Thursday, June 30, 2016

"A Sigh—Then a Small, Subdued Noise of a Little Body Crumpling to the Floor"

"Murder with Flowers."
By Patrick Quentin (Richard Webb, 1901-66, and Hugh Wheeler, 1912-87).
First appearance: The American Magazine, December 1941.
Expanded into a novel, Puzzle for Puppets (1944).
Collected in The Puzzles of Peter Duluth (Crippen & Landru, 2016) (available HERE).
Novelette (58 pages in the C & L edition).
"The perfect theoretical murder, no evidence, no clues . . ."
In "Murder with Flowers," Peter and Iris learn that a rose by any other name would smell of murder—two of them, in fact, with a third homicide in the offing, the victims being drenched in blood-spattered flowers according to some sick psychotic revenge scheme. Peter and Iris, as usual, manage to get themselves inculpated in the killings and have to play hide-and-seek with the police while frantically trying to track down the guilty party. Although it's certainly no day at the beach for our agile terpsichoreans (they do rumba extraordinarily well, these two), their perilous situation, against all expectations, does turn into a day at the circus.

Comments: It may not be as good as "Death Rides the Ski-Tow" (see HERE), but the plot holds enough interest and is more than adequately sustained by rapid pacing and amusingly eccentric characters.
- Only Detect has a review of Puzzle for Puppets HERE.
- So far there has been only one attempt to put Peter and Iris up on the big screen, an adaptation of Puzzle for Puppets, but to judge from some reviews it was a bad idea (see HERE and HERE).

The bottom line: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Dismount, and Deliver Me That Bag Immediately, Else I Will Make a Riddle of Your Brainless Skull in a Trice"

"The Robber Outwitted."
By Anonymous.
First appearance: Hogg’s Instructor, Volume 6 (1851), as "The Robber’s Skaith."
Reprinted in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, March 1851.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online HERE.
"Daring men of this description were found in every part of the kingdom, frequenting the dark woods, the thick hedges, and the ruinous buildings by the wayside; and, what is remarkable, these desperadoes were conventionally held in high repute, and were deemed heroes."
When a riever meets a riever comin' through the Clyde . . .
WILLIE BAILIE was a household name about a hundred years ago, in the upper parts of Clydesdale. Men, women, and children had heard of Willie, and the greater proportion had seen him. Few, in his time, could excel Willie in dexterity in his profession, which consisted of abstracting money from people's pockets, and in other predatory feats. He frequented the fairs all round the district, and no man's purse was safe if Willie happened to be in the market.
But then one day . . .
The high estimation in which he was held as an adept in his profession, induced a Scottish nobleman to lay a high bet, with an Englishman of some rank, that Willie would actually rob and fairly despoil a certain noted riever on the southern side of the border, who was considered one of the most daring and dexterous that frequented the highways in those dubious times, and one whose exploits the gentleman was in the habit of extolling. The Scottish nobleman conferred with Willie, and informed him of the project—a circumstance which mightily pleased our hero, and into which he entered with all enthusiasm. The interest which Willie took in the matter was to the nobleman a guarantee of ultimate success; and, having given all the marks of the robber, and directed him to the particular place on the road where he was sure to meet with him, he left it to Willie himself to arrange the subsequent mode of procedure.
. . . and arrange it he does:
He got an old, frail-looking pony, partially lame, and with long, shaggy hair. He filled a bag of considerable dimensions with a great quantity of old buttons, and useless pieces of jingling metal. He next arrayed himself in beggarly habili-ments, with clouted shoes, tattered under-garments, a cloak mended in a hun-dred places, and a soiled, broad-brimmed bonnet on his head. The money-bag he tied firmly behind the saddle; he placed a pair of pistols under his coat, and a short dagger close by his side. Thus accoutred he wended his way slowly toward the border, both he and the animal apparently in the last stage of help-lessness and decrepitude. The bag behind was carefully covered by the cloak, that spread its duddy folds over the hinder parts of the poor lean beast that carried him. Sitting in a crouching posture on the saddle, with a long beard and an assumed palsified shaking of the hand, nobody would have conceived for a moment that Willie was a man in the prime of life, of a well-built, athletic frame, with more power in his arm than three ordinary men, and of an intrepid and adventurous spirit, that feared nothing, but dared every thing. In this plight, our worthy went dodging over the border, and entered the neighboring kingdom . . .
The stage being thus set, it's left to Willie to act out the part—if his adversary, a well-armed highwayman, doesn't kill him first . . .
- Wikipedia has an article (HERE) about the true historical situation that prevailed at the time our story takes place.

The bottom line: "The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful."
Lysander Spooner

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Suddenly, Calling the Police Didn't Seem Such a Good Idea, After All"

"Death Rides the Ski-Tow." 
By Patrick Quentin (Richard Webb, 1901-66, and Hugh Wheeler, 1912-87).
First appearance: The American Magazine, April 1941.
Collected in The Puzzles of Peter Duluth (Crippen & Landru, 2016) (for sale HERE).
Novelette (68 pages in the C & L edition).
"It's a singularly unattractive sensation being locked in a strange apartment with a strange corpse."
Peter Duluth is a bibulous Broadway producer who, fortunately for him, is married to Iris, dazzlingly beautiful and, as subsequent events will show, the real brains of the outfit.

In "Death Rides the Ski-Tow," during a long winter's night, Peter has one too many at a cocktail party and is staggering home in a steady fall of snow when he encounters a woman who, just moments later, is gunned down on the frozen street—but not before she unloads some vital information on him, practically painting a target on Peter in the process. Suddenly people he has never heard of are anxious to see him dead; thus begins a cat-and-mouse game between Peter and Iris and a ruthless gang of smugglers who won't balk at murder to get what they want—and that includes a $10,000 hot dog.

