Saturday, August 29, 2020

"It's Evident Some One Else Is in the Game, Too"

IF YOU GET a feeling of Holmesian déjà vu as you read today's story, you're not alone, as an Illinois-based amateur sleuth and his Watson work to explicate . . .

"A Chicago Teaser."
By Patrick B. Prescott, Jr. (?-?).
First appearance: Top-Notch Magazine, May 20, 1914.
Novelette (12 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Keep your eye on the shoes!"

What in the world would cause grown men and dogs to flounder around in the woods in seemingly pointless pursuit of one another, with no clear idea of why they're doing it? 
"R.F.", of course . . .

 Chapter I: "Without a Formality."
 Chapter II: "On the Trail with Fulsy."
 Chapter III: "Fulsy's Full Circle."
 Chapter IV: "One Pair, Ten Dollars."
 Chapter V: "The Small Brown Bottle."
 Chapter VI: "What Kelly Wanted."

Principal characters:
~ Gunsen, the Swedish butler:
  "A gentleman to see you, sir."
~ Hampton Braig:
  "There's usually more business than formality in that type. Show the gentleman in, Gunsen."
~ Ralph Flanagan:
  "Next minute the door swung open before a stockily built young man with a freckled, bulldog face and flaming hair, but with a spark of innate merriment in his alert blue eyes."
~ Charles Harding:
  ". . . my companion and coworker. The confidences of one are those of the other."
~ Ralph's father:
  "He was a detective of the Chicago police force from eighteen eighty-three to nineteen-two, when he retired, and lived on the income from his investments."
~ Tom Kelly:
  "He was a detective, too. It was on the force that dad met him. They were often detailed together, and so became pals. Kelly quit the force in nineteen-three."
~ Fulsy:
  "The animal sprang to the ground and wagged a friendly tail."

Again we have "the moment" when the light dawns:
  "Harding, Harding, what an idiot I've been! Oh, what an idiot I have been!"

Typo: "the lattter".

Comment: To judge from our story, Chicago has seen better days.

Resources and references:
- "over the sweltering city hung the acrid odor of great smelting foundries, mingled with the foul odor of the stockyards": Chicago was for a long time a center for heavy industry: "During World War I and the 1920s there was a major expansion in industry." (Wikipedia HERE). Stockyards: "From the Civil War until the 1920s and peaking in 1924, more meat was processed in Chicago than in any other place in the world." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "some rods behind us": A seldom used unit these days. "The rod or perch or pole (sometimes also lug) is a surveyor's tool and unit of length of various historical definitions, often between 3 and 8 meters. In modern US customary units it is defined as ​16 1⁄2 US survey feet, equal to exactly ​1⁄320 of a surveyor's mile, or a quarter of a surveyor's chain, and is approximately 5.0292 meters. The rod is useful as a unit of length because whole number multiples of it can form one acre of square measure." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the crossing policeman's whistle": Before traffic lights became common. (Wikipedia HERE).
- Patrick B. Prescott, Jr.'s FictionMags bibliography is remarkably short:
  (1) "The Dormitory Tragedy," Top-Notch, August 15, 1912
  (2) "A Chicago Teaser," Top-Notch Magazine, May 20, 1914 (above)
  (3) "It All Comes Out in the Mail," Top-Notch Magazine, July 15, 1916.
- We can't be certain, but we think our author might have been Patrick Benjamin Prescott, Jr. (1890-1945), a "lawyer, politician, and Judge of the Municipal Court," whose papers and those of his wife have been collected at The Chicago History Museum (HERE).
- Footwear and how it figures into a crime are also the focus of Leroy Yerxa's impossible crime yarn, "These Shoes Are Killing Me" (HERE).

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

"A Venomous Fellow, and a Strategist, As Well"

TODAY'S AUTHOR borrows heavily (or is it steals?) from history relatively recent events that would probably be within his readers' living memory as Ethredge and Peters confront 
. . .

