Thursday, February 27, 2020

"Though the Whole Aspect of It Was Remarkably Clear, Instinctively One Scented a Mystery Somewhere"

FLAMBOYANT LAWYERS ARE not a new thing in detective fiction—Melville Davisson Post's (HERE) Randolph Mason (HERE) springs immediately to mind—and they weren't a 
new thing when the Baroness Orczy evolved Patrick Mulligan near the start of the 20th century, but we can still enjoy contemplating their peregrinations; consider, for instance . . .

"The Murder in Saltashe Woods."
By Baroness Orczy (Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orci, 1865-1947; Wikipedia HERE).

Illustrations by Oscar Wilson.
Skin o' My Tooth No. 1.
First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, June 1903.
Collected in Skin o' My Tooth (1928); for sale (HERE).

Short story (10 pages; 3 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

     "The letter . . . Kelly . . . Edward . . . the other."

The death of a local worthy at the hands of someone who had just quarreled with him seems 

to be easily explained by an unexpected posthumous letter from the deceased naming the person who might want to murder him and the fact that the accused was seen in the vicinity 
at the time of the crime and doesn't deny it; for Skin o' My Tooth, a.k.a., Patrick Mulligan, 
the case "could not very well be more hopeless"—except for that discordant matter of the dog . . .

Major characters:
~ The late Jeremiah Whadcoat:

  ". . . was not known to possess a single enemy, and he certainly was not sufficiently endowed with worldly wealth to tempt the highway robber."
~ Amelia Whadcoat, his sister:

  ". . . knew nothing of her brother's quarrel with Mr. Edward Kelly. She did not even 
know that he was going to Saltashe Woods on that fatal afternoon."
~ The coroner:
  "Wilful murder against Edward St. John Kelly."
~ Edward Kelly:
  "This is damnable!"
~ Mrs. Kelly, Edward's sister-in-law:

  "He is innocent, Mr. Mulligan. I swear he is innocent. You don't know him. He never 
would do anything so vile."
~ Mr. Kelly, Edward's brother:
  "I suppose that you came here to-day for the express purpose of setting a trap for 
my wife; and she fell into it, poor soul!"
~ "Rags":
  ". . . speaks in dumb eloquence in his master's condemnation."
~ Skin o' My Tooth, a.k.a. Patrick Mulligan:
  "I am going to get Edward Kelly out of the hole his own stupidity has placed him 
~ Mullins:
  "It will be by the skin of his teeth if you do, sir; the evidence against him is posi-

tively crushing."

Typo: "motionlessly figure".

  "I always take it for granted, Mr. Kelly, that my client is innocent. If the reverse 
is the case, I prefer not to know it."
  "In all cases of this sort, my dear sir, the great thing is to keep absolutely cool."
  "Justice never miscarries—at least, when I have the guidance of it in my hands."
  "I am not a detective . . ."

- There's more than a passing resemblance between Patrick Mulligan and Anthony Gilbert's Arthur Crook (HERE); David R. Eastwood's customer review on (HERE) nicely summarizes the Skin o' My Tooth stories (excerpts):

  "Baroness Orczy's SKIN O' MY TOOTH: HIS MEMOIRS BY HIS CONFIDENTIAL CLERK (1928), a collection of 12 cases of her fat, bald Irish detective-lawyer named Patrick Mulligan, opens with a kind of joke: on the title page are the words 'compiled and edited by the Baroness Orczy.' Thus, at the outset, she wryly pretends to adopt the role that fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories had assigned to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as they pretended that Holmes and Watson were real people. And her final story in this collection is an 'homage' to Conan Doyle by being an undisguised 'variation' on the early Holmes-Watson case 'The Greek Interpreter' (THE STRAND, Sep. 1893).

  . . . "Some of these stories are 'adventures' with little detection that readers can test their wits with; others are 'adventure-puzzles,' which allow us to make fairly informed guesses; and a few are first-rate Fair-Play Puzzles.
  . . . "Most of these stories are quite good. The narrator or 'Watson-Figure' is named Alexander Stanislaus Mullins, but his 'chief,' Patrick Mulligan (nick-named 'Skin o' my Tooth'), enjoys calling him 'Muggins' for fun, as in this sarcastic quip: 'Your penetration, Muggins, my boy, surpasses human understanding.'
  . . . "As I've pointed out in reviews of Orczy's other collections of mysteries, she (like other writers, including Conan Doyle) occasionally recycled her plots and plot-gimmicks. None of this bothered me: I have enjoyed detecting and observing how she changed characters and settings to make something different—like a composer writing variations on favorite themes . . ."

