Wednesday, February 10, 2021

"This Business Is a Crazy Tangle"

HERE WE HAVE a police detective being confronted with a knotty locked room murder problem, the solution to which will be found in giving close consideration to what was—and wasn't—playing on a radio at the time . . .

"Medicine for Three."
By Frank B. Long, Jr. (1903-94).
Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine, January 25, 1934.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "It's like a dozen cross-word puzzles all mixed up together."

Imitation is the sincerest form of murder . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Mrs. Perkins:
  "Our quarrels were just lovers' quarrels. We were devoted to one another."
~ Mr. Perkins:
  ". . . was lying upon the floor. His ashen face was streaked with blood."
~ Mrs. Simpson:
  ". . . was too cowardly and hysterical to do anything but reel back against the door jamb, and cry out in frenzied alarm."
~ Detective Sergeant Barnes:
  ". . . sat opposite Mrs. Simpson in her room and questioned her with patient insistence."
~ The medical examiner:
  ". . . explained calmly to Barnes that Perkins had been shot once in the head, and twice in the stomach. 'At close range'."
~ Jimmy Barnes:
  "I don't get it at all, dad. Who could have turned off the radio if the window was locked from the inside?"

Comment: Not a fair play mystery, unfortunately, with too many clues withheld from the reader until the end. With a little rearranging, this one could have been a classic.

References and resources:
- "It's bridge": The seldom used formal name is "contract bridge"; see Wikipedia (HERE) and the Agatha Christie Fandom Wiki (HERE) for those instances when she made use of the game as a plot gimmick.
- "a couple of crooners": Sinatra and Crosby didn't think the term applied to them; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Another puzzler involving a radio is Ngaio Marsh's "Death on the Air," which we noted in our posting (HERE) about Thomas Godfrey's splendid anthology of Christmas crime narratives, Murder for Christmas:

  "The body of Septimus Tonks — 'a damned unpleasant sort of a man,' attests his doctor — is found slumped over his wireless ('radio' to us colonials) on a dreary Christmas morn, prompting the presence of Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn, who in short order determines that the wireless itself is the murder weapon. If only it were as easy to determine the killer . . . ."

And let's not overlook Grenville Robbins's "The Broadcast Murder," which predates today's narrative by six years:

  ". . . this story, written and published in 1928, is, as far as I know, the first radio murder mystery—certainly the first 'locked room' one." (Mike Ashley comment briefly noted HERE.)

- This is our first encounter with Frank Belknap Long's fiction.


  1. I've read some of Long's early Lovecraftian fiction and it's not bad if you like that sort of thing.

    1. Long was a member in good standing of the "Lovecraft circle." His eldritch horror stuff comes off as strained as HPL at his worst. As for Lovecraft at his best, when he's not also straining for an effect, it's very good indeed. Rule of thumb: Never read more than one HPL story at a time.

    2. Rule of thumb: Never read more than one HPL story at a time.

      Yes, I'd agree with that.