Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Don't Ever Think Things Can't Get Tougher — They Always Do"

This posting has been revised and updated and is available (HERE).

Back in the mid-20th century Cleve Cartmill wrote a series of six stories featuring recurring characters:

   (1) "Salvage" (1949) (see below)
   (2) "High Jack and Dame" (1949)
   (3) "Thicker Than Water" (1949)
   (4) "Dead Run" (1950)
   (5) "Little Joe" (1950) (see below)
   (6) "No Hiding Place" (1950) (see below).

And what were these about?
Romance, Humor and Science Mix in This Space Adventure Classic! Jake Murchison and his crew love to tackle "impossible" problems in space and make incredible rescues. Sometimes the challenges they take on require them to improvise tools and bend the law a little to succeed. But even they can't bend the laws of science — which constantly work against them!
Cleve Cartmill was beloved by sf fans of the 1940s for his Jake Murchison-Captain Helen Wall series, which ran in the pages of the colorful action-adventure pulp, Thrilling Wonder Stories. Popularly known as the "Space Salvagers" stories, these tales are a science fictional riff on the classic, and highly-popular, "battle of the sexes" comedies of the era, like Bringing Up Baby, The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, and The Thin Man. Cartmill's tales of the sparks set off between Jake Murchison and Helen Wall, and their scientifically-premised exploits attempting to salvage abandoned ships and cargo in space, are a delightful change of pace for science fiction fans.
In this one-volume, complete collection of their adventures Space Salvage, Inc. must retrieve an immensely valuable cargo on a derelict hulk that couldn't be entered; rescue a spaceship trapped by a magnetic asteroid thirty miles in diameter; save ninety-seven people imprisoned under a lake of ooze on which nothing could float; salvage a ship full of fissionable explosives speeding relentlessly toward planetfall; turn a crippled patrol boat as the only available weapon against a pirate fleet; and race unarmed against a deadly enemy to locate one of the greatest scientific secrets of all time! — Amazon product description for the Kindle edition of Murchison & Co. - Space Salvagers (HERE).
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949.
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975; for sale HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"Jake Murchison throws his life into the scales of fate when confronted by a derelict with a cargo of riches!"
A hundred and eighty-five tons of herculium, just the thing to make a warship invulnerable (and anyone possessing it rich beyond imagining), is floating out there in the derelict Astralot's hold, ripe for the taking, and the prospect of salvaging it has Jake Murchison and his friends in Space Salvage, Inc. seeing stars:
". . . this Astralot job will put us on Venusberg's main drag for life. Captain Lane and I can retire and live the life of lecherous ease we want. We can pay you back with a tremendous bonus, junk the Dolphin and have fun."
But life follows its own course . . .

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison (the narrator): First mate of the Dolphin.
~ Cap: Captain Lane of the Dolphin.
~ Pat: Pilot/navigator on the Dolphin.
~ Carroll: Ship's engineer and, as it turns out, serendipitous scion.
~ Amos T. Grubb: Litigious moneybags.
~ Jenkins: Field technician.


   "What happened was certainly unexpected. I didn't even see it happen. First thing I knew, I was flat on the deck and if my jaw wasn't broken it was a miracle. Quite a number of constellations were flickering behind my eyeballs. I recognized Orion as it flashed past."

    "Inside that vast ship I was going to have myself a job where a sure, quick touch might be necessary to keep me out of the obits."

   "I got the hang of the buttons and played the keyboard like a piano—but plenty pianissimo."

    "I'm not ashamed of the way I feel."

   "I was looking at the greatest fortune perhaps ever assembled in one place. I yelped once."

    "If I tore the hull I would cease to have any interest in—anything."

   "Well, this seemed to be it. I was wedged firmly, couldn't blast loose without wrecking my only protection. And the worst of it was I was going to have plenty of time to think about it. There wasn't going to be anything quick about it. It would be a toss-up which ran out first, my air or my heat. I would either suffocate or freeze or both. And even if I'd had a knife there wasn't room enough for me to get my arm free and cut my throat."

Diverting prose:

   "The hole was there, a great tear that punctured the ship to her vitals for almost all of her mile-long hull. Jagged points of metal along her port beam looked like a mouthful of filed teeth."

    "We had to choose between that and the Valadian drill. There isn't room on this ship for even a runt mouse to stow away."

   "He's going to be more trouble than a tank full of Venusian rock sharks."

    "Did you ever see a hundred bodies suddenly exposed to deep space?"

   "We had broken the contract and in this business, where fulfilling contracts often means saving lives and valuable property, penalties are fantastic. And rightly so."

The ad for the next story served to introduce an important character in the series:
"Jake Murchison didn't want to help Helen Wall, beautiful captain of the stranded Andromeda—but according to interstellar law, he had to, even though she called The Dolphin a 'pirate' ship in the fascinating novelet—HIGH JACK AND DAME—Second in the Space Salvage Series by CLEVE CARTMILL."
Unfortunately that story and the next two ("Thicker Than Water" and "Dead Run") aren't available online, but the final pair are. Bear in mind, though, that "No Hiding Place" references events in those unavailable stories.

~ ~ ~
"Little Joe."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1950.
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"The Space Salvagers Pit Themselves Against Pirates!"
Jake Murchison sets the scene rather well:
As we used to say when we were kids in school, more people killed and blood all over the stars.
That's the way it was, and only my choice of being eaten alive rather than burn-ed to death got me — or what's left of me — off the Piratoid alive. The doc says most of my skin will grow back.  . . .
For Jake and Carroll an emergency repair job nearly proves fatal.