Some of Eastwood's other reviews on are (HERE).
Here are the other (known) Skin o' My Tooth (Patrick Mulligan) stories. (Note: When linking to Project Gutenberg Australia, you might have to scroll down several times.)

  2 - "The Case of the Polish Prince."
  Illustrations by Oscar Wilson.
  First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, July 1903.
  When collected, title changed to "The Case of the Sicilian Prince."
  Short story (10 pages; illos).
  Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  3 - "The Case of Major Gibson."
  Illustrations by Oscar Wilson.
  First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, August 1903.
  Short story (9 pages; illos).
  Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE).

  4 - "The Duffield Peerage Case."
  Illustrations by Oscar Wilson.
  First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, September 1903.

  Short story (10 pages; illos).
  Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  5 - "The Case of Mrs. Norris."
  Illustrations by Oscar Wilson.
  First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, October 1903.
  Short story (9 pages).
  Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  6 - "The Murton-Braby Murder."
  Illustrations by Oscar Wilson.
  First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, November 1903.
  Short story (10 pages).
  Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  7 - "A Shot in the Night."
  Illustrations by Oakdale.
  First appearance: Pearson’s Magazine, November 1927.
  Online at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  8 - "The Hungarian Landowner."
  First appearance: Unknown.
  Short story.
  Online at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  9 - "The Kazan Pearls."
  First appearance: Unknown.
  Short story.
  Online at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  10 - "The Inverted Five."
  First appearance: Unknown.
  Online at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  11 - "The Turquoise Stud."
  First appearance: Unknown.
  Short story.
  Online at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

  12 - "Overwhelming Evidence."
  First appearance: Unknown.
  Online at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE; no illos).

For a background article about Baroness Orczy in the leadup to Lady Molly's appearance in Cassell's, see:

  "Women As Detectives."
  By A(lfred) B(enjamin) Cooper (1863-1936).
  First appearance: Cassell's Magazine, May 1909.

  Article (9 pages).
  Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

"Such a Murder Could Be Done with Safety"

"Sanatoris Short-Cut."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Magnus Ridolph No. 2.
First appearance: Startling Stories, September 1948.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Mathematics is the weapon of Magnus Ridolph when he combats a pirate of space!"

Proving how someone committed a crime while he was apparently somewhere else at the time (in other words, alibi breaking) can be a daunting task for anyone going up against a clever criminal, but Magnus Ridolph is up for it . . .

Major characters:
~ Acco May:

  ". . . a man linked in the public imagination to a thousand crimes."
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "I have been arrested for hooliganism."
~ Commander Efrem, of the T.C.I.:
  "In other words, you want his hide."
~ Rock, Herb, Corvie, and Steuben:
  ". . . the boys . . ."

Whiz-bang science:
   "He then pointed out that the fastest a ship can go in free space, c²/e³, is 42½ light-years a day, which totaled almost nine days, with a rock-bottom minimum of two-days acceleration and two days deceleration."
   ". . . comprehensive cerebral correction . . ."

- It would appear from our story that galactic gambling dens in science fiction—and that includes overblown Hollywood productions—aren't really something original after all:

   "Fan, the Pleasure-Planet, was a world slightly outside the established edge of the Commonwealth, but not so far that the Terrestrial Corps of Intelligence lacked authority; and it was to Fan that Magnus Ridolph came after a program of research in connection with telepathy had exhausted his funds. Mylitta, chief city and space-port, occupied the tip of a fertile peninsula in the warm region of the planet, and here was the Hall of Doubtful Destiny, operated by Acco May, together with the lesser casinos, bordellos, taverns, restaurants, theaters, arcades, and hotels."

- "he was going off more toward Alcyone": A.K.A. Eta Tauri. "Approximately 440 light years from the Sun, it is the brightest star in the Pleiades open cluster . . ." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Our first encounter with galactic troubleshooter Magnus Ridolph is (HERE).

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"There Is No Such Thing As a Mystery in Connection with Any Crime, Provided Intelligence Is Brought To Bear Upon Its Investigation"

WHEN IT COMES to how a crime actually occurred, good investigators are almost entirely dependent on eyewitness testimony for confirmation and seldom resort to their imaginations to explain things; however, in today's story, imagination ("intelligence," insists our armchair sleuth extraordinaire), buttressed by a few known facts, is used to the max to help solve . . .

