Monday, February 27, 2017

"Take the Case of That Old Lady with the Diamonds"

"The Disappearing Diamonds."
By Arthur M(inturn) Chase (1873-1947).
First appearance: The Railroad Man’s Magazine, January 1910.
Short short story (9 pages, with 6 illos).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Faded text; click the "Zoom In" function 3 or 4 times.)
"Sherlock Holmes, Eugene Vidocq, or Arsene Lupin Couldn't Have Kept Track of Them."
When forty thousand dollars' worth of precious rocks somehow wander off, infiltrating the general population of unsuspecting passengers (and crew) aboard a train, the expression "Lead us not into temptation" suddenly acquires greater significance for everybody who knows about it . . . then a pair of trousers goes missing . . . then an otherwise sensible 
man throws his coat out the window . . . and then an old woman, in grabbing the emer-
gency brake, hurls "her whole weight on it, like a drowning man would grab a straw," 
rolling "people over like tenpins" . . . but you needn't worry: all of these evidently nonsensical acts will lead us at last to a reason for them—well, maybe not a reason 
exactly, let's just call it an explanation and settle for that . . .

- Our story takes place almost entirely aboard a Pullman sleeping car; see Wikipedia (HERE) for a brief history of the Pullman and Rails West (HERE) for a much more detailed and hand-somely illustrated account of the Pullman car's evolution.
- According to the FictionMags data, Arthur M. Chase ("born in New York City"), a book reviewer for The Bookman in the early- and mid-'10s, produced relatively few short stories and seems to have had more success with his later thriller novels: The Party at the Pent-house (1932), Danger in the Dark (1933), Murder of a Missing Man (1934), Twenty Minutes 
to Kill (1936), No Outlet (1940), and Peril at the Spy Nest (1943), a few of which received reviews:

   ~ The Party at the Penthouse (1932):
     "A badly written tale which, however, keeps your interest, and we don't know why, for every idea and situation in it is threadbare from use. Thirteen people gather on Friday the 13th in a penthouse apartment. Seance, lights out, suspense, scream, lights up, host dead with dagger protruding from bosom. And they can't get out because the big door has blown shut and they can't find the key. So they set to work to discover which of them is a murder-er." — Walter R. Brooks, The Outlook, January 13, 1932 (HERE; scroll down to page 58).

     "Steve Carrington—a Harvard man, one regrets to observe—used to throw rather catch-as-catch-can parties in The Hermitage, as he called his penthouse bungalow on top of the Madison Building. There, twenty-six stories above the street and in complete isolation, little gatherings assembled; a large paper rose in the living-room was a hint that whatever happen-ed must be considered sub rosa. But on the evening described in this lively mystery story the party was not supposed to be a wild one. The guests were a stockbroker and his wife, an engineer and ditto, and a clever young publisher with his exceptionally attractive consort. There were also the very lovely Mary Parsons; the host's secretary, Mr. Deakin; an Irish baronet called Sir Geoffrey, and Marjorie, herself a writer of detective tales and narrator of this one. And that the number of the group was thirteen, the time midnight, a thunderstorm, a spook seance, a Cellini stiletto, and a green diamond. It was obviously a bad omen when Mr. Carrington, the somewhat sinister host, took to singing Danny Deever in his cups. The tale is well told and makes excellent pastime. Mr. Chase makes a welcome addition to our native mystery writers." — "The New Books," The Saturday Review, January 23, 1932 (HERE).

   ~ Danger in the Dark (1933):

     ". . . Anglophile is a name that causes ructions in writing circles these days, so we turn hastily to 'Danger in the Dark,' by Arthur M. Chase, a tale that takes place, so far as location can be determined, in the confines of the Empire State. Old Mr. Van Tassel—who took a suitcase full of currency to his country villa, hid it in a well, ordered a retreat to New York when his family was attacked by bandits while at dinner, and was found later deep in the well where his money went—is the victim on whom Gene Mallory, writer of mystery fiction, tries to prove his value as a real detective. The village police dismiss the death as an accident, but Mallory knows better and delves into the history of the family and its retainers until he hits the tiny clue that leads to the solution. The story has plenty of movement, and the detective work is honest and aboveboard." — Walter C. Weber, "Murder Will Out," The Saturday Review, January 21, 1933 (HERE, column 2).

     "A detective story involving six people in a murder and theft at a country estate, by the author of The Party at the Penthouse, a very successful thriller. This second attempt promis-es to be equally successful; it holds, mystifies, and entertains." — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction: Detective and Mystery," The Bookman, February 1933 (HERE).

   ~ Murder of a Missing Man (1934):
     "Crime, Place, Sleuth: Fleeing fratricide meets death in sleeping-car, involving 
occupants of other berths, sharp old lady, two sleuths. Summing Up: Murders on 
steamship and murders in train are coming so often they give us a pain. Verdict: 
Vin ordinaire." — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, February 3, 1934 

   ~ Twenty Minutes to Kill (1936):

   ~ No Outlet (1940):
     "Crime, Place, Sleuth: Much married ex-diva socked and slung into pool on Carolina estate. Miss Townsend and detective Green solve it. Summing Up: Country house full of interesting red herrings—including servants—scene of much action, and a slightly fore-
gone conclusion. Verdict: Good." — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, 
March 9, 1940 (HERE).

