Thursday, September 30, 2021

"Delivered into His Hands!"

THE PERFECT CRIME is what every criminal aspires to, but somehow they can't quite pull it off. There's always something that gets in the way—a little overlooked thing like . . .

"The Note on the Dead Man."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, March 9, 1935.
Short story.
Online at Fadedpage (HERE; 10 pages) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; original text [which might need resizing]: 8 pages; it will be necessary to download the entire issue).
(Parental caution: Graphic violence.)

     "Others in That Crowded Hotel Room Gazed at a Sprawled Corpse, but Tolly Saw Three Blunders Avoided and a Perfect Crime Achieved"

Captain Ahab realized in his last moments how costly revenge can be, unlike a crook bent on vengeance who will have plenty of time to think about it . . . .

Main characters:
~ Tolly Martin:
  "Thought you might have forgotten me. But you remember it all, don’t you?"
~ The bellboy:
  "Would you mind signing the delivery receipt?"
~ Allen Blake:
  "He had seen the sun set this evening for the last time."
~ Captain Tucker:
  "No one ever signs his name quite the same on two occasions."

References and resources:
- "the beautiful islands of Bermuda": Found by a Spaniard in 1505 and swarming with Englishmen since 1612:
  "Though typically referred to in the singular, Bermuda has 181 islands, the largest of these being Main Island. Bermuda's capital city is Hamilton" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the table electrolier": It's hard to see without it:
  ". . . a lone light fixture that hangs from the ceiling usually suspended by a cord, chain, or metal rod" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Some say that a perfect crime will never come to light:
  "As used by some criminologists and others who study criminal investigations (including mystery writers), a perfect crime goes unsolved not because of incompetence in the investigation, but because of the cleverness and skill of the criminal. In other words, the defining factor is the primary causative influence of the criminal's ability to avoid investigation and reprisal, and not so much the ability of the investigating authority to perform its duties" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Another Ray Cummings story, this time involving crime and pencils, would be "Poor Economy" (HERE).

Monday, September 27, 2021

"A Sort of Sherlock Holmes with French Wits"

GENERALLY REGARDED as a Golden Age of Detection (GAD) classic, today's book seems to have received at least one fairly lukewarm reception when it was first released:

- Wikipedia (no spoilers: HERE), (HERE), and (HERE). The Librivox audio version is (HERE).
- The House of the Arrow is for sale in various formats (HERE).
- World-class mystery expert Curtis Evans believes that Mason's book influenced Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence story "The House of Lurking Death"; go (HERE).

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

"Someone in This House Is Going To Kill You"

"Repeat Performance."
By Rog Phillips (1909-65/66).
Illustrator unknown.
First appearance: Imagination, January 1954.
Short story.
Online at (HERE; original text: 21 pages), The Luminist Archives (HERE; original text: 21 pages; go down to text page 108), and Project Gutenberg (HERE; 17 pages as a PDF).
     "Your murder was never solved."

The expression "as queer as a three dollar bill" takes on ominous overtones when a petty crook finds himself marked for murder—or is he?

Main characters:
~ Benny:
  "My momentum left me as my hand touched the doorknob. It flowed out of me. I turned around and faced them."
~ The cashier:
  "The law says I must turn all counterfeit money directly over to the nearest F.B.I. office."
~ George Wile:
  "Where are you, Ben old boy?"
~ Sam Golfin:
  "In exactly one hour and seventeen minutes you are going to be murdered. A man doesn't just get murdered without knowing who might have done it, who his enemies are."
~ Sarah Fish:
  "You see, you must tell us who did it."

