Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Eternal Rhythms As a Dynamic for Murder!"

"Design in Red."
By Barry Perowne (Philip Atkey, 1908-85).
First appearance: Britannia and Eve, July 1947.
Reprinted in Mystery Book Magazine, Summer 1949.

Short short story (9 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "If he were right, then working here in the club was an escaped homicidal maniac."

Consider the case of an arrogant, bitter, and vindictive man, an amateur criminologist, who thinks he knows everything about a ten-year-old murder, more than enough in his mind to nab the escaped killer; now consider the case of this same man and how he goes about proving it, even if it means employing, shall we say, extreme methods . . .

~ Walter Fagg:

  "The man walked cat-footed."
~ Hamel, Colton, and Weems:
  "It was the affectation of the three cronies that they were sophisticates in criminology."
~ Alonzo Bede:
  ". . . at fifty, since his hobby was criminology, he was reduced to haunting the court rooms.

Comment: With its focus on an obsessive character going too far and the nice wrinkle at the end, this one would have been a perfect fit for Hitchcock's 1950s TV series.

- Barry Perowne is known to mystery aficionados for his continuation of the exploits of E. W. Hornung's gentleman thief, A. J. Raffles, for fifty years (1933-83; see Mystery*File HERE and HERE), most of them appearing in The Thriller (1933-35), Thrilling Detective (1935-37), The Saint Magazine (1956-59), and, preponderantly, in EQMM, beginning in 1952 and ending in 1983. See Wikipedia's stub of an entry (HERE) and Nico van Embden's bibliography (HERE). According to FictionMags, in addition to Raffles, Perowne had several series characters: J. R. (Rick) Leroy (1930, 1932, 1937, 1938, 1939); Prosper Fair, the Duke of Devizes (1959, 1963, 1965); and even a couple of shared universe Sexton Blake adventures (1937-39). One of his original stories, "Blind Spot", was written especially for a 1947 film of the same name (IMDb HERE, Wikipedia HERE, and the SPOILERific TCM synopsis HERE).

The bottom line:
   "One does not kill to avoid social inconvenience."
   ― P. D. James


Monday, February 25, 2019

"Stalled Part Way Through a Murder Plan Which Was Too Complex to Begin With"

"Dry Run."
By Larry Niven (born 1938).
First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1968.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     ". . . how, now, could he keep Harvey's death a secret? . . ."

It's true, Harvey is dead, but he wasn't the intended victim. "The worst possible time to die is when you're involved in murder"—good advice, but it comes much too late . . .

- A red tide plays an important role in the murder plot; see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE) for more.
- You can find our featured posting of Larry Niven's "How the Heroes Die" (HERE).


Friday, February 22, 2019

Two Shorties from MYSTERY BOOK

"The Liquid Bullet."
By Sam Merwin, Jr. (1910-96).
First appearance: Mystery Book Magazine, Summer 1949.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     "Then she lets out a yell to me and fires at the lamp and hits it."

The lesson is clear: Never laugh at a blonde with a pistol—any kind of pistol . . .

Comment: A rare instance of a story being told as a one-side-only telephone conversation.
~ ~ ~
"Lady Killer."
By John W. Clifford (?-?).
First appearance: Mystery Book Magazine, Summer 1949.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     "The victim going out of her way to make it easier for him. The target fitting herself to the muzzle of the gun."

He's always had it his way—until tonight . . .

Comment: A twisty variation on a Hemingway story.

- We've featured Samuel Kimball Merwin, Jr.'s detective fiction (HERE) and (HERE) and 
his crime-tinged science fiction (HERE) and (HERE); see (HERE) for biographical data. 
As for our other author, John W. Clifford, who knows?

The bottom line:


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Nothing Was Certain About Mars"

"How the Heroes Die."
By Larry Niven (born 1938).
Illustrations by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; see HERE, HERE, and HERE).
First appearance: Galaxy, October 1966.

Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (25 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Parental caution: Language.)

     "At twenty-five miles per hour he fled, and at twenty-five miles per hour they followed."

Simply surviving on Mars is a hard enough proposition without a murderer formulating plans to kill everybody and claim it was an accident . . .

~ John "Jack" Carter:

  ". . . left the radio band open, knowing that ultimately Alf must talk to the man he needed to kill."
~ Rufus Doolittle:
  "What'll we do, flip a coin?"
~ Lieutenant-Major Michael Shute:
  "Privately he wondered if twelve men could repair even a small rip before they used up the bottle air. It would be one tank every twenty minutes . . ."
~ Gondot:
  "He's planning something."
~ Lee Cousins:
  "This'll cause merry hell."
~ Lew Harness:
  ". . . was dead, murdered."
~ Alf Harness:
  "And now he was being chased by one man. But that man was Lew's brother."
~ Timmy:
  "They just kept going out into the desert."
~ The Martian:
  ". . . seemed to remember something."

Typos: "as if [missing he]"; "his eyes rivited on."

- Laurence Van Cott Niven has been producing Major Award-winning hard science fiction and soft fantasy for more than fifty years; the usual sources have ample information about him (HERE; Wikipedia), (HERE; the SFE), (HERE; his homepage), and (HERE; the IMDb). TV Tropes has much more about Niven (HERE) and his Known Space story arc (HERE). Niven's most popular novel, Ringworld (1970), was optioned by Hollywood almost as soon as it was published, but so far nada.

- Steve Lewis at Mystery*File recently highlighted one of Niven's stories (HERE).

- We've already featured Niven's connection with the Star Trek franchise (HERE) and (HERE).

- Some stories that either take place on Mars or are somehow involved with The Red Planet include Raymond F. Jones's "The Memory of Mars" (HERE), John Jakes's "Coffins to Mars" (HERE), Theodore L. Thomas's "Mars Trial" (HERE), Alfred Coppel's "Tydore's Gift" (HERE), Richard Wilson's "Murder from Mars" (HERE), and Rog Phillips's "The Man from Mars" (HERE).

The bottom line:

Monday, February 18, 2019

"He'd Never Been Scared the Way He Was Now"

WE'RE SO ACCUSTOMED to having our sleuthhounds sniff out crime that we tend to forget they can also hear it:

"Cop with an Ear."
By Lawrence Treat (Lawrence Arthur Goldstone, 1903-98).
First appearance: Detective Story Magazine, May 1942.

Short story (11 pages, 2 illos).
Online at (HERE).

     "A strangely familiar blond woman, with her eyes wide and half twisted out of their sockets and her mouth open with a shriek that still echoed in the room."

The clue that puts our sleuth on the trail to the real killer is simple enough—if you're a musician, that is: "The French horn was off pitch."

~ Panachewski:
  ". . . was known for that kind of thing. When it came to women, he had no conscience and 

no morals. More than one man was glad the conductor was dead."
~ Inspector Kraft:
  "They got him five or ten minutes before the performance."
~ Patrolman Ernest Mathews:
  "He'd joined the cops for one reason, and only one. Olga."
~ Olga Bagby:
  ". . . Mat knew that, if Olga came to him, he'd hand in his shield . . ."
~ Lewis Bagby:
  ". . . growled and insulted him and took his money, but Mat knew he was making things easier for Olga."
~ Andy Markhof:
  "They resented him, and their resentment was all too apparent."

- FictionMags tells us about Lawrence Treat: "Mystery writer, born Lawrence Arthur Goldstone; name change in 1940. Born in New York City; lived in Massachusetts." 

