Thursday, November 30, 2017

"A Dead Santa Claus in My Room"

"Slay Bells for Santa."
By Edward W. Ludwig (1920-90).
First appearance: 10-Story Detective Magazine, November 1942.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE).

"It was curtains for Sam Conway, newshawk, if he didn’t turn in a red-hot story for his city editor. But when Conway’s nose for news made him the goat for a murder rap, his boss was all set to switch Conway’s by-line into an obit item."
Sam figures that one murdered Santa Claus is bad enough, but two does seem a bit excessive:

 ". . . why in hell did everyone dressed as Santa Claus get knocked off? Was it all the work of some mad misanthrope who wanted to get rid of all Santa Clauses? If so, Conway pitied all the department store Santas who’d spring into existence about December first. No, he told himself, there must be a more logical explanation."

. . . and there is—but every time a jolly old elf bites the bullet, somebody puts Sam squarely in the frame . . .

Dramatis personae:
~ Sam Conway:

  "He felt so low he didn’t even notice the eye-satisfying blonde that strutted ahead of him. All he could think of was what old Monkey-Nose, his city ed, had told him that afternoon . . ."
~ "Old Monkey-Nose":
  "Sure it’s a good story, but don’t expect the paper to get you outa your jam. If you want to kill Santa Clauses for a story, that's great—but you have to take the rap."
~ Dan Harris:
  "His eyes stared glassily at the ceiling. A smear of crimson had crept through the red jacket and stained the lower portion of the white beard."
~ "A blonde with beautiful brown eyes":
  "You're in a spot, sister—a murdered man in your room and only dead a few minutes before you found him."
~ "A wide-eyed little man with a suitcase in his hand":
  "I didn’t exactly see her, but I live in the room next door, and I heard two men and a woman talking in here a while ago."
~ The house dick:
  "Hand over the gun, buddy. You’d better not give me any trouble, see?"
~ "A big man with a scarred chin and a bald head":
  "That's right, brother, but I don't think you'll live long enough to do much about it."

Noteworthy phraseology: "softened the aging doorman’s heart with a fiver"; "A crimson stream trickled from a pencil-hole in his forehead"; "at that particular moment he would have tried getting through the eye of a needle itself"; "jewels shone like tiny eyes in the night"; "the east where the prospective presence of the sun tinged the sky a pale pink."

Typos: "key in the Jock"; "picked pi up"; "I'm I not."

- FictionMags's chronological listing for our author (who, incidentally, is not to be confused with the motion picture writer and director) indicates that this was Edward Ludwig's first published story and that only three other tales were strictly crime fiction, most of his output being SFFnal; see the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Fred Smale's story ("Caught Out," HERE) also features a newspaperman trying to solve a crime, but he never gets himself into the desperate situations that Sam Conway does in today's story; reporter Edith Johnwell ("His Honor Is Missing," HERE), however, has a far different experience. Other newshawks that we've encountered include brainy Marshall T. Custer ("The Girl with the Burgundy Lips," HERE) and shrewd Jimmie Silverdale ("Silverdale of Brain Street," HERE).

The bottom line: "Ah, but you must have a Christmas uncomplicated by murder."
   ― Christie

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"Are You a Thief?"

"Santa Up Against It."
By R. N. Wall (?-?).
First appearance: Top-Notch Magazine, December 15, 1922.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

Does being down on your luck justify stealing? A department store Santa faces a supreme test of character that could cost him a lot more than Christmas dinner . . .

~ John Sloan:
  "Through the merry crowds the man trudged endlessly up and down Broad Street, clad in a red suit with white fur trimming, his thin, tired face half hidden by false white whiskers and its paleness made ruddy with paint. As he walked along he rang a little bell and on his back he carried a bag full of toys."

~ Myrtle, Sloan's daughter:
  "Her bright little face was flushed from bending over the kitchen stove, and the big gingham apron which she wore down to her shoe tops gave her a quaint, old-fashioned look. She was thin, and her big eyes looked hungry, but they were very loving, and she hugged her father hard as she led him through the dank hall to the kitchen where the one fire did double duty for warmth and cookery."
~ Mr. Harmon:
  ". . . because Harmon was at heart a kindly man and because Sloan could play Santa well enough with one hand and was willing, by reason of his incapacity, to work for a dollar and
a quarter a day, Harmon gave him a job."
~ Mr. Cranch:
  "In sharp pursuit came a pompous, purple-faced, pop-eyed gentleman in a frock coat and
silk hat, who continued to bellow 'Stop thief!' at the top of his voice."
~ The traffic policeman:
  "What about it? Did ye swipe the gemmun’s leather?"
~ Detective Duffy:
  "Don’t think for a minute you can put my eye out. I could vag you and get you thirty days on suspish, but I dunno why the city should board you. You just fade out of town. If I see you here after twenty-four hours, you get a nice warm job making small ones out of big ones on the pile."
~ Joe the Dip:
  "I took a quick think when I slammed the bundle in your pouch, an’ I knew it was safe as in
a church. Come across with it an’ we’ll split fifty-fifty."

