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.

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