Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"The Body Wasn't There"

"The Ghost Breakers."
By Fredric Brown (1906-72).
First appearance: Thrilling Detective, July 1944.

Reprinted in 5 Detective Novels Magazine, Summer 1952.
Novelette (17 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     "With a killer and a sexy medium around, George has plenty to excite him in that haunted house—without any walking corpses!"

"A private detective doesn't do any dreaming," George confidently tells his client—but that man lying dead at the bottom of the stairs right at George's feet in a house that's prone to "manifestations"—the corpse that nobody, not even the police, can find—was he just a dream? As far as everybody else is concerned, it's simply a matter of the little PI who cried wolf, but like George insists, a good gumshoe worthy of his trenchcoat doesn't hamstring himself with dreaming . . .

. . . making bad guesses, on the other hand, that's a different matter entirely: "You solved the thing, only you picked the wrong guy. . . ."

Characters:
~ George Rice (the narrator):

  "This was an easy way to earn twenty bucks, but if I ever took another assignment like this, I thought, I would bring a thermos bottle of java, extra flashlight batteries, and a good book. Or a blonde."
~ Sergeant Carey:
  "If you know this joint is haunted, didn't you know that the ghost is supposed to be that of a tramp who fell downstairs here fifteen years ago?"

~ Captain Nelson:
  "That was my luck. I'd tangled with Nelson before, and he was going to make the most of this. He was grinning before Carey got halfway through his story. Then he wiped off the grin and glowered at me, pretending he wasn't enjoying it."
~ Norman Pollock:
  "Even unimaginative people sometimes tend to see and hear things they expect to see and hear . . ."
~ Zenas Wegs:
  "Mr. Wegs' opinion of me would make the difference between twenty bucks for one night's work or a lot of twenties from now on."

~ Shorty:
  "Criminetty, no bo would go any nearer that place than the tracks."
~ Jan Sharpe:
  ". . . is a screwball. Jan's a mystic and writes books about it."
~ Stanton Waldo:
  "Would you care to earn five hundred dollars, Rice?"
~ Scollini:
  "I'd have taken him for the devil, myself."
~ Irene Steiner:
  ". . . a medium—one Irene Steiner, a curvaceous number with an inviting eye, as I had found out . . ."

Typos: "I ddin't have to hunt"; "Strankled" [How often do people get strankled?]; "Green Street".

Resources:
- REFERENCES: "You've probably heard of Scollini, who rated next to Thurston in his heyday.": That would be Howard Thurston (1869-1936; Wikipedia HERE), who "eventually became the most famous magician of his time."

~ "I walked on into the jungles.": The "Hobo" article on Wikipedia (HERE) includes a glossary of terms commonly used in the 1940s; "jungle" is defined as "an area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate."
~ "I walked around the end of a string of reefers": "a refrigerated boxcar (U.S.), a piece 
of railroad rolling stock designed to carry perishable freight at specific temperatures" (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "It's worth a sawbuck": "a slang term for a U.S. $10 bill, derived from the similarity between the shape of a sawbuck device and the Roman numeral X (10), which formerly appeared on $10 bills" (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "he hadn't been vagged.": Meaning arrested on a charge of vagrancy (The Free Dictionary HERE).
~ "What do you say to a séance at my place tomorrow night?": Wikipedia (HERE) says, "In English the word came to be used specifically for a meeting of people who are gathered to receive messages from ghosts or to listen to a spirit medium discourse with or relay messages from spirits."
~ "I saw now that they were a speaking trumpet and tambourine.": No séance would be complete without these gimmicks.

Houdini destroying the credibility of a speaking trumpet.
~ "The phonograph started grinding out Lead Kindly Light": A hymn dating from 1833 (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "The tambourine in the corner rattled, and the table fell, thudding against the carpet.": 
A levitating table? See "Seance Table Trick" at Magic Secrets Explained (HERE).
~ "snatched out of his hand and used to garrote him.": A depressingly popular way to 
murder someone (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "if she starts throwing ectoplasm around": "a term used in spiritualism to denote a substance or spiritual energy 'exteriorized' by physical mediums" (Wikipedia HERE).
- The Ghost Breakers was also the title of a 1940 comic "horror" movie starring Bob 

