Wednesday, October 13, 2021

"I Believe That the Writings of Conan Doyle Have Done More Than Any Other One Thing To Stimulate Active Interest in the Scientific and Analytical Investigation of Crime"

CONAN DOYLE didn't invent the modern fictional detective; that honor goes to Edgar Allan Poe. Doyle took Poe's template, however, and expanded it into new literary dimensions that Poe didn't explore due to other pressing matters or simply a lack of interest. Like it or not (and for some reason some people don't), Sherlock Holmes's adventures introduced to the public at large new methods of detective work that have since become standard. As Sir Sydney Smith, a medico-legal expert, notes: "An author may feel satisfaction when his fiction is accepted as true to life. Conan Doyle had the rare, perhaps unique, distinction of seeing life become true to his fiction."
Ahead of his time.
For some criminalists, however, Holmes is pure fantasy tending to impair police work:
  "It is to be regretted that the methods of investigating crimes have not kept pace with the methods of their execution. As a rule, government authorities are still dwelling in the fantastic atmosphere of the super-detective of the Sherlock Holmes type who is supposed to know everything even before it happened, and whose principal investigative asset seems to be that rather mysterious faculty of 'intuition' which, like an X-ray, penetrates under the thief's skin. Bernard De Quiros calls this the empirical phase of investigation, as distinguished from and opposed to the scientific method.
  "However erroneous the belief in the 'super-detective panacea' may be, it has captured the imagination of the dilettantes of criminology and has helped to entrench inefficacy in the field of criminal research."
  — Boris Brasol (1926), "Foundations of Criminology" (HERE).
Others, though, have been willing to cut the Sage of Baker Street some slack:
  "Admirers of Sherlock Holmes know by this time that their hero was not infallible; they ought to know that methods of crime-detection have advanced in fifty years; but Holmes is at least as modern as 1904, and even the studious background and other values of this book do not convince us that Sherlock Holmes's methods (or even his techniques) were inferior to those of his contemporary . . ."
  — Jay Finley Christ (1946), review (HERE) of Theodor Reik's The Unknown Murderer (1945).

As you can see, professional criminologists have experienced an adience-avoidance relationship with Conan Doyle's master detective. On the one hand, they find Holmes's primitive forensics methods dismissible simply because, after all, they are primitive, while at the same time lauding Doyle for laying a foundation for the popular acceptance of their chosen field. Below we have several criminologists displaying the latter, more tolerant view of Sherlock's achievements:

"The Manly Art of Observation and Deduction."
By John C. Hogan and Mortimer D. Schwartz.
First appearance: Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Spring 1964.
Article (9 pages).
Online at the Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons (HERE).
     "If I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all."

Our authors review quite a few instances of the mental processes by which Sherlock Holmes arrives at his brilliant solutions, concluding with an admonition to all criminalists:
  "Let the investigator first learn to master thoroughly two of the three qualities which Mr. Holmes said are necessary for the ideal detective the power of observation and that of deduction before undertaking the more advanced mental and moral aspects of the art which present the greatest difficulties and which require proficiency in the third quality-namely, not to be wanting in knowledge!"
~ ~ ~
"Sherlock Holmes: Father of Scientific Crime and Detection."
First appearance: Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1970).
Article (8 pages).
Online at the Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons (HERE).
(Note: WARNING! SPOILERS for "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.")
     "Aside from some admitted personal bias, I feel a strong case can be made that the famous sleuth had a decided stimulating influence on the develop-ment of modern scientific crime detection."

Not many authors can be said to have been ahead of their time:
  "A review of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels will quickly reveal the wide spectrum of scientific methods and interests utilized by Holmes in his many cases. Almost every one of the forensic sciences as we know them today is touched upon in some manner or the other. While the application of the many forensic sciences is standard procedure today, they were not so in Holmes' day."

Typos: "rather then"; "it's [for its]".

References and resources:
- The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes is online (HERE).
- Theodor Reik was a colleague of Sigmund Freud, with all that entails:
  "Reik's first major book was The Compulsion to Confess (1925), in which he argued that neurotic symptoms such as blushing and stuttering can be seen as unconscious confessions that express the patient's repressed impulses while also punishing the patient for communicating these impulses. Reik further explored this theme in The Unknown Murderer (1932), in which he examined the process of psychologically profiling unknown criminals. He argued out that because of unconscious guilt, criminals often leave clues that can lead to their identification and arrest" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Boris Brasol's name will forever be linked to a despicable document; born in Imperial Russia, Brasol settled in the United States after the Revolution:
  "Brasol pursued a successful career as a literary critic and criminologist and published several books in each of these fields" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Other mentioned individuals: [Harry] Ashton-Wolfe (HERE), Henry Morton Robinson (HERE), Sir Sydney Smith (HERE), Alphonse Bertillon (HERE), Edmond Locard (HERE), Hans Gross (HERE), Paul Uhlenhuth (HERE), [Sir William] Herschel (HERE), [Henry] Faulds (HERE), [Johann Evangelist] Purkinje (HERE), [Francis] Galton (HERE), [Juan] Vucetich (HERE), and [Étienne Ossian] Henry (HERE).
- Agatha Christie isn't exactly renowned for her treatment of criminalistics in her stories, but a new book demonstrates that such an appraisal very likely underestimates her knowledge of forensics; see a review of that book (HERE).
- For more about Edgar Poe's contributions to detective fiction, see (HERE) and (HERE).

