Thursday, April 28, 2016

"It Must Have Been Allotropy"

"The Vanishing Diamonds."
By Charles R. Tanner (1896-1974).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, June 1938.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"A fortune in jewels awaits Professor Stillwell, discoverer of flawless artificial diamonds. Then the gangsters decide to muscle in—and the diamonds begin to disappear."
Chapter I: "I sometimes think that he is not just exactly human . . ."
Chapter II: "A Startling Discovery"
Chapter III: "Disappearing Diamonds"
Chapter IV: "A New Arrival"
Afterword: "Meet the Authors"

Some of the best science fiction (SF) deals with how technological developments affect the individuals who invent them and the society as a whole in which they live; given enough time a list of thousands of stories (and films derived from them) could be adduced, such as The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, of course, but also such seemingly un-SFnal productions as The Man in the White Suit (which our story prefigures by a dozen years) and Singin' in the Rain.

In today's tale, Professor Stillwell, an intellectual polymath and very much the classic absent-minded professor, quite by accident makes a discovery with the potential of changing society, but especially the economy, in ways no one can predict with certainty—but it's safe to assume it'll probably be catastrophic.

If value depends on scarcity, then abundance diminishes value, a fact of life our accidental innovator absentmindedly dismisses, but one which isn't lost on anybody else: his good friend Clem, an incensed mob of jewellers, a man from the Treasury Department—and this little guy with a tiny red moustache, a snub-nosed automatic in his pocket, and an unhealthy interest in getting rich quick.

Principal characters:
~ Professor Isaac N. Stillwell:
   "Yes, I guess it's diamond, all right."
~ Clement Jordan (first-person narrator):
   "Why, man, there's millions in this."
~ Marjorie Barrett (a.k.a. "The Pest"):
   "I think there's something funny about those diamonds."
~ The T-man (unnamed):
   "Looks like there's going to be a regular convention before the night is over."
~ Jeremiah Small:
   "I knew there was something phony about this, but—making 'em!"
~ Tony the Slip:
   "Well, me and a couple of pals has got interested in them diamonds of yours."
- The '30s were a hard time for Charles Tanner; see Wikipedia HERE, a tribute webpage HERE, and his own comments at the end of the story.
- Naturally, Tanner hasn't escaped the attention of the SFE HERE and the ISFDb HERE.
- FictionMags informs us that Tanner produced at least two stories featuring Professor Stillwell, the one above and "The Stillwell Degravitator" (Amazing Stories, February 1941: "Stillwell saw only good in his machine that overcame gravity—until he put it to practical use!").

The bottom line: "Some fool has invented an indestructible cloth. Where is he? How much does he want?"
Sir John Kierlaw

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"One Rash Move from Any of You Will Mean Her Death"

"The Smiling Mask."
By Anonymous.
First appearance: Adventure, September 17, 1921.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE (set page selector to 3).
(Note: Text is faded but readable.)
"An Enthralling New LONG COMPLETE TALE of Mystery and Adventure, introducing DIXON HAWKE, the renowned Detective, Tommy Burke, his fearless young assistant, and the amazing character known as The Black Duke."
Despite the hyped-up introduction just above, this story doesn't "introduce" the character of Dixon Hawke to the world (that was years earlier) but only to the readership of Adventure, a durable British boys' magazine that ran to more than 1,800 issues over sixty years.
Chapter titles:
   One: "Thanks from the Black Duke."
   Two: "The Price of Silence."
   Three: "What the Morning Brought."
   Four: "A Clue Removed."
   Five: "Yokota Makes a Bonfire."
   Six: "A Trail Across the Marshes."
   Seven: "A Surprise for Dixon Hawke."
   Eight: "Hawke and Tommy Go Fishing."
   Nine: "An Eventful Night."
   Ten: "A Confession."
   Eleven: "The Mysterious Man is Found."
   Twelve: "The Sealed Envelope."
   Thirteen: "The Duke at Bay."
   Fourteen: "A Change of Destination."

The set-up is classic: a fabulous jewel, the Star of Jalna, is stolen right out from under the noses of an assembly of fifteen men by the infamous thief known as the Black Duke. Almost immediately the reader learns who- and howdunit, who in fact the notorious Black Duke is; to his own surprise, though, the thief becomes a victim of blackmail—and, again, almost imme-diately we learn who the blackmailer is.

Comes the dawn, however, and the blackmailer has himself been murdered, "an ebony-handled knife protruding from his breast, his eyes staring sightlessly upward—rigid in death," in a locked room in a country house no less, with a note signed by the Black Duke nearby; but the reader will doubtless agree with the police inspector when he remarks, "I haven't much use for this dramatic stuff, and I don't believe a fellow who committed a crime like this would leave his visiting-card behind him." Of course, that could be a double bluff. Enter Dixon Hawke, for whom this case isn't a mere robbery any more, but a full-blown locked room murder puzzle with a surfeit of suspects.

