Friday, August 30, 2019

"Let Me Bring You an Aspirin, Sir"

"The Perfect Crime Revisited."
By Terry Black (?-?).

First appearance: Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, November 1982.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; scroll down to magazine/PDF page 76).

     "It started out as an open and shut case. Trouble was, it was entirely too open!"

Just how credible is a dying message, anyway? "On the floor was a vital clue: a thin line of blood trailed from the dead man's outstretched finger, forming a wavering—but quite clear—indictment of his killer."

~ Floyd Burbank:
  "Beside one of the tables was a portly, middle-aged man with a Sterling silver letter opener jutting from his back."
~ Detective Sergeant Barton Rimble:
  "Now you say we're dead in the water. What the hell's the problem?"
~ Detective Calvin Cupflutter:
  "You'd better see for yourself, sir. We have what you might call . . . a complication."

- According to FictionMags, beginning in 1980 Terry Black's (HERE) first eight sales were to the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, with today's story being the third; he's also had nine stories published in Alfred Hitchcock's, and well over a dozen of an SFF-nal nature (HERE), several of which feature his series character, Johnny Quantum.

- Other ONTOS articles about the perfect crime include "He Didn't Bother to Look Too Carefully When He Didn't See It" (HERE), "I Heard Him Scream, and I Spun Round, and 
He Was Squirming Across the Guard Rail" (HERE), and "Amateur Night for the Perfect 
Crime" (HERE).

The bottom line:

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

"It Helped To Be a Librarian Who Liked Detective Stories"

THERE WERE TWO stories in Analog back in the '60s featuring an interesting character called the Librarian who, in the performance of his duties, is of necessity also a Cultural Ambassador. We're including the first story, which doesn't have a conventional criminous theme but does have the Librarian in hot water with the local authorities, because it intro-duces Quist and Bookworm, whose next and last adventure has them in deep danger up to their Dewey Decimals . . .
   "Remember that as Librarians you carry with you a sacred trust, the future of the human mind."

"An Ounce of Dissension."
By Martin Loran (John Baxter, born 1939, and John Smith, 1936-87).
Illustration by [Frank] Kelly Freas (1922-2005; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, July 1966.

Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (20 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; slow load; scroll down to magazine page 43).

     "A librarian seems an odd sort to raise general hallelujah and trouble—but the librarian was a little special, and his library a highly dynamic type. Very dynamic!"

The planet Rayer is "like a mad combination of Seventeenth and Twentieth Century London with the hygiene standards of the Fifteenth thrown in, well endowed with poverty but poor in intelligence" and inhabited by people who just don't seem to care, a state of affairs dictated and maintained by a totalitarian government that, for one thing, encourages book burning; aiming to do something about the situation, the Librarian finds himself plotting a course of action that he never imagined he would have to do when he first arrived on Rayer: "Excuse me, sir, but what's a . . . a rev-o-lution?"

Major characters:
~ Stephen Quist:

 "He had thrown things at the computer before and knew just where to aim."

~ Bookworm, Mark 18:
  "I've got everything they ever put into me. I'm the original junk yard."
~ The thin man:
  "Burn the lot."
~ Jonrad, the young man:
  "It doesn't do to take risks."
~ Cassill, the grim-faced man:
  "We live like animals; no, worse than animals, because our books are confiscated and burned, our movements watched all the time. We are slaves . . ."
~ The lieutenant:
  ". . . made a decision, the speed of which was a tribute to the fear the dictator inspired 

in his minions."

Typo: "one of the soliders".

- Astronomical references in the story include Dubhe (Alpha Ursae Majoris), discussed in Wikipedia (HERE), and an "unnamed star NGC 5548, known locally as New Sol," which is totally wrong since the New General Catalog listing for number 5548 designates a galaxy, 

not an individual star, an error that the technophilic Analog editors should have caught; 
see Wikipedia (HERE).
~ ~ ~
   "Have you ever read any detective stories?"

"The Case of the Perjured Planet."
By Martin Loran (John Baxter, born 1939, and John Smith, 1936-87).
Illustrations by [Frank] Kelly Freas (1922-2005; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, November 1967.

Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (41 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; slow load; scroll down to magazine page 66).