"The Fenchurch Street Mystery."
By Baroness Orczy (Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orci, 1865-1947; Wikipedia HERE).
The Old Man in the Corner No. 1 (SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE).

First appearance: The Royal Magazine, May 1901.
Reprinted many times, including Vincent Starrett's Fourteen Great Detective Stories.
Collected in The Old Man in the Corner (1908; HERE).
Short story.

Online at Hathi Trust (8 pages; HERE; 5 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (13 pages; no illos); broken into three parts (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE) (all HTML).
     "I never for a moment ventured to suggest that there were no mysteries to the police; I merely remarked that there were none where intelligence was brought to bear upon the investigation of crime."

It's worth repeating that, as Cornell Woolrich observed, love is spontaneous, but any murderer with malice aforethought hoping to get away with it should always think ahead: "What careful planning, what painstaking attention to detail, goes into extinguishing 
a man's life! Far more than the hit-or-miss, haphazard circumstances of igniting it."

Major characters:
~ Polly Burton:
  "She was a personality, was Miss Burton of the Evening Observer."
~ The Old Man:

  "Polly thought to herself that she had never seen any one so pale, so thin, with such funny light-coloured hair, brushed very smoothly across the top of a very obviously bald crown. He looked so timid and nervous as he fidgeted incessantly with a piece of string; his long, lean, and trembling fingers tying and untying it into knots of wonderful and complicated propor-
~ Karl Müller, William Kershaw, Francis Smethurst:
  One of these men is dead, one of them is his killer, and one is a dear friend.
~ Mrs. Kershaw:
  "She would not look at the prisoner, and turned her head resolutely towards the magistrate. 
I fancy she had been fond of that vagabond husband of hers: an enormous wedding-ring encircled her finger, and that, too, was swathed in black. She firmly believed that Kershaw's murderer sat there in the dock, and she literally flaunted her grief before him."
~ Sir Arthur Inglewood:
  " . . . is the most fashionable man in the law at the present moment. His lolling attitudes, 

his drawling speech, are quite the rage, and imitated by the gilded youth of society."
Old Man-nerisms:
   ". . . my inclinations and my duty would—were I to become an active member of the detective force—nearly always be in direct conflict. As often as not my sympathies 
go to the criminal who is clever and astute enough to lead our entire police force by 
the nose."
   ". . . mind you, I am only an amateur, I try to reason out a case for the love of the 
thing . . ."
- "She had interviewed Miss Ellen Terry": A well-known thespian of the time. "Dame Alice Ellen Terry, GBE (27 February 1847 – 21 July 1928), known professionally as Ellen Terry, 
was a renowned English actress of the late 19th and early 20th centuries." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Bishop of Madagascar": "The Bishop of Madagascar was the Ordinary of the Anglican Church in Madagascar from 1874 until the Diocese was split into three in 1969." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Mr. Seymour Hicks": Another thespian. "Sir Edward Seymour Hicks (30 January 1871 – 
6 April 1949), better known as Seymour Hicks, was a British actor, music hall performer, playwright, screenwriter, actor-manager and producer. He became known, early in his 
career, for writing, starring in and producing Edwardian musical comedy." (Wikipedia 
- "the Chief Commissioner of Police": The top cop in London. "The Commissioner is regarded as the highest ranking police officer in the United Kingdom, although their authority is generally confined to the Metropolitan Police Service's area of operation, the Metropolitan Police District. However, unlike other police forces the Metropolitan Police has certain national responsibilities such as leading counter-terrorism policing and the protection of 
the Royal Family and senior members of Her Majesty's Government." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Marlborough House": Fancy digs. "It was built for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marl-borough, the favourite and confidante of Queen Anne. For over a century it served as 
the London residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. It became a royal residence 
through the 19th century and first half of the 20th." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Hotel Cecil": An actual hostelry. "The Hotel Cecil was a grand hotel built 1890–96 between the Thames Embankment and the Strand in London, England. It was named 
after Cecil House (also known as Salisbury House), a mansion belonging to the Cecil 
family, which occupied the site in the 17th century. The hotel was largely demolished 
in 1930 . . ." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Polly's adventures with today's sleuth were collected into three series: The Old Man in the Corner (8 stories, 1901-02), The Case of Miss Elliott (12 stories, 1904-05), and Unravelled Knots (13 stories, 1924-25).
- Our previous encounters with Baroness Orczy included features about her later collections, among them Skin O' My Tooth (1928; HERE), which is still under copyright interdict, and Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1910; HERE), which isn't.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

"Four Times, Now, a Man Has Been Killed in a Locked Room with No Opening Larger Than a Barred Four-inch Ventilator"

AN INTERESTING AMALGAM of private eye, spy, and slightly shady character placed into a science fictional setting would be what we like to call the galactic troubleshooter (which others term "an interstellar troubleshooter"—same thing), and no better example of such a character would be Jack Vance's Magnus Ridolph, who first appeared in a story called . . .

