Wednesday, January 27, 2021

"There's a Thirty-eight Aimed Right at Your Head"

IT HAS BEEN a while since we've had a mystery with a show business background; in this one, an unsuspecting stage performer turned amateur sleuth will discover to his peril that somebody he's on a first name basis with has come to the grim conclusion that . . .

"Death Is the Answer."
By John D. MacDonald (1916-86).
Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Thrilling Detective, October 1948.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "What do you think he meant by that belt stuff, and Margy?"

"Cheaters never prosper," we're told—in fact, some cheaters don't live long enough to enjoy their ill-gotten gains . . . .

Principal characters, one of them a killer:
~ Tom Schurtz:
  "At the moment he was Professor Quotient."
~ Nick Wellar:
  ". . . moved like a bull fighter and talked with all the good humor and intelligence of a ten-cent slot machine."
~ Stan Haverly:
  ". . . was careful, self-contained, scorned a bit by Tom and Nick as an outsider who was in, but not of, the entertainment world."
~ Mary Adams:
  "Without its ever being said aloud, Nick, Tom and Stan knew that she was the balance wheel, the foil, the symbol of unity."
~ Lieutenant Bandred:
  "You cut it pretty close . . ."

Here's that "moment" again, the one where it all falls into place for the sleuth:
  "He stopped shaving, his razor in midair . . ."

References and resources:
- "reading Variety": It's been around since 1905; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "a lead spot with Martha Graham": "Martha Graham (1894–1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer. Her style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "in Tuxedo Junction": Meaning a small town; Glenn Miller's recording about it made him and his orchestra a bundle of money; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the one, the only, Eddie Condon": Well known in the jazz and swing music fields at the time: "From 1945 through 1967 he ran his own New York jazz club, Eddie Condon's, first located on West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village . . ."; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "against the law of percentages": Commonly called the "law of averages": "As invoked in everyday life, the 'law' usually reflects wishful thinking or a poor understanding of statistics rather than any mathematical principle. While there is a real theorem that a random variable will reflect its underlying probability over a very large sample, the law of averages typically assumes that unnatural short-term 'balance' must occur"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Naturally, how and why memory works is of intense interest to neuroscientists; see Wikipedia (HERE and HERE).
- "It was not hard work, standing on the stage of a theater . . .": "Mentalism is commonly classified as a subcategory of magic and, when performed by a stage magician, may also be referred to as mental magic. However, many professional mentalists today may generally distinguish themselves from magicians, insisting that their art form leverages a distinct skillset. Instead of doing 'magic tricks,' mentalists argue that they produce psychological experiences for the mind and imagination . . ."; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- John Dann MacDonald wrote in many pulp genres, sometimes landing sales in the higher-paying slicks; ONTOS postings featuring MacDonald's work include "Nicky and the Tin Finger" (HERE), "There Hangs Death!" (HERE), and "Who's the Blonde" and "Dead on Christmas Street" (HERE).


  1. Show business and murder always go well together. MacDonald is an author I've tended to overlook. I should add some of his stuff to my reading list.

    1. I haven't read much of MacDonald's short fiction as yet, but I've liked what I've seen. Some day I intend to get into his novels. Some day . . .