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison (narrator): "I'm just a fair salvage bum, and I feel properly humble, even if I don't show it."
~ Cap: "You can run circles around me."
~ Pat: "Pat's a kind of lightning calculator. He astrogates in his head."
~ Carroll: "Give me one paralysis bomb, and I'm happy."
~ Gray Hardy, Port Patrol Officer: "I want you to get that ship into operation. If you can do it quickly, it can seek out the pirates' hiding-place and wipe out the worst band of— Well, you know what they are."
~ Little Joe: "There was a name to conjure with. Pirate, murderer, dirty dog. Escapee from Kragor, head of the worst gang of cutthroats in history."
~ Captain Tommy Garfield, Space Patrol: "I intend to go into action once we find Little Joe and his crowd. You might be killed. So it's a volunteer job."


   "That was perhaps the deadliest, most vicious voice I've ever heard. Believe me, I did exactly as it ordered. I even wished I could hold back my blood corpuscles until that voice said it was all right."

    "I didn't see the blow start or finish. All of a sudden I collided with a tremendous something I learned later was his fist, and I promptly lost interest in proceedings."

   "I shot a nervous glance at the cage. The pacer seemed to have taken quite a fancy to me. Those smoking yellow eyes never left me . . ."

    [When the bad guy offers Jake a choice of how he will die]: "I choose to have my great-grandchildren stuff me to death with goodies."

   ". . . if your upper lip is as limp as a wet butterfly, you've got to stiffen it somehow."

    "They didn't whine, but their giant bodies shook and cringed, and it seemed there should be whines."

   "I looked around for a club, anything, but you can't fight with panel switches."

    "The guard who had been quick when I last saw him was now dead, his head at an impossible angle to his body."

Typo: "Let's get stared, then."
~ ~ ~
"No Hiding Place."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1950.
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Novelette (36 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (smudgy text).
"I wanted her along so badly I ached."
"Jake Murchison, Helen Wall and their rollicking crew of space engineers have it out with Solar Salvage in their climactic quest for a herculium hoard lost in the void!"
The long chase across the Universe to find a fabulous invention takes Jake to a savage planet with some very surprising inhabitants:
Suddenly they moved in unison in my direction. I say moved but it was more like teleportation. One instant they were a hundred feet away—the next ten feet, arranged in a kind of semicircle before the mouth of the cave, regarding me with unblinking, expressionless great eyes. There was no use to run, not when I was to them like a snail to a rabbit. It wasn't even any use to raise my blaster.
Chapter I - "Hold Everything!"
Chapter II - "Anything Might Happen"
Chapter III - Helpless Sitting Duck
Chapter IV - Cross Fingers!
Chapter V - "More! More"
Chapter VI - "That's what's out there"
Chapter VII - Look out behind you!
Chapter VIII - Remember? Atmosphere?
Chapter IX - I Don't Like Murder
Chapter X - Just Toss 'Em This Way
Chapter XI - Hang On!

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison (narrator): "If you want to keep right on living you'll have to let me run the show."
~ Cap: "I don't like murder, regardless of what the other guy wants to do with me."
~ Pat: "Pat, whose face was like baked mud, his nose a lump of red sandstone, and his eyes two dull emeralds deep-set in the muck, was the best pilot and astrogator I'd ever known."
~ Carroll: "You're the luckiest guy in the System, Jake."
~ Helen Wall: "They're planning to kidnap me to force Jake to tell what he knows. I learned it too late—I couldn't call for help. I was cornered."
~ Oliver Claybourne ("Junior"): "Do you think I'm fool enough to commit murder?"
~ Pete: "Now look, Mr. Clayborne. Don't get sore. You see, it was like this . . ."
~ Harry: "I'm gonna strap myself in my bunk and we're really going places."


   "The law of averages predicted trouble afoot—we always had trouble. It wasn't intuition, it wasn't premonition. I took a strictly scientific attitude. The facts that my heart began to beat faster, my hands turned clammy and a sense of doom oppressed me, I told myself, was a result of cold appraisal, not fear."

    "Captain Helen Wall, with twin comets on her snazzy uniform. I wondered how I'd look with twin comets."

   "He looked up and grinned, which did awful things to his face."

    "Looks like the fat's in the fission chamber now."

   "She was a Space captain. She knew what it took to run a ship. So she let me strictly alone and I did the same to her, and we were like a couple of animated sticks. Every time I looked at her I wanted moonlight and music on the piccolo and that made me mad."

    "I looked at her. Her eyes were wide and soft, her lush mouth parted, and I knew that whatever she asked me I would say yes."

   "I was a man of mixed emotions to put it mildly. My gal, my chosen woman—whither thou goest and all that stuff, I wanted her along so badly I ached."

    "Part of the make-up of a human male is the desire to protect and comfort his woman and I'm a human male. I wanted to give her a pep talk, to hold her, to murmur nonsense in her ear, tender nonsense. But did you every try it in a space suit, rubbing helmets, clasping mittens? It's no good. I didn't even try."

   "We drifted, in the silent dark, the dim glow of the instrument panels accentuating rather than diminishing the feeling of being lost in a limitless void. I skirted asteroids small and large and bored in toward the center."

    "If looks were lethal it would have been all over with me but the burying."

   ". . . Helen's body, necessarily pressing against mine, was like an angry exclamation point."

    "We looked at each other and laughed. Not because there was anything funny—it just seemed like a good idea."

