Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Top 5 in April

APRIL MIGHT HAVE BEEN the cruelest month for T. S. Eliot, but here at ONTOS a lot of our Faithful Readers seem to have found it pleasurable enough. The most popular posting involved the "Forerunners of Sherlock Holmes," followed by a clever SFF tale ("The 13th Juror"), a trenchant study of criminal psychology ("The Corpse in the 'Tween-Decks"), a one-pager with a nice twist ("Listen to Reason"), and finally one of our "Miscellaneous Monday" excursions. We've also included the most popular items from three years previous.

~ April 2017 ~
(1) "The Process of Drawing Deductions from Established Facts Was As Old As the Sun, and the Application of the Principle to Literature Had Fascinated Writers from the Earliest Ages" — (HERE)
(2) "You Stand Before This Court of Truth-Probity, Accused of Registering the Emotion of Hate" — (HERE)
(3) "A Gurgling Gasp Then, That Was Meant for a Cry but That Was No Louder Than the Whimpering of a Sick Child" — (HERE)
(4) "You Killed Him, Didn't You?" — (HERE)
(5) Miscellaneous Monday—Number Six — (HERE)

~ April 2014 ~
(1) "The Author Outdoes Himself in the Number of People Upon Whom He Brings Suspicion" — (HERE)
(2) Samuel Lyle, A Very Obscure Criminologist Indeed — (HERE)
(3) True Crime Roundup — (HERE)
(4) "It Shows Just How Bad a Detective Story Can Be" — (HERE)
(5) "The Good Detective Story Is in Its Nature a Good Domestic Story" — (HERE)

~ April 2015 ~
(1) A Short Note About Victorian Detective Fiction — (HERE)
(2) Levram Niatpac! — (HERE)
(3) A Noir Film (or Maybe It Isn't) That Isn't Noir (or Maybe It Is) — (HERE)
(4) SCRIBNER'S Reviews I — (HERE)
(5) "I Do Not Dismiss Logic Because I Have Faith" — (HERE)

~ April 2016 ~
(1) An Odd Assortment from '28 — (HERE)
(2) "You Might Say This Is the Story of a Murder — Although Nobody Was Killed" — (HERE)
(3) WHODUNIT Comics — (HERE)
(4) "It Must Have Been Allotropy" — (HERE)
(5) "One Rash Move from Any of You Will Mean Her Death" — (HERE)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"As I Have Repeatedly Told You, My Interest in These Matters is Purely Theoretical, and Confined to the Processes of Deduction"

HERE WE HAVE another in our intermittent series of mysteries, sometimes tenuously and sometimes unmistakably, tied into railways, this one featuring a detective character with a successful track record spanning thirty-six years:

   "Dr. Lancelot Priestley was created by John Rhode and appeared in, oh, at least three dozen novels beginning with The Paddington Mystery (1925) and continuing through 1961. Priestley is an English mathematician and former professor who was forced to resign his position after an ugly argument with the university authorities. Because of his personal income and intelligence he was able to spend his time writing books on math and popular myths, which he would debunk through the application of logic. For fun he spends his time solving crime problems, upon which he brings his considerable intellect and abilities and logic to bear. Priestley is a somewhat cold person, although he can be a friendly host; he has a marked disappreciation for the human element of the crimes he solves. He lives and works in his house in Westbourne Terrace in London."
   — Jess Nevins, Pulp Adventure Heroes

"The Elusive Bullet."
By John Rhode (Cecil John Charles Street, 1884-1964).
First appearance: Unknown.
Reprinted in The Second Omnibus of Crime (1932) and 
World's Great Detective Stories: American and English Masterpieces (1943).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"Poor girl! To lose her father so tragically, and then to see the man she loves accused of his murder!"
A man is shot through the head on the 2.15 from Fenchurch, a moving train, and the prime suspect, the victim's young business partner, can't provide a reasonable alibi, with every piece of circumstantial evidence pointing straight at him. Only incidentally does Professor Priestley become involved in the case, but once he does his unwavering commitment to the facts, his superior mathematical skills, and a fact-finding field trip will combine to completely explode the murder scenario the police have constructed against the young man and pave the way for wedding bells.

The characters:
~ Dr. (or Professor) Priestley:
  His hobby: "the mathematical detection of crime."
~ Harold Merefield:
  Dr. Priestley's secretary.
~ Inspector Hanslet:
  With the C.I.D.: "an old friend of ours, who availed himself of the Professor's hobby."
~ Mr. Farquharson:
  The victim: a "Prominent City Merchant," according to the newspaper headline.
~ Robert (Bob) Halliday:
  The prime suspect: the victim's nephew, "a rather wild young fellow."
~ Miss Mary Farquharson:
  Halliday's fiancée: "the daughter of the fellow who was murdered the other day."
~ The firing range-wardens at Purfleet and Rainham and a young officer at the 
Arsenal at Woolwich.


