Friday, November 29, 2019

"There Was No Trail to the Necklace That Vanished, So Ellery Queen Made One"

"The Adventure of the Treasure Hunt."
By Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay, 1905-82 & Manfred B. Lee,
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, September 1935 (as "Treasure Hunt").
Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Fall 1941; EQMM (Overseas Edition for the Armed Forces), April 1945; and EQMM (Australia), July 1947.

Collected in The New Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940).

Short story (19 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "There was silence for as long as one can hold a breath . . ."

Missing pearls worth twenty-five grand, a hectic treasure hunt, and a thief who's not nearly as clever as he thinks he is—just another day in the life of Inspector Queen's brilliant son . . .

~ Major-General Barrett:

  "You lead a life of armchair adventure, Queen? It must be embarrassing when you poke your nose out into the world of men."
~ Harkness:
  "General's getting ready for the revolution. We live in parlous times."
~ Lieutenant Richard Fiske, USA:
  "The Lieutenant said something, his arms jerking nervously; and the old gentleman paled."
~ Dorothy Nixon:
  "How can you sleep with all those murdered people haunting you?"
~ Leonie Barrett:
  ". . . pounced upon Ellery so quickly that he almost threw his arm up to defend himself."
~ Braun:
  "They found the old pensioner placidly engaged in polishing the brasswork of the General's launch."
~ Magruder:
  ". . . a gigantic old Irishman with leather cheeks and the eyes of a top-sergeant."
~ Ellery Queen:
  "And what do you think I found on the can? Fingerprints! Disappointing, isn't it?"

   "My difficulty is not in sleeping too little, Mrs. Nixon, but in sleeping too much. The original sluggard. No more imagination than an amoeba."
   "In the workshop of the cosmos it had been decreed that he should stalk with open eyes among the lame, the halt, and the blind."
   "Murder will out, but it was never hindered by a bit of judicious investigation . . ."
   "The essence of any investigation, General, is the question of how many possibilities you can eliminate."
   "You know, there's a fat-bellied little god who watches over such as me."
   "When you spend half your life in jungles, the civilized moralities lose their edge."

- REFERENCES: ~ "in Mrs. Post's book": An allusion to Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home by Emily Post (1922; Wikipedia HERE).
~ "get that Wimpole Street expression off your face": Speaking to Leonie Barrett, Ellery is employing a pun about a famous street in London: "The most famous resident was the poet Elizabeth Barrett, who lived at 50 Wimpole Street with her family from 1838 until 1846 when she eloped with Robert Browning. The street became famous from the play based on their courtship, The Barretts of Wimpole Street." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "All I know about the greenwood tree is that it's something in As You Like It and a novel by Thomas Hardy": "Under the Greenwood Tree: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School is a novel by Thomas Hardy, published anonymously in 1872. It was Hardy's second published novel, the last to be printed without his name, and the first of his great series of Wessex novels. Whilst Hardy originally thought of simply calling it The Mellstock Quire, he settled on a title taken from a song in Shakespeare's As You Like It (Act II, Scene V)." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "her red hair flowing behind her like a pennon": "The pennon is a flag resembling the guidon in shape, but only half the size. It does not contain any coat of arms, but only 
crests, mottos and heraldic and ornamental devices." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "She was seated defensively astride the sunset gun": Defined as "a cannon fired at 
sunset or as part of the ceremony of lowering the flag at the end of a day." — Merriam-Webster Dictionary (HERE).
~ "like an excited gamine": "A gamine is a slim, elegant young woman who is, or is perceived to be, mischievous, teasing or sexually appealing." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "this gun, like all guns which fire salutes, uses 'blank' ammunition": "A blank is a type of firearm cartridge that contains gunpowder but no projectile (e.g. bullet or shot), and instead uses paper or plastic wadding to seal the propellant into the casing. When fired, the blank makes a flash and an explosive sound (report), and the firearm's action cycles from the recoil, but the wadding propelled from the barrel quickly loses kinetic energy and is inca-
pable of inflicting any damage beyond an immediate distance." — Wikipedia (HERE).