"Hard Luck Diggings."
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Magnus Ridolph No. 1.
First appearance: Startling Stories, July 1948.

Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE; go to page 145).

     "It's a homicidal maniac, no doubt as to that, but every time I think I've got him spotted, there's another killing."

Multiple murders at a planetary settlement development site, all following the same basic 
MO; it's up to Magnus Ridolph, with his orderly mathematical mind, to get at the root of 
the problem . . .

Major characters:
~ Captain Julic:

  "It's true, is it? We heard rumors in Starport, but I didn't—"
~ Superintendent James Rogge:

  "Do you know I've lost thirty-three men this last month? You'd be anxious yourself with 
two, three men strangled every day."
~ Magnus Ridolph, unofficially attached to the Terrestrial Intelligence Corps:
  "It is very clear. In fact, it is a logical necessity. You yourself would have arrived at the solution if you had manipulated your thoughts with any degree of order."

Comment: Once again the artist vitiates the mystery.

- The basic set-up of today's story puts us in mind of an original series episode of Star Trek (SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE; Memory Alpha HERE).
- John Holbrook Vance's fiction rivals—and sometimes surpasses—that of Ray Bradbury, especially with its sure grasp of language and SFF tropes; see the following: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the Library of Congress (HERE), Vance's webpage (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the few instances when Hollywood didn't ignore Vance, the IMDb (HERE).
- Magnus Ridolph appeared in 10 stories (ISFDb list HERE); also see The Thrilling Detective Website (HERE) for more background.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"The Easiest Way To Kill Anybody, As Every Cop Knows, Is To Stage a Convincing 'Accident'"

"The Scientist and the Bagful of Water."
Cyriack Skinner Grey No. 1.
By Arthur Porges (1915-2006).
First appearance: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 1965.

No reprints that we can find.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 55; slow load; faded text).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)

     "This isn't so involved that any normal person can't follow it. Simple scientific logic."

A couple of years before Raymond Burr's Ironside hit the small screen, EQMM editor Ellery Queen introduced us to the "first of a new series, carrying on the grand 'tec tradition of the howdunit . . .":

   "Meet Mr. Cyriack Skinner Grey, a new scientific sleuth and perhaps the first wheelchair (as distinguished from armchair) detective—at least the first wheelchair detective to appear in EQMM. And meet Lieutenant Trask, a sort of 'human shaggy dog.' And meet the immobilized detective's assistant—his 14-year-old son, with an I.Q. of 180, who serves as the scientist's legs . . ."

Major characters:
~ James Connors:

  ". . . was hit, so to speak, by a weight of over two hundred pounds falling one foot . . . Certainly enough to kill a man."
~ Preston Forbes Whitney:
  [Lieutenant Trask opines] "A little bag of water and a man's dead. It's pretty far-fetched, if you ask me, and awfully damned convenient for Preston Forbes Whitney, Junior."

~ Lieutenant Trask:
  ". . . tried to lose himself in the details of a new case, but his heart was still in the old one, hopeless as it seemed."

~ Cyriack Skinner Grey:
  ". . . before becoming a freelance crime consultant, Grey—a brilliant research scientist—had also taught graduate courses in physics."
~ Edgar Grey:
  ". . . the detective thought of Edgar as a likeable middle-aged genius, masquerading as a boy."

