Friday, March 29, 2019

"Everything Was All Right, Except for One Mistake, and He'd Come Back to Rectify That"

"The Murderer."
By Murray Leinster (Will F. Jenkins, 1896-1975) (FictionMags HERE).
Illustration by C. C. Senf (1873-1949; HERE).
First appearance: Weird Tales, January 1930.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE; PDF).

     "He had planned it perfectly. That was the only flaw in the whole plan, and he had only to pick up the monogrammed case of silver to be both safe and rich."

Some people just aren't cut out for murder, never mind the perfect murder . . .

Comment: This time it's the artist and not a blabbermouth editor who vitiates the mystery.

- It's been almost exactly a year since we last considered a story by William Fitzgerald Jenkins, "Headline" (HERE), one of his numerous thrillers published under the Will F. 
Jenkins byline.
- For some reason this story makes us think of a famous tale by E.A.P. (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
   — Plátōn


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

"There Are Too Many Facts, and They're Too Conclusive"

NINETY YEARS AGO lie detector tests were generally regarded as very reliable, which the protagonist of today's story exploits for all it's worth . . .

"A Fair Reward."
By Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970; HERE and HERE).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, June 28, 1930.

Novelette (21 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text is faded.)
. . . and let's not forget his need for the special talents of a burglar, a quarter-inch tube of radium worth five grand, an assortment of dilapidated machinery, and, last but not least, a casket . . .

Chapter I: "A Backwater of Life"
Chapter II: "The Scientific Detective"
Chapter III: "Insult Intentional"
Chapter IV: "What About the Reward?"
Chapter V: "Trick Photography"
Chapter VI: "He Got His Reward"

~ Governor Kendall, who is having second thoughts:

  ". . . here's what I'm up against. Unless I sign a pardon or a commutation of sentence that woman is going to die within two weeks. She's a mother, two grown children. She has one grandchild. Hang it, Clint, I don't know how I feel. I don't doubt her guilt, and yet—well."
~ Clint Kale, a really scientific detective:
  ". . . [who, as the Governor tells him, is blessed—or, if your prefer, cursed—with] your cold-blooded efficiency, your ever-present air of supercilious superiority that gets you into trouble!"

~ Boston Blackie:
  "Permanent pessimism was stamped upon his features."
~ Carl Rosamond, of the Middlevale Courier:
  "His brain reeled with the stuff he was permitted to publish."
~ Chief of Police Ellery Hatcher:
  "What's comin' off here?"
~ Thomas Jefferson Train, the D.A.:
  "I understand that you were trying to upset a just conviction in a court of justice . . ."
~ Ezra Hickory:
  ". . . produced a big revolver . . ."

- The less popular name for a "lie detector" is the polygraph, the subject of a Wikipedia article (HERE). As to how effective the device is, in the same article we learn:

   "Polygraphs measure arousal, which can be affected by anxiety, anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nervousness, fear, confusion, hypoglycemia, psychosis, depression, substance induced states (nicotine, stimulants), substance withdrawal state (alcohol withdrawal) or other emotions; polygraphs do not measure 'lies'. A polygraph cannot differentiate anxiety caused by dishonesty and anxiety caused by something else."

- Clint Kale improvises an electroscope, the operating principles of which are described in Wikipedia (HERE).

- It has been well over a year since we focused on Erle Stanley Gardner's most famous creation (HERE).

The bottom line:

Monday, March 25, 2019

"Let Me Erase Further Doubt by Telling You Why I Am Here to Kill You"

"Murder in the Past."
By John York Cabot (David Wright O'Brien, 1918-44; info HERE, HERE, and HERE).
Illustration by Julian S. Krupa (1913-89; info HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, March 1941.

Short story.
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE: HTML; 22 pages) and (HERE: EPUB; 22 pages).
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)

     "His clothes were extremely and expensively cut—and he carried an automatic pistol in his hand."

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it really helps to know the recipe . . .

Characters (only two):
~ Starman:

  "I'll recite a little personal history for you."
~ Faydon:
  ". . . your scheme will never work."

Comment: The original editor's headnote spoils the plot (editors are bad about blabbing too much), and with it the suspense.

Typos: "Faydon relaxed once moire"; "KM you".