- Our latest encounters with Ellery Queen were in the form of their radio play, "The Adventure of the Mouse's Blood" (HERE), and before that an audio script adapted to the short story, "The Adventure of the Dead Cat" (HERE).


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

"Those People Sound Like They're Programmed for Murder"

TWENTY YEARS, give or take, before the birth of Christ, the Roman poet Horace lamented, "Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We, their sons, are more worthless than 
they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt"—which, after 
reading today's story, sounds disturbingly like prophecy . . .

By Tom Purdom (born 1936).
Illustration by Leo Summers (1925-85; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, October 1967.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (19 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; slow load; scroll down

to text/PDF page 61).
     "The trouble with unlimited education is that knowledge, per se, bears no correlation with judgment."

Suddenly a hostage situation, but not the kind you might expect: "In the yard of the house itself, in front of the main entrance, a boy was sitting on top of a small elephant. Two dragons were sitting on their haunches with their wings raised and a gorilla and two watchtigers were pacing on the grass." And, despite appearances, they're serious: "Back off, Coppy. Beat it. We've got three hostages and we're armed. Don't push us. We aren't playing . . ."

Major characters:
~ The dispatcher:

  "The reports are coming in now. Ten to twelve children have taken the Rice family hostage."
~ Charley Edelman:
  "The genetic engineers had turned lizards into dragons, but they hadn't turned Charley Edelman into St. George."
~ Helen Fracarro:
  ". . . a girl whose soft, romantic face would have made a Spanish cavalier howl with frustration . . ."
~ Tim Rice:
  "We've been planning this thing for months."

- Thomas Edward Purdom has been publishing SFF since the fifties; there's plenty of info at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), his own webpage (HERE), and the concise bibliography
at the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line:

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Double Dose of Jim Thompson

   "Every once in a while I learn that maybe honesty's the best policy. Maybe you'll learn that yourself someday."

"Blood from a Turnip."
By Jim Thompson (1906-77).
Illustration by Anthony Saris (1924-2011).
First appearance: Collier's, December 20, 1952.

Short short short story (1 page).
Online at SFFaudio (HERE; PDF).

     "There on his palm, coated with the unmistakable tarnish of sixty years, lay a small, jeweled strip of metal . . ."

Another biter gets bit . . .

~ Al:

  "What a stinking way to make a living! I was thinking this, like always, as I walked into Duffy's."
~ Duffy:

  "When you have a lousy day, it's your tough luck, and he laughs in your face. And when 
you do find gravy, it's Duffy who really collects, and laughs all the harder."
~ Tulsa Slim:
  ". . . he grabbed up the bills and turned toward the door, like he was scared Duffy might change his mind."

~ ~ ~
   ". . . the system rocked right along, permitting no errors, working perfectly. At least, it always had worked perfectly until now."

"The Flaw in the System."
By Jim Thompson (1906-77).
First appearance: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 1956.
Reprinted in EQMM (U.K.), July 1956 and EQMM (Australia), October 1956.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; PDF; scroll down to 
text page 116/PDF page 118).
     "He was the friendliest, kindliest looking man you ever laid eyes on, 
and he conned only the toughest, hardest, most foolproof installment 
houses in the business. That was the mystery. But how can anyone 
explain the unexplainable?"

Sometimes the system is its own worst enemy, and maybe that's a good thing . . .

~ The man with the worn suit, frayed necktie, and scuffed shoes:

  "He was a dead-beat but, legally speaking, he wasn't a crook."

~ The unnamed narrator:
  "It was like I had to do it to prove something. That I was a person—a human 
being, not just part of a system."
~ Dan Murrow:
  "Dan was our credit manager."