Principal characters:
~ Montague Eldridge:
   "What is the use of locking them away in a safe deposit? I like to have them near me, so that I can examine them when I like. My safe is fire-proof, and burglar proof—"
~ Matthew Staples:
   "No safe is burglar-proof."
~ Julian Leppard:
   "Are you suggesting that one of us has the diamond, Mr. Hawke? I suggest we submit to a search."
~ Dixon Hawke:
   "Present day miracles are capable of explanation."
~ Mrs. Abbott:
   "Oh, you—you mustn't think Miss Margaret had anything to do with killing her uncle."
~ Margaret Childs:
   "I hate him! Sometimes, I—I feel I shall kill him."
~ Gilbert Kendall:
   "I—I think I hate him, too, for the way he treats you."
~ Yokota:
   "I burn some rubbish, sir, that inconveniently encumbered the yard."
~ Tommy Burke:
   "My hat! it's a gloomy sort of a show, guv'nor. Reckon I'd get the creeps if I had to hang out here."
~ Inspector Robert Goodair:
   "Bit of a puzzle, Mr. Hawke. There isn't a mark on the flower border nor on the soft gravel, so it's dead certain a ladder was not used. If it wasn't for that locked door, I'd say this was an inside job."
~ Hookey Noakes:
   "I'll scoot back and get the boys together. Seems to me rather a risky game . . ."
~ Arthur Childs:
   "I was innocent of the charge brought against me; my uncle hated me, and I believe he knew the truth. He let me go to penal servitude, and I believe he blackmailed the man who was really guilty."

Typos: "Hwake"; "thn girl."
- Background articles on Dixon Hawke (a Sherlock Holmes/Nick Carter clone who allegedly appeared in over 5,500 adventures written by uncounted authors of highly variable abilities) can be found HERE (Public Domain Superheroes), HERE (Mystery*File article by David Vineyard: "The most important thing to note about Dixon Hawke is that young Kenneth Millar, Ross Macdonald, was a fan, and the Hawke books are fun, but they are much closer to the comics than even the hero pulps"), and HERE (The Crime Fighters by Lofts and Adley), the last summarizing the character this way:
Dixon Hawke was called by many 'The Scottish Detective' because he was created and issued by the powerful publishing firm of D. C. Thomson of Dundee, Scotland. Hawke first appeared in 1919 in the Dixon Hawke Library, which ran through 576 issues right up to 1941, followed by Dixon Hawke Case Books, consisting of short stories. He also appeared in short stories in The Adventure. In the early 1970s he was still appearing in the The Sunday Post newspaper. Dozens of authors are known to have written the exploits of this famous sleuth.
Dixon Hawke was tall and aquiline, wore a dressing gown, and smoked a blackened briar. His assistant was Tommy Burke, and he had a bloodhound called Solomon. Hawke was a very influential detective, well enough known to dine with the Prime Minister. His friends at the Yard were Detective Inspector Baxter, Chief of Scotland Yard’s C.I.D. and Flying Squad, and William Baxford, Chief Assistant to Detective Inspector Duncan McPhinney. Hawke’s rooms were in Dover Street, just off Piccadilly and opposite the Ritz Hotel, and his house-keeper was a Mrs. Martha Benvie. A strange assortment of garments and disguises was littered in a small windowless room, sandwiched between two bookcases and hidden behind a curtain, and his rooms also had a somewhat hidden back flight of stairs, which few people knew about and which allowed him to get out unobserved. Hawke had a big Sunbeam roadster and a two-seater sports car that Tommy Burke drove. — W.O.G. Lofts and Derek Adley, The Crime Fighters

The bottom line: "Two and two, Mrs. Kendall, always make four."
— Dixon Hawke

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"I Can't Figure What Ever Made You Take Up This Sleuth-hound Business Instead of Turning into a Painter"

Fletcher Pratt was many things, including a serious military historian as well as a fiction writer; when it came to science fiction and fantasy, he was singularly adept at both writing and criticizing it. Below we highlight his two short novels dealing with future crime which feature Secret Service Agent George H. Jones; the Thrilling Wonder Stories editor (Samuel Mines) felt it necessary to add this preface:

   AT LEAST three different people prominent in publishing have told us recently they believe science fiction is taking the place of the detective story and will eventually assume the position of popularity the whodunit once held.
   This may be prophecy or only opinion. Despite some excellent writing in the detective field the stories tend to stereotypes; whereas science fiction is primarily a literature of ideas. Our able Fletcher Pratt, however, became interested in one angle of this: what would crime of the future be like? Would it not be as full of new ideas as the technology of that civilization could provide?
  The answer is a science-fiction-detective story. We found it absorbing. Will it replace the detective story, or merely found a new branch of science fiction?
   —The Editor 

"Double Jeopardy."
By Fletcher Pratt (1897-1956).
Illustrations by Virgil Finlay.
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1952.
Novelette (36 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Note: Some smudged text.)
"It began with a miracle-drug, a reversed half-dollar, and a girl named Betty-Marie, who preferred math to men. . . . "
When some funny money (not funny ha-ha, funny peculiar) suddenly appears, it falls to the Secret Service to investigate; but it'll be up to Agent Jones to surmount a very high stone wall in order to determine what the faux dough has to do with a rare drug, perfect replicas of even rarer objets d'art, a girl with a knock-out figure but a fluctuating personality, an old college pal acting like a clam, and a man whose finger- and toe-nails have turned yellow and fallen off.