- "the 20-inch slide rule": How people did hard calculations before you-know-whats came along. "The slide rule, also known colloquially in the United States as a slipstick, is a mechanical analog computer. As graphical analog calculators, slide rules are closely related to nomograms, but the former are used for general calculations, whereas the latter are used for application-specific computations. . . . Before the advent of the electronic calculator, it was the most commonly used calculation tool in science and engineering. The use of slide rules continued to grow through the 1950s and 1960s even as computers were being gradually introduced; but around 1974 the handheld electronic scientific calculator made them largely obsolete and most suppliers left the business." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "It didn't seem possible for Pasteur to hit on a way": Thanks to him we can drink milk without too much concern. "His medical discoveries provided direct support for the germ theory of disease and its application in clinical medicine. He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contam-ination, a process now called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of bacteriology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch, and is popularly known as the 'father of microbiology'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Sleuths using up-to-date scientific methods go back a long way in the history of detective fiction, as you can see from Mike Grost's megasite (HERE). "A number of important individual tales using scientific detection were written from 1865 on. Scientific detection began to flourish, according to Dorothy L. Sayers, with L. T. Meade and Halifax's Stories From The Diary of a Doctor (1894). L. T. Meade is the first known writer to create a large number of stories whose solutions were fundamentally based on technology and science. After her came the science-based O'Malley tales of C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne, which were apparently never collected in book form, but which are turning up in anthologies, and the much longer lasting series of Dr. Thorndyke tales by R. Austin Freeman (no relation to Mary)." We've featured one of Dr. Thorndyke's adventures (HERE).
- Arthur Porges (FictionMags HERE) is legendary both among mystery aficionados for his impossible crime stories and among SFF fans for his science fiction, being entertaining in either genre; consult Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) for more about him.
- Cyriack Skinner Grey starred in an even dozen short stories (FictionMags data):

  (1) "The Scientist and the Bagful of Water," Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (EQMM), November 1965 (above)
  (2) "The Scientist and the Wife Killer," EQMM, January 1966
  (3) "The Scientist and the Vanished Weapon," EQMM, March 1966
  (4) "The Scientist and the Obscene Crime," EQMM, September 1966
  (5) "The Scientist and the Multiple Murder," EQMM, February 1967
  (6) "The Scientist and the Invisible Safe," EQMM, May 1967 (online HERE)

  (7) "The Scientist and the Two Thieves," Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM), 
June 1974 (online HERE)
  (8) "The Scientist and the Time Bomb," AHMM, August 1974 (online HERE)
  (9) "The Scientist and the Platinum Chain," AHMM, September 1974 (online HERE)
  (10) "The Scientist and the Exterminator," AHMM, November 1974 (online HERE)
  (11) "The Scientist and the Missing Pistol," Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, January 1975
  (12) "The Scientist and the Stolen Rembrandt," AHMM, February 1975 (online HERE).

- In the past we've featured other Porges narratives, most of them not of the impossible crime genus: "A Small Favor" and "No Killer Has Wings" (which is) (HERE); "Revenge" and "One Bad Habit", both SFF (HERE); and "Chain Smoker" (HERE). (As always, we regret that links might have gone dead in the interim, but it ain't our fault.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"What Some People Will Go Through To Try To Beat a Slot Machine"

FIRST CONTACT stories have been a staple of science fiction for over a century, with at least one television series being built around the idea; but today's narrative has to be the most offbeat first contact story that we have yet encountered, when our protagonists hit . . .

"The Cosmic Jackpot."
By George O. Smith (1911-81).
Illustration by [Vincent] Napoli (1907-81; HERE).

First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1948.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "His curiosity would probably kill him, but it might have killed him anyway. So— He pushed a lever . . . ."

Didn't Christopher Columbus set off looking for a shortcut to China? At least he had some idea of where he was headed; on the other hand Johnny Edwards, intrepid entrepreneur, doesn't have a clue . . .

~ Zintal:
  "Ve komacil weezro!"
~ Vorhan:
  "Obviously, Zintal, those coins came from some civilization extra-Martian."
~ Norma Harris:
  "Her hand came out quickly and she said, 'Oh!' in sharp surprise."
~ Johnny Edwards:
  "Me Johnny. Me good!"