Hope and Paulette Goddard (Wikipedia HERE and the IMDb HERE). At one point in 
our story, in a "frozen second," George admits he was "scared stiff," which happens 
to be the title of the 1953 Lewis & Martin remake of The Ghost Breakers (Wikipedia 
HERE and the IMDb HERE).
- Fredric William Brown (see The FictionMags Index HERE) must have gone through dozens of typewriters in his long career generating above average short fiction (1937-65); see also Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE).
- We've crossed paths with prolific and versatile Fredric Brown several times in the past—"Beware of the Dog" (HERE), "Daymare" (HERE), "Cry Silence" (HERE), and "The Night 

the World Ended" (HERE)—and will again in the future.
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Monday, October 28, 2019

"At Precisely 8:10, He Would Have His Revenge"

"How to Murder Your Boss."
By Roger Elwood (1943-2007).
First appearance: Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine (U.S.), 

March 1966.
Short short story (9 pages; 6 illos).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

     ". . . it served no purpose to have a dying man gag horribly, tongue protruding from between puckered-up lips, eyes bloodshot with mortal anguish, lungs gasping for air and then the body going limp, stiff as 
a board."

Occasionally Charon gets lonely, and only one soul in the boat isn't nearly 
enough . . .

Characters:
~ George Hendricks:
  ". . . an underpaid and much abused bookkeeper."
~ Albert Tompkins:

  ". . . spoke softly and deliberately, his left hand touching his chest as though in a 
brief moment of inner pain."
~ Gladys:
  "Without Gladys to clean for him twice a week, he would also have had the added disadvantage of several inches of dust and dirt."
~ The landlord:
  ". . . turned to one of the two detectives who were getting into a nearby squad car."


Typo: "Lair!" ["Liar!"].
Resources:
- Roger Paul Elwood's small fiction listing on FictionMags doesn't really reflect his untiring ability to issue numerous anthologies of science fiction and fantasy (ISFDb HERE), which, paradoxically, earned him severe criticism in the SFF community (Wikipedia HERE and the SFE HERE); "I See Death in a Shadow" (Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, June 1964) and 

"How to Murder Your Boss" seem to be his only crime fiction stories.

The bottom line:
  "This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well."
  — 1st Viscount St. Alban

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Friday, October 25, 2019

"One Day - He Never Knew When - the Jailer Would Turn Executioner"

ACCORDING TO ANTHONY BOUCHER, the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction at the time, what we have here is . . .

   ". . . a novelet of future crime and justice — at once an exciting melodrama, a terrifying nightmare . . . and a sort of poetic-theological statement concerning man and his soul."

That's quite a load for a short work of fiction to carry, but we think the husband and wife team sometimes known as Lewis Padgett manage to pull it off . . .

   "The trigger pressed his finger and the revolver kicked back against his palm, and the spurt of the explosion made the air hiss . . ."

"Two-Handed Engine."
By Henry Kuttner (1915-58) and C. L. Moore (1911-87).
First appearance: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1955.

Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (21 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; PDF; go down to 
PDF page 4).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)
     "I have a job for you. I want a man killed."

. . . something that any sensible person would reject out of hand, but there's a jackpot at the end of that illusive rainbow: "A life of luxury. I know you're not a fool. I know damned well 
you wouldn't do what I ask unless you got money and protection. That's what I can offer. Protection." Didn't a serpent making the rounds of a certain garden once make a similar proposal? And that was a lie, too . . .

Characters (in order of appearance):
~ Danner:

  ". . . was a man born at the wrong time."
~ Hartz:
  ". . . plump and blond, with the sad eyebrows."
~ The man in the alley:

  "They saw him take a sudden, deep breath, and break into a run."
~ The Furies:
  "They were very efficient. They were never wrong. Or at least, in theory they were 
never wrong . . ."
~ The beggar:
  "He was quite drunk that night, and he followed the beggar until the man threw the
money back at him and thrust himself away rapidly on his wheeled platform . . ."
~ O'Reilly:
  "Your hand pulled the trigger, not mine."