Principal characters:
~ George Helmfleet Jones:
   "You know how easy it is to spot the difference between someone who's merely hiding something, and someone who's hiding something damaging."
~ The Chief:
   ". . . there's something very queer going on, and more than one government agency would like to know what it is."
~ Richard Mansfield:
   "Wait till you see our Betty-Marie. She's my secret sorrow."
~ Betty-Marie Taliaferro:
   "Tell me something, Mr. Jones. Do you Secret Service people find our best modern technical processes make it easier for counterfeiters to work or for you to catch them?"
~ Angela Benson:
   "If you want to marry me, I will."
~ Mrs. Twining:
   "Miss Angela, you know very well that the boss told you not to let anyone in here, ever."
~ Everett Benson:
   "Oh, so you're one of those April Fool dicks with a tin star who goes around with some floozy trying to work the badger game! I thought that story about you being interested in art was pretty phony."
~ Abe Schneidermann:
   "As this is kidnapping, which is a fed rap, even though not in our division, I start across the street to help her, but before I can get there, the lights go out, and the next thing I know, I am here."
~ Chief Moran:
   "There wasn't any robbery, you see. Probably some college kids having a practical joke for themselves."
~ Detective Aldi:
   "I said it was a Rochester job."

Typos: "I like fotball on the video"; "the missing objects d'art had been discovered"; "it wasn't too a long walk."

~ ~ ~

Here's how editor Mines introduced the next story, which, mirabile dictu, is an SFnal take on the classic locked room puzzle:

   A GRASSHOPPER can jump a hundred times its own length; a man barely four times his. An ant can walk off with a load twenty times its own weight while a strong man can lift about twice his and a horse or an elephant considerably less than their own weights. And the big old dinosaurs could hardly stagger along under the crushing load of their own muscle.
   The trouble lies in the square cube law, which states that if you square your size you cube your weight. Translated, if you are twice as big you are not merely twice as heavy, but eight times as heavy. Which means you've got to have eight times as much muscle to move you, which adds to your weight—and so starts a vicious cycle which is the main reason the dinosaurs died out. They couldn't move.
   The same principle applies in power mechanics. If you double the weight or the speed of your car, you need eight times as much horsepower to shove it.
   The square cube law sometimes gives engineers gray hair, but it has given our Fletcher Pratt the springboard nudge for a very different kind of story. Also, it's a sequel to DOUBLE JEOPARDY, which you read in the April issue.
   —The Editor

"The Square Cube Law."
By Fletcher Pratt (1897-1956).
Illustrations by Virgil Finlay.
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1952.
Novelette (39 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"The disappearance of three million dollars from the sealed rocket ship was a man-sized problem. But the answer was bigger than that!"
Working on the flimsiest of leads, Secret Service Agent Jones is forced to take risks to unravel an intricate case of theft, counterfeiting, and impersonation, culminating in a double murder; as he tells his colleagues, "This whole thing shows long and careful planning," going back years.

Principal characters:
~ George Helmfleet Jones:
   "When we run into one of these cases, we always look for the man who quits the job."
~ Dr. Runciman:
   "After the spy-ray system was installed, it seemed rather pointless to keep a watchman up all night, so an alarm system was rigged to awaken him and at the same time to notify the police if anyone attempted to enter, either through the gate or by way of the fence. On the night in question, he was not awakened."
~ Richard Mansfield:
   "The fellows we had here at the time all thought it was an inside job."
~ Betty (no hyphen) Marie Taliaferro:
   "But we haven't been counterfeiting anything!"
~ Angela Jones (née Benson):
   "It's nothing serious, I think. Just that somebody's been snooping around to find out what case you were on."
~ Dewey O'Neill:
   "You got a lot of faith in these government psychs. Me, I think they're a bunch of witch-doctors with political pull."
~ Case Executive Howard:
   "Do your theories go so far as to explain how the money got out of the rocket?"
~ Di Paduano of the Federal Reserve:
   "May I remind you that your questions are an invasion of personal privacy unless you have a court order or a prima facie case against him? I'm afraid you'll have to ask someone else. Good afternoon."
~ Esselstein:
   "He seems to have just disappeared."
~ The Supt.:
   "Some babe! She drives up in one of them Cardigan two-seat bubble cars, the kind with the one wheel in front."
~ Swigart:
   "What can you do? The first thing he did was yell for a mouthpiece, and the springer won't even let us put the lights on him. Personal liberty laws!"
~ Baker, the rocket port official:
   "There isn't a chance of substituting another rocket for the one that starts out. You'd have to have powerful radar stations and a landing somewhere, and our own stations would register the difference in flight."
~ Hinrich:
   "When a parcel is claimed here, instead of being delivered, we make them put up enough identification to get past St. Peter into Heaven. I don't remember what this guy had, but it must of been plenty good."
~ Dolly Di Paduano:
   "Look, I do know Wesley Warburton quite well, but it's silly to think that he would have anything to do with a robbery."
~ Wesley Eustace Warburton:
   "He found the girl surprisingly co-operative—and she paid for it with her life."

Typos: "Inductions were completed"; "contrasted strangely wth the way"; "he came over here he got that phone call."

- Wikipedia has more about Fletcher Pratt HERE, with additional bibliographical info at those indispensable databases, the SFE HERE and the ISFDb HERE.
- Pratt would combine both of these stories into a fixup novel, Double Jeopardy (1952); see Wikipedia HERE for more [WARNING: Plot SPOILERS; read the stories first]; several editions of the book are for sale HERE [SPOILERS in the product description].
- At one point in "The Square Cube Law," Agent Jones says: "Can you imagine what the economic effects of having any number of these reproducers in action would be? Neither can anybody else, and they don't dare take the chance." Jim Henry III has imagined some of the possible effects HERE: "Zookeepers and veterinarians would be the new bankers," for example.
- As with shapeshifters, Star Trek also has its "reproducers"; see HERE (Wikipedia), HERE (Memory Alpha), and HERE (TV Tropes) for the 411 on that extremely implausible technology.
- As for the pesky square-cube law, see HERE (Wikipedia) and HERE (TV Tropes).
Fletcher Pratt (left) with Christopher Morley (center) and Rex Stout (1944)