   "If I hurried we might all go up in a blast—if I didn't we might be caught with our atoms down."

    "A downdraft grabbed us with windy fingers and the planet rushed up at us at sickening speed. My stomach felt as if it had checked out for parts unknown. We were like an eggshell in the hands of a giant."

   "I had only a momentary glimpse of it and though even it failed to penetrate my lethargy I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of vague terror, of things obscene, unfit for the mind to dwell on, of Powers of Darkness beyond the ken of man, repulsive discards of far-off ages of superstition."

    "The blaster lay six feet away. It might as well have been six light years."

   "We struggled with the weakness of dying ants over a burden neither of us could lift alone."

    "I tried to think furiously, brilliantly, but my brain machinery achieved only a labored clanking."

   "I had left the helmet on in the interests of time, but it was good that I did, for I have a glass jaw. Any number of persons have knocked me out with a short jab to my chin, and I didn't know whether or not I was as vulnerable elsewhere."

    ". . .  planets, and especially caves—I now discovered—give me claustrophobia. I like Space, limitless space without a fence around it. You feel free there."

Typos: "I looked as the buildings again and shivered"; "the clumsy inaccurate tools of lanaguage."
- Cleve Cartmill will be forever associated with one of his stories, "Deadline" (1944), which described the then-top secret atomic bomb in such detail that Cartmill, Astounding, and editor John W. Campbell attracted the unwelcome attention of the FBI; see HERE (Wikipedia) and HERE (PDF, 13 pages) for more.
- Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) all have useful info about Cartmill.
- Sooner or later it could come to this:
Another interesting idea is the proposal to introduce a law of "Space Salvage." At sea the long-standing law of salvage allows the person who takes control of an abandoned vessel to claim ownership. One of the growing problems in Earth orbit is the amount of "space debris" — abandoned satellites, rocket stages and other pieces abandoned by the governments which launched them. By introduc-ing a law of salvage there would be a strong incentive for businesses to collect together useful objects. Because of the high cost of launch, any mass in orbit is valuable. Even at a launch cost as low as $100/kg, scrap metal would be worth at least $100,000/ton in low orbit! And so we can foresee that recycling is sure to become a major orbital business. — "Space Law," Space Future
- In 1979 a short-lived TV series called Salvage 1 (20 episodes) centered on a vaguely similar idea:
Harry Broderick (Andy Griffith) owns the Jettison Scrap and Salvage Co. and is a specialist in reclaiming trash and junk to sell as scrap. His dream is to recover equipment left on the moon during Apollo Program missions. — Wikipedia HERE, IMDb HERE and HERE

The bottom line: "In California, they don't throw their garbage away—they make it into TV shows."
Woody Allen

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Let God Pardon Me, for I Wish Death, and Not an Easy One, for Those Who Peddle This Evil"

"He Had a Little Shadow."
By Charles B. Child (Claude Vernon Frost, 1903-93).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, January 14, 1950.
Reprinted in EQMM, May 1953.
Collected in The Sleuth of Baghdad (2002; for sale HERE).
Short story (13 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 37).
The EQMM reprint is at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"Here was one who coldly calculated chances, made crime a business. Such a man would know no pity."
For months now there has been a crime wave in Baghdad due to a large inflow of narcotics into the city that Inspector Chafik and the police force at large have been unable to stanch:
In spite of his efforts hashish continued to enter the city and in its wake came violence and death.
Chafik is making no headway in the case, until he acquires a small shadow . . .

Principal characters:
~ Chafik J. Chafik: An inspector of the Criminal Investigation Department, a "meticulously neat man" like Poirot but more slender who, with his wife's continual presence, can be regarded as basically a cross between Maigret and, with his proclivity for making Delphic declarations, Charlie Chan.
~ Faisal: "He wore a ragged gown girdled with a piece of rope, his turban was a wisp, he had never owned shoes . . ."
~ Sergeant Abdullah: Chafik's assistant, "tall, gaunt, unemotional."
~ Leila: Chafik's wife, "a dark, slim little woman."
~ Najar Helmy: "A Turk, short, stocky, and olive-skinned."
~ Ali: ". . . a squat barrel-chested man . . ."

   "Temper is as intoxicating as alcohol."
   "Our records show crime increases with the waning of the week and in this is a clue. But like a photographic negative the image does not appear until developer is applied."
   "The graph of my life follows an even line . . ."
   "I object to 'but.' It is a sly conjunctive that conceals a dagger."
   "He who seizes a scorpion in haste repents with haste."
   "I am a policeman, not a seer."
   "Our heads are of the same density."
   "A policeman should not have emotions."
   "He has a virtue rare among criminals — he works alone and does not let his business become too big."
   "How demeaning that I should evidence pain!"
   "Did I rub a magic lamp?"