- "It will be called a slot machine and it will be popular.": These days a bandit without arms. "A slot machine (American English), known variously as a fruit machine (British English, except Scotland), puggy (Scottish English), the slots (Canadian and American English), poker machine/pokies (Australian English and New Zealand English), or simply slot (British English and American English), is a casino gambling machine that creates a game of chance for its customers. Slot machines are also known pejoratively as one-armed bandits due to the large mechanical levers affixed to the sides of early mechanical machines and their ability to empty players' pockets and wallets as thieves would." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Is any house being heated with the power from the fission of uranium?": In 1948, no; 
today: "A nuclear power plant is a thermal power station in which the heat source is a 
nuclear reactor. As is typical of thermal power stations, heat is used to generate steam 
that drives a steam turbine connected to a generator that produces electricity. As of 
2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported there were 450 nuclear power 
reactors in operation in 31 countries. . . . Nuclear reactors usually rely on uranium to 
fuel the chain reaction." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Horatio at the Bridge": At one time a Macaulay poem that many a reluctant school child was required to memorize. "The story of 'Horatius at the Bridge' is retold in verse in the 
poem 'Horatius' in Lays of Ancient Rome by Thomas Babington Macaulay, which enjoyed great popularity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The details of the poem often vary from the traditional tale by poetic license. Winston Churchill wrote that while he 'stagnated in the lowest form' at Harrow, he gained a prize open to the whole school by reciting the whole 'twelve hundred lines' of 'Horatius'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "like the Lohengrin who sang the last aria too long": A reference to Wagner's opera, from which a universally recognized tune emerged. "Lohengrin, WWV 75, is a Romantic opera in three acts composed and written by Richard Wagner, first performed in 1850. The story of 
the eponymous character is taken from medieval German romance, notably the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach and its sequel Lohengrin, itself inspired by the epic of Garin le Loherain. It is part of the Knight of the Swan legend." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "an overly-wet world such as Terra": It all depends on what the neighborhood's like, doesn't it? "Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars due to low atmospheric pressure, which is less than 1% that of Earth's, except at the lowest elevations for short periods." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the constellation, Orion": Since Mars and Earth share the same solar system, the starry sky looks the same from both worlds. "Orion is a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous and recognizable constellations in the night sky. It is named after Orion, a hunter in Greek mythology. Its brightest stars are blue-white Rigel (Beta Orionis) and red Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis)." (Wikipedia HERE).
- First contact: ". . . is a common science fiction theme about the first meeting between humans and extraterrestrial life, or of any sentient race's first encounter with another 
one, given they are from different planets or natural satellites. The theme allows authors 
to explore such topics such as xenophobia, transcendentalism, and basic linguistics by adapting the anthropological topic of first contact to extraterrestrial cultures." (Wikipedia HERE).
- George Oliver Smith was an SFF fixture for a long time; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); Project Gutenberg's collection of Smith's works is (HERE).
- On two previous occasions we've featured Smith's enjoyable SFF-mystery mashup "The Undetected" (HERE) and hardcore SF baffler "Blind Time" (HERE).

Friday, February 7, 2020

Checking Into Hilton (and An Announcement)

TODAY'S AUTHOR is almost exclusively remembered for his work in the mainstream (leading to at least three Major Award-winning or -nominated film adaptations of his 
novels), so it may come as something of a surprise that he dabbled in crime fiction 
before hitting it big; one of his earlier efforts, known to the cognoscenti of our favorite 
genre as an "inverted," is . . .

"The Perfect Plan."
By James Hilton (1900-54).

First appearance: Britannia and Eve, September 1933.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1946 and July 1960; EQMM ("Overseas Edition for the Armed Forces"), March 1946; EQMM (Australia), November 1947 and September 1960; EQMM (U.K.), February 1961; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #13 (1967) and #60 (1989).

Short story (15 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (RGL; HTML; HERE).

     "He had always, since his school days, been interested in the science of crime, and never for a moment did he doubt his own capacity to do the job; 
it was merely a question of waiting until the perfect moment offered itself."

There's absolutely no mystery about who kills who or how or why, but there remains the looming question of will he get away with it? After all, "it was a comfort to realize that, by such simple means, he was fabricating an alibi that could be vouched for afterwards by hundreds of thousands of worthy folk all over the country" . . .

~ Sir George Winthrop-Dunster:

  "A well-known figure in the City" and victim of a bullet to the brain in the country.
~ Richard Winthrop-Dunster:
  Sir George's brother.

~ Inspector Deane:
  ". . . of the local force . . ."
~ Scarsdale:
  The personal secretary.
~ Fanning:
  The gardener.
~ Wilkes:
  The butler.
~ The announcer:
  . . . says more than he knows.

Comment: Another instance of an author employing a double in his plot, just as Dame Agatha did on more than one occasion.

