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.)

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