     "The real advantage of an education shows up when the guy you're working against doesn't have one and you do. Like the librarian, with his Bookworm Computer for memory—and a highly advanced education in Whodunits Down Through The Ages!"

It's a boring milk run, "another dreary visit" to the planet Napoleon 6, a "dead-end world," for Quist of the Librarian Service and his AI, Bookworm—that is, until somebody takes a shot at him: "Quist looked down incredulously at the blood staining the now tattered sleeve of his coat. Before he fainted, his mind had time to be grateful that the marksman had read detective stories, too. The first shot was always a warning. . . ."

Major characters:

~ Quist:
  "In the world of private eyes and beautiful blondes he felt more at home. At least there people did things."
~ Bookworm:
  "If a librarian couldn't trust his Bookworm, then who could he trust? Except perhaps his own intuition."

~ Addison:
  "Quist ran towards him but the bearded man was like a rabbit . . ."
~ Marcus Obolensky:
  ". . . had no more fear of death than has a tree."
~ The nervous little man:
  ". . . lay like a suppliant, face down before the cratered stone."
~ The girl:

  "Somebody knocked on the door. It sounded like the knock of a beautiful blonde, about 
five feet four, with a full figure, a seductive smile, and a twinkle in her eye."
~ The cop:
  "When the door opened, Quist knew what to expect. Policemen are much the same all 

over the universe."

Nice personification:
   ". . . lanes along which dark and crooked buildings leaned their heads together and 
spoke in shadows."
   "Squeezed between two other office blocks, it cowered in the shadows, poking one 
shy corner of its facade out into the slanting afternoon sun."
   "They were a jungle of vines and reeds that rioted across the paths, shouldering the 
marble slabs out of their way with slow arrogance."

Comment: With his ability to channel his inner Philip Marlowe, the Librarian had real potential of getting himself involved in further adventures, but these two stories seem 
to be the only ones featuring him.

Typos: "blond" instead of "blonde"; "but I have [?] idea".

- Our "author," Martin Loran, was really two people, Australian John Martin Baxter (Wikipedia HERE; the SFE HERE; and the ISFDb HERE) and Ronald Loran Smith (the ISFDb HERE).

- "There were a thousand ways to die on Napoleon 6." Terraforming (since 1967, when our story was published, the term has lost its hyphen) is an event in search of some place to happen; see Wikipedia (HERE; "Terraforming") and (HERE; "Terraforming in popular culture"); Peter Ahrens's paper "The Terraformation of Worlds" (HERE; PDF); and Martyn J. Fogg's "The Terraforming Information Pages" (HERE), from which we quote:

   "Terraforming is a process of planetary engineering, specifically directed at enhancing the capacity of an extraterrestrial planetary environment to support life. The ultimate in terraforming would be to create an uncontained planetary biosphere emulating all the functions of the biosphere of the Earth—one that would be fully habitable for human beings."


Monday, August 26, 2019

"I'd Hate to Have the Job of Finding Out How Anyone Escaped from This Room"

AFTER YOU'VE spent time solving locked-room problems with John Dickson Carr or his alter ego Carter Dickson, almost all other impossible crimes pale in comparison. Like a drug taken too often or too quickly, imbibing the fiendishly clever works of our favorite detective fiction author (his name, as you may have noticed, is embedded in our weblog's URL) could strongly influence your perceptions; so, when a Golden Age pulpster not named Carr or Dickson attempts an impossible crime in a sealed room and you've been constantly communing with JDC, you might judge the story rather stringently, perhaps a bit too rigorously. Bear that in mind as you read . . .

"Man Afraid to Die."
By Norman A. Daniels (Norman Arthur Danberg, 1905-95).
First appearance: Detective Novel Magazine, November 1946.

Reprinted in Detective Novel Magazine (Canada), November 1946.
Short story (15 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "The time is almost at hand. Get ready to die."

. . . and when death does come for the victim it's quick, according to the doctor, because after being stabbed in the heart "he didn't breathe more than twice"; but for the investigating detective the situation goes from zero to impossible with dizzying speed: "There wasn't a place for anyone to hide and one of us was close by the only door all the time." There is a bright spot in the case for him, however, a faint glimmer of light, the dawning of a revelation, that this crime is inextricably related to another, unresolved murder, and to solve one would mean solving the other . . .

Major characters:
~ David Stearns:
  "The man was dead. There was no doubt about that, but Keller worked furiously until the door opened. He dropped to one knee beside the man and felt for a pulse. There was none. The body wasn't just warm, with the normal heat of life. It was hot."
~ Dr. Blaney:
  "It's murder all right. The knife in the chest could be suicide, but not the wounds in the back. There are six of them. Looks to me as if the killer slipped up on Stearns, stabbed him half a dozen times and sent him sprawling to the floor. Then he delivered that wound through the heart."
~ Detective Jim Keller:
  "I happen to know you carry a gun. I felt it when I brushed against you. I carry one, too. Want to see who can draw the quickest . . .?"
~ Nick Parker:
  ". . . alone had an unbreakable alibi."
~ Paul McHale:
  ". . . might solve the whole fantastic problem . . ."
~ Richard Gray:
  "Come to think of it, the voice that called me was so high-pitched, I couldn't say whose it was."
~ Dr. Bixby:
  "Good gosh! Do you think I killed him?"

Comment: To his credit, our author spends more time examining motives and the mechanics of the impossible crime than usual; many pulpsters (in fact, many mystery authors) wouldn't even bother.

- The latest story featured on ONTOS by ultra-uberpulpster Norman A. Daniels that we're pretty sure he actually wrote is "Satan Turns the Timetables" (HERE), not a locked-room problem.

The bottom line:

Friday, August 23, 2019

"Brillo, Put Him Down"

LAST MONDAY we featured a satirical story about what might happen if robot police ever became the norm (HERE), which one could regard as a light-hearted version of today's tale. Now, many people incorrectly assume that satire must be humorous in some way ("The Perfect Cop" certainly has such moments), but this is a misapprehension that Wikipedia (HERE) is careful to disabuse us of:

"Laughter is not an essential component of satire; in fact there are types of satire that are not meant to be 'funny' at all. Conversely, not all humour, even on such topics as politics, religion or art is necessarily 'satirical', even when it uses the satirical tools of irony, parody, and burlesque."

Our next story also entertains the notion that robots might be employed as law enforcement officers; because at least half of it came from the typewriter of professional "troublemaker, malcontent, desperado" (his words) Harlan Ellison, however, you can be sure there won't be much humor in it. The fact that the story became the subject of a 1980 lawsuit by the authors gave it a short-lived notoriety; despite its checkered past, though, it remains worth at least one reading (and we apologize for the missing page, even though we didn't cause it).

By Ben Bova (born 1932; HERE) and Harlan Ellison 
(1934-2018; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, August 1970.

Illustrations by [Frank] Kelly Freas (1922-2005; HERE).
Reprints page (HERE).

Novelette (31 pages; 2 illos).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; slow load; to access the story, it will be necessary to download the magazine as a PDF, 
115 MB; then go down to magazine page 134; and be sure your anti-virus is up to date).
(Note: Most of page 153 is missing, but the story is still comprehensible.)

     "We're trying to help the policeman, not get rid of him."

It's training day for Brillo, and there's nothing he doesn't know about the law; what he doesn't know about human beings, however, could be a cause for concern . . .

Major characters:
~ Brillo, Model X-44:

  "Buzzing softly—the sort of sound an electric watch makes—he stood inert in the center of the precinct station's bullpen, his bright blue-anodized metal a gleaming contrast to the paintless worn floorboards."
~ Frank Reardon:
  "Why do they all look so tired? And why do they seem to look wearier, more frightened, every time they look at the robot?"

~ Kenzie, "the whiz kid":
  ". . . had a storm window salesman's tone even when he was trying to be disarming."
~ Captain Summit:
  "They're still afraid of machines, you know."

~ Mike Polchik:
  "He's bright, he's on his toes, he maybe isn't Sherlock Holmes but he knows the feel of a neighborhood, the smell of it, the heat level."
~ The FBI man:
  "Too bad we couldn't use him."

Typo: "they run that stuff right into [?] skull".