- Our last meeting with David Wright O'Brien concerned another time travel tale, "24 Terrible Hours" (HERE), with a faintly similar set-up.

The bottom line:


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"Let Us Find Him, Parker—the Murderer of My Sister—the Secreter of Her Body"

IS THERE a better way to welcome spring to the Northern Hemisphere than highlighting a story of madness and murder? Of course there is, but that's not going to stop us from offer-ing for your delectation . . .

"The Case of Euphemia Raphash."
By M. P. Shiel (1865-1947).
First appearance: Chapman's Magazine of Fiction, December 1895.

Collected in The Pale Ape and Other Happenings/Pulses (1911; re-printed in 2006).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story.

Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE: HTML; EPUB; 27 pages as a PDF), Prof. David Stewart's Historical Texts (HERE: PDF; 10 pages), and eBooks@Adelaide (HERE: HTML; 17 pages as a PDF).
    "I had gradually arrived at the conviction that each of these two lives was as necessary to the other as the air it breathed."

Stupid criminals are a dime a dozen, but (let us give thanks) the insane, murderous genius is a rarity . . .

Comment: A Gothic thriller which Shiel manages to raise to an even higher than usual pitch.

- The first time we encountered Matthew Phipps Shiell (note the extra "l") was over five years ago; see ONTOS (HERE).

- Other sources of info about Shiel are FictionMags (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), and the SFE (HERE).

The bottom line:
  Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.
    — Polonius


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"One Touch of My Thumb, Up You Go in a Cloud of Smoke and Come Down in a Shower of Nuts and Bolts"

"The Velvet Glove."
By Harry Harrison (Henry Maxwell Dempsey, 1925-2012).
First appearance: Fantastic Universe, November 1956.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and (HERE).

     "You are urgently needed on a top secret company project."

When you apply for a job, you never know for sure just where it will lead . . .

Major characters:
~ Jon Venex:

  "He heaved a sigh of relief as the door swung open, it was bigger than he had expected—fully three feet wide by five feet long."

~ Alec Diger:
  ". . . had a profound weakness for puns."

~ Dik Dryer:
  "Nobody will hire me like this, but I can't get repaired until I get a job."

~ The trucker:
  "That's my robot you got there, Jack, don't put any holes in him!"

~ Mr. Coleman:
  "He's the meanest man you ever met . . ."

~ Druce:
  "He carried a little black metal can at arm's length, trying to get as far from it as possible."
~ Wil Counter-4951L3:
  ". . . not that that means much any more."

Typo: "That inferred a complex set" [should be implied].

- Could robots kill humans? Our previous story dealt with the notion (HERE).
- Our author assumes what a lot of people did back in the '50s, that Venus was a water world ("The burning desire to see something besides rain and jungle"; "working down on the ocean bottom"), but unfortunately for him and numerous SFF authors of the period (among them Big Names like Anderson, Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein), thanks to interplanetary space probes that's now known to be a "Dead Horse Trope"; for more see Wikipedia (HERE) and TV Tropes (HERE).
- Should robots have rights as per the Robot Equality Act in the story? See Wikipedia (HERE).
- After—not before—you've read "The Velvet Glove" go to Technovelgy (HERE) for the inven-tions mentioned in the story.


Friday, March 15, 2019

"The Thing Was Out to Kill, in a Deadly, Controlled Manner"

"Insecurity Risk."
By Dan Morgan (1925-2011).
First appearance: New Worlds, January 1959.

Novelette (20 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Many years ago American author Isaac Asimov instituted the three basic laws of robotics within which it was essential such humanoid-type machines should perform their services to Mankind. Since then those basic laws have been adopted by almost every science fiction writer and Dan Morgan uses them here to good effect in a story which combines mystery and detection."

The Cardington nuclear power station, still under construction, suffers a tragedy, the murder of a crane operator, which is bad enough, but there's also strong circumstantial evidence bolstered by an eyewitness that one of the new humanoid robots working alongside the humans is the killer . . .

~ Quinn:

  "Some of them are saying that it's your fault that the robots were allowed in here in the first place, that you talked them into it."
~ Curtis:
  ". . . grinned broadly. 'That's fine—we might have an interesting meeting.'"