Fifteen of the Inspector Chafik adventures were collected in Crippen & Landru's The Sleuth of Baghdad:
Inspector Chafik J. Chafik of the Baghdad police was the creation of Charles B. Child (1903-1993), the pseudonym of British author Claude Vernon Frost. As a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force he worked with Military Intelligence in Iraq during the Second World War. Child wrote that Inspector Chafik was a composite of associates whom he met in the Middle East, whose "agile minds" could "wind through a complicated maze."
Beginning in 1947, the Chafik stories were some of the most popular features in Collier's Magazine, and many were reprinted in the annual Best Detective Stories of the Year. The stories about Chafik, his wife Leila, and his adopted son Faisal whom he found on the streets of Baghdad are superlatively constructed exer-cises in detection, but they have a more subtle level. They are also explorations of a culture and a time and place. The stories begin when the British still influ-enced Iraqi politics, and continue through the period of the monarchy and the country's attempts to identify its place in the world. Many years ago, Frederic Dannay ("Ellery Queen") lamented that there was no book collection of the Inspector Chafik stories. We are delighted to publish this First Edition. — Amazon product description
   (1) "The Inspector Is Discreet" (1947) [Mystery Digest, September 1957; online HERE]
   (2) "Inspector Chafik Closes the Case" (1947) [online HERE]
   (3) "Death Had a Voice" (1948) [EQMM, September 1952; online HERE]
   (4) "The Inspector Had a Wife" (1948) [EQMM, December 1952; online HERE]
   (5) "The Inspector Had a Habit" (1949) [online HERE]
   (6) "He Had a Little Shadow" (1950) [EQMM, May 1953; online HERE] (above)
   (7) "All the Birds of the Air" (1950) [EQMM, September 1953 and AHMM, June 2003; online HERE]
   (8) "There Is a Man in Hiding" (1951) [a.k.a. "The Army of Little Ears"; Magpie, March 1952; online HERE]
   (9) "Death in the Fourth Dimension" (1952) [online HERE]
   (10) "Death Had a Birthday" (1953) [a.k.a. "The Lady of Good Deeds"; not online]
   (11) "Death Was a Wedding Guest" (1954) [EQMM, May 1961; online HERE]
   (12) "Invisible Killer" (1955) [a.k.a. "The Thumbless Man"; online HERE]
   (13) "Royal Theft" (1955) [a.k.a. "The Holy-Day Crimes"; online HERE]
   (14) "Death Starts a Rumor" (1956) [online HERE]
   (15) "The Man Who Wasn't There" (1969) [EQMM, April 1969; not online]
If you're looking for cerebral detection with Inspector Chafik, you might consider Mike Grost's appraisal of the series:
Child's stories of Inspector Chafik J. Chafik of Baghdad's Criminal Investigation Department ran in Collier's from 1947 through 1956, simultaneously with Blochman's Dr. Coffee tales. And like Blochman's series, Ellery Queen had the authors continue their work in EQMM in the sixties, after they had lost their slick magazine markets. The Chafik tales have a detailed Background of the Iraq of their era. They focus on the realistic police work of the Inspector. "The Inspector Had a Habit" (1949) was flagged by Collier's editors as the best of the series, and was reprinted in David C. Cooke's Best Detective Stories of the Year - 1950. Child was born in Britain, but was a US resident when these tales were published in an American magazine; he is included here as he has more in common with the later American realists than with the 1920's British realists such as the Coles.
The Chafik stories I have read emphasize adventure as much as mystery. Their general lack of rigorous, fair play puzzle plotting is frustrating to readers like me. — "Charles B. Child," A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection
- Information about the author is in the French Wikipedia HERE and the GAD Wiki HERE; The Sleuth of Baghdad received favorable notices at Kirkus Reviews HERE, Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink HERE, and Jack William Bell HERE.
- Charles B. Child's FictionMags list is HERE and the one for his brainchild, Chafik J. Chafik, is HERE.
- Chafik also appeared in four issues of Super Detective Library comics in 1955.

The bottom line: "My dear young lady, crime, like death, is not confined to the old and withered alone. The youngest and fairest are too often its chosen victims."
   ― Charles Dickens

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"I'm Sure He Has Holed Up Somewhere in the Jovian System"

"'X' for Expendable."
By William C. Bailey (John Berryman, 1916-88).
First appearance: Dynamic Science Fiction, December 1952.
Anthologized in Way Out (1963).
Novelette (27 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
Parental caution: Strong language and violence.
"There was one way I might be able to retire on my earnings, and with most of my natural health and beauty — that was to come through with a series of big-time capers. If I didn't, that 'expendable' part of my job would find me listed as 'expended' after a while. And this first caper had everything I needed for a good start — and the opposition had everything they needed for finishing me!"
In the aftermath of a nuclear war, humanity has still managed to colonize the Solar System; it's in this setting that an agent for the IPO gets tasked with trying to uncover a cadmium smuggling ring. His problems are exacerbated by his immediate superior, who already knows the agent suspects him of being involved up to his lapels, as well as several dangerous characters who won't balk at murder. The stakes in this game are pretty high:
Somewhere, a group of maniacs was making a wild, irresponsible play for power, somewhere, they had cached a hydrogen-lithium bomb and were desperately attempting to make a plutonium primer for it.
Principal characters:
~ X-3206, the narrator (otherwise unnamed): A not-so-secret agent, self-described as "a big ox, and conditioned to acting expendable."
~ Foran: The big ox's boss.
~ Seeley: In charge of Haverford International, the company that ships cadmium all over the System.
~ Merino: He gives off an air of "ethereal intellectualism, somehow perverted."
~ Golz: Twenty rounds aren't enough.
~ Harding: Agent-in-charge on Europa.
~ Whitehead: Runs a freight line in the Jovian system.
Comment: One gets the feeling that this story might have started out as a Hammett-style PI tale, until the author decided to frame it with a science fiction setting. Between the standard sci-fi elements (in 1952 the author could be excused for assuming Jupiter has a solid surface covered with tundra a thousand miles down) we have such hardboiled interpolations as:

   "A light flared on the door at the end of the corridor. The waiter swooped and whirled in his tracks; his hands did something that I could not follow. I stumbled up against him and saw the undulating glint of a blade in his hand, against my navel. My uvula got a big growth on it. Very big."
   "His voice had the friendliness of a buzz-saw."
   "[He] blinked and looked at me the way the butcher looks at the meat."
   "His scream of pain as I twisted his head was cut short by a queer frangible sound. He went limp."
   "I got the kick of a forger passing his first phoney thousand-credit bill when the Comman-dant okayed my requisition."
   "I let the gun rest on my thigh; it's rude to point."
   "Even hard guys scream, and I screamed bloody murder."

