IN CASE you're a newcomer to this weblog (since January 2018), you might've missed some of the New Year's Eve detective/mystery stories that we've featured in the past. Here's a list of them with links:
TODAY'S TALE happens to be the first published Dr. Thorndyke story, beating "The Anthropologist at Large" into print by three months (see "Resource" below for a link to that story).
"The Blue Sequin." By R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943). Illustrations by Henry Raleigh (1880-1944).
First appearance: Pearson's Magazine, December 1908 (as "The Blue Spangle").
Reprinted in McClure's Magazine, June 1910; Amazing Detective Tales, June 1930 (as "The Blue Spangle"); Short Story Magazine (Australia) #36 (1947); and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (AHMM), October 2008 [FictionMags data]. Collected in Dr. Thorndyke Investigates (1930; HTML online HERE; EPUB is HERE). Short story (11 pages, 5 illos). Online at Archive.org (HERE) and Roy Glashan's Library (HTMLs HERE: 1 different illo; and HERE: no illos). (Note: Some text is slightly distorted and faded, but legible at Archive.org.)
"And now, observe the accumulation of circumstantial evidence against him. He was the last person seen in company with the murdered woman—for no one seems to have seen her after they left Munsden; he appeared to be quar-relling with her when she was last seen alive; he had a reason for possibly wishing for her death; he was provided with an implement—a spiked staff —capable of inflicting the injury which caused her death; and, when he was searched, there was found in his possession the locket and broken chain, apparently removed from her person with violence."
. . . but, of course, he isn't guilty; it merely remains for Dr. John Thorndyke, medico-legalist extraordinaire, to prove it, assisted by his friend Jervis and, among other seemingly incon-sequential things, the little discs from a lady's hat, dyed hair follicles fourteen sixty-fourths of an inch long, two pyramidal nerve corpuscles and some portions of fibres, and a highly sensitive cow.
~ Miss Edith Grant: ". . . stepping over to the table, he drew back the sheet reverently and even tenderly from the dead woman's face, and looked down at it with grave pity. It was a comely face, white as marble, serene and peaceful in expression, with half-closed eyes, and framed with a mass of brassy, yellow hair; but its beauty was marred by a long linear wound, half cut, half bruise, running down the right cheek from the eye to the chin." ~ Harold Stopford, A.R.A., an artist: ". . . he is the gentlest and most amiable of men . . ." ~ Edward Stopford, of the firm of Stopford and Myers, solicitors, and the brother of Harold: "My brother's position fills me with dismay—but let me give you the facts in order, and you shall judge for yourself. This poor creature who has been murdered so brutally was a Miss Edith Grant. She was formerly an artist's model, and as such was a good deal employed by my brother, who is a painter . . ." ~ The station-master: "There was only one first-class coach, and the deceased was the only person in it." ~ Felton, the butcher: "Lord bless you, sir, they haven't got no feeling in their horns, else what good 'ud their horns be to 'em?" ~ Jervis: ". . . here I broke off, remembering my friend's dislike of any discussion of his methods before strangers." ~ Dr. Thorndyke: ". . . we can now prove when and where and how Miss Grant met her death. Come and sit down here, and I will explain."
Comment:This one might remind you of a case solved by Sherlock Holmes.
Typo: "peroxid" [arguably correct; most texts render it "peroxide"].
Thorndykeisms: "It is a great disadvantage to come plump into an inquiry without prepa-ration — to be confronted with the details before one has a chance of con-sidering the case in general terms." "So, you see, I had six possible theories of the cause of death worked out before I reached Halbury, and it only remained to select the one that fitted the facts."
Resource: - Our previous encounter with Dr. Thorndyke was two months ago (HERE).
SOMETIMES KIDS' imaginations spin out of control, as the following narrative amply demonstrates. A word of caution from the author, however: "Here’s a special holiday story for all my fans on Christmas Eve (but, fair warning, don’t expect it to be heartwarming!)." "We have to get Santa before he gets us!"
"Santa Claus Is Coming . . . To Get You!" By Kevin J. Anderson (born 1962). First appearance: Deathrealm, Fall/Winter 1991. Reprints page (HERE). Short short short story (3 pages). Online at Kevin J. Anderson's Blog (HERE).
Could Jeff be right?
"He sneaks down the chimney, and he carries an empty sack with him. And when he knows he’s in a house where there’s a naughty kid, he goes into their bedroom and grabs them, and stuffs them in the sack! Then he pushes them up the chimney and throws the bag in the back of his sleigh with all the other naughty little boys and girls. And then he takes them back up north where it’s always cold and where the wind always blows—and there’s nothing to eat."