- This FictionMags thumbnail is all we know about our author: "Lived in Richmond, Virginia"; Wall's listing of just over two dozen stories runs from 1913 to 1924.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"How Would You Like to Commit a Burglary That Was Not a Crime?"

"The Christmas Eve Burglary."
By Arnold Bennett (1867-1931).
Illustrations by Alfred Pearse (1856-1933; FictionMags HERE).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, December 1906.
Reprinted in The Strand Magazine (U.S.), December 1906.
Short short story (8 pages, with 4 illos).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Some text faded and obscured; using Ctrl+ should help.)

"He would have been almost ready to burn down Sneyd Castle in order to get rid of the thing."
Sir Jee would shoot this white elephant if he could, but it would just make a big hole in the wall . . .

Major characters:
~ Lady Dain:
  "She was a simple, homely, sincere woman, her one weakness being that she had never been able to see through Sir Jee."
~ Sir Jehosophat ("Sir Jee," for short):
  "Inhabitants of the Five Towns went to London to see the work for which they had subscribed, and they saw a mean, little, old man, with thin lips and a straggling grey beard, and shifty eyes, and pushful snob written all over him; ridiculous in his gew-gaws of office."
~ Cressage:
  ". . . that genius was celebrated throughout the civilized world, and regarded as the equal of Velazquez (whoever Velazquez might be) . . ."
~ William Smith:
  "And what's your game?"
- Arnold Bennett was one of the most celebrated authors of his time; Wikipedia and the Britannica have more (HERE) and (HERE).
- Fred White gave us a charming tale of Christmas skulduggery and theatricality with
"A Christmas Capture," and we featured it (HERE) nearly a year ago.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-three

JOHN DICKSON CARR, the grand master of the locked room mystery, wrote that in the classical detective story the author and the reader engage in what he termed "The Grandest Game in the World," as the writer attempts to outwit the reader at every turn and the reader tries to do the same to the author and reach the correct solution before the story ends. Today's academician, however, takes the Grandest Game to a whole other level . . .

"Bayesian Thought in Early Modern Detective Stories: Monsieur Lecoq, C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes."
By Joseph B. Kadane (born 1941).
First appearance: Statistical Science, May 2009.
Article (7 pages).
Online at arXiv (HERE) (PDF).

(Note: SPOILERS for "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter").
(Further note to mathophobes: There is some mathematics in this paper, but don't panic! There's not enough to obscure the author's meaning.)

"Both detective stories and Bayesian analysis have flourished in the intervening century. They share some common roots."
A professional statistician shows how the forerunners of modern detective fiction made use of Bayesian theory to activate their plots—without, of course, knowing that's what they were doing.

"This paper reviews the maxims used by three early modern fictional detectives: Monsieur Lecoq, C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes.
It find [sic] similarities between these maxims and Bayesian thought.
Poe’s Dupin uses ideas very similar to Bayesian game theory. Sherlock
Holmes’ statements also show thought patterns justifiable in Bayesian

1. Introduction:
   "This essay aims to examine the pattern of thought used by their respective detectives: Monsieur Lecoq, C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes.  . . . 
[T]here is a sense in which understanding fictional characters is easier than understanding real ones. There is a fixed body of written work, and this is all the evidence there will ever be. Those words tell what characteristics of the detectives the author considers most important. When the author writes
about the way such characters go about their work, this can be taken to be authoritative."

2. Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq:
   "Little is written about Lecoq’s methods, except for one refrain that
occurs three times: 'Always suspect that which seems probable; and
begin by believing that which appears incredible,' 'Distrust all circum-
stances that seem to favor your secret wishes,' and 'Always distrust
what seems probable!' Taken together they suggest a tinge of paranoia, perhaps  . . ."
3. Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin:
   "What is important to us in these three stories is the theory Poe promulgates as to how Dupin is thinking about the puzzles he sets himself to solve."  . . .  [Speaking as a statistician, our author congratulates Poe on making] "an  important and subtle point, one that it took the medical profession another century to incorporate, via the use of controlled clinical trials."
4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes:
   "In contrast to Gaboriau’s single (or perhaps double) book and Poe’s three short stories, Doyle gives us four Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories. So we have in one sense a great deal of information. However, Doyle seems less anxious than Poe to show us how Holmes is thinking about his tasks. When he does so, on occasion those thoughts are often reminiscent of ideas already in Poe’s stories."  . . . [Through his character] "Doyle (Holmes) is saying that predicting subsequent from preceding events is relatively straight-forward, but the reverse is hard. And this is exactly what Bayes’ Theorem does. However, that theorem is even more evident in what we must take as Holmes’ slogan, as it is repeated four times in the work. 'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the truth.' Thus Sherlock Holmes is using, and insisting upon, Bayesian results to explain his actions."
Artwork by Ronald Searle
5. Conclusion (in which the author cross-examines himself):
  ~ "How would you describe Sherlock Holmes’ use of Bayesian ideas?"
    "Holmes certainly seems to understand the ideas, and how to use them."
  ~ "The idea is that if I am playing a game against you, my main source of uncertainty is what
you will do. As a Bayesian I have probabilities on what
you will do, and can use them to calculate my maximum expected utility choice, which is what I should choose."
    "Is this consistent with what Poe writes about games?"
    "Very much so."
  ~ "Is there anything that Poe writes about games that is inconsistent with your theory?"
    "No. I think Poe understood skill in games very well, both in how Dupin outwits Minister D., and in his general introduction. As I explained earlier,

I disagree with him about chess, but as a general matter, his view of skill
in games is very similar to the one in our papers."

6. References

Typos: 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' (1944); "as the lay progresses."

- Wikipedia has a short article about Joseph B. Kadane (HERE).
- Wikipedia also has quite a few related articles, four of which are "Bayesian probability" (HERE), "Bayes' theorem" (HERE), "Bayesian inference" (HERE), and "Cromwell's rule" (HERE); another one that relates more closely to our article is "Bayesian game" (HERE):

  "In game theory, a Bayesian game is a game in which the players have incomplete information on the other players (e.g., on their available

strategies or payoffs), but they have beliefs with known probability distribution."

If you think of "the players" as Holmes and Moriarty (or any detective and suspect for

that matter), then you have an inkling of how Bayesian game theory could be applied
to mysteries.
- There's no escaping Poe's influence on detective fiction (HERE).

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"There Was a Sullen, Vicious Air About These Two"

"My Sister Mary."
By Keith Edgar (?-?).
First appearance: Collier's, April 24, 1948.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"He told me to start painting—so I did."
Pretty is as pretty does, even in a hostage situation, where a pretty girl does pretty well . . .

- FictionMags describes our author: "Born in Toronto, Canada; reporter and press photographer"; that's all we know.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"I Don’t Thee Why They Have to Have Thankthgivin’ Anyway"

OUR AUTHOR TODAY, Johnston McCulley, is best known as the creator of Zorro (first appearance: "The Curse of Capistrano," 1919), a character that Hollywood returns to time
and again with movies and TV productions; but he had another really long-running series character that few remember today: Thubway Tham, who appeared in (if we've counted
right) 142 stories from 1918 all the way to 1960 [data from FictionMags].
McCulley defined what a pulp writer should be in those days as he churned out reams of highly readable multi-genre copy for the pulps and the slicks (the FictionMags listing runs
to six pages). In addition to "the fox" and the subway dip, he had other series characters: Dawson Clade ("The Bat") under a house name; El Torbellino ("The Whirlwind"); the Mongoose (Detective Fiction Weekly); the Spider, John Flatchley ("The Thunderbolt"),
Black Star, The Avenging Twins, Speed Sparke, Richard Staegel, Delton Prouse ("The Crimson Clown"), and Terry Trimble (Detective Story Magazine); Danny Blaney ("The
Green Ghost") (Thrilling Detective); James Peters ("The Rollicking Rogue") (All Star Detective); Peanut Pete (Clues); and Doctor Quartz (with McCulley writing as "Nick

"Thubway Tham's Thanksgiving Dinner."
By Johnston McCulley (1883-1958).
First appearance: Detective Story, November 26, 1918.
Reprinted in Best Detective Magazine, November 1931.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"It appears that about every time you take a ride in the subway, some gentleman of means reports that his pocket-book is unaccountably missing."
Call it a generous impulse or call it self-pity, but Thubway Tham, the subway pickpocket, promises to buy a bunch of newsies a Thanksgiving dinner, only he doesn't have the moolah—and, of course, there's Detective Craddock constantly breathing down his neck. What's a mild-mannered dip to do?
- There's more about Johnston McCulley at Wikipedia (HERE), and about Thubway Tham (HERE) and the GAD Wiki (HERE); the IMDb listing (HERE) shows that Zorro got all the attention from Tinseltown, with no visible credits for Tham.
- If you're in the mood for other Thanksgiving mysteries, see the lists at Cozy Mystery (HERE), Mystery Fanfare (HERE), and Mystery Sequels (HERE).

