Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"An Alibi Rotten All the Way Through"

"The Silent Witness."
By Max Brand (Frederick Schiller Faust, 1892-1944).
First appearance: Black Mask, March 1938.
Short short story (~6 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library HERE.
"A siren screamed out of the distance and turned loose its howling in Hargreave Street."
When it comes to establishing an alibi, murderers never seem to learn. In this case, the 
killer not only underestimates the sleuth's powers of observation, ability to make logical inferences, and which way his moral compass points, but also fails to allow for a change 
in temperature.

Principal characters:
~ Riddle:
   "At the sixth floor the automatic brake stopped the car softly and the inner door rolled gradually back. This mechanized precision, this mindless deliberation, screwed up Riddle's nerves to a breaking tension. He had to set his lips and his lean jaw and make ready to endure what he knew was ahead of him."
~ Tom Bentley:
   "He needed that strength of spirit when he entered the bedroom and saw Tom Bentley lying on the bed, far over against the wall with his right arm stretched out, pointing an automatic at his friend in the doorway. But Bentley's half-open eyes were drowsily considering something on the white of the ceiling instead of Riddle, and a spot of deep purple appeared on his temple with one thin, watery line of blood running down from it."
~ Gay Bentley:
   "'Oh, Dick,' she whispered, 'think what animals we are! When I found him, my mind stopped, and all I could do was to come out here and go through the motions of mixing a drink ... Think of that! And then I remembered you. Thank God for you! Thank God for you!'"

- Here's Mike Grost's assessment of just about all of Max Brand's non-Western crime fiction:
Oddly enough, [his] highly literary style coexists in Brand's fiction with low brow, brutal descriptions of violence. Brand's spy characters are amoral, casually sending each other to their deaths. And his thriller characters are not much better, but are even more brutal: a Brand thriller can consist of thirty pages of his good guy and bad guy doing nothing but fighting it out. The elaborate fight scenes in Brand seem oddly anticipatory of the later fight scenes in Marvel comics.
So far, I have not seen any sign of a mystery plot in Brand's work: it seems to be all action or intrigue, with no puzzle. There can be a mysterious house full of spies that the hero must investigate, but this is hardly the same as a puzzle plot. — Mike Grost, A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection (HERE)
- Other sources of information about Brand are (HERE) at Wikipedia and (HERE) at the ISFDb, while you'll find a chronological bibliography (HERE, PDF) of his works, most of it Western fiction, at Roy Glashan's Library.

The bottom line: "It's frightening how easy it is to commit murder in America. Just a drink too much. I can see myself doing it. In England, one feels all the social restraints holding one back. But here, anything can happen."
W. H. Auden

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