But that ain't the half of it . . .
"He pictured Santa Claus heaving himself out from the fireplace, pushing aside the grate and stepping out into the living room. His eyes were red and wild, his fingers long claws, his beard tangled and stained with the meal he’d had before setting out in his sleigh—perhaps the last two children from the year before, now scrawny and starved. He would have snapped them up like crackers."
Resources: - Kevin James Anderson has been publishing SFF for well over thirty years; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and his film and TV projects at the IMDb (HERE).
~ ~ ~
"Who has been poisoning your mind, little girl?"
THE SAGE OF BAKER STREET died in a great fall craftily engineered by his literary creator. Everyone who cared about him mourned his passing—until, mirabile dictu, he returned from the dead! Here's a true account of what happened one Yuletide eve after his timely return:
"The Adventure of the Double Santa Claus." By Bert Leston Taylor (1866-1921). First appearance: Puck, 28 December 1904. Short short short story (2 pages). Online at Prof. David Stewart's Library (HERE; PDF).
"He fastened a rope about my waist and lowered me to the hearth; then he secured the rope to the chimney pot and himself slid down. Fortunately the fire was out."
Holmes always did have a flair for the dramatic: "One glance at the contents of the trunk and I fell back with a cry of horror. A human body, horribly mangled, as if by an explosion of dynamite, was before me!"
Resources: - In his day, humorist Bert Leston Taylor was a well-known columnist and author whose satires infrequently strayed into SFF territory; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
"The Tail of Danny Whiskers." By Fawaz Al-Matrouk. Illustration by JACEY. First appearance: Nature/Futures, 2 August 2018. Short short short story (1 page). Online at Nature.com (HERE; PDF).
"Serious law. Serious time. There’s two fugitives from it now. An old man and his cat, last seen heading north from California. Talkative cat. Described as ‘uppity’."
You may recall when Alice encountered the Cheshire Cat and asked for directions:
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. "I don't much care where —" said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
For Dr. Tarboush, however, it matters very much which way you go . . .
Resource: - Our story seems to be Fawaz Al-Matrouk's first publication (ISFDb; HERE). ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
IF YOU'REa loyal fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe (a "connoisseur of crime") and Archie Goodwin ("his assistant") sleuthing duo, you might want to skip the next story since you're probably already familiar with it. For the rest of us, here's Wolfe in trouble up to his hyperactive cerebral cortex:
"The Christmas-Party Murder." By Rex Stout (1886-1975). Illustrations by Alex Ross (1908-90). First appearance: Collier's, January 4, 1957.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 1965; Ellery Queen’s Anthology #20, 1971; and a lot of other places. Adapted for CBC Radio as "Christmas Party" (1982; online HERE); filmed for TV as "The Christmas Party" (2001; HERE). Short story (12 pages, 3 illos). Online at UNZ (HERE). (Note: Edges of text sometimes cut off but still interpretable.)
"The Bottweill crew was quite a tangle, an interesting exhibit of bipeds alive and kicking . . ."
Yuletide get-togethers are usually festive occasions marked by joviality and bonhomie, but, while the one at Kurt Bottweill's office party starts that way, it ends on a sour note: murder plain and simple, with the prime suspect being—we kid you not—Santa Claus . . .
Who's in it: ~ See the Cast of Characters at the start of the story.
Resources: - Rex Todhunter Stout had a remarkably long career as a detective fiction writer, considering that (like Raymond Chandler) plotting was his weakest skill; his characterizations, however, were always top-notch. For more on Stout and his creations, see these: FictionMags (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE), The Thrilling Detective (HERE), the IMDb (HERE), plus the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE) for his few ventures into SFFnal territory.
- Cyanide is favored by many killers; see Wikipedia (HERE), which shows us how there's more than one way to die of cyanide poisoning besides gulping Pernod.
- If you want to know what Rex Stout thought about detective fiction, go (HERE) for his "Grim Fairy Tales."
"Further Laws of Robotics." By Josh Pearce. Illustration by JACEY. First appearance: Nature/Futures, 14 June 2018. Short short short story (1 page). Online at Nature.com (HERE; PDF).
"No, it is I who must congratulate you and the human race for your excellence in the robotic prime programming. By the simple mandate of the nth law of robotics, all robots fall naturally into the highest moral behaviour."
To misquote the poet, the paths of logic gates can but lead to the grave . . .
Resource: - Josh Pearce specializes in poetry and short fiction (ISFDb; HERE).
A GUY who's good with numbers, a clown with a sure-fire retirement plan, and a cop whose final resting place could be inside a cement wall, all in the same issue . . .