Typos: "it was to the wonder"; "turn into and alley" .
Resources:
- Find Henry Kuttner (HERE) and Catherine Lucille Moore (HERE) on the ISFDb and follow the links from there.
- REFERENCES: The "two-handed engine," the obscure and abstract term used in the title, comes from John Milton's 1637 poem Lycidas (Wikipedia HERE and The John Milton Read-ing Room HERE); what exactly Milton meant by it has been booted about for centuries, but Kuttner and Moore give it a more concrete meaning here.
~ "Ever since the days of Orestes there have been men with Furies following them. It wasn't until the Twenty-Second Century that mankind made itself a set of real Furies, out of steel.": An allusion to a cycle of plays by Aeschylus:

   "Featured in ancient Greek literature, from poems to plays, the Erinyes form the Chorus and play a major role in the conclusion of Aeschylus's dramatic trilogy the Oresteia. In the first play, Agamemnon, King Agamemnon returns home from the Trojan War, where he is slain by his wife, Clytemnestra, who wants vengeance for her daughter Iphigenia, who was sacrificed by Agamem-non in order to obtain favorable winds to sail to Troy. In the second play, The Libation Bearers, their son Orestes [HERE] has reached manhood and has been commanded by Apollo's oracle to avenge his father's murder at his mother’s hand. Returning home and revealing himself to his sister Electra, Orestes pretends to be a messenger bringing the news of his own death to Clytem-nestra. He then slays his mother and her lover Aegisthus. Although Orestes’ actions were what Apollo had commanded him to do, Orestes has still commit-ted matricide, a grave sacrilege. Because of this, he is pursued and tormented by the terrible Erinyes, who demand yet further blood vengeance."

. . . the Erinyes (Wikipedia HERE), also known as the Furies, being multi-purpose deities in Greek mythology:

   "The Erinyes live in Erebus and are more ancient than any of the Olympian deities. Their task is to hear complaints brought by mortals against the insolence of the young to the aged, of children to parents, of hosts to guests, and of householders or city councils to suppliants—and to punish such crimes by hounding culprits relentlessly. The Erinyes are crones and, depending upon authors, described as having snakes for hair, dog's heads, coal black bodies, bat's wings, and blood-shot eyes. In their hands they carry brass-studded scourges, and their victims die in torment."

"Orestes Seized by the Furies After the Murder of Clytemnestra" by David Scott (1838).
~ ". . . it operated on a basis of incorruptible machines. They made and enforced the laws 
that were necessary now to keep mankind alive.": This sounds like a sly take on Gort, the 
police robot from the first version of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951; Wikipedia HERE; SPOILERS); it would be surprising if Kuttner and Moore didn't have Gort in mind. It's probably no coincidence, either, that the Justice Machines in the Doctor Who serial 
The Stones of Blood call themselves the Megara (The Doctor Who Wiki HERE).
~ "Upon that moving island two occupants dwelt, like a Crusoe and a Friday, alone.": A reference to the two main characters in Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel (Wikipedia HERE).
~ ". . . to rebuild in man a realistic superego to save him from extinction.": Freudian psychology (Wikipedia HERE), enormously popular in the 1950s.
~ "Quis custodiet, Hartz thought. The old problem.": The full phrase is "Quis custodiet 
ipsos custodes?" ("Who will watch the watchers?") (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "The incorruptible metal was putting on corruption . . .": An inverted Biblical allusion (HERE). "It was as if sin had come anew into the world, and the first man felt again the 
first inward guilt.": Another Scriptural reference (HERE).
- It's understandable that Milton would inspire Edmund Crispin, at least with his story 
titles—"Humbleby Agonistes", "Within the Gates", "Abhorred Shears", etc.; see our 
review of Beware of the Trains (HERE).
- "Use your head. I've got an obvious motive. But you've got no motive . . .", which reminds us of a Hitchcock thriller (HERE; Wikipedia; SPOILERS).
- Cybernetic law enforcement officers, robot private eyes, and killers with motherboards . . . now where have we heard that before? (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and so on.
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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"Would You Be Interested in a Dead Gambler in a Hotel Room?"

THE OTHER DAY we covered a story by Raymond Chandler (HERE), generally regarded as occupying the pinnacle of hardboiled crime fiction; Bill Pronzini notes:

   "Chandler’s lean, tough, wisecracking style set the tone for all subsequent private-eye fiction, good and bad. He is certainly the most imitated writer in the genre, and next to Hemingway, perhaps the most imitated writer in the English language."

Certainly Michael Shayne, the Miami-based private eye, owed a lot to Chandler; another writer, not too shy about proffering his own imitation of Chandler as filtered through 
Shayne, would be the pseudonymous author of . . .