Our only other encounter with him is (HERE), with more informational links.
- The WPA serves as an element in the story; from Wikipedia (HERE and HERE) we learn:

   "The Works Progress Administration (WPA; renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In a much smaller project, Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.
   ". . . Directed by Nikolai Sokoloff, former principal conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, the Federal Music Project employed over 16,000 musicians at its peak. Its purpose was to establish different ensembles such as chamber groups, orchestras, choral units, opera units, concert bands, military bands, dance bands, and theater orchestras that gave an estimated 131,000 perfor-mances and programs to 92 million people each week. The Federal Music Project performed plays and dances, as well as radio dramas."

- At one point we read: "They sabotaged him the way the Norwegians tricked the Nazis"; see Wikipedia (HERE) for what is meant.

The bottom line:
  "People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss."
  ― Nick Hornby


Friday, February 15, 2019

"Brothers, Fathers, Husbands . . . Too Many Motives"

UP NEXT, we have in one story an example of the breadth of Anthony Boucher's interests, ranging from opera to the occult, with sidestops at mystery fiction and science fiction/fantasy (SFF). If after reading it you feel that the editor's introduction shades a little far into being too apologetic, then we're in agreement; the story, compactly told and always engaging the read-er's interest, is fine just as it is. It's unfortunate for Verner and Lamb fans, however, that for whatever reason(s), Boucher didn't or couldn't keep his promise . . .

"The Anomaly of the Empty Man."
(a.k.a. "The Empty Man").
By Anthony Boucher (William Anthony Parker White, 1911-68).
First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1952.

Reprinted in The Science Fictional Sherlock Holmes (1960), The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (1989), and elsewhere (HERE).
Short story (14 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     "It’s like a strip-tease version of the Mary Celeste. Only the strip wasn’t a gradual tease; just abruptly, whoosh!, a man’s gone. One minute he’s comfort-ably dressed in his apartment, smoking, drinking, playing records. The next he’s stark naked — and where and doing what?"

You may have heard of people being characterized as "empty suits," but this takes it to a whole new level . . .

~ James Stambaugh:

  "It was as though James Stambaugh had been attacked by some solvent which eats away only flesh and leaves all the inanimate articles. Or as though some hyperspatial suction had drawn the living man out of his wardrobe, leaving his sartorial shell behind him."
~ Lamb:
  "No, Mr. Lamb. You have a wife and two sons. I have no right to trifle with their lives merely to gratify an old man’s resentment of scepticism."
~ Dr. Horace Verner:
  "'But Dr. Verner,' I led with my chin. 'The Stambaugh case . . .'
  "'Dear boy,' he sighed as he readied the old one-two, 'you mean you don’t realize that you have just heard the solution?'"

~ The cousin:
  "As you know, my cousin enjoyed a certain fame as a private detective. He had been consulted in more than one previous instance of the horror; but I had read little of him 
in the press save a reiteration of his hope that the solution lay in his familiar dictum: 
'Discard the impossible; and whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be 
true.' I had already formulated my now celebrated counter-dictum: 'Discard the impos-
sible; then if nothing remains, some part of the "impossible" must be possible.'"
~ Inspector Abrahams:
  "Take a good look at the empty man on the floor. You see, I remembered the vacuum cleaner. And the Downtown Merchants’ parade."

~ Carina:
  ". . .  for almost unique among sopranos, Carina possessed a diction of diabolical clarity."

Renata Tebaldi. She's in the story.
- You'll find plenty of info about Anthony Boucher (HERE; Wikipedia), (HERE; the SFE), (HERE; the ISFDb), (HERE; Mike Grost), and (HERE; the GAD Wiki).
- We've featured Boucher several times already (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- An overview of opera can be found on Wikipedia (HERE).

The bottom line:

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"They Were on the Look Out for an Individual More Conspicuously Melodramatic"

"The Evasion of No. 527."
By C. W. Edwards (?-?).
Illustrations by W. F. Southcott.
First appearance: To-Day, July 23, 1898.

Short short short story (3 pages, 3 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

     "No. 527 made up his mind to do it if he had to swing for it."

Every prison escapee can't be a Jean Valjean or Richard Kimble, now can he?