   "You know perfectly well, Inspector, that I most strongly deprecate all conjecture. Conjecture, unsupported by a thorough examination of facts, has been responsible 
for more than half the errors made by mankind throughout the ages."

   "I have always remarked that Hanslet's difficulties are comparatively easy of 
solution, but that what he calls simple problems completely baffle his powers 
of reasoning."

   "Well, if you can spare the time, I should like to introduce you to the murderer 
of Mr. Farquharson."

   "Speaking without a full knowledge of the facts, I should say that this rather 
tended to establish his innocence."

   "Well, guesses must hit the truth sometimes, I suppose."
Dr. Priestley
   "You cannot expect the average juryman to have an intelligence superior to yours, you know."

   "How often am I to tell you that facts are all that matter? Our journey to-morrow will be for the purpose of ascertaining facts. Until we know these, it would be waste of time to indulge in conjecture."

   "Very puzzling, very! There must of course be some explanation. A mathematical deduction from facts can never be false."

   "At this point it occurred to me that my theory was incapable of proof, although I still adhered to my view that it was correct."
   "There you see the murderer of Mr. Farquharson."

- The basic facts about John Rhode are on Wikipedia (HERE) and the GAD Wiki (HERE), but Mike Grost's page at his Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection website (HERE) has much, much more.

Monday, May 29, 2017

"It's a Pity That Freak and Felony Both Begin with F"

"A Criminal Freak."
By Edgar Jepson (1863-1938).
First appearance: Macmillan's Magazine, December 1902.
Short story (9 pages).
Online at (HERE) and at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: At the text is faded; use the "Zoom In" function.)
"Collecting bound this little society in a close bond . . ."
Collectors tend to be a fanatical—but normally harmless—lot as long as they can curb their enthusiasm:

  "Among men well on in years and comfortably retired there is hardly a stronger bond than collecting, and the society of Little Bystowe is a coterie of collectors."

Indeed, at Little Bystowe you can find Lord Howsden's collection of Hellenic coins, Sir Walter Keightley's drawings, Professor Helmsley's Renaissance medals, Major-General Bullock's Indian goldwork (rumored to be stolen), and Lord Justice Crewe's stamp collection that's the envy of the philatelic world (Lord Crewe, coincidentally, being our nameless narrator's uncle), but remarkably none of them owns a safe to protect their prized objects.

"Last autumn," nameless tells us, "another member was added to the circle. The long-empty Gables was let to Morton Paraday the traveller, one of the most striking victim's of Fortune's caprice," the possessor of several "small but good" collections of his own, who "after coming unscathed through a thousand perils [lost] both arms in an accident on a trumpery Brazilian railway." Of far more interest to our youthful narrator than armless Morton Paraday, however, is his niece Susannah: "I knew at the end of my first evening spent in her society that she was the one woman in the world for me . . ." It probably won't surprise you to learn that Paraday opposes any such union.

And so the stage is set for this comedy of errors to play out, with burglary on a blustery evening, an unsuccessful attempt at emotional blackmail, and very successful attempts at impersonation and theft. Throughout all of this hurly-burly only Susannah will show much in the way of detecting skills, enough to prompt our smitten narrator to congratulate her: "My dear girl, henceforth your name shall be Sherlock!"

An aside: In the story we read: "Tired of wandering and fighting, he had laid aside his Lee Metford for good and all . . ."; in case you were wondering, this should clear that up:
British colonial soldier with .303 Lee Metford rifle
- Edgar Jepson, who translated Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin stories, was quite a well-known and versatile writer in his day, and there are plenty of data about him on the World Wide Wobbly: Wikipedia (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the SFE (HERE); one of his novels, The Loudwater Mystery (1920; online HERE, dismal review HERE) was filmed in 1921 (HERE). The Online Books page has more Jepson works listed (HERE).
- We encountered skulduggery among fanatical collectors not so long ago (HERE).

Friday, May 26, 2017

"The Famous Lexical Semanticist Professor Edgar Nettleston Had Been Found Dead, a Gunshot Wound to the Head"

"The Case of the Lower Case Letter."
By Jack Delany.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at East of the Web (HERE(SHTML)
and Mystery Tribune (HERE).
"It's all written in lower case."
Too rarely in everyday life there comes a time when you're glad you paid attention in class; take, for instance, the case of the exceptionally egregious epistle . . .