"The Thing on the Floor."
By Thorp McClusky (1906-75).
Illustration by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
First appearance: Weird Tales, March 1938.
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (24 pages as a PDF).
Online at Wikisource (HERE).

     "Tales of men dying of loathsome diseases after willing him their money—tales of strange thefts and inexplicable gifts of which he seems invariably the beneficiary."

Holmes had Charles Augustus Milverton to contend with, but Ethredge and Peters struggle with a man even more contemptible—and far more dangerous . . .

  1. "Charlatan or Miracle-Man?"
  2. "The Spider and the Flies"
  3. "The Hypnotic Lamp"
  4. "The Stolen Jewels"
  5. "Ethredge Hears Startling News"
  6. "Ethredge Asks Help"
  7. "The Spider's Lair"
  8. "Stepan"
  9. "The Spider Spins"
  10. "A Little White Pellet"

Main characters:
~ Mary Roberts:
  "You are the Voice that Speaks from Beyond the Darkness. You are the Infallible One."
~ Police Commissioner Charles Ethredge:
  ". . . crouching across the servant's chest, his knees crushing the man's shoulders against the floor, nodded. . . ."
~ Detective-Lieutenant Peters:
  "And yet we are men, and when men meet a poisonous serpent they squash it . . . There might even be a certain poetic justice in the method by which this may most safely be done."
~ Helen Stacey-Forbes:
  ". . . believed, believed implicitly, that Dmitri could cure—cancer!"
~ Dmitri Vassilievitch Tulin:
  "The man was huge. At least six feet three inches tall, he was as tremendous horizontally as vertically. A mountain of flesh swathed in a silken lounging-robe, 
he slowly walked to the table, and settled, grunting, into the big oaken chair."
~ Mortimer Dunlop:
  ". . . his seamed face livid with rage, got hastily to his feet and strode to the center door. He jerked the door open, slammed it behind him as he stormed from the room."
~ Stepan:
  ". . . the slight, wholly undistinguished-appearing servant, had risen from the chair and was holding wide the door."
~ Mrs. Gregory (Priscilla) Luce:
  "And very clearly Priscilla Luce realized that the thief was someone they knew, someone they trusted. . . ."

Typos: "Suddenly, men"; "as [and] suddenly"; "tare instances"; "pher-tips" [no idea]; "the)' seemed" [they]; "Surprizingly"; "to feci a sick" [feel]; "I knoiv"; "packed (heir instruments"; "surprizing suddenness"; "dioking, rattling gasps"; "Dear-crazed".