- More information about Benjamin William Bova is (HERE), Wikipedia; (HERE), the SFE; (HERE), the IMDb; and (HERE), his webpage; background about Harlan Jay Ellison, the more flamboyant member of our writing team, is (HERE), Wikipedia; (HERE), the SFE; (HERE), the IMDb; and (HERE), his webpage.
- An article at sees a bright future for robot cops:

   "Future generations of robots will eventually possess similar refined motor skills of manual manipulation. Unlike the current rudimentary bomb robots on tracks and wheels, these future robots could apprehend suspects, physically restrain subjects, and deploy less lethal ammunition to protect the public. Similar to other industries, robotics may become a viable augmentation to officers in the field, with a distant possibly of replacing human officers alto-gether to meet the future challenges of policing."
   — Gregory Mar, "Policing in 2025: How Robots Will Change SWAT, Patrol" (HERE)
- A story with a nearly identical theme but with a wildly divergent plotline is Harry Harrison's "Arm of the Law" (HERE).

The bottom line:
   "Let us remember that the automatic machine is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic consequences of slave labor."
   — Norbert Weiner


Wednesday, August 21, 2019


SEVERAL WEEKS AGO we highlighted stories about homicide detective Timothy Trant by the composite writing team known as Q. Patrick ("Death and Canasta," "The Glamorous Opening," and "The Red Balloon"; HERE) and wondered out loud whether there might be more running free on the Interblab; as it turns out, we did manage to stumble across another one called . . .

"The Corpse in the Closet."
By Q. Patrick (Richard Wilson Webb, 1901-70 & Hugh Callingham Wheeler, 1912-87).
First appearance: Unknown (1947).
Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 1948 and EQMM (Australia), October 1948.

Collected in The Cases of Lieutenant Timothy Trant (2019).
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; go down to magazine 

page 76, PDF page 78).

     "On the contrary, I couldn't have enjoyed myself more if I'd found a 
corpse in your closet."

Timothy Trant practically barges in on a murder scene, feeling depressed because 
"the solution to this crime was going to be boringly obvious." In that, however, he's 
a little premature . . .

~ Martin Prentiss:

  "He's the most impossible person. He only married her for her money . . ."
~ Lieutenant Timothy Trant of the New York Homicide Division:

  "He usually avoided social functions; but his sister Freda always bullied him 
into attending hers."
~ Freda Trant:
  "She was the only woman who could still intimidate him and knew it."
~ Celia Prentiss:
  ". . . an expensively shiny blonde."
~ Sue Spender:
  "Suddenly her body stiffened. Swiftly she pulled a piece of paper out of the 
bag and stared at it. . . . Mystery or no mystery, she was a very desirable dish."
~ Oliver Brown:
  ". . . claimed no knowledge of the murder or the note in Sue's bag."
~ Dr. John Barker:
  "We must have been here less than thirty seconds before you came."
~ Captain Dalton:
  ". . . was Timothy's superior and had never liked him."

The bottom line:

Monday, August 19, 2019

"They Were Programmed to Fight Crime, Not Make Value Judgments"

REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM: According to Wikipedia (HERE), the term which means in . . .

. . . "(Latin for 'reduction to absurdity'), also known as argumentum ad absurdum (Latin for 'argument to absurdity'), apagogical arguments or the appeal to extremes, is a form of argument that attempts either to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion, or to prove one by showing that if it were not true, the result would be absurd or impossible."

The statement being disproved, reduced to the ridiculous, by our author in today's story could be summarized as: "We'd be better off if we turned law enforcement over to machines."

"The Perfect Cop."
By H. H. Morris (?-?; HERE).
Illustration by Jack Gaughan (1930-85; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, January 1976.

(No reprints.)
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; PDF; go down to page 117).

     "This time we have a device that fights crime instead of cops."

It's what the public keeps saying it wants, law and order, but how do you achieve it in a world full of imperfect people?

~ Lieutenant Clancy Phillips:

  "I'm in charge of this precinct."
~ Cantrell:
  "You think you're in charge, Lieutenant, but the Humintecs obey only the law."
~ Alpha Humintec, Bravo Humintec, and Charlie Humintec:
  "They're the perfect cop."

- Apart from the few stories he or she is credited with, we know nothing about H. H. Morris.