Comments: An extremely well-written story with vivid descriptions, nice bits of humor, and perfect pacing. As Curt Evans says in his introduction to the Crippen & Landru collection, it and its companion piece ("Murder with Flowers") are "intriguingly kaleidoscopic affairs reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock films."

- Mike Grost has information about Patrick Quentin on his megasite (HERE), as do Wikipedia (HERE) and the GAD Wiki (HERE).
- Curtis Evans has a review of The Puzzles of Peter Duluth on his website (HERE).

The bottom line: "A tooth is much more to be prized than a diamond."
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Sunday, June 26, 2016

"Holler If You See Any Black Holes"

"Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball."
By N. K. Jemisin (born 1972).
First appearance: Jim Baen's Universe, August 2008.
Short story (19 pages).
Online at HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"In 'Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball,' a police detective tries to understand how a children’s dispute over a playing card could have led to a mysterious disappearance."
There are a lot of ways people can vanish, but even the Great Houdini never thought of this one.

Principal players:
~ Jeffy Hanson, age seven:
   "Timmy said he would give me the card back if I gave him something like the moon or a black hole. I couldn’t think of anything else, and the moon was too big, so I made a black hole and gave it to him. It was just a little one. But he started feeding it this giant stuffed panda he got from Coney Island last year. The panda was even bigger than he was. I tried to stop him. I told him it was too big. But he dented the special container it was in, and the black hole got loose and ate him. I told him to be careful."
~ Detective Grace Anneton:
   "Put a kid that age in front of a cop and they might tell little white lies, but not the kinds of whoppers this kid is spinning. He actually believes what he’s saying."
~ Taliafero:
   "'He killed somebody but can’t say where the body is; no, wait, he only thinks he killed him; no, wait…' He shook his head. 'Prank, maybe. Or just a flat-out lie'.”
~ Captain Dewitt:
   "If the kid did kill somebody, I don’t want him getting off on a technicality."
~ Mrs. Hanson, Jeffy's mother:
   ". . . a thin woman in a faded dress, who had perpetually-tired eyes, listened to the story with a little frown on her face, showing surprise only once. Not when Taliafero mentioned 'possible harm to Timmy Johnson'—that had only made her frown deepen. But when Jeffy gave his black hole explanation, her eyes widened, her breath caught and her body language screamed anxiety in a way that no detective could have missed."
~ Mrs. Johnson, Timmy's mother:
   "Jeffy? Sure I know him. Weird kid, but nice enough."

- Wikipedia (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), of course, and the author's website (HERE).
- In the story we read:
"He said Timmy still existed, sort of. That’s what he said, sort of. So I looked up black holes on the internet to try and understand. You see, the flow of time around Timmy, close to the black hole, is bent. It’s a matter of perception. To us, outside the hole, he vanished quickly but will slow down as he gets closer to the hole. Eventually, if we could see at the microscopic level, he’d look to us as if he was frozen in place. But for Timmy, time is stretched out. Only an eye-blink has passed since he started to fall in; he probably doesn’t even know he’s in trouble yet. It might take him years—by our reckoning—to fall in all the way. Or he might already be gone; it really depends on which theory you pick." She sipped her coffee, then swirled the remainder around in her cup. The dark liquid swirled about the center in a miniature whirlpool.
The story telling value of black holes hasn't been lost on science fiction writers, as Wikipedia (HERE) amply documents; real black holes (if they are, indeed, real) are detailed in Wikipedia (HERE). You might also consult TV Tropes' "Useful Notes" (HERE), a nifty compendium of information about black holes.

The bottom line: "The laws of nature are constructed in such a way as to make the universe as interesting as possible."
Freeman Dyson

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Acidulous Criticism Aimed at That Hansom Cab Guy

"A Master of Mystery."
By Unsigned (probably editor Richard H. Titherton).
"Literary Chat," Munsey's Magazine, December 1896.
Online at UNZ HERE (scroll down to page 377, or read the entire article below).
Less like a literary chat and more like a literary broadside, with the hapless author, Fergus Hume (1859-1932), getting hammered and sinking out of sight. Our anonymous critic's complaint, though, one that has been around for a long time, does have some merit: Too many detective stories are badly written, with predictable plots mechanically acted out by wooden characters. What he doesn't acknowledge, however, is that the same could be said of many other kinds of literature, then and now: bad poetry, bad mainstream novels, bad play-writing, and so forth. There has always been enough poorly written literature to keep cohorts of captious critics gainfully employed.

Without being conscious of it, Unsigned is also telling us what readers expected of the detec-tive tale of 120 years ago, how standardized the genre had already become, and, what's worse, how cliché-ridden it was.

What follows is the complete article:

"The Carbuncle Clue," the latest achievement of Mr. Fergus Hume, of hansom cab fame, reminds us forcibly of a dime novel in a high state of cultivation. The "cultivation" has no connection with literary style, referring rather to the pub-lishers being reputable and the cover of the book more pretentious than that of the average volume of the "Half Dime Horror" variety. Regarding Mr. Hume's style, there is not much to be said. One realizes how defective is the English language when one looks about for an adjective to describe the diction of his books.
Those familiar with Mr. Hume's work—and who is not?—will remember that it is his custom to begin with a mysterious murder and finish with the vindication of an innocent man. Familiar music is the sweetest, familiar scenery the most grateful to the eye. Mr. Hume's books enthrall and fascinate because the reader always knows exactly how they will turn out, and thus avoids the nervous strain which physicians tell us is so injurious to the heart. When the corpse and the astute detective, the villain and the circumstantial evidence, have all been mar-shaled in due array, together with the accused man who refuses to tell what he was doing at the time of the crime, and the beautiful damsel who trusts her lover sublimely, then Mr. Hume takes his pen in hand, dips it in blood red ink, and embellishes the first chapter with gore and mystery.
Once having planned out one's life work and the methods by which it is to be furthered, there is nothing like plowing the furrow to the end. Mr. Hume is not the kind of man who makes a resolve on January 1 and breaks it on January 2. In the dim past, before he solved "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," he determined that there was a right way to write a detective story and that there was a wrong way. He proceeded to choose the latter, and with admirable consistency has clung to it ever since. His literary puppet booth boasts half a score of marionettes who have new dresses for every new play, and who never for a moment overstep the line that divides a live man and one of wood. Wonderful mysteries does the showman concoct for them, and thrilling situations; yet they always preserve their stolidity, and are dolls and nothing more.
Small wonder, indeed, that we enjoy the naivete with which Mr. Hume works out his attractively transparent plots, his presurmised complications, and his inevi-table denouements. Of course we all know that Mr. Punch is going to beat his wife and throw the baby down stairs and even get the best of the hangman. But we know, too, that in the end he is to go the way of the transgressor, and there-fore we can tolerate any amount of mystery and crime in the sweet certainty of ultimate retribution.
- See Wikipedia (HERE) and the GAD Wiki (HERE) for more background on Fergus Hume.
- The Carbuncle Clue is available on Kindle (HERE).
- This particular critic wasn't the only one who found Humes's detective fiction objectionable; see Curt Evans's article at The Passing Tramp (HERE) for more.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

Friday, June 24, 2016

"In a Flash of Realization, the Whole Puzzle Clicked into Place!"

"Mystery on Pluto."
By Ward Fleming (?-?).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, February 1950.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Note: First page is inverted; use rotation button to correct.)
(Plus bonus vignettes — "Space School" and "Sky-Hooks" — HERE.)
"Frank Grove's mining business on Pluto was in danger of being ruined. And it was up to Nick Anders to find out the reason why . . ."
Sometimes all a successful thief has to do is inhale.

Principal characters:
~ Frank Grove, the superintendent of Interstellar Mining Company's plant on Pluto:
   ". . . somehow or other, small quantities of the element [faltronium] have been disappear-ing. This can only mean that it has been stolen. One of you men here—someone I trusted—is responsible!"
~ Ann Grove, "the old superintendent's pretty daughter":
   "Thought of Ann always made Nick [Anders] go soft inside. She was gay and charming, yet serious, and desperately loyal to anyone she loved. She was content to spend her days on desolate Pluto, gladly shouldering an innumerable assortment of minor tasks just to be with her father. Like faltronium, she was a rarity, the kind of girl that would make a splended wife."
~ Nick Anders, a lab technician working in I.M.C.'s Pluto facility:
   "Nick groaned. Hell, the whole setup was crazy from start to finish. Here he was, accused of something he hadn't done, and as good as bound for one of the more savage of the Jovian or Saturnian satellite penal colonies already. And Ann—Ann loved him. But she probably hated him now."
~ Guglo Atska, "the Martian who comprised the third member of the laboratory staff":
   "Atska was a furtive, queer old gnome who spoke only when absolutely necessary. If any-one was the thief, Nick felt that the little Martian would be the most likely."
~ Rod Boldt:
   "Almost fervently Nick wished that Boldt were the thief. Then, he thought wistfully, he'd have Ann all for himself. But Boldt couldn't be, for like Atska he came near faltronium only in gravel form."
~ Hans, the cook:
   "And Hans? Nick smiled in the darkness. The fat little Europian would give himself away immediately even if he had stolen so much as a speck of faltronium."
Pluto and its largest moon Charon compared to the Earth
Whiz-bang science:

   "Faltronium, as he knew, was used primarily as a catalyst to accelerate the reaction in the Gerelli-Stevenson rocket engines, which were the most economical and powerful yet devised. No other element was as effective. It had originally been discovered on Titan and after some experimentation, had been added to the list of known elements. Succeeding search had unearthed it on a few other out-lying planets and their moons. But the largest deposits yet discovered were on Pluto. These were owned by the famous Interstellar Mining Company.
   "Because of faltronium's scarcity it was easy to understand why stealing even the smallest quantity of it was a serious crime. Only radium of the last century had been as valuable and as rare."

Typo: "labortory"

- The only information confirming that our author actually existed is on the ISFDb HERE; we suspect that he was the magazine's editor incognito.
- The planet Pluto has enjoyed the attention of science fiction writers ever since its discovery in 1930 (see Wikipedia HERE); thanks to the data still coming in from last year's New Hori-zons space probe flyby, the nonfictional Pluto is beginning to look a lot stranger than any-one, including "Ward Fleming," ever anticipated (see Wikipedia HERE).

The bottom line: Poor Pluto was demoted from full planethood in 2006, but in spite of that, to some of us Pluto was, is, and always will be a planet.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Deliberately, Cleverly, and Diabolically Murdered"

"But the Patient Died."
By Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75).
First appearance: Collier's, October 18, 1947.
Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine, June/July 1953; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), October 1954; The Saint Detective Magazine (UK), December 1954; and Mystery Digest, March 1958.
Collected in Diagnosis: Homicide (1950).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 104).
(Note: Poor illustrations, but the text is readable.)
"Her relatives were all terribly upset—but one of them was a murderer."
This is the first appearance of a character that this author would come back to often over the next quarter century:
Blochman's Dr. Coffee tale, "But the Patient Died" (1947), is a straightforward Dr. Thorndyke imitation. The first tale in the Dr. Coffee series, it furnishes a good summary of both the daily hospital work and routine of Dr. Coffee, and of his and his police friend Max Ritter's personalities. It makes for pleasant reading, although quite mechanical in its approach to mystery. The best touches in the story deal with politics in Coffee's hometown of Northbank. — Mike Grost, the GAD Wiki (HERE)
When a young woman mysteriously dies after a routine operation, Dr. Coffee's skills as a pathologist lead him to only one possible diagnosis: murder.

