Wednesday, March 31, 2021

"May Die Unless Found Quickly"

"Time To Think."
By Geoffrey Williamson (1897-1976).
Illustration by Ronald Lampitt (?-?; HERE).
First appearance: The Passing Show, August 6, 1938.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE).

     ". . . a kidnapped millionaire who wanted to become a dead loss."

Perfect murders are just about impossible to pull off—and that goes for perfect kidnappings, too . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Castle:
  "Give me time to think."
~ Dixie:
  ". . . the chauffeur, who was likewise armed . . ."
~ Corrigan:
  "You're a wise guy, all right."
~ Sparks:
  "Okay, boss."
~ The doctor:
  "Take us to him."

- Not much info is available concerning Geoffrey Williamson; FictionMags's thumbnail: "Died in Shepway, Kent." Williamson's short fiction publications in various genres stretched from 1924 to 1950, his only series character being Silva de Cruz (2 stories in The 20-Story Magazine, 1925); Williamson's final work was in nonfiction articles in the mid-to-late 1960s.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

"The Detective Had Not Touched the Right Spring To Open Her Mouth"

"The Croyden Mystery."
By William MacLeod Raine (1871-1954).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, August 7, 1921.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "The evidence pointed straight to him but sometimes signposts are not true."

Even a rookie cop can make a professional look like—well, a rookie cop . . . .

Main characters:
The victim:
~ J. Wilkes Hungerford:
  "Shot from behind. Probably never knew who killed him."
The suspects:
~ Helen Radway:
  "From her throat came a sound that was half a sob and half a moan."
~ Roger Belding:
  "His hand kept twisting the knob on the end of my chair back. It came off in his hand."
~ Terry Haddon:
  ". . . was seen to leave the building by the janitor . . ."
~ The Clarendons:
  ". . . lived in apartment No. 46."
The law:
~ Evans:
  "It's a straight open and shut case, chief."
~ The desk sergeant:
  "Better lay off the kid. One o' these days he'll either knock you cold or show you up for a boob."
~ The chief:
  ". . . turned to Barney, again with the sardonic grin that expressed his attitude toward life."
~ Barney O'Hara:
  "In his notebook he jotted down certain cryptic words and others less enigmatic."

Comment: The author vitiates the suspense by accusing the murderer before the sleuth introduces all of the evidence against the suspect, making the big reveal anticlimactic—and the police surgeon stays strangely stum about everything. Poirot's style had a much more dramatic flair (e.g., Death on the Nile).
References and resources:
- "Maxim silencer": Hiram Percy Maxim, a brilliant inventor, "is credited with inventing and selling the first commercially successful firearm silencer, and also with developing mufflers for internal combustion engines." See Wikipedia (HERE) and Forgotten Weapons (PDF; HERE).
- "We finished the rubber": As card games go, bridge has more complexities than usual; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Oddly enough, William MacLeod Raine, an Englishman, is most remembered for his Western fiction, but as FictionMags tells us (HERE) he wrote in other genres; see the Wikipedia article (HERE) for more.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

"Somewhere on That Asteroid of Sin Lurked the Crime King of the Universe"

"Asteroid of the Damned."
By Dirk Wylie (Frederik Pohl, 1919-2013 [ISFDb HERE] and Dirk Wylie, 1920-49 [ISFDb HERE]).
Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Planet Stories, Summer 1942.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short story (7 pages as a PDF).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).
     "What they're really crazy about, of course, is silver and copper. They'll do just about anything for it, including murder and treason."

When you're down and out on Pallas without so much as a shekel—never mind a gun—and there's somebody who's about to kill you, what do you do? You take advantage of an ancient Chinese practice, obviously . . . .

Principal characters:
~ The bartender:
  "You couldn't bribe a Kiddie with a certified check for a couple of billion dollars."
~ MacCauley:
  "He was flat on the floor before he realized he'd been hit. Then began the real trouble."
~ Kittrell:
  "Sparks were fairly snapping from the blazing dial of his own heavy, old-fashioned timepiece . . ."
~ Major Copeland:
  "And what did you say that stuff was that saved your life?"
~ The Kiddie:
  ". . . shrank into himself and seemed to whimper voicelessly. The glow-glands set around his eyes shone a pinkish purple of fright. He started to say something—in the primitive sign-language that his race used to communicate with aliens—but halted the gesture and abruptly turned and slunk away."
~ The Kiddie policeman:
  "Commi wih me tu Offic he wil arange arest."
~ The Venusian:
  "Here on Pallas we have a law; the citizens must be protected. When a foreigner makes an accusation against a citizen, it is quite possible that he is wrong, and a great injustice will have been done. As you know, there is only one way to soothe a Palladian . . . money."