The bottom line:

Friday, August 16, 2019

"It Is Absolutely Impossible for Anyone Else to Have Reached Him, Let Alone Shot Him"

IT WOULD BE remiss of us if we didn't impart a little-known fact about today's story, JDC's "The Third Bullet". An entire generation of readers (including yours truly), especially those of us on this side of the Atlantic, were under the impression that the version they read in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM) back in '48 (or the reprint in '67 or the one they might have seen in The Third Bullet and Other Stories in '54) was the one and only "Third Bullet," when in fact what they'd been reading all those years was an abridgement of a (by all ac-counts) superior 1937 novel that wasn't fully seen again until about 1990 (thanks to Douglas Greene).

In introducing the story, Ellery Queen tells how he accidentally discovered Carr's book and why he wished to publish it ASAP, but he fails to warn the reader about the cuts he has made to make it fit EQMM. Frankly we have no idea what those changes might have been, and we can't imagine how different the story was in its original form or what, if any, useful informa-tion has been lost in the abridgment; therefore, as far as we're concerned, it's a fine enough locked-room problem just as it is . . .

"The Third Bullet."
By John Dickson Carr (1906-77).
First appearance: English book publication (1937).
Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 1948; MacKill’s Mystery Magazine, February 1953; MacKill’s Mystery Magazine (U.S.), February 1953; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #13, 1967.

Collected in The Third Bullet and Other Stories (1954; abridged) and Fell and Foul Play (1990; restored version).
Novella (67 pages, with diagram).
Online at The Luminist League Archive (HERE; scroll down to 
text page 4, PDF page 6).
     ". . . if White didn't kill him, the case is a monstrosity. But that's just the trouble. For if White did kill him — well, it's still a monstrosity."

The Mortlake murder case has the police pulling out their hair in frustration (figuratively, of course), with one even willing to resign from the force over it, because, according to all the evidence available to them, the only person who could have done it could not have done it . . .

~ Mr. Justice Charles Mortlake, the victim:

  ". . . the judge was dead, right enough. He had been shot through the heart at fairly close range, and death had been almost instantaneous. One of the bullets had killed him. The other bullet had smashed the glass mouth of the speaking tube hung on the dictaphone, and was embedded in the wall behind him."
~ Colonel Marquis, Assistant Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, elderly but sharp:
  ". . . leaned back at ease and smoked a cigarette with an air of doing so cynically. Colonel Marquis was a long, stringy man whose thick and wrinkled eyelids gave him a sardonic look not altogether deserved."
~ Inspector John Page, young and sharp, but smitten:
  "Sergeant Borden and I practically saw the thing done."
~ Ida Mortlake, one of the victim's daughters:
  ". . . had a smile capable of loosening Page's judgment."
~ Gabriel White, not an old lag:
  "Just as I pulled the trigger, I saw the bullet-hole jump up black in the wall behind him."
~ Sir Andrew Travers, the lawyer:
  ". . . had a massive head, a massive chest, a blue jowl, and an inscrutable eye."
~ Dr. Gallatin, the police surgeon:
  "You don't know much about ballistics, do you? It's not only impossible, it's mad."
~ Robinson, the gate-keeper:
  ". . . a little man with a veined forehead and a dogged eye . . ."
~ Davies, the butler:
  "He fitted; you would have expected him."
~ Carolyn Mortlake, the victim's other daughter:
  "There's the gun and you may take it or leave it."
~ Alfred Penney, the clerk:
  "Life works by reason and system. You cannot believe that there were three prospective murderers shut up in that room?"
~ Sergeant Borden, no nonsense:
  "I'm fair sick of bullets. It's raining bullets. And there's no sense in any of 'em."
~ Sara Samuels, the soon-to-be maid:
  ". . . was a woman in the late twenties, short, rather plump, and quietly dressed."
~ Clara McCann, the news-agent:
  "There's no mistake about it now, like there was when I only saw the photograph."

Typo: "Ivor Johnson" is consistently misspelled; it should be "Iver Johnson".
- John Dickson Carr was always meticulous in peppering his stories with plausible elements to establish the setting; here are some background details in service of his story: cat-o'-nine tails (HERE), Wormwood Scrubs (HERE), Lyons' teashops (definitely important in setting up an alibi; HERE), and the real-life William Henry Kennedy case (HERE and HERE).