   ~ Peril at the Spy Nest (1943):

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"The Crime Simply Couldn't Have Been Committed at All, but It Was"

THE NAME OF Charles S. Wolfe isn't well known today, but at one time (1918-1922) he was regularly churning out stories for Hugo Gernsback's publications: Electrical Experimenter 
(6 tales), Science and Invention (the new name for Electrical Experimenter, 11 stories), and Radio News (3 stories), in addition to getting three more tales placed in The Black Mask 
(all data from FictionMags).

Was Charles S. Wolfe a nom de plume for Gernsback? We can't find any information that indicates he was, but Wolfe's writing does bear a striking resemblance to the publisher's 
(and that's not necessarily a compliment; remember, the scientific idea's the thing, not plotting and certainly not characterization).

At the moment we're considering returning to this author in the future, simply because he sometimes wrote about one of Gernsback's favorite notions, the scientific detective. The following story is typically Wolfe-ian:

"The Educated Harpoon."
By Charles S. Wolfe (?-?).
First appearance: Electrical Experimenter, April 1920.
Reprinted in Amazing Stories, December 1926.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (START HERE: select page 64) 
and (FINISH: select page 102, et seq.).
"Our author Chas. S. Wolfe seems at home with murders and the police. He has a special talent in bringing a mystery before us and in picturing some of the efforts of the ordinary mind, solving it and then in his own gripping way developing all the details so as to bring the story to a conclusion which is a revelation of a mystery. Here is a mysterious stabbing, no weapon to be seen or found, the ingress and regress of the murderer a profound mystery, and we almost fear the very name of the story tells too much, but we know our readers will find plenty of suspense in its text."
You've heard of the "magic bullet," but how about the "magic knife"?

Comment: This one strongly reminds us of a Dr. Thorndyke mystery, but is far less plausible—and if Gernsback's so concerned about the story's title, what about the illo, Hugo?
- Of course the ISFDb hasn't overlooked our author; go (HERE).

The bottom line: "Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"I Mean What Would Be the Good of My Making Passionate Love to You?"

"The Modern Thriller."
By Anonymous.
First appearance: Pan, February 7, 1920.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
"This is nonsense," she said. "You're simply being tyrannised by the story."
Some things never change . . .
"But supposing he takes it into his head to poison us or murder us or make one of us commit suicide?"

"Here Is the Dusk Again; the Friendly Night!"

"Dupin and Another."
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
First appearance: Weird Tales, August 1939.
Poem (1 page).
Online at (HERE).
Starrett captures the tenebrous milieu in which Poe's intellectual detective and his "Watson," ever eager for adventure, thrived.

- The ISFDb has an entry for Vincent Starrett (HERE).
- One of Starrett's Jimmie Lavender stories, "Recipe for Murder" (Redbook, November 1934), got badly treated by Hollywood, being filmed as The Great Hotel Murder (1935); see the IMDb (HERE) and be sure to read "User Reviews."
By all accounts, a lousy movie.
- Our last visit with Vincent was (HERE).

The Top 5 in January

THE MOST POPULAR POSTINGS from last month featured a thespian cop, a review of a tribute volume to Peter Lovesey, an adventure with a female Nero Wolfe, a clever story about a safe robbery, and a skyfy tale about the unusual use to which a time machine can be put. You might also note, in skimming the lists below, the continuing popularity in every year of articles that relate to Sherlock Holmes, whose "immortality" seems assured.

~ January 2017 ~
(1) "Good Old Christmas Theatricals!" - (HERE)
(2) Who Knew There Could Be So Many MOTIVES FOR MURDER? - (HERE)
(3) "Nothing Out of the Ordinary; Only the Robbery and Incidental Murder of an Old Man" - (HERE)
(4) "Mr. Bond, I Am Afraid Your Safe Has Been Tampered With" - (HERE)
(5) "For the First Time in the History of Crime, a Murderer Had at His Disposal the Sure Means of Ridding Himself of His Corpse" - (HERE)

~ January 2014 ~
(1) "Lynx-eyed Science" and the Talking Dead Men - (HERE)
(2) Van Dine's Detective Novel Lecture - (HERE)
(3) Sherlock's First Theatrical Outing - (HERE)
(4) Hoch's Locked Room Winner - (HERE)
(5) THE HOUND Again - (HERE)

~ January 2015 ~
(1) Often by and Sometimes about Vincent Starrett - (HERE)
(2) Murder on the Final Frontier - (HERE)
(3) OLD-TIME DETECTION, Autumn 2014 - (HERE)
(4) "He Was Solely an Expression of the Analytical Capacity of the Intellect—A Ratiocinative Device" - (HERE)
(5) Sherlockian Miscellania - (HERE)

~ January 2016 ~
(1) "'Your Name?' Said the Police Car in a Metallic Whisper" - (HERE)
(2) "This Case Had More Holes in It Than a Swiss Cheese and More Loose Ends Than a Torn String Vest" - (HERE)
(3) Four-Color Sherlock - (HERE)
(4) France's Answer to Moriarty - (HERE)
(5) Dr. Dannart Will See You Now (or, A Forgotten Detective Who Probably Deserved It) - (HERE)