But the author is good with short descriptive passages:

   "Three large couches squatted in the penumbral edges of the room, trying hard to be a pale green in the dimness."
   "Space flight is monotonously silence bordered by the deep uneventful, and except for the drone of the jets, as featureless as a pneumatic-tube ride."
   "The cigar was going when I got there. One big square shoe was tapping a low tattoo on the asphalt tile of the floor and echoing hollowly against the steel of the walls, ceiling and furniture."
   "The launching-pits were dark, hugely vaulted hangars, eerily lit by the merciless brilliance of thinly-scattered mercury-vapor lights. The black steel of the floor and the black, rough-hewn walls drank up the light. It was cold and our breath steamed frostily. The beryllium hulls of spaceships in their launching-racks glinted chillily, reflecting in icy points the distant lamps. The scuffle of our feet on the steel decking made hollow echoes."

Typos: "It seemtd to be"; "The camouflaged done opened its iris"; "the others were inot known"; "when the trudled it away"; several paragraphs on page 59 are completely mangled and almost unintelligible. — Well, Mr. Editor?

- John Berryman used the "William C. Bailey" alias for a limited time, 1951-53; go HERE (the SFE) and HERE (the ISFDb) for more.
- In the story some of the action takes place on Troilus, one of Jupiter's obscure Trojan satellites, described HERE; cadmium, the cause of all of the hurly-burly, is discussed HERE.

The bottom line: "The common curse of mankind—folly and ignorance."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


By S. S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright, 1888-1939).
In Scribner's, January 1939.
Online at UNZ HERE.
Showing the acumen he never doubted he possessed, the redoubtable Wright/Van Dine has a go at detective fiction book reviewing, and posterity has, by and large, vindicated his views. The full article follows.

Out of the current crop of mysteries, these six stand out:

~ Trent Intervenes by E. C. Bentley (1875-1956):
All lovers of literary crime may be grateful for the fact that when that splendid novel, Trent's Last Case, appeared, Mr. Bentley didn't say positively. Here in Trent Intervenes, Mr. Bentley has done something valuable for detective fiction. He has been at once episodic and exciting, at once casual and satisfying. Suavity and melodrama, leisureliness and suspense, go hand in hand. The twelve stories are far above the ruck, with never so much as a veiled insult to the reader's intelligence.
"The Genuine Tabard" — "The Sweet Shot" — "The Clever Cockatoo" — "The Vanishing Lawyer" — "The Inoffensive Captain" — "Trent and the Fool-proof Lift" — "The Old-fashioned Apache" — "Trent and the Bad Dog" — "The Public Benefactor" — "The Little Mystery" — "The Unknown Peer" — "The Ordinary Hairpins".
   More information: HERE, HERE (see Mike Grost's comments), and HERE.
~ Murder Will Speak by J. J. Connington (1880-1947):
An epidemic of poison-pen letters leads to the murder which Sir Clinton Driffield is called upon to solve in this excellent example of English detective fiction. Both glandular disturbances and radio are mixed up in it, and it's rather unsavory at times; but the way the letter writer is exposed, and the method by which the culprit is at last identified, make first-class reading for those who enjoy a good puzzle intricately worked out.
   More info: HERE and HERE.
~ The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr (1906-77):
This is undoubtedly Mr. Carr's best book and, indeed, shares laurels with the best detective stories of the past year. Dr. Fell, Chestertonian detective of other Carr stories, corners the murderer.
   More: HERE, HERE, and HERE.
~ Death Sends a Cable by Margaret Tayler Yates (Margaret Polk Yates Herkheimer, 1915-2009):
Most books about the FBI special agent have accentuated the bloodier aspects of his profession. But here he comes into his own, in a well-devised and brightly written story of strange deaths at Guantanomo Bay. Agent Bill Duncan is helped no end by Mrs. Hugh McLean—the nurse "Davvie" of Mrs. Yates' earlier stories—and the international gang is, for once outside of Oppenheim, composed of credible people.
   More: HERE.
~ Three Bright Pebbles by Leslie Ford (Zenith Jones Brown, 1898-1983):
An arrow extinguishes the life of Rick Winthrop on one of those Maryland estates that are filled with lovely ladies—all with slim, lithe bodies—and handsome men. A number of impeccably groomed and ancestored folks come under suspicion, but grave Dr. Birdsong and his dog finally make it too hot for the murderer. Well worked out and remarkably pleasant reading—but lacking both in the chill of earlier Ford Stories and a detective as interesting as John Primrose.
   More: HERE, HERE, and HERE.
~ Challenge to the Reader by Ellery Queen (1905-71, 1905-82):
A comprehensive and good anthology of 25 detective stories ranging from Conan Doyle to Dashiell Hammett—chosen with care and an alert understanding of mystery material. In fact, it's so good an anthology that I could easily dispense with the dubious "game" idea of having the protagonists bear substituted names to test the reader's wit. But once you have made your own index and pasted it in on the flyleaf, you will possess a satisfying and up-to-date collection—interspersed with several unfamiliar yet authentic inclusions.
"Challenge to the Reader" — "The Long Dinner" — "The Case of Mr. Foggatt" — "The Magic Flame" — "The Adopted Daughter" — "The Honour of Israel Gow" — "Walker's Holiday" — "The Superfluous Finger" — "Double Vision" — "Scrambled Yeggs" — "The Vanished Crown" — "Bullets" — "Footsteps" — "The Poetical Policeman" — "The Survivor" — "A Man Called Knott" — "The Edinburgh Mystery" — "Triangle at Rhodes" — "The Stolen Shakes-peare" — "Twelve Little Nigger Boys" — "The Riddle of the 5.28" — "The Border-line Case" — The Poisoned Pen" — "The Soul of the Schoolboy" — "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" — "The Hanging Acrobat".
   More: HERE, HERE, and HERE.
- There's plenty to be found about S. S. Van Dine HERE, HERE, and HERE.
- ONTOS previously communed with our critic HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

