Thursday, February 29, 2024

"With That Sort of Power, You Can Control Destiny"

IF YOU don't regard Simon Ark as a pure fantasy figure (it's arguable), then Ed Hoch's first genuinely SFF (science fiction-fantasy) story would be . . .

By Irwin Booth (Edward D. Hoch, 1930-2008; ISFDb HERE).
First appearance: Science Fiction Stories, September 1956.
Illustration by Orban (1896-1974; ISFDb HERE).
Reprints page (HERE).
Collected in The Future Is Ours (2015; HERE).
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 121).

   "I wanted to shout out to Mason, to warn him — but I remained numb. What would I be trying to save him from?"

Think about how much you can get done in fifty-five minutes: consecutively soft-boil eleven eggs, drive seventy miles, get married, get divorced, lose your shirt in Vegas (or the stock market—your option), but—very rarely, we hope—you could stage-manage somebody's murder . . .

Principal characters:
~ Rosemary:
  "At twenty-eight, she is already the brains behind Neptune’s smile. The simple fact is that she is a mathematical genius, not just in the usual sense, but in a very unusual sense."
~ Narrator (unnamed):
  "I glanced at the big wall clock as they talked, and I was aware that Rosemary was watching it, too."
~ Mason:
  "He always left the office at three minutes to five. He was the kind of punctual man you could set your watch by; he always walked down the two flights of stairs, rather than wait for the elevator."

It would seem that the problem of book sales as explained by Rosemary (just below) has been somewhat alleviated since the '50s with electronic publishing, but it hasn't been entirely eliminated yet:

   "I knew it was the best way for me to get to the top fast. The big drawback in publishing has always been, it seems to me, that the books aren’t around at the exact instant that most people want to buy them. By the time they see the book they wanted, the purchasing desire has decreased. Put the books into their hands when their purchasing desire is at its peak, and you’ve got sales."

References and resources:
- "a sort of slide-rule mathematical equation":
  "A slide rule is a hand-operated mechanical calculator consisting of slidable rulers for evaluating mathematical operations such as multiplication, division, exponents, roots, logarithms, and trigonometry. It is one of the simplest analog computers." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "I aim one angle of incidence to meet another angle of incidence. Result? Co-incidence!":
  We're not sure how sound Rosemary's logic is; in any event, see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-seventh Street":
  A real place; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "on his way to Grand Central Terminal":
  Another real place; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- Could Hoch have been influenced by Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife (1952)? (WARNING! SPOILERS! Wikipedia HERE.)
- Hoch used the Irwin Booth byline only three times:
  (1) "Co-incidence," (ss) Science Fiction Stories, September 1956 (above)
  (2) "The Chippy," (ss) Guilty Detective Story Magazine, November 1956
  (3) "Killer Cop," (nv) Terror Detective Story Magazine #4, April 1957.
- A couple of movies that have mathematical whizzes as characters include Good Will Hunting (1997; WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE) and The Oxford Murders (2008; WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE). A more complete list is (HERE).
- Our latest contact with Edward D. Hoch's fiction was also SFF, "The Last Paradox" (HERE).

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

"It Means That He Didn’t Kill These Four People at Random"

HERE IS Ed Hoch two years after the start of his writing career, his 13th published story being . . .

"Inspector Fleming's Last Case."
By Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008; FictionMags, 6 pages HERE; Wikipedia HERE; Michael Grost's megasite HERE).
First appearance: Crime and Justice Detective Story Magazine, January 1957.
It wasn't long before Edward D. Hoch's name would start making the covers on a regular basis.
Apparently never reprinted.
Novelette (16 pages).
Online at (HERE).

   "I’m staying on this case till the end—till we capture this madman, or till I drop over from trying."

Mandatory retirement often hits people hard. In today's story, for a policeman being forced to give up his job, "hard" doesn't even begin to cover it . . .

Typo: "Mr. Wager".