- What little we know about Jack Delany can be found (HERE).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"A Piece of Adhesive Had Killed Him"

"Counterfeit Killer."
By Lawrence Treat (Lawrence Arthur Goldstone, 1903–98).
First appearance: Detective Short Stories, November 1941.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE; select page 30).
"He didn't want to arrest crooks, that was Detective Breen's latest, he wanted to give gun-toting kids another chance. Sure, it was a big laugh, especially to Big Town's top killers. . . ."
. . . but doesn't an old adage assure us that he who laughs last, laughs best? When one crook experiences a windfall worth fifty thousand dollars and another crook tries to trick him out of that fortune with counterfeit bills, we're reminded of still another old adage about the absence of honor among thieves, with murder being the predictable result. Like so many criminals, the killer thinks he's too smart to get caught and sets about framing an innocent kid with a small mountain of forensic "evidence" guaranteed to get him a hot date with Old Sparky; but, while things do look dire for the kid, it'll be the man who has helped and defended him in the past, a policeman "old in service and ripe in experience," who'll get the last—and best—laugh.

- According to FictionMags, from 1964 to 1981 Lawrence Treat had 39 stories published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine showcasing his two longest-lasting series characters, Mitch Taylor and Bill Decker, the title of each story being patterned as "[capital letter] as in [one-word term]", e.g., "L as in Loot." Another character, Jub Freeman, seems to have appeared in novels as early as V as in Victim (1945), H as in Hunted (1946), and Q as in Quicksand (1947):

   "With V as in Victim [short review HERE], Treat created the police procedural as we know it and established his place in crime-fiction history. In the story Mitch Taylor, 'a short, chesty man with dark dry hair brushed back over his forehead,' bemoans the policeman's lot, tries to find ways to improve his chances of promotion, and investigates a murder and hit-and-run accident, along with the coincidental connections between the two. Treat's innovation did not lie in introducing the importance of scientific evidence within the legal process, but in his characters – they were cops. Being a police officer is a job for them, they have their own particular jargon and slang, they tell cop tales, they share a professional bond, they do not like paper work, and the police station is shabby. However, in plotting Treat relied on the surprise ending of the traditional golden age detective story." — Books and Writers

- Wikipedia's stubby article about Treat is (HERE), the Books and Writers page has much more to say (HERE), his few film credits are on the IMDb (HERE), one of his non-series novels is discussed (HERE), and his New York Times obit is (HERE).

The bottom line: "A murder was never about brawn, it began and ended in the brain and the brain could justify anything."
Bury Your Dead

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"You Hate Me, Don't You?"

"Transfer Point."
By Barry N. Malzberg (born 1939) & Bill Pronzini (born 1943).
First appearance: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 2015.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"The detective aspect was one reason I prized my job; I pride myself on having an astute, watchful, highly instinctive and ratiocinative nature."
Our unnamed narrator, a Lunar Immigration officer, can't believe that the Federation would close down the Luna Dome checkpoint and move everything to Mars, especially since they're overstaffed and underutilized as it is; but that's the news he gets from Sector Chief Finney, his supervisor: "I don't have all the answers," says Finney. "We are in the hands of larger powers and so on."

It's obvious the narrator loves his work, is very good at it, and doesn't mind telling us that he has "the most stimulating job in this or any other solar system":

   "For Luna Checkpoint was the gateway to Earth, its first line of defense, and I and the other inspectors were its gatekeepers, its guardians. Every day it was our responsibility to carefully screen and either pass through or reject travelers from all corners of the known Universe. Creatures such as green-speckled and lavender-hued Altairians, striped Melnusian miners, porcine Poldrogs, Archiporteyx spirit-bearers, Titanian slitherers, Aldebarian musicians with their long trilling snouts, and of course the variegate new breeds from planets only recently swept by Federation troops and pronounced benign by Federation exobiologists. The Check-list of Creatures, the checkpoint's bible, had quadrupled in size and scope during my tenure, until it now contained more than one hundred different races. The vast majority of visitors were benign, of course . . ."

. . . but on this particular day he's going to run across an alien who doesn't have benign intentions, and an interplanetary smuggling plot that will succeed—unless he makes the most of his "astute, watchful, highly instinctive and ratiocinative nature" . . .

- For more background on Barry Malzberg, see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE). Bill Pronzini sometimes produces SFF, although he's primarily known for his high quality detective fiction; go to Wikipedia (HERE), Mike Grost's megasite (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- There's more to running a spaceport than just keeping the lights burning; see the Atomic Rockets website (HERE).

The bottom line: "Man is not what he thinks he is; he is what he hides."
André Malraux

Monday, May 22, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twelve

"The Devices of Truth."
Introduction to Detective Fiction and the Rise of Forensic Science (1999).
By Ronald R. Thomas (born 1949).
Book excerpt (25 pages, 17 pages of text).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: SPOILERS for "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and Bleak House.)
"The history of detective fiction is deeply implicated with the history of forensic technology."
It can be argued that modern forensics got its start in the pages of detective stories; the great French scientist Edmond Locard certainly thought so. Here we have Ronald Thomas's introduction to his book, which basically proves the point; in the preview he touches on intriguing ideas (e.g., "detective fiction might more accurately be described as 'novelistically anti-radical'")—but you'll have to get the book to see if he has successfully developed them (see "Resources," below).


