Monday, September 5, 2016

"Did You Ever Hear of the Sword of Damocles?"

"There Hangs Death!"
By John D. MacDonald (1916-86).
First appearance: This Week Magazine, February 20, 1955.
Reprinted in This Week's Stories of Mystery and Suspense (1957), Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories To Be Read With the Door Locked (1975), and Alfred Hitchcock Presents: I Want My Mummy (1977).
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Note: Text is a little fuzzy but otherwise readable.)
"The police said it was murder. But who had the superhuman strength to drive a Crusader's sword through Dr. Hilber and pin him to the floor?"
Dr. Hilber's death has everybody—but especially the police—scratching their heads because it just doesn't seem possible that anyone could have died that way.

At first Hilber had opposed his niece Angela Manley's wedding to one of his colleagues, Howard Riggs, a research assistant at the university, but he eventually relented. Now Hilber is dead, a 12th-century sword thrust through his back; not surprisingly, for the police the prime suspect has to be Angela: "Did you know," says the chief detective, "that Miss Manley is the sole heir?" Riggs, however, has his doubts and sets about proving her innocence.
Comments: Steve Scott at The Trap of Solid Gold (HERE) offers his opinions of this story (WARNING: SPOILERS in the article—read the story first!):
. . . ["There Hangs Death!"] is inferior MacDonald. . . . sometimes JDM is too much in love with his ideas to realize that they are too crazy for even a fictional character to successfully pull off. . . . [It's] a tale completely devoid of any interesting character, be they police or suspect, and the criminal method involved has to be one of the most outlandish MacDonald ever contrived.
- The GAD Wiki (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), The Thrilling Detective Website (HERE), and the JDM Homepage (HERE) all have plenty of background information on John D. MacDonald.
- We've already spent some time with our author (HERE).

The bottom line: "The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp."
Terry Pratchett

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