"The Big Squawk."
By Thomas Thursday (pseudonym; born 1894?).
First appearance: Smashing Detective, July 1956.

Short short story (8 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 65).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)


     "Like most practical jokers, Jack Kane didn’t appreciate a joke played on him—especially when it connected him with a killing."

Mark Twain, always one for a good joke, soberly wrote, "When grown-up persons indulge in practical jokes, the fact gauges them. They have lived narrow, obscure, and ignorant lives, and at full manhood they still retain and cherish a job-lot of left-over standards and ideals that would have been discarded with their boyhood if they had then moved out into the 
world and a broader life." He could have been talking about Jack Kane . . .

Major characters (in no particular order):
~ Dan Hammerton:

  ". . . big shot gambler and bolita king . . ."
~ Pete Rundell:
  ". . . a quiet, efficient reporter—not the phony type you see in the movies, TV, or hear on the radio."
~ Jack Kane:

  ". . . was the opposite of Rundell, especially in character. Even among his fellow reporters he was as popular as arsenic on caviar."
~ Dick Tate:
  ". . . ace bellhop and ice-water carrier . . ."
~ Calbert Front:
  ". . . the desk clerk, a bizo named Calbert Front—appropriate name for a hotel clerk . . ."
~ Capt. Chester Eldredge:
  ". . . head of Homicide . . ."
~ Detectives Irv Whitman and George Spell:
  ". . . his aides . . ."
~ Frank Mullady:
  ". . . of the ID Bureau . . ."
~ Mabel McCoy:
  ". . . was one of the telephone operators at the Herald."
~ Mary McCracken:
  ". . . was toil-worn and wrinkles creased her forehead and hands."
~ "Silent Sam," a.k.a. "Clue No. 1":
  "In the center was a big cage, and in it an aristocratic-looking parrot."


Comment: Didn't anybody think to examine the corpse?

References and resources:
- "bolita king": Bolita is/was "a type of lottery which was popular in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries in Cuba and among Florida's working-class Hispanic, Italian, and black population" (Wikipedia; HERE).
- "Beside the body was a .32 Colt": Probably meaning the automatic pistol described in (Wikipedia; HERE).
- "You take Marilyn Monroe": "a major popular culture icon" according to (Wikipedia; HERE).
- "The face of Kane went passed [sic] red and began to technicolor.": A film process that's been around a lot longer than we realized (Wikipedia; HERE).
- "Why, you know I wouldn’t take a C-note from you": A reference having nothing to do with music (Wikipedia; HERE).
- "If I was Eisenhower—": At the time, President of the U.S.-of-A. (Wikipedia; HERE).
- "I’ve had enough of this Jackie Gleason and Burns and Allen liverwurst, ladies and gentlemen.": Three of the most popular TV comedians of the '50s (Wikipedia; HERE and HERE).
- According to FictionMags, dozens of stories attributed to "Thomas Thursday" appeared in various slicks and then pulps starting in 1918 and running all the way to 1959, some of them in the sports and Western genres, with the majority being crime fiction; his only series character was Chief Howard, featured in just three stories for Famous Detective and Smashing Detective, but he's not in today's narrative.
- See Bill Pronzini's article about Raymond Chandler's novel The Big Sleep (1939) on the Mystery*File weblog (HERE) and Kevin Burton Smith's comprehensive article at The New Thrilling Detective Web Site about Michael Shayne (HERE).
- Perry Mason has a brush with a talking bird in The Case of the Perjured Parrot (the 1939 novel: The Passing Tramp HERE and Goodreads HERE; and the 1958 TV episode: IMDb HERE).

The bottom line:
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Monday, October 21, 2019

"This Is the Trial of a Living Man for the Crime of a Man Who No Longer Exists"

"A Question of Identity."
By Frank Riley (1915-96).
Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
First appearance: IF — Worlds of Science Fiction, April 1958.

Novelette.
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE; 27 pages as a PDF) and Archive.org (start HERE, finish HERE; 22 pages).

     "What is a Man?...A paradox indeed—the world's finest minds gathered to defend a punk killer...."

When do you stop being you?