Main characters:
~ Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee, Chief Pathologist at Pasteur Hospital:
   "Lab tests showed Mrs. Baron in good physical shape this morning. Her blood clotted in the normal time of three minutes. A few hours later her blood just wouldn't clot at all, so that she bled to death despite a technically perfect operation. I've got to find out what happened to her in those few hours."
~ Doris Hudson, Coffee's lab assistant:
   "She was tall and slim and wore her white smock as though it had been custom-tailored."
~ Dr. Andrews, the surgeon:
   "It was a simple operation—an old appendix. I've done dozens and dozens, and never lost a patient before." 
~ Mrs. Harriet Baron, the victim:
   "'She was a beautiful thing, Dan.' Dr. Andrews seemed to be talking to himself reproach-fully. 'Young. Long golden hair. Married only a year. . .'"
~ Jerry Baron, the husband:
   "Mr. Baron and Miss Price drowned their sorrow for a while and then departed, with my boys right behind. The bereaved husband drove the sorrowing Miss Price to her home on the Heights. They went in and turned on a light. My boys say that after one minute and twenty seconds of the first round Miss Price broke the clinch, went to her own corner, and pulled down the shade."
~ Margery Grey, the sister:
   "Whatever she saw there seemed to frighten her. Her eyes widened. Then her lips closed again with some newfound strength. She was no longer plain-looking. She was suddenly mature, resolute, even beautiful; it was the beauty of character."
~ Steve Forest, the ex-boyfriend:
   "And if I were in Northbank tonight, instead of out here on the other side of the world, I'd like nothing better than killing you with my own hands. Yes, you and that hairless lap dog you say you love so much."
~ Diana Price, the friend:
   "'Something's wrong with her,' Dr. Coffee said. 'Did you notice the skin around her eyes? And her lips?'"
~ Miss Green, the head nurse:
   "Miss Price has always shown a great interest in her work."
~ Lieutenant Max Ritter:
   "There's nothing like a little high-class science to scare hell out of a wrong guy."
~ Dr. Thomas Vane, the Northbank County coroner:
   "'Just as I thought,' said the coroner. 'Surgical shock and internal hemorrhage.' He winked at Dr. Coffee. 'Nothing criminal here. Nobody to blame. I'll just sign the death certificate'."
Nice moments:

   "THE waiting room in the surgical wing of Pasteur Hospital was very much like a hundred other waiting rooms in a hundred other hospitals in the American Middle West. The last cheerless light of the setting sun filtered through the many windows to scatter shadows over the impersonal neatness of the wicker furniture and the potted rubber plants. The false casualness of visitors awaiting word of life or death made subdued voices as hollow as the fierce efforts at concentration of those who pretended to read."

   "The smartly dressed woman crossed her silken legs and opened her suede bag. The emerald-cut diamond on her right hand sketched an arc of cold fire as she raised a fragrant wisp of lace to dab at her dark eyes."

- Wikipedia (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE) have info about Lawrence G. Blochman and his output, while Only Detect discusses one of Blochman's novels (HERE).
- Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee appeared in just over two dozen shorter works between 1947 and 1974 (quite a few are available free online); here is the FictionMags list of his appearances ("ss" = short story; "nv" = novelette):

   (1) "But the Patient Died" (nv) Collier’s, October 18, 1947 [online HERE and HERE]
   (2) "Rum for Dinner" (ss) Collier’s, February 7, 1948 [online HERE and HERE]
   (3) "Sleepwalker" (ss) Collier’s, May 15, 1948; also as “Catfish Story” [online HERE and HERE]
   (4) "Deadly Backfire" (ss) Collier’s, January 22, 1949 [online HERE, HERE, and HERE]
   (5) "Brood of Evil" (ss) Collier’s, April 2, 1949 [online HERE, HERE, and HERE]
   (6) "Diagnosis Deferred" (ss) Collier’s, December 24, 1949 [online HERE and HERE]
   (7) "The Swami of Northbank" (ss) Collier’s, July 15, 1950 [online HERE and HERE]
   (8) "Kiss of Kandahar" (nv) Collier’s, February 17, 1951; also as “A Kiss for Belinda” [online HEREHERE, and HERE]
   (9) "Calendar Girl" (nv) Collier’s, September 20, 1952 [online HERE]
   (10) "If You Want to Get Killed" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1955 [online HERE]
   (11) "Stacked Deck" (ss) Collier’s, June 8, 1956; also as “A Case of Poetic Justice” [online HERE]
   (12) "The Man Who Lost His Taste" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 1958 [online HERE]
   (13) "Murder in a Motel" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, April 1959
   (14) "The Wolf and the Wayward WAC" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1963
   (15) "Young Wife" (ss) This Week, November 17, 1963
   (16) "The Killer with No Fingerprints" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1964
   (17) "Goodbye, Stranger" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, October 1964 [online HERE]
   (18) "Death by Drowning?" (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, April 1965 [online HERE]
   (19) "Dr. Coffee and the Philanderer’s Brain" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, August 1966
   (20) "Missing: One Stage-Struck Hippie" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1970
   (21) "Dr. Coffee and the Amateur Angel" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, October 1971
   (22) "Dr. Coffee and the Pardell Case" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1972
   (23) "Dr. Coffee and the Whiz Kid" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1972
   (24) "Dr. Coffee and the Other Twin" (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1973
   (25) "The Hate Collector" (ss) Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, March 1974.

