Wednesday, May 29, 2024

"The Only Possible Clue Came from the Victim Himself"

TODAY'S story is a pastiche (usually distinguishable from a parody but also, on some occasions, combined with it), one of three that appeared in EQMM centering on S. S. Van Dine's sleuth Philo Vance, written by one of those rare individuals who have a talent not just for imitation but also innovation, Jon L. Breen:
   (1) "The Austin Murder Case," (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, December 1967
   (2) "The Vanity Murder Case," (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 1970
   (3) "The Circle Murder Case," (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, October 1972 (below).

"The Circle Murder Case."
By Jon L. Breen (born 1943; Wikipedia HERE; ISFDb HERE; FictionMags HERE).
Philo Vance Pastiche No. 3. 
First appearance: EQMM, October 1972.
Reprinted in Hair of the Sleuthhound (1982; online HERE; borrow only).
Short story (14 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 115).
(Note: Text is very faded but readable.)

   "It's the psychology of the murdered man that intrigues me. And of the murderer."

For Philo Vance, commonplace policework doesn't merit his full attention. Instead of the "how" it's the "why" that's more important. So when a wealthy man (who, paradoxically, deals in horseracing without actually participating in it) is murdered and a hefty number of possible suspects present themselves for examination, Vance is confronted early on with what the victim has done; namely, he has "provided us with the world's most unhelpful dyin' message." Deciphering such a clue is all in a day's work for Ellery Queen (the detective), but how about for the man who re-translates Menander for relaxation? Need we ask?

Principal characters:
On the side of justice:
   . . . Van (the narrator), Philo Vance, John F.-X. Markham, and Ernest Heath.
Circling around in the suspect pool:
   . . . Phineas Circle, Frances Circle, Samuel Circle, Arnold Cramer, Gifford White, Henry Gilfoyle, and Tree.

References and resources:
- "re-translatin' Menander":
  "He was one of the most popular writers and most highly admired poets in antiquity, but his work was considered lost before the early Middle Ages. It now survives only in Latin-language adaptations by Terence and Plautus and, in the original Greek, in highly fragmentary form, most of which were discovered on papyrus in Egyptian tombs during the early to mid-20th-century. In the 1950s, to the great excitement of Classicists, it was announced that a single play by Menander, Dyskolos, had finally been rediscovered in the Bodmer Papyri intact enough to be performed." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "his handicapping":
  "A handicap race in horse racing is a race in which horses carry different weights, allocated by the handicapper. A better horse will carry a heavier weight, to give it a disadvantage when racing against slower horses. The skill in betting on a handicap race lies in predicting which horse can overcome its handicap." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "a shyster":
  "Shyster is a slang word for someone who acts in a disreputable, unethical, or unscrupu-lous way, especially in the practice of law, sometimes also politics or economics."
(Wikipedia HERE.)
- "Dashiell Hammett's famous review":

   "The incompetence of the genre’s detectives and the sloppiness of authors’ research continued to earn Hammett’s scorn. When he was reviewing books for the Saturday Review, Hammett excoriated The Benson Murder Case, one of S. S. Van Dine’s novels featuring detective Philo Vance:

   'Alvin Benson is found sitting in a wicker chair in his living room, a book still in his hand, his legs crossed, and his body comfortably relaxed in a lifelike position. He is dead. A bullet from an Army model Colt .45 automatic pistol, held some six feet away when the trigger was pulled, has passed completely through his head. That his position should have been so slightly disturbed by the impact of such a bullet at such a range is preposterous, but the phenomenon hasn't anything to do with the plot, so don't, as I did, waste time trying to figure it out. The murderer's identity becomes obvious quite early in the story. The authorities, no matter how stupid the author chose to make them, would have cleared up the mystery promptly if they had been allowed to follow the most rudimentary police routine. But then what would there have been for the gifted Vance to do?'