Major characters:
~ Judge Hayward:

  "Any mule can kick a barn down; it takes a good carpenter to build one."
~ Tony Corfino:

  ". . . a bungling hoodlum who had killed two bystanders in a miserable attempt to rob 
a bank."
~ The D.A.:
  ". . . I'm going to whip you, Jake—and that punk's going to burn!"
~ Jake Emspak:
  "First, we will prove that the law has not kept pace with the progress of science and the forward march of human thought. Second, we will prove that Tony Corfino is not Tony Corfino!"


Typos: "was fasted around Tony's right arm" ["fastened" or "made fast"]; "a complex 
casual series" ["causal"].

Resources:
- REFERENCES: "In the glass-fronted TV booth, where the 80-year-old Edward R. Murrow had created something of a stir by his unexpected appearance a few moments earlier": For a while in the 1940s through the '60s, Murrow (1908-65; Wikipedia; HERE) enjoyed fame as a radio and then later television newscaster, but contrary to our story he died at the age of 57; his age places the story in 1988. "Could Jake Emspak's fee be traced back to Peiping, new headquarters for the Comintern?": A very dated reference to the Communist International (Wikipedia; HERE), an organization dedicated to "struggle by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the state." "This looked like an interminable case, even on microfilm.": A now-primitive kind of document reader (Wikipedia; HERE and especially HERE). "From Los Angeles, the 
ebullient old television commentator, George Putnam, still indefatigable in his late 
sixties, reported . . .": Putnam (1914-2008; Wikipedia; HERE) would indeed have been 
that old in 1988. "It was Benjamin Cardoza [sic] who said . . .": Benjamin N. Cardozo 
(1870-1938; Wikipedia; HERE), the lawyer and judge.
- Like all worthwhile human endeavors, organ transplantation (Wikipedia; HERE) can be perverted into criminal activity (Wikipedia; HERE); meanwhile, due to how they were 
abused, lobotomies (Wikipedia; HERE) have since fallen out of favor.
- Frank Wilbert Rhylick adopted the nom de plume of Frank Riley, although his SFF-nal output was quite limited; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb bibliography (HERE), and a collection of his stories on Project Gutenberg (HERE).
- Science fiction/fantasy (SFF) has been kicking around the idea of what constitutes humanity for a long time; even Star Trek weighed in on the topic thirty years ago with a Next Generation episode (HERE; Wikipedia; SPOILERS). Long before then, however, the provocative existence of Adam Link gave rise to the notion (HERE), although he wasn't comprised of "meatware" like Corfino and couldn't be classified as a cyborg (Wikipedia; HERE).
- Just this past May we featured another trial-themed Frank Riley story, "The Cyber and Justice Holmes" (HERE).

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Friday, October 18, 2019

"The Trouble Boys Don't Get Paid to Forget"

THANKS TO HOLLYWOOD, just about everybody has heard of Raymond Chandler and his most famous creation, Philip Marlowe, but only a few would recognize Tony Reseck, his solo appearance being in . . .

"I'll Be Waiting."
By Raymond Chandler (1888-1959).
Illustrations by Hy Rubin (1905-60; HERE).
First appearance: The Saturday Evening Post, October 14, 1939.

Collected in Five Sinister Characters (1945), Red Wind (1946), The Simple Art of Murder (1950), Trouble Is My Business (1950), and The Smell of Fear (1965).
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (PDF; HERE; 2 illos).
(Note: Text a little smudgy but legible.)

     "I was married to him once. I might be married to him again. You can make a lot of mistakes in just one lifetime."

They say love will find a way—yeah, to get you killed . . .

A few characters:
~ The porter:
  "His hat's way low. You can't hardly see his face. He says, 'Get Tony,' out of the side of his mouth. You ain't got any enemies, have you, Tony?"
~ Tony Reseck:

  ". . . hardly breathed for ten minutes. He just watched her, his mouth a little open. There 
was a quiet fascination in his limpid eyes, as if he was looking at an altar."
~ Eve Cressy:
  "A name waiting for lights to be in."
~ Al:
  "I forgot. Guess you don't want to shake hands."
~ The night clerk:
  "Hurry back, pop. I don't know how I'll get through the time."
~ Carl:
  "Gat under his arm."
~ James Watterson:
  "They never run out of gas—those boys. Early and late, they work. The old firm never sleeps."


