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.

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