The bottom line: "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
Sherlock Holmes

Thursday, April 21, 2016

March's Top 5

We always marvel at which posts attract the most attention; here are the ones from March for the last three years.
March 2016
(1) "Nobody Missed It at First" -  HERE
(2) "Don't Ever Think Things Can't Get Tougher — They Always Do" - HERE
(3) "It Would Be So Nice to Live in the Twentieth Century with Its Crimes and Insanity" - HERE
(4) "I'm Sure He Has Holed Up Somewhere in the Jovian System" - HERE
(5) "If a Thunderbolt Had Fallen It Could Hardly Have Caused Greater Consternation" - HERE

March 2014
(1) "Puzzle Plots Are Nearly Completely Absent" - HERE
(2) "The Author's Ingenuity Is Great, but . . ." - HERE
(3) "An Interesting Story in the Jules Verne Manner" - HERE
(4) "From Thrilling Scene to More Thrilling Scene, We Hurry" - HERE
(5) "Detective Stories Are Shouted For" - HERE

March 2015
(1) "A Hardcore Mystery Fan Couldn't Ask for a More Literate and Witty Refresher in the Genuine Traditional Mystery" - HERE
(2) "Detective-story Addicts May Be Divided, As Roughly As You Feel Like Handling Them, Into Two Classes . . ." - HERE
(3) "When People Talk of the Perfect Murder . . ." - HERE
(4) "Its Literary Significance Is Equivalent Perhaps to That of the Crossword Puzzle" - HERE
(5) "Men Are Such Brutes" - HERE

An Odd Assortment from '28 (intermezzo)

Here are some more graduates from the Golden Age Class of '28; a few of them sound intriguing enough to merit reprints, but as for the others . . .

(Note to regular readers: The FictionMags listings are proving slippery, with the URLs unexpectedly changing without notice, so starting after this posting we're not linking to that site, although we will continue to refer to it; you're welcome to explore it on your own, of course.)

~ The Murder of Mrs. Davenport by Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson, 1899-1973):
   Contemporary review:
   The Outlook, September 5, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "It all started at a dinner party, as so many things do, from divorce to ptomaine poisoning. One of the guests was Mrs. Davenport, who many years ago under another name had been tried and acquitted for poisoning her husband. A few days later Mrs. Davenport was found strangled in her apartment. Suspicion pointed to Denis Brinsley, whom she had tried to blackmail, and who was now engaged to the beautiful Lucille Tudor. Suspicion, of course, was wrong. Why and how, you shall learn if you read this not too exciting but plausible and fairly ingenious tale."

   Resources: Wikipedia HERE ... Enotes HERE ... Authors' Calendar HERE ... GAD Wiki HERE ... Mike Grost HERE ... FictionMags HERE ... Thrilling Detective HERE ... and The Passing Tramp HERE and HERE.

~ The New Gun Runners (a.k.a. The Factory on the Cliff) by Neil Gordon (Archibald Gordon Macdonell, 1895-1941):
   Contemporary review:
   The Outlook, November 7, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Quite awful was the plot by which De la Rey and his daughter and their associates expected to do away finally with all war and oppression, and they would have succeeded, too, if it hadn't been for several very inquisitive young men who seemed to have nothing more important to do than peek through windows and gumshoe around other people's back yards. Nevertheless, what with bombs and Bolsheviks and midnight attacks and quite a lot of ruthlessness, it's an exciting story, told not too seriously. Only we feel that with the motor traffic on the roads around London what it is today, it was a little inconsiderate of Mr. Gordon to run so many long processions of cars through the streets. You know the kind of thing. You jump in a taxi and say, 'Follow that car ahead. There's an extra sovereign in it if you don't lose him.' And then a man who has been watching you picks up the next taxi, and a friend of yours who has been watching him picks up the next one, and so on until you have the beginnings of a very respectable parade."

   Resource: Wikipedia HERE.

~ Murder Mansion by Herman Landon (1882-1960):
   Contemporary review:
   The Saturday Review, January 12, 1929 (HERE):
   "This is one of those stories in which the author, determined that something startling shall happen in every chapter, lets nothing come between him and his purpose. If it is unreason-able for a character to have said this, done that, or suppressed the other, and if such unreasonableness will hatch out the desired chapteral surprise, then overboard with the character's sanity. And, say what you will about the story, Mr. Landon did what he set out to do: 'Murder Mansion' has its full share of acrobatics.
   "It deals with young Donald Chadmore, who came home from a western penitentiary, was shadowed by a man with no eyebrows, imprisoned by a man with a silky voice, frightened by a horrible face, called 'big boy'—oh, how many times!—by a childhood sweetheart, accused of murder by a district attorney, bequeathed a haunted house and a family curse by a murdered uncle, and finally brought to wealth, happiness, and freedom from suspicion by loyal servitors. None of the properties of this sort of tale is omitted: all the old company is here, even to the cryptic message on time-yellowed paper."

   Resources: Landon's 'Shadow' story on radio HERE ... IMDb HERE ... Amazon's Herman Landon pages HERE and HERE.