- Dr. Coffee's first appearance on screen was in the Lux Video Theatre episode "Diagnosis: Homicide" (August 1957) (see the IMDb HERE).
- There was also a short-lived TV series featuring this character (July-September 1960; just 9 shows), with Patrick O'Neal (1927-94) as Dr. Coffee, Chester Morris (1901-70) as Max Ritter, and Phyllis Newman (born 1933) as Doris Hudson. According to Jimbo Berkey at his Free Classic TV Shows website (HERE), apparently only one episode still survives:
The Diagnosis: Unknown television show was the summer replacement for the Gary Moore Show and aired every Tuesday evening at 10 p.m. Dr. Coffee was a scientist that solved crimes using science to interpret clues. This was the first television show that brought the scientist into the crime field as the main protagonist. Unfortunately, I can only find one surviving episode, and it isn't in great shape, but it is a wonderful look at a brand-new genre of television crime show, long before C.S.I. and the shows we are familiar with today.
Also see Wikipedia HERE for more about the show, including an episode list; as the article makes plain, Diagnosis: Unknown can be regarded as a precursor to the Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis: Murder.

The bottom line: "A doctor who lacks doubt is not a doctor. He's an executioner."
   — Hercule Poirot

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"And Then I Remembered Everything"

"Brisk Money."
By Adam Christopher (born 1978).
First appearance:, July 23, 2014.
Novelette (39 pages).
Online HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Raymond Chandler famously hated science fiction, saying 'They pay brisk money for this crap?' However, it has recently come to light that Chandler secretly wrote a series of stories and novels starring a robot detective. He then burnt all the manuscripts and went on writing his noir masterpieces. Unknown to Chandler, his housekeeper had managed to save some of these discarded manuscripts from the grate in his study, preserving the tales for future genera-tions. The first of these stories was recently unearthed by author Adam Christo-pher. On the topic of how the manuscript made its way from Chandler’s study in California to Christopher’s home in England, Christopher is suspiciously quiet."
Your typical private eye is resilient, persistent, observant, and gifted with a good memory. Raymond, our central character, has all of those attributes but one; for him, life lasts for only a day: "Every twenty-four hours," he tells us, "I was born again." And with that "rebirth" go all of his memories . . . no, not quite all of them; there's this lingering fragmentary image of that night in the rain, of a nervous little man who couldn't stop talking, of a paper parcel full of money and a gun—and of the two men killed with it . . .

Principal characters:
~ Raymond of the Electromatic Detective Agency and our first person narrator:
   "I don’t think you’ll find anybody as good at this job as me, Ada."
~ Ada:
   "Her voice was calm and measured and smoky, like it always was. She didn’t sound worried or afraid or angry, but maybe she couldn’t, even if she was."
~ The finger man:
   "'I work for a lot of people. Point out things, right? Give people a little push in the right direction.' At this, he put his hands out and mimed pushing somebody. Whether it was down the street or in front of a bus, I couldn’t tell."
~ Professor Thornton:
   "He looked happy to see me and worried at the same time. After all, he never expected to see me again and I never really expected to be here. He took the pipe out of his mouth but he didn’t say anything."

Nifty passages:

   "The man nodded towards the windshield, towards the rain and colored lights. Then he lifted the gun up and tapped it against my cheek twice. Don’t ask me why he did it, but after he did he smiled like he was pleased with himself and the dull metal-on-metal tapping sound his action made, then he nodded forward again."

   "I wasn’t sure that was right but he was the one with the gun so I wasn’t going to argue. I also wasn’t going to point out that the gun wouldn’t be much use against me, even point-blank. He seemed like a nice class of crook and I didn’t want to disappoint him."

   "The guy with the gun reached inside his jacket and pulled out a hip flask. It was silver and I got a good look, but there was nothing on it. No monogram. No initials. No name, address, phone number, social security number. Unlike me. I had some of those at least punched onto my chest plate. Next to the detective shield."

   "Clients seemed to want their private detectives to sit behind big desks, like they were ship captains behind the wheel. The desk in the outer office sure was big enough to sail away on."

   "See, that’s detective work. I didn’t get my detective shield in a cereal packet. Is that how it goes? I don’t know. I’ve never opened a cereal packet or eaten the contents."

   "Sometimes there was data left, stuck to the surface of my mind like burned grease stuck to a frying pan."
- Adam Christopher, who has "penned" two tie-in novels to the Elementary TV series and one (so far) book featuring the Electromatic Detective Agency, has a webpage HERE, while his Amazon page is HERE.
- They're the usual places to find useful info: HERE (Wikipedia), HERE (the SFE), and HERE (the ISFDb).

The bottom line: "No one knows when a robot will approach human intelligence, but I sus-pect it will be late in the 21st century. Will they be dangerous? Possibly. So I suggest we put a chip in their brain to shut them off if they have murderous thoughts."
Michio Kaku

Monday, June 20, 2016

"What're You Trying to Do—Prove I'm a Murderer or Something?"

"Murderer's Luck."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Hutchinson’s Adventure-Story Magazine, May 1927.
Reprinted in Detective Fiction Weekly, February 15, 1936 and The Phantom Detective, June 1937.
Short story (9 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"Water Would Wash the One Bloodstain and the Sea Would Swallow the Victim of Canne's Flawless Crime"
Two men alone on the ocean, one contemplating a good catch, the other contemplating murder . . .

Main characters:
~ Bob Canne:
   "Being the ward of a rich man wasn't such a soft seat, when you were twenty-one, as when you were sixteen. Jenks had his own ideas—getting a job and earning your own living, for instance—and you couldn't budge him."
~ Peter Jenks:
   "If only Jenks would die . . . That would fix everything. But he wouldn't. He was only in his forties. Stunted, misshapen, almost grotesque little fellow. But he was hardy, there wasn't a thing wrong with his health. An accident would kill him. Thoughts are queer things."
~ Outerbridge:
   "Handle it easy! Don't get your fingerprints on it! Take it to the policeman."
~ Policeman:
   "Bring him down here—I want to show him this!"