The bottom line:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-two

LAST WEEK we heard Rex Stout's ideas of what constitutes good detective fiction; now let's hear from the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey twenty years earlier . . .

"A Sport of Noble Minds."
By Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957).
First appearance: The Saturday Review, August 3, 1929.
Article (2 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
(Note: Text is small and faded; use Ctrl + for better results.)

Dorothy Sayers held certain fixed views about detective fiction, many of which the passage of time has validated:

~ Poe wasn't just there first but brought with him a spirit of innovation:
  "In 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' and, with a certain repulsive facetious-ness, in 'Thou Art the Man' he [Poe] achieved the fusion of the two distinct genres and created what we may call the story of mystery, as distinct from pure detection on the one hand and pure horror on the other. In this fused genre, the reader's blood is first curdled by some horrible and apparently inexplicable murder or portent; the machinery of detection is then brought
in to solve the mystery and punish the murderer."

~ Every detective fiction since the day of the Raven has followed his lead:
  "As regards plot also, Poe laid down a number of sound keels for the use of later adventurers. Putting aside his instructive excursions into the psychology of detection—instructive, because we can trace their influence in so many of Poe's successors down to the present day—putting these aside, and discount-ing that atmosphere of creepiness which Poe so successfully diffused about nearly all he wrote, we shall probably find that to us, sophisticated and trained on an intensive study of detective fiction, his plots are thin to transparency. But in Poe's day they represented a new technique. As a matter of fact, it is doubtful whether there are more than half a dozen deceptions in the mystery-monger's bag of tricks, and we shall find that Poe has got most of them, at any rate in embryo."

~ Detective fiction's gestation period was unduly prolonged:
"It is rather puzzling that the detective story should have had to wait so long to find a serious exponent. Having started so well, why did it not develop earlier?"

~ Certainly social attitudes had something to do with it:
  ". . . though crime stories might, and did, flourish, the detective story proper could not do so until public sympathy had veered round to the side of law and order. It will be noticed that, on the whole, the tendency in early crime litera-ture is to admire the cunning and astuteness of the criminal. This must be so while the law is arbitrary, oppressive, and brutally administered."

~ Then along came Sherlock:
  ". . . with Sherlock Holmes, the ball—the original nucleus deposited by Edgar Allan Poe nearly forty years earlier—was at last set rolling."

~ Sayers echoes Rex Stout:
  ". . . the job of writing detective stories is by no means growing easier.  . . .  How can we at the same time show the reader everything and yet legitimately obfuscate him as to its meaning?"

~ Aristotle would be proud:
  "In its severest form, the mystery story is a pure analytical exercise, and, as such, may be a highly finished work of art, within its highly artificial limits. There is one respect, at least, in which the detective story has an advantage over every other kind of novel. It possesses an Aristotelian perfection of beginning, middle, and end."

~ Sayers shares Conan Doyle's reservations about whether detective fiction could ever "transcend" itself:
  "It [the detective story] does not, and by hypothesis, never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement."

~ Unless they're carefully handled, emotions can upset the apple cart:
  "A too violent emotion flung into the glittering mechanism of the detective story jars the movement by disturbing its delicate balance.  . . .  it is better
to err in the direction of too little feeling than too much."

~ The same goes for characterization:
  "To make the transition from the detached to the human point of view in one of the writer's hardest tasks. It is especially hard when the murderer has been made human and sympathetic. A real person has then to be brought to the gallows, and this must not be done too lightheartedly. Mr. G. K. Chesterton deals with the problem by merely refusing to face it."
  ". . . modern taste rejects monsters, therefore, the modern detective story
is compelled to achieve a higher level of writing, and a more competent delineation of character."
  "Just at present, therefore, the fashion in detective fiction is to have
characters credible and lively; not conventional, but, on the other hand,
not too profoundly studied—people who live more or less on the Punch
level of emotion. A little more psychological complexity is allowed than formerly . . ."