Resources and references:
- "hemophilia": "Haemophilia is a mostly inherited genetic disorder that impairs the body's ability to make blood clots, a process needed to stop bleeding. This results in people bleeding for a longer time after an injury, easy bruising, and an increased risk of bleeding inside joints or the brain." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the twenty-years-dead Tsarevitch, and of a mad monk named Gregori Rasputin": Alexei Nikolaevich "of the House of Romanov, was the last Tsesarevich and heir apparent 
to the throne of the Russian Empire. He was the youngest child and only son of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. He was born with haemophilia, which his parents tried treating with the methods of faith healer Grigori Rasputin." (Wikipedia HERE). Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin "was murdered during the early morning on 30 December [O.S. 17 December] 1916 at the home of Felix Yusupov. He died of three gunshot wounds, one of which was a close-range shot to his forehead. Little is certain about his death beyond this, and the circumstances of his death have been the subject of considerable speculation." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "he's full of carcinoma": "Carcinomas occur when the DNA of a cell is damaged or altered and the cell begins to grow uncontrollably and become malignant. It is from the Greek: καρκίνωμα, romanized: karkinoma, lit. 'sore, ulcer, cancer' (itself derived from karkinos meaning crab)." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Enrico Caruso's speaking voice": One of the first universally recognized pop sensations, Caruso (1873-1921) "was an Italian operatic tenor. He sang to great acclaim at the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas, appearing in a wide variety of roles (74) from the Italian and French repertoires that ranged from the lyric to the dramatic. One of the first major singing talents to be commercially recorded, Caruso made 247 commercially released recordings from 1902 to 1920, which made him an international popular entertainment star." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the axiomatic law of physics which deals with the conservation of energy": "This law, first proposed and tested by Émilie du Châtelet, means that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Coué and Pavlov and your own J. B. Watson": Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie (1857-1926) "was a French psychologist and pharmacist who introduced a popular method of psychotherapy and self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion." (Wikipedia HERE). Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936) "was a Russian physiologist known primarily for his work in classical conditioning." (Wikipedia HERE). John Broadus Watson (1878–1958) "was an American psychologist who popularized the scientific theory of behaviorism, establishing it as a psychological school." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Mazda lamp": "Mazda was a trademarked name registered by General Electric (GE) in 1909 for incandescent light bulbs. The name was used from 1909 through 1945 in the United States by GE and Westinghouse." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "her hair was a miracle even François had seldom achieved": Inventor of The Marcel Wave. ( HERE).
- "to hear Tristan and Isolde": Wagner has always been popular. "Premiered in 1865, Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde depicts Tristan as a doomed romantic figure, while Isolde fulfils Wagner's quintessential feminine rôle as the redeeming woman." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a Cartier bracelet": "Cartier International SNC, or simply Cartier is a French luxury goods conglomerate which designs, manufactures, distributes, and sells jewellery and watches. Founded by Louis-François Cartier in Paris in 1847, the company remained under family control until 1964. King Edward VII of Great Britain referred to Cartier as 'the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "her subconscious": "In psychology, the subconscious is the part of the mind that is not currently in focal awareness." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Today's story is one of five that Thorp McClusky produced featuring his series characters Peters & Ethredge (FictionMags data):
  (1a) "Loot of the Vampire" (Part 1 of 2) (1936) in Weird Tales
  (1b) "Loot of the Vampire" (Part 2 of 2) (1936) in Weird Tales
  (2) "The Woman in Room 607" (1937) in Weird Tales
  (3) "The Thing on the Floor" (1938) in Weird Tales (above)
  (4) "Monstrosity of Evolution" (1938) in Amazing Stories
  (5) "Slaves of the Gray Mold" (1940) in Weird Tales.
- We recently encountered Thorp McClusky's story "Little Planet" (HERE).

Saturday, August 22, 2020

"There Must Be a Mystery, and the Writer Must Not Deceive the Reader"

"The Plot of the Detective Story."
By George Barton (1866-1940).
First appearance: The Writer, April 1920.
Article (2 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and below.

- FictionMags's thumbnail about George Barton: "Author,  journalist and historian. Born and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."
- Barton pretty much occupied the transitional period between Holmes's Gaslight Era and the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, often collaborating with William J. Flynn at Argosy in the '20s; Barton's solo series character was Bromley Barnes, appearing in The Blue Book (1909-10) and Adventure (1911-12) (FictionMags data), most of the stories being collected in The Strange Adventures of Bromley Barnes (1918):
  (1) "The Case of the Mutilated Bibles," The Blue Book Magazine, November 1909
  (2) "The Patient in the State-Room," The Blue Book Magazine, December 1909
  (3) "The Case of the Empty Envelope," The Blue Book Magazine, January 1910
  (4) "The Case of the Stolen Parrot," The Blue Book Magazine, February 1910
  (5) "The Case of the Missing Man-of-War," The Blue Book Magazine, March 1910
  (6) "The Case of the Kidnaped Lady," The Blue Book Magazine, April 1910
  (7) "The Girl with the Frightened Eyes," The Blue Book Magazine, August 1910
  (8) "The Case of the Haunted Card-Room," The Blue Book Magazine, September 1910
  (9) "The Case of the Tattooed Sailor," The Blue Book Magazine, October 1910
  (10) "The Case of the Amsterdam Antiques," The Blue Book Magazine, November 1910
  (11) "The Case of the Stolen Specie," The Blue Book Magazine, December 1910
  (12) "The Case of the Strange Book Buyers," The Blue Book Magazine, January 1911
  (13) "The Adventure of the French Captain," Adventure, October 1911
  (14) "The Adventure of the Anonymous Cards," Adventure, November 1911
  (15) "The Adventure of the Leather Bag," Adventure, December 1911
  (16) "The Adventure of the Old Chess-Player," Adventure, January 1912.
The Goodreads description (HERE) shows how Barton leaned heavily toward espionage and international intrigue:
  "Bromley Barnes was created by George Barton and appeared in a number of short stories.
  "Barnes is a retired government agent who had spent thirty years 'in the confiden-
tial employment' of the U.S. government, working for the Secret Service, as 'Chief of the Special Agents of the Treasury Department,' and then for private missions for the State Department.
  "He's an older man who is still physically vigorous but who is quite capable of solving difficult crimes. He's helped by Cornelius Clancy, his valet and assistant."