Nice little bits of personification, always useful to set the scene and reflect back the characters' emotions:

   "The sun was a great dull-red ball, just sinking at the horizon. It laid a golden sheen on the blue of the water, the surface of which rose and fell with lazy ground swells as though it were the chest of some gigantic sleeping monster."

   "A night breeze had sprung up; out over the purple horizon of the sea a bank of sullen black clouds had appeared. The wind came now with occasional puffy gusts which rippled the surface like a school of fish being chased."

- Ray Cummings could do it all as far as pulp writing was concerned; you might remember him from a previous ONTOS posting (HERE) about Dr. Feather, one of several series charac-ters Cummings concocted.

The bottom line:
   "Do you really believe in the perfect murder?"
   "Mmm, yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could, uh, plan one better than most people; but I doubt if I could carry it out."
   "Oh? Why not?"
   "Well, because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don't ... always."
   "No, I'm afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I'd make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me."
   — 'Dial M for Murder'

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Those Two People Died of Cosmic Radiation!"

"The Veiled Woman."
By Mickey Spillane (Frank Morrison Spillane, 1918-2006).
First appearance: Fantastic, November-December 1952.
Novella (46 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Parental caution: Sexual situations, strong language, and extreme violence.)
"No modern-day writer is more widely cussed and discussed than Mickey Spillane. Critics regard him as most of us regard the atom bomb, leading maga-zines dissect him with unloving care. Why? Because the Spillane emphasis is on sex and sadism, his milieu the boudoir and the underworld, his men ruth-less, his women svelte, passionate and immoral. That's why everyone hates Spillane — except his millions of readers and his banker! The editors of Fantas-tic take pride in presenting the first science-fiction story by Mr. Spillane."
. . . but, if some sources are to be believed, it's almost certain he didn't write it. The ISFDb credits Spillane with only three stories that could remotely qualify as SF/Fantasy; according to the SFE:

   "Spillane's one outright sf credit, the unremarkable novella 'The Veiled Woman' (Novem-ber/December 1952 Fantastic), was ghost-written by the magazine editor Howard Browne; he claimed that Spillane's own sf submission was unusable."

Wisely, it seems in retrospect, Spillane stuck with the genre he knew best, over-the-top, sex-and-violence-drenched crime fiction, and mercifully left fantasy and science fiction to the experts.

She had an interesting face, the kind that turned men's heads, attracted Russian spies like flies, and set off Geiger counters . . .

Principal characters:
~ Karl Terris (can you say "Mike Hammer"?):
   "The country's richest, handsomest, most eligible bachelor had returned from the dead! Only the bachelor part no longer applied . . ."
~ Lodi Terris:
   ". . . you had brought back as your bride the world's most beautiful woman."
~ "Sadie":
   "You may now turn around and lower your hands. Any more than that and I'll shoot you through the knee."
~ Granger:
   "You're making a serious mistake, Mr. Terris."
~ Eddie Treeglos:
   "If I never see a sweet innocent school-girl face again it'll be fine with me."
~ Senator McGill:
   "Karl, you young idiot, are you trying to ruin me?"
~ The lookout:
   "A thin flat-faced kid with horn-rimmed glasses and a mop of black hair was propped up on a backless kitchen chair outside a freight elevator, buried to the eyebrows in a battered copy of Marx's Das Kapital."
~ "Sam Parks":
   "I think you had better lift your hands quite high and turn around. Both of you. Slowly."
~ Luke Ritter:
   "You smell like a cop to me!"
~ Nekko:
   "You want I should rough him up some more, Luke?"
~ Millard Cavendish:
   "Possession of this secret, judging from what you say, would make America so powerful that no other nation, or coalition of nations, would dare launch a war."
~ Winston Blake:
   "Mr. Cavendish, will you order this woman to remove her veil?"

   "I tried to lift an arm. Somebody had tied an anvil to it. The City Hall was glued to my feet. The room clouded, wavered, then slowly dissolved. I fell face forward into the ruins. . . ."

- Gallons of ink (and possibly blood, who knows?) have been spilled concerning the contro-versial Mickey Spillane, but we're not going to pursue that any further; instead, let us direct you to these bio/bibliographical sources: Wikipedia HERE, The Thrilling Detective HERE, the SFE HERE, and the ISFDb HERE.

The bottom line: "Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book."
— Mickey Spillane

Thursday, June 16, 2016

"There's No One Easier to Out-Fox Than the Human Fox"

"The Perfect Victim."
By J. Lane Linklater (Alexander William Watkins, 1892-1971).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, July 4, 1936.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"Paul C. Pitt, Modern Robin Hood and Inventor of Smart Methods, Comes to Grips with an Unscrupulous Banker—and Faces the Toughest Problem of His Mad, Perambulating Career"
Even in the smallest village there lurks evil. The moment he enters a little town out in the middle of nowhere Paul Pitt senses it, good people being oppressed by a petty tyrant:

   ". . . there's drama here, Dan—drama under the most placid surfaces. Drama — and misplaced wealth!"

Sure, Pitt is no angel (he is, in fact, a con man), but there are limits. Sizing up the situation, he evolves a clever plan to put things right. As he says:

   "There's no one easier to hoodwink than the legitimate crook. There's no one easier to take things away from than the man who wants everything for himself. And the desire for revenge endows such a man with all the attributes of a perfect victim!"