~ Dorrance:
  ". . . however sharp and tough you were, Dorrance was a lot sharper and a lot 
tougher. He had his eye on you all the time, and he made sure you knew it."
- Like Herman Melville, James Myers Thompson had to die before he achieved much recognition for his body of work, with Hollywood eagerly adapting some of his stories; Wikipedia (HERE) tells us:

   "Thompson's stories are about grifters, losers, sociopaths and psychopaths—some at the fringe of society, some at its heart—their nihilistic world-view being best-served by first-person narratives revealing a frighteningly deep understanding of the warped mind. There are few good guys in Thompson's literature: most of his characters are abusive or simply biding time until an opportunity presents itself, though many also have decent impulses.
   "Despite some positive critical notice, only after his best years as a writer did Thompson achieve a measure of fame. Yet that neglect might stem from his style: the crime novels are fast-moving and compelling but sometimes sloppy and uneven. Thompson wrote quickly (many novels were written in a month); using his newspaper experience to write concise, evocative prose with little editing."

- Thompson's IMDb filmography with twenty-one credits is (HERE).

The bottom line:

Friday, November 22, 2019

"It Had Shattered Against Something in the Body"

"A Scraping at the Bones."
By Algis Budrys (1931-2008).
Illustration by Nick Zules (HERE).
First appearance: Analog, May 1975.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; scroll down to magazine page 136).

     "What is the motive for murder in a world where everyone is equal?"

Somebody somewhere arrogantly believes they've gotten away with murder—and so they have, until Ned decides to pay a visit to the grieving widow. "It was funny," he says, "how 
it all fell together . . ."

~ Charles Castelvecchio, deceased:

  "He's still doing business; we reviewed his phone calls. He was part of a story conference half an hour ago."
~ Johnson, the Panorama Tower Wastes Processing foreman:
  "Well, you sure as hell look young to me, to be handling something like this all by yourself."
~ Ned Brosmer:
  "That's right, I do."
~ George Holmeir:
  "I never heard of an MO like this. You're gonna be breaking new ground. They'll give it your name at the Academy—every time it ever comes up again, they'll call it a Brosmer. It'll be good for you when you're tired enough to apply for sergeant."
~ Vermiel:
  "Good heavens, Officer, I don't know every Tom, Dick and Harry who lives here!"
~ Timothy Fortnum:
  ". . . smiled from very far away."
~ Martita Fortnum:
  ". . . sat down at the foot of the circular stairs, one hand over her eyes, the other wandering idly . . ."
~ Dorrie:
  "She reached behind her to fully opaque the window wall."
~ Laurent Michaelmas:
  ". . . nodded. There was a slight flicker."

- The usual reliable places have plenty of data about Algirdas Jonas Budrys: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

- It has been over three years since our last meeting with Budrys, specifically his story, "Blood on My Jets" (HERE).

The bottom line:
  "Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television."
  — Allan Stewart Konigsberg


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

"One After the Other, Day After Day, My Men Have Been Murdered"

"Hard Sell."
By Craig Rice (Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig, 1908-1957).
(According to FictionMags, this story was "ghost written by Lawrence Block"; q.v. HERE).
First appearance: Ed McBain's Mystery Book, January 1960.

Collected in Murder, Mystery and Malone (2002; for sale HERE).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; PDF; scroll down to magazine page 74/PDF page 76).

     "Four magazine salesmen were dead—and the big problem, Malone told himself, was how to avoid solving the case."

There was a time when people selling periodicals door-to-door ranked in popularity right down there with used car salesmen, but even Malone has to admit this is going too far . . .

~ John J. Malone:

  "Sounds like murder. But I'm sure the police can take care of it."
~ Joe the Angel:
  "You don't look so hot."
~ Frank Gunderson:
  "Malone, I don't want to sound paranoid."
~ Harold Cowperthwaite:
  "Malone sighed, wishing the little man wouldn't talk exclusively in exclamation points."
~ Von Flanagan:
  "They should kill every last one of them."
~ Charlie Stein:

  ". . . a useful little man who served as Dun and Bradstreet for a world far removed from 
Wall Street . . ."
~ Max Hook:
  "Why kill somebody who owes me money? That doesn't make sense, Malone."