~ The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley (Anthony Berkeley Cox, 1893-1971):
   Contemporary review:
   The Outlook, September 19, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Truly awful was the epidemic of suicides among the young ladies of the theatrical world. First one, then another, would screw a hook into the door of her room and hang herself to it with one of her own silk stockings. Roger Sheringham thought all this rather queer, investi-gated it, and with the help of a girl, several dozen Scotland Yard employees, and the author, brought the murderer to justice. A good deal of time was lost by the inspectors and commis-sioners sitting around and telling each other what a difficult case this was. But the author didn't let them down, and the Yard's reputation was saved. We were puzzled by the use in conversation of the phrase 'I'll buy it' until it occurred to us that it was probably an English author's rendering of the American slang 'I'll bite'."

   Resources: Wikipedia HERE ... GAD Wiki HERE ... Mike Grost HERE ... Mystery*File HERE ... My Reader's Block HERE ... and FictionMags HERE.

~ Murder Will Out by George E. Minot (?-?) (true crime):
   Contemporary review:
   The Outlook, November 28, 1928 by Edward Hale Bierstadt (HERE):
   "Mr. Minot of the 'Boston Herald' has given us twenty-nine murders, all of them American and most of them New England. In digging into the old records and unearthing interesting material the author has done yeoman service. He is not always accurate, however, and he writes rather badly. Here is a lesser Pearson. Nonetheless, no one who is interested in murder, mystery or in crime in general should miss this book."

   Resource: Online HERE.

~ The Secret Brotherhood by John G. Brandon (1879-1941):

   Resource: The GAD Wiki HERE.

~ The Door of Death by John Esteven (Samuel Shellabarger, 1888-1954):
   Contemporary review:
   The Outlook, November 14, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "The Baglioni family, who once ruled Perugia, must have been a hard lot. Beside them the Borgias were a group of innocent little romping children. This story deals with two modern scions of that sinister race, Francis and Carl, who lived in a big house full of Italian antiques and instruments of torture. And first every one who lives in the house begins to go Renais-sance and to gloat over blood and treachery, and then the stranglings and tortures begin. Plenty of excitement, but our hero, with the assistance of the detectives Norse and Roose and a couple of platoons of police, comes through at the end with a girl and a couple of bullet holes as mementos."

   Resource: Wikipedia HERE.

~ The Swinging Shutter by C. Fraser-Simson (?-?):
   Contemporary review:
   The Outlook, October 17, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Queer goings on at Aunt Rosa's house at Drumlogan. Shirley couldn't understand them, and neither could we, although we could see that Nurse Jacobs and Dr. Tellman and Lola were up to no good. Obviously Ralph wasn't any use, but we realized from the first that Dallas could be relied on. And all the while the shutter on the old inn swings back and forth, and there isn't any more reason for that than for anything else. Oh well, perhaps we expect too much. You'll probably find it fairly exciting if you don't care why."

   Resource: IMDb for film version of another book by this author HERE.

~ The Enterprising Burglar by Hearnden Balfour:
   Buckingham Books description (HERE):
   "[Hearnden Balfour is the] joint pseudonym of Eva Balfour and Beryl Hearnden. Author's second mystery novel. A burglar, who robs from the rich and distributes to the poor, escapes from a train wreck with the brief case of a dangerous enemy agent. Is this enterprising burglar up to the havoc he's brought upon himself?"

- Our previous Class of '28 installment is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"No, I Don't Know What a Ray-gun Looks Like"

"Mystery of the White Raider."
By Thornton Ayre (John Russell Fearn, 1908-60).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, February 1940.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"Who was the horrible white monster who raided Square 14, in Manhattan, and what was it he sought in the ruins? Was he from an underground world or was he a human freak?"
Chapter titles: "The Work of a Fiend" — "Episode at the Bridge" — "The Decoy Theft" — "Metamorphosis" — Last page: Author's discussion of the story.

In the distant future (1990), a heinous and apparently unmotivated massacre occurs, and the boys from the Scientific Investigation Bureau have their hands full trying to pin down an assailant who, to all appearances, looks unpindownable—and what's with the killer's homicidal fascination with miniature calligraphy?

Principal characters:
~ Chief Inspector Vincent Burke, Head of the Scientific Investigation Bureau's homicide squad:
   "Now get this boys. We're up against either a planetary murderer or else an insane man. If the former, he's the first visitor from another world, but that doesn't make him less dangerous; the opposite, in fact. We've got to find him! . . . Get him—dead or alive!"
~ "Sphinx" Grantham, Burke's personal assistant:
   "This is absurd. Why a ray-gun? We don't even use 'em yet."
~ Arthur Corton, an eyewitness:
   "I—I saw him—for a moment. About six feet tall, nearly naked, color of wet bread—"
~ "Big Boss" Calman, head of the Bureau:
   "But how did the Outcast get in here without being seen?"
~ Dr. Rayfrew, chief medical examiner:
   "You'll see for yourself the organs of this creature are utterly different from ours."
~ Officer Higson:
   "Come right away or it'll be too late."
~ An antique dealer:
   "He stole my rice, my instruments, and—and ransacked the place."
~ Terry Walton of the Salvage Department:
   "This what you were wanting, Burke? We dug it out of the river bed as you ordered."
~ The chief keeper of the safety vault:
   "Good heavens, you don't mean I was drawn off to recite all that stuff and there was nobody listening on the other end!"
~ Bradshaw, a scientist and inventor:
   "I know plenty of war-mongers on this world would like that ray of mine for destructive purposes."