Main characters:
~ Paul C. Pitt, a horseless Lone Ranger:
   "You and your good people are in trouble. Perhaps I can help you. But I can do nothing unless you talk."
~ Dan, Pitt's limousine driver:
    ". . . geez, boss, I don't see how you're gonna make out. You give away most of your dough. You oughter take care of yourself, huh?"
~ The garrulous drug store clerk:
   "The free movement of information is one of the charms of a place like this. Everybody knows about everybody else. And there's no greater storehouse of information than the drug store."
~ Tom Lake, the reticent prospector:
   "I'd trust you anywhere, Mr. Pitt, although I know you're a much smarter man than I am. In fact, I think you're the smartest man I ever met."
~ Mrs. Lake, Tom's wife:
   "Mrs. Lake's lips seemed to tremble a little at the mention of the money. She was, apparent-ly, on the point of yielding. But the man standing in the room came forward, put his hand on his wife's shoulder."
~ Anna Lake, their daughter:
   "You're just another crook, Mr. Pitt!"
~ Mr. Kupp, president of the Bank of Buling:
   "Sitting at a desk, partially concealed by a partition, was a short, broad man whose thin lips were twisted in a never-wearying smile, but whose eyes were fixed and cold with the chill cunning of an ancient fox."
~ Clarence Kupp:
   "A young man wanted me to marry him. His name is Clarence Kupp, and his father is the banker here. But I don't even like him. I turned him down. His father blamed my father, so ever since he's hated dad."
~ Eggas, "pretty sure to be at the pool hall":
   ". . . furtive, dirty, dull-eyed . . ."

- Other Depression era semi-honest characters in the Paul Pitt vein include The Patent Leather Kid (HERE) and Mr. Amos Clackworthy (HERE).
- Like many other pulpsters of the era J. Lane Linklater had several series characters appear-ing in the magazines at the same time (at those pay rates, they practically had to): Paul C. Pitt; Hugo Oakes, lawyer-detective (see Monte Herridges's Mystery*File article about Oakes HERE); Sergeant "Hardboiled" Karney; Sad Sam Salter; and Roy Quick (one story only, apparently). Here are the Paul C. Pitt stories, four of which are readily available online (information from FictionMags; "(ss)" signifies a short story):

   (1) "The Face of Excitement" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, May 30, 1936
   (2) "The Wager" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, June 27, 1936
   (3) "The Perfect Victim" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, July 4, 1936 [online HERE]
   (4) "A Message from Philly" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, July 11, 1936
   (5) "Something for the Sheriff" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, August 8, 1936 [online HERE]
   (6) "The Prescription" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, September 5, 1936 [online HERE]
   (7) "Hooded Heads" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, September 26, 1936
   (8) "Mr. Dillping to Mr. Skutter" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, October 3, 1936 [online HERE]
   (9) "A Hundred a Minute" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, December 12, 1936 [online HERE]
   (10) "Meet Me in Jail" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, December 26, 1936
   (11) "Missing Money" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, February 27, 1937
   (12) "The King Goes Mad" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, April 10, 1937
   (13) "One More Alias" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, October 9, 1937
   (14) "The Road to Hazard" (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly, April 26, 1941
   (15) "Golden Ghosts" (ss) Detective Fiction, August 20, 1941
   (16) "A Copper for Breakfast" (ss) Double Detective, March 1943.

The bottom line: "The petty thief is imprisoned but the big thief becomes a feudal lord."
Zhuang Zhou

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

May's Top 5

For some reason, the most popular posts this past May involved science fiction tales, but we won't puzzle over it; instead we offer our thanks for your faithful readership.

May 2016
(1) OLD-TIME DETECTION, Spring 2016 - HERE
(2) "The Cat Must Know" - HERE
(3) Death in the Mirror - HERE
(4) "It Was Only a Matter of Time Until a Criminal, a Really Clever One, Saw Through the System—and Reverted" - HERE
(5) "If One of You Moves Toward the Medicine Cabinet, As God Is in Heaven, I'll Ray You Down" - HERE

May 2014
(1) "The Spectator Really Cares Very Little Whether A Was Murdered by B or by X, As Long As He Got Murdered by Somebody" - HERE
(2) Dr. Thorndyke Times Three - HERE
(3) "Murder Is an Amateur Crime in England" - HERE
(4) "Absolutely One of the Best Locked Rooms" - HERE
(5) "Literary Fads and Fashions Pass—The Detective Story Is a Constant" - HERE

May 2015
(1) OLD-TIME DETECTION, Spring 2015 - HERE
(2) The Erudite Flatfoot - HERE
(3) "A Diffusion of Darkness" - HERE
(4) "Sherlock Holmes Lives in a Peculiarly Definite Sense as Real as D'Artagnan or Cyrano" - HERE
(5) Feminist Thrillers by Vera Caspary - HERE

Monday, June 13, 2016

"They Even Gave Me a Medal"

"The Risk Profession."
By Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, March 1961.
Collected in Tomorrow's Crimes (1989) (for sale HERE).
Novelette (27 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE and Project Gutenberg HERE.
"The men who did dangerous work had a special kind of insurance policy. But when somebody wanted to collect on that policy, the claims investigator suddenly became a member of ... the risk profession."
Insurance companies are never overjoyed when they have to pay up, so the death of Jafe McCann out among the asteroids triggers an investigation:

   "I'll tell you how it is. The company isn't accusing you of anything, but it has to be sure everything's on the up and up before it pays out any ten thousand credits. And your partner just happening to fill out that cash-return form just before he died—well, you've got to admit it is a funny kind of coincidence."

The circumstances might be kind of funny, but Ged Stanton, the insurance investigator on this case, isn't laughing:

   ". . . the string of coincidences were just too much. McCann just coincidentally happens to die right after he and his partner make their big strike. He happens to write out the cash-return form just before dying. And his body just happens to float away, so nobody can look at it . . ."

Given all that, Stanton would probably agree with a certain fictional supervillain: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action." Proving it, however, is going to be what, for Sherlock Holmes, would be a three pipe problem:

   "So I just sat, thinking morosely about non-forged cash-return forms, and coincidences, and likely spots to hide a body in the Asteroid Belt."