   "Philo Vance, Hammett continued, 'is a bore when he discusses art and philosophy, but when he switches to criminal psychology he is delightful. There is a theory that anyone who talks enough on any subject must, if only by chance, finally say something not altogether incorrect. Vance disproves this theory: he manages always, and usually ridiculously, to be wrong.' Later, when he wrote for the Evening Post, he tried again to get through a Philo Vance novel but found the district attorney and police sergeant 'as incomparably inefficient, as amazingly ignorant of even beat-walking police routine, as ever'."
     - The Library of America Story of the Week (HERE).
- "that lame gelding":
  "A male horse is often gelded to make him better-behaved and easier to control. Gelding can also remove lower-quality animals from the gene pool. To allow only the finest animals to breed on, while preserving adequate genetic diversity, only a small percentage of all male horses should remain stallions." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "to the glue factory":
  "Stereotypically, the animal in question is a horse, and horses that are put down are often said to have been 'sent to the glue factory'. However, other animals are also used, including cattle, rabbits and fish." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "he's dropped from allowance races into claimin' races":
  Allowance race: "A race for which entries are restricted to horses meeting certain earnings or other race criteria. The track operator's designated official (usually the Racing Secretary) establishes specific conditions that determine what weights are to be carried by any competing horse based on factors from the horse's previous performances including races won and/or earnings."
  Claiming race: "Race in which any competing horse is subject to be purchased for a preset price. A claim is made before the race and can only be acted upon by a licensed owner or their agent. The price is set by the conditions of the race. If the horse wins prize money during the race, the money goes to the previous owner. Prior to 1925 they were called a Selling race." (Wikipedia HERE; also see HERE.)
- Jon L. Breen's initial foray into mystery spoofery came as the 305th "Department of 'First Stories'" publication in the May 1967 EQMM. As Ellery Queen (the editor) says, "The Crowded Hours" is "a bitingly accurate parody-pastiche of Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct police procedurals" (McBain approved, by the way). You can find it at The Luminist Archives (HERE; 8 pages; go to text page 103).
- We encountered Breen's Ellery Queen pastiche "The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery" (HERE) earlier this year.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2024

"There Was a Vast Wrongness to Them"

"The Crowd." 
By Ray Bradbury (1920-2012; ISFDb HERE).
First appearance: Weird Tales, May 1943.
Reprinted many times, including in Shock, May 1960 (today's text).
Reprints page (ISFDb HERE).
Tarted up and filmed for TV in 1985 (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE).
Short story (9 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 35) and (HERE; text page 87).
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)

   "Maybe they wanted her dead."

DID you ever think they are out to get you? Wait now. That's being what they call "paranoid," isn't it; and nobody wants to be called that. But think about what you've already seen. Can it be the problem isn't really with you, it's with them? No, that's crazy. That's . . . paranoid. The same people every time. Gathering together. Gathering together to do . . . to do what?

Main characters:
~ Mr. Spallner:
  "You murder much easier, this way."
~ The doctor:
  "Simple shock."
~ The cabbie:
  "There's always a crowd. You'd think it was their own mother got killed."
~ Morgan:
  "Who are they? What do they want? You keep hinting and never telling."

- We last made contact with Ray Bradbury through his story, "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" (HERE).

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

"But I Don’t Know Which of Us He Is These Days"

"Fondly Fahrenheit."
By Alfred Bester (1913-87; Wikipedia HERE; ISFDb HERE; FictionMags HERE).
Illustrations by Nick Solovioff (1927-94; Wikipedia HERE
First appearance: Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), August 1954.
Reprints page (HERE).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)

WE'RE all familiar with the human condition, not only because it has been the subject of the world's literature for centuries but also because, no matter how much we'd like to escape from its less desirable aspects, we're destined to experience it every day:

   "The human condition can be defined as the characteristics and key events of human life, including birth, learning, emotion, aspiration, morality, conflict, and death. This is a very broad topic that has been and continues to be pondered and analyzed from many perspectives, including those of art, biology, literature, philosophy, psychology, and religion. As a literary term, 'human condition' is typically used in the context of ambiguous subjects, such as the meaning of life or moral concerns."

   You could say the human condition is universal and eternal, but up until now it's never been contagious . . .

Principal characters:
~ James Vandaleur:
  "Work at what? You know I’m good for nothing. How could I compete with specialist androids and robots? Who can, unless he’s got a terrific talent for a particular job?"
~ James Valentine:
  "'Sometimes,' it said, 'it is a good thing to be property'."
~ Dallas Brady:
  "She screamed and collapsed, her hair and clothes flaming, her skin crackling."
~ Jed:
  "What do we do? Call the police?"
~ Wanda:
  "No. We don’t know if it’s an MA for a fact. If it turns out to be an MA and the killing android, our paper comes first anyway. This is our big chance, Jed. If it’s that android we can run a series of controlled tests and — "
~ Blenheim:
  "I am the wizard of the Theory of Number, Mr. Vole, and I have exhausted the charm of number for myself."
~ Nan Webb:
  "Synesthesia, obviously."

References and resources:
- "Androids can't destroy. They can't harm":
  "The tension between the nonhuman substance and the human appearance—or even human ambitions—of androids is the dramatic impetus behind most of their fictional depictions. . . . Android stories, therefore, are not essentially stories 'about' androids; they are stories about the human condition and what it means to be human. . . . One aspect of writing about the meaning of humanity is to use discrimination against androids as a mechanism for exploring racism in society, as in Blade Runner." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "Lyra Alpha":
  More properly, Alpha Lyrae, also known as Vega: "Vega is the brightest star in the northern constellation of Lyra. It has the Bayer designation α Lyrae, which is Latinised to Alpha Lyrae and abbreviated Alpha Lyr or α Lyr. This star is relatively close at only 25 light-years (7.7 parsecs) from the Sun, and one of the most luminous stars in the Sun's neighborhood. It is the fifth-brightest star in the night sky, and the second-brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "All reet! All reet!":
  Our author seems to be echoing a 1940s Cab Calloway jive tune. (See SongMeanings HERE; HERE; Wikipedia HERE.)
- "Lalande . . . Lacaille . . . Indi . . . Eridani":
  Lalande: One of the stars named by a French astronomer (Wikipedia HERE) . . . Lacaille: One of the stars discovered by another French astronomer (Wikipedia HERE) . . . Indi: One of the stars located in the constellation of Indus (Wikipedia HERE) . . . Eridani: One of the stars found in the constellation of Eridanus (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Theory of Number":
  "Number theory (or arithmetic or higher arithmetic in older usage) is a branch of pure mathematics devoted primarily to the study of the integers and arithmetic functions. German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) said, 'Mathematics is the queen of the sciences—and number theory is the queen of mathematics.' Number theorists study prime numbers as well as the properties of mathematical objects constructed from integers (for example, rational numbers), or defined as generalizations of the integers (for example, algebraic integers)." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "Antares II, Alpha Aurigae, Acrux IV, Pollux IX, Rigel Centaurus":
  Antares II: "Antares is a red supergiant star with a stellar classification of M1.5Iab-Ib, and is indicated to be a spectral standard for that class. Due to the nature of the star, the derived parallax measurements have large errors, so that the true distance of Antares is approximately 550 light-years (170 parsecs) from the Sun." (Wikipedia HERE.)
  Alpha Aurigae: "Capella is the brightest star in the northern constellation of Auriga. It has the Bayer designation α Aurigae, which is Latinised to Alpha Aurigae and abbreviated Alpha Aur or α Aur. Capella is the sixth-brightest star in the night sky, and the third-brightest in the northern celestial hemisphere after Arcturus and Vega. A prominent object in the northern winter sky, it is circumpolar to observers north of 44°N. Its name meaning 'little goat' in Latin, Capella depicted the goat Amalthea that suckled Zeus in classical mythology. Capella is relatively close, at 42.9 light-years (13.2 pc) from the Sun. It is one of the brightest X-ray sources in the sky, thought to come primarily from the corona of Capella Aa." (Wikipedia HERE.)