~ Another apple-cart-upsetting element can be the "love interest":
  ". . . some of the finest detective stories are marred by a conventional love story, irrelevant to the action and perfunctorily worked in.  . . .  A casual and perfunctory love story is worse than no love story at all and, since the mystery must, by hypothesis, take the first place, the love is better left out."

~ Another echo of Stout:
  "The mystery-monger's principal difficulty is that of varying his surprises. 'You know my methods, Watson,' says the detective, and it is only too painful-ly true. The beauty of Watson was, of course, that after thirty years he still did not know Holmes's methods; but the average reader is sharper witted."

~ Is there some sort of expiration date after which detective fiction will disappear?
  "There certainly does seem a possibility that the detective story will some-time come to an end, simply because the public will have learnt all the tricks. But it has probably many years to go yet, and in the meantime, a new and
less rigid formula will probably have developed . . ."

~ Like other critics, Sayers hypothesizes that there may be an inverse relationship between world conditions and the demand for detective fiction:
  "Probably the cheerful cynicism of the detective tale suits better with the spirit of the times than the sentimentality which ends in wedding bells. For, make no mistake about it, the detective story is part of the literature of
escape and not of expression."

Mentioned in passing:
~ Poe's stories: (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
~ Conan Doyle's stories: (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
~ Chesterton's story (HERE).
~ Martin Hewitt (HERE).
~ Raffles (HERE).
~ Dr. Thorndyke (HERE).
~ Mason's Hanaud (HERE) and novels (HERE) and (HERE).
~ Poirot (HERE).
~ Philo Vance (HERE).
~ Gaboriau (HERE).
~ Milne's novel (HERE).
~ Bentley's novel (HERE) and (HERE).
~ Brock's novel (HERE).
~ Crofts (HERE).
~ Father Knox (HERE).
~ Philip Guedalla (HERE) and (HERE).

- Consult the GAD Wiki (HERE) for more about Dorothy Sayers.
- For comparison, also see the GAD Wiki (HERE; scroll down to Part Two: "A History of the Type," number 6) for a few excerpts from Sayers's Introduction to her first Omnibus of Crime (1929) and UNZ for the Introduction to The Second Omnibus of Crime (1932; HERE).

The bottom line: "The sensational story-teller does indeed create uninteresting characters, and then tries to make them interesting by killing them. But the intellectual novelist yet more sadly wastes his talents, for he creates interesting characters, and then does not kill them."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Rex Stout on Detective Fiction

"Grim Fairy Tales."
By Rex Stout (1886-1975).
First appearance: The Saturday Review, April 2, 1949.
Article (3 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 34).

The creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin lectures us on his theory of how mankind arrogantly prefers to view itself as the reasoning animal, and about how that presumption
has shaped the contours of detective fiction; it's noteworthy that he's careful to distinguish between the mystery and the detective story.

~ More than human:
  "Sherlock Holmes is the embodiment of man's greatest pride and greatest weakness: his reason. I have heard it said by sneerers that he isn't even human. Certainly he isn't; but he is human aspiration."

~ There's an almost universal (if seldom admitted to) admiration for a man who can use his brains:
  "We enjoy reading about people in the same fix. We enjoy reading about people who love and hate and covet—about gluttons and martyrs, misers and sadists, whores and saints, brave men and cowards. But also, demonstrably, we enjoy reading about a man who gloriously acts and decides, with no exception and no compunction, not as his emotions brutally command, but as his reason instructs. So Sherlock Holmes is on his peak. This basic principle, this essence, of detective stories and the public's insatiable appetite for them, is understood (or felt) quite well by some of the writers in the genre, imper-fectly by others, and not at all by some."

~ Emotions have their place, however:
  "Philo Vance, not content to exclude emotions from his Board of Directors, wouldn't tolerate them around the place at all, which was a mistake, since

the idea is not the extinction of emotions but merely their relegation to the auxiliaries, as is fitting in a reasoning animal."

~ You'll know when it's over:
  "A detective story ends when reason's job is done."

~ We can't argue with this:
  "All I ask of any story is that it give me my money's worth—and my time's worth—one way or another."

~ For the detective fiction writer there are obstacles that are unique to the genre:
  "Detective stories need all the talent they can get, since they confront the writer with two extraordinary handicaps."

~ It's not as easy as it looks:
  "The writing job is to make a good story out of a man performing a feat of reason. The devil of it is that the most exciting and impressive part of the performance must be concealed from the reader—or at least the reader must not know what is exciting and impressive and what isn't. That is the pattern set by Poe, and no one has ever deviated from it without making a mess. I don't know why."