- FictionMags credits Craig Rice and Stuart Palmer with co-authoring 6 Hildegarde Withers adventures for EQMM (1950, 1951, 1954-55, 1959, and 1963) and Rice by herself producing 35 John J. Malone short stories, novelettes, and novellas for EQMM, Baffling Detective Stories, Manhunt, Nero Wolfe Mystery Magazine, The Saint Detective Magazine, Double-Action Detective, Suspect Detective Stories, and AHMM (1943-60), in addition to 5 novels with him and today's posthumous story.
- Kevin Burton Smith fills us in on John J. Malone:

   "Call it screwball noir, call it hard-boiled farce, call it whatever you want comedy, but very few writers have managed to combine the hardboiled detective novel and comedy. Jonathan Latimer succeeded with Bill Crane, Norbert Davis had a good long run with it and Craig Rice did it with JOHN J. MALONE, her ne'er-do-well bibulous attorney.
    "Despite being billed as 'Chicago's noisiest and most noted criminal lawyer,' Malone acts more like a private eye than a member of the court. And a particularly hard-drinking private eye, at that. Despite a rep for courtroom pyrotechniques, he's far more likely to be found at Joe the Angel's City Hall Bar than in any court.
   "Along with his boozing buddies, Jake Justus and Helene Brand (later Justus), an affable young couple, he drank his way through a whole slew of novels and short stories, not to mention later film, radio and television appearances. Seemingly inept and irresponsible, he nevertheless somehow (luck of the Irish?) managed to crack the case every time.
  "Even if his methods were a wee bit, uh, unorthodox, and his interpretation of the law rather elastic. Malone always seems less interested in going to trial than in playing P.I."
   — Kevin Burton Smith, "John J. Malone," The Thrilling Detective Web Site (HERE).

Frank Lovejoy played Malone on ABC radio, 1947-51.
- Craig Rice's nonfiction crime writing benefitted from her skills at fiction; see (HERE) for a couple of examples. She was also featured in the Summer 2019 issue of Old-Time Detection (HERE; item 3).

Monday, November 18, 2019

"Time Is a Malevolent Killer That Tries to Eradicate Us When We Jaunt"

"The Snatchers."
By Edward McDermott (?-?).
First appearance: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March-April 2017.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (9 pages as a PDF).
Online at Baen Books (HERE).

     "Max makes his living as a snatcher, jaunting back through time to 
retrieve Valuables for paying clients. He was in on the retrieval that 
brought Shakespeare back to twenty-second century. Only he never 
saw a penny on that retrieval. But this new job sounds easier, if not as 
promising. He’ll be jaunting back to WWII in an attempt to retrieve a 
famous French author-turned-flying-ace before he goes missing in 
action. A relatively simple task. But time itself is the Snatcher’s ene-
my. And the clock is ticking . . ."

Like they say, "Time and tide . . ."

~ Max, the narrator:

  ". . . I was looking for another jaunt. Maybe this one would be the big payoff. The 
right successful snatch could let me retire forever. Big risks, big rewards."
~ Eric Walker:
  "Max, I have a proposition for you."

~ The Valuable:
  "Nichole and I found him already dressed in his flight suit, reading a book."
~ Claude:
  ". . . stared at me, the sadness in his eyes."
~ Nichole:
  "Do you actually believe there’s an intelligence trying to destroy us?"

- REFERENCES: ~ "when the library of Antioch burnt to the ground.": Wikipedia (HERE) tells us: "The Royal Library of Antioch was destroyed in 363 A.D. by the Christian Emperor Jovian, who 'at the urging of his wife, burned the temple with all the books in it with his concubines laughing and setting the fire,' which greatly displeased the citizens of the city as they could only watch angrily as the collection went up in smoke."

~ "a Free French attaché": The Free French were "the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle during the Second World War and its military forces, that continued to fight against 
the Axis powers as one of the Allies after the fall of France." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "a Stars and Stripes correspondent.": "an American military newspaper that focuses and reports on matters concerning the members of the United States Armed Forces." Wiki-
pedia (HERE).
~ "the Yanks called the island U.S.S. Corsica": "In November 1942 the island, following the Anglo-American landings in North Africa was occupied by Italian and German forces. After 
the Italian armistice in September 1943, Italian and Free French Forces pushed the Germans out of the island, making Corsica the first French Department to be freed. Subsequently, the 
US military established 17 airfields, nicknamed 'USS Corsica', which served as bases for 
attacks on targets in German-occupied Italy." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "the enemy was German, but Vichy France was a close second . . . might serve Pétain": Nazi-occupied France (Wikipedia HERE) and its Chief of State (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "method acting": "a range of training and rehearsal techniques that seek to encourage sincere and emotionally expressive performances". — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "A B-26 Martin Marauder touched down.": "After entering service with the United States Army aviation units, the aircraft quickly received the reputation of a 'widowmaker' due to 
the early models' high accident rate during takeoffs and landings." — Wikipedia (HERE).
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900 to 1944 [presumed]) was extremely famous in his day for 
his writings, especially The Little Prince (1943); like Glenn Miller five months later, he had 
the dubious distinction of disappearing without a trace in an airplane; see Wikipedia (HERE) for more.
- Edward McDermott has been publishing short SFF since 2007, "The Snatchers" being 
his eleventh story (see "Reprints page," above, and the FictionMags Index).
- Max and a character from The Orville have a lot in common (The Orville Wiki HERE; SPOILERS).
- We featured a couple of time travel adventures just this past summer (HERE).

Friday, November 15, 2019

"Mr. Shrig Became So Extremely Attracted by This Small Pile of Fallen Cigar-Ash That He Plumped Down Upon His Knees Before It, Much As If in Adoration"

IT'S WELL KNOWN that John Dickson Carr had a yen for stories set in more glamorous (to him, anyway) times, especially the Regency and Georgian Periods, when swashbuckling adventure seemed to be around every corner. Jeffery Farnol was even more susceptible to wanting to buckle a swash and specialized in fiction set in those eras (see "Resources" below). Today's story features shrewd Bow Street Runner Jasper Shrig, a character Farnol featured in novels and at least one short story beginning in 1912; "Footprints" was a nar-rative that Ellery Queen (the editor) couldn't pass up.


   "I was the last to speak with him, the last to see him alive—"
   "No, Miss Adele, ma'm, the last to see 'im alive was the man as killed him."

By Jeffery Farnol (1878-1952).
First appearance: Britannia and Eve, May 1929.

Reprinted in Collier’s, May 11, 1929; The Grand Magazine, March 1933; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 1946; and EQMM (Australia), March 1949.
Short story (15 pages as a PDF).
Online at Fadedpage (HERE; no illos) and UNZ (PDF; starting HERE and finishing HERE, scroll down to page 44; 2 fuzzy illos).
     "Who killed Sir Gregory Glendale? Jasper Shrig had to find out quickly; but clues were so scarce that he had to help make them himself . . ."

What a coincidence! Two murders, both of them in the very same place on the very same day a year apart, with suspicion falling on the very same individual. Of course, it's all far, very far, from a coincidence . . .

~ Corporal Richard Roe, late of the Grenadiers:

  "The big corporal, who had faced unmoved the horrors of Waterloo, blenched at the thing 
in the chair which death had smitten in such gruesome fashion amid the comfort of this luxurious room."
~ Jasper Shrig of Bow Street:
  "Ay, 'e's pretty considerable dead, I never see a deader, no! And yet, in spite o' the gore, 'e looks werry surprisin' peaceful ... werry remarkably so! ... Killed by a downward stab above the collar-bone, lookee, in the properest place for it.... A knife or, say a dagger and same wanished ..."
~ Adela Glendale:
  "Oh, be kind to me now, believe in me now ... for tonight ... it has happened again ... horrible! Oh, God help me, it has happened again!"

~ John Winton:
  "What new horror is this—?"
~ Roger Glendale:
  ". . . I'm a log! I'm Death-in-Life, a living corpse, live brain in dead body—look at me!"

Concise phraseology that sets the scene:

   "A stately chamber whose luxurious comfort was rendered cozier by 
the bright fire that flickered on the hearth with soft, cheery murmur; 
and before this fire a great, cushioned chair from which was thrust a 
limp arm that dangled helplessly with a drooping hand whose long, 
curving fingers seemed to grope at the deep carpet."

~ "late of the Grenadiers": A grenadier was "originally a specialized soldier, first established as a distinct role in the mid-to-late 17th century, for the throwing of grenades and sometimes assault operations. At that time grenadiers were chosen from the strongest and largest soldiers. By the 18th century, dedicated grenade throwing of this sort was no longer relevant, but grenadiers were still chosen for being the most physically powerful soldiers and would lead assaults in the field of battle. Grenadiers would also often lead the storming of fortification breaches in siege warfare, although this role was more usually fulfilled by all-arm units of volunteers called forlorn hopes, and might also be fulfilled by sappers or pioneers." — Wikipedia (HERE).

~ "the hand lost at Waterloo": Considering who he was fighting, he's lucky he didn't lose more than that. — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "a occasional chimbley-pot": "A chimney pot is placed on top of the chimney to expand 
the length of the chimney inexpensively, and to improve the chimney's draft. A chimney 
with more than one pot on it indicates that multiple fireplaces on different floors share 
the chimney." — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "I don't quite twig you": A Briticism still in use: "to look at; observe", "to see; perceive," 
or, most likely here, "to understand." — (HERE).
~ "his own glass of the 'One and Only'": A toddy. — (HERE).
~ "clapped hand to fob-pocket": Part of men's fashion for centuries and an incriminating detail in our story. — Wikipedia (HERE).
~ "the delicate Sèvres cup and saucer": A French specialty as well as another clue.
Free Dictionary (HERE).
- Although Jasper Shrig is a fictional character, the Bow Street Runners were real enough:

   "The Bow Street Runners have been called London's first professional 
police force. The force originally numbered six men and was founded in 
1749 by magistrate Henry Fielding, who was also well known as an author. Bow Street runners was the public's nickname for the officers, 'although 
the officers never referred to themselves as runners, considering the term 
to be derogatory' [Ruthven quote]. The Bow Street group was disbanded 
in 1839."
   — "Bow Street Runners," Wikipedia (HERE).

- According to Fadedpage (HERE), John Jeffery Farnol was "a British writer since 1907 
until his death, known for writing more than 40 romance novels, some formulaic and 
set in the Georgian Era or English Regency period, and swashbucklers, he with Georgette Heyer founded the Regency romantic genre." More information: A Wikipedia article is 
(HERE), The Jeffery Farnol Appreciation Society webpage is (HERE), and The Jeffery 
Farnol Pages are (HERE).
- The Saturday Review characterized one of our protagonist's book-length adventures 
this way:

   "Jasper Shrig is a sort of a nineteenth century Sherlock Holmes. Thrilling events follow each other with the startling rapidity of machine gun fire on a still night. The hero’s villainous Uncle is found with a dagger run through his throat. Shrig is almost strangled to death in a subterranean passage. A ghost walks. Young David, the hero, knocks out several Goliaths with his American trained fists, and beautiful girls are often in peril of their virtue."
   — The Saturday Review, April 4, 1925

- Shrig starred in ten novels (1913-52), two of which are available at Fadedpage: The Loring Mystery (1924; HERE; filmed in 1964: HERE) and Waif of the River (1952; HERE; his last book).
- In addition to "Footprints," we also highlighted Farnol's "The Shadow" and "The Rook" in a posting a few years ago (HERE).

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"I Have Repaired the Machine, Suh"

YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD the expression "a license to print money," but who needs a license when you have . . .

"The Money Machine."
By Clee Garson (David Wright O'Brien, 1918-44).
Illustration by Robert Fuqua (1905-59; HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, March 1943.