"R . . . E . . . F . . . U . . . L"

"Secret League of Six."
By Don Wilcox (Cleo Eldon Wilcox, 1905-2000).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, August 1941.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"Who were the five members of the telepathy league, and why had Frank Hammond, who could really read minds, been invited as the sixth?"
Finding himself with time to kill, a young custodian of antiquities answers a want ad in a Cairo newspaper asking for people with genuine telepathic talent to become part of a centuries old group that perpetuates "highly developed arts of mental transfer." He doesn't know it, but he's about to encounter something even more outré than mind-reading—not to mention a pretty girl who sends concealed messages in her teacup.

Principal characters:
~ Frank Hammond (an assistant curator of a mid-western museum): "Some natural musi-cians, you know, make some discoveries about piano playing without taking lessons—and that's what had happened to me in this telepathy business."
~ The (unnamed) narrator (who's in "the story-writing business"): "Think it over, my friend. And don't forget what I said about the new insights that telepathy is bound to bring us."
~ Miss Winthrop ("a very lovely English girl"): "Perhaps you have more finesse at mind-reading than I."
~ Lamar (a "nondescript one-armed Arab"): "You still believe that thoughts can be transmitted directly from one brain to another? How far do your mental powers go?"
There's nothing like a hobby. Especially when you feel as though it's releasing some natural talent that you knew all along you had, but never got to use properly.
- Background info about our author (who also turned out Western stories) is HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
- A general article about mental telepathy is HERE, while a skeptical one is HERE.

The bottom line: "If you could read my mind, love, What a tale my thoughts could tell."
Gordon Lightfoot

Monday, March 21, 2016

Three One-Shots from COLLIER'S

Here's a small collection of one-page crime and mystery stories from Collier's Weekly, circa 1928:

"Behind the Door."
By Percival Wilde (1887-1953).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, February 4, 1928.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"Honest to God, I didn't croak nobody!"
In even the darkest places, eventually the truth comes to light.

Principal characters:
~ Benny: "By inclination, by aptitude, by a love of the art which was so intense that he was usually engaged in scrawling on every flat surface within reach, he was a wielder of the pen, an expert in the production of signatures warranted to defy any but the closest inspection."
~ Robison: "Wife and eleven children starving at home eh? Is the gun loaded?"
~ Holloway: "He who sells what isn't his'n, he must buy it back or go to pris'n!"
~ Police captain: "It's almost enough."

- Percival Wilde was a multimedia phenom in his day, as these sources attest: Wikipedia HERE, GAD Wiki HERE, FictionMags HERE, and the IMDb HERE.

~ ~ ~
"The Witness."
By Percival Wilde (1887-1953).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, August 11, 1928.
Reprinted in EQMM, April 1948.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"His weapon leaped into view, but a revolver in the hands of one of his assailants spoke first."
When a bank robbery ends with an old man being gunned down, the A.D.A. knows that he has only one hope of nailing the gang.

Principal characters:
~ Cicoletti: " 'Witnesses? Witnesses? Well, who are the witnesses?'  There was no mistaking the threat."
~ Troon, the assistant district attorney: "You're thinking, aren't you, that once you know who they are, you'll see to it that they won't open their mouths? Yes, Cicoletti, that's what you're thinking! But this time you've left a witness who can't be bulldozed! You've left a witness who can't be intimidated! You've left a witness who saw just what happened, and who is going to tell it to the jury in the same way!"
~ ~ ~
"The Coward."
By Henry Altimus (?-?).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, August 4, 1928.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"This isn't an ordinary crime; it's almost a matter of executing justice, and the sooner it is done the better."
Sometimes the easy way out isn't easy—or the way out.

Principal characters:
~ Aldrich: "When you call these men gunmen, what exactly do you mean?"
~ The newspaper man: "I mean that they are professional criminals. They are ready at any time to commit any crime, from murder down, for a consideration."
~ Dusty: "I stepped in and I was just goin' to let him have it when I noticed his shoulders move—shiverin' like."
~ Sam: "Fer the love o' Mike, Dusty, why not?"

- The author's story list at FictionMags is HERE.

The bottom line: "Some have been thought brave because they were afraid to run away." 
Thomas Fuller

"As Close Together As the Tapping of Three Keys Under the Fingers of an Expert Typist, but a Thousand Times More Vicious, Came Three Pistol Shots"

"The Gatewood Caper."
(a.k.a. "Crooked Souls").
By Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961).
First appearance: The Black Mask, October 15, 1923.
First collected in The Big Knockover (1924).
Reprinted in EQMM, May 1953.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"[One of] the best specimens of that purely American type of detective story which, to quote Raymond Chandler, have their bases in fact, 'take murder out of the Venetian vase and drop it into the alley,' are not afraid of the seamy side of things, deal with violence and melodrama and brutality and gangsters and rackets — and feature that untarnished and honorable common man, the detective-hero of the rough-tough, guts-gore-and-gals, blood-bludgeon-and-bust school . . ." — From Fred Dannay's EQMM introduction
What would seem to be a simple kidnapping turns into a prime specimen of Murphy's Law—for the kidnappers.
This was the second (or was it the third?) story that Hammett published in The Black Mask featuring the Continental Op (the first was "Arson Plus"), but this time he used his own name and not the "Peter Collinson" byline. Eventually Hammett would produce thirty-seven Continental Op adventures.
Comments: If you've watched many movies or TV shows with the same plot, you'll probably figure it out fairly early; remember, though, that Hammett was there first. (Hint: As a for-instance, one movie that "borrowed" the same idea is described HERE, with SPOILERS.)

Principal characters:
~ The Op (nameless): Senior operative for the Continental Detective Agency.
~ O'Gar, Lusk, and Thode: Detectives with Continental.
~ Harvey Gatewood: A captain of industry with a volatile temperament ("a czar from the top of his bullet head to the toes of his shoes").
~ Audrey Gatewood: Harvey Gatewood's daughter ("a wild, spoiled youngster who hadn't shown any great care in selecting her friends — just the sort of girl who could easily fall into the hands of a mob of highbinders").
~ The building superintendent.
~ "Penny" Quayle: Goes by the name of Theodore Offord ("a con man who had been active in the East four or five years before").

- Both The Thrilling Detective (HERE) and Wikipedia (HERE) have background articles about the Continental Op; see FictionMags HERE for a complete story list.
- The Big Knockover merited a Mystery*File article HERE; you can buy it HERE.
- ONTOS has had previous encounters with Hammett HERE and HERE.

The bottom line: "I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

"Nobody Missed It at First"

"A Subway Named Möbius."
By A. J. Deutsch (1918-69).
First appearance: Astounding Science Fiction, December 1950.
Anthologized many times (see HERE).
Filmed in Argentina in 1996 (HERE).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF with 2 illustrations) and HERE (PDF, no illos).
"At Park Street you get off the surface car underground and walk downward to get on the elevated. A few more complications and inversions and — maybe a fine research program?"
As far as we can tell, this is the author's only piece of fiction (how much editor John W. Campbell interfered with or contributed to the story isn't known); everything else Deutsch published was of a technical scientific nature. Even so, it's a classic and a favorite of anthologists worldwide.
When Number 86, the Cambridge-Dorchester subway train serving greater Boston, goes missing, it's three days before the realization sets in that, to say the least, something has gone horribly wrong:
By mid-afternoon, it was clear to the police that three hundred and fifty Bostonians, more or less, had been lost with the train.
(Click on image to enlarge.)
Principal characters:
~ Roger Tupelo, Harvard mathematician: "This is a very hard thing for anybody to under-stand, Mr. Whyte. I can see why you are puzzled. But it's the only explanation. The train has vanished, and the people on it. But the System is closed. Trains are conserved. It's some-where on the System!"
~ Kelvin Whyte, the General Manager of the line: "And I tell you, Dr. Tupelo, that train is not on the System! It is not! You can't overlook a seven-car train carrying four hundred passengers. The System has been combed."
~ Gallagher, the motorman on Number 86.
~ Dorkin, Number 86's conductor.
"But a network with infinite connectivity must have an infinite number of singularities. Can you imagine what the properties of that network could be?" After a long pause, Tupelo added: "I can't either."
- A. J. Deutsch's solo SF outing has earned him entries on Wikipedia HERE, the SFE HERE, and MathFiction HERE (SPOILERS).
- If you're topologically minded (and who isn't these days?), Wikipedia has articles about the Möbius strip HERE and the Klein bottle HERE, both being copiously illustrated, thank good-ness.
- Number 86 can be analogized to the legendary Flying Dutchman, about which see HERE.

The bottom line: "Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip? To get to the same side."
   — Sheldon Cooper

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"He Was As Dead As an Old Cigar Stub"

Tough guy private eye Mike Dobson enjoyed a short-lived career in the pulps, apparently appearing in only three stories:

   (1) "Doom on Sunday," G-Men Detective, November 1948 (below)
   (2) "Satan Holds the Key," Popular Detective, November 1948 (below)
   (3) "The Mayor Is Dead," Popular Detective, May 1949

Like so many PIs of the era (and our own, too, ask Joe Mannix), in just about every case Mike would get conked on the coconut at least once, be distracted (and/or deceived) by one or more beautiful women, and engage in lethal gunplay—all in a day's work for your average pulp gumshoe. What makes him different from the usual private eye, though, is that he enjoys a cordial relationship with the police of Center City, being good friends with the Commissioner and on speaking terms with the rest of the force, a consequence of his father having been mayor for twelve years.