Monday, February 20, 2017

"In a General Sense, Literature and the Drama Are Saturated with Bandits, Brigands and Outlaws, Sometimes Comical, Sometimes Heroic, but You Will Excuse Me If I Maintain That You Stand on a Different Footing"

"Burglars Three."
By James Harvey Smith (1852?-1925?).
First appearance: McClure's Magazine, August 1893.
Short short story (9 pages, with 10 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and UNZ (HERE).
The hat was optional.
"What is your annual income as a burglar?"
As a target for robbery, the isolated Braithwait residence miles out of town in the suburbs looks like a piece of cake to our felonious trio—callous and brutal Jim Baxter, who doesn't mind violence; affable Wilson Graham, who prefers the peaceful way whenever possible; 
and callow Harry Montgomery, a youthful amateur at the burglary game—until, that is, 
they encounter the homeowner and make the crucial mistake of underestimating him . . .
- There's practically nothing on the Interweb about James Harvey Smith, and we're guessing about his life-death dates; FictionMags gives him credit for three stories:
   "Old Shipmates," Romance, July 1893
   "Burglars Three," McClure’s, August 1893 (above)
   "In the Desert," Munsey’s Magazine, February 1899.
The penny dreadfuls just couldn't help themselves when it came to glamorizing burglars.

The bottom line: "Actors and burglars work better at night."
Cedric Hardwicke

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"We Jumped Him Before He Finished You Off, Though I’ll Admit It Was Close"

AUGUSTUS BOYD CORRELL, according to FictionMags, was "born in South Carolina; Newspaperman, writer for Walt Disney, author of magazine short stories; died in Los Angeles." In 1948 he co-authored a novel, The Dark Wheel (a.k.a. Sweet and Deadly), with Philip MacDonald (briefly noted HERE; criticized HERE; and online at Hathi Trust HERE).
Our author also wrote this one; we wonder what's in it.
Correll specialized in short crime fiction, however, with his over two dozen stories being placed in the major detective pulps of the '40s and '50s; in the '60s he generated two epi-sodes for Robert Taylor's Detectives TV series (HERE; see also "The Legend of Jim Riva" HERE), and the ISFDb credits him with three works of SFF (HERE). Although we're sure 
more of his stories are lurking out there somewhere on the Internet, for the moment we 
can locate only two of them, both of which are, not surprisingly, movie-related:
Correll put words in Edward G.'s mouth; Tige Andrews (left) horsing around with Edward G. Robinson on The Detectives.
~ ~ ~

"A Motive Was Shaping Itself in My Mind, but I Couldn't Tie the Strings Together"

"The Corpse That Played Dead."
By A. Boyd Correll (1905-87).
First appearance: Thrilling Mystery, Winter 1943.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE).
"Murder Closes Down on a Hollywood Lot When a Pompous Actor Gives Up the Ghost in the Midst of a Machine-Gun Melodrama!"
Film actor Ronald Edwards's movies always lose money, so why does Panamint Studios boss Emil Friml keep making films with Edwards in them? For Friml, the main concern is that somebody is trying to kill Edwards while he's making a war movie, falling sandbags and flame-throwers blasting real flames at his leading man being enough for Friml to call in the studio's unofficial detective, Jimmy Lee, our first-person narrator. In spite of Lee's presence right there on the sound stage, though, someone succeeds in doing Edwards in just as they're filming a battle scene on a bridge:

   "I jumped up from the pile of scenery and started for the prop bridge, with Jane and her brother close behind. I leaned over the actor. A dark red worm of blood was jerking and twisting from his temple, and his throat moved convulsively. He sighed and gurgled. Then the blood stopped jumping, and merely seeped as though no more was left in his body. . .
   "As I started for the door, the background lights, casting their eerie glow of red, suddenly blinked out. The stage was in total darkness. I let out a yelp of surprise, and was smacked flat as someone rushed past me. Jane screamed—a long, piercing cry that echoed and reechoed through the building.
   "I heard a thumping as I pushed to my feet and held my hands out to avoid another collision. There was a swishing, grating noise as though a body were being dragged 
across the floor, then a bump—and silence. . .
   "I started, when I glanced at the spot where the corpse had been. The body was gone."

Lee doesn't realize it at the time, but the apparently pointless act of the body being dragged across the floor is the key that will unlock how—and who—murdered failed 
matinee idol Ronald Edwards.

Here's a nice bit of descriptive writing that also serves to delineate the character of the studio boss:

   "One moment he wasn’t there, and the next he was. In the ghostly light of the background flares, he looked like Scrooge and the devil rolled into one. His withered leg swung like a pendulum between his good one and the mahogany crutch which supported him. His head, a tremendous load for such a scrawny neck, was covered with a fuzz of colorless hair. His ears were pointed, and belonged on a character from a child’s fairy story book. I had seen him often, but I was always startled when I faced him."