~ One-night stands are limiting:
  ". . . nearly all of the finest detective stories are about detectives who appear not in one tale but in a series."

~ For the writer, deciding who narrates is an all-important consideration:
  "It is impossible to have the detective himself tell the story."

~ Although they resemble each other, the conventional novel and the detective tale are two very different animals:
  "A detective story is not a tale about the motives and acts and emotions of people, as a novel is, but about the detective's investigation of their motives and acts and emotions in his pursuit of a relentless purpose."

~ Keep it simple:
  "Since the proper and only theme of a detective story is the progress of the hero to his triumph, anything that happens beyond the horizon of his senses and sense has no pertinence."

~ One of the greatest difficulties the detective fiction author faces is orchestrating a series of delaying tactics without causing the reader to tire or lose interest:
  "The one thing that must be reserved is the identity of the culprit; the nearer you can come, before that fatal disclosure, to dusting everything else off, the better."

~ . . . but is it literature?
  "No one would dream of speaking of Doyle in the same tone of voice as of Thackeray, though one is still being read in twenty languages and the other is not read at all."

- Rex Stout caused an uproar with "Watson Was a Woman" (1941), online (HERE) and (HERE).

- Stout was a firm believer in the series detective; see The Thrilling Detective Web Site (HERE) and then go to SpeedyMystery (HERE) for a nice summary of his Nero Wolfe novellas: ". . . the reading public and various magazine publishers were so pleased with the result that Stout wrote forty more novella length adventures over the next twenty-three years. That Stout could dash off a Wolfe novella in days or weeks as opposed to months for a Wolfe novel certainly must have added to the charms of the shorter format for him. Stout was fortunate that a high-paying slick-paper magazine market lasted for so many years."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"George Had Thought of Everything"

HELEN REILLY was primarily a crime fictioneer who very often featured her series character, Inspector Christopher McKee, in both novels and short stories [data from FictionMags]:
 (1) Murder in the Mews, serialized novel, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, June 20, 1931-July 25, 1931

 (2) Three Women in Black, novella, Random House (1941)

 (3) Murder on Angler’s Island, novel, Random House (1945)

 (4) "The Phonograph Murder," short story, Collier’s, January 25, 1947 (below)
 (5) Tell Her It’s Murder, novel, Star Weekly, August 14, 1954
 (6) Compartment K, novel, Star Weekly, June 4, 1955

 (7) "Follow Me," novelette, Star Weekly, May 21, 1960 (discussed HERE)

 (8) "Certain Sleep," novelette, Star Weekly, June 17, 1961

. . . and quite a few other titles as well (see "Resources," below).

"The Phonograph Murder."
By Helen Reilly (Helen Margaret Kieran, 1891-1962).
First appearance: Collier's, January 25, 1947.
Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine, May 1955; The Saint Detective Magazine (U.K.), September 1955; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #8 (1965) and #56 (1987).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 26).

"The murder was perfect—no clues, no suspicion. George had thought of everything."
These people who strive to commit the perfect murder—when will they ever learn?

~ George Bonfield:

  "It was then, as he stood beside the stove in the kitchen, that the idea came to him. He fingered the clock."
~ Louise Bonfield:
  "Her skin was soft and a little moist. He shivered, and fought down a sudden sickening
soul-shaking wave of nausea."
~ Joe Tyler:
  "Joe was in the next room every single minute of the time, and he couldn't be mistaken."
~ Mr. Gamble:
  "Promptly at eleven Mr. Gamble was roused by piercing screams issuing from the red-brick house next to his own. He rushed out, a coat thrown hastily over his pajamas, and found . . ."
~ Hannah Swenson:
  ". . . the maid, shrieking at the top of her lungs . . ."
~ The local precinct lieutenant:
  "You'll understand that this is just routine."
~ Inspector Christopher McKee:
  "Mrs. Bonfield trained Hannah well."
- The book that basically kicked off a trend in stories with a similar premise as in today's tale receives a short, sharp review (HERE).
- There's a lot of information to be gleaned about Helen Reilly from Mike Grost's Mystery*File article (HERE) and one by Steve Lewis (HERE), and the GAD Wiki has more (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It's Joe Doyle, Not That Conan Guy

"Not According to Doyle."
By Carter Critz (house pseudonym).
First appearance: Popular Detective, November 1947.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at (HERE).