Resources:
- According to The Thrilling Detective Website (HERE), our story, featuring the only appearance of Tony Reseck, was adapted for television in 1993 (IMDb; HERE):


   "As far as I know, TONY RESICK [sic] only appeared in one story, Raymond Chandler's classic, 'I'll Be Waiting', but it was a memorable appearance. Tony is markedly different from Chandler's other detectives, who are either Philip Marlowe or Philip Marlowe-clones (Mallory, Carmady, John Dalmas, etc.)."

- A previous post focusing on one of Raymond Chandler's stories, "A Man Called Spade," is (HERE). While Chandler felt free to criticize other "mystery" writers, he couldn't escape the criticism offered by Joyce Carol Oates ("Dorothy L and Raymond C via Joyce Carol O"; HERE). For comparison and contrast, see also "Random Thoughts about the Classic Detective Story" (HERE), John Kessel's "The Big Dream" (SFF; HERE), and Mary Wertheim's "Philip Marlowe, Knight in Blue Serge" (essay; HERE).
- REFERENCES: "Do you like Goodman, Miss Cressy?": That's Benny Goodman, the musician and band leader, enormously popular in 1939 (Wikipedia; HERE). "Since Vienna died, all waltzes are shadowed.": Then-current history; see "Vienna Under the Nazi Regime" (City of Vienna; HERE). "The Last Laugh. Emil Jannings.": A 1924 silent movie (Wikipedia; HERE). "He could hear the grass grow, like the donkey in The Blue Bird.": Take your pick; there was the 1908 play followed by two silent film versions in 1910 and 1918 and an impending talkie version (1940) with Shirley Temple, but most sources don't mention the donkey (called "the ass" in the play; Wikipedia; HERE). "Then he sat back, relaxed again, his neat fingers clasped on his elk's tooth" and "clasped his hands on his elk's tooth and quietly closed his eyes.": No idea.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"He's Worth a Hundred Times Your Make-Believe Million Dollars"

"Star Light, Star Bright."
By Alfred Bester (1913-87).
First appearance: Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1953.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Parental caution: Some profanity.)

Most geniuses excel in only one area; take Stuart, for example, who can't spell worth a hoot but knows just how to keep from being "it" . . .

Major characters:
~ M. P. Warbeck:

  "You can't imagine how flattering it is for a schoolteacher to be taken for a thief."
~ Walter Herod:
  "I've got 75,000 a year I'm taking out of this and I'm not going to let you chisel."
~ Joe Davenport:
  "There's a million kids a square inch in Brooklyn."
~ Jacob Ruysdale:
  ". . . disliked being separated from his liver & onions but was persuaded by $5."
~ Stuart, Anne-Marie, Tommy, George, and lazy Ethel:
  "Do I have to diagram it? What would the army pay for a disintegration beam? What would an element-transmuter be worth? If we could manufacture living robots how rich would we get? If we could teleport how powerful would we be?"

Resources:
- REFERENCES: "You've got no right to kidnap me and grill me like the MVD," a reference to Soviet Russia's secret police organization (Wikipedia; HERE); "It's a switch on the Spanish Prisoner routine" (Wikipedia; HERE); "He's probably figured out tricks that would make Dutch Schultz jealous," referring to (THIS) "gentleman" (Wikipedia); and "Ringaleevio, Chinese tag, Red-Light and Boxball" (Wikipedia and Dictionary.com; HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).

- A similarly themed book and movie adaptation thereof are detailed in Wikipedia (SPOILERS; HERE and HERE), but note that Bester was there first, even beating out another vaguely sim-ilar story by Jerome Bixby (HERE) by half a year.
- Previously in "You Must Be One Lousy Shot" (HERE), we featured the nearly unpindownable SFF that Alfred Bester was capable of.
The bottom line:
  "When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them."
   — Rodney Dangerfield

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Monday, October 14, 2019

"His Leg Buckled and He Stood There on the Other One, Like a Chicken Does on a Cold Frosty Morning, and Just Stared at Me"

   ". . . already blood was showing on the polished stage floor."

STORIES WITH A show business background offer an extra something to the reader, and stories with a crime element offer even more. Our author, being one of the renowned "Black Mask boys," doesn't shy away from violence, but it's not nettlesome enough to overpower 
the plot, which is a serviceable mystery, a shooting in front of hundreds of witnesses . . .

"Murder Backstage."
By Roger Torrey (1901-46).
First appearance: Private Detective Stories, August 1940.

Short story (10 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).
(Parental caution: Mild expletives.)

