Thursday, July 21, 2016

"There Were Bubbles—Little Silent Things That Might Have Represented an Effort to Scream Under Water"

We've already spent some time with a few of Ray Cummings's memorable characters, Dr. Feather (HERE), an overconfident artist (HERE), and a very nervous fisherman (HERE), but our author also produced other non-series pulp crime fiction, a lot of it. Here we have three such from the pages of Argosy, two of them of the inverted variety sharing a theme that Cummings would return to often: the perfect crime and how, no matter how carefully planned, it never achieves perfection.

"Death by the Clock."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Argosy Weekly, August 6, 1932.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"'You're my friend, not my servant,' said the aged millionaire; but he was unaware that Franz Karlin had planned his death for ten o'clock sharp, that night"
Eight hundred thousand reasons spur Karlin on to murder, but the one thing he doesn't allow for is an incriminating clock without hands . . .

Apposite passages:

   "Amazing death-strength to this frail, pink-white thing."
   "Who would think that a murderer would dare have a policeman on the scene of the crime?"
   "A big, red-faced, sandy-haired fellow, this Cafferty. Just smart enough to make a good witness."
   "It seemed to Karlin, as he sat among them now in the library, that this captain of the police was an unpleasantly suspicious fellow."
   "And there was a man named Franklyn—a tall, thin fellow in plain clothes. He was not under Gregg, quite evidently. All the policemen seemed to have a great respect for this Franklyn, and Karlin learned that he was a private consulting detective—a fellow with a flair for science. He had solved several notorious crimes by finding some hidden, scientific clue. Karlin chuckled to himself. He could poke around here all he liked."
~ ~ ~
"Hot Goods."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Argosy Weekly, September 9, 1933.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"It was crook against crook when Pete Leroy met Basker—with the devil after both of them"
There's an old Polish proverb that says, "Where two are fighting, a third one wins." In the instance of Leroy vs. Basker, if it had been obvious from the outset who "the third one" was going to be, they almost certainly would have cut their losses and done a bunk a lot sooner.
~ ~ ~
"The Dead Man Types."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Argosy Weekly, April 20, 1935.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"Even in death, old Professor Wiggans was able to use a typewriter"
Think about it: If the Professor had been using a laptop, the oh-so-careful killer would have gotten away scot-free. (Note: Cummings takes the same basic situation in "Death by the Clock" and gives it a different spin, not murder made to look like an accident but murder made to look like suicide.)

Typo: "The big police captain sood up."

The bottom line: "Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness; it is the one crime in which society has a direct interest."
W. H. Auden

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