~ Fenton:
  "Such unfavourable publicity might do a considerable amount of damage to the project. And to your own reputation if it became known that you have a strike on your hands, added Curtis mentally."
~ Read:
  ". . . there was this robot with a big spanner in its hand, standing over Ed. He was lying there on the floor of the cab, his head all bloody."
~ Vane:

  "'We're convinced that eventually such a [humanoid] robot will be able to do anything a human is capable of, with no limitations.'"
  "'Including murder?'"
  "Vane winced."

Comment: The surprise here isn't who the murderer is but how he managed it, by taking advantage of "the unconscious prejudice of all of us."

- For more on Dan Morgan, writer and musician, see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Curtis asks a pertinent question: "Who are we to create other thinking beings when we can't handle ourselves?" While he's thinking of the possibility of uncontrollable violence in robots, later thinkers proffer even direr predictions:

   "Physicist Stephen Hawking, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk have expressed concerns about the possibility that AI [Artificial Intelligence] could evolve to the point that humans could not con-trol it, with Hawking theorizing that this could be fatal to humanity: 'The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own 
and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded.'"
   — "Artificial Intelligence," Wikipedia

As for robots (embodied AIs) taking away jobs:

   "The relationship between automation and employment is complicated. While automation eliminates old jobs, it also creates new jobs through micro-economic and macro-economic effects. Unlike previous waves of automation, many middle-class jobs may be eliminated by artificial intelligence; The Economist states that 'the worry that AI could do to white-collar jobs what steam power did to blue-collar ones during the Industrial Revolution' is 'worth taking seriously.' Subjective estimates of the risk vary widely; for example, Michael Osborne and Carl Benedikt Frey estimate 47% of U.S. jobs are at 'high risk' of potential automation, while an OECD report classifies only 9% of U.S. jobs as 'high risk.' Jobs at extreme risk range from paralegals to fast food cooks, while job demand is likely to increase for care-related professions ranging from personal healthcare to the clergy. Author Martin Ford and others go further and argue that a large number of jobs are routine, repetitive and (to an AI) predictable; Ford warns that these jobs may be automated in the next couple of decades, and that many of the new jobs may not be 'accessible to people with average capability,' even with retraining. Economists point out that in the past technology has tended to increase rather than reduce total employment, but acknowledge that 'we're in uncharted territory' with AI."
   — "Artificial Intelligence," op. cit.

- We keep bumping into robots, don't we? Our latest such encounter was Harry Harrison's "Arm of the Law" (HERE).


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"Now All We Have to Figure Out Is Which One of Them Was Really the Intended Victim"

EDWARD D. HOCH's redoubtable trio of persistent police officers becomes involved "in a police procedural that is more straightforward than usual, but as usual has as many dead ends along the way."

"The Woman Without a Past."
By Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008).
First appearance: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, April 22, 1981.

Short story (16 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "He stood looking at her, holding a long-barreled target pistol in his right hand."

The Bard observed, "What's past is prologue," the truth of which a young woman is about to learn the hard way . . .

~ Judy Thomas
  ". . . has worked at the license bureau for ten months, ever since she moved to the city. Before that her life is a blank."
  "What do you mean?"
  "Just that—she has no past!"
~ Sergeant Connie Trent:
  "She must have a past somewhere. She didn't emerge full-grown from an egg ten months ago."
~ Lieutenant Fletcher:
  "No, I don't think it was robbery. The killer was waiting for them."
~ Genner:
  "He was all in shadows."
~ Carl Forrester:
  ". . . had a case of ether in the closet of his home."
~ Greg Porson:
  "When I heard the news I couldn't believe it! Carl was one of my best salesmen."
~ Max Swann:
  "Those small-caliber pistols are popular with hit men."
~ Rudy Vega:
  "Look, this stuff isn't against the law. Not yet, anyway. Not in this state."
~ Captain Leopold:
  "We're on the same side of the law, aren't we?"

- Edward Dentinger Hoch wrote nearly 90 Captain Leopold stories, a half dozen of which appeared in The Saint Magazine (U.K.) under his alter ego alias, Stephen Dentinger (FictionMags data). TV Tropes has a short but informative page about our author (HERE).

- In case you missed J. Madison Davis's tribute to Hoch, we featured it (HERE).
- If you have an interest in the chemistry of ether, see Britannica (HERE) and Wikipedia (HERE).