Random excerpts:

   "When Watson comes upon Holmes injecting his cocaine, the detective is also reading 
a book. These three activities — taking a drug, being a detective, reading a book — are presented as substitutions for ordinary life and as symptoms of some unnamed nervous-ness. Together, these devices point back to a very real 'pathological and morbid process' at the center of Holmes's professional identity — and at the heart of this popular nineteenth-century literary form.  . . . The Sherlock Holmes stories, like any detective narrative, function as our cocaine, our diversion from some historical reality. But they are also our work, written and read to transform what have become the unexamined routines of political life and the sometimes criminal cravings that leave their tracks upon the body."
   "The systematic medicalization of crime in criminological discourse during this period [the nineteenth century] corresponded to the literary detective's development into a kind of master diagnostician, an expert capable of reading the symptoms of criminal pathology in the individual body and the social body as well."

   "Each of these detective devices — fingerprint technology, forensic profiling, crime photography — is itself a nineteenth-century invention designed to convert the body [of the victim and/or the suspect] into a text to be read. Each also serves as a potent analogy for the literary detective that deploys it. Through these detectives and their devices, the mysteries of individual anatomy and person identity come to represent the general condition of the body politic itself."

   "Detective fiction as a form is generally recognized as an invention of the nineteenth century, coincident with the development of the modern police force and the creation 
of the modern bureaucratic state."
   "While the narratives of writers like Poe, Dickens, and Conan Doyle often reflected and popularized contemporary scientific theories of law enforcement, the detective stories they wrote also sometimes anticipated actual procedures in scientific police practice by offering fantasies of social control and knowledge before the actual technology to achieve either 
was available. At times, these texts seemed to call those technologies into being."

   "The detective story often functioned as a kind of lie detector redefining truth for 
its culture . . ."
   "Indeed, some of the most ardent articulations of the aesthetic and moral attributes 
of high Victorian realism were occasioned by condemnation of the cheap effects and immense popularity of nineteenth-century detective and sensation fiction."

   "In recent decades, detective stories have provided the demonstration pieces of choice 
for critics working in narrative theory, gender studies, popular culture, ideological critique, psychoanalysis, the new historicism, and cultural studies.  . . . Such extensive critical attention has complicated what we mean by the term 'detective fiction,' and challenged 
its traditional relegation into a specifiable generic catagory all its own."

   "Together with the rise of cultural studies, critical legal studies, and the critique of the canon, modern criticism has begun to grant detective fiction a more prestigious place 
in the house of 'legitimate' literature."
   "Though it is often regarded as a cerebral form that appeals to the reasoning faculties of its readers, the detective novel is fundamentally preoccupied with physical evidence and with investigating the suspect body rather than with exploring the complexities of the mind."

   "As Dupin's independence from and competition with the official police contrasts with the middle-class professionalism of Dickens's Sergeant [sic] Bucket, so will the American literary detective's deployment of the devices of detection be somewhat more skeptical and tentative than his English counterparts throughout the nineteenth century . . ."
   "Despite Holmes's frequent scolding of Watson for the overly literary quality of his narratives, Conan Doyle himself conceived of his Sherlock Holmes series as the less 
serious and more popular cash crop that would enable him to write what he regarded 
as the really important literature of historical fiction — which, of course, became 
nowhere near as successful with critics or with readers as his detective writing. On 
the other hand, Raymond Chandler would maintain that the hard-boiled detective 
fiction of Dashiell Hammett elevated the aesthetic of the dime novel to great American literature. Chandler would credit his predecessor with continuing the tradition of Walt Whitman and making possible the work of Hemingway."

   ". . . my reading of The Woman in White argues that the typical plot of a sensation novel — where a female body often vanishes and is recovered by a combination of legal and medical male expertise — represents a taking over of the terms of personal identity by an emerging class of professionals who compose a reconfigured patriarchal class."
   "Histories of detective literature have commonly chosen either to ignore the distinctions between English and American approaches to the form or to offer simplistic and absolute principles to distinguish between them — contrasting the refined and rational analysis of the mannered English tradition, for example, with the irrational violence of the American hard-boiled school. My analysis of detective fiction as a form of popular cultural history and criticism attempts to give a more complex picture . . ."