Reprinted in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1943.
Novelette (44 pages as a PDF).

Online at Roy Glashan's Library (RGL) (HTML HERE;
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)

     "The bigger the burg, the dumber the lambs."

Some lambs, though, aren't so easy to fleece . . .

~ Bert (the narrator):

  "I was beginning to have ideas."
~ Mindy:
  "Stop it, stop it. I hate to see a sharp mind like yours going to pieces this way!"
~ Nick Faroni:
  "It's your business, Bert. I can't tell you anything about how to run it. You seem to be doing well enough. But—in Chicago, such a simple gag—"

~ Col. Amos Marsh:
  "You see, suh, considering my age, and the probable number of years left to me, I estimated that I should need thirty or thirty-five thousand dollars to live out the rest of my life . . ."

- REFERENCES: ~ "They were about as big as a comptometer": "the first commercially successful key-driven mechanical calculator" (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "there weren't any Elevateds within two miles": "An elevated railway (also known as an El rail, El train or simply an El for short, and, in Europe, as an overhead railway) is a rapid tran-sit railway with the tracks above street level on a viaduct or other elevated structure (usually constructed from steel, cast iron, concrete, or brick)." (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "It gives me confidence, that zoot": "a men's suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders". (Wikipedia HERE).

~ "He didn't do anything according to Hoyle.": A reference to an English card sharp: "Edmond Hoyle was a writer best known for his works on the rules and play of card games. The phrase 'according to Hoyle' (meaning 'strictly according to the rules') came into the language as a reflection of his generally perceived authority on the subject; since that time, use of the phrase has expanded into general use in situations in which a speaker wishes to indicate 
an appeal to a putative authority." (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "I did some vocal jujitsu with myself all over the room": A metaphor referencing a martial art: "Japanese jujutsu systems typically put more emphasis on throwing, pinning, and joint-locking techniques as compared with martial arts such as karate, which rely more on strik-
ing techniques." (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "steamer trunks of the sort that spelled Rhett Butler": Maybe you've heard of him (Wiki-pedia HERE).
~ "Grant might have had carried into town when he took Richmond.": A reference to a Union general and the capital of the Confederacy (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "It was like nothing Midas ever dreamed of.": The man with the golden touch (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "Confederate currency": "By the end of 1863, the Confederate dollar (or 'Greyback', to distinguish it from the then-new 'Greenback' paper US dollar, which was likewise put in-
to circulation during the war) was quoted at just six cents in gold, and fell further still." (Wikipedia HERE).
- It hasn't been so long since we regarded another science fantasy narrative by David Wright O'Brien (HERE).

Monday, November 11, 2019

"Each of the Three Planes Crashed Exactly One Hour After It Took Off"

BECAUSE OF A SERIES of low-budget films, Hugh Wiley's James Lee Wong is known today to far more people through that medium than he was even in his heyday in print (20 stories for Collier's, 1934-38 and 1940; 3 for Blue Book, 1940-41); Wong was personified in five cash-challenged movies (1938-40) by the great Boris Karloff and in one extra (1940) by an authentic Chinese actor, the also great Keye Luke. Today's story is Wiley's third from last adventure featuring James Lee (the "Wong" being omitted), a U.S. Treasury agent on the trail of . . .

"The Fourth Messenger."
By Hugh Wiley (1884-1968).
Illustrations by Austin Briggs (1908-73).
First appearance: Blue Book, May 1940.

Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "That famous Chinese-American G-man known as James Lee here deals with a most spectacular crime."

With three mysterious plane crashes in close succession, we'd do well to remember 
Auric Goldfinger's remark, "They have a saying in Chicago: Once is happenstance. 
Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."

Major characters:
~ James Lee:

  "Bring me a drafting-board and a protractor, a couple of triangles, a scale and 
a straight-edge."
~ Chandler Hill:
  "Is this a Black Hand letter?"
~ Yut Sung:
  "Under cover, the old Chinaman had for long years played an important role 

in the complex politics of his native land."
~ The garage-man:
  "Mister, she must of landed like a ton of brick!"
~ Riley:
  "Five or six of them were evidently under cover."
~ Wilbur:

  "The terminal boys heard from that pilot forty minutes after he took off, and 
that was the last message."
~ Grace Howard:
  "There's a mystery angle to her that I never knew before."

- REFERENCES: "he came on the China Clipper": According to Wikipedia (HERE): "The 

Pan Am Boeing 314 Clippers brought exotic destinations like the Far East within reach 
of air travelers and came to represent the romance of flight." (Trivia: The aircraft that 
crash in our story could be Boeing 247Ds, which, unlike the DC-3 and the Stratoliner, 
had accommodations for only ten passengers; the Blue Book artist, however, elected 
to depict a DC-3.)
~ "training flyers for Chiang Kai-shek": Wikipedia (HERE) says, "Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) was a Chinese nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 
and then in Taiwan until his death."
~ "written with a thin brush in the Hing Shu or running hand": The stubbed article at (HERE) tells us that Xingshu is "a semicursive Chinese script that 
developed out of the Han dynasty lishu script at the same time that the standard 
kaishu script was evolving (1st–3rd century A.D.). The characters of xingshu are not abbreviated or connected, but strokes within the characters are often run together."
~ "there is a Chinese method of torture known as the Thousand Deaths": A reference to Lingchi (Wikipedia HERE).
- The always reliable FictionMags Index has a Hugh Wiley bibliography (HERE), while Fandango (HERE) has a concise article about him, and the IMDb (HERE) has a filmog-
raphy; for more about the movies, also consult Robert W. Finnan's page (HERE).
- Wikipedia (HERE) has an entry about James Lee Wong, and a comprehensive article about him can be found on The Thrilling Detective Web Site (HERE). (Apart from being adapted to movies in 1929, 1930, and 1946, we can't find out anything about Wiley's other series charac-ter, Wildcat, who appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, 1919-26, 1931-32, and 1934) [FictionMags data].

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Distilled Water, Jumper Cables, and Packs of Sulphuric Acid Were All Over the Room"

"The Tomkins Battery Case."
By Bud Sparhawk (born 1937).
Illustration by Doug Beekman (born 1952; HERE).
First appearance: Analog, August 1976.

Short story (11 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archive (HERE; to speed things up, you might want to dowload the entire issue; scroll down to magazine page 123).

     "New developments in society can be defined as new raw material for neuroses."

We can confidently anticipate that in the future our descendants will undoubtedly encounter, and have to deal with, novel and unpredictable addictions, but without meaning to George manages to get in way ahead of the curve . . .

~ Arthur Coggins:

  ". . . could tell that the small, middle-aged woman wanted a divorce when she walked through the door of his office."
~ Eleanor Tomkins:
  "Oh dear. I don't know where to start."
~ George Tomkins:
  ". . . one fine day a poorly designed bridge section had collapsed and crushed poor George's legs to a pulp."

~ Gwendolyn:
  "You mean sex, eternal triangles, drunken orgies, wild weekends and all that?"

- REFERENCES: "the thick Axminster on the floor": So luxurious, you hate to walk on it (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "Reefers are there near your elbow": A term of unknown origin for rolled marijuana cigarettes (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "the penlites in his pockets": A dated reference to certain types of batteries (Popular Science HERE).

~ "a golden glass of Haig in her hand": Whisky (Wikipedia HERE).
~ "the caduceus of the Federal Medical Corps": According to Wikipedia (HERE), "The modern use of the caduceus as a symbol of medicine became established in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century as a result of documented mistakes, misunderstandings and confusion."

- "The Tomkins Battery Case" was John C. Sparhawk's first published story: "Prior to this sale," he says, "I’d written about 20-25 non-salable stories." The Wikipedia article about him is (HERE) and the SFE entry (HERE), his homepage is (HERE) and weblog (HERE), and the ISFDb bibliography is (HERE).