"When a bodyguard’s wished on him and a blonde lovely asks him to tackle a mystery, this snooper has his hands full!"
Fifty grand missing from a bank, a wise guy wanting to hire himself out to protect the detective, two plug-uglies willing to do a little kidnapping, a dishy tomato looking for 
her missing brother—just another day in the life for this P.I.  . . .

Comment: Our detective has a distinctive voice . . .

  "DOYLE is the name, Joe Doyle. I’m a private detective so I spend my time minding other people’s business. Not that I’m too nosy—I only get curious when I’m hired to do some snooping. Remember the case of the Singing Parrot, and the one about the Headless Taxi Driver? Well, I didn’t solve 
either of those. I only read about them in the newspapers—but I get along all right. I live in a hotel on a side street in the Forties and, as hotels go, a tramp steamer couldn’t take this one far enough away to suit me. But be it ever my grumble, it's still my home."

Regrettably, though, the story doesn't measure up.

- According to FictionMags, the "Carter Critz" alias was used at least two dozen times in Thrilling Detective, Popular Detective, and the like from 1931 to 1953, the one exception

being in Popular Sports Magazine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Big Sleep

BEING MURDERED in your sleep, while you're totally defenseless, is a profoundly disturbing prospect; there's some comfort for us survivors in knowing that the unfortunate victims in the following stories have been spared that knowledge . . . or have they?

  "I see you’ve got an alibi that can’t be broken . . ."

"The Will."
By Richard B. Sale (1911-93).
First appearance: Popular Detective, September 1935.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"A Cold-Blooded Murder Perpetrated for Gain—and the Aftermath!"
A neat plan, this one, smooth and uncomplicated, only there's a snag the murderer hasn't anticipated: If he inherits, it's the electric chair for sure. Decisions, decisions . . .


- FictionMags's description of Richard Sale: "Mystery novelist and short story writer. Born in New York City; lived in California."
- Nearly two-and-a-half years have elapsed since we first featured Sales's "Death Had a Pencil" (HERE).

~ ~ ~

  "Somebody must have been digging there . . ."

"No Blood."
By John L. Benton (house pseudonym).
First appearance: Popular Detective, January 1936.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"There was to be no shedding of blood."
Even in the best-laid schemes, the unexpected sometimes bubbles up, you might say, seemingly out of nowhere . . .

- Just who "John L. Benton" was is still unclear; see Cullen Gallagher's Pulp Serenade (HERE).

Monday, November 13, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-one

IT WILL SOON be ten years since we lost Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008); just after he passed away, J. Madison Davis published this assessment of the lamentable state of the detective short story and why almost no one nowadays can do what Hoch did, make a living writing them.

"The Last Good Man: Edward D. Hoch and the World of
the Short Story."
By J. Madison Davis.
First appearance: World Literature Today, July 1, 2008.
Article (4 pages as a PDF).
Online at The Free (HERE).

Just a few snippets:

  "He was a Titan in another sense: a towering giant of the older gods. He was probably the last mystery-story writer, certainly the last major one."

  "Since the 1930s, the situation of the short story is much like that of the poem, having moved further and further to the peripheries of popular culture."

  "Ironically, perhaps Alfred Hitchcock, who built his very profitable television series around the best stories by authors he enjoyed—like Henry Slesar, Saki, Stanley Ellin, and Roald Dahl—contributed to the weakening of the short story by demonstrating how effectively such stories could be converted to the screen."

  "Although many people groan about the limited reading habits of Americans, writers in other countries are often under the impression that the situation for the short story is much better here than there. In other countries, the situa-tion is much the same or even grimmer."

  "It remains to be seen if the mystery short story can be revived on electronic media, but its inexpensiveness implies that supplying such a market might never be a way to make a living."

  "The mystery short story is unlikely to disappear, even if it does not find a rebirth, but the likelihood of short-story specialists like Ed Hoch ever gracing the mystery scene again seems sadly unlikely, and if they do, no one will grace it as well as Ed did."

- A few years before Hoch died, Steve Lewis at Mystery*File interviewed him (HERE); Hoch also contributed a short blog post to Criminal Brief, "Why the Short Story?" (HERE); see also Steve Steinbock's tribute to Hoch (HERE); the Wikipedia article (HERE); the GAD Wiki (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE); and The Passing Tramp (HERE).
- The Locked Room Mystery megasite has several pages devoted to Hoch (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- Occasionally Ed Hoch would wander into science fiction/fantasy (SFF); see (HERE) for more.
- Hoch picked up an Edgar for "The Oblong Room" (HERE).
- With few exceptions, Hoch's brilliant stories have been largely ignored by Hollywood; see "Hoch and Tinseltown" (HERE).
- Podcasts of two of Hoch's Sam Hawthorne mysteries are still online: "The Problem of the Covered Bridge" (HERE) and "The Problem of the Old Gristmill" (HERE).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Three from Oscar

"No Nerve."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: Liberty, December 5, 1936.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE).