Main characters:
~ James Mitchell:
  ". . . saw the axe, and he knew what the man wanted. He saw it go up and then start its downward swing. There was just time for him to throw his hands in front of his face. The
first blow of the axe tore at his fingers. He never really felt the second blow . . . ."
~ Inspector Arnold Fleming:
  "The Police Department had been his whole life, and now they were taking it away. Just one more case, and it would be all over."
~ The Police Commissioner:
  "He listened in silence for a moment and then hung up. Tiny beads of sweat were beginning to appear on his forehead, and Fleming wondered if it was warm in the room despite his occasional chills."
~ Carter:
  "What’s there to connect an old woman, a married businessman and a cheap hoodlum, even in the mind of a crazy man?"
~ Mr. Wagner:
  "'Poor Sadie,' Mr. Wagner said and shook his head sadly. 'Poor old Sadie' . . . ."
~ Mrs. Mitchell:
  ". . . a young, good-looking woman, who seemed somehow very small and helpless in the black dress she wore."
~ Ralph:
  "I killed them, I tell you. I killed them all."
~ Rhonda Roberts:
  "With a hatchet? Are you kidding? What do you think I am, a damn Indian or something? I’d have shot him. Right between the eyes."
~ Doc Adams:
  "Well, I suppose that one on First Street wasn’t really natural."

- "the Ripper or the Cleveland Butcher":
  One psycho from the 1880s (HERE) and another one from the 1930s (HERE) who were never identified, much less captured, but they weren't the only ones never brought to account; see also Wikipedia (HERE).
- "The teletype came to life then":
  "Teletype machines were gradually replaced in new installations by dot-matrix printers and CRT-based terminals in the mid to late 1970s. Basic CRT-based terminals which could only print lines and scroll them are often called glass teletypes to distinguish them from more sophisticated devices." (Wikipedia HERE.)
(Click on image to enlarge.)
- "morphine instead of the milder codeine":
  "Morphine is a strong opiate that is found naturally in opium, a dark brown resin produced by drying the latex of opium poppies (Papaver somniferum). It is mainly used as an analgesic (pain medication)." (Wikipedia HERE.) "Codeine is used to relieve coughing. Evidence does not support its use for acute cough suppression in children. In Europe, it is not recommend-ed as a cough medicine in those under 12 years of age. Some tentative evidence shows it can reduce a chronic cough in adults." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- Although subject to certain laws, mandatory retirement is still practiced in developed nations; see Wikipedia (HERE).

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

Sunday, February 25, 2024

"Chicago Gangsters Ain’t Got No Business Out Here Nohow"

"The Bush Rat."
By Daniel J. Colich (?-?; FictionMags HERE).

First appearance: Top-Notch Magazine, May 1934.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at (HERE).

(Parental caution: Strong language.)

   "The gun slipped from his hand and clattered to the floor."

"You dirty rat" used to be the ultimate put-down, but in today's story a rat, dirty or not, proves to be a life-saver . . .

Principal characters:
~ Jim Proctor:

  ". . . wondered what might be passing through that thick, slow mind."

~ Bill Haag:
  ". . . whirled suddenly about. He stopped short as he looked into the blue-black revolver."


- Our story seems to fit nicely into that sub-sub-genre of fiction set in the wild and woolly areas of the North American continent most profitably exploited by Jack London (Wikipedia HERE) and his imitators. Great White North stories enjoyed quite a vogue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, appearing in the pulps as well as the slicks on a regular basis.
- FictionMags credits Daniel Colich with only two short stories:
  (1) "The Bush Rat," (vi) Top-Notch, May 1934 (above)
  (2) "Wolf Bait," (vi) Top-Notch, May 1935.

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

Thursday, February 22, 2024

"Because of You, Their Choice Is Doomed"

THERE'S something very wrong on the . . .

"Night Train to Babylon."
By Ray Bradbury (1920-2012; Wikipedia HERE; FictionMags, 8 page list HERE; ISFDb HERE).
First appearance: EQMM, December 1997.
Collected in Driving Blind (1997; Wikipedia HERE).
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 1).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)

   "The club car rattle-banged by, a dozen volcanic faces with fiery eyes crushed close to the windows, fists hammering the glass."

We're told that a 16th century colonial official recommended that everyone should "think honestie the best policie." Of course, "the best policie" works just fine as long as everybody goes along with it. It's unfortunate, therefore, when James finds himself in a situation where everybody is strongly motivated not to go along with "the best policie" but instead finds it profitable to do the exact opposite . . .

Main characters:
~ James Cruesoe:
  ". . . shook his head. 'That's not how the trick works. It's how you lay down and pick up the cards. Any deck would do'."
~ The Straight-Arrow gambler:
  "His fingernails were clean but unmanicured. Stunning! An ordinary citizen, with the serene look of a chap about to lose at cribbage."
~ The conductor:
  "He took out a little black book, licked his fingers, turned pages. 'Uh-huh,' he said. 'Lookit all the biblical/Egyptian names. Memphis, Tennessee. Cairo, Illinois? Yep! And here's one just ahead. Babylon'."