- As mystery writers love to tell us time and again, making movies can be murder; take, for instance, "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario" that Ellery Queen and his dad get to have (HERE) and (HERE).
~ ~ ~

"Some Refugee from Frankenstein Dragged a Girl by My Window"

"Death on Location."
By A. Boyd Correll (1905-87).
First appearance: Mammoth Mystery, January 1946.
Reprinted in Pulp Tales Presents #24, August 2011.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE) (select page 100).
"It seemed to be a very good location for filming a horror movie. In fact it was so good the most horrible of all creatures kept everybody's nerves on edge and finally ran off with the heroine."
Tom Ferguson's normal occupation is scouting for movie locations, but when he embarked on this particular expedition he never anticipated finding an old woman with her throat torn out—or getting attacked by a swamp monster that walks on two legs (a "gibbering thing that smelled of putrefied flesh"), a creature straight out of a nightmare that, oddly, seems a mite too protective, not of its territory per se, but of some small shiny, round things that your average monster wouldn't think twice about, but which would definitely excite human interest, enough human interest to lead to murder . . .

Friday, February 17, 2017

"I Had It When I Stepped on This Car, You Grinning Donkey, and Some One on This Car Has It"

"The Stolen Ten Thousand."
By D. C. Freeman (?-?).
First appearance: The Railroad Man's Magazine, April 1910.
Reprinted in The Underworld, February 1928.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Warning: Text is VERY faded; you should have better reading if you click the "Zoom In" function 3 or 4 times.)
"What Happened on the Night That Denver Joe Made a Haul in No. 47, the Hoodoo."
An awe-inspiring sight, this:
Persons abroad on the streets were appalled by the remarkable vision of the veritable chariot of fire winging its way recklessly through the public thorough-fares.
And how, you might reasonably ask, could such a thing transpire on the avenues of a large American city? We could go way back to Denver Joe's early years, when at some point he must've decided that he's entitled to other people's money whether they like it or not.

Or we could go back to just recently, when Shorty Saunders—conscientious bill-paying family man, trying to overcome "an instalment indebtedness doubling up on him, and the missus and the kid both sick for a time"—fails to persuade his superintendent to give him a better street-car route. Or we could say that Shorty's "cold-blooded" Superintendent Skinner simply refuses to cut him any slack.

Or we could point to that "bad case of nerves" that plagues Mr. Ambey Bennet—"head of Bennet Lumbering Company of Bridal Veil Falls"—leading to "irritation [that] had been at the boiling point for hours" and causing just enough distraction to induce him to lose track of "a neat, compact package of fresh currency" worth ten thousand dollars.

Or we could blame it all on old No. 47, known to a legion of tram car drivers as "the hoo-doo," a street-car with a "reputation for mishaps, and for hurting her motormen and conduc-tors [that] dated back to the days of the single-truckers and the old rheostat," including one memorable trip "with 47 and a trailer with a picnic crowd" during which "the hoodoo scared a hundred people into teetotalism on the way home by trying to peal through the span braces of the bridge."

Or we could simply acknowledge what should be obvious, when you think about it: All of those things will combine to produce that mind-blowing apparition of a "veritable chariot of fire winging its way recklessly through the public thoroughfares."
- All we know about "D. C. Freeman" is that he or she wrote "The Stolen Ten Thousand," which by a wonderful coincidence happens to be the story we just read.
- "Trams," "trolley cars," "street-cars"—depending on where you live, they're all names for the same thing; for history and background on this charming mode of transportation see (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- What do a major league baseball team and trolley cars have in common? See 
this Gizmodo article (HERE) to find out.
- Who or what killed trolley cars? The answer isn't as simple as the history books 
would have us believe; go (HERE) for more.
- And finally, if you've arrived at a point in your life where you have absolutely 
nothing else to think about, then consider the "trolley problem" (HERE).

The bottom line: "Trams and dusty trees."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"I Fired Again, and the Universe Disintegrated"

"The Little Black Satchel."
By Samuel Hopkins Adams (1871-1958).
First appearance: Munsey's Magazine, September 1901.
Reprinted in The Underworld, October 5, 1927.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"I took the revolver and the hand, both, and with them a resolution."
Our narrator, Ellis Carr, is basically your average traveling salesman hauling around a small samples satchel; Ellis's day is going like it usually does until, on the train, he bumps into 
an old college chum, Tom Pennant, and—even better—Tom's absolutely spiffing cousin, Mildred Gaylord. Ellis could reasonably look forward to spending more time with his lovely new acquaintance:
But for the presence of the little black satchel, the next four days would have been unalloyed paradise. Whenever I looked into Mildred Gaylord's eyes my heart came into my throat; whenever I looked at that funereal black cube of concentrated cussedness, it went down into my boots. Cardiac fluctuations are professionally regarded as unhealthy, I believe. I began to get morbid over it; to wonder what Mildred would do if she knew the secret shut up in that satchel. Would she content herself with shunning me like a pestilence? Or would she denounce me to the conductor, in which case I should be ejected from the train at the next stop with a reputation that would close every hotel in the place against me?
And then, while Ellis is brooding over what to do about his dilemma, fate steps in . . .

Comment: A delightful vignette with a couple of surprising plot twists and a satisfying, frantic finale.
Typo: "a rear windown"

- A muckraker in his day, Samuel Hopkins Adams also produced readable fiction on the side, both in the crime fiction and SFF genres; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line: "Love will find its way through paths where wolves fear to prey."

Monday, February 13, 2017

"What Would Sherlock Holmes Do?"

"Peters, Detective."
By Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960).
First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, June 1907.
Reprinted in Smith’s Magazine, September 1907; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, April 1954; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #18, 1970.
Collected in The Human Boy Again (1908, pages 3-30).
Online at Google Books (HERE) and Project Gutenberg (HERE).
"He could hardly speak for excitement, and forgot to put his hands like Holmes, or to try and arrange a 'far-away' look on his face, or anything."
Vincent Peters, the new kid at Merivale Public School, doesn't share the usual ambitions of the other boys:

   "What are you going to be?" Gideon asked; and then came out the startling fact that Peters hoped to be a detective of crime.
   "If you go detecting anything here you'll get your head punched," said Shortland.
   "I may or I may not," answered Peters. "But it's rather useful sometimes to have a chap in a school who has made a study of detecting things."

For Peters, Sherlock Holmes is nonpareil:

   "He is founded on fact—in fact, founded on thousands of solemn facts," said Peters. "The things he does are all founded on real crimes, and if anybody is going to be a detective, he can't do better than try to be like Sherlock Holmes in every possible way."

And that's exactly what Peters does, model himself on Holmes, which in itself is a harmless enough exercise ("A few small detections he made with great ease"), but then suddenly two mysteries crop up.

Young Peters, this would-be Sherlock, gets involved in what could be called The Great Guinea-Pig Case and The Mystery of the Missing Pencil-Sharpener, even though he's 
running the risk of getting himself expelled from school:

   . . . the two great mysteries were cleared up simultaneously, which Peters says is 
a common thing. You couldn't say that one cleared up the other, but still, it did so 
happen that both came out in the same minute.
- While Eden Phillpotts did produce crime fiction, he was better known in his day for his mainstream work (HERE) and science fiction-fantasy (SFF) output (HERE); in fact, the only association he had with Alfred Hitchcock didn't involve his suspense writing but one of his mainstream romances (HERE). Indeed, among knowledgeable detective fiction fans, our author is recognized for being friends with someone else:
"I suspect most mystery fans know Phillpotts, if they know him, for his having encouraged a young Torquay neighbor, Agatha Christie, with her writing career. When a hugely successful writer herself, Agatha Christie retained fondness for the older author who had given her youthful writing promising words of praise. When Phillpotts died in 1960, at the advanced age of 98, Christie penned an affectionate obituary of him . . ." — Curt Evans, "Rather a Shocker," The Passing Tramp (October 25, 2014) (HERE).

The bottom line: "If I simply said he was a detective, and let it go at that, I should be obtaining the reader's interest under false pretences. He was really only a sort of 
detective, a species of sleuth. At Stafford's International Investigation Bureau, in the 
Strand, where he was employed, they did not require him to solve mysteries which 
had baffled the police. He had never measured a footprint in his life, and what he 
did not know about bloodstains would have filled a library."
"Bill the Bloodhound"

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"According to My Private Canons It Is Not a Pure Detective Story"

THOMAS STEARNS ELIOT (1888-1965) is usually acknowledged as having a profound influence on poetry in the first half of the 20th century, but like many other intellectuals he had his guilty pleasures, including a genuine fondness for the detective fiction genre:

   That T. S. Eliot, of all people, was a devoted fan of the genre must have rankled [snobbish super-highbrow critic Edmund] Wilson in particular. Eliot, the author of famously difficult and formidably learned poems, whose every critical pronouncement was seized upon by dons and converted into doctrine, was an unimpeachable authority in matters of literary judgment. Wilson, indeed, had played a part in establishing Eliot’s reputation as such, having gushed, in his era-defining study “Axel’s Castle” (1931), that the poet-critic had an “infinitely sensitive apparatus for aesthetic appreciation”—a sensitivity presumably not worth squandering on something as puerile and formulaic as mysteries.
   But, as scholars like David Chinitz have pointed out, Eliot’s attitude toward popular art forms was more capacious and ambivalent than he’s often given credit for. — Paul Grimstad (see below)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After middlebrow literary critic Gilbert Seldes dared to publish a detective novel, The Victory Murders (1927), albeit under the pseudonym of "Foster Johns," T. S. Eliot had a chance to let Seldes know what he believed constituted a "pure detective story":

   12 April 1927
   The New Criterion

   My dear Seldes,
     I was glad to get your letter of the 31st March, and particularly because it clears up the mystery of your mystery stories. It is needless to say that I had read 'The Victory Murders' within 24 hours of receipt, and had been speculating on the identity of the author without success. I have enjoyed the book very much; my only criticism is that according to my private canons it is not a pure detective story, but a mixed detective and adventure story. That is to say, in a pure detective story there are no adventures after the first chapter; the book is entirely concerned with the accumulation, selection and construction of evidence about something which has already happened. In your story things keep happening. This is by no means a disadvantage; it is merely a nice point of definition. I am perfectly willing to admit that the pure detective story is extremely rare; the most austere example of the type is of course The Case [sic] of Marie Roget.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By the way, a contemporary ad for The Victory Murders describes it this way:

   A mystery story of International interest set in France, England, and America. The motive for the deaths of famous actresses which always occur or are threatened on Armistice Night is carefully concealed until the end of the story.