- Our latest contact with Carr was under his alter-alias of Carter Dickson, the classic "The House in Goblin Wood" (HERE).

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"No Snappy Secretary, No Booze in the Files, No .45 Packed Under the Armpit"

IF YOU'VE BEEN hanging around this weblog for a while, you'll remember how we limelighted some of Edward Wellen's longer works of SF-tec; but he could also produce 
shorter, more-focused stories, such as . . .

By Edward Wellen (1919-2011).
First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1979.

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

     "The man sat seemingly relaxed, sound-bathing. A sunning snake looks relaxed."

Armchair detection taken to a new ultimate: "If man was no match for the computer's speed, the computer was no match for man's tricky mind."

Major characters:
~ Purley:

  "The law would never catch Purley red-handed—or touch-tone-fingered."
~ Albert Uhl:
  ". . . sat down before the visual display. He gave the image a slightly dubious smile, as though suspecting WHILE-U-WAIT relied more on theatrics than on technology. But his 

need appeared greater than his doubt."

- Like every piece of technology devised by humanity, computers can have a dark side: cybercrime (HERE).

~ ~ ~
"Finger of Fate."
By Edward Wellen (1919-2011).
First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1980.

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

     "You're touching on a national security matter. So buzz off."

Some techno-prophets are predicting a coming era of spiritual machines, perhaps even ones that "come equipped with a built-in sense of justice." Let's hope so . . .

Major characters:
~ The narrator:

  "Serving my client was only half of it. I had to serve justice as well."
~ Thomas Burt, Sr.:
  ". . . was calling me off the case."
~ Pierre Quie:
  ". . . was a public person, and the wire-service morgue photos had him 

living the high life . . ."

- You can thank technophilic inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil for both
the notion 
and the phrase "spiritual machines" (HERE).
More resources:
- Our latest brush with Edward Wellen wasn't too long ago (HERE); Wellen is also well-known in SFF circles for his "Origins of . . ." series of "non-fact articles" in Galaxy from the '50s and '60s, an example of which ("Origins of Galactic Law") we highlighted several years back (HERE).

Monday, August 12, 2019

"I Heard Him Scream, and I Spun Round, and He Was Squirming Across the Guard Rail"

"The Clue That Wasn't There."
By L. A. G. Strong (1896-1958).
First appearance: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1953.

Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (U.K.), November 1953; EQMM (Australia), January 1954; and Creasey Mystery Magazine (as "Rubber Gloves"), August 1960.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE) and The Luminist Archive (HERE; scroll down to magazine page 26, PDF page 28).

     "I'd prefer a motive, of course, but I doubt if we'll find a sane one."

An almost perfect murder, looking for all the world like an industrial accident: "You planned it neatly. But you made a mistake . . ."

~ Detective-Inspector Ellis McKay:

  ". . . stuck out his lower lip and sat in pop-eyed contemplation of the report before him."
~ Detective-Inspector Bradstreet:
  "You think it's a lunatic's work?"

~ Jervis:
  "When I reached the floor, I put on my rubber gloves, as I always do if the dynamos are working."
~ Cole:
  "He had a stock catchword which he repeated like a parrot, until it made me almost physically sick."
~ Kelly:
  "I'm as sure as I'm talking to you here that I stood between that little man and his coffin, gloves or no gloves. And a fat lot of thanks I got for it."
~ Mason:
  "He only wanted to save your life, you know."

- FictionMags's thumbnail for Leonard Alfred George Strong, an academician and manifestly one of those "noble minds" who find the detective story a "normal recreation": "Born in Plympton; educated at Brighton College and Oxford; author, editor, journalist, and reviewer; Assistant Master at Oxford." Evidently Strong published very few short works featuring Detective-Inspector Ellis McKay, this one and a novelette, "The Birdwatcher," in the December 1957 EQMM (to which, alas, we do not presently have access). Also see the GAD Wiki (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), the IMDb (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

- Strong's mystery novel output was similarly small; here are four from the list of six on the GAD Wiki (images from Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC):

Friday, August 9, 2019

"Obviously, One of You Gentlemen Is a Murderer"

"The Nifty Murder Case."
By Richard Mueller (born 1920).