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

"My Decision To Kill Coralie Was Not a Sudden Thing"

HERE WE HAVE a variation on du Maurier with a strong nod to Poe, as an egomaniac's warped love engenders jealousy, culminating in the guilty, swirling darkness deep inside . . .

"The Cranberry Goblet."
By Harold Lawlor (1910-92).
First appearance: Weird Tales, November 1945.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (13 pages as a PDF).
Online at Wikisource (HERE).
     "Even if I lose, I'll win."

A battle of wills and wits in the grand HIBK tradition—with a stranger than usual twist . . .

Principal characters:
~ Michael Whittington:
  "I have a sister, Ann. An invalid since she was a child. She'll have to live with us."
~ Coralie Whittington:
  "You see, she's badly spoiled, I'm afraid."
~ Ann Whittington:
  "I'll spoil her, too!"
~ Mrs. Dunnigan:
  ". . . our housekeeper (and Coralie's willing slave) . . ."
~ Doctor Peter Haddon:
  "Deliberately, I'm afraid. But no one need ever know. And I thought it was kinder not to tell Michael."
- Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel, was successfully filmed by Alfred Hitchcock; see the Wikipedia article (HERE: WARNING! SPOILERS!). If you're unfamiliar with the HIBK school, see Wikipedia (HERE) and Mike Grost's article (HERE). EAP's "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843) is anatomized in Wikipedia (HERE: WARNING! SPOILERS!), with the full text at The 
Poe Museum (HERE).
Illustration by Virgil Finlay.
- Harold Lawlor was an Irishman with a penchant for the bizarre; consult Tellers of Weird Tales (HERE; scroll down), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

Saturday, August 15, 2020

"It Was Fair Murder!"

SOMETIMES IT SEEMS as if the universe arranges for sleuths to stumble unpremeditatedly across crimes, and today's amateur detective would probably agree when he becomes involved in . . .

"The Affair at the Closed Hotel."
By Bertram Atkey (1880-1952).
Illustrations by Frank Hoban (1870-1943; HERE).
First appearance: The Grand Magazine, August 1916.
Reprinted in The Blue Book Magazine, June 1928.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "'E hung 'im!"

Despite the scarcely muted objections of his valet Fin, Merlin O'Moore insists upon golfing in the country with "his weird pals" (that's Fin's considered opinion), but as is his wont Merlin manages instead to get himself embroiled in a mystery, the report of a murder by hanging, if you are to believe a badly frightened tramp, or maybe nothing at all, if you don't. For Merlin, the situation is irresistible, and, as you will see, comes perilously close to 
fatal . . .

Main characters:
~ Fin MacBatt:
  ". . . in the opinion of the bulbous-browed valet the only difference between country life and death was that the latter threw less strain upon one's patience."
~ The passing tramp:
  ". . . the poor ragged wretch was practically helpless with excitement and terror . . ."
~ Mr. Fitz-Percy:
  ". . . an ancient actor, deadhead, and man of the world . . ."
~ Blackberry Brown:
  ". . . what Miss Brown lacked in sheer muscular power she more than balanced in brains and—though that does not come into this story—beauty."
~ Mrs. Tudor de Roche:
  ". . . an auntie of Miss Brown, also once a favorite of the footlights, but, alas! no longer so."
~ Molossus:
  "The big fighting-dog gaped a befanged gape of pleasure, as he stared with pale, wicked-looking eyes up at his master."
~ The "hangman":
  ". . . dropped on one knee, leaned over his victim, speaking and shaking his fist 
at the man. Then he reached for the noose."
~ Cornell:
  "I'm afraid I was careless . . ."
~ Merlin O'Moore:
  "Watch him, Fin!"
Comment: The pairing of a suave aristocratic sleuth and a pugnacious manservant reminds us ineludibly of Margery Allingham's Mr. Campion and Lug (GAD Wiki HERE).

References and resources:
- "a giggle if uttered by a flapper": That definitely dates the story. "Flappers were a generation of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts (just at the knee was short for that time period), bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes in public, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "deadhead": As used in our story, it could mean "a dull uninterprising person" or someone who tags along with a group or both, but it's unclear. ( HERE).
- "his grip tightening upon the cleek": "Golf: Older Use. A club with an iron head, a narrow face, and little slope, used for shots from a poor lie on the fairway and sometimes for putting." ( HERE).
- "the excellent collation": "a light meal, esp. one that may be permitted on a fast day." (The Free Dictionary HERE).
- FictionMags's thumbnail about Bertram Atkey: "Author, creator of criminal character 'Smiler Bunn' and amateur detective 'Prosper Fair.' Born in Wiltshire, England; lived in Coniston, Highcliffe-on-Sea, Hants, England."
- In addition to "Smiler" and "Prosper," another of Atkey's series characters, Merlin O'Moore, the sleuth in today's story,  appeared in six adventures in The Grand Magazine (1916) and two other times in The Blue Book (1928) (FictionMags data):
  (1) "The Men at the Mill," The Grand Magazine, June 1916
  (2) "The Clash with Lamia Colet," The Grand Magazine, July 1916
  (3) "The Affair at the Closed Hotel," The Grand Magazine, August 1916 (above)
  (4) "The Departure of Miss Downton," The Grand Magazine, September 1916
  (5) "The Crusade of Big Bill Bull," The Grand Magazine, October 1916
  (6) “The Pariah,” The Grand Magazine, November 1916
  (7) "Miss Brown’s Jewels," The Blue Book Magazine, May 1928
  (8) "The Madness of William Bull," The Blue Book Magazine, July 1928.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

"Time, ah, Heals Itself"

HERE'S A FRESH TAKE on a very old science fiction cliché. Eventually the time will come when we must say . . .

"Goodbye, Howard Henning."
By John E. Stith (born 1947).
Illustration by Jacey (Jason Cook; HERE).
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at Nature/Futures (HERE; PDF).

     "The gun barrel swung slowly until it was directed at Harold."

Bureaucracy rules—and the first rule of bureaucracy is to cover up your mistakes any way 
you can . . .

~ Harold Henning:
  "That can't be right."
~ The visitor:
  "I really hate Form 18083."

- John Edward Stith, who seems to delight in crossing crime fiction with SFF (sometimes satirically), has won quite a few Major Awards in his time; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and his website (HERE).
- Another story with a time travel premise, this one highlighting different character motivations, is Edward McDermott's "The Snatchers" (HERE) from last November.


Saturday, August 8, 2020

"Certain Facts Have Come to Light That Make Us Think It Is Just Possible That He Was Murdered"

"Twice-Killed Corpse."
By Fredric Brown (1906-72).
First appearance: Ten Detective Aces, March 1942.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 31).

     "There was a big butcher knife sticking out of the middle of his chest."

It's well known that you can't libel the dead, but what about killing them—again?

Principal characters:
~ Mr. Murgatroyd:
  "There were lines of pain in his face that showed his last illness hadn't been a nice easy one."
~ Roy Williams:
  "I was startled at the thought that I was going to have a chance to meet and talk to a real detective. You see, I want to be one when I get old enough . . ."
~ John Rogers:
  ". . . if you can do what he asks, I might say that our appreciation will—uh—take tangible form."
~ Armin Malone:
  "The guy standing there when I opened the door didn't look like a detective at all."
~ Pete:
  "This guy ain't got all his buttons."
~ Mr. Bennett:
  ". . . came in and fired me first and then I had to tell it all to him, and he fired me again."
~ The coroner:
  "Well, I finally got around to trying Frohde's reagent. Ammonium molybdate dissolved in strong sulphuric acid. It turned blue, and then green, yellow, and 
~ Captain Brady:
  "To hell with what his death was not. What was it?"
~ Harvey Cummings:
  ". . . the odor of alcohol came ahead of him into the room like an advance guard."
~ The lawyer:
  "He drew up a new will two days ago. But there weren't many important changes."

Call it "the moment," when sleuths in mystery fiction suddenly figure it all out:
   "And then, just like that, I knew why. I stood there gawping, and thinking I must be wrong because it was so simple, once you saw it."

Comment: Brown makes good use of the naive narrator technique.

References and resources:
- "we'd be in dutch": "The idioms go Dutch (related to Dutch treat) and in Dutch (which uses Dutch to mean 'trouble') are both sometimes perceived as insulting to or by the Dutch. In addition, the adjective Dutch is found in a few other set phrases (Dutch courage, Dutch gold, and Dutch uncle) in which it implies that something Dutch is not authentic. Although insulting a particular person or nationality may be unin-tentional, it is best to be aware that use of these terms is sometimes perceived as offensive to or by the Dutch." ( HERE).
- "If it should be a mare's nest": "something imagined to be an extraordinary discovery but proving to be a delusion or a hoax; an extremely confused, entangled, or disor-dered place, situation, etc." ( HERE).
- "we'd be holding the bag": In some variant expressions, "the bag" is "the baby": "Aban-
don someone, force someone to bear the responsibility or blame. For example, 'Her friends said they were too busy to help with cleaning up, and left Lucy holding the bag.' This expression is often put as be left holding the bag, as in 'When they quit the clean-up committee, Lucy was left holding the bag.' This idiom grew out of the earlier give one the bag (to hold), which dates from about 1600 and alludes to being left with an empty bag while others have taken the valuable contents." (The Free Dictionary HERE).
- Our latest case of insurance fraud was Donald Barr Chidsey's "The Murderer's Left Hand" (HERE).
- We just can't resist Fredric Brown's fiction; the last story by him that we featured here was "Four Blind Men" (HERE).

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

"He Leveled a Very Effective-looking Blue-barreled Automatic at Me"

THE WILD ADVENTURES of Dr. Indiana Jones pretty much exploded the myth of the dull and prosaic life of the small university archaeology professor, and the same can be said of today's main character, a small university mathematician, as he's pushed to . . .

"The Brink of Infinity."
By Stanley G. Weinbaum (1902-35).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1936.
Reprinted in Startling Stories, March 1948 and Fantastic Story Magazine, Summer 1954, and collected and anthologized many times since (reprints page HERE).
Short short story (9 pages as a PDF).
Online at Fadedpage (HERE).
(Note: As the transcriber informs us, there's a misprint: The square root of minus 1 is "i", not "e.")

     "You're a mathematician, aren't you? Well, that makes you fair game for 
me. A mathematician, my good friend, is no more to me than something to 
be hunted down. And I'm doing it!"

Will he survive this? Don't count on it . . .

Main characters:
~ Dr. Abner Aarons, Statistician and Consulting Mathematician:
  "And what is the proposition, Mr. Strawn?"
~ Court Strawn, experimental chemist:
  "As a matter of fact, Dr. Aarons, the experiment isn't completed yet. Indeed, to tell the truth, it is just beginning."

Typo: "And student of numbers" [should be Any].

Resources and references:
- "The mathematician's symbol for infinity is a tipsy eight—so: ∞.": The concept of infinity (Wikipedia HERE and HERE) has spawned interesting, if highly unlikely, conjectures such as "the infinite monkey theorem" (Wikipedia HERE) and other paradoxical notions (Wikipedia HERE), most of them primarily of interest to mathematicians.
- "Clerk-Maxwell, Lobachewski": Our author namedrops mathematicians largely unknown to the general public, James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79; Wikipedia HERE) and Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (1792-1856; Wikipedia HERE).
- "the great Albert Einstein himself": Time was (but such may have passed now that Western culture is being dismantled) that when the public bothered to think of brainy scientists, they would almost certainly envision Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955), "a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics). His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He is best known to the general public for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which has been dubbed 'the world's most famous equation'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- We can only speculate, but it could be that our author was under the influence of what has been called "the most popular short story ever written in English" (1924; PDF text HERE) or the 1932 film adaptation of it; see Wikipedia (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE). Of course, in today's story the pursuit is mental ("checking my scraps of information, thinking, trying to remember fragments") and not, as in the movie, purely physical.
- This was Stanley Grauman Weinbaum's final published story because he died of lung cancer at the early age of 33, his publishing career only lasting less than a year and a 
half; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the IMDb (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

Saturday, August 1, 2020

"He Was Killed with a Blank Cartridge"

"Four Blind Men."
By Fredric Brown (1906-72).
Illustration by Earle Winslow (1884-1969; HERE).
First appearance: Adventure, September 1948.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Faded text but readable.)
     "The three shots were within a space of ten seconds."

The sudden and violent death of a ringmaster at a circus doesn't seem to provoke much in the way of lamentation, since he was universally disliked ("The kind of guy," we're told, "any-
body might want to kill")—but, despite an abundance of clues, just how he departed this 
vail of tears isn't at all obvious . . .

Principal characters:
~ Sopronowicz:
  "Everybody under him hated his guts because he was an all-around louse."
~ Cap Gurney:
  "A clue is the most meaningless thing there is. Nine times out of ten it points the wrong way. It helps fill in a picture, though."
~ Jeff Kranich:
  "There's where the stiff is."
~ Ambers:
  "Don't tell me the law, son. I read Blackstone once when I was young. It didn't 
take . . ."
~ Carle:
  "Says Sopronowicz had a yellow streak a foot wide down his back, and that the 
only person on earth who couldn't possibly shoot Sopronowicz was Sopronowicz."
~ Golde:
  "The ringmaster had arguments with Golde over bookkeeping."
~ Standish:
  ". . . the trainer, a guy named Standish."
~ Walter Andrews:
  ". . . we've questioned the only three men we know to have been in the building and their stories sound O.K., except that they were far apart and none of 'em can alibi the others."
~ Fred:
  "The fact that it was an elephant wasn't the point of the story at all . . ."

References and resources:
- ". . . so naturally they call them Mutt and Jeff": At the time of our story, they were enormously popular comic strip/book characters. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "I read Blackstone once": William Blackstone (1723-80), highly influential when it comes to English common law jurisprudence. "He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "That story about the four blind men": "The parable of the Blind Men and an Elephant originated in the ancient Indian subcontinent, from where it has been widely diffused. It is a story of a group of blind men who have never come across an elephant before and who learn and conceptualize what the elephant is like by touching it." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Our last visit with Fredric William Brown (note the first name spelling) involved another one of his mysteries, "The Ghost Breakers" (HERE).