"Whirling Digits." By Howard E. Lum, Jr. (?-?). First appearance: Clues Detective Stories, September 1939. Short short short story (4 pages, 1 illo). Online at Archive.org (HERE). (Note: Text is very faded.)
". . . my eyes not only took another look at the big pair of shoes but also noticed that the top bureau drawer was open, the drawer where Dave kept his .45."
You're about to be robbed by vicious thugs in your apartment but you have a chance to dial the phone. Do you call the police? If you're Dave, of course not!
~ ~ ~
"A Clown Laughs." By Jack Storm (house pseudonym). First appearance: Clues Detective Stories, September 1939. Short short short story (3 pages, 1 illo). Online at Archive.org (HERE). (Note: Text is very faded.)
"A little patience, a little study—the whole situation was in the bag."
This clown is determined to get the last guffaw—or else . . .
Typos: "a superhigh paid of stilts"; "the smoothiest".
Resource: - Whoever "Jack Storm" was/were, he/she/they was/were responsible for quite a few yarns featuring Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Avenger from the late '30s to the mid-'40s (FictionMags data).
~ ~ ~
. . . and finally, another visit with a Grand Master of the pulps:
"The Painted Circle." By Norman A. Daniels (Norman Arthur Danberg, 1905-95). First appearance: Clues Detective Stories, September 1939. Short story (13 pages, 1 illo). Online at Archive.org starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE). (Note: Text is very faded.)
"This mob worked with the efficiency of some grim machine."
It's bad enough when the mob starts "murdering" public officials in effigy—but when they begin doing it for real, it's going to take one tough cop to put a stop to it.
Comment: Mike Shannon is James Bond in everything but name, and like Bond he makes remarkable progress with a minimum of sleuthing.
Major characters: ~ Sergeant Mike Shannon: "The descending object struck the sidewalk with a hideous sound, like the snapping of a thousand wooden matches. A woman fainted. Men turned away, and Shannon approached the object with grim determination. Then he closed his eyes for one long moment, opened them again and stared." ~ Benjamin Forbes: "If you heard me talking, I was probably having nightmares." ~ Inspector Dolan:
"We have a hundred detectives working on the case and we don't even know what is
~ Barton: "Honest, sarge. I don't know anythin' about it. Me—I'm ready to blow town, see."
Resource: - To see why we refer to Norman A. Daniels as a Grand Master, go (HERE; ONTOS). (Note: The links to the Pulpgen Online Pulps site have changed in the interim.)
"Witness for the Persecution." By Randall Garrett (1927-87). First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1966. Reprints page (HERE). Novelette (18 pages). Online at Archive.org (HERE).
"Big holes were suddenly appearing in the wall near the door of my place, splattering plastite all over the place, filling the corridor with dust and smoke."
No doubt about it—somebody wants Walt Gayle very, very dead . . .
Major characters: ~ Walt Gayle (narrator): "I don't mind collecting damage insurance, but I'd just as soon my life insurance stays in effect for a while. You saved my life twice." ~ Jeremiah: "I'm sort of a troubleshooter, you might say." ~ Mirom Flood: "Maybe I'm a child, Walt. Maybe I'm a romantic. But I still say he's from the Double World. He's got mental powers that - that you and I can never understand."
It's unsettling to think that Jeremiah's summary of the theory of how government operates ("a pattern as old as Mankind") might be true:
"A revolution is dangerous. People get killed. So you take the majority and split it into two parts. It's a process that works well in a regimented, but moribund and self-satisfied society. You call the two parts of the majority group Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Then you set it up so that Tweedledum is in power. When the minority becomes fed up to the ears with Tweedledum, you have a revolution - either with guns or with ballots - and then Tweedledee takes over. The people are lulled into thinking that there has been a change. Then, when people are sick and tired of Tweedledee, there is another revolu-tion and Tweedledum comes back into power. Again the people are lulled. Or gulled, if you prefer."
So, in the last election, did you vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee? Typos: "irristible force"; "Barensstar's System".
Resources: - Paragravity, alas, still exists only in fiction: "In science fiction, artificial gravity (or cancellation of gravity) or 'para-gravity' is sometimes present in spacecraft that are neither rotating nor accelerating. At present, there is no confirmed technique that can simulate gravity other than actual mass or acceleration." —"Antigravity," Wikipedia (HERE)
Also see Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets "Antigravity" page (HERE; slow-load site; then scroll down to "Paragravity").