   "Those devices ['with which literary private eyes made the public world visible and legible'] were invariably aimed at making the body [of the victim and/or the criminal] write or speak for itself. The jagged lines of the heart recorded by the lie detector, the lineaments of the face imprinted on a mug shot, and the swirling patterns of the skin inscribed in the fingerprint all render the body as a kind of automatic writing machine. The detective narrative, in its deploy-ment of these forensic technologies and in its resemblance to them, helped to make nine-teenth-century persons legible for a modern technological culture."

- Detective Fiction and the Rise of Forensic Science (1999, 341 pages) is widely available 
from Cambridge University Press,, Barnes&, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and other places, but it ain't cheap. Here's the Google Books description:

   "This is a book about the relationship between the development of forensic science in the nineteenth century and the invention of the new literary genre of detective fiction in Britain and America. Ronald R. Thomas examines the criminal body as a site of interpretation and enforcement in a wide range of fictional examples, from Poe, Dickens and Hawthorne through Twain and Conan Doyle to Hammett, Chandler and Christie. He is especially concerned with the authority the literary detective manages to secure through the 
'devices' — fingerprinting, photography, lie detectors — with which he discovers the 
truth and establishes his expertise, and the way in which those devices relate to broader questions of cultural authority at decisive moments in the history of the genre. This is 
an interdisciplinary project, framing readings of literary texts with an analysis of contem-poraneous developments in criminology, the rules of evidence, and modern scientific accounts of identity."

- Graham Law's 2000 review of the book can be found in The Wilkie Collins Journal (HERE):

  "Thomas's study is thus a rich and complex one to which it is difficult to do full justice in the space available here. However, I cannot conclude without expressing a slight feeling of regret that this volume does not talk more about the French contribution to the development of detection and detective fiction."

- As for the English vs. American schools of detective fiction, see Karen Woodward's article (HERE).
- A previous Miscellaneous Monday also dealt with forensics; go (HERE).

Friday, May 19, 2017

"I Can Say, Quite Truthfully, That It's a New Archaeological Technique"

"Lost Art."
By A. Bertram Chandler (1912-84).
First appearance: Startling Stories, January 1952.
Novelette (21 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"Want a Rigellian flower garden, a Moonflower, or a Chlorian prayer mat? These space sleuths will find it—at a price!"
When somebody offers you a deal that seems too good to be true, you can be excused for being skeptical; and so it is with Callaghan, an experienced space pilot, after Brent, an old but definitely not dear acquaintance, offers him a lucrative job piloting the starship Collector to the planet Tregga in the Achernar system in search of a unique artifact, something so rare that a compulsive collector, a multi-billionaire, is willing to pay Brent any amount to get his hands on it—and Brent, in turn, is willing to do something that makes outright murder look almost humane in comparison. Like we said, too good to be true . . .

An agreeable simile: "It shone with a cold, cold radiance of its own, like the light of a wan, old moon reflected from a smooth, icy sea."

Typo: "the predominate vegetation of Tregga" [although some sources say it's acceptable]

- For years A. Bertram Chandler's science fiction was wildly popular, with many 
reprints; read all about him at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), a tribute site 
(HERE), the AustLit webpage (HERE), and, of course, the bibliographical listings 
on the ISFDb (HERE).
- Some of the story's action takes place on a hypothetical planet orbiting the star 
Achernar, visible, according to Wikipedia (HERE), "in the deep southern sky"
science fiction authors, comic book artists, computer game designers, and TV 
scriptwriters have used Achernar as a place to tell their stories (HERE).

The bottom line: "The first thing I started collecting was stamps. Until I started discovering girls. That was the end of stamps."
Eli Broad

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"Suppose the Thing Upstairs Was Not Quite Dead and Should Cry Out?"

"In the Library."
By W. W. Jacobs (1863-1943).
First appearance: Harper’s Monthly Magazine, June 1901.
Reprinted in Everybody’s Magazine, September 1926 
and Rex Stout Mystery Quarterly, May 1945.
Short short story.
Online at UNZ (HERE, 5 pages) and Project Gutenberg 
(HERE, 9 pages + 1 illo).

"The first horror had now to some extent passed, and was succeeded by the fear of death."
Fletcher and Burleigh are business partners—until one of them discovers the other has been stealing from the firm. Sudden violence erupts, a sword is drawn, and the thief quickly finds himself on the run:

   ". . . he sat down again and tried to think out the first moves in that game of skill of which his life was the stake. He had often read of people of hasty temper evading the police for a time, and eventually falling into their hands for lack of the most elementary common-sense. He had heard it said that they always made some stupid blunder, left behind them some damning clew. He took his revolver from a drawer and saw that it was loaded. If the worst came to the worst, he would die quickly."

Even though he's clearly aware of these potential pitfalls, it won't do him any good; against his will, every move he makes will lead to his undoing . . .