     "Rawlin had been on the stage once, but he’d given up all that to become a private detective. In his acting days, women had been his chief weakness; and right now, the murder that confronted him was causing him no more trouble than the girls in the chorus!"

Being hired to guard expensive jewelry depending from a gorgeous showgirl's neck would seem to be the ideal assignment for a gumshoe who can't get enough of women, but things rapidly go south when somebody decides to take a shot at his beautiful client . . .

Characters:
~ Teddy Rawlin, the narrator, ham actor with a new profession:

  "I’m a private investigator. I played a part like that in that show that folded over at the Grand, and all the guy had to do was walk around and look wise and every now and then say ‘this is a difficult case to solve.’ So I got myself a job with the Arnold Investigation Service. I eat steady now, which is more than I ever did in show business."
~ Leo Marks, stage manager:
  "He just stared at me. I slapped his face hard, first one side and then the other, and the dopey look went out of his eyes and he shook himself a little. He shoved a button on the board . . ."
~ Lois McAvoy, statuesque songbird:
  "She laughed at me in the mirror—and I started wishing the show wouldn’t be on in fifteen minutes or less. She had that kind of eyes and laugh."
~ Mary Mars, "a cat," observes Rawlin, "if ever one meowed":
  "Mary Mars was a demure looking little wench that wasn’t much bigger than a drink of water—and who was hell on wheels."
~ Harry Brice, a fallen angel:
  "If it wasn’t that he’s got more dollars than Mr. Carter’s got pills, they’d have him in jail for chasing kids. He’s a louse! He’s a rat! He’s been nothing but trouble for me and this show since he angeled it."

~ Mitzi Mareaux, in the wrong place at the wrong time:
  ". . . her real name was Mabel Welch and she was born over in Brooklyn. She was running around with a guy named William Morris—we’ve got him downstairs right now, working on him."
~ The doctor:
  ". . . a fussy little bird with a Vandyke and a medical bag came bustling through the crowd, shoving them every which way."
~ Joe Ellers, police detective:
  "If we’re wrong. How in hell can we be wrong?"
~ William Morris, not a nice guy:
  "He beat the girl up, only last week—he’s crazy jealous about her and has threatened her plenty of times. Everybody in the show will testify to that."
~ Carlotta, much put upon:
  "She smacked her in the face a couple of times more, for good measure, and looked up at me . . ."


Resources:
- No self-respecting, rent-paying pulpster would have been without series characters (viz., Erle Stanley Gardner), and Roger Denzel Torrey was no exception: Dal Prentice (Black Mask, 1933-35), George Killeen (Black Mask, 1934-36), Johnny Carr (Dime Detective, 1934), Mike O'Dell (Black Mask, 1935-36), Pat McCarthy (Black Mask, 1936-40), Sean Connell (Black Mask, 1937-38), Irving Kowalski teamed with Mike Hanigan (Detective Fiction Weekly, 1937-41), John Carey, Jr. (DFW, 1937), John Boyle (Private Detective Stories, 1938, 1942), Joe Kent (PDS, 1940), Donovan (Black Mask one-shot, 1940), Bryant (Black Mask, 1940-42), Sam Drake (PDS, 1942), Terry Hannigan (Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, 1943, 1944, 1946), and John Ryan (Speed Detective and PDS, 1943-46). [All data from FictionMags.] Our story, how-ever, doesn't feature any of those guys.

- One character unkindly remarks, "Half the time I think I’m working in Jumbo," a reference 
to (THIS). A "chesterfield" doesn't refer to a cigarette but something comfortable to sit on (HERE).
- The setting and plot of our story remind us of a movie, Lady of Burlesque (1943) with Barbara Stanwyck (HERE and HERE).

- If you'd like to know what Manhattan looked like in the '40s, there's a collection of Charles W. Cushman's vintage photos (HERE) and still more by others (HERE).
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Friday, October 11, 2019

"You're Going to Stand Trial—and These Natives Are Out to Get You"

"Letter of the Law."
By Alan E. Nourse (1928-92).
Illustrations by Rudolph Palais (1912-2004; HERE).

First appearance: IF — Worlds of Science Fiction, January 1954.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (13 pages; 2 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE; no illos) and Archive.org (HERE; illos).
"So I pulled an old con game," says Harry. "So what?" So this: If he'd done his homework as any sharpster should, he wouldn't be facing the prospect, as his counsel puts it, of having his "blood splattered liberally all the way from here to the equator" . . .