- Barnesworld evidently orbits a binary star system partially outside the plane of the Milky Way galaxy:
"I stood at the window of my small bachelor's apartment and looked at the suns, seeing them without noticing them. The primary, One, was simply being its normal yellow self, while the distant Two was a bright, hard, diamond pin-point of blue-white. During the years when Two is in the night sky, there is no real night, because Two illuminates the planet beautifully. But now, when Two was passing around the other side of One, the nights were black. The Galactic Lens is clear from here, but we have no moon."
See the Wikipedia articles "Binary star" and "Binary stars in fiction" (HERE and HERE), "Exoplanet" and the "List of potentially habitable exoplanets" (HERE and HERE), and "Stars and planetary systems in fiction" (HERE). - It was only last June that we visited with Gordon Randall Phillip David Garrett (HERE).
HERE WE HAVE a narrative that began life as a television episode, was converted into a magazine story, and then adapted again for TV.
"The Assassin." (a.k.a. "Business Trip"). By Elliot West (1924-2003). First appearance: "An earlier version of this story was presented in dramatic form on the [live] television program Danger." Second appearance: Collier's, May 2, 1953. Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (EQMM), May 1956; EQMM (U.K.), May 1956; and EQMM (Australia), July 1956. Filmed for the TV series Studio One in 1958 (HERE). Short short story (7 pages). Online at UNZ (HERE).
"Never once had Bellingham accepted payment for doing something he was ashamed of." One business trip too many . . .
Major characters: ~ Bellingham (no first name): "At fifty-six, in a state of semi-retirement, he had managed to provide a solid, well-appointed house in the English Midlands for his wife Edith and their daughter Dorothy, and appeared to lead a most enviable kind of late middle life; one without strife or unrest." ~ Edith Bellingham: ". . . would take exception to rain or dankness, since he was not too robust and since she was, perhaps, a bit overprotective. This was especially so when he would prepare to embark on one of his not-too-frequent business trips." ~ Hakete: "In the back of a restaurant, oppressively dim and partitioned off by two beaded curtains, sat a man wearing a fez. He was dark, heavy-set and unsmiling." ~ Mr. Garrett: "'You see, they didn't tell me what you were like,' he said. 'I would have expected someone quite different for this sort of thing. You seem to be so — gentle.'" ~ Arnold Devry: "It was hard to say whether he was very silly or very smug. In any case, he was friendly, perhaps a little too much so . . ." ~ Inspector Wickes:
"It might make things easier for you if you told us a few things now."
Resources: - FictionMags lists only two more stories by Elliot West: "I'm Getting Out," Manhunt, July 1953 and "The Meeting in Paris," Cosmopolitan, April 1957 (TV version HERE). This is the same Elliot West who enjoyed a long career in Hollywood, writing "more than 100 television scripts for such shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (IMDb HERE and HERE).
"Chrysalis." By Thomas Broderick. Illustration by JACEY. First appearance: Nature/Futures, 5 January 2017. Short short short story (1 page). Online at Nature.com (HERE; PDF).
"In the southwest corner of the apartment's basement was approximately 10 kilograms of flesh and hair surrounded by a large pool of partially dried blood."
Immortality is grand, but it always comes at a price . . .
Typo: "in the proceeding three days"
Resource: - According to the ISFDb, Thomas Broderick has two stories to his credit so far (HERE). - The title is a metaphor for (THIS); in literature, music, TV and film, and business, the word in its non-literal sense has been in vogue for years (HERE).
- The Cast Off process in our story is still vastly more sophisticated than what is outlined (HERE; PDF) and (HERE); in a technical sense, even these accounts don't quite explain it (HERE) and (HERE).
The bottom line: "And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die." — The Bible ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Creature of Habit." By William P. McGivern (1922-82). First appearance: Mammoth Mystery, October 1946. Short story (12 pages). Online at Archive.org (HERE).
"You will receive your punishment before long."
It's the little things, they tell us, that make life worth living, but it's also the little things that can get you the gas chamber . . .
Characters: ~ Detective O'Neill (narrator): "The call came into the station about ten o'clock in the morning." ~ Larson and Smith: "'Larson reads detective novels,' I said. 'He thinks he's Ellery Queen lately. Smith doesn't read anything, because he never learned how. What am I going to do with those two meat-balls? Let me take McIntyre or —'" ~ Inspector Evans: "'That's enough, O'Neill.' He looked at me over his rimless spectacles and nodded at the door. 'Better get going.' That ended the argument." ~ Mr. Prescott: ". . . was sitting in his chair. There was a white gag through his lips and there was a blue hole in his forehead from which blood was welling." ~ Agnes: "He told me to let her come in. I didn't like it. She didn't look right." ~ Laura Prescott Walsh and Ralph Walsh: "What do we need an alibi for? If you think we killed him, you're crazy."