  Acrux IV: "Acrux is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Crux. It has the Bayer designation α Crucis, which is Latinised to Alpha Crucis and abbreviated Alpha Cru or α Cru. With a combined visual magnitude of +0.76, it is the 13th-brightest star in the night sky. It is the most southerly star of the asterism known as the Southern Cross and is the southernmost first-magnitude star, 2.3 degrees more southerly than Alpha Centauri. This system is located at a distance of 321 light-years from the Sun." (Wikipedia HERE.)
  Pollux IX: "Pollux is the brightest star in the constellation of Gemini. It has the Bayer designation β Geminorum, which is Latinised to Beta Geminorum and abbreviated Beta Gem or β Gem. This is an orange-hued, evolved giant star located at a distance of 34 light-years, making it the closest giant to the Sun. Since 1943, the spectrum of this star has served as one of the stable anchor points by which other stars are classified. In 2006 an extrasolar planet (designated Pollux b or β Geminorum b, later named Thestias) was confirmed to be orbiting it." (Wikipedia HERE.)
  Rigel Centaurus: "Alpha Centauri (α Centauri, α Cen, or Alpha Cen) is a triple star system in the southern constellation of Centaurus. It consists of three stars: Rigil Kentaurus (α Centauri A), Toliman (α Centauri B), and Proxima Centauri (α Centauri C). Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Sun at 4.2465 light-years (1.3020 pc)." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "a lone flight of bustards":
  "The birds were once common and abounded on the Salisbury Plain [in England]. They had become rare by 1819 when a large male, surprised by a dog on Newmarket Heath, sold in Leadenhall Market for five guineas. The last bustard in Britain died in approximately 1832, but the bird is being reintroduced through batches of chicks imported from Russia. In 2009, two great bustard chicks were hatched in Britain for the first time in more than 170 years. Reintroduced bustards also hatched chicks in 2010." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "in a lunatic rumba":
  "The rhumba dance that developed on the East Coast of the United States was based on the bolero-son. The first rumba competition took place in the Savoy Ballroom in 1930. Nowadays, two different styles of ballroom rumba coexist: American style and International style. From 1935 to the 1950s, the Mexican and American film industry expanded the use of the term rumba as rumbera films became popular. In this context, rumberas were Cuban and Mexican divas, singers and actresses who sang boleros and canciones, but rarely rumbas. Notable rumberas include Rita Montaner, Rosa Carmina, María Antonieta Pons and Ninón Sevilla." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "Projection, Wanda warned me":
  "Psychological projection is a defence mechanism of alterity concerning 'inside' content mistaken to be coming from the 'outside' Other. It forms the basis of empathy by the projection of personal experiences to understand someone else's subjective world. In its malignant forms, it is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against disowned and highly negative parts of the self by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others, breeding misunderstanding and causing untold interpersonal damage. Projection incorporates blame shifting and can manifest as shame dumping. Projection has been described as an early phase of introjection. . . . Freud considered that, in projection, thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings that cannot be accepted as one's own are dealt with by being placed in the outside world and attributed to someone else. What the ego refuses to accept is split off and placed in another." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- It's been years since we last examined Alfred Bester's work, in this instance "Star Light, Star Bright" (HERE).