References and resources:
- "Pallas' largest gambling-room": "Pallas (minor-planet designation: 2 Pallas) is the second asteroid to have been discovered, after 1 Ceres"; see Wikipedia (HERE) for the science about Pallas and (HERE) for some of the fiction about it. Its surface gravity is 2/100 of a g, so unless they have widely used artificial gravity simulating 1 g (Earth normal) in our story, it should be very easy to get around there like a kangaroo. (Some authors either ignore or forget about that; see the mistake about lunar gravity in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1968 movie.) As for what an asteroid (but not Pallas) could be worth, see the Forbes article (HERE) and then see Wikipedia (HERE) for notions about how to realize that profit.
- "There was something about Venusians, Mac decided, that he didn't like. It wasn't their fault, of course, that they had evolved in a wet climate": Our authors adopt the swampy Venus model; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "pallid stick-men from Mars": A case of humanoid chauvinism? See Wikipedia (HERE).
- "his money-belt fat and heavy with a half-million in platinum credits": "The first and only case when platinum coins were used as a regular national currency was in Russia, where coins were circulated between 1828 and 1845. These coins proved to be impractical: platinum resembles many less expensive metals, and, unlike the more malleable and ductile silver and gold, it is very difficult to work." But, who knows, by the time our story takes place maybe that problem has been overcome; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "a staff of office, like the old Bow Street Runners": Understandably the early days of the British police force were a catch-as-catch-can affair; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "by all the Plutonian Ice Devils": By 1942 it was a safe bet that Pluto would be covered with ice; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "two hostile groups of Mercurians": It seems our authors think the entire Solar System might be inhabited from end to end; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "a Ganymedan Secessionist": "Ganymede, a satellite of Jupiter (Jupiter III), is the largest and most massive of the Solar System's moons. The ninth-largest object in the Solar System, it is the largest without a substantial atmosphere. It has a diameter of 5,268 km (3,273 mi), making it 26% larger than the planet Mercury by volume, although it is only 45% as massive." See Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- "you're a hophead": "slang: a drug addict." More commonly used in the '20s through the '50s. See (HERE).
- "Each day, the federal government is charged with protecting over 7,000 miles of land bordering Canada and Mexico, 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline, and over 300 ports of entry across the United States. Each of these entry points has the potential for criminal and/or terrorist organizations to exploit corrupt officials willing to misuse their official positions for financial and/or personal gain." — From the FBI Archives (HERE).
- "unclipped his Sam Browne": Some of the most important figures in history have worn it. "The Sam Browne belt is a wide belt, usually leather, supported by a narrower strap passing diagonally over the right shoulder (although Royal Canadian Mounted Police non-commissioned members wear theirs over the left shoulder). It is most often a part of a military, para-military or police uniform." See Wikipedia (HERE).
- "A string of what they call 'cash.' It's a kind of money they used to use; square pieces of copper with holes in the middle. Had 'em strung together and sewn onto a belt." Go to China Highlights (HERE).
- "Twenty-four dollars' worth of junk beads—that's what they paid the Indians for it. Now the land is worth billions of dollars—a square foot of it brings the best part of a million." See (HERE) for an article about Manhattan real estate values (pre-beerbug, of course), from which we quote: "While the city has long been a global capital, the value of its land has traveled an uneven path. Back in 1626, the Dutchman Peter Minuit 'bought' Manhattan, 'the island of many hills,' from the Lenape people for $24 worth of trinkets. Since then, most of the hills for which it was named have been flattened, some new land has been created, and the island has become one of the priciest places in the world. Determining just how valuable that land is, however, is a tricky proposition."
- According to the ISFDb, Dirk Wylie (Joseph Harold Dockweiler) co-wrote several SFFnal tales with other well-known or soon to be well-known science fiction authors, passing away by the age of 30; see the SFE (HERE) and the Fancyclopedia (HERE).
- Our latest encounter with Frederik (no "c") Pohl was last July with his "Conspiracy on Callisto" (HERE).

Saturday, March 20, 2021

"Don't Kill Yourself Getting It"

TODAY WE FINISH up with the fifth and last adventure (that we're aware of) featuring Scott Warren of the GNS, otherwise known as the "Dateline: Mars" series, with an intrepid reporter risking life and limb to get an . . .

"Inside Story."
By Richard Wilson (1920-87).
Illustrations by Mel Hunter (1927-2004; HERE).
First appearance: Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1955.
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (22 pages; 3 illos).
Online at (HERE).
     "I shoulda stood in the newsroom."