~ No. 527:

  ". . . at any moment he expected to see the hated forms of the square-capped men, with 
guns at cock, ready to shoot him with as little remorse as if he were a rabbit."
~ Mrs. Battledown:
  "Happily, the candle had been of a sudden blown out, and a few minutes after old Mrs. Battledown, the sole inmate of the house, was seen to leave it with a bucket."
~ The constable:
  "No objection to a pipe o' bacca, ma'm, I hope?"

Comment: We've read that the Victorian authorities had trouble overcoming a generalized tolerance, if not a romanticized sympathy, on the part of society for bad guys, and our story is a good example of it.


- We can find nothing anywhere about C. W. Edwards or his/her illustrator, W. F. Southcott.

- For a better class of escaped prisoner see (HERE) and (HERE).


Monday, February 11, 2019

"A Plate Swiveled Back Right Where His Nose Should Have Been If He Had One, and the Big Muzzle Pointed Out"

"Arm of the Law."
By Harry Harrison (Henry Maxwell Dempsey, 1925-2012).
First appearance: Fantastic Universe, August 1958.

Reprinted in Science Fantasy #31 (1958) and elsewhere (HERE).
Short story (14 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     "Police Experimental Robot, serial number XPO-456-934B reporting for duty, sir."

It's nice when the robots are on your side, isn't it?

~ Sergeant (unnamed narrator):

  "Nineport has fourteen traffic regulations and I broke all of them before I had gone a block. Fast as I was, Ned was faster. As I turned the corner I saw him open the door of Greenback’s store and walk in. I screamed brakes in behind him and arrived just in time to have a gallery seat. A shooting gallery at that."
~ Chief Alonzo Craig:
  ". . . had just enough sense to take graft without dropping the money."
~ Fats:
  "About all he was good for was keeping a blurred eye on the lockup and running in drunks. He did well at that. No matter what they crawled under or on top of, he found them. No doubt due to the same shared natural instincts."
~ Billy:
  "He clutched his nightstick and scowled out from under the brim of his uniform cap. It is not that Billy is stupid, just that most of his strength has gone into his back instead of his mind."
~ Ned:
  "Jack Armstrong in tin underwear."
~ Alex:
  "Six feet of bone, muscle and trouble. China Joe's right hand man."
~ Benny Bug:
  "He popped his head in the front door just long enough to roll his eyes over our little scene."
~ China Joe:
  ". . . was in front, hands buried in the sleeves of his long mandarin gown. No expression at all on his ascetic features. He didn’t waste time talking to us, just gave the word to his own boys."

Comment: Some Hollywood producer somewhere must have read this story before he started planning a movie about a heavily-armed, nearly-unstoppable robot cop.

- Harry Harrison knew how to adapt common SFFnal tropes and keep them fresh; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the late author's webpage (HERE), the IMDb (HERE

for the few adaptations of his work, and the ISFDb (HERE) for a detailed bibliography.

- We've featured stories that depict robots as law-abiding and helpful (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).


Friday, February 8, 2019

"There Was Nobody in the Tomb to Strangle Him Except This Dead Gentleman"

THE PROBLEM presented by an invisible assassin has engaged the attention of quite a few authors; H. G. Wells really got the ball rolling when he devoted a whole book to the idea. After that, it quickly became a cliche, although some not-too-clever writers have had their stories founder on this one plot point. Let's see how Charles B. Child has his series character Chafik J. Chafik, Inspector in the Baghdad police department, deal with the problem of an . . .

"Invisible Killer."
(a.k.a. "The Thumbless Man").
By Charles B. Child (Claude Vernon Frost, 1903-93).
First appearance: Collier's, January 21, 1955.

Reprinted in EQMM, December 1961 and EQMM (Australia), February 1962.
Collected in The Sleuth of Baghdad (2002).
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

     "He opened his eyes and saw the soft glow of a lamp, not the flames of the stars; the anxious face of a woman, not the shadowy form that had attacked him."