About this time last year an article appeared highlighting Eliot's admiration for mysteries:

"What Makes Great Detective Fiction, According to T. S. Eliot."
By Paul Grimstad.
First appearance: The New Yorker, February 2, 2016.
Article (6 pages).
Online (HERE).

Possibly the most important litterateur of the last century owed more to Sherlock Holmes than some would like to admit:

   A key tenet of Golden Age detection was “fair play”—the idea that an attentive reader must in theory have as good a shot at solving the mystery as the story’s detective. To establish parameters of fairness, Eliot suggests that “the character and motives of the criminal should be normal” and that “elaborate and incredible disguises” should be banned; he writes that a good detective story must not “rely either upon occult phenomena or . . . discoveries made by lonely scientists,” and that “elaborate and bizarre machinery is an irrelevance.” The latter rule would seem to exclude masterpieces like Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which involves a murder carried out by a snake trained to shimmy through a heating duct, then down a bell rope whose tassel extends to the victim’s pillow. But Eliot admitted that most great works broke at least one of his rules. He in fact adored Arthur Conan Doyle, and was given to quoting long passages from the Holmes tales verbatim at parties, and to borrowing bits and ideas for his poems.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Eliot reviewed detective stories fairly often; here's a famous one from his own publication in which he lays out his own, ahem, criteria for what should comprise a good detective story:

   ‘Homage to Wilkie Collins: An omnibus review of nine mystery novels’
   New Criterion, January 1927

   The D’Arblay Mystery, by R. Austin Freeman; The Footsteps that Stopped, by A. Fielding; The House of Sin, by Allen Upward; The Diamond in the Hoof, by Traill Stevenson; The Dangerfield Talisman, by J. J. Connington; The Mysterious Disappearances, by G. McLeod Winsor; Footsteps in the Night, by C. Fraser-Simson; The Bishops Park Mystery, by Donald Dike; The Massingham Butterfly, by J. S. Fletcher

   During the last year or two the output of detective fiction has increased rapidly. I presume that detective fiction is successful, with a rising demand; otherwise one or two such thrillers would not appear on nearly every publisher’s list. It might be interesting to speculate on the reasons for this increased demand, but our conclusions would be undemonstrable. What can be shown, and is of interest in itself, is that the increased demand and competition is producing a different, and as I think a superior type of detective story; that some general rules of detective technique may be laid down; and that, as detective fiction observes the rules of the game, so it tends to return and approximate to the practice of Wilkie Collins. For the great book which contains the whole of English detective fiction in embryo is The Moonstone; every detective story, so far as it is a good detective story, observes the detective laws to be drawn from this book. The typical English detective story is free from the influence of Poe; Sherlock Holmes himself, and in spite of his numerous progeny, is in some important respects a sport. I say the ‘typical’ English detective story, because I believe that the crime fiction of every country has its own national character: it would be interesting, in this connexion, to show how French crime stories – notably Arsène Lupin and Jacques Rouletabille – may be derived from The Count of Monte-Cristo in the same way that English fiction is derived from The Moonstone; but that would lead us too far.

   A detective story cannot be analysed like other fiction: the reviewer must not reveal the plot, or the reader will be robbed of his pleasure. I have therefore arranged the fiction here ‘reviewed’ – a small, but I dare say representative selection from the season’s product – as nearly as possible in what I think the order of merit. The Massingham Butterfly must be considered hors de concours, as it proved to be merely a collection of unrelated short stories of detective type; they are too slight to deserve reprinting, but suggest that Mr Fletcher’s longer detective stories are probably very good. The two preceding (Footsteps in the Night and The Bishops Park Mystery) are not properly detective stories either, because they have no detectives; therefore they are technically of little interest. All of the rest have some merit: all of them violate, as Wilkie Collins never violates, some obvious rule of detective conduct.
". . . technically of little interest."
   I do not know how many of these rules can be formulated; the following are drawn up from my study of the stories above, and other recent stories, and the list ‘does not pretend to completeness’. Every one of these stories commits one of these faults; they are, between one story and another, more or less heinous or excusable:

   (1) The story must not rely upon elaborate and incredible disguises. We accepted them from so engaging a character as Holmes, as we accept them from the more farcical Lupin: but we consider them to be trick work. Disguises must be only occasional and incidental: here Wilkie Collins is impeccable. Elaborate double lives, in disguise, are an exaggeration of this vice: Arsène Lupin disguised for four years as the head of the Paris police, and actually being the head of the police, is admirable fooling. But in general it is reprehensible. But for a device of this sort, The Footsteps that Stopped would be the best of our list.