Typo: "lamps shone tip a street" [Gutenberg version]
- It was only last month (HERE) that W. W. Jacobs, famous for "The Monkey's Paw" (1902), paid us a visit.
The bottom line: "Property damage is so much easier to live with than murder.”
Peter Watts

Monday, May 15, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Eleven

"Edgar Allan Poe's Chevalier Auguste Dupin: The Use of Ratiocination in Fictional Crime Solving."
By Helena Markovic & Biljana Oklopcic.
First appearance: HUM XI, 2016.
Article (15 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: This article has plot solution SPOILERS for three 
Poe mysteries. Be sure to read the stories first.)
When Edgar Allan Poe decided to combine his fascination with the undisciplined emotive dimensions of the Gothic with the rigorous powers of rationality by amalgamating the two antithetical modes into the person of C. Auguste Dupin, he certainly didn't have any idea 
that he was about to energize a type of literature that even now, 176 years later, is still 
going strong. Today's article focuses on Dupin and how he employs ratiocination . . .



~ Introduction:
  "In what follows, we will examine the character of the first detective in literature — 
Chevalier Auguste Dupin, his methods of solving the crime by means of deductive 
reasoning or ratiocination, and, by extension, Poe’s/Dupin’s role in the rise of 
detective fiction."

 ~ 1. Edgar Allan Poe’s Influence on the Rise of Detective Fiction:
     "There are several elements of detective fiction introduced in his [Poe's] short stories. All the clues are presented to both the detective and the reader. The clues are simple yet apparently not related with one another. Frequently, the motive and other pieces of evidence point to an innocent person in order to make the story more mysterious. The solution is obtainable through the powers of retrospect observation and logic. The police are shown as ineffective, inefficient, and incapable of rational thinking, which is why they are always outsmarted by a detective. The stories, too, introduce the character of the detective’s helper. He is portrayed as submissive and having 'the reverential attitude […] towards his detective-mentor' (Lewis, 1990: 99) yet sharing his desire for knowledge and truth."
 ~ 2. Chevalier Auguste Dupin:
     "Perhaps equally as famous as Dupin himself is his method of fictional crime solving — ratiocination. His peculiar temperament may have made Dupin more believable as a character, but it is the way in which he solves the crimes that truly makes him come to life. Various dictionaries state that the term ratiocination comes from the Latin word ratiocination meaning reasoning, argumentation, a syllogism. Ratiocination is a combined method of inferences, hypotheses, and experience bound together by logic and based on Dupin’s observation of the criminal mind, i.e., a deductive sequence of facts and guesswork arrived at only by the power of one’s intellect."
 ~ 3. The Use of Ratiocination in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”:
     "Dupin also discusses the notions of the coincidence and the probability. He separates the meaningful from the non-meaningful, the important from the unimportant. He uses logic and deduction effortlessly while normal people struggle greatly under its rules. His work is subtle, as if logic was Dupin’s intuition. In a way, it is similar to the use of grammar by people who study a foreign language and the people who are native speakers of it. Although Dupin is irrefutably brilliant and logical, the actual solution to the crime is ridiculous . . ."
 ~ 4. The Use of Ratiocination in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”:
     "Like the author himself, Dupin has reached the majority of his conclusions about the crime by identifying himself with the perpetrator and through the extensive critical analysis of various newspaper articles. In doing so, he became one of the first examples of armchair detection, which Poe even mentions by name: 'Dupin, sitting steadily in his accustomed 
arm-chair, was the embodiment of respectful attention'. . ."
 ~ 5. The Use of Ratiocination in “The Purloined Letter”:
     "In this case, ratiocination does not comply with the universal rules of logic but 
with those similar to the perpetrator’s way of thinking.  . . . Although ratiocination 
uses rationality to solve the crime, it is logical only in retrospect – when explained 
by the detective."
 ~ Conclusion:
  "Within Dupin’s masculine analytical world everything, even the most extraordinary of crimes, must have a logical explanation. His highly successful method of ratiocination includes almost every element of modern crime investigation: the examination of the crime scene and the victim’s body, the interrogation of witnesses, and the critical analysis of gathered evidence. Although his motives for solving crimes differ, Dupin is ultimately an entertaining creation in spite of his utter lack of charm."

 ~ Bibliography (2 pages)
Typos: "expecting" [should be "excepting"]; "the Perfect" ["Prefect"]; formatting difficulties: as our grammar teacher constantly warned us, do not divide one-syllable words: "cri-me," "ti-me," "whi-ch," etc.; some multisyllabic terms are also wrongly divided: "rea-ders," "detecti-ve," "rati-onal," "pi-cture," etc. Otherwise the text reads very smoothly.