References and resources:
- "a picture of Truman": The original "The buck stops here" chief executive:
  "Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) was the 33rd president of the United States, serving from 1945 to 1953, succeeding upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt after serving as the 34th vice president in early 1945" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "in the process of having a prophetic dream": But they don't always come true:
  "Several historical people have experienced dreams which they believed to be warnings that they were to die after they woke up" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "In amnesia the conscious mind jumps over a period of time and stays there": For authors and screen writers amnesia has proven to be one of the most lucrative plot gimmicks of all:
  "There are two main types of amnesia: retrograde amnesia and anterograde amnesia. Retrograde amnesia is the inability to retrieve information that was acquired before a particular date, usually the date of an accident or operation. In some cases the memory loss can extend back decades, while in others the person may lose only a few months of memory. Anterograde amnesia is the inability to transfer new information from the short-term store into the long-term store. People with anterograde amnesia cannot remember things for long periods of time. These two types are not mutually exclusive; both can occur simultaneously" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Davis Street El station": In service since 1892:
  "The Chicago 'L' (short for 'elevated') is the rapid transit system serving the city of Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs in the U.S. state of Illinois" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "A night extra": Time was newspapermen (and -women) really worked at their jobs:
  "A newspaper extra, extra edition, or special edition is a special issue of a news-paper issued outside the normal publishing schedule to report on important or sensational news which arrived too late for the regular edition, such as the outbreak of war, the assassination of a public figure, or even latest developments in a sensational trial" (Wikipedia HERE).
- We've come across Roger Phillip Graham's stories a few times: "From This Dark Mind" (HERE), "You'll Die Yesterday" (HERE), "The Man from Mars" and the non-SFFnal "A Case of Homicide" (both HERE), and (possibly) "Deadly Dust" (HERE).

Monday, September 20, 2021

"The Most Engrossing and Most Satisfying Novel of This Class"

IT MUST BE quite gratifying to an author to see his/her book enjoying sales long after its first printing, in this case nearly fifteen years:

- The book in question is indeed Cleveland Moffett's Through the Wall; see the GAD Wiki (HERE), Project Gutenberg (HERE), and Manybooks (HERE).

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

"You're As Crooked As They're Made, but I Don't Think You'd Do Murder"

"Dixon Hawke: The Case of the Duelling Pistols."
By Anonymous. Introduction by Otto Penzler.
First appearance: Dixon Hawke’s Case Book #4, Spring 1940.
Reprinted in The Armchair Detective, Autumn 1983.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     "He was bewildered by the rapid developments in what had appeared to be a simple case."

A good thing our sleuth notices "something queer about one of those birds" . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Michael Martin:
  "He was treacherous to the last!"
~ Dixon Hawke:
  "The angle of the shot was upward."
~ Foxy Lee:
  "I dropped the pistol and done a bolt!"
~ Inspector Meadows:
  "We're not so stupid at the Yard, after all, eh?"
~ General Pablo:
  ". . . wore a dressing-gown over his pyjamas, and the detective noticed that his left arm was in a sling."

References and resources:
- Two other detectives comparable in many ways to Dixon Hawke are amateur Sexton Blake (HERE; "The Adventure of the Coffee-Pot") and professional Inspector Stanley (HERE; second story: "The Mystery of the Tuesday Man").
- Over most of the past century an anonymous legion of writers have turned their hands (and typewriters) to chronicling the adventures of this low-rent knockoff of Sexton Blake named Dixon Hawke. In his introduction to today's tale, Otto Penzler notes:
  ". . . a sampling of more than twenty [stories] from assorted volumes in the series has failed to discover just what it is exactly that Hawke does. He is identified often as working 'in conjunction with Scotland Yard,' and he instantly assumes a position of authority over every rank of police officer with whom he comes into contact. He does not seem at any time to have an official standing, however, nor does he ever appear to have any other job or method of earning a living.
  "He is an extraordinary detective, able to spot a bullet hole in a tapestry on a wall forty feet away. His deductions rival his observations, with no explanation of how his brilliant conclusions are achieved."
- You can find more about Dixon Hawke at Public Domain Super Heroes (HERE), the Dixon Hawke Library at Comic Book Plus (HERE and HERE), the small collection of Dixon Hawke titles at (HERE), and (HERE).


Friday, September 10, 2021

"This Murderer Can’t Figure It—Can’t Control It”

"The Vanishing Men."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
Illustration by Frank R. Paul (1884-1963; HERE).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, September 1940.
Reprinted in Amazing Future Tales: Short Stories Eligible for the 1941 Retro-Hugos (2016).
Short story.
Online at Fadedpage (HERE; 10 text pages) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; original text, 9 pages; go down to text page 56).