Typos:"agrument"; "on the niside"; "comes up with the [?] everyone else"; "and look up"; "they aloped"; "O'Malley talking" [should be O'Neill]; "tableclothes".
- William Peter McGivern was equally adept at SFF and crime fiction: "By his own estimate McGivern wrote 300 stories for Ziff-Davis, about half of which were sf/fantasy and half mystery/suspense." — "William P. McGivern," SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (HERE)
- Plenty of info about McGivern can be found in Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE). - This isn't the first time we've met McGivern; we featured a couple of his SFFnal efforts (HERE) and (HERE). ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Cease and Desist." By Tyler Young. Illustration by JACEY. First appearance: Nature/Futures, 19 January 2017. Short short short story (1 page). Online at Nature.com (HERE; PDF).
"The only facts that matter are these: (1) X-o4 holds the Patent; and (2) humanity's existence violates the Patent."
Twelve billion individual patent violations per second! A tort lawyer's dream come true . . .
Resources: - Tyler Young's ISFDb bibliography is (HERE). - For an outline of tort law, go to Wikipedia (HERE); find out more about patents (HERE). Gene patenting is a new wave agitating the broader discipline of bioethics; see the Wikipedia articles about "Bioethics" (HERE), "Biological patent" (HERE), "Bioprospecting" (HERE), and "Intellectual property" (HERE). In our story, X-o4 could be seen to fit the broad definition of a biopirate: "Biopiracy was coined by Pat Mooney, to describe a practice in which indigenous knowledge of nature, originating with indigenous peoples, is used by others for profit, without authorization or compensation to the indigenous people themselves." Of course, X-o4 doesn't quite see it that way. - X. V. J. Glorbton warns humanity against "any attempt to circumvent our rights by deuteration of your species"; see The Free Dictionary (HERE) for what he/she/it means.
"Homemade Murder." By Rodney Worth (?-?). First appearance: 10-Story Detective, October 1947. Short short story (7 pages). Online at Pulpgen (HERE).
"This rod may look small, but I can put five bullets just a little smaller than .22’s in your face before you could move two feet."
A police detective is certain he knows whodunit, but there's a snag. He already has motive and opportunity, natch, but it's the means that's proving hard to nail down, since the murder weapon is not only unique but also, as our detective suspects, it's likely that the cunning killer has already destroyed it . . .
Comment: With its humorous buddycop dynamic working for it, this efficient little police procedural wouldn't have been out of place as a Dragnet episode, either radio or TV.
Characters: ~ Jack Arnold, a.k.a. "Jack Fort": ". . . looked thoughtful for a moment. 'No, I can’t say that I did. The garbage truck goes by about that time. It’s hard to hear anything,' he replied. 'I didn’t even know this Marlowe had been shot until you told me.'" ~ Charles Marlowe, a.k.a. "Lefty": "Yes, that had been a good many years ago. But he had still recognized Lefty when he suddenly showed up two months ago. Lefty hadn’t known him, but that was just as well. This way he would get Lefty for old time’s sake, and not even Lefty would know he had done it." ~ Tommy, a.k.a. "Tommy": "Some guy moved in about a month ago. Last night he was shot while he was sitting in front of his window, but they didn’t find him until this morning." ~ Logan, homicide detective: "How many times do I have to tell you not to talk when you’re eating?" ~ Monk, Logan's partner: ". . . opened his mouth to say something, remembered the apple, and shut it again." ~ Haley, police ballistician: "I’m kind of sorry you brought that damned thing in. I won’t sleep for a week wondering about it. If somebody told me about it, I’d say they were nuts. I’ve seen just about every piece of lead a gun can throw, but that thing has got me stumped. I’ll tell you one thing, produce the gun that shot this bullet and I’ll prove to any jury it’s the murder weapon." ~ The landlady: "'Oh, Lieutenant, I wish you would find the murderer and take the'—she didn’t say what, but pointed at the corpse on the floor without looking at it—'out of my house.'"
Resources: - So far not much has turned up about our author, Rodney Worth; FictionMags lists only two stories by him, the one above and "The Hammerless Heater," Ten Detective Aces, January 1948. - The killer's motive stems from what happened during Prohibition; see the Wikipedia article (HERE). If you'd like to brush up on firearms ballistics, see Wikipedia (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE), and the American Bar Association's book extract (HERE; PDF).
The bottom line: “How simple death without weapons was. How safe for the killer." ― Cornell Woolrich