The bottom line:
Philippe de Champaigne's "Vanitas" (c. 1671)

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

Friday, May 17, 2024

"A Small Contented Smile Spread Across His Lips"

"Exhibit A".
By William O'Farrell (1904-62; Wikipedia HERE).
First appearance: EQMM, January 1955.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE).

   "Anyone could have done it. Anyone with a taste for torturing small children, that is."

WHENEVER somebody pushes too hard too often, there's only one direction things can take: a parting of the ways, which can be peaceful—or . . .

Main characters:
~ The narrator (unnamed):
  "It's true that I sometimes run into people who might be described a 'characters,' and that I occasionally invite one to drop in at our apartment in New York."
~ Felicity:
  "Under her pose of aloofness my wife is as interested in people as I am, and I was curious to see how she'd react to Joe."
~ Joe Haller:
  "The funny thing is, Joe didn't seem unhappy."
~ Martha Maynard:
  "Except for certain natural ravages, Martha hadn't changed much from the scornful Roman debutante who, back in the old super-colossals, had sat in Caesar's Colosseum box and egged on the lions to eat their dinner."

- One of William O'Farrell's novels, The Twisted Image, was adapted as the premiere episode of the Thriller TV series. (Wikipedia HERE, the IMDb HERE, and A Thriller a Day HERE.)
- William O'Farrell never developed a series character, ensuring at the least that his stories wouldn't grow formulaic; here's a list of some of his contributions:
  For EQMM:
  (1) "Exhibit A," (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 1955 (above)
  (2) "The High, Warm Place," (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, October 1957 
       (online HERE)
  (3) "The Girl on the Beach," (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, April 1958 (online HERE)
  (4) "Lady of the Old School," (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1960
  (5) "A Paper for Mr. Wurley," (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 1963 (online HERE).
  For AHMM:
  (1) "Long Drop," (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, June 1959
  (2) "In a Tranquil House," (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 1959.
  For Manhunt:
  (1) "It Never Happened," (na) Manhunt, June 1958 (online HERE)
  (2) "One Hour Late," (na) Manhunt, April 1959 (online HERE)
  (3) "Death and the Blue Rose," (ss) Manhunt, December 1960.
  For The Saint:
  (1) "The Girl in White," (ss) The Saint Mystery Magazine, December 1959
  (2) "The Hood Is a Bonnet . . .", (ss) The Saint Mystery Magazine (U.K.), May 1961
  (3) "Death Among the Geraniums," (ss) The Saint Mystery Magazine (U.K.), February 1962
  (4) "A Plague of Pigeons," (ss) The Saint Mystery Magazine (U.K.), July 1962
  (5) "Philosophy and the Dutchman," (ss) The Saint Mystery Magazine (U.K.), November 1964
       Reprinted in The Saint Mystery Magazine, January 1965 (online HERE).

The bottom line:
"You did WHAT with those Taylor Swift concert tickets?"

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

UPDATE: Edward Wellen's "Non-fact" Articles

Completed links to seven of Wellen's "Origins of . . ." series in Galaxy (HERE).

It's in the Bag

By George Harmon Coxe (1901-84; Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
First appearance: Collier's, April 19, 1941.
Illustrated by Harry Morse Meyers.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE; go to text page 23).

   "That was when the alarm went off, a terrifying blast of sound that hammered at Steve's eardrums and comforted him strangely."

AS that venerated philosopher Yogi Berra once told us, "You can observe a lot by watchin'." 
A young elevator operator is about to find out just how observant Yogi was . . .

Principal characters:
~ Steve Rankin:
  "I wondered about it when he rode up; when he did it again I had a hunch."
~ Sergeant Grauer:
  "'When you're a cop,' Grauer said, 'always observe and remember. Never forget that, kid'."
~ Others in the box, one of them a thief:
  Miss Appleton, Mr. Van Nostwick, Stella Williams, Mr. Turner, Tod Erickson, the salesman from Hurwich Brothers, and the woman from Kalmus.

References and resources:
- "When Steve Rankin brought the car down to the main floor":
  "Automatic elevators began to appear as early as the 1920s, their development being hastened by striking elevator operators which brought large cities dependent on skyscrapers (and therefore their elevators) such as New York and Chicago to their knees. Self-service elevators were not allowed in New York City until 1922. Prior to this, non-luxury buildings that could not afford an attendant were built as five-story walk ups." (Wikipedia HERE.)
  ". . .  in 1945, elevator operators in New York went on strike. New York City ground to a halt. The strike costs New York a hundred million dollars in lost taxes. It prevented one and a half million office workers from getting to work. Building owners demanded a change. And the elevator industry decided they had to convince people to rethink what an elevator was." (NPR HERE.)
- We've already spent some time perusing George Harmon Coxe's first Paul Standish story, "The Fourth Visitor" (HERE), and his third one, "Murder Makes a Difference" (HERE).

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

Monday, May 13, 2024

"Their Faces Were Inquisitors' Masks of Suspicion and Anger"

HERE'S one of the few short stories by our author that has never been reprinted, despite Ellery Queen's (the editor's) prediction . . .