   (2) The character and motives of the criminal should be normal. In the ideal detective story we should feel that we have a sporting chance to solve the mystery ourselves; if the criminal is highly abnormal an irrational element is introduced which offends us. If the crime is not to have a natural motive, or is without motive altogether, we feel again that we have been tricked. But for this fault, another story on my list would have been placed higher than The D’Arblay Mystery. No theft, for instance, should be due to kleptomania (even if there is such a thing).

   (3) The story must not rely either upon occult phenomena, or, what comes to the same thing, upon mysterious and preposterous discoveries made by lonely scientists. This, again, is the introduction of an irrational element: ghosts, influences, strange elements with terrifying properties (‘the destruction of the atom’ will probably flourish for several years in bad detective stories) are all in the same category. Writers of this sort of hocus-pocus may think that they are fortified by the prestige of H. G. Wells. But observe that Wells triumphs with his scientific fiction just because he keeps within the limits of a genre which is different from the detective genre. The reality is on another plane. In detective fiction there is no place for this sort of thing. Two of our list fall through this sin.

   (4) Elaborate and bizarre machinery is an irrelevance. Detective writers of austere and classical tendencies will abhor it. Some of the Sherlock Holmes stories make far too much of stage properties. Writers who delight in treasures hid in strange places, cyphers and codes, runes and rituals, should not be encouraged. But we must distinguish carefully. In Poe’s Gold Bug the cypher is good, because we are given the legitimate intellectual exercise of its explication; there is nothing sham or meretricious about it, but the gold bug itself, and the skull, are unnecessary and childish trappings. But in The Moonstone, the Indian business (though I fear it has led to a great deal of bogus Indianism, fakirs and swamis, in crime fiction) is perfectly within the bounds of reason. Collins’s Indians are intelligent and resourceful human beings with perfectly legitimate and comprehensible motives.
". . . perfectly within the bounds of reason."
   (5) The detective should be highly intelligent but not superhuman. We should be able to follow his inferences and almost, but not quite, make them with him. It is perhaps in the Detective that the contemporary story has made the greatest progress – progress, that is to say, back to Sergeant Cuff. I am impressed by the number of competent, but not infallible professionals in recent fiction: Scotland Yard, or as it is now called, the C. I. D., has been rehabilitated. The amateur detective no longer has everything his own way. Besides the C. I. D. Inspector, another type is successful: the medical scientist whose particular work brings him into touch with crime. But Mr Freeman’s Dr Thorndyke and Mr Upward’s Dr Tarleton are also unpretentious professionals; they have personality, but are without extraneous trappings. One of the most brilliant touches in the whole of detective fiction is the way in which Sergeant Cuff, in The Moonstone, is introduced to the reader (in the narrative of the butler Betteredge). He is unimpressive, and dreary. But suddenly, while he is talking to the gardener about roses, ‘Hello,’ he says, ‘here’s a lady coming. Might it be Lady Verinder.’ Now Betteredge and the gardener had reason to expect Lady Verinder, and from that direction; Cuff had not. Betteredge begins to think better of Cuff. It is not that Cuff has superhuman powers; he has a trained mind and trained senses.
". . . progress, that is to say, back to Sergeant Cuff."
   One of the most promising of the younger detectives is Inspector Gilmour in The Mysterious Disappearances. He is all the better for being rather a disagreeable person, and his peculiar talents and limitations are very lifelike. If the author will abandon his scientific trickery (error 3 above) there is a brilliant future for Inspector Gilmour. Of all of the stories named above, The D’Arblay Mystery is the most perfect in form. The second is the most remarkable in its complication of plot; and only towards the end becomes improbable; the third is also first-rate work. The rest are inferior to these three.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
- Of course Wikipedia (HERE) has a comprehensive article about T. S. Eliot, but you can find still more discussions about Eliot and mysteries in:
   ~ Curtis Evans, "Eliot Elucidates: T. S. Eliot's Detective Fiction Rules," The Passing Tramp (June 18, 2015) (HERE)
   ~ C. V. Weaver, "T. S. Eliot’s Rules for Detective Fiction" (August 19, 2014) (HERE)
- He may have been a critic with an elevated brow, but Gilbert Seldes was also a fan of detective fiction; go to ONTOS (HERE) and (HERE).
- And several excerpts from Eliot's article "Sherlock Holmes and his Times" (1929) are 
online (HERE).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"I Shall Never Write Another Holmes Story"

IF YOU'VE READ much detective fiction from the Gaslight Era, then you know who Robert Barr was, the author of one of the most anthologized stories in mystery fiction ("The Absent-Minded Coterie," 1905), a tale which features to great advantage his series character Eugène Valmont, star of a baker's dozen adventures (1904-06).