~ The Frequency Detector:
   "The 'fingerprint' instrument of the future, taking the electrical aura of any living body and registering it in so many frequencies. No two bodies can have the same set of frequencies, any more than there can be two identical sets of fingerprints. — Author."
~ Base boxes:
   "The car went on, stopped at last in the middle of the great bridge where there reposed a base box—apparatus not unlike a railway signal box of old. There were seventy of these in the city, all told, from which the various operators of the Bureau controlled their particular quarter of the metropolis. They were in truth the police precinct stations of this advanced year."
- Anybody as prolific as John Russell Fearn simply had to leave behind evidence of his existence: Wikipedia HERE ... the GAD Wiki HERE ... the SFE HERE ... and the ISFDb HERE.
- Fearn was fluent in just about all pulp genres, including crime and mystery fiction; see Pretty Sinister Books HERE and HERE, The Locked Room Mystery HERE, and Mike Grost's megasite HERE ("At least a dozen of his [Fearn's] 1940's and 1950's detective novels and stories involve impossible crimes").
- FictionMags has not only a listing for Fearn but also a separate one for his series character Violet Ray, The Golden Amazon ("Fearn frankly admitted that the character of the Amazon was 'Tarzanesque' in origin—an infant lost in the jungle. But Violet Ray had been lost in the jungles of Venus, not Africa, a survivor of a crashed spaceship"); see also a thorough article by Philip Harbottle about this character on The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box site HERE.
- About two dozen of Fearn's SF stories have been collected on an Amazon Kindle Megapack HERE.
- Shapeshifting is an ancient concept found in most cultures; see Wikipedia HERE for a big article about it. Star Trek, for instance, has had more than its share of protean life forms; see Memory Alpha HERE.
- Our story involves Uranus, the first planet to be discovered with a telescope; see Wikipedia HERE for its treatment in fiction and HERE for what we actually know about it.

The bottom line:
   I can add colors to the chameleon,
   Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
   And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
   Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
     — Shakespeare

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"You Might Say This Is the Story of a Murder — Although Nobody Was Killed"

"A Kind of Murder."
By Hugh Pentecost (Judson Philips, 1903-89).
First appearance: EQMM, August 1962.
Reprinted in EQMM (U.K.), December 1962 and EQMM (Australia), February 1963.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online HERE (PDF).
(Note: Crimped text.)
"I have lived for many years with the burden on my conscience of having been responsible for the existence of a walking dead man."
Sometimes a murderer doesn't need to use a weapon—indeed, doesn't need to do anything at all.

Principal characters:
~ Pentecost (narrator): The murderer.
~ Silas Warren: The victim.
~ Henry Huntingdon Hadley: The headmaster.
~ Major Durand: The bully.
~ Sammy Callahan: The class cutup.
~ Teddy: The quadruped.
- Wikipedia HERE and the GAD Wiki HERE have much to say about "Hugh Pentecost," with a little more on the IMDb HERE.
- Mike Grost has a substantial entry about "Pentecost" on his Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection HEREwhile Mystery*File has paid visits to other works by Philips HERE and HERE.
- One of Pentecost's series characters was John Jericho, featured in six novels and a couple of dozen EQMM short stories; see The Thrilling Detective HERE and FictionMags HERE for more.
- Also from FictionMags (HERE) we learn that Philips started his writing career in the '20s and kept it going for another sixty-four years.

The bottom line: "Indifference is a paralysis of the soul, a premature death."
Anton Chekhov

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"I Know the Inner Mysteries of Past, Present, and I Shall Attain to the Future"

"The Dimension Twister."
By Hugh King Harris (?-?).
First appearance: Wonder Stories, April 1933.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and Comic Book Plus HERE (set page selector to 88).
"A scientific detective tale"
How mad can a mad scientist get? In their only known adventure, Forbs and Wycks are about to find out . . .

Principal characters:
~ Kent Forbs, B.S., M.C., Ph.L.:
   "His dark, deep-set eyes glowed with that curious fire flaring when his inner spirit of research was aroused."
~ Stan Wycks:
   "Wycks flashed his light about, darting rays up among festoons of cobwebs, then across that pit of death."
~ Ungar:
   ". . . some so-called matter contains infinitely more electrons and atoms per molecule than others. I have listened to the sound of these electrons as they revolve, with mad rapidity. I have counted them. But I have not gone far enough . . ."
~ Quayle:
   "He said he intended to explore my brain, turn my talents into his own mind."

Typos: "from the graves of Egytian dead"; "Forbs eyes narowed"; "he was scarce breathing"; "sought the gun gressing his side"; "Wyck's took a step"; "I know he clugged you."

- Harris's extremely anemic F&SF bibliography is at the ISFDb HERE.
- If, after reading "The Dimension Twister," you still haven't had enough of mad scientists, there's an Amazon Kindle Megapack loaded with them HERE.

The bottom line: "I was a dog in a past life. Really. I'll be walking down the street and dogs will do a sort of double take. Like, 'Hey, I know him'."
William H. Macy

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An Odd Assortment from '28

Deep in detective fiction's Golden Age, nineteen twenty-eight saw the publication of many of what are by now almost completely forgotten books, so if you've never heard of them (and, what's worse, might never hear of them again) it's perfectly understandable—that and, we must regretfully add, the poor writing some of them evinced, occasionally provoking the sarcastic wit of a reviewer. (Note: A few of these titles and their authors are so obscure that we could find little or no information concerning them. Also note that the ghost story and science fiction were not yet being thought of as genres separate from the mystery.)

