Saturday, May 30, 2020

"As I Have Mentioned Dogs, I Might Add That My Fondness for Them Led to the Discovery of the Murderer"

"Poor Joe."
By Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1975).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, June 20, 1920.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE; select page 48 from the dropdown menu).
     "I had been detailed to repair flooring and stairs and watch an Irish setter that seemed to be out of sorts. A rather tame assignment, I thought."

. . . but with traces of crime gradually rising to the surface as time passes, this "rather tame assignment" takes a sinister turn; ultimately, it remains for a mute witness to point out the murderer . . .

Major characters:
~ "Poor Joe":
  "No one knew his name. Because of his constant reiteration of poverty and his apparent destitution, he was known as 'Poor Joe'."
~ Cullen:
  ". . . the man detailed on the case . . ."
~ "the chief":
  "Just forget you ever had anything to do with this office."
~ Spencer, the narrator:
  ". . . I did feel as though someone had tied a handkerchief over my eyes and told me to 
sit still and wait until I found out why I had been blindfolded."
~ Mr. Sperry:
  "Do you like dogs?"
~ Miss Stark:
  ". . . I think she had resented my calling at the front door."
~ John Stark:
  "The door closed and a big, swarthy man in corduroys and carrying a shotgun questioned 
my presence with a keen glance and a quick shifting of his eyes to the woman."
~ Sheila:
  "She seemed to want to tell me something—or, at least, that is what I thought then. I am positive of it now."
Typo: "It was about to glance round".

- Hercule Poirot also had to deal with a mute witness to unveil a concealed murder (IMDb HERE) and (SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE).
- Henry Herbert Knibbs's short fiction career started out near the top in The Smart Set in 1914 and ran for 28 more years until 1942, the majority of his stories appearing in The Popular Magazine, Adventure, and Short Stories, with only a few of them featuring his continuing cowboy series characters The Tonto Kid (1934-35) and Slim Akers (same). FictionMags's thumbnail: "Poet and novelist. Born in Clifton, Ontario; died in La Jolla, California."

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"In That Instant, a Terrible Surge of Fear Came Over Him at the Thought of Killing His Own"

"The Fastest Draw."
By Larry Eisenberg (1919-2018).
(a.k.a. "The Marvelous Marshal").
Illustration by [George] Schelling (born 1938; HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, October 1963.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (9 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     "I guess it never can come out just exactly as I want it to."

When there's an empty place in your soul it's hard to fill it . . .

Principal characters:
~ Amos Handworthy:
  "I have a very vivid imagination."
~ Manny Steinberg:
  "Already he was becoming aware of the depression that followed his engineering triumphs."
~ The Marshal:
  ". . . stared at him out of sightless painted blue eyes, his mechanical hand resting 
stolidly on his gun."
Typos: "Many had lost interest"; "the Marshal become's".
- "the Mephisto waltz": "The Mephisto Waltzes are four waltzes composed by Franz Liszt from 1859 to 1862, from 1880 to 1881, and in 1883 and 1885. Nos. 1 and 2 were composed for orchestra, and later arranged for piano, piano duet and two pianos, whereas nos. 3 and 4 were written for piano only. Of the four, the first is the most popular and has been frequently performed in concert and recorded." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Unlike many science fiction/fantasy writers, Lawrence Eisenberg actually had scientific training, so it isn't surprising that his best-known character was a boffin:

  "Many of Eisenberg's stories feature his character Professor Emmet Duck-
worth, a research scientist and two-time winner of the Nobel Prize. Duck-
worth's 'bright ideas seem great at first but always end in disaster' with 
one of the professor's many inventions being 'an addictive aphrodisiac 
clocking in at 150,000 calories per ounce—along with a propensity to turn those taking it into walking bombs.' A number of the Duckworth stories 
were collected in Eisenberg's short story collection, The Best Laid Schemes, published in 1971 by MacMillan." (Wikipedia HERE). Also see the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).


Saturday, May 23, 2020

"My Dear Sweet Wife Murdered Me This Noon"

HERE IS ANOTHER engrossing narrative from that impossible crime specialist Joseph Commings, as a would-be murderer and her paramour encounter a . . .

"Ghost in the Gallery."
By Joseph Commings (1913-92).
First appearance: Ten Detective Aces, July 1949.
Collected in Banner Deadlines (2004).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text is badly faded but readable.)
     "I killed him! I'm rid of him, Borden! I did! I did!"

Somebody's been killed all right, but he isn't the only one . . .

Major characters:
~ DeWitt Carewe:
  "He was a monster. I realize that now."
~ Linda Carewe:
  "Later when Senator Banner was investigating the murder, he described her as having 
a fascinating frame and a head full of brown follow-me-lad curls. Her eyes, as long as an 
Egyptian queen's, darted with fright."
~ Borden Argyll:
  ". . . an anemic artist with tortoise shell glasses and a scrubbed face. But he was young. 
That was all that mattered to Linda."
~ Phyllis Remington:
  "Your model!"
~ George Honeywell:
  ". . . founder and director of the Galleries."
~ Officer Coyne:
  "'Tis the divil hisself!"
~ Senator Brooks U. Banner:
  "He knew that to her he looked like a slovenly archangel who enjoyed consorting with blackguards. He was a King Kong in size with a mop of grizzled hair and black-lead 
eyebrows. His string tie looked greasy, as if it had trailed in his soup. And it had."

Typo: "let's grant that that".

- "He's probably playing bezique there": "The game [bezique] achieved its greatest popularity in Paris by 1860 and in England a few years later. Perhaps the most famous proponent of the game was Winston Churchill, an avid player and early expert of Six-Pack, or 'Chinese' Bezique. There is some evidence that the English writers Wilkie Collins and Christina Rossetti were also enthusiasts. However, since the late nineteenth century the game has declined in popularity." (Wikipedia HERE). It's more likely, though, that Banner was playing pinochle (Wikipedia HERE).
- "playin' snooker": "Snooker is a cue sport that originated among British Army officers stationed in India in the second half of the 19th century. It is played on a rectangular table covered with a green cloth (or 'baize'), with pockets at each of the four corners and in the middle of each long side. Using a cue stick and 21 coloured balls, players must strike the white ball (or 'cue ball') to pot or pocket the remaining balls in the correct sequence, accumulating points for each pot. An individual game (or frame), is won by the player scoring the most points. A match is won when a player wins a predetermined number of frames." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a Siwash outfit": "worthless, stingy, or bad." (The Free Dictionary HERE).
- "the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence": Elementary, no? "In geometric optics, the angle of incidence is the angle between a ray incident on a surface and the line perpendicular to the surface at the point of incidence, called the normal. The ray can be 
formed by any wave: optical, acoustic, microwave, X-ray and so on." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Our latest encounter with rumbustious Brooks U. Banner was a few weeks ago (HERE).

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"Something Poked Into My Back and I Knew It Wasn't a Lollypop"

IN THE 1930s and '40s crime stories with cabdrivers (both men and women) as protago-
nists seem to have enjoyed a vogue, but as far as we've discovered Eando Binder might be the first—and for all we know—the last writer to set his cabby's criminous adventure among that tantalizingly tenuous collection of flying mountains commonly called the asteroid belt,
in a hard-boiled pastiche called . . .

"Double or Nothing."
By "Eando Binder" (Otto Binder, 1911-74; HERE).

Illustration by Wallace Saaty (HERE).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1942.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

     "I can rob a bank in one place, and I can be having a chat with a copper in another, both at the same time."

As we've remarked before, there's a technological arms race going on all the time between the authorities and the criminal classes; Dr. Petrie's new gadget, unfortunately, promises to tip the balance in favor of the bad guys . . .

Principal characters:
~ Carl Mallow:

  "When you see Dr. Petrie, tell him to have his furniture ready for removal."
~ Dr. Petrie:
  ". . . we'll send police there to rescue you."
~ Miss Petrie:
  "I waited long enough to see her eyes flash like blue jewels at me."
~ Scarface:
  ". . . a hard-looking hombre with a pair of twisty lips and a scar across his temple."
~ Moonhead:

  "His gun wavered from one to the other of us, as though he wasn't sure which one 
to plug in case we attacked."
~ Joe Lake, our narrator:
  "A chunk of solidified helium that once was my heart sank down toward my feet."

Comment: If we remember that true science fiction is more than just a shoot-'em-up 
with whiz-bang tech, does our narrative pass muster as SFF? Yes, it does—barely. One requirement is for the story to explore how a technological development affects society, 
and this one qualifies.

- The asteroid belt: ". . . is a torus-shaped region in the Solar System, located roughly between the orbits of the planets Jupiter and Mars, that is occupied by a great many 

solid, irregularly shaped bodies, of many sizes but much smaller than planets, called asteroids or minor planets. This asteroid belt is also called the main asteroid belt or 
main belt to distinguish it from other asteroid populations in the Solar System such 
as near-Earth asteroids and Trojan asteroids." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "Ceres": Among the stories that we've already encountered in our quest for mashups of crime and science fiction set on or near Ceres are Edmond Hamilton's "Murder Asteroid" (HERE) and Miriam Allen deFord's "Murder in the Transcontinental Tunnel" (HERE).
- "a curio shop on Ganymede": For SFF scribes a default venue. "Ganymede's size made 
it a popular location for early science fiction authors looking for locations beyond Mars 
that might be inhabitable by humans. In reality, Ganymede is a cold, icy, cratered world 
with a vanishingly thin atmosphere." See Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- "Juno's colorful markets": "3 Juno is a large asteroid in the asteroid belt. Juno was the 
third asteroid discovered, in 1804, by German astronomer Karl Harding. It is the 11th-largest asteroid, and one of the two largest stony (S-type) asteroids, along with 15 Eunomia. It is estimated to contain 1% of the total mass of the asteroid belt." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "Like a movie frame, the human eye sees any flickering faster than thirty-two times a 
second as continuous and solid." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a sixty-cycle electric light": "The utility frequency, (power) line frequency (American En-
glish) or mains frequency (British English) is the nominal frequency of the oscillations of alternating current (AC) in a wide area synchronous grid transmitted from a power station 
to the end-user. In large parts of the world this is 50 Hz [cycles per second], although in 
the Americas and parts of Asia it is typically 60 Hz [cycles per second]." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a Martian spider-silk evening gown": Spiders on Mars? Not likely. (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "as deserted as Pluto": It's still a planet to us. (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "a fire on Mercury": A hot spot for sure. (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "hightailing for Neptune": Are there diamonds there? If so, Scarface might be interested. (Wikipedia HERE).
- We've encountered Otto Binder (a.k.a. "Eando Binder") stories on several occasions: 

"The Moon Mines" (HERE), "Static" (HERE), and "Adam Link, Robot Detective" (HERE).

Friday, May 15, 2020

"The Black Button Was a Harmless Thing, but It Represented a Speeding Limousine Filled with Desperate Gangsters"

POLICE PROCEDURES from eighty-six years ago, surprisingly enough, haven't really changed all that much; here's a story told from the other side of the microphone . . .

"The Radio Patrol."
By James Perley Hughes (1883-1969).

First appearance: Blue Book, June 1934.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     "A stirring drama of metropolitan police work."

It's great when you can outwit the bad guys by remote control . . .
Major characters:
~ Operator Harry Cassidy, Joe Halpin, Captain Michael McNab, and the Commissioner.

Photo by Berenice Abbott.
- "It's another Lindbergh or McMath case.": Sensational kidnapping crimes of the era. Lindbergh (1932): Wikipedia (HERE); McMath (1933): The Boston Globe (HERE) and 

eFootage (HERE; good luck).
- "Meantime teletype machines were buzzing.": They go back a surprisingly long way in history. "A teleprinter (teletypewriter, teletype or TTY) is an electromechanical device 
that can be used to send and receive typed messages through various communications channels, in both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint configurations. Initially they were used in telegraphy, which developed in the late 1830s and 1840s as the first use of elec-
trical engineering, though teleprinters were not used for telegraphy until 1887 at the ear-
liest." (Wikipedia HERE and The History of Policing in the City of New York HERE).
- "Street call boxes": Necessary before radio and cell phones. "Police call boxes were installed in large cities beginning in the 1880s and continuing until the 1960s. They 
were used by officers that 'walked a beat.' Officers were required to 'pull a box' every 
hour to confirm they were on patrol, to report crimes, to request a 'paddy wagon' for 
the transportation of prisoners and to receive information from dispatch. With the 
invention of two-way radios and most recently cell phones, police call boxes have 
become a thing of the past. Police call boxes utilized two technologies: telegraph 
and telephone." (Law Enforcement Services HERE).
- The FictionMags Index (HERE) lists a large collection of stories by James Perley Hughes starting in 1921 and ending nearly thirty years later in 1952; in between he was published in both the slicks like Blue Book and the pulps, including Argosy All-Story, War Birds and Sky Birds (he produced quite a lot of aviation yarns), and Western Story Magazine, but relatively few crime stories. Among the last he had a couple of series tecs who didn't last long: Mort Holborn, 4 adventures for Gold Seal Detective, 1935-36; and Ted Bosworth, 2 stories for Secret Agent X, 1936.
- Hughes's grave is in the United States, but his remains are elsewhere: "Although his third wife had a headstone placed here [Bay County, Florida], he actually moved to Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico and married again to Berta Solis. He died August 10, 1969 and was buried 
at the cemetery general, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico." (Find a Grave HERE).

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

"There's Enough Arsenic in There To Depopulate New Jersey"

"Dalrymple's Equation."
By Paul W. Fairman (1909-77).

Illustration by W. E. Terry (1921-92; HERE).
First appearance: Imagination, June 1956.

Short story (12 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)

     ". . . a seemingly perfect crime."

Is it possible to reduce a killing into a mathematical equation and use it to catch the one responsible? Dalrymple thinks so—but there's reason to believe that Dalrymple isn't fully compos in his mentis . . .

Principal characters:
~ Arthur Davis:
  "Deader than a lamp post for my money."
~ Timothy Garver:
  ". . . looked like a flabby-jowled ghost."
~ Kinder and Walpole:
  ". . . probably forgot what tavern they'd been in because they didn't return."
~ Dalrymple:

  "There was just something about him you took an instant dislike to and the dislike 
stayed with you."
~ Donovan:
  "The snearing little son-of-a—"
~ Kennedy:
  "It's the not knowing that gets you. The wondering. Thinking sometimes one way 

and sometimes the other. But never knowing for sure."

Typos: "Thats right"; "Lets go"; "Stilll".

- "the now famous Brinks holdup": It was "the crime of the century" and the "inspiration" for at least four films. "The Great Brink's Robbery was an armed robbery of the Brink's Building at the east corner of Prince St. and Commercial St. in the North End of Boston, Massachu-
setts on January 17, 1950. Today the building is a parking garage located at 600 Commercial Street.
  "The $2.775 million ($29.5 million today) theft consisted of $1,218,211.29 in cash and $1,557,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. It was then the largest robbery in the history of the United States, and remained so until 1984. The robbery, skillfully execu-
ted with few clues left at the crime scene, was billed as 'the crime of the century.' It was the work of an eleven-member gang, all of whom were later arrested." (Wikipedia HERE).

- Concerning Paul Warren Fairman, consult the usual reliables: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
In Einstein's own hand.
- Our initial encounter with Paul Fairman's SFF was "I'll Think You Dead!" (HERE).

Friday, May 8, 2020

"He Had Brains"

By Allan K. Echols (1896-1953; FictionMags HERE).

First appearance: Thrilling Mystery, Fall 1943.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "BLUFF! That was the answer."

Sometimes the obvious solution is the best one . . .

Major characters:
~ Uncle Benny:

  ". . . sat at his watch repair desk until exactly nine o'clock before locking his 
store and going to his bachelor quarters at the rear of the narrow building."
~ Tony:
  "I'm your husband and I've been here all evening."
~ The uniformed cop:
  "Do you live here?"
~ Mary Webster:
  "Oh, I thought it was—"

- Known primarily for his Western novels and short stories (the latter, intermingling 
with crime stories, running to two full pages in the FictionMags Index), Allan Krech 
Echols was born in Texas and buried in Oklahoma (HERE)
- Our first encounter with Echols was nearly five years ago when we featured "The 
Unseen Death" (HERE).

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"The Pain of Something Wet and Hot Stinging the Wound in His Shoulder Roused Him"

IN 1941 science fiction and fantasy writers fondly imagined the surfaces of Venus and Mars as places where people could run around in shirt sleeves; if only . . .

"Pin the Medals on Poe."
By F. Anton Reeds (?-?; FictionMags HERE and the ISFDb HERE).

Illustration R. Isip (1911-79; HERE).
First appearance: Astonishing Stories, September 1941.

Short short story (6 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "I figured there was only one place in Midland City that you could see three people from other worlds and not get suspicious . . ."

It's as plain as the grox stains on your face . . .

Principal characters:
~ Police Chief Xenophon Marks, of the W.B.I.:
  "Reading again, eh, Dugan?"
~ Inspector Eddie Dugan:
  "This is a book of stories by a fellow named Edgar Allan Poe."
~ Patrolman Quinby Cobb:
  ". . . whose failure to observe small and seemingly unimportant details had often kept him from promotion in the past, did not notice the grim lines at the corners of the inspector's mouth."
~ James Winthrop, Chief of the W.B.I.:
  ". . . stood smiling into the visa-plate . . ."
~ Pher Nor:
  ". . . made a successful break from the prison mines at Navvar, Venus; walking unmolested through the gates marching two other prisoners before him at the point of a deadly pneu-

matic handgun."

Typos: "Xenophone Marks"; "a searing, nausceating pain".

- Apart from the name he used here (what did the "F" stand for, we wonder), Reeds also wrote SFF under the byline of "Anthony Riker"; as you can see, his bibliography isn't what could be called extensive.
- "by the magic of cunningly-concealed light transformed from strips of painted carnival scenery to the black reaches of outer space.": Unlike the one in our story, an amusement park "spaceship" that proved to be more than anyone thought was featured in an Outer Limits episode, "Second Chance" (IMDb HERE).

Friday, May 1, 2020

"While You Were Gone, We Had a Murder"

IMPOSSIBLE CRIMES were a specialty of our author, and while he does push the envelope of plausibility in today's story, it could work—if you don't think about it too much . . .

"The Black Friar Murders."
By Joseph Commings (1913-92; HERE).

Senator Brooks U. Banner (here named "Mayor Thomas Landin") No. 4.
First appearance: Ten Detective Aces, January 1948.

Collected in Banner Deadlines (2004; reviewed HERE and HERE).
Novelette (17 pages).
Online at starting (HERE) and finishing (HERE).

     "He left the cell at will and roamed in the night, seeking blood."

A woman who knows too much is murdered in a classic locked room situation by none other than, if legend is to be believed, an evil monk who lived and died centuries ago; further complicating matters is another killing coming close on the heels of the first one. What started out as an innocent invitation to Thanksgiving dinner will likely end up in a double funeral—with possibly more to come, unless this mad, murderous spectral monk can be stopped first . . .

Major characters:
~ Viki Martinique:

  ". . . vice queen, the notorious Lavender Lady."
~ Eric Bayne:
  "He's the man with no face."
~ Carrie Ponzi:
  "I know who Eric Bayne is."
~ Alonzo Ponzi:
  "You know, the cloister is haunted."
~ Pam Thackery:
  "A friend of Carrie's. Pam's staying with us."
~ Sherry McCord:
  "I don't wanna stay here any longer than I have to."
~ Ben Dolan:
  "In that getup he looked like a low-budget movie director's dream of the perfect sleuth."
~ Friar App:
  "The tangle of black hair growing on the backs of his hands and fingers made them look 

like two five-legged tarantulas plucking at the sides of his habit."
~ Mayor Thomas Landin:
  ". . . they use me for transfusions to bloodhounds."

Comment: This is how to do an impossible crime story right—plenty of suspects.

Typo: "we'll know all we'll ever have know".

- "a program for Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Le Coq d'Or": Not the usual lady's purse item. 

"The Golden Cockerel is an opera in three acts, with short prologue and even shorter epilogue, composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, his last opera he completed before his death in 1908. Its libretto written by Vladimir Belsky derives from Alexander Pushkin's 1834 poem The Tale of the Golden Cockerel. The opera was completed in 1907 and premiered in 1909 in Moscow, after the composer's death. Outside Russia it has often been performed in French as Le coq d'or." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the role of Octavian in productions of Der Rosenkavalier": One of Richard Strauss's comic 
operas. "The opera has four main characters: the aristocratic Marschallin; her very young lover, Count Octavian Rofrano; her brutish cousin Baron Ochs; and Ochs' prospective fiancée, Sophie von Faninal, the daughter of a rich bourgeois. At the Marschallin's sugges-tion, Octavian acts as Ochs' Rosenkavalier by presenting a ceremonial silver rose to Sophie. However, the young people fall in love on the spot, and soon devise a comic intrigue to extricate Sophie from her engagement. They accomplish this with help from the Marschallin, who then yields Octavian to the younger woman." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "illicit sugar selling": Thanks to wartime rationing; see The Saturday Evening Post online 
From a 1945 newspaper
- "Sherry shook a parson's nose at him": A case where culture and the culinary arts 
intersect. "The term 'parson’s nose' comes from the idea of an arrogant English 
parson having 'his nose in the air' like a chicken’s rear. If you’re wondering, it’s the 
butt of every joke." (Food Republic HERE).
- Steve Lewis has a recent review of Joseph Commings's most famous impossible 
crime story, "The X Street Murders" (HERE), while TomCat at Beneath the Stains 
of Time focuses on our author's "Serenade to a Killer" (HERE).
- We've already featured Commings's uncharacteristically hardboiled "Gems Glow 
with Blood" (1950; HERE).