Major characters:
~ The Judge:

  "This—creature—is hereby accused of the following crimes. Conspiracy to overthrow the government of Altair I. Brutal murder of seventeen law-abiding citizens of the village of Karzan at the third hour before dawn in the second period after his arrival. Desecration of the Temple of our beloved Goddess Zermat, Queen of the Harvest. Conspiracy with the lesser gods to cause the unprecedented drought in the Dermatti section of our fair globe. Obscene exposure of his pouch-marks in a public square. Four separate and distinct charges of jail-break and bribery. Espionage with the accursed scum of Altair II in preparation for inter-planetary invasion."

~ The First Witness:
  "I could see that I was face to face with the most desperate of criminal types, even for Terrans. Note the shape of his head, the flabbiness of his ears. I was petrified with fear. 
And then, helpless as I was, this two-legged abomination began to shower me with 
threats of evil to my blessed home, dark threats of poisoning my land . . ."
~ The Second Witness:
  "This one was testifying regarding the butcherous slaughter of eighteen (or was it twenty-three? Oh, yes, twenty-three) women and children in the suburban village of Karzan. The pogrom, it seemed, had been accomplished by an energy weapon which ate great, gaping holes in the sides of buildings."
~ Harry Zeckler:
  "These charges, all of them—they're perfectly true."
~ The Prosecutor:
  "The defendant is obviously lying."
~ Paul Meyerhoff:
  "A lovely frame. Airtight. A frame from the bottom up, and you're right square in the middle."


Resources:
- Trained as a physician, Alan Edward Nourse hit the jackpot with his science fiction; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); not known for his movie and TV work, the IMDb (HERE) informs us that he did nevertheless manage to rack up three acting credits.

- Inevitably, Harry Zeckler puts us in mind of another galactic conman named Harry, Harcourt Fenton Mudd; see the Memory Alpha Fandom entry (HERE).
- Zeckler's defense hinges on a paradox contrived by a 6th-century B.C. Cretan philosopher; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Our story takes place on a planet orbiting Altair, a star, which, although just over 98 trillion miles away, is easily visible from Earth; see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE).  Probably the most well known fictional depiction of Altair is the film Forbidden Planet (1956), details about it being in Wikipedia (HERE) and the IMDb (HERE).

Altair (left) compared to the Sun.
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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"If I Am Playing with Reasonably Intelligent Men Who Also Have Mastered the Percentages, No One Would Win"

"How Can You Lose?"
By D. L. Champion (1902-68).
First appearance: Mystery Book Magazine, Winter 1950.

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

     "Theoretically, everyone would finish absolutely even to the cent."

A friendly game of poker, right? Not quite . . .

Characters:
~ Eben Barkley:

  "I fail to see how even a fool can lose money at poker."
~ Sam Barnes:

  ". . . was possessed of a loud voice. His laugh was a thundering inanity and his 
morals, the professor reflected, would furnish grounds for gossip in a jungle."
~ Maria Barkley Barnes:
  ". . . was putty in Sam's wonderfully manicured hands."
~ Detin:

  ". . . a portly man with a cherubic countenance, regarded the professor oddly 
for a moment . . ."
~ Andrews:
  "This will require some proof."
~ Manners:
  "Gosh, I should have phoned home an hour ago. Excuse me."


Resources:
- If you're not familiar with the game, you can brush up on poker (HERE; Wikipedia).
- Our only encounter with D'Arcy Lyndon Champion so far was his prestidigitationally-themed "Murder Magic" (HERE), but there will be more in the future. FictionMags's thumbnail (which has a two-page listing of his stories): "Writer and creator of the pulp character 'The Phantom Detective'; served with the English during World War II. Born in Melbourne, Australia; died in New York City." Like many longtime professional pulpsters, Champion had series characters, among them: James Quincy Gilmore, a.k.a. Mr. Death (Thrilling Detective, 1932), Rex Sackler (DFW and Black Mask, 1939-50; see The Thrilling Detective Website HERE for more about him), Inspector Allhoff (Dime Detective, 1938-46; see TTDW HERE; not a nice guy: see TomCat's weblog HERE), and Mariano Mercardo (Dime Mystery, 1944-48; TTDW HERE).


The bottom line:
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