References and resources:
- "the three-card monte laid out":
  "Three-card monte – also known as find the lady and three-card trick – is a confidence game in which the victims, or 'marks', are tricked into betting a sum of money, on the assumption that they can find the 'money card' among three face-down playing cards. It is very similar to the shell game except that cards are used instead of shells." (Wikipedia HERE.) Also see "Card sharp" (HERE).
- "another from Mandela in South Africa":
  Probably referring to the late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. (Wikipedia HERE.)
- Hollywood loves gambling in all of its forms. A couple of movies featuring skullduggery in card games: The Cincinnati Kid (1965; WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE) and A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966; WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE).
- We've already considered some of Ray Bradbury's fiction: "The Pedestrian" (HERE) and "Morgue Ship" (HERE).

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

"You Haven't Got an Egg, Have You?"

By Dale Clark (Ronal Kayser, 1905-88; FictionMags HERE; ISFDb HERE).
First appearance: Blade and Ledger, August 1929.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at (HERE).

   "There are crooks, and other crooks."

Sometimes the biter bites but other times gets bit . . .

Principal characters:
~ "Duke" Harvey:
  ". . . looked at him with the dazed expression that plainly says, 'Lunatic!'"
~ Mrs. Donald Harvey:
  "They were discussing your phenomenal luck at cards."
~ Huntingdon:
  "I know quite a lot of tricks."
~ The customs inspector:
  "I see you prefer a pipe to cigars or cigarettes."

References and resources:
- "Thurston could do it":
  In the early 20th century Howard Thurston (1869-1936) was very popular:
  "He eventually became the most famous magician of his time. Thurston's traveling magic show was the biggest one of all; it was so large that it needed eight train cars to transport his road show." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "Trewey, his name":
  More than a magician; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "Dale Clark" qualifies for uberpulpster status, producing loads of multi-genre pulp fiction from the early '30s to the early '60s. Clark had several series characters: Walter Judson in Double Detective, 1938-41; Highland Park (High Price) Price in Dime Detective, 1944-46; "Plates" O'Rion in Dime Detective, 1942-44; Skipper Bond in Detection Fiction Weekly (DFW), 1940; his longest lived character, Mike O'Hanna, in Black Mask, 1940-47; Socrates Bean in Dime Mystery, 1946-47; J. Edwin Bell in Argosy, 1938-39; and Munro in EQMM, 1948-49. (Data from FictionMags.)
- For more about Clark/Kayser see Michael Grost's megasite (HERE) and Tellers of Weird Tales (HERE).
- "Magic" as a background has always been popular with detective fiction writers; see for examples ONTOS (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

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

Friday, February 16, 2024

"The Detective Story Is, in Fact, a Kind of Science"

WHENEVER you contemplate detective fiction authors and their productions, you probably wouldn't think of . . .

"Henry James: Master Detective."
By V. J. McGill (1897-1997; JSTOR HERE).
First appearance: The Bookman, November 1930.
Article (6 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).

THIS article appeared at a time when S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance was at the apex of his popularity, which should explain the author's references to him. Whether or not McGill successfully proves his thesis, his perceptions of the detective story of the time might 
still be of interest. Here is how he begins:

   "THE CHARM of the detective story is unlike that of any other literature. The spell of mystery and the gradual unwinding of the fatal solution binds us as does no other form. It humors innocently our morbid curiosity about corpses and secret crimes. It appeals uniquely to our love of an intellectual game. It enforces a feverish attention, and there are few who can resist it. We are like those who linger horribly about the morgue or a scene of crime to probe the pale and startling secrets of the dead. We are also like weird chess players, who, with suspects and evidence for pieces, play pawn against pawn to save knights, and knights against bishops to save queens. It is a game, but there is nothing so real.
   "The style of the detective story also accounts for much of its popularity. It is natural and convincing, blending the matter-of-fact with the mysteriously horrible, the solidity of reality with the charm of romance, and thus attracts many readers for whom other kinds of fiction have little appeal. It was one of our leading physiologists who first suggested to me the real reason for this uncommon popularity. "Other forms of literature," he complained, "are hard for me to believe and fail to hold my interest when I do believe them. The heroes of most plays," he didn't mind saying, "are simply stupid. The perplexities in which they find themselves are not dilemmas except for ignorant persons, and could be easily solved by a little enlightenment or scientific ingenuity." Why Oedipus should have thought that blinding himself was the best solution of his difficulties, or Werther, suicide, the eminent scientist I speak of could not see. There were other alternatives, he maintained, and more helpful ones. To believe in such characters was to take a view of the intelligence of mankind which was very painful to him. In detective stories, on the other hand, he found much of the common sense and resourcefulness to which he was accustomed in his own laboratory. At this point, he waved his hand at his thousand rats and his elaborate apparatus. It was natural that he should feel drawn to the baffling realities and clear-cut solutions of this scientific type of fiction.
   "The scientific procedure of the usual detective story is what J. S. Mill has called The Method of Residues—a very famous method employed in notable cases such as the discovery of Neptune, and always involved in any extensive work in science. Take a typical case. A murder is committed while only six persons are in the house. One after another is exculpated, and so removed, leaving the remaining man as the likely murderer. Having fixed upon him as the only one who could be guilty, it is usually quite easy to prove the case against him. The distinctive feature of the detective story is seen precisely here. As the hero investigates the crime and reconstructs the conduct or motivation of the criminal, every reasonable alternative must be considered. On the assumption that Mr. X. committed murder, what were his possible motives? Assuming that these were his motives, given the scene of the murder, the habits of the murdered man, what were the inevitable steps of Mr. X.? The detective must face the complicated facts and show that, everything considered, Mr. X. could only have acted in one particular way and that no one else could possibly have acted this way. In a perfect detective story the conduct of the subtle criminal could be deduced by the even subtler detective with the greatest rigor, and every act would follow inevitably from the premises.
   "It is obvious, of course, that this deductive precision is never reached, and seldom even approached, by other types of literature. In Madame Bovary, to take fictional explanation at its highest point, a great deal is accounted for. But when the poor woman ends a suicide, it is clear that there were other alternatives; nor could this event be deduced from the previous facts. In view of these other alternatives, the suicide was simply an accident. Such accidents occur frequently in the finest literature and are permitted. They are scarcely a defect in drama or the novel, but they mar the detective story. This follows, indeed, from its very nature. If, according to the detective's final theory, Mr. X. may have left his fingerprints on the gun after, just as easily as before, the murder, then the theory is a bad one. Not only that; it is a serious offence to leave loopholes in the argument or implicate a man on faulty evidence. The detective-story writer cannot afford, any more than a jury, to hang the wrong man. His audience is quick to take offence. An oversight in such a story is almost a hanging matter. Thus, the detective story, through its affiliation with actual criminal procedure, is held to a much higher standard of scientific rigor in explanation than is required of any other literature. Not even the naturalistic novel, with all its deterministic laws, proposes or carries out such finished explanations.
   "The detective story is, in fact, a kind of science. The author requires a knowledge of human nature and circumstance sufficient for the detection of the criminal. On the basis of certain deductions he must persuade us that Mr. X. is guilty and, like the court, he must take responsibility for the hanging. For this reason, he is obliged to employ every bit of knowledge which might bear upon the case, whether drawn from history, law, medicine, or psychology; nor can he afford to neglect such sciences as archeology and linguistics. There is no science nor circumstance which might not be relevant. Thus, as science advances, the detective-story writer must follow closely, and make learned researches, it may be, to prove his point. Numbers of modern writers in this field, it will be noted, are men of scientific training. Yet, in the very neatness of the detective story, there is a hint of mechanism and broken bells. Fingerprints, telltale dust, a picture ajar, a deep-niched pipe, may serve as evidence and convict the criminal. They do not satisfy our curiosity. In a court room, a man's false teeth or the dust on the shoes he borrowed from a friend may have a startling effect, may serve as links in the detective's proof. They do not answer to our deeper interest. What went on in the mind of the criminal? What were his secret thoughts in those illicit hours of strange excitement? This is our real curiosity, which neither legal proof, nor the circumstantial evidence of detective stories, can ever satisfy.
   "Of all detective-story writers, it is Van Dine who has done most to gratify our psychological interest. Yet even here we are largely disappointed. Too often the psychological theories are introduced with only a general relevance and no specific application. Certain general principles of human nature may give Philo Vance the clues which point the way to a solution. For the proof itself he must depend upon circumstantial evidence, upon a piece of string or a phonograph record. Of the inner life of the criminal and his victim we gather meanwhile only a skeleton, and only an inkling of their weird rich moments.
   "These psychological detective stories are fine enough in a nervous, superficial way. For the real thing we must turn to an author who is never mentioned in this connection—to Henry James. In his tales and novels we shall find our fill of subtle mysteries and fine-spun solutions, all enacted intricately in the minds of incredibly clever people. The detective here will simply burn with curiosity."

A couple of years earlier, however, Van Dine, of course, had already laid out the "rules" (in 1928), the 16th of which is:

   "A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no 'atmospheric' preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude." (See Open Culture HERE.)

From this point McGill launches into a detailed analysis of his thesis: that Henry James's writings correspond to detective fiction in their quest to probe and ultimately explain the mysteries of human behavior in all its permutations, to illuminate the characters' "inner lives" far more deeply. Since it's obvious that McGill is a behavioral scientist, he naturally assumes that human actions are the product of purely physical forces and not metaphysical ones and are therefore explicable in purely materialistic terms; in other words, "the devil made me do it" or original sin are automatically ruled out. As a result, it's no surprise when he reiterates the common complaint of many critics that detective story writers don't go far enough with characterization. It's here that we'll leave it to you to decide whether he succeeds with his thesis.

Referenced above and resources:
- "Oedipus": Wikipedia (HERE).
- "or Werther": Wikipedia (HERE).
- "J. S. Mill" and "The Method of Residues": Mill: Wikipedia (HERE). Residues: Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the discovery of Neptune": Wikipedia (HERE).
- Madame Bovary: Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the naturalistic novel": Wikipedia (HERE).
Mr. Naturalistic Novel himself, Émile Zola
- "it is Van Dine": Wikipedia (HERE). ONTOS (HERE).
- A substantial Wikipedia page about Henry James (1843-1916) is (HERE). Hollywood has been adapting his work for years, starting in 1933, with no fewer than 159 credits on IMDb (HERE).

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

Saturday, February 10, 2024

"There Was Something in the Corner of It Which Knocked Awkwardly Against My Legs"

WHAT do Huck Finn, Holden Caulfield, Andy Griffith, and Charles Sandeson have in common? That should become clear when Charles encounters . . .

"The Mysterious Kit-Bag."
By Arthur Franks (?-?; FictionMags HERE).
Illustration by John E. Sutcliffe (1876-1922; FictionMags HERE).
First appearance: Cassell's Magazine, November 1907.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

   "I can no longer keep silence."

A fourth-century theologian whose works are still taught in universities issued this warning: "Woman is the gate of the devil, the road to iniquity, the sting of the scorpion, in a word, a dangerous species." We're pretty sure that Charles slept through that lecture . . .

Principal characters:
~ Charles Sandeson:
  ". . . stranded in a foreign city, with no pyjamas, and a mysterious bag, probably full of a lady's apparel."
~ Irma d'Armentiéres:
  "Even in the semi-darkness it was easy to see how nice-looking she was."
~ Monsieur Truffaut:
  ". . . said that it was obvious from her name that the lady was noble . . ."
~ Mr. Jefferson:
  ". . . said it was wonderful what attraction some men had over women . . ."
~ Brown:
  ". . . jumped up and began to call me most objectionable names . . ."
~ The Countess of Exshire:
  ". . . since that time her nickname for me is Sherlock Holmes."

References and resource:
- "waiting for the boat-train":
  Boat-trains seem to figure heavily in Golden Age detective fiction. (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "the worry of preparing for the second time for my Pass Mods."
  Wikipedia has the gruesome details (HERE).
- Charles belongs to a sub-species of that old standby of fiction, the Unreliable Narrator. (Wikipedia HERE; see especially "The Naif.")

Bottom line:
  "It is worse still to be ignorant of your ignorance."
   - St. Jerome

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

The Thinking Machine Crosses the Pond

WE found this notice in the November 1907 Cassell's Magazine, announcing the introduction of an American detective writer and his series character to English readership:
The story in question is "[The] Problem of Dressing Room A," the 12th published adventure of Prof. Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, the previous 11 stories having already seen publication in a Boston, Mass. newspaper. "Dressing Room A" originally included in its title "The Thinking Machine's First Problem":

  "THAT strange, seemingly inexplicable chain of circumstances which had to do with the mysterious disappearance of a famous actress, Irene Wallack, from her dressing room in a Springfield theater in the course of a performance, while the echo of tumultuous appreciation still rang in her ears, was perhaps the first problem which was not purely scientific that The Thinking Machine was ever asked to solve."