First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1985.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (16 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "A homeotropic dart embedded in the base of the couch. It was lodged in his spine."

You'd think the trip to The Fourteenth Cycle Interworld Comedy Competition with a shipload of comedians would be a million laughs; the soon-to-be-victim probably thought so, until . . .

~ Billy Nifty:
  "E'ryone loves Billy Nifty, you'll see."
~ Skipper:
  "Vinnie, we've got a cessation of life-form reading in the passenger section."
~ Vinnie Jones, First Officer and Second Pilot of the One-Eyed Reilly:
  "Murder is a serious business, and under the regulations of the Merchant Service, as a ship's officer, I'm required to investigate."
~ Dan Cordon, Pierre Martel, Merle Shoals, Baker Steeves, and Rand ee Duckworth:
  One of these guys—or maybe more, but what do I know?—has big plans for Billy Nifty: 

an eternal engagement in that Great Comedy Club in the Sky.
~ Scooter:
  "I don't understand. Is that supposed to be funny?"

Typos: "sequined geen velouralon cutaway"; "Her's".

- Our author isn't widely known for his mystery fiction, but his bona fides with SFF (HERE), especially the visual media manifestations thereof, are rock solid, producing stories for Robocop: Alpha Commando (1998-99; 40 episodes), The Real Ghostbusters (1987-89; 24 episodes), and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1990-91; 6 episodes) animated TV series, plus dozens of other fantasy and science fiction productions (HERE).


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Amateur Night for the Perfect Crime

THE PHRASE "the perfect crime" seems to be permanently embedded in world culture; as with many common expressions, usage sometimes broadens the original meaning (e.g., a "villain" used to be only a farmer), as well as preserving it in everyday language. In his introduction to Curious Trials and Criminal Cases: From Socrates to Scopes (1928; HERE), Edward Hale Bierstadt writes:

   "The perfect crime—that phrase so dear to the writers of detective fiction—must, I take it, fulfil two fundamental requirements: it must completely achieve its object, and the criminal must not even be suspected. One might go further, perhaps, and say that actual perfection demands that there shall not even be any suspicion that crime has been committed; the victim must appear to have met a natural death; the jewels must seem to have been lost, not stolen. If this be true, then it must also be true that the perfect crime will never be recorded—unless the criminal tactfully leave a signed confession to be read after his death . . ."

For some writers, depending on how they might feel that day, the perfect crime can be a murder, a theft, or just the way a gigolo manages to avoid commitment to marriage. Below are a few short stories whose authors were attending a private school, college, or university at the time they decided to try out their own unique takes on the perfect crime . . .

(1) "The Waters Will Never Tell."
By Francis McCarthy.
Saint Joseph's College, Collegeville, Indiana.
First appearance: The St. Joseph's Collegian, October 1935.

Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Only one mistake did he make. It was fatal."
~ ~ ~
(2) "The Plan."
By George Burgess.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts.
First appearance: The Collegian Quarterly, Autumn 1947.

Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "He smiled. He was going to get away with it. He planned it that way. This was the perfect crime."
~ ~ ~
(3) "Murder Solves a Mystery."
By Michael Neigoff.
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
First appearance: Purple Parrot, March 1942.

Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Starts (HERE) and finishes (HERE).

     "The Perfect Crime. Every detective story has it to begin with but the villain has to make one slip so a lot of moronic readers and more stupid police can find him out."
~ ~ ~
(4) "The Perfect Crime."
By Nora Corley.
Trafalgar School for Girls, Montreal, Canada.
First appearance: Trafalgar Echoes, June 1946.

Short short short story (2 pages).
Online (HERE).

     "Having read little else in the last fifty years, I wondered how it would feel to have committed a perfect crime. I planned to find out."
~ ~ ~
(5) "The Deadly Claws."
By John L. Miraziz.
Baghdad College, Iraq.
First appearance: Al Iraqi 1960.

Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text faded.)