~ The Prisoner in the Opal by A. E. W. Mason (1865-1948):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Saturday Review, December 8, 1928 (HERE):
   "That very respectable bon vivant, Mr. Julius Ricardo, was a house guest at the Chateau Suvlac for the vintage. Among others at the chateau were Joyce Whipple, the California Cinderella; lovely wicked Mrs. Devenish; Diana Tasborough, their hostess; the Abbe Fauriel, whose linen vestments and cassock had been stolen; and the Vicomte de Mirandol, whose mouth was too small and whose hand was boneless and wet.
   "Between these several people ran undercurrents of feeling that disturbed Mr. Ricardo. Then Miss Whipple and Mrs. Devenish disappeared from their rooms one night, and with the next day came M. Hanaud—the remarkable French detective who so remarkably understood English idioms—to announce that the naked corpse of a young woman whose right hand had been hacked off had been found in a basket, floating on the surface of the Gironde. She was one of the missing guests.
   "There was a purple mask. There were footprints in a flower bed. There were clues that led to the Cave of the Mummies, and to the Widow Chicholl's den. There was also some foolish-ness about a gate which would have been better left out; but that was the only flaw, and a small one, in an otherwise thoroughly satisfactory detective story; one that deserves a place at the top of the list."
   The Bookman, December 1928 (HERE):
   "Another macabre story in which the author's famous detective, M. Hanaud, cleverly solves the mystery at Chateau Suxlac and brings to justice the disciples of Guibourg, infamous abbe of the Black Mass."
   Resources: Project Gutenberg Australia HERE ... Wikipedia HERE ... the GAD Wiki HERE ... Redeeming Qualities HERE ... the IMDb HERE ... Project Gutenberg HERE ... and the ISFDb HERE.
~ The Man Who Laughed by Gerard Fairlie (1899-1983):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Outlook, November 14, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Concerns the Octopus, a crook who hid behind curtains and laughed at his pursuers, and the efforts of Jack and Vic, assisted by Scotland Yard, to capture him. Oh, yes, and that brave little woman, Jack's fiancee, Jean. In spite of the huge amounts of sandwiches and beer the sleuths consumed they were able to move about with a good deal of speed and cause a lot of excitement for the reader."
   The Bookman, December 1928 (HERE):
   "Two ex-secret service men, with the assistance of Scotland Yard, foil the plans of the thieving man who laughs."
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE ... the GAD Wiki HERE ... Mystery*File HERE ... and the IMDb HERE.
~ Murder by Evelyn Davies Johnson (?-?) and Gretta Palmer (Gretta Brooker Palmer Clark, 1905-53):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Bookman, December 1928 (HERE):
   "The clews to a series of crimes are given and the reader is to be detective. Lovers of mystery will find this new game intriguing."
   The Saturday Review, December 8, 1928 by William Bolitho (HERE):
   "The strange history of the detective story reaches a trunk-junction this season with the first two books on my list [the other being 'Baffle Book']. The authors of 'Murder' explain in their preface: 'The problems that constitute this book are really nothing more nor less than thirty-two complete detective stories, reduced to the essential facts. There is no padding, and the insipid and irritating love interest that is an integral part of the conventional detective story has in all cases been omitted. Short of having the stories read like excerpts from a dry-goods catalogue, we have presented our cases as tersely as possible.' That is, quite plainly, one line of the evolution of this peculiar literary form has ended in the Puzzle; somewhat the fate of the acrostic in poetry.
   "The authors of 'Murder,' and the 'Baffle Book,' are not to blame; they have honestly recognized a situation which has long existed in fact. From an esthetic point of view, it is a pity; for we have gained a not particularly interesting form of indoor game, doomed probably to develop more and more as thesenaked essays in it show, on the lines of arithmetic rather than psychology. The time of the crime, the role of distance in the alibi; these are the only elements in the clue system which do not tend to become exhausted by repetition, and the inevitable abuse of these leads straight to the dreary problems at the chapter ends of text-books of arithmetic and elementary algebra. Could the suspect have made it in time? How long would it take to fill tank C, given the flow of taps A and B?"
   Resource: FictionMags HERE.

~ The Diamond Rose Mystery by Gertrude Knevels (1881-1962):
   Contemporary review:
   The Outlook, September 12, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "When Lee, the beautiful pearl stringer of Greenwich Village got mixed up with a gang of lady thugs known as the Wildcats, she had quite an awful time. They thought no more of croaking a wench than you or I would of squashing an importunate mosquito. But Lee and her boy friend got the better of them, found the Rose and restored it to the rightful owner in the very teeth of Big Ellen, Kangaroo Kate, the Mouse, Angel Emma, Two-Gun Tillie, Phila-delphia Poll, Nellie the lady human fly—to name a few of these demons in human form. This story consists of action, interspersed with action, and with occasional pauses for more action. Quite breathless, in fact."