- "[The] Problem of Dressing Room A" is online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE; HTML).
- The Jacques Futrelle entry at Wikipedia (HERE), the one for Prof. Van Dusen (HERE), the Library of Congress Blog (HERE), and The Thinking Machine's posthumous comeback (HERE).

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

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

"Signing Your Will Was Like Signing Your Death Warrant"

"A Literary Detective."
By Richard Ashe-King (1839-1932; Oxford Reference HERE; Dictionary of Irish Biography HERE; HERE).
First appearance: T.P.'s Weekly, November 6, 1903.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

   "I'm morally certain it was murder, but how it was managed I can't for the life of me make out."

What could possibly connect an unjustly accused young lady, an extremely overwrought widow, a distraught vicar, a recently dismissed stable groom, a suspicious coroner, and a sensationalist story writer who's exhibiting an uncommon interest in footprints? A double murder, of course, but not just any double murder. This one seems beyond any rational explanation, an impossible crime irrupting right there in rural Edwardian England . . .

Main characters:
~ Mr. Metcalf:
  ". . . had now no doubt at all that her real reason for sending for him was to throw him off the scent of this murder mystery."
~ Harry Metcalf:
  "He was a journalist generally, and specially a writer of short stories, chiefly sensational . . ."
~ Mary Horsham:
  "Harry, I cannot understand father's making this will, even to please her."
~ Dr. de Lisle:
  ". . . an utterly odious man, a Dr. de Lisle, always in the house on one pretext or another."
~ The vicar:
  "No, no. Not killed. There was no foul play. It—it might have been an accident."
~ Isabel Horsham:
  "She had all the men at her feet, from the vicar down."
~ Baines:
  ". . . the groom comes in after all as the favoured lover!"

References and resource:
- "strapped pick-a-back":
  "Piggyback is a corruption of pickaback, which is likely to be a folk etymology alteration of pick pack (1560s), which perhaps is from pick, a dialectal variant of the verb pitch." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "a scorn of Dogberry":
  "Dogberry is a character created by William Shakespeare for his play Much Ado About Nothing. The Nuttall Encyclopædia describes him as a 'self-satisfied night constable' with an inflated view of his own importance as the leader of a group of comically bumbling watchmen." (Wikipedia HERE; see especially "Elizabethan law enforcement.")
Michael Keaton as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
- "you're a born Fouché!":
  "Joseph Fouché, 1st Duc d'Otrante, 1st Comte Fouché (1759 – 1820) was a French statesman, revolutionary, and Minister of Police under First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, who later became a subordinate of Emperor Napoleon. He was particularly known for the ferocity with which he suppressed the Lyon insurrection during the Revolution in 1793 and for being minister of police under the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire." (Wikipedia HERE.)
Not a nice man
- Harry's forensic skills with footprints prefigure what came later; see Wikipedia (HERE).

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

Sunday, February 4, 2024

"We Specialize, After All, in the Sort of Investigations That Few Others, Even Crackajack Government Agencies, Can Handle"

NO MATTER how you look at it, it's going to take an awful lot of explaining when it's discovered that . . .

"The President's Brain Is Missing."
By Ron Goulart (1933-2022) (ISFDb HERE).
Illustrated by Mike Kuchar.
First appearance: Espionage Magazine, December 1984.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at (HERE; go to text page 24).

   "Unless somebody gives it a countermanding order by noon Thursday, every darned one of them will explode."

THINGS go missing all the time, stuff like socks and TV remotes. The same can be said for people, such as Judge Crater and Amelia Earhart. In this instance, however, what's missing is a vital part of the Chief Executive, and unless it's found soon, as our protagonist puts it, "you’ll all be in considerable trouble"—an understatement, that's for sure . . .

Principal characters:
~ Jake Pace:
  "I happen to play a little piano."
~ Hildy Pace:
  "'The United States government,' reminded Hildy, 'never calls in a private inquiry agency like ours unless they’re desperate, Russ'."
~ The hospital robot:
  "Oh, surely, yes. I imagine you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Leave me with a blownup assassin on my . . . Awk! Ooops!"
~ United States Troubleshooter General Russell Toilet:
  "The alarm system was deftly made inoperative, the formidable duo of robot guards rendered defunct and the storage cabinet opened with ease."
~ Susie Miller:
  "I’m the manager of the place and the bebopper I hired ran off to Yucatan with his wife’s best friend only moments ago and if I don’t find a substitute at once I’ll be up the creek and out on my ear."
~ Preston Ives, Jr.:
  "'Um . . . did I get the message right?' asked Ives. 'You want to buy a whole circus?'"
~ Rowland Pond:
  "You’re not such a bad detective at that."