Monday, March 11, 2019

"The Thought of Killing Maudie Had Come Often to My Mind"

"Murderer's Chain."
By Wenzell Brown (1911-81).
First appearance: Fantastic Universe, March 1960.

Reprinted in Rulers of Men (1965).
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE; PDF) and (HERE; text faded).

     ". . . it didn't take any great brain to see that Maudie's rapid demise would remove the single obstacle that stood between myself and untold wealth."

. . . and it just so happens the House of Fantastic Jewelry has the very thing to acquire all that untold wealth . . .

~ Duff:

  "Everything about Balsavius has been kept strictly hush-hush. Only a handful of 
people have the slightest concept of the value of the new planet's mineral deposits."
~ Maudie (Mrs. Maude Terrain):
  "She was as adamant as ever about parting with the smallest fraction of her vast 
fortune . . ."
~ Isabelle, Maudie's daughter:
  "She's easy-going, pliant, susceptible to flattery and, on Maudie's death, Isabelle 
would inherit her full fortune."
~ Melvin Rosy:
  "I take it you want an extra-special gift. I might say a gift for the departing, even a 
fatal gift."
~ Lieutenant Onsett, Central Homicide:
  "His face wore an official mask of blankness but it was belied by the quirk of his lips."

Typos: "The play seemed to last for about ten light years" [light years measure distance, not time]; "nearly blew the roof of the place".

- One of prolific Donald Wenzell Brown's non-SFF stories, "Witness to Murder," was adapted for the Canadian anthology TV series First Person (1960-61); see (HERE) for the scanty information available about it. Brown made quite a few short fiction contributions to the Alfred Hitchcock juggernaut, The Saint magazine, and even some to EQMM (HERE); see also Mystery*File (HERE) and a collection of his paperback covers (HERE).
- Brown's few forays into science fiction/fantasy (SFF) are briefly detailed (HERE) and (HERE).

Friday, March 8, 2019

"I've Been on the Homicide Detail for Eight Years—I Deserve a Dying Message"

"The Square Root of Dead."
By Michael Kurland (born 1938) and Richard Lupoff (born 1935).
First appearance: Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1976.

Short story (15 pages).
Online at (HERE).


The solution to this murder is right there, softly glowing . . .

> The victim:
~ Professor James Conrad Harker:

  ". . . had been killed by a single thrust from a narrow, sharp instrument, which penetrated between the third and fourth ribs, severing the thoracic and carotid arteries . . ."
> The suspects:
~ Professor Pyne:

  "Harker was more highly regarded as a mathematician than Pyne. I have it from the rest of the department. Pyne's been jealous of Harker for twenty years. A thing like that can build up."
~ Robert Quipper:
  ". . . had been home brushing up for the calculus course he was a teaching assistant in . . ."
~ Jan Bliss:
  ". . . had been out at a meeting of the Society of the Round Table . . ."
~ Susan Bohle:
  ". . . claimed that she was visiting a boyfriend for the night. But, in a curious reversal of traditional morality, she refused to give his name . . ."

> The law:
~ Lieutenant Loman:
  ". . . stood to one side, his ungloved hands thrust under his arms for warmth, and looked at the body . . ."
~ Sergeant Stametti:
  "I can tell. You've pegged the killer."

Typos: "I wouldn't thing so"; "inconsistant".

- Our two authors are long-time specialists in SFF, but they do occasionally stray outside the field. For more on Michael Joseph Kurland see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and ONTOS (HERE); similarly, info about Richard Allen Lupoff is (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- While he was still with us, our victim's interests included the game of Go (HERE) and computer heuristics (HERE).

The bottom line:


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

"I Never Thought of That"

"The Alibi Machine."
By Larry Niven (born 1938).
Illustrations by Monte Rogers (HERE).
First appearance: Vertex, June 1973.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

     "He had had the thought, even then, that it would be untraceable should he ever want to kill somebody."

Establishing an alibi and getting away unscathed are always the problems for criminals, but our killer believes he's found a foolproof way of doing it . . .