- Three of James Hilton's short stories have seen republication in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM) over the years (FictionMags data):

  (1) "The Mallet," Hutchinson’s Story-Magazine, July 1929
      Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1942 and April 1988
      EQMM (Australia), July 1947
      TV adaptation (1950; SPOILERS: IMDb HERE).
  (2) "The Perfect Plan," Britannia and Eve, September 1933 (see above).
  (3) "The King of the Bats," Collier’s, July 3, 1937 (as "The Bat King") (online HERE)
      Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1953
      EQMM (U.K.), April 1953
      EQMM (Australia), May 1953. 

- James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon (1933; filmed in 1937; SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE, HERE, HERE; IMDb HERE) crossed the mainstream and fantasy divide, earning him listings with the Science Fiction Encyclopedia (SFE; HERE) and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb; HERE).
- Roy Glashan's collection of James Hilton's works is (HERE).
   Due to pressing personal situations beyond our control, we'll have to reduce our postings to (we hope) no less than one and no more than two per week at irregular intervals in the near future. You might have noticed that we've been doing three posts a week for quite a while now, but it simply isn't sustainable.
   We don't express our appreciation often enough to you regular ONTOS readers; we know you're out there even if you don't communicate with us much. We're a lurker on a good many other websites as well, so we can't complain.
   This weblog takes no advertising (time, effort, and money are entirely out-of-pocket), it answers to no one, and whatever we recommend (or criticize) is based purely on our own personal preferences.
   With that out of the way, as Number Six would say, "Be seeing you."


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Disappointing Failure

WE DON'T normally feature mystery crossovers with "horror" fiction because we feel the two genres don't really mesh well; today's story was written by an author who specialized in such mashups, but we regretfully report that the "horror" aspects of it are confined exclu-sively to how badly the writer and his editors messed it up in publication—to such an extent that you're more than justified in giving it a miss (see "Comments" below). It's the 19th ad-venture (out of 22) starring occult detective (minimized) Lucius Leffing, which goes by the name of . . .

"The Apple Orchard Murder Case."
By Joseph Payne Brennan (1918-90).

First appearance: Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, July 1975.
Novelette (16 pages; 3 illos).
Collected in The Chronicles of Lucius Leffing (1977; TOC HERE).
An earlier Lucius Leffing collection is The Casebook of Lucius Leffing (1973; TOC HERE).

A later collection is The Adventures of Lucius Leffing (1990; TOC HERE).
Online at (HERE).
     "The murder was brutal and entirely senseless."

Brutal it certainly was, but "entirely senseless"? No way . . .

Major characters:
~ Franklin Selk:

  ". . . was strangled in an apple orchard on the outskirts of Cresswood."
~ Mrs. Lorna Kelvin, the victim's sister:
  "In spite of my brother's faults and his way of life, I loved him—we all did—and we want a thorough investigation. It was a horrible way for a poor old man to die."

~ Lucius Leffing:
  "Well, Brennan, what is your opinion of the case?"

~ Brennan, the narrator:
  "I hate to be eternally pessimistic, but I think you've taken on a tartar this time! The odds against a successful solution would seem to be astronomical!"

~ Chief Warwick:
  "I know Mrs. Kelvin isn't satisfied with our investigation of old Franklin's death, but we've been as thorough as we know how. We just can't come up with a suspect or a motive. Everyone in town liked the old man."
~ Mrs. Conliff:
  "He was carrying the bag and they found him in the orchard. Everyone here knows he scrounged around the fields and orchards . . ."

Typo: "hit it from sight".
Comments: The Holmes-Watson dynamic is fully in play here, e.g., "Leffing's gas-lit Victorian living-room at Seven Autumn Street," the magnifying glass, "You know my methods, Brennan," and so forth—and, as is all too often the case with Doyle, fair 
play for the reader isn't a consideration. Other editorial errors: As far as we can tell, 
the killer is never properly introduced into the story and his name isn't even mention-
ed until the Reveal at the end, out of thin air; the whole thing seems unfinished, chop-
ped off at the end. A potentially good story marred by poor execution on everybody's 

