Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Diabolical Things Brewing Anyway"

EDWARD MOTT WOOLLEY was most known in his day for fiction and nonfiction which almost always involved business activities (especially salesmanship), his only series character being Strategy Hawkins, a shrewd go-getter in the Howard Roark vein; FictionMags lists Woolley's short article output running from 1902 to 1932. Like many authors of the time, he dabbled in crime fiction, penning (we think) at least two detective stories for Short Stories magazine featuring the remarkable Felix Hazard (characterized as a "wizard," "whose reputa-tion for detecting well-nigh inscrutable crimes was unsurpassed"):
   (1) "The Man Who Disappeared," Short Stories, February 1916
   (2) "The Brain Jungle," Short Stories, April 1916 (below).
(Note: The TOC blurb for the second story tells us that "Felix Hazard follows another trail of crime," leading us to conclude that "The Man Who Disappeared" is the predecessor of "The Brain Jungle." If we ever come across the first story—and good luck with that—we'll post about it.)

"The Brain Jungle."
By Edward Mott Woolley (1867-1947).
First appearance: Short Stories, April 1916.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Pulp Magazine Project (HERE, slow-load PDF; scroll down to page 63).
(Note: Some text cut off but context should supply meaning.)

"A wealthy woman murdered in her carriage, a sister of charity drowned as if by accident, children poisoned by some mysterious agent, such was the situation when Felix Hazard was called into the crime area of a hitherto reposeful New England town."
Poor little Litchfield, hitherto virtually squeaky clean, is undergoing an unprecedented crime wave—five mysterious deaths in rapid succession, all with no apparent motive and no seem-ing relationship to each other. In desperation the town's mayor travels down to the Big Apple to enlist the aid of the Hazard Detective Agency (its motto: "Silence—silence always!") and its enigmatic, brusque director.

Like Holmes before him and Wolfe after, Felix Hazard has his own individualized, idiosyn-cratic traits:

"Hazard was there, seated at a flat-topped desk in a haze of blue tobacco smoke, with some red and green diagrams before him."

"You remember that he took little interest in ordinary crimes with common-place motives. Nor did he waste time discussing them. The world was full of sordid deeds of violence, and his lightning-like imagination had a habit of jumping to fantastic possibilities. If he found no range for such flights of involved fancy, he invariably dropped a case at the start."

   "There was something singularly uncanny in Hazard's unusually large and rounded orbs when they chose to frame an illuminated interrogation mark."

   "Hazard and
[his operative Delos] Nast usually worked on the hypothesis that a study of mental processes afforded the best path to crime solution."


"Alibis are inconvenient nuisances in the detection of crime."

   "When I shut my eyes I sometimes see things that may or may not exist in reality. It is the things one sees in the dark that makes the good detective. He may stab and hit nothing, but if the thing he sees is really there—Ah! mysteries have a habit of fading away!"

   "The imagination, my dear sir, is a wonderful thing. It can jump to
any height and explore the most inaccessible mental absurdities; but if it is a good healthy imagination it will return to earth just as quickly when it finds nothing up there to seize upon."

   "It is your privilege and mine, Nast, to reach continually a little beyond the known realms of mental science. We are explorers in
that most mysterious of all countries, the Brain Jungle."

   "Analogies, my friends! I try to reason from such analogies, for the human mind, however erratic, always comes back to certain starting points. The
more you study the morbid histology of the brain, the more you see that these microscopic tissue structures in different craniums simply repeat the same general story."

Typos: Missing quotation marks in several places; "paranoaic."

If nothing else, this story affords you an opportunity to enlarge your vocabulary; look these up in your Funk & Wagnalls: sempervirent, philoprogenitiveness.

- Prabook has an outline of Edward Mott Woolley's life (HERE), and The Online Books Page has a list of his books that are, well, online (HERE).

The bottom line: "Murder was deeply human. A person was killed and a person killed. And what powered the final thrust wasn't a whim, wasn't an event. It was an emotion. Something once healthy and human had become wretched and bloated and finally buried. But not put to rest. It lay there, often for decades, feeding on itself, growing and gnawing, grim and full of grievance. Until it finally broke free of all human restraint. Not conscience, not fear, not social convention could contain it. When that happened, all hell broke loose. And a man became a monster."
A Rule Against Murder

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