Main characters:
~ Henderson of Tangiers Mutual Insurance Corporation:
   "What do you know about the Risk Profession Retirement Plan?"
~ Ged Stanton, the narrator, a roving claims investigator for Tangiers Mutual:
   "I knew right away this meant I was going to have to go off-Earth again. I'm a one-gee boy all the way. Gravity changes get me in the solar plexus. I get g-sick at the drop of an elevator."
~ Teaking, at the Mapping & Registry Office:
   "The manager—a man named Teaking—went well with the office. His face and hands were spare and lean, but his uniform was immaculate, covered with every curlicue the regulations allowed."
~ Jafe McCann:
   "Jafe McCann died just a bit too soon. He was sharp and cheap, but he was honest. If he'd lived, he would have repaid all his debts, I'm sure of it. And if this strike they made is as good as I hear, he would have been able to repay them with no trouble at all."
~ Ab Karpin:
   "Not as sharp as McCann when it came to money. That's why all the money stuff in the partnership was handled by McCann. But Karpin was one of the sharpest boys in the business when it came to mineralogy. He knew rocks you and I never heard of, and most times he knew them by sight. Almost all of the Belt boys are college grads—you've got to know what you're looking for out here and what it looks like when you've found it—but Karpin has practically all of them beat. He's sharp."
Catchy phraseology:

   [An asteroid] "Atronics City was about as depressing as a Turkish bath with all the lights on. It stood on a chunk of rock a couple of miles thick, and it looked like nothing more in this world than a welder's practice range."

   [Being inside an asteroid] "All of these levels have one thing in common. Square corners, painted olive drab. The total effect of the place is suffocating. You feel like you're stuck in the middle of a stack of packing crates."

   [Walking on an asteroid] "The suitcases weighed about half an ounce each out here, and I felt as though I weighed the same. Every time I raised a foot, I was sure I was about to go sailing into a wall. Local citizens eased by me, their feet occasionally touching the iron pavement as they soared along, and I gave them all dirty looks."

   [Sleeping on an asteroid] "Today, my stomach was very unhappy, and my head was on sympathy strike. Today, I was going to spend my time exclusively in bed, trying not to float up to the ceiling."

   [Asteroid miners] "Close-mouthed, anti-social, fiercely independent, incurably romantic, always convinced that the big strike is just a piece of rock away."  . . .  "Searching the asteroid chunks for rare and valuable metals is basically pretty lonely work, and it's inevita-ble that the prospectors will every once in a while get hungry for human company and decide to try a team operation. But, at the same time, work like this attracts people who don't get along very well with human company. So the partnerships come and go, and the hatreds flare and are forgotten, and the normal prospecting team lasts an average of three months."
"Asteroid Miner" (Artwork by James Gurney)
"The Spy in the Elevator."
By Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008).
First appearance: Galaxy, October 1961.
Collected in Tomorrow's Crimes (1989) (for sale HERE).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE and Project Gutenberg HERE.
"He was dangerously insane. He threatened to destroy everything that was noble and decent—including my date with my girl!"
The war is over and the world is safe, but only a maniac with a gun wants to believe it . . .

Principal characters:
~ Edmund Rice, the naive narrator:
   "I was a gymnast instructor. The subjects I taught included wrestling, judo and karati—talents I would prefer to disclose to him in my own fashion, when the time came."
~ Linda, his girlfriend:
   "I don't mean that Linda's a perfectionist or a harridan or anything like that. Far from it. But she does have a fixation on that one subject of punctuality."  . . .  "I remember one time, shortly after we'd started dating, when I arrived at her place five minutes late and found her having hysterics. She thought I'd been killed. She couldn't visualize anything less than that keeping me from arriving at the designated moment. When I told her what actually had happened—I'd broken a shoe lace—she refused to speak to me for four days."
~ The receptionist from the Transit Staff:
   "'We're not supposed to give this information out, sir,' she said, her voice low, 'but I'm going to tell you, so you'll understand why we had to do it. I think it's perfectly awful that it had to ruin things for you this way. But the fact of the matter is—' she leaned even closer to the screen— 'there's a spy in the elevator'."
~ The spy:
   "He was rather short, perhaps three inches shorter than me, with a bony high-cheekboned face featuring deepset eyes and a thin-lipped mouth. He wore gray slacks and shirt, with brown slippers on his feet. He looked exactly like a spy ... which is to say that he didn't look like a spy, he looked overpoweringly ordinary. More than anything else, he reminded me of a rather taciturn milkman who used to make deliveries to my parents' apartment."

Typo: "caught be spy already"

- In "The Risk Profession" our protagonist travels to an asteroid; for more about the minor planets in fact and fiction, go HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. Space mining is also thoroughly covered on Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets megasite HERE, while asteroid prospecting features heavily in one of our previously discussed stories HERE.
- Before he repudiated his involvement with the genre, Donald Westlake wrote some pretty good science fiction, which was to be expected, so good were his auctorial skills; see these references for more about his output: Wikipedia HERE, the GAD Wiki HERE, the SFE HERE, and the ISFDb HERE.
- A background article by Nick Jones about Westlake and his quarrel with science fiction is HERE; from there follow all subsequent links—but, as always, WATCH OUT FOR SPOILERS. Jones informs us that:
Indeed, it's decidedly not the case that he [Westlake] only wrote science fiction when he was just starting out as a writer, eagerly grasping any opportunity that came his way, irregardless [sic] of genre: he carried on penning SF right up until the late-1980s. Evidently, science fiction was something that continued to fascinate and inspire him, even when he no longer needed to write SF stories – or sleaze paperbacks, or any of the other things he wrote for a paycheck in those early days – just to make ends meet.

The bottom line: "I'm almost incapable of lying. I'd be a terrible spy."
   — Gary Oldman