"Doom on Sunday."
By B. J. Benson (?-?).
First appearance: G-Men Detective, November 1948.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at PulpGen HERE (PDF).
"Private Eye Mike Dobson Finds a Corpse in His Car!"
When Officer Muldoon stops Mike Dobson on the highway, imagine their surprise when they discover this:
There was a body on the back floor. It was the body of a man, and he was as dead as an old cigar stub. He was jack-knifed in there with his head pushed up against his knees. A black stain had spread over the back of his gray suit. Three or four holes had been punched in there and it didn't take an expert to see that they had been made by bullets.
Principal characters:
~ Mike Dobson, PI: "You know I don't like people bloodying up my car and using it for a hearse."
~ Detective Lieutenant Pete Gillis: "After all the favors I've done him. After all the business I've thrown his agency."
~ Officer Muldoon: "I wouldn't do that, Mr. Dobson. You have only a private license. I'll call in."
~ James R. Westcott: Due to circumstances beyond his control (he's dead), he is unlikely to say much.
~ Fred Westcott: "Don't talk to me about the police. If they had any kind of a police force in Center City the thing never would have happened. It never would have happened in Hamilton. I hate to think I'd have to live in this city and depend on them for anything."
~ Lawrence Corliss: "But why? Why would anyone want to kill him?"
~ Mrs. Corliss: "You're crazy."

   "I don't think anything. You might as well know that this is no time to get sensitive. This is murder. We can't afford to be polite."
   "All we need is a big haystack and a needle."
   "The moment my foot crossed the threshold there was a click and the lights went out. I hit the floor fast. At the same time my arm flicked up to my shoulder holster and came up with my gun. Off to my right there were two bright flashes and two loud staccato reports. I sent three rounds quickly in that direction, my .38 booming in the closeness of the room. At the same time I started to roll away. Something came down in the inky blackness and exploded in a blaze of light. That was all. . . ."
   "His body was up against the wall as though he was thrown there like a sack of potatoes."
   "She was a big flashy blonde in her early thirties. She was well-stacked if you liked them built when meat was cheap. She had long eyelashes which could never have been the real thing."
   "I started to duck but I was a little too late. I felt it come down on the side of my head. I had a whole slew of Fourth of July fireworks all to myself . . ."
   "I never saw such people. They go plumb crazy when they see firearms."

Typos: "A looked at it." - Picture caption: "The gun went of in the air."

~ ~ ~

"Satan Holds the Key."
By B. J. Benson (?-?).
First appearance: Popular Detective, November 1948.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at PulpGen HERE (PDF).
"On the trail of a fortune in stolen gems, Mike Dobson runs into murder—and battles to unlock the sealed door of a bewildering crime mystery!"
Chapter I - "Killer On A Rampage"
Chapter II - "Brass Candlestick"
Chapter III - "Slater Remembers"
Chapter IV - "A Trap Is Sprung"

Principal characters:
~ Mike Dobson: "You're a big man in this city, Mr. Dobson. You have big connections."
~ Mr. Greer: "The wrinkled old man behind the cashier's grill. . ."
~ Eddie Balkus: "A skinny little fellow, with small mean eyes and a long nose. A nervous little guy."
~ Lieutenant Pete Gillis: "One of these days I am going to quit this homicide business and get me a job as custodian in a public library."
~ Raymond Asher: "The elevator starter, a big fleshy man of about forty."
~ Lydia Earnshaw: "She was wearing the same maroon uniform but it did more for her than it did for Asher. She was small and round and cuddly with baby blue eyes and an innocent look on her round face. She flashed me a big smile."
~ Mildred Case: "I don't care about any reward. I mind my own business."
~ Detective Sergeant Truro: "Boy, this one's a beaut. Let me know if you find anything. Let's have some cooperation this time."
~ Mrs. Troy: "This sinful city."
~ Arthur Slater: "I mean the whole thing has been too slick. Those things don't happen just like that. Someway, somehow, you contributed to it unknowingly. You did something which, in itself, was unimportant."
~ Valerie Clements: "I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about, Dobson. Your hat's over there."

   "I like to work alone and I don't like to make too much money. I might get soft and start to slip."
   "I dropped at the sound of the first shot and clawed for my gun. As he swung the gun to me, my own was out spitting flame. He shot at the same time, the bullet whining off the steel cashier's grill near my head. Mine caught him full in the neck. As he started to fall, I had another going in to make sure. He dropped heavily to the floor, the jewelry spilling from his bulging pocket."
   "What do I do? Buy a ouija board?"
   "She moaned again. I lifted her head gently. But as I did, she gave a gasp, some blood trickled out of the corner of her mouth, and she was gone."
   "I eased my gun out of the holster and moved over to the curtain. I kept feeling I was doing it all wrong. I started to turn around but I never quite made it. There was a step behind me—a slight, slithering sound—and something hard came down on the  back of my head and exploded in a blaze of white sparks. I saw the faded carpet come up to meet me as I went out. . . ."
   "Go ahead. Slap it on. I can use it. It goes well with my headache."
   "I play things alone because I get better results that way. If I stick with cops, everything's got to be strictly legal. You can't do it in private work and get results."
   "Tomorrow night the cops are going to take you in and talk to you. They have ways of making you say things."
   "Look out there. In the doorway across the street you'll see a tall guy who looks like the Washington monument with ears. His name's Murphy. He's a cop. He's been on your tail steady since Tuesday. You go home and stay home."
   "I went by her. Her perfume smelled like thirty dollars an ounce."
Mike Dobson's third case happened here.
- Whoever this "B. J. Benson" was, he or she published 22 stories using that monicker between 1948 and 1951, and vanished thereafter; see FictionMags's list HERE.

The bottom line: "If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the Up button."
Sam Levenson