References and resource:
- "Bud Powell, Thelonius Monk and Red Garland. Maybe throw in a little Horace Silver."
  Wikipedia: Bud Powell (HERE), Thelonius Monk (HERE), Red Garland (HERE), and Horace Silver (HERE).
Bud Powell at the piano
- "a chunky fellow in beret, darkglasses and zootsuit":
  It's fairly rare when a style of clothing sparks a riot but the zoot suit did just that; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "my bop medley":
  "Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians expanded the creative possibilities of jazz beyond the popular, dance-oriented swing music-style with a new 'musician's music' that was not as danceable and demanded close listening. As bebop was not intended for dancing, it enabled the musicians to play at faster tempos." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "a few notes into Un Poco Loco":
  "Un Poco Loco is an Afro-Cuban jazz standard composed by American jazz pianist Bud Powell." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- It has been quite a while since we last visited Ron Goulart's fiction, the story at the time being "Into the Shop" (HERE).

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

Thursday, February 1, 2024

"My Motive Is Nobody’s Concern but My Own"

"Mr. Mouthpiece."
By Julius Long (1907-55).
First appearance: Dime Detective, October 1952.
Reprinted in Black Mask Detective (U.K.), January 1953.
Short story (15 pages).
Online at starting (HERE) and concluding (HERE).
(Note: Text fuzzy in places but readable.)

   "I told you once, and I’ll tell you again—he’s going to die in the electric chair."

Anxiety. That chronic feeling of dread that something bad is sure to happen. Many people seem to experience anxiety, enough of them to make the practice of psychiatry a lucrative profession. Today's protagonist, a defense lawyer, is also suffering from it, but how he deals with his anxiety is radically different from the norm—in fact, you could say it's unique . . .

Main characters (in order of appearance):
~ Barry Bodine:
  ". . . had tried one hundred and twelve murder cases—and secured hung juries or acquittals in every one."
~ Pat O’Neill:
  "He had a mistaken idea that you had a weakness for me and that I could worm out of you what evidence you'd dug up in the case."
~ Judge Cost:
  "You’ve always been popular with the cops. If you defend Kuntzman’s killer, they'll never forgive you—especially when you ask for the case at a fee that’s practically nothing."
~ Pete Novick:
  "What’s your angle on the cop-killer case?"
~ Paul Sugrue:
  "Who's putting up the side dough?"
~ The elevator operator:
  "Hear you’ve taken the cop-killer’s case, Mr. Bodine. Boy, that’s sure gonna be a toughie!"
~ Eva Martin:
  "Have you gone nuts?"
~ Joan Wolf:
  "He hit me when I wasn't looking."
~ Karl Kuntzman:
  ". . . was so stunned he couldn’t shoot first, even though he had the drop on the guy."
~ Charlie Wolf:
  "But you’re not telling all that was in the papers [Joan said]. My brother told the police his own version of what had happened."
~ Mike Umanski:
  ". . . moved in on Atwood before he could dodge away."
~ Louis Varga:
  ". . . turned white. Little beads of perspiration formed about his lips. He called Atwood a name. It was quite a name."
~ J. Herbert Atwood:
  "The tall, thin man, trembling hysterically, stood close by the girl."
~ Fred Morrow:
  "You got something up your sleeve, Bodine, and it’s not good for that pay increase bill before the council."

Typos: "Jean Wolf"; "as if in a vice".

Resources and references:
- "removed his Borsalino hat":
  Bogie impressed Ingrid with it in one of his movies; see Wikipedia (HERE) about the company history and its impact on popular culture.
- FictionMags's thumbnail about Julius W. Long: "Magazine writer. Born in Ohio; studied law; admitted to the Ohio bar and practiced law in that state"—which explains the theme of our story.
- As one of the "Black Mask boys," Long's bibliography is understandably impressive. His series characters were Ben Corbett, who starred in 17 Black Mask stories (1944-47) and one in Detective Tales (1948), and Clarence Darrow (Corpus Delicti) Mort in 11 Dime Detective tales (1944-47).

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