Saturday, October 9, 2021

"One Wonders How Some People Think These Methods Up"

By Ken Poyner (born 1956).
First appearance: Daily Science Fiction, September 30, 2021.
Short short short story (2 pages as a PDF).
Online at Daily Science Fiction (HERE).

     ". . . got him flush in the back with a .38 slug."

"What's in a name?" soliloquized Juliet. In the future what's in a name could mean the difference between cashing out and cashing in . . . .

Main characters:
~ James:
  "Neither James nor his wife apparently knew it was James day."
~ Ned:
  "In the end, Ned collected the $450 for his catch."
~ Mrs.:
  "Most people resented the success of her secrecy."

- The author has pages (HERE) and (HERE); his ISFDb bibliography is (HERE).
- The idea that society could deteriorate as catastrophically far as the one in today's story was also memorably highlighted in Robert Sheckley's "Seventh Victim" (HERE).

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"I've Found Out the Name of the Murderer!"

WHILE COLE PORTER encouraged us all to brush up our Shakespeare, the two amateur sleuths in our story just might have gone a little overboard as they try to solve . . .

"The Macbeth Murder Mystery."
By James Thurber (1894-1961).
First appearance: The New Yorker, October 2, 1937.
Reprinted in Lilliput, March 1938; Literary Cavalcade, October 1955; and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-September 1983.
First collected in The Thurber Carnival (1943).
Short short short story (2 pages as a PDF).
Online at Fadedpage (HERE; scroll down and click on title hotlink) and (HERE; PDF; beware of typos).
     "The person you suspect of the first murder should always be the second victim."

It has been noted that while reading between the lines can reveal unspoken truths, it can also have its pitfalls. Take, for instance, Duncan's undeserved demise in the Scottish play . . . .
Principal characters:
~ The American woman:
  "In the first place, I don't think for a moment that Macbeth did it."
~ The narrator:
  "Did what?"

References and resources:
- You might want to brush up your Shakespeare with a short summary of Macbeth; go to Wikipedia (HERE). The full play is (HERE).
- There are brief mentions of Penguin books (HERE), Ivanhoe (HERE), Lorna Doone (HERE), Agatha Christie (HERE), Hercule Poirot (HERE), Mr. Pinkerton and Inspector Bull (Book Scribbles HERE and Michael Grost HERE), and Hamlet (HERE).
- The infamous Third Murderer also figured into Anne Lear's "The Adventure of the Global Traveler or: The Global Consequences of How the Reichenbach Falls into the Wells of Iniquitie" (HERE); also see Wikipedia (HERE).
- For years James Grover Thurber was hot stuff with the editors of the "slicks" and in Hollywood; see Wikipedia (HERE) and the IMDb (HERE; 45 credits). The Fadedpage Thurber collection is (HERE).
- We've encountered Thurber before, with the 1991 collection Thurber on Crime (HERE) and his "The White Rabbit Caper" (HERE; go down to item 3).

Thursday, September 30, 2021

"Delivered into His Hands!"

THE PERFECT CRIME is what every criminal aspires to, but somehow they can't quite pull it off. There's always something that gets in the way—a little overlooked thing like . . .

"The Note on the Dead Man."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, March 9, 1935.
Short story.
Online at Fadedpage (HERE; 10 pages) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; original text [which might need resizing]: 8 pages; it will be necessary to download the entire issue).
(Parental caution: Graphic violence.)

     "Others in That Crowded Hotel Room Gazed at a Sprawled Corpse, but Tolly Saw Three Blunders Avoided and a Perfect Crime Achieved"

Captain Ahab realized in his last moments how costly revenge can be, unlike a crook bent on vengeance who will have plenty of time to think about it . . . .

Main characters:
~ Tolly Martin:
  "Thought you might have forgotten me. But you remember it all, don’t you?"
~ The bellboy:
  "Would you mind signing the delivery receipt?"
~ Allen Blake:
  "He had seen the sun set this evening for the last time."
~ Captain Tucker:
  "No one ever signs his name quite the same on two occasions."

