Friday, January 19, 2024

"I Am Harassed by a Woman. She Is Busily Engaged in Killing Me."

ISAAC ASIMOV wrote a short introduction to today's story that places it in that species of detective fiction which most of us are quite familiar with:

  "The whodunit is one of the most widely recognized forms of mystery, and for many its name has become synonymous with the entire field. It gives the reader a chance to discover the identity of the criminal, usually a murderer, before the detective does, and therein may be its special appeal. In the classic version, the crime occurs in an isolated place, such as a manor house, there is a limited number of suspects, and near the end of the story the survivors are assembled to hear the detective's solution.
  "While science fiction can only boast of a moderate number of whodunits, some of its authors, like the incomparable Jack Vance, show great facility in handling this kind of story. And from the adventures of Mr. Vance's irascible detective, Magnus Ridolph, we have selected the following gem."

"Coup de Grace" (a.k.a. "Worlds of Origin").
By Jack Vance (1916-2013).
Magnus Ridolph No. 10.
First appearance: Super-Science Fiction, February 1958.
Reprints page (ISFDb HERE).
Novelette (22 text pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 155, PDF page 159).

   "Police routine might solve the case through the use of analyzers and detection machines. I hope to achieve the same end through cultural analysis."

There's been a murder in The Hub ("a fashionable resort, a glamor-island among the stars—something more than a mere stopover depot and junction point"), and it's hard to imagine a more diverse collection of possible suspects who might have done it. For Magnus Ridolph the usual approaches to crime solving will not do and he must employ all of his advanced sociological knowledge plus a technique that always proves useful, the old-fashioned process of elimination . . .

Comment: Rather than ending with an action-packed denouement, the ultimate solution depends entirely on the mental acuity of an armchair detective.

Main characters:
~ Magnus Ridolph:
  "At the moment I do not care to accept employment."
~ Pan Pascoglu:
  "We've never had a killing. It's got to be cleaned up!"
~ Lester Bonfils:
  "I seem predisposed to failure and defeat. I consider myself a man of good-will—yet there is no one with more enemies. I attract them as if I were the most vicious creature alive."
~ Dr. Scanton:
  "Beside the cage stood a thin young man, either inspecting or teasing the paleolithics. He turned hastily when Pascoglu and Magnus Ridolph stepped into the cottage."
  . . . and a starship-load of suspects:
  1. Lester Bonfils (the victim), with
     a. Abu
     b. Toko
     c. Homup
  2. Viamestris Diasporus
  3. Thorn 199
  4. Fodor Impliega
  5. Fodor Banzoso
  6. Scriagl
  7. Hercules Starguard
  8. Fiamella of Thousand Candles
  9. Clan Kestrel, 14th Ward, 6th Family, 3rd Son
  10. (No name).
- The ISFDb has complete information about the Magnus Ridolph series (HERE). Kevyn Winkless at Castalia House has an article about Ridolph (HERE) that explains Jack Vance's approach to these stories.
- Our last encounter with Magnus Ridolph was "The Kokod Warriors" (HERE), where you'll also find a list linked to all our previous postings about the "irascible" galactic trouble-shooter. At the time "Coup de Grace" was hard to come by, as we noted in the posting, but fortunately for us anglophones Isaac Asimov and his editors chose to include it in their 1979 anthology, linked above.

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

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