- "the Lost Dutchman gold mine": Another fixture of popular culture. "The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine (also known by similar names) is, according to legend, a rich gold mine hidden in the southwestern United States. The location is generally believed to be in the Superstition Mountains, near Apache Junction, east of Phoenix, Arizona. There have been many stories about how to find the mine, and each year people search for the mine. Some have died on the search." (Wikipedia HERE). It was the entire subject of a memorable movie, Lust for Gold (1949; SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE and the IMDb HERE).
- "A 1913 Liberty-head nickel!": Be sure to check your change. "The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is an American five-cent piece which was produced in extremely limited quantities unauthor-
ized by the United States Mint, making it one of the best-known and most coveted rarities in American numismatics. In 1972, one specimen of the five cent coin became the first coin to sell for over US$100,000; in 1996, another specimen became the first to sell for over US$1 million. In 2003, one coin was sold for under three million dollars. In 2010, the Olsen piece sold for US$3.7 million at a public auction. Only five examples are known to exist: two in museums and three in private collections." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Information about Joseph Payne Brennan is freely available at Wikipedia (HERE), the IMDb (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- About Lucius Leffing, we have this from the Wikipedia article (HERE):

   In the tradition of the psychic or paranormal detective, Brennan introduced his character Lucius Leffing, a sarsaparilla-sipping occultist private detective and psychic investigator, who resides at Number 7 Autumn St, New Haven, and collects antique glass. The character first appeared in the story "The Haunted Housewife" (Macabre XII, Winter 1962-1963). Leffing was quoted, and briefly appeared at the end of the story "In The Very Stones" which appeared in Scream At Midnight (1963). Macabre published two more of his adventures ("Apparition in the Sun" and "In Death as in Life") before the series began to run in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, where a further thirteen tales appeared prior to the 1973 publication of The Casebook of Lucius Leffing.
   The stories comprising the Lucius Leffing canon are akin to the Holmes and Watson stories of Conan Doyle, and to the Solar Pons and Parker stories of August Derleth. In the stories, Leffing's adventures are chronicled by his protege and friend - Brennan himself. Three collections of Leffing stories, plus the novel Act of Providence (in which Leffing investigates the bizarre happenings at the First World Fantasy Convention) include all the stories in the series. Stefan Dziemianowicz has pointed out how Leffing's status as a psychic detective changed over time: "Leffing began life as a psychic detective, but after his third escapade, Brennan felt compelled to minimize the supernatural content of the stories to ensure their acceptance in the mystery/detective magazines. With the revival of the horror market in the 1980s, Leffing turned ghostbuster once again - a career move that mirrors Brennan's own resurrection in the horror mainstream following his years of exile in the small press".
   Frank Belknap Long explains that while there had been occult detectives before, "Lucius Leffing is in all respects unique. He seldom engages in drama-

tic confrontations on a mundane human plane, and he does not shout at the reader, his clients, or anyone else. But in his scholarly reserve and quietness there is a sagacity of a high order, a brilliance that blazes and sears and shatters the horrific as if it were a vessel of glass with the deadly precision 
of a rapier thrust. He has a comforting way with clients who come to him for help, for he is wise enough to know that the most fatal error a victim of dark and mysterious forces can make is to doubt his own sanity at the start. He questions nothing that he has been told until every aspect of a strangeness has been explored in depth."

- Here, courtesy of The FictionMags Index, are all of the (so far) known—and we hope better—Lucius Leffing stories. (Note: ss = short story; nv = novelette).

  (1) "The Haunted Housewife," (ss), Macabre #12 1962/’63
  (2) "Apparition in the Sun," (ss), Macabre #13 1963
  (3) "In Death as in Life," (nv), Macabre #14 1963/’64
  (4) "The Strange Case of Peddler Phelps," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1965
  (5) "Death Mask," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 1965
  (6) "Were You Searched?", (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, October 1965
  (7) "The Mystery of Myrrh Lane," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, December 1965
  (8) "Whirlwind of Blood," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, April 1966
  (9) "The Intangible Threat," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1966
  (10) "The Ransacked Room," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1966
  (11) "Death at Draleman’s Pond," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January 1967
  (12) "Death of a Derelict," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1967
  (13) "The Walford Case," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, May 1967
  (14) "The Enemy Unknown," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, January 1968
  (15) "The Dismal Flats Murder," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, November 1968
  (16) "Fingers of Steel," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, December 1970
  (17) "The Case of the Hertzell Inheritance," (nv), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, August 1974
  (18) "The Dead of Winter Apparition," (nv), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, February 1975
  (19) "The Apple Orchard Murder Case," (nv), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, July 1975 (above)
  (20) "The Murder of Mr. Matthews," (ss), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, July 1975
  (21) "Fear," (nv), Weird Tales #2, ed. Lin Carter, Zebra (1981) (online HERE)
  (22) "Observations on Lorimer Street," (ss), Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, May 1984.