References and resources:
- "the beautiful islands of Bermuda": Found by a Spaniard in 1505 and swarming with Englishmen since 1612:
  "Though typically referred to in the singular, Bermuda has 181 islands, the largest of these being Main Island. Bermuda's capital city is Hamilton" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the table electrolier": It's hard to see without it:
  ". . . a lone light fixture that hangs from the ceiling usually suspended by a cord, chain, or metal rod" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Some say that a perfect crime will never come to light:
  "As used by some criminologists and others who study criminal investigations (including mystery writers), a perfect crime goes unsolved not because of incompetence in the investigation, but because of the cleverness and skill of the criminal. In other words, the defining factor is the primary causative influence of the criminal's ability to avoid investigation and reprisal, and not so much the ability of the investigating authority to perform its duties" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Another Ray Cummings story involving crime and pencils would be "Poor Economy" (HERE).

Monday, September 27, 2021

"A Sort of Sherlock Holmes with French Wits"

GENERALLY REGARDED as a Golden Age of Detection (GAD) classic, today's book seems to have received at least one fairly lukewarm reception when it was first released:

- Wikipedia (no spoilers: HERE), (HERE), and (HERE). The Librivox audio version is (HERE).
- The House of the Arrow is for sale in various formats (HERE).
- World-class mystery expert Curtis Evans believes that Mason's book influenced Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence story "The House of Lurking Death"; go (HERE).

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

"Someone in This House Is Going To Kill You"

"Repeat Performance."
By Rog Phillips (1909-65/66).
Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Imagination, January 1954.
Short story.
Online at (HERE; original text: 21 pages), The Luminist Archives (HERE; original text: 21 pages; go down to text page 108), and Project Gutenberg (HERE; 17 pages as a PDF).
     "Your murder was never solved."

The expression "as queer as a three dollar bill" takes on ominous overtones when a petty crook finds himself marked for murder—or is he?

Main characters:
~ Benny:
  "My momentum left me as my hand touched the doorknob. It flowed out of me. I turned around and faced them."
~ The cashier:
  "The law says I must turn all counterfeit money directly over to the nearest F.B.I. office."
~ George Wile:
  "Where are you, Ben old boy?"
~ Sam Golfin:
  "In exactly one hour and seventeen minutes you are going to be murdered. A man doesn't just get murdered without knowing who might have done it, who his enemies are."
~ Sarah Fish:
  "You see, you must tell us who did it."

References and resources:
- "a picture of Truman": The original "The buck stops here" chief executive:
  "Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) was the 33rd president of the United States, serving from 1945 to 1953, succeeding upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt after serving as the 34th vice president in early 1945" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "in the process of having a prophetic dream": But they don't always come true:
  "Several historical people have experienced dreams which they believed to be warnings that they were to die after they woke up" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "In amnesia the conscious mind jumps over a period of time and stays there": For authors and screen writers amnesia has proven to be one of the most lucrative plot gimmicks of all:
  "There are two main types of amnesia: retrograde amnesia and anterograde amnesia. Retrograde amnesia is the inability to retrieve information that was acquired before a particular date, usually the date of an accident or operation. In some cases the memory loss can extend back decades, while in others the person may lose only a few months of memory. Anterograde amnesia is the inability to transfer new information from the short-term store into the long-term store. People with anterograde amnesia cannot remember things for long periods of time. These two types are not mutually exclusive; both can occur simultaneously" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Davis Street El station": In service since 1892:
  "The Chicago 'L' (short for 'elevated') is the rapid transit system serving the city of Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs in the U.S. state of Illinois" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "A night extra": Time was newspapermen (and -women) really worked at their jobs:
  "A newspaper extra, extra edition, or special edition is a special issue of a news-paper issued outside the normal publishing schedule to report on important or sensational news which arrived too late for the regular edition, such as the outbreak of war, the assassination of a public figure, or even latest developments in a sensational trial" (Wikipedia HERE).
- We've come across Roger Phillip Graham's stories a few times: "From This Dark Mind" (HERE), "You'll Die Yesterday" (HERE), "The Man from Mars" and the non-SFFnal "A Case of Homicide" (both HERE), and (possibly) "Deadly Dust" (HERE).

Monday, September 20, 2021

"The Most Engrossing and Most Satisfying Novel of This Class"

IT MUST BE quite gratifying to an author to see his/her book enjoying sales long after its first printing, in this case nearly fifteen years:

- The book in question is indeed Cleveland Moffett's Through the Wall; see the GAD Wiki (HERE), Project Gutenberg (HERE), and Manybooks (HERE).