A pretty problem, indeed: "the victim had been strangled, yet witnesses swore no murderer was present . . ."

~ Chafik J. Chafik:
  "I did not die here; my corpse should not have been moved."
~ Jamil Goury, "the Rabbit":
  "I know all about Mr. Goury, except how he died."
  "He was strangled."
~ Sergeant Abdullah:
  "Pressure on the dead man's throat was equal at all points of contact, so it would appear that the strangler lacked thumbs."
~ Richard Garwith:
  "Somebody stumbled over the power cable and unplugged it from the generator. There were a dozen of us in the shaft at the time: the doctor in front of me, Gisela in back, then Mahomet Kubba and a party of workers. All of a sudden, it was blacker than hell down there."
~ Dr. Julius Anton:
  "I could not move him, someone—something held him fast. And then his body became limp. I reached over him to grapple with whatever was holding him. Nothing was there! And then all at once he was free and I got his body out."
~ Gisela Anton:
  "So, another scientific mind?"

   "We of the Baghdad police should concern ourselves solely with corpses of our era."
   "A surfeit of witnesses is as bad as none at all."
   "I am always at the beck of somebody's corpse."
   "Wine and women, when left standing, become sour, although in this case another man appreciates the vintage and would sip."

- We first considered Charles B. Child nearly three years ago; see (HERE).

The bottom line:


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

"Typically You Just Have to Wait Until the Victim Wakes Up and Ask Who Killed Them"

"No Dominion."
By Christopher L. Bennett.
First appearance: DayBreak Fiction Magazine, June 13, 2010.
Collected in Among the Wild Cybers (2018).

Short story (18 pages as a PDF).
Online at DayBreak Fiction (HERE; PDF).

(Parental caution: Language and virt sex.)

     "You’d be surprised how much redundancy some people want. Maybe the killer didn’t know where she kept her data, or in how many places. So he had to be thorough, take everything. But he couldn’t stand to see her exposed, hence the sheet. That’s not the act of a sexual predator."

It's the mid-21st century, and now more than ever the dead need someone to speak for them—and with them . . .

~ Detective Chief Inspector Tamara Craig:

  "If I didn’t piece this together quickly, the killer could disappear, adopt a new identity (in the more conventional sense), and be free and clear to kill again — maybe permanently this time. But I wouldn’t let that happen. I had enough death on my conscience already."
~ Assistant Inspector Istfan Majid:
  "Call me Steve."

~ Isabelle Warner, the deceased:
  ". . .  was slowly coming back from the dead. She was on full life support, but her blood was flowing again and she looked less like a corpse. The doctors were taking care to restore oxygen to her tissues gradually to minimize ischemic damage. That could be repaired, but there was no point in doing more damage than necessary."

~ Takeshi Ozaki, the medical examiner:
  "Cause of death was what you thought, Steve. Laser probe to the base of the skull. Some-one didn’t want to make a mess."

~ Charles Trendler:
~ Rosa Manzano:
  ". . . lived and worked on the local university campus, a bioengineer working on a project to modify methanotrophic bacteria and integrate them safely into the ecosystem."

~ Russell Takizawa:
  "I think he’s a creep and at least a borderline stalker. Whether he’s a killer . . . well, we have some alibi evidence to check out."

Notable notions:

   "Human memory and personality weren’t something you could copy and transfer like software files; that was one sci-fi conceit that remained a fantasy. Survival of the self still depended on survival of the brain; technology could supplement and protect it, but never replace it. And so humans remained mortal, and murder remained a crime."
   "In an old mystery story, it might have been done to make her harder to identify. But now we had genetic testing, biometrics, phones in our heads, traceable biochips and nanofibers throughout our bodies . . . it just didn’t add up."
   "People who look to the future are generally running from something in their past."
   "If all you care about is an abstract ideal, that can make it easy to sacrifice real live people to it."