- More info about the Chevalier is on Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- To say that Poe started something would be an understatement; he anticipated just about every major approach and important trope to appear in detective fiction for the next century:

   "While the tales of horror and Gothic imagination remain some of the most accomplished in the genre, still more significant is Poe’s contribution to the development of detective fiction. Drawing on his own ideas of science, Poe created a detective in whom the combi-nation of imagination and rational method made him capable of solving any mystery. 
C. Auguste Dupin is the blueprint for detectives like Sherlock Holmes whose rigorous deductive sense is balanced with more bohemian and mystical tendencies . . .
   "In their structure, too, the 'tales of ratiocination' inaugurated the classic detective story; they feature incompetent, though methodical police and a narrator-sidekick who is a precursor of Doyle’s Dr. Watson, while the most fundamental trope of all, the principle of the locked room, is the key feature of 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue.' Poe believed that the rational principles of detection established in these stories could be applied in real life, and indeed 'The Mystery of Marie Roget' was his attempt to 'solve' the real mystery of the murder of Mary Rogers in New York. Besides the overt detective tales, other stories point towards the future of detective fiction. 'The Gold Bug,' for which Poe won a prize in the Dollar Newspaper competition, involves the deciphering of a code, while 'The Man of the Crowd' describes a flâneur familiar to readers of Baudelaire, and a loose prototype for American detectives such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe."
   — Chris Routledge, "Poe's Tales, 1831-1849" (HERE)

- And speaking of tropes, there's TV Tropes (HERE), which, true to its mission, cleverly highlights themes and plot gimmicks which have since become not just conventions but virtual institutions in their own right; in the instance of Dupin a few of them would be:

   "Author Tract: There's a passage of about a page or so in 'The Purloined Letter' in which Dupin explains why mathematicians aren't very good at reasoning. This is tangentially related to the story, but one does wonder if it needed to be explored in such detail.
   "Clueless Mystery: In all the stories, Dupin's solutions depend on clues that aren't revealed to the audience until the summation, if then. In 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' for example, the only clue Dupin and the readers both have is the testimony about 'the shrill voice.' Everything else that Dupin discovers the reader is completely unaware of.
   "I Know You Know I Know: In 'The Purloined Letter,' Dupin explains that this is the reason he can outwit the police and get his man. The police know who stole the document; the thief knows the police know. The difference between Dupin and the police is that Dupin knows the suspect knows the police know, and the police don't know that.
   "Inner Monologue Conversation: Dupin is famously capable of responding to his companion's inner monologue, by deducing from body language what he must have been thinking about. In 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' Dupin shows off his general awesome-ness by tracking the narrator's train of thought through fifteen minutes of silent walking and several mental topic shifts, and saying exactly the right thing at the end.
   "Shaggy Dog Story: Although Dupin solves the case of 'The Murder of Marie Rogêt,' the audience isn't informed of more than Dupin's complex reasoning. This is partly because the story is inspired by real events, which themselves were never solved.
   "Smart People Play Chess: Subverted in 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue.' The story begins with a discussion on the difference between calculation and analysis (the latter being a 'true' indicator of intellect), and uses chess as an example of the former, noting that in chess, the winner is typically whoever can concentrate longer, not whoever is smarter.
 "The Sherlock Scan: A device used to introduce a detective character and his skills. The detective mentions some fact about the person he's just met, something that is not immediately obvious and he has no way of knowing ('Quitting cigarettes appears to have been good for you', 'How's the wedding planning going?', 'You've holidayed in Italy recently'). The other character looks skeptical or surprised, then the detective describes his reasoning from a set of minor clues (state and style of clothes, marks on skin, tan, etc.) and consequent assumptions. This is often not connected directly to the main plotline, but just to show 'This is how the detective's mind works, and yes, the detective is That Good.'"
   (Caution: Once you enter TV Tropes it may be some time before you emerge. You have been warned.)
- We highlighted Steven Rachman's Strand article about Poe some time ago (HERE); to get to the three Dupin stories might take two or three clicks.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Unless I Can Find Some Decent Chap to Swallow My Story and Lend Me Some Money I Seem Likely to Spend the Night on the Embankment"

By Saki (H. H. Munro, 1870-1916).
First appearance: Unknown.
Collected in Beasts and Super-Beasts (1914).
Reprinted in EQMM, April 1966 (as "Circumstantial Evidence").
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Short Stories of Saki (HERE), Wikisource (HERE), and East of the Web (HERE).
"Of course, the weak point of your story is that you can't produce the soap."
The time between sunset and total darkness can be, for some people, a mirror for their moods; on this gloomy evening it is especially so for Norman Gortsby, observing humanity from his secluded bench in Hyde Park:

   "Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who hid their fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as possible from the scrutiny 
of the curious, came forth in this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, unrecognised. He was in the mood to count himself among the defeated. Money troubles did not press on him; had he so wished he could have strolled into the thoroughfares of light and noise, and taken his place among the jostling ranks of those who enjoyed prosperity or struggled for it. He had failed in a more subtle ambition, and for the moment he was heartsore and disillusioned, and not disinclined to take a certain cynical pleasure in observing and labelling his fellow wanderers as they went their ways in the dark stretches between the lamp-lights."