~ The Crimson Quest by Dennis Barr (?-?):
   All we could find is a picture of the cover:
~ Blind Circle by Maurice Renard (1875-1939) and Albert Jean (1892-1975):
   Contemporary review:
   The Saturday Review, December 8, 1928 (HERE):
   "There was a sore famine of cadavers in Paris. Dead bodies of the poor and homeless were no longer left unclaimed in hospitals, to be sent to the dissection rooms of medical schools. That great and good man Sir James Burlingham had begun to look after the indigent dead, to see that they were properly buried, so that each would recover his carnal envelope, unhacked by medical students, when the final trumpet should sound on judgment day. The director of the School of Medicine was pretty badly worried.
   "Somebody stole the corpse of Manon Duguet—actress and courtesan, two weeks dead —from its grave, and an attempt was made to asphyxiate a Dane named Menvel on the street. People began to remember the times and customs of Burke and Hare. Then, between midnight and midday of the same day, four newly dead bodies turned up, one at Nogent-sur-Mame, one in Paris, one in Dijon, and one in Pontarlier. There was not the slightest doubt, when they were laid out side by side in the morgue, that each of the four was the complete corpse of one man, and of the same man, Richard Cirugue, a jewelry salesman.
   "Nobody could explain that, not even Rosy, the astrologer with a Ninevite beard and Mephistophelian eyebrows. The authors explain that, as satisfactorily as is necessary, with the help of more or less familiar super-scientific and psychic formulae. All of the book's shudders don't come off, but it is on the whole an adequately gruesome fantasy."
   A much later appraisal:
   "A comedy of manners with a scientific McGuffin—matter duplication of living organisms. The French science fiction writer J. H. Rosny is a minor character. Translated from the French [badly according to Bleiler] by Florence Crewe-Jones."
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE ... French Wikipedia HERE ... FictionMags HERE ... Others HERE and HERE.
~ The Instrument of Destiny by John D. Beresford (1873-1947):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Outlook, October 3, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Gregory Fytton was having one of his periodical dying spells. He had summoned his family to his bedside. But the family was, quite excusably, a little skeptical. They had been summoned before. Nevertheless they went, suppressing the vague hope that this time he might go through with it and by the terms of his will—for he was a rich man—leave them the money which they all so desperately needed. And then one afternoon when the nurse was absent someone popped a cyanide crystal in the old gentleman's mouth and he abruptly and quite against his intention joined his ancestors. Whose hand was the instrument of destiny? There were half a dozen people in the house who had much to gain by his death. It's not an exciting story, but it is well written, and the solution, we believe, will surprise you."
   The Saturday Review, November 17, 1928 (HERE):
   "Mr. Beresford made a mistake when he wrote this detective story. The esteemed English novelist here placed himself (temporarily, we hope) about eighteen rungs below his accus-tomed position on the literary ladder. "The Instrument of Destiny" is not the equal of the average detective novel in conception or in development. The necessary murder comes wearily late in the plot, and its solution is as laborious as it is unsatisfactory. There is considerable doubt whether either Mr. Beresford's friends or the discriminating followers of detective fiction will find any pleasure in these pages."
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE ... the SFE HERE ... and the ISFDb HERE.

~ American Ghost Stories edited by C. Armitage Harper (?-?):
   "The Specter Bridegroom" / W. Irving — "Ligeia" / E. A. Poe — "The Ghost of Dr. Harris" / N. Hawthorne — "What Was It?" / F. O'Brien — "A Ghost Story" / M. Twain — "The Trans-ferred Ghost" / F. R. Stockton — "A Ghost Story" / J. C. Harris — "The Rival Ghosts" / B. Matthews — "The Damned Thing" / A. Bierce — "The Eyes" / E. Wharton — "The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall" / J. K. Bangs — "The Shadows on the Wall" / M. E. W. Freeman — "The Upper Berth" / F. M. Crawford — 'Dey ain't no ghosts' / E. P. Butler — "The Woman at Seven Brothers" / W. D. Steele — "The Hand" / T. Dreiser.

~ Who Killed Gregory? by Eugene Jones (?-?):
   A non-contemporary review:
   The Study Lamp, 15 February 2012 by Darrell (HERE):
   [Excerpt] "There is much entertainment to be found, and Dr. Stanley makes for a humorous narrator, especially when facetiously casting his housekeeper in the role of least likely suspect. The story only falters with the explanation of the locked room mystery."
~ The Shadow on the Left by Augustus Muir (Charles Augustus Carlow Muir, 1892-1989):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Saturday Review, October 27, 1928 (HERE):
   "Here is a tale that deals with what happened on and around the Isle of Shennach when the laird's poverty drove him into the clutches of a gang of scoundrels. Most of the things that happened were dark-of-the-moon expeditions among burns, cairns, castles, crags, crypts, dikes, gillies, glens, lochs, moors, and other Scottish appurtenances. There is plenty of excitement in the book, but not all of the excitement is exciting."
   The Outlook, October 17, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Generally speaking, we believe that the best thrillers are those in which the hero, after being warned away from the mystery which he wants to solve by the angry zip of a midnight bullet from the gun of an unknown assailant, decides to go it alone without calling in the police. This eliminates at once the worst feature of nine out of ten detective stories—the detective. You know immediately that the author is going in for hair raising rather than for hair splitting. You know that instead of fingerprints, footprints, chemical analyses, consta-bles, disguises and essential clues, you will have battle, murder and sudden death. You know that you won't have to wade through a hundred or more pages of fiction detective logic in order to reach on page 308 a conclusion that you foresaw on page 26—a process which is about as thrilling as listening to someone else's explanation of how he solved a crossword puzzle.
   "Now this book hasn't a detective in it, and from the moment when Peter and Bobby, on their way to dine with the Glencairns at their lonely house in the Hielans, find a wounded man in the bracken, there's not a page that will give you even time to fill and light a fresh pipe. There are enough villains to stock a jail, enough heroes to man the Argo. And there's the lovely Fiona, who has the good sense not to permit Peter to make love to her until you're within sight of the words 'The End' at the foot of the page. We've read a couple of hogsheads of thrillers in the last few months—this is one of the three best."
   Resource: More about another Muir novel at Crossexamining Crime HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism