curtain that separated the front and rear halves of the store, hands stretched out as if grasping at something that he had not been able to catch or hold."
~ Lucas Lane:
  ". . . stared down at the body and the dried line of blood, and the question mark was mirrored in his mind. Who?—it asked. Why?"
~ The assistant M.E.:
  "If only all these timepieces could tell you something of what happened last night."
~ The suspects:
  ". . . Wetzel's son, and the old German who says he left his jewelry with Wetzel. The lawyer, too. And the lad who claims he only stopped in to have Wetzel look at his watch."
~ Sergeant Jernegan:
  "We've found those four, and they all say they was here, and the times they admit to are close enough to the times as given us so that we think we've got 'em all. That don't prevent, of course, somebody we ain't learned about have been here."


Note: The assistant M.E.'s statement is a perfect example of foreshadowing.

Typo: "Lane agreed with, with".

Resources:
- "Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight": A slight misquotation of the poem "Rock Me to Sleep" (1859) by Elizabeth Akers Allen, enormously popular during the American Civil War. (Poetry Foundation HERE and Wikipedia HERE).
- "an El at each end of the block": They're still around. "A railway that operates on a raised structure in order to permit passage of vehicles or pedestrians beneath it, especially one 
that is part of an urban mass transit system." (The Free Dictionary HERE).
- "there was no hope of getting any of the value of it out of Germany under the present laws": At the time, remember, Germany was being ruled by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "He had a wide influence among German-Americans . . .": There was a small but persistent undercurrent of sympathy in America during the '30s for the National Socialist cause. (Wikipedia HERE).
- We've already visited with Robert Arthur, Jr. a couple of times: "Midnight Visit" (HERE) and "Too Dumb to Be Fooled" (HERE).

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

"King of Thieves—King of Bloodsuckers—Extortioners—That's a Better Name for You!"

"The King of Thieves."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Magnus Ridolph No. 6.
First appearance: Startling Stories, November 1949.

Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
Reprints page (HERE).

Short story (11 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to page 98; it will be necessary to download the entire issue, 175 MB.)

     "Ridolph's in his element on Moritaba, where petty pilfery is the hall-
mark of citizenry and larceny reigns supreme!"

We've encountered other stories featuring societies where theft and even murder were acceptable, and sometimes actually required, social behavior; consequently, some of 
you may be mildly shocked by how easily Magnus Ridolph fits in with the social scene 
in Challa . . .

Principal characters:
~ Ellis B. Mellish:

  "You see, my friend, that's how I do things. I get what I go after."
~ Tomko:
  "Old Kanditter—that's the king—won't make any concessions whatever."
~ Kanditter, the King of Thieves:
  "He steal crown—he king. That is law of the Men-men."
~ The helicopter pilot:
  "Wouldn't ever have knowed you was a detective. You don't look the type."
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "You owe me a hundred thousand munits for the telex you filched from my property. 

I'll take double or nothing."

Resources:
- "the hot yellow light of Pi Aquarii": It's actually blue. To the Chinese, this star is associated with the tomb, while to the Arabs it's a tent. "Pi Aquarii, Latinized from π Aquarii, is the Bayer designation for a binary star in the equatorial constellation of Aquarius. This system has an apparent visual magnitude of a mean apparent magnitude of +4.57. Based upon parallax measurements, it is located at a distance of roughly 780 light-years (240 parsecs) from Earth." (Wikipedia HERE; also see Universe Guide HERE).
- "somewhere in Argo": A classical constellation, you might say. "Argo Navis (the Ship Argo), or simply Argo, was a large constellation in the southern sky that has since been divided into the three constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela. The genitive was 'Argus Navis,' abbrevi-ated 'Arg.' Flamsteed and other early modern astronomers called the constellation just Navis (the Ship), genitive 'Navis,' abbreviated 'Nav.' It was identified in Greek mythology with the Argo, the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts that sailed to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Our latest adventure with Magnus Ridolph was "The Howling Bounders" (HERE).


The bottom line:
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Saturday, March 21, 2020

"Just Like a Story-Book Detective, Aren't You?"

THE STORIES FEATURING Edward "Tiny" David of the Black Horse Troop of the New York State Police written by Robert R. Mill enjoyed a long run in Blue Book during the '30s and '40s, totaling nearly four dozen in number; most (but not all) of them, truth be told, weren't exactly of the breathless action variety, tending more toward pleasant, slice-of-life than pew!-pew! action pieces. We've decided to showcase a couple of "Tiny" David narratives with the word "murder" in them to see how much excitement of the cerebral kind they might generate and let you decide if they do . . .
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   "There was a snarl upon the face of the man in tweeds."

"Murder on the Island."
By Robert Mill (1895-1942).
Illustrations by V. E. Pyles (1891-1965; HERE).

First appearance: Blue Book, May 1933.
Lt. Edward "Tiny" David No. 2.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "In the center of the forehead there was a round hole surrounded by an irregular black circle."

Normally in murder mysteries the butler is above suspicion, and so it is in this case—except that he's the suspicious corpse . . .

Major characters:
~ Herbert Jenkins:
  ". . . a tall, thin man dressed in the livery of a butler."
~ Joseph Bahn:
  "I remember smiling as I thought that Jenkins would deliver even securities worth half a million upon the conventional silver tray."
~ Mildred Bahn:
  "My father dislikes publicity. I share that dislike."
~ Sergeant James Crosby:
  "He fell to the path without a sound."
~ Trooper Edward "Tiny" David:
  "He saw curiosity clash with murderous hate, and curiosity won."

~ ~ ~
   "Any fool would know this was an inside job."
   "Maybe any fool would."


"Murder at Dark Lake."
By Robert Mill (1895-1942).
Illustrations by Monte Crews (1888-1946; HERE).

First appearance: Blue Book, February 1935.
Lt. Edward "Tiny" David No. 7.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
     "Always suspect a male secretary. He's nearly always guilty—in the best magazine stories."

When they consider their own mortality, most people say they'd prefer to die serenely in bed, and the victim in our story probably shared that sentiment; it's also probable, though, that even he never anticipated how he was going to depart this vale of tears . . .

Major characters:
The victim:

~ Gordon Prescott:
  ". . . died instantly. The wound was inflicted with a long, slender knife, and it reached the heart. He was asleep when he was stabbed. You will want an autopsy, of course."
The doctor:
~ Dr. Hinds:

  "I was notified at once, and I was here half an hour later."
The suspects:
~ Louis Hamilton:

  "That's strange. I saw more than a thousand dollars in there this morning."
~ Julia Holmes:
  "I have nothing to say. You can't make me talk."

~ Harold Roberts:
  "I fear I can't duplicate the blind man of fiction."
~ Richard Dobson:
  "He didn't like me."
~ James Blood:
  ". . . the butler. Always suspect the butler. He's usually guilty, when the secretary isn't."

The law:
~ Lieutenant George Homer:
  "As long as I am in this outfit, you'll work."
~ Captain Field:
  "Humpf!"
~ Sergeant Edward "Tiny" David:
  ". . . produced a dagger with a long, slender blade. He held it just beneath the hilt as he placed it on the table before the Lieutenant. There was fresh blood upon the point."

--------------------
- According to the FictionMags Index, Robert R. Mill's first "Tiny" David story was "Enter: Tiny David" (a.k.a. "The Gilman Case") in the July 1929 Blue Book. PulpFlakes (HERE) fills us in: "Between 1933 and 1942, he [Robert R. Mill] published nearly 75 stories in Blue Book, an average of 8 a year and nearly 45 of them were 'Tiny' David stories. They must have been popular with the readers."
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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

"Many, Many Men and Women They've Killed"

"The Howling Bounders."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).

Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
Magnus Ridolph No. 5.
First appearance: Startling Stories, March 1949.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "How did you kill them? They're like iron."

The prospect of realizing a handsome profit on his investment leads Magnus Ridolph, always hard up for money, to purchase a ticholama plantation on Naos VI; at first it looks like a good business move, but then comes the growing realization that he has been the victim of a swindle, not to mention the very real threat of the murderous Howling Bounders. However, anyone hoping to get away with scamming him is foredoomed to underestimate the formid-able intellect of Magnus Ridolph . . .

Major characters:
~ Gerald Blantham:

  "When he saw Magnus Ridolph, he shaped his features into a frame of grave solicitude."
~ Chook:
  "Them the Howling Bounders. Very bad. Kill you, kill me. Kill everything."
~ Captain Solinksy of the T.C.I.:
  "Hope you succeed. No one ever has before."
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "Is it my end, then, to be fired like a piece of crockery in a kiln? No. I shall undoubtedly suffocate first."

Resources:
- Our four previous postings about Magnus Ridolph are (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
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Thursday, March 12, 2020

"Some Months Previously Henry Brownrigg Had Decided That He Must Become a Widower Before the End of the Year"

HERE'S A RELATIVELY rare story by Margery Allingham, one that doesn't feature her greatest creation, Albert Campion; instead, we have a suspenseful narrative about a serial philanderer, a carefully-planned murder plot, and why . . .

"They Never Get Caught."
By Margery Allingham (1904-66; Wikipedia HERE).

First appearance: Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine, November 1934.
Reprinted in Argosy (U.K.), August 1941; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (EQMM), June 1946; EQMM "Overseas Edition for the Armed Forces," June 1946; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #1 (1960). [FictionMags data.]

Collected in Mr. Campion and Others (1939).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at FadedPage (HERE; go down to page 236).

     "That is the peculiar sort of idiot mistake I have yet to make. I haven’t reached my wife’s level yet."

The perfect murder, that tantalizing but unattainable goal of hubristic killers everywhere . . .

Major characters:
~ Henry Brownrigg:

  "You love me. I love you and you love me. You know that."
~ Phyllis Bell, the "rather pretty" one:
  ". . . was different from the others. He would lose her. Unless that obstacle were removed."
~ Millie Brownrigg, the obstacle:
  ". . . was so simple-minded, so utterly unsuspecting."
~ Doctor Crupiner:
  ". . . was a vast, dusty old man."
~ Bill Perry:
  ". . . did not think Millie was half so daft as the Old Man made out."


Noteworthy passages:
   "At the outset of his present project he had thought of forgoing it until his plan was completed, but he realized the absolute necessity of adhering rigidly to his normal 
course of life, so that there could be no hook, however small, on which the garment 
of suspicion could catch and take hold."
   ". . . unprepared for the savagery of the sudden pain in his breast when he saw her, 
and the writhing, vicious, mindless passion which checked his breathing and made 
his eyelids feel sticky and his mouth dry, frightened him a little also."
   ". . . the first glimmering of the dreadful truth percolated his startled mind."
   ". . . to himself he was a quiet, all-powerful ghost, seated, comfortable and protected, 
in the shell of his body, able to see and comprehend everything, but too mighty and too important to direct any of the drivelling little matters which made up his immediate 
world."
   "In a few minutes now he would attain the peak of that ascendancy over his fellow-

mortals when the body, so important to them, was for him literally nothing; not even 
a dull encumbrance, not even a nerveless covering but a nothingless, an unimportant, 
unnoticed element."

Typo: "signed his name on the back of the little blue bill with a nourish".

Resources:
- "a small percentage of digitalin": "A standardized mixture of digitalis glycosides used as a cardiotonic in the treatment of congestive heart failure." (Medical Dictionary HERE).
- Eternal Triangle: "A love triangle (also called a romantic love triangle or a romance triangle or an eternal triangle) is usually a romantic relationship involving three or more people. While it can refer to two people independently romantically linked with a third, it usually implies that each of the three people has some kind of relationship to the other two." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a Thérèse Raquin paralytic": A reference to an 1868 novel by Emile Zola. "They must also tend Madame Raquin, who suffered a stroke after Camille's death. She suffers a second stroke and becomes completely paralyzed (except for her eyes), after which Thérèse and Laurent accidentally reveal the murder in her presence during one of their many arguments." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Nine drachms of the tincture": A druggist's (or British chemist's) measure. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Even the great Tardieu had been unable to state positively if it was digitalin that had been used in the Pommeraise case": Auguste Ambroise Tardieu was "a French medical doctor 
and the pre-eminent forensic medical scientist of the mid-19th century." (Wikipedia HERE). 
For more about the "Pommeraise case," see Geri Walton's article (HERE).
- "Crupiner would not advise a P.M.": That is, a post-mortem examination or autopsy. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "one white with a deckle edge": "Paper with a feathered edge is described as having a deckle edge, in contrast to a cut edge." (Wikipedia HERE).
- A couple of Mystery*File reviews of Mr. Campion collections are (HERE) and (HERE; republished on the GAD Wiki).
- The collection Mr. Campion and Others (1939; online at FadedPage HERE) contains:

~ Mr. Campion's Case Book, 9 stories:
  (1) "The Case of the Widow"
  (2) "The Case of the Name on the Wrapper"
  (3) "The Case of the Hat Trick"
  (4) "The Case of the Question Mark"
  (5) "The Case of the Old Man in the Window"
  (6) "The Case of the White Elephant"
  (7) "The Border-line Case"
  (8) "The Case of the Frenchman’s Gloves"
  (9) "The Case of the Longer View"
~ and 5 non-Campion stories:
  (10) "It Didn’t Work Out"
  (11) "They Never Get Caught" (above)
  (12) "Publicity"
  (13) "The Perfect Butler"
  (14) "The Mistress in the House".

- FadedPage's collection of Albert Campion novels and short stories is (HERE), while the GAD Wiki has more (HERE and HERE).
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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

"Class of You . . . Purpose . . . Kill . . . Class of Us"

"The Sub-Standard Sardines."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71).

Magnus Ridolph No. 4.
First appearance: Startling Stories, January 1949.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (14 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to magazine page 98; it will be necessary to download the entire issue, 125 MB).
(Note: Pages faded but readable.)

     "From behind came a tremendous explosion—jarring Magnus Ridolph like a hammer blow."

It's a clear case of sabotage at the canning factory on Chandaria, but the owner isn't con-
vinced it's necessarily his partner, the man who wants to buy him out, and asks Magnus Ridolph to investigate; for Ridolph, this assignment would have gone down as "probably 
the low point in his career" had it not been for the assistance provided by a shoal of the 
finny tribe and his own not inconsiderable Doctor Dolittle skills . . .

Major characters:
~ Joel Karamor:
  "Magnus Ridolph, accustomed to extremes of deception and self-interest, found him a refreshing variant."
~ George Donnels:
  "My name's Donnels. I sign your check."
~ Naile:
  "Ah, that's the wise one! Sometimes I think he knows more than I do."
~ The stocky, bald man:

  "With hundreds of tons of fish swarming of their own free will into his cannery he wants 
to go out and kill more? I hardly think so. Unless he's crazier'n I think."
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "I . . . come . . . purpose . . . help . . . class of you."


These caught our eye:
  ". . . spacefreight is not especially expensive."
  "A cheap telescreen at the end of the room displayed a buxom young woman, singing and contorting her body with approximately equal vehemence."
  "The mist wandered away, vague as a sleepwalker."
  ". . . the Barnett Method for Establishing Communication with Alien Intelligences."
  "Valuable as the charts were, conveying an exact sense was like repairing a watch with a pipe-wrench."
  "I detect the Ridolph touch in this scheme. The characteristic lack of principle, the calculated outing of orthodox practise . . ."


Typos: "in anohter"; "came clase"; "this gave Daniels"; "attack Daniels".

Resources:
- Sardines: A very popular, and useful, fish species, even on another planet. "Sardines or pilchards are a nutrient-rich, small, oily fish widely consumed by humans and as forage fish by larger fish species, seabirds and marine mammals. Sardines are a source of omega-3 fatty acids. They are commonly served in cans, but fresh ones are often grilled, pickled, or smoked. Sardines are related to herrings, both in the family Clupeidae. The term sardine was first used in English during the early 15th century, and may come from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, around which sardines were once abundant. The terms sardine and pilchard are not precise, and what is meant depends on the region. . . . Sardines are commercially fished for a variety of uses: bait, immediate consumption, canning, drying, salting, smoking, and reduction into fish meal or fish oil. The chief use of sardines is for human consumption, fish meal is used as animal feed, while sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish, and linoleum." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a gigantic carved tourmaline": Semi-precious, it is. "Tourmaline is a crystalline boron silicate mineral compounded with elements such as aluminium, iron, magnesium, sodium, lithium, or potassium. Tourmaline is classified as a semi-precious stone and the gemstone can be found in a wide variety of colors. . . . Gem and specimen tourmaline is mined chiefly in Brazil and Africa. Some placer material suitable for gem use comes from Sri Lanka and India. In addition to Brazil, tourmaline is mined in Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozam-
bique, Namibia, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Belitung Island - Indonesia and Malawi." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Fomalhaut's fourth planet": You've noticed, haven't you, how there's something fishy about the name of Rhodope's parent star. "Fomalhaut, designation Alpha Piscis Austrini (α Piscis Austrini, abbreviated Alpha PsA, α PsA) is the brightest star in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus, the 'Southern Fish', and one of the brightest stars in the sky. It is a class A star on the main sequence approximately 25 light-years (7.7 pc) from the Sun as measured by the Hipparcos astrometry satellite." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE). Our author would no doubt have reveled in the name given to the extrasolar planet circling Fomalhaut just a few years ago, i.e., Dagon, "a Semitic deity, often represented as half-man, half-fish." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "In the infamous clinic on the planet Pandora—": One Hollywood producer has taken a fancy to the name; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the Judas-goat which leads the sheep into the abbatoir": As you may already know, the name has a Biblical origin. "The Judas goat is trained to associate with sheep or cattle, leading them to a specific destination. In stockyards, a Judas goat will lead sheep to slaughter, while its own life is spared." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Like one of our previous Magnus Ridolph selections, the resolution of today's story puts 
us in mind of a Star Trek episode—but we'll let you figure out which one.
- Our three previous postings about Magnus Ridolph are (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
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Thursday, March 5, 2020

"It Was, I Think, the Cleverest Scheme I Have Ever Come Across"

RONALD STANDISH, the less vigorous and more cerebral creation of Bulldog Drummond originator "Sapper," first appeared in 1923 (we think), with his swansong being in "Sapper's" final Ronald Standish collection in 1936, a year before the author's decease; the action in today's story centers on and revolves around a murder in . . .

"The Music-Room."
By "Sapper" (H. C. McNeile, 1888-1937).

First appearance: Unknown.
Collected in Ask for Ronald Standish (1936; HERE and HERE;

12 stories).
Short story.
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (RGL) (HERE; HTML).


     "He was lying on the floor."
     "Lying! What under the sun do you mean? Why was he lying on the floor?"
     "Because he was dead already."


Sir John regales his house party guests with a "ghost story," which he says might be true, about a strange case of murder in the old family digs almost half a century before:

  "Stretched on his back in the middle of the room was a dead man. But it was the manner of his death that made the sight so terrible. The lower part of his face had literally been battered into a pulp; the assault must have been one of unbelievable ferocity. I say assault advisedly, since it was obvious at once that there could be no question of suicide or accident. It was murder, and a partic-
ularly brutal one at that. But when they'd got that far, they found things weren't so easy.
  "From the doctor's examination it appeared that the man had been dead for about thirty-six hours. Jobson [the lodge-keeper] had not been to the house the preceding day, and so it was clear that the crime had been committed two nights before the body was found. But how had the murderer escaped? The door, as I've told you, was locked on the inside, which showed that the key had been deliberately taken from the outside and placed on the in. The windows were all bolted, and a very short examination proved that it was impossible to fasten them from outside the house. Therefore the murderer could not have escaped through a window and shut it after him. How, then, had he escaped?
  "I know what you're all going to say. Through the secret passage, of course. All I can tell you is that the most exhaustive search failed to reveal one. Short of actually pulling down the walls, they did everything they possibly could, so 

I gathered from the man who told me the yarn."

. . . but, as a skeptical Ronald Standish and the other house guests will soon find out, 
this charming tale, although it's just an easily debunked story, is about to have a deadly 
sequel . . .

Major characters:
~ Sir John Crawsham:
  "We've got, I believe, a secret passage of sorts. I've never bothered to look for it myself . . ."
~ David, Michael, and Anne:
  "Fortunately, neither of them was of the type that is spoiled by wealth, and two nicer fellows it would have been hard to meet. David was the elder and quieter of the two! Michael—a harum-scarum youth, though quite shrewd when it came to business—spent most of his spare time proposing to Anne Horley, who had started the ghost conversation at dinner."
~ Bob, the narrator:
  "Even now, after a considerable lapse of time, I can still feel the stunning shock of the tragedy that took place that night."
~ The doctor:
  "It is, of course, clear what happened: so clear that it is hardly necessary for me to say it."
~ Ronald Standish:
  "That doctor is a fool."


Challenge to the Reader:
  Read Sir John's "ghost story" again and supply your own solution.

Resources:
- Our last encounter with Ronald Standish was also our first, "The Mystery of the Slip-Coach," a locked-train problem (HERE), which is also online at RGL (HERE).

The bottom line:
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