     ". . . a dark thing came hurtling down from the sky."

A crime novelist once told us that there are eight million ways to die, but somebody has figured out the eight million and first way, a method of committing murder without leaving the slightest trace of incriminating evidence . . . .

Main characters:
~ James Atkins:
  ". . . was gone!"
~ Franklin Grant:
  ". . . the amazing thing happened so lightning-quick that he wasn’t certain how much of what he saw was an actuality, and how much the product of his own startled, horrified imagination."
~ John Wils:
  "I’ve been trying to figure how the thing might be done."
~ Grace Wils:
  "I wanted to tell you what I saw when Henry vanished."
~ Wilma Plantet:
  "He didn’t come past us. I’m certain. Very certain."
~ Henry Plantet:
  "It was Henry Plantet—or if it wasn’t, it was someone who looked so much like him that no living person could have told the difference."
~ Carter Cone:
  "What's all the excitement?"
~ William Rider:
  "Well, there’s some scientific explanation, of course."
~ Jonathan Peterkin:
  ". . . I’ve learned something else. Something quite definite about—what we were talking of. Good God, I can’t believe it!"

Comment: This one is definitely not an example of Ray Cummings's best writing, but the plot does manage to keep the reader involved.

References and resources:
- ". . . the velocities would be added to each other, the total velocity of any given point on the Earth’s surface might be very high": You're going places even when you're not:
  "When, after a long day of running around, you finally find the time to relax in your favorite armchair, nothing seems easier than just sitting still. But have you ever considered how fast you are really moving when it seems you are not moving at all?" (Andrew Fraknoi, "How Fast Are You Moving When You Are Sitting Still?" HERE; PDF).
- "the Banning heat gun spat its pencil-ray of death": Our author featured it in several different stories:
  "Shoots a pencil heat ray" (Technovelgy (HERE).
- We last featured a non-SFFnal story, "The Clue Got Lost," by Raymond King Cummings (HERE).

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

"It Is Never Fair To Give a Detective Romance Away"

CAROLYN WELLS (1870-1942) had a long writing career—perhaps too long, in the opinions of some. In any event, Wells plied the detective fiction trade from 1909 until her demise. This novel appeared at roughly the halfway mark of her career (review from T.P.'s & Cassell's Weekly, June 7, 1924; HERE):
Information about Carolyn Wells is on the GAD Wiki (HERE). The Furthest Fury is for sale (HERE) and free (HERE).

ON THE SAME page is a review of a detective novel by a really obscure writer, Rebecca N. Porter (same source):
The Rest Hollow Mystery is free (HERE).

Monday, September 6, 2021

"This Murder Had No Lurid Background, No Picturesque Touches, and Yet It Baffled Him"

THROUGH INNOCENT INADVERTENCE, today's story happens to reveal how the shopworn cliche of the passing tramp seen near the scene of the crime was already old hat when it was published well over a century ago; additionally, the tale also looks forward to the Golden Age trope of including a map. When there's a murder in a small British village, it warrants the keen attention of the legendary . . .

"Boss 'Tec at Oldby."
By Anonymous.
Illustrations by Alfred Pearse (1856-1933; HERE).
First appearance: Cassell's Family Magazine, February 1895.
Article (7 pages; 3 illos; 1 map).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Text faded but legible.)
     "An inquest had, of course, been held, when the inevitable tramp theory was mooted."

No, it wasn't any disinterested passing tramp who killed the unfortunate little Frenchman on the knoll of what the locals call the "British Field," but someone seething with resentment with an old score to settle . . . .

Main characters:
~ Alphonse d'Himbu:
  ". . . was found twenty minutes later by Arthur Whitcroft, a lad of seventeen, or thereabouts, stabbed to the heart."
~ The coroner:
  "A tramp may mutter imprecations when sent away empty-handed, but he does not run amuck like a Malay fanatic."
~ Mr. Guyhirn:
  ". . . had seen nothing—absolutely nothing."
~ Mrs. Guyhirn:
  "She undertook the duties of a vicar's wife, and fulfilled them."
~ Dr. Settle:
  "I'd give my practice to clear her."
~ Arthur Whitcroft:
  ". . . it's handy-like for the doctor now the missus is bad."
~ Marjorie Marchden:
  ". . . from the little he had learned about her disposition, character, and tastes, she did not seem likely to be the doer of the deed."
~ The white-capped old dame:
  "The last time was on the evening the poor French gentleman was killed."
~ The constable:
  "Motives are like rats in a hole: they flashes out when you least expect 'em."
~ John Bridger:
  ". . . it shows how one ought to shy at mere circumstantial evidence. Motive's the thing—without motive a 'tec hasn't a leg to stand on."

Comment: As with Dr. Watson's cryptic references to unrecorded Sherlock Holmes adventures, the author mentions in passing a couple of Old 'Tec's previous cases: "the noted Vangirard-Vannes case" and "a repetition of the blind used by Captain Meldy in the Cat's Eye Robbery."

References and resource:
- "the pollard": Humans love to tamper with nature:
  "Pollard, a tree affected by pollarding, a method for shaping trees, cropping the branches above head-height" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "forsook the tables for baccarat": James Bond was hooked on it:
  "Baccarat or baccara is a card game played at casinos. It is a comparing card game played between two hands, the 'player' and the 'banker'. Each baccarat coup (round of play) has three possible outcomes: 'player' (player has the higher score), 'banker', and 'tie'" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the vendetta": Not a healthy state of mind:
  "A feud, referred to in more extreme cases as a blood feud, vendetta, faida, clan war, gang war, or private war, is a long-running argument or fight, often between social groups of people, especially families or clans. Feuds begin because one party (correctly or incorrectly) perceives itself to have been attacked, insulted, wronged, or otherwise injured by another. Intense feelings of resentment trigger the initial retribution, which causes the other party to feel equally aggrieved and vengeful. The dispute is subsequently fuelled by a long-running cycle of retaliatory violence. This continual cycle of provocation and retaliation makes it extremely difficult to end the feud peacefully" (Wikipedia HERE).
- So far we haven't been able to determine who wrote today's story; when we do we'll let you know.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

"There's No Such Thing As a Complete Crime"

WE MUST CONFESS that since we haven't read this one yet we can't vouch for its quality. (From T.P.'s & Cassell's Weekly, May 31, 1924; HERE):

Without Clues is available on Google Play (HERE) and is for sale (HERE).

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

"Jimbo’s Body Lies in Bed, the Revolver in His Lifeless Hand"

DISASTERS COME in every imaginable configuration, and some in shapes that defy imagination. The most disturbing aspect of any disaster, though—and in spite of its great magnitude—is just how personal it can be. Case in point . . .

"Zeroing Out His Wavefunction."
By Peter S. Drang (J. Stephen Pendergrast, born 1960).
Illustration by Jacey (Jason Cook).
First appearance: Nature Futures, August 27, 2021.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at Nature Futures (HERE; PDF).
Life is bad enough without the discordons: "He scoffs, points the gun at me. I drop to my knees in front of him, grab the ghostly barrel with my right hand, press my forehead to it" . . . .

Principal characters:
~ The narrator:
  "Tortured by his brutality, imprisoned by his threats against my family, appalled by his cleverness outwitting the apathetic legal system."
~ Jimbo:
  "I hear him slam the vodka bottle down, his revolver’s clickety-click spin — then a muffled bang. I freeze."

References and resource:
- There are some big ideas floating around in our story, difficult notions which our author, to his great credit, has made comprehensible for the average reader; see Wikipedia for longer discussions of "Wavefunction" (HERE), "Superposition principle" (HERE), "Interpre-tations of quantum mechanics" (HERE), and "Quantum fiction" (HERE).
- Peter S. Drang seems to specialize in short fiction; you can find his homepage (HERE).