Major characters:
~ Lucas Anderson:

  ". . . there was also his love of privacy . . . and distrust of people."
~ McAllister:
  ". . . suddenly his pulse was thundering in his ears. He was afraid."
~ Captain Hennessey:
  ". . . flicked in with the hot summer air of Fresno around him. It puffed out when he opened the door, and he felt the dry chill of the mountains. His ears popped."
~ Lieutenant Richard Donaho:
  "He watched for movement; he watched for footprints. The scenery was both too close and too far down, and it wobbled dizzyingly."
~ The helicopter pilot:
  ". . . I know guys who might try to take a chopper across this. Might break their stupid necks, too."

- There really is such a thing as a Gyrojet; see Wikipedia (HERE).

- Traveling without moving sounds paradoxical, doesn't it? Nonetheless, science fiction writers have been using the idea of teleportation ("instantaneous matter transport") as a plot gimmick for well over a century, making it seem plausible even when science has decreed that it's impossible as a practical proposition. It's an exciting notion, certainly, but as our author proves, it can have a dark side. For Larry Niven's thoughts about matter transmission see his forty-year-old—but definitive—article "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation" from Galaxy magazine (HERE; 19 pages).

- Another story by hard-SF master Niven is "The Meddler" (HERE).

Monday, March 4, 2019

"She Snatched It from Him, Looked at It and Flung It Out of the Open Window"

"The Case of the Distressed Lady."
(a.k.a. "The Cat and the Chestnut").
By Agatha Christie (1890-1976).
First appearance: Cosmopolitan, August 1932 (as "The Pretty Girl Who Wanted a Ring").

Reprinted in Woman’s Pictorial, October 22, 1932 (as "Faked!").
Collected in Parker Pyne Investigates (1934; U.S. title: Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective).

No media adaptations so far.
Short story (15 pages).
Online at (HERE; EPUB).

     ". . . I have had a long experience in the compilation of statistics. From that experience I can assure you that in eighty-seven percent of cases dishonesty does not pay. Eighty-seven percent. Think of it!"

In his unflagging effort to make his clients happy, as per his advert, Parker Pyne foils a criminal plot, even though it still earns him an unjustified "You oily old brute!"

~ Mr. Parker Pyne:
  An expert at repairing relationships.
~ Daphne St. John:
  A lachrymose lady with a self-inflicted problem.
~ Claude Luttrell and Madeleine de Sara:
  ". . . one of the handsomest specimens of lounge lizard to be found in England" and "the most seductive of vamps."
~ Lady Dortheimer and Sir Reuben:
  Blissfully unaware that they're the designated victims.

- Concerning Parker Pyne, consult Wikipedia (HERE), Hercule Poirot Central (HERE), and Wikipedia again (HERE; WARNING! SPOILERS).
- It has been nearly two and a half years since we last dealt with Agatha Christie at any length, "The Plymouth Express Affair" (HERE) being the featured story then.

The bottom line:


Friday, March 1, 2019

"Why Did You Make Holes in Me?"

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

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (19 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Parental caution: Mild language and violence.)

     "Something poked me in the side, and I slapped at it and found myself clutching a .45 slug. I plucked another off my cheek."

For your average hard-boiled private eye, staying alive is a daily concern, crossing the wrong people can be fatal and is definitely something to be avoided; but when the wrong people go too far, even a laid-back P.I. has to do something: "Now I begin to understand your attitude," his uninvited and unwelcome visitor tells him. "We, too, try to balance out the amount of power given to individuals . . ."

Major characters:
~ Lester Dunhaven Sinclair, the Third (a.k.a. "Sinc"):

  "When Sinc showed up about three years ago and started taking over the rackets, I stayed out of his way. He was the law's business, I figured. Then he bought the law, and that was okay too. I'm no crusader."
~ Bruce Cheseborough, Jr. (the narrator):

  "I'm a private op. Any minute now I'll have Sinc's boys all over me, and the first one I kill, 
I'll have the cops on me too. Maybe the cops'll come first. I dunno."
~ The "Martian":
  "My major weaknesses are susceptibility to certain organic poisons, and a voracious appetite."
~ Don Domingo:
  "You know, you have the hardest head—"
~ Adler:
  ". . . the one who'd gotten me into this mess . . ."
~ Handel:
  "He stood there in the doorway, while the stars grew old and went out. Nothing, I felt, could have torn his eyes from that twitching, bubbling mass."

Typo: "Sinc' I'll see to that"

- Larry Niven stories that we've already featured are "How the Heroes Die" (HERE) and "Dry Run" (HERE).

The bottom line: