Thursday, November 30, 2023

"There Are Three Major Divisions of Technique in the Detective-Crime Story"

"The W-H-W of the Mystery Story."
By Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008) and Ellery Queen (1905-71 and 1905-82).
Three short short short stories (13 pages total).
First appearance: EQMM, January 1969.
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 6).

ELLERY QUEEN (the editor) was around detective fiction long enough for him/they to assert with considerable authority that, as per the title above, this particular literary genre could be divided into three great areas that have evolved over time: The "W"hodunit (starting with Poe in 1841), the "H"owdunit (with Meade and Halifax in 1894), culminating in the "W"hydunit (circa 1910 with MacHarg and Balmer)—in other words, "The W-H-W of the Mystery Story."
  EQ tells us that after receiving "three short-shorts in quick succession" from Edward D. Hoch, "we could not help noticing that one was primarily a Whodunit, the second a variation of the Howdunit, and the third a perfect example of the Whydunit." Publishing them together, says our editor, "would extend a well-known mathematical dictum," and since all mathemat-ical dictums must be extended, here they are . . .

WHODUNIT: "Murder Offstage."
By Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008).
Short short short story (5 pages).
No known reprints.

   "You got him right between the eyes."

A blackmailer gets a little too pushy with four people who don't like being pushed, and you can easily anticipate the results. But what three of those people don't know, and the fourth one does, is just who did get him "right between the eyes" . . .

Major characters:
~ Leonardo Flood:
  "An aging matinee idol, darling of the gossip columnists, king of yesterday's jet set—and clever blackmailer."
~ Garrison Smith:
  "Always the director, even when it came to directing a murder."
~ Paul Drayer:
  "Paul showed him the gun."
~ Cliff Contrell:
  "He was always the leading man in every production, and he wasn't about to yield his position now."
~ Aster Martin:
  "Personally, I don't think any one of you has the guts to kill him, but it's got to be done."

HOWDUNIT: "Every Fifth Man."
By Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008).
Short short short story (4 pages).
Reprinted in Quickie Thrillers (1975) and Miniature Mysteries: 100 Malicious Little Mystery Stories (1981).
  "Kill every fifth man and release the others."

How can someone condemned to die before a firing squad possibly entertain any hope whatsoever of surviving it? The human world is full of loopholes, and the condemned has found the biggest one of them of all . . .

Major characters:
~ Narrator:
  "I'd always been good at mathematics . . ."
~ Tomas:
  ". . . had fallen from the line and the blood was gushing from his side."
~ The officer in charge:
  "Who wants to die under the noonday sun?"

Typo: "taken form"

WHYDUNIT: "The Nile Cat."
By Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008).
Short short short story (5 pages).
Reprinted in Feline Felonies (2001).

   "Perhaps all murderers are insane. I am no more so than the rest."

There are times when the usual motives for murder don't apply. In this instance, you can think of the killer's motivation as sheer insanity in one way but perfectly logical in another; 
it would probably seem logical, for instance, if you were to hold strong feelings about, let's say, Etruscan pottery . . .

Major characters:
~ Professor Patrick J. Bouton:
  "I do not have a criminal mind."
~ Henry Yardley:
  ". . . was a graduate student at the University, working for his master's degree in archeology."
~ Lieutenant Fritz:
  "You've admitted the crime—you might as well tell us the motive."
~ Constance Clark:
  "Oh, yes, it's about the statue—the Nile Cat."

- "Bastet, Goddess of Joy":
  "Bastet was originally a fierce lioness warrior goddess of the sun, worshipped throughout most of ancient Egyptian history. Later she became the cat goddess that is familiar today. She then was depicted as the daughter of Ra and Isis, and the consort of Ptah, with whom she had a son, Maahes." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "a head of Nefertiti":
  "Nefertiti (c. 1370 – c. 1330 BC) was a queen of the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, the great royal wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Nefertiti and her husband were known for their radical overhaul of state religious policy, in which they promoted the earliest known form of monotheism, Atenism, centered on the sun disc and its direct connection to the royal household. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of ancient Egyptian history." (Wikipedia HERE.)
Other resources:
- Curtis T. Gardner's novelette "Museum of the Dead" also has an Egyptian museum theme (HERE).
- It wasn't long ago that we shared one of Ed Hoch's stories (HERE).

Unless otherwise noted, all bibliographical data are derived from The FictionMags Index created by William G. Contento & edited by Phil Stephensen-Payne.

1 comment:

  1. During summer vacation as a teenager in the mid-1970s or late-1970s I borrowed from the public library the 1970 anthology Ellery Queen's Grand Slam (World, edited by Queen) and read all its stories, including the Hoch trio. I still recall how much I admired the Whydunit tale. Extra coincidence -- your post show the cover of a book of mini-mysteries, edited by a Dr. Arthur Liebman. He was one of my high-school English teachers (circa 1978).

    Great post.

    - Arthur Vidro