The best reporters strive to get as close as possible to the story—but sometimes that can be too close . . . .
Main characters:
~ George Mercer:
  "I'm talking about an inside story."
~ Kathy Brand:
  "You'd better give up, George."
~ Scott Warren:
  "She may have a point there . . ."
~ Mogi:
  "Very fine. I catch."
~ Lane:
  "Who would listen to us? We were the forgotten men, completely cut off from the outside."
References and resources:
- "Even Mars had its silly season": From a journalistic perspective, it's a fairly common thing: "In North America the period is often referred to prosaically as the slow news season, or less commonly with the phrase dog days of summer." See Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the wave to Earth . . . The acknowledgment came immediately": Is GNS making use of faster-than-light (FTL) communications à la Star Trek? It's unclear from the text; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE) and Atomic Rockets (HERE).
- "He began to peel off the suit": Spacesuits have been in SFF from the beginning of the genre; see Wikipedia (HERE) and Atomic Rockets (HERE).
- "a GN stringer at Druro": They deal opportunistically in the recherché; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "If it isn't Deimos, it's Phobos": They might be small and far away, but they're still relatively well known to the public: "The two moons of Mars are Phobos and Deimos. They are irregular in shape. Both were discovered by American astronomer Asaph Hall in August 1877 and are named after the Greek mythological twin characters Phobos (fear) and Deimos (panic) who accompanied their father Ares into battle. Ares, god of war, was known to the Romans as Mars." See Wikipedia (HERE).
- "I'm no Typhoid Mary": Her real name was Mary Mallon; see Wikipedia (HERE) for the full story.
- "in the form of a communique": An official message: "a brief report or statement released by a public agency"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- You can read the "Dateline: Mars" series in any order you wish, but we do recommend that you read the third story ("New Weapon") that introduces Kathy Brand's character before you read today's final tale, "Inside Story," which marks her second and last appearance: (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

"Death Was News-copy"

By Richard Wilson (1920-87).
Illustration by C. A. Murphy (1896-1984; HERE).
First appearance: Future Science Fiction, July 1953.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text faded but legible.)
(Further note: Could be a very slow load.)
     ". . . it was a mere matter of applying the principles of newsgathering to interplanetary skullduggery."

Something is rotten in Interstellar Carriers, but finding out who it is can get a man killed . . . .

Main characters:
~ Scott Warren:
  "We don't want any heroics—just information."
~ Art Roper:
  ". . . I want a still hotter story, and I think I can get you one."
~ Ross Parsons:
  "The labor situation on this godforsaken planet stinks."
~ Herbert Gray:
  "It's a slander on labor, and you can quote me."
~ Sargin:
  "Your journalistic endeavors have come to my attention . . ."
~ Liga:
  "This I know; I spit."
~ Atkins:
  "There's more, but it's a blast at the union; nothing else about the widows and orphans."

Typo: "whoesaler".

References and resources:
- "employing scab labor": "A strikebreaker (sometimes called a scab, blackleg, or knobstick) is a person who works despite an ongoing strike. Strikebreakers are usually individuals who were not employed by the company prior to the trade union dispute, but rather hired after or during the strike to keep the organization running. 'Strikebreakers' may also refer to workers (union members or not) who cross picket lines to work." Relations between labor (or "trade") unions and management have been sketchy from the start; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- "Black markets": When things get scarce, people figure out other ways to get them; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "Come on, gate, let's mediate": A variant on a then quite popular comedian's catchphrase: 
"[Jerry] Colonna's usual salutation to [Bob] Hope was, 'Greetings, Gate!' and listeners soon began saying it." See Wikipedia (HERE).
- Previous adventures with Scott Warren are highlighted (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

Saturday, March 13, 2021

"You'll Never Laugh Like That Again"

A POPULAR DETECTIVE FICTION writers' trope is the sleuth who, while relaxing away from his day job, gets embroiled in a mysterious situation that demands his expertise. It's said that policemen are never really off duty, even when they're on a . . .

"Cop's Holiday."
By Wilbur S. Peacock (1911/15-1979).
Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Short Stories, June 10, 1946.
Novelette (21 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Parental caution: Some mild profanity.)
     "He died horribly, dropping slackly . . ."

A mare's nest of violent emotions erupts in murder, forcing a recuperating cop to sort it all out . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Lieutenant Kip Marlowe:
  "With his leg almost healed from the wound punched there by a burglar's bullet, his leave of absence was almost up; and he would be glad to be back at work again."
~ Doctor Forbes:
  ". . . his white hair gleamed in the light as he shook his head. 'Dead,' he said succinctly."
~ Stuart Graber:
  ". . . knocked the small man down, standing over him."
~ Karen Morey:
  ". . . that tramp!"
~ Irene Bayliss:
  ". . . throw me over for her, and I'll tell a few stories which will upset your little plan."
~ Sam Bayliss:
  "There was no expression on his face, and he made no move to follow the detective."
~ Tom Morey:
  "Then it is true. I've guessed, but I've no proof of anything."
~ Benny:
  ". . . came running from where he had been springing the pigeons into the air."
~ Captain Oliver:
  ". . . people die from three causes, murder, accident or suicide. It's obvious this is an accident . . ."
~ Dinky:
  ". . . was packing the clothes, distaste on his wide mouth at handling the garments of a dead man."
Here's that "moment" again:
  ". . . the vagrant memory surged into life in his mind. 'Holy hell!' he finished."

Comment: It's noteworthy and very unusual when an author correctly uses the past participle of the verb "to lie": "it might have lain".

Typos: "Marlow"; "Marlow's".

References and resources:
- Many mystery plots are worked out against some real world background that serves as the scaffolding upon which the tale is set; in today's story the background is the world of skeet and trap shooting, the finer points of which are discussed at some length in Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- "a dozen shotgun shells, 20-, 16- and 12-gauge": Shotguns are very effective short-range weapons—when they don't blow up in your face; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "quicksilver!": You can find it in a lot of thermometers; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "squeezed the trigger for the second barrel": It's a good thing the gun didn't have a pump action.
- FictionMags has a list of Wilbur Scott Peacock's short work (HERE).
- Our only encounter with Wilbur Peacock is his SFFnal story "Destination—Death" (HERE).

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

"We're Reporters—Not Detectives or Secret Agents"

"New Weapon."
By Richard Wilson (1920-87).
First appearance: Future Science Fiction, November 1953.
Illustration by Tom Beecham (1926-2000; HERE).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Our job is to report the news, not to make it."

To cover a story a newsperson often needs to get into the middle of things out in the field, but when "the field" is one of battle, that can have very unexpected results . . . .

Main characters:
~ Scott Warren:
  "My father told me never to trust redheads."
~ Kathy Brand:
  "What do you mean? Where are we going? Where are spies dealt with?"
~ The Citizens' Army high official:
  "How do you do, Mr. Warren. My name, for security reasons, will not be mentioned."
~ Captain Joro:
  "Kathy, your beauty turns war into peace."

Typo: "that at " [should be a].

- Our previous adventures with Scott Warren of the GNS are (HERE) and (HERE).

Saturday, March 6, 2021

"Nothing Could Happen on a Morning Like This"

NOT MANY DETECTIVE TALES in the last century focused as carefully on forensic anthropology as today's story . . .

"A Dead Man Laughs."
By Donald Barr Chidsey (1902-81).
First appearance: Short Stories, March 10, 1941.
Reprinted in Short Stories (U.K.), December 1943.
Short story (14 pages; 5 illos).
Online at (HERE).
     "Because it happens to be a human sacrum."

The off-putting but nevertheless effective sleuth was pioneered by Poe and codified by his many imitators; no surprise, then, that the irritating detective makes a reappearance in today's story: "Nobody ever knew what to do about Fletcher. He was a hard guy to get along with. Yet to get along without him, as even the stupidest among them knew, might be even more difficult."

Principal characters:
~ Carse:
  "An um— An umb—"
~ Steele:
  "I'm a cop. I've got a nose that's used to poking into funny places."
~ Wyckoff:
  "You see, there's supposed to be a treasure hidden here."
~ Marrs:
  "You and your damn bones! Why didn't you tell us?"
~ Lindeman:
  "He's a liar! He always works alone!"
~ Andrews:
  "Hello, Sergeant. Interesting place you got here."

Typo: "46 millemeters".

References and resources:
- "the War drove him back": That would be the Second World War, which officially began in 1939, although it really started years before; if you were alive then you couldn't miss it. See Wikipedia (HERE).
- "bay windows, false towers, balconies and ginger-bread": The last architectural style enjoyed a vogue in the late 19th century; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the espadrilles": The name goes back to the 14th century, but the shoe style is far older than that; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "by Pearson's formula": It's "a measure of linear correlation between two sets of data"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "gnathic index": You have one whether you want it or not; see Oxford Reference (HERE).
- "I came to talk about bones": In the wake of the premier of CSI, for a while there seemed to be a limitless supply of TV shows that focused, much like our detective, on forensic investigations into the victim's postmortem state; one of the longest running was Bones, which lasted twelve seasons and 246 episodes. See Wikipedia (HERE).
- "which were modern American brilliant cut": We're talking about a skill that "requires specialized knowledge, tools, equipment, and techniques because of its extreme difficulty"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Donald Barr Chidsey usually produced average to above average crime fiction; see FictionMags (HERE). Since his three stories featuring Sergeant Fletcher Steel (note the spelling; no "e" on the end) appeared in Double Detective (1938-39), we'll have to assume today's story "A Dead Man Laughs" (1941) is the fourth entry in the series.
- We last met with Chidsey in regard to his story "The Murderer's Left Hand" (HERE).