Friday, June 30, 2017

"There Wasn't a Flaw; There Couldn't Be a Flaw"

"Murderers Shouldn't Overlook Little Things!"
By John Hawk (Helen Sybil Norton Kestner Cournos, 1893-1959).
First appearance: Scribner's, February 1930.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"For several years he had been enjoying a steady and substantial income, and he had no mind to see death deprive him of it."
It's never a good idea to try over-milking a cash cow—the "cow" could finally tire of giving too much too often and decide, as in this particular instance, that the only way out is with a bullet . . .

Comment: Another ingenious perfect crime (HERE and HERE) undone because of one overlooked element.

The characters:
~ Ralph Saunders:
"Relentlessly the powerful hand which gripped his raised the automatic to his temple. He felt the cold steel against his head. He tried to pray."
~ Tim:
"They say as 'ow ther master killed 'isself, but I disagree with them young 'uns. I says, says I, 'What fer should ther master kill 'isself'?"
~ Stone:
"Terrible 'bout poor Saunders. Terrible. But I always allowed that he was a bit funny. . . ."
~ Mrs. Atkins:
"You're late to-night, dear. Did you stop in for a game with Saunders?"
~ Fred Atkins:
"He had rehearsed over and over again the part. Everything had happened as he had planned. Not in one jot had his calculations miscarried."
~ Miller:
"He stopped and felt in his pocket. Then, lying in the palm of his hand, he held it out to their gaze. Like a drop of blood, it lay against the pallor of his skin."

- There's a Dorothy L. Sayers connection with John Hawk; go (HERE) for that.
- FictionMags, one of only two sources of biographical information about this author that we could find (Curt Evans is the other; see below), tells us that "John Hawk" was, in reality, a woman who evidently preferred novel-writing to short fiction; here are contemporary and not-so-contemporary reviews of several of "his" other works:

    "This is the second detective story by John Hawk that we have read. We liked 'The Serpent-Headed Stick' better. Sark, 'the renowned and brilliant private detective' didn't strike us as remarkable. And the characters seemed all out of old stock. After all, your detective story has to be so devilishly ingenious and swiftly moving that it doesn't matter about the characters; or the characters, at least one or two, must have convincing identity. The jacket on the book is crudely drawn, and, without the title, one would suspect a French farce within. The story is English in setting, and two of the villains are Americans not at all noticeably American. All the people concerned are mediocre. We should call the narrative machine-made a 1 rather tiredly written."
  — "The New Books," The Saturday Review, September 29, 1928

    "STUMPED for a new method of death, John Falcon, the famous mystery-story writer, asks his dinner guests for a thought, and strangling is proposed. That night, while he is typing out his story, he is strangled in his study. Whereupon all his guests put in several unpleasant days. Not until another innocent man is 'done in' is the real perpetrator found. Plenty of action and excitement."
  — "Notes on New Books," The Bookman, July 1929

  ~ IT WAS LOCKED (1930):
    [Review excerpt]: "Sloppy writing and careless plotting fairly ruins an intermittently entertaining detective novel that turns into a thriller in the final chapters." (Also see the "Comments" thread.)
    — J. F. Norris, Pretty Sinister Books, December 8, 2013

    [From the dust jacket]: "During District Attorney Pulver's vacation, the sleepy little town of Dartford was startled by the unusual events surrounding the death of David Ribblesdale, one of its prominent citizens. Rodney Colt, young, enthusiastic, and a sentimentalist at heart, found in his office as Assistant District Attorney the necessity for running to earth the criminal whose activities caused Ribblesdale's lovely residence to become known as The House of Sudden Sleep—a house where one by one the inmates were threatened with a death that quietly, yet suddenly ended their worldly activities. It is with such a series of events that John Hawk, already well known for his ability to provide the thousands who read his every book with new thrills, is at his best. From the moment that Jimmy Armstrong, Colt's warmest admirer, calls him into the case, the story moves at a pace that makes each new page a quivering adventure. The search light of suspicion slowly and inexorably swings to each member of Ribblesdale's household." — From (HERE)

The bottom line: "What careful planning, what painstaking attention to detail, goes into extinguishing a man's life! Far more than the hit-or-miss, haphazard circumstances of igniting it."
"New York Blues"

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