Comment: The story's title could refer to the book of Romans in the Bible (HERE), Dylan Thomas's poem (HERE), and/or the last line of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" (HERE): "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."

- Christopher L. Bennett has scored big with his Star Trek and Marvel Metaverse tie-in fiction, as well as his own Superhuman and Hubiverses; info about him is on Wikipedia (HERE), Memory Alpha (HERE), his homepage (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- DNA data storage figures in our story; see Wikipedia articles (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE); Science Magazine (HERE); ASME (HERE); Wired Magazine (HERE); MIT Technology Review (HERE); and ScienceAlert (HERE). Also see Wikipedia for arcologies (HERE).
- Another story in which memory plays a large part is Wendy Nikel's "The Memory Ward" (HERE).

Monday, February 4, 2019

"Even Without Assembling the Facts, He Knew Who Had Killed Ann Herrick, and It Wasn’t Going To Be Good"

"The Too Perfect Alibi."
By Robert C. Dennis (1915-83).
First appearance: 10-Story Detective Magazine, December 1947.
Short short story (8 pages, 1 illo).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

     "Several people had a motive to kill the attractive redheaded widow. But it took the young doctor to analyze the ingredients that went into that rowboat rub-out."

Pete Allenby goes for a swim, but it's all in the line of duty . . .

Major characters:
~ Ann Herrick:
  "Somebody beat her head to a pulp."

~ Chief Sam Wheeler:
  "Raise your right hand."

~ Doctor Pete Allenby:
  "I’ve been deputized to carry on a sort of investigation. I don’t know whether that empowers me to make an arrest—"
~ Sally Sandlock:
  "He’d have slipped away if he could have been sure Sally wouldn’t keep getting into his dreams. But she would, and he might as well suffer here where it was cool."
~ Jimmy Sandlock, Sally's brother:
  "She wasn’t anywhere around the place. Her boat was gone. Maybe she went for a row."
~ Linda Telford, Jimmy's betrothed:
  ". . . moved closer to him now, as if to soothe him."
~ Wayne Burnett:
  ". . . a large, handsome, soft-looking lad who probably hadn’t done a day’s work in his life. He had a very wide frank smile, full of gleaming white teeth, that would be a great deal more sincere if he used it less frequently."
~ Steve Beck:
  "Then it was someone else. Steve Beck, maybe. He was running around with her. I happen to know Ann got men involved and then demanded money. And you know as well as I that Steve has only what Mayor Beck gives him for spending money."

- Robert C. Dennis made his fortune in Hollywood (1950-84), chalking up nearly a hundred different credits for original television scripts and teleplay adaptations for shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents (30 episodes), M-Squad, The Untouchables, Hawaiian Eye, Checkmate, 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason (22 episodes), The Wild Wild West, Hawaii Five-O, Dragnet 1967 (19 episodes), and other crime and non-crime-genre shows (IMDb HERE; Mystery*File HERE). Prior to making it in Tinsel Town, Dennis could be relied on to produce quality crime fiction for pulps like Dime Detective, Ten Detective Aces, and Black Mask; in the last he featured his only series characters, Margaret O'Leary and Willie Carmody (1946-50) (FictionMags data).

The bottom line:


Friday, February 1, 2019

"The Implications for Stock Traders, for Generals, for World Governments Would Be . . . Considerable"

By S. R. Algernon (Sean Green).
Illustration by JACEY.

First appearance: Nature/Futures, 24 January 2019.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE; PDF).

 "The thoughts of where this technology could go have got the better of me."

One way you can measure the importance of a new idea is by how many people are afraid 
of it . . .

- Our author seems to specialize in the short SFFnal form; see S. R. Algernon's homepage (HERE) and the ISFDb bibliography (HERE).

- For more on the horsey sea monster inside your head, see Wikipedia (HERE).