A decade before presenting Valmont to the world, Barr was given the assignment of inter-viewing Conan Doyle for S. S. McClure's magazine as part of his "Real Conversations" series, about which he writes in his usual cheeky fashion:
The only fault that I have to find with these Real Conversations is that they are not conversations, and that they cannot be real. Try to imagine two sane men sitting down deliberately to talk for publication! Only a master mind could have conceived such a situation—a mind like that of Mr. McClure, accustomed to accomplishing the impossible. 
"Real Conversations V - A Dialogue Between Conan Doyle and Robert Barr."
By Robert Barr (1849-1912).
First appearance: McClure's Magazine, November 1894.
Article (11 pages, with 12 illos).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"To get an idea to penetrate to the masses of the people, you must put fiction round it, like sugar round a pill. If he [the author] can't get his sugar right, people will refuse his pill."
While Barr and Doyle discuss some contemporary authors, a few of whom are still known to us, sooner or later you know they'll come to the ineluctable topic of "Art" and what it's for:

   Barr: "But there is the question of art."
   Doyle: "We talk so much about art, that we tend to forget what this art was ever invented for. It was to amuse mankind—to help the sick and the dull and the weary. If Scott and Dickens have done this for millions, they have done well by their art."
   Barr: "You don't think, then, that the object of all fiction is to draw life as it is?"
   Doyle: "Where would Gulliver and Don Quixote and Dante and Goethe be, if that were so? No; the object of fiction is to interest, and the best fiction is that which interests most. If you can interest by drawing life as it is, by all means do so. But there is no reason why you should object to your neighbor using other means."

And it's obvious how they dance around the subject of Sherlock Holmes, whom Doyle has just recently killed off:

   On the bookcase in the study there stands a bust of a man with a keen, shrewd face.
   "Who is the statesman?" I asked.
   "Oh, that is Sherlock Holmes," said Doyle. "A young sculptor named Wilkins, from Birmingham, sent it to me. Isn't it good?"
   "Excellent. By the way, is Sherlock Holmes really dead?"
   "Yes; I shall never write another Holmes story."

But he did . . .

Friday, February 10, 2017

"Extra-Sensory Detection"

HERE WE HAVE something of a rara avis, a locked room murder rendered in science fictional terms. Given that it is SFF, is it possible for it to play fair with the reader? Decide for yourself.

"The Undetected."
By George O. Smith (1911-81).
First appearance: Galaxy, December 1959.
Several reprintings (HERE).
Novelette (30 pages).
Online at (HERE) (text faded), Project Gutenberg (HERE), and Socialpolitan (HERE).
"Nothing can possibly be more baffling than a crime in a sealed room . . . but what if the investigator happens to have an open mind?"
Captain Howard Schnell of Special Detail has been called in to investigate the murder-robbery of "an eccentric old sourpuss who hated to do business with bankers":
I took a quick look around the apartment, even though I already knew what I had to know. Gordon Andrews had been slain in his sleep by the quick thrust of some rapierlike instrument. There was no sign of any struggle. The wall safe stood with its door open and its contents missing. Every door and window was closed, locked, burglar-bugged, and non-openable from the inside; the front door had been forced by the police. Furthermore, it had been raining in wind-whipped torrents for hours, yet there was no trace of moisture on any of the floors.
Of course no one had heard a sound, and naturally there were no fingerprints.
Police Chief Weston spied me and snapped, "What do you make of it, Schnell?"
I shrugged and said, "Completely sealed room."
Call it a hunch, or call it something else, but Schnell knows this crime wasn't committed by just any ordinary thief:
With about ninety-eight per cent of the general public still not quite willing to accept rockets, missiles and space travel, I had a fat chance of convincing anybody that a telepath had kept guard over the slumbering mind of Gordon Andrews, while a perceptive solved the combination to the wall safe, so that a kinematic could twirl the dial; that the imminent awakening of Gordon Andrews had indeed been an imminent physical threat to a delicate extra-sensory under-taking, and that therefore he had been silenced by the kinematic, with a weapon located by the perceptive, after warning from the telepath; after which the crime had continued, with the loot being floated by a levitator along a freeway explor-ed by the perceptive and scouted by the telepath and cleared of barriers by the kinematic who opened and debugged them as he went along—and that the real topper for this whopper was that this operation was not the integrated effort of a clever gang of extra-sensory specialists, but rather the single-handed accom-plishment of one highly talented Psi-man!
A Psi-man ruthless enough to kill before he would permit his victim to watch the turning dial, the floating loot, the opening portal, simply because there stood a probability that one of the two billion persons on Earth might suspect the phenomena as parapsychical activity, instead of the hallucinatory ravings of a rich old eccentric who hated the incumbent political party!
And so begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse contest between Schnell and the Psi-man, someone armed with formidable psychokinetic powers and a willingness to kill again 
if anybody gets too close to the truth . . .

Comment: Some well-known writers of the Golden Age of Detection—Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, and John Dickson Carr—get a mention in the context of an interesting little discussion about what constitutes "the perfect crime" that crops up 
midway through the story.
- George O. Smith belonged to the next generation of SFF authors following Hugo Gerns-back; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) for just about all that's known about him.
- If you're interested in psionics, we can't think of a better introduction to it than the Atomic Rockets website (HERE).

The bottom line: "In science fiction, telepaths often communicate across language barriers, since thoughts are considered to be universal. However, this might not be true. Emotions and feelings may well be nonverbal and universal, so that one could telepathically send them to anyone, but rational thinking is so closely tied to language that it is very unlikely that complex thoughts could be sent across language barriers. Words will still be sent telepath-ically in their original language."
Michio Kaku