     ". . . I was able to arrange for her murder without even being present at the scene of the crime."
~ ~ ~
(6) "The Perfect Crime."
By Lance Buchanan.
Lee University, Cleveland, Tennessee.
First appearance: Lee Review, 2010/11.

Short play (7 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "One time in Knoxville I did something nobody thought I could . . ."
~ ~ ~
Now let's see how a professional writer, one who collected a paycheck for his story, handles the perfect murder theme:

"Slight Detail."
By David Morrison (?-?).
First appearance: Crack Detective Stories, January 1947.

Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Yeah, I know all about the electric chair. That's why I spent three years thinking up a way to kill you without getting caught."
- Possibly the definitive screen treatment of the perfect crime (prior to the advent of Levinson and Link on TV) is Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954; HERE), based on Frederick Knott's stage play and written by him for the film. We have this little bit of foreshadowing in a conversation between mystery writer Mark Halliday, Margot Wendice, and her treacherous husband, Tony:

Margot: "Do you really believe in the perfect murder?"
Mark: "Mmm, yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could, uh, plan one better than most people; but I doubt if I could carry it out."
Tony: "Oh? Why not?"
Mark: "Well, because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don't . . . always."
Tony: "Hmm."
"No, I'm afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I'd make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me."

WE PLAN to return to the perfect murder in the near future.

Monday, August 5, 2019

"They've Come Alive!"

"Three Terrible People."
By John York Cabot (David Wright O'Brien, 1918-44).
Illustrations by Robert Fuqua (1905-59; HERE).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, July 1941.

Online at Roy Glashan's Library: HTML (51 pages; HERE);
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)
     "They deliberately went to work to create such a horrible mess that a genius couldn't unsnarl it!"

Some authors fall in love with their characters, but here we have one scribe who is in real danger of having his brain children awarding him a life-time pass to the hoosegow, if they don't give him a heart attack first . . .

Chapter I: "Flash. A report has just come into the station, but is as yet unverified. It is believed that the fabulous Coanor Diamond has been stolen!"
Chapter II: "Pierre, the Personable Parisian"
Chapter III: "The Terrible Three"
Chapter IV: "Lady Ashington Complicates Matters"
Chapter V: "Where Is Lady Ashington?"
Chapter VI: "The Stranger Again"

~ Danny, the narrator:
  "A moment passed while I considered the possibility that I had gone stark raving mad . . ."
~ Terrence Titwillow, "the fellow who wrote all those spine-chilling mystery yarns":
  ". . . they said that my plots were growing more and more silly with every succeeding novel."
~ Pierre, "the Personable Parisian":
  "I saw him and thought instantly that I was in the throes of a staggering hangover."
~ Snodbury Snipe, "the super-sleuth of society":
  "He says that he can offer his valuable sleuthing abilities to the local constabulary and solve the thing in more than record time. He says he's merely waiting until the moment when they are completely stymied. Then he will step into the mystery, very dramatically . . ."
~ Lady Ashington, "the eccentric dowager fence":
  ". . . she was there, gloriously drunk and peering owlishly down at me through her lorgnette."
~ The stranger:
  "I jumped on him. I hit him in the face. I rolled him down the steps. I called him every name I could think of. I threatened him with murder and mayhem if I ever set eyes on him again. I finally stopped, but only from lack of breath."

- The plot gimmick O'Brien uses in the story has been exploited ad nauseum by scribblers, especially those writing for television and the movies (you've probably seen a show using it), and while today's author certainly wasn't the first to make use of it, we're happy to give him, after a slow start, points for making it entertaining. One similar story that springs immediately to mind is Stephen King's "Word Processor of the Gods" (1983), from forty-two years later; unless you've read King's story, you would do well to read "Similar Plotlines" just below the Wikipedia synopsis (HERE; SPOILERS), which gives a short summary of other analogous stories, although it overlooks "Three Terrible People."

- "Pierre went out like the Lindbergh Beacon," a reference to this: "In 1930, in downtown Chicago, an aviation beacon honoring [Charles] Lindbergh was added to the Palmolive Building." — Wikipedia (HERE)
- ONTOS's latest encounter with David Wright O'Brien, one of our favorite authors, also using his John York Cabot alias, was with his "Murder in the Past" time travel tale last March (HERE); for more info about him just follow the links there.