"Considering the probable reward, you two sure are lucky."
Honesty isn't merely the best policy—it just might save your life . . .

~ ~ ~

"Family Affair."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: Collier's, November 7, 1942.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"If you don't save him I'm going to see that everybody knows about us."
Sometimes it's better to keep it in the family . . .

~ ~ ~

"Nine Roses for the Commissar."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).
First appearance: This Week Magazine (1959).
Reprinted in Bestseller Mystery Magazine, January 1960.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

"Jan Karic's rise to power was based largely on his eagerness to kill, a drive so blinding that his own wife no longer knew him. Yet, irony, in the form of a gift proved his undoing . . . "
Flowers symbolize good things like marriage and bad things like funerals, but Jan Karic is about to discover another use for them . . . revenge . . .

- A Wikipedia article about the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 is (HERE).

- Oscar Schisgall, who was either Belgian or Russian by birth, generated tons of multi-
genre material (over 4,000 stories according to his obit) for the pulps and the slicks
(HERE), including some SFFnal fiction; see (HERE) and (HERE) for that.
- Schisgall got positive notices with stories featuring his "international criminologist,"
Barron Ixell: "In disguise, immensely rich, hugely clever, the Baron [sic, sp.] is a pre-
cursor of Superheroes like Doc Savage, though his adventures are relatively tame":

~ Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker. By Oscar Schisgall. Longmans, Green, 1929. $2.00.
 "Four mystery novelettes, designed to feature the extraordinary detection powers of Ixell, an American sleuth at work abroad on sensational Continental crimes, make up the present volume. The plot of each story is an infinitely complicated, not to say, original piece of invention, the scenes of action, successively, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and Geneva. It is in the last named city that Ixell solves a crime problem which, if not his supreme triumph, seems fully typical of the man's ratiocinative genius. While the League of Nations is in session, a Russian delegate is abducted and held for a large ransom, but Ixell quickly discloses that the missing personage has hidden himself away and aims to collect for his own use the sum demanded for his release. The book seems to be something of a novelty in this over-populous field."
  — "The New Books," The Saturday Review, September 14, 1929

~ Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker by Oscar Schisgall (Longmans, Green. $2.00).
  "WE REVISE our opinion of Scotland Yard, for the exploits of Barron Ixell, international criminologist, contain no end of intrigue and adventure. In Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Geneva the American crime-breaker pits his cunning against four gangs of criminals and successfully puts them to 
rout. A very well-written piece of detective fiction."
  — "Notes on New Books: Detective and Mystery," The Bookman, September 1929 (scroll down to second page)

~ Oscar Schisgall's Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker, Longmans.
  "We thought Barron Ixell was one of these titled furrin sleuths until we noticed the second r. Then we found that he was an American criminologist, who, called in on four difficult cases by the baffled police of Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Geneva, wanders in faultless evening dress through the salons of the haut monde in the aforesaid capitals, and nails the criminals almost without disarranging his white tie. These are written-to-formula stories, but there are several new criminal methods in them which we haven't before encountered."
  — "Picked at Random," W. R. Brooks, The Outlook, August 28, 1929

- Here, from FictionMags, is a listing of the Barron Ixell adventures ("nv" = novelette):
  (1) "The Circle of Terror," (nv), Clues, July 1927
  (2) "The Devil’s Pigeons," (nv), Clues, February #1, 1928
  (3) "The King of Crime," (nv), Clues, April #1, 1928
  (4) "The Avenging Horde," (nv), Clues, September #1, 1928
  (5) "The Red Revolver," (nv), Clues,  April #2, 1929
  (6) "Chinaman’s Chance," (nv), Clues, October #2, 1929
  (7) "Murder in a Coffin," (nv), Clues, June #1, 1930
  (8) "They Die Laughing," (nv), Clues, November #2, 1930
  (9) "One by One They Perish," (nv), Clues, October 1931
  (10) "Shoot to Kill!," (nv), Clues, January 1932
  (11) "Horror in the Night," (nv), Clues, May 1932
  (12) "The Crime of the Century," (nv), Clues-All Star Detective Stories, October 1932
  (13) "Signals Mean Death," (nv), Clues-All Star Detective Stories, January 1933