Soon one such fellow wanderer, a young man, detaches himself from the gloom and gravitates to Norman's place on the park bench; the two strike up a conversation in which 
the newcomer explains how it is that, through a series of mishaps, he has managed to end up practically flat broke in London and, he says, "likely to spend the night on the Embank-ment," not so subtly hinting that he certainly could benefit from a handout. Norman, how-ever, jaded and skeptical, isn't a pushover for just any old sob story, and gently but firmly wants proof—and that, dear reader, is where the bar of soap comes in . . .
- You can find plenty of biographical information about Saki (HERE) and (HERE).
- We briefly encountered Saki in his terror tales mode nearly two years ago (HERE), story 2.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"I Think I've Caught the Scent of the Most Villainous Plot I've Ever Encountered"

"The Red Serpent."
By Seabury Quinn (1889-1969).
First appearance: Real Detective Tales and Mystery Stories, June/July 1927.
Novelette (8 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE) (select page 21).
(Note: Text is faded and ragged but readable.)
"Quinn cuts loose with both barrels in this story. Strange events, eerie happen-ings, a sinister plot, an atmosphere of weird mystery—you will find them all here. And they make your scalp bristle. . . ."
The sudden death of Professor Podkin, a colleague and good friend of Professor Harvey Forrester, due to what the coroner rules to be acute indigestion, at first doesn't seem to have any connection with the death of a woman by similar causes a couple of months earlier; but a sharp insurance claims investigator named Carter, one of Professor Forrester's former students, thinks there is a correlation between the two cases—the point of intersection being an individual named Delaval. When Rosalie, the Professor's ward, points out some discrep-ancies in Podkin's death that he has overlooked, the Professor's curiosity is piqued, prompt-ing him to do some investigating on his own—which, as we all know, can sometimes prove fatal to the unwary investigator:

   "Rosalie's warning was almost a scream as she launched herself across the room, cannoning into the Professor and hurling him backward a foot or more. Next instant 
she rose in the air like a bouncing ball, brought her slim ankles together with a click 
and landed heavily on the rose-colored rug, the sharp French heels of her little black 
kid pumps grinding down on a spot which could have been covered by a silver dollar. 
Under the girl's crushing heels protruded a cablelike cylinder some nine or ten inches 
in length, one end twitching viciously, like the released end of a coiled steel spring, 
the other lying quiescent against the rug."

A near thing, that one, but even with Rosalie's protective presence, before the homicidal culprit can be brought to heel the Professor will have another shot at joining his friend Podkin in the tenor section of the choir invisible . . .

Comment: The character relationship between Professor Forrester and Rosalie reminds us of the one between Dr. Feather and Kit (HERE).

- "The Red Serpent" was the fourth of thirteen stories written for Real Detective Tales and Mystery Stories (1927-28) by Seabury Quinn to showcase his latest series character, Professor Harvey Forrester. FictionMags tells us that Quinn had already been running tales featuring Major Sturdevant (1924-26) and would continue with his most famous character, Jules de Grandin (1925-51), a kind of occult detective version of Hercule Poirot accompanied by the Hastings-like Dr. Trowbridge. If you're interested in reading more Professor Forrester adventures, you'll have to pay for the privilege at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Abebooks, etc.; this is the only free story that we could locate relatively quickly, and to be frank, we just don't have the time to search for more.
- Our author was once the most popular writer contributing to Weird Tales according to reader polls, but rapidly fell into obscurity along with the magazine's demise; you can find plenty of relevant data about Quinn in Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and his one and only film credit for "The Phantom Farmhouse" (1923) on the IMDb (HERE).
- On his Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection megasite Michael Grost has a page (HERE) devoted to the Weird Menace School, from which Seabury Quinn graduated summa cum laude even before the subgenre effloresced; Wikipedia characterizes this type of fiction (HERE):

   "Weird menace is the name given to a subgenre of horror fiction that was popular in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and early 1940s. The weird menace pulps, also known as shudder pulps, generally featured stories in which the hero was pitted against sadistic villains, with graphic scenes of torture and brutality. In the early 1930s, detective pulps 
like Detective-Dragnet, All Detective, Dime Detective, and the short-lived Strange Detective Stories, began to favor detective stories with weird, eerie, or menacing elements. Eventually, the two distinct genre variations branched into separate magazines; the detective magazines returned to stories predominately featuring detection or action; while the eerie mysteries found their own home in the weird menace titles."
See (HERE) for still more.