Saturday, November 19, 2016

"Gazette Reporter Cracks N.Y. Mystery: Writer Captures Model's Killer Singlehanded"

"The Girl with the Burgundy Lips."
By Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, December 27, 1952.
Reprinted in EQMM, August 1953 and EQMM (U.K.), August 1953.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"Two models lived in the tiny apartment. One had sleek, dark hair; the other was blonde. One was simple and severe; the other wore ruffles. And one was dead"
. . . and one was missing . . . undetectable . . . indiscernible . . . inconspicuous, imperceptible, unseen, unnoticed, unobserved, hidden, veiled, obscured, out of sight—which, you'd think, would absolutely be the last thing an artist's model would want. The police have drawn a similar inference and, you guessed it, believe the missing girl murdered her flatmate and hurriedly decamped.

Newspaper reporter and mystery novelist Marshall T. Custer, a man who is not above taking mucho dinero for his sleuthing, will eventually turn up the significance of traces of wine, cucumber, and raspberry seeds in the victim's stomach contents, a toothbrush, a silk slip, and a striking resemblance—if, that is, he can manage to stay out of jail (two trips to the hoosegow, courtesy of Detective Kilkenny, are more than enough).

The Custer Method (explication by Custer himself):
   "The Custer Method involves the study of live characters, not dead ones. Why, it just
stands to reason. Pure logic and deduction. Given the set of circumstances and character relationships, it couldn't possibly be anybody else."

Comment: Blochman tries his hand at the epistolary form as applied to the detective tale, and does so without noticeably retarding the story's pace.
Main characters:
~ Marshall T. Custer:
   "My blonde amanuensis ran away to be a bareback rider in the circus. I now rely exclusively on my faithful hip flask and my little gray cells."
~ Olivia Brenn:
   "As all the world knows by now, Olivia was an artist's model. She was small, slim and shapely. She wore her sleek dark hair boyishly short. She posed in the nude. About two months ago when the posing season was slack and the pickings slimmer than a nine-day diet, she took in Ruby to share the rent."
~ Ruby Loring:
   "Ruby modeled, too, but not in the nude. She was about the same size as Olivia, except she had more chest expansion. She also had long blonde hair. And whereas Olivia wore severe suits and blouses, Ruby went in for girly-girly fluffs and flounces. She was fine for modeling big picture hats and full sleeves and filmy furbelows."
~ Henry Pallett:
   "I'll make the break someday."
~ Pierre Duval:
   "I am an oenologist, sir. An oenologist."
~ Franz Ziegler:
   "I was crazy about her. I still am. We're going to be married as soon as her divorce is final."
~ Jeanne Woods:
   "I didn't even try to get through Jeanne Woods's painted war mask and supplementary hostile grimaces. For my money, her Nile-green hostess pajamas could have been made of cast iron."
~ Kenneth Kilkenny, detective first grade, Homicide Squad:
   "Look. Why don't you go write another book? You're not invited to this murder."
- As far as we can determine, Lawrence G. Blochman used the Custer character in only two stories:
   (1) "The Girl with the Burgundy Lips," Collier’s, December 27, 1952 (above)
   (2) "The Man with the Blue Ears," EQMM, November 1954 [reprints: EQMM (U.K.), November 1954 and EQMM (Australia), January 1955] (online HERE; go to text page 108).
- Blochman is best known for his Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee series; see ONTOS (HERE) for more.

The bottom line: "Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only."
Samuel Butler

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