"A Case of Instant Detection."
By Nedra Tyre (1912-90; Wikipedia HERE; Independent HERE; Curtis Evans HERE; Sarah Weinman HERE; The Alfred Hitchcock Wiki HERE; ISFDb HERE).
First appearance: EQMM, May 1967.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 82).
(Note: Text is faded but legible.)

   "'Oh, my God', she cried out, 'that man over there is dead! There's a knife in his back!'"

IT'S the late 1960s and public opinion about the police is at a low ebb, especially on college campuses, which is unfortunate for a young police officer who's hoping to meet department requirements by taking a sociology class. For him, things go from bad to worse when a man is found murdered, forcing him to face "his professional 'moment of truth'" . . .

Main characters:
~ Detective Lieutenant Williams:
  "Only one person could have committed murder in this auditorium."
~ Miss Lowell:
  ". . . the instructor, wouldn't let the situation get entirely out of hand; she came mercifully to his defense by steering the remarks to other channels."
~ Joe:
  ". . . the basement auditorium is free and the projector down there is okay . . ."
~ The class:
  The manufacturer, the lawyer, the banker, the dentist, the cateress, the young mother, the nurse, and the elderly woman "with a broad A and a fortune."

References and resources:
- "Nanook of the North":
  One of the first commercially successful "docudramas":
  "The documentary follows the lives of an Inuk, Nanook, and his family as they travel, search for food, and trade in the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec, Canada. Nanook, his wife Nyla and their family are introduced as fearless heroes who endure rigors no other race could survive. The audience sees Nanook, often with his family, hunt a walrus, build an igloo, go about his day, and perform other tasks." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "He realized that the hostility wasn't so much for him as a person as for him as a policeman":
  "Police legitimacy is the extent to which members of the public view the police as higher power authority figure, often measured in terms of the public's willingness to obey and cooperate with the police. Police legitimacy is linked to the degree of public support for, 
and cooperation with, the police's efforts to fight crime. When a police officer's ability and authority to effectively complete their job is compromised there is potential for a lack of police legitimacy." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- If you're seeking sanctuary in the hallowed halls of academe, think again. (Wikipedia HERE and HERE.)

Bottom line:
  "But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

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

Saturday, May 11, 2024

"A Machine Is Not Influenced by Human Weaknesses"

"The Lying Lie-Detector."
By Leroy Yerxa (1915-46; ISFDb HERE; the HERE).
Illustrated by Robert Fuqua (1905-59; ISFDb HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, March 1945.
Novelette (17 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE).

   "Here was mechanical justice! Decisions handed down by a machine that could not lie!"

HOW much do you trust, as a for-instance, your car? Would it ever, let's say, up and try to kill you? Or, conversely, would it ever act as your conscience and force you to do the right thing? In either case, wouldn't you have to assume that there's something going on in there that Detroit didn't anticipate, never mind include in the sales brochure? Technology such as the automobile, of course, is value-free and incapable of taking sides in an ethical situation, especially one involving guilt or innocence. In our story, however, people—but especially people in positions of authority—seem to ignore that obvious fact, blithely unaware of the weirdness that's actually going on—in there . . .

Principal characters:
~ Miss Salmon:
  "'You're a sucker,' she said bitterly. 'Making a fool of yourself over a pretty girl'."
~ Sue Fletcher:
  "I've been very worried about Sam. I'm the only one he can depend on. I'm very grateful for your interest."
~ Raymond Sand:
  "'Don't be grateful to me,' he said. 'I suspect a man of the murder whom I hate very cordially. I took a chance and went ahead with the investigation in spite of your refusal to retain me'."
~ Parrot French:
  "A rich guy is rubbed out and the case is so hot it burns the D.A.'s fingers, so you want me to get my fingers in it."
~ Inspector James Case:
  "'The case is closed,' he said. 'Fletcher will get a fair chance to tell the truth when he goes on 'Detecto' trial. If he's innocent . . .'"
~ Sam Fletcher:
  "The room was very quiet as he sat down. The prisoner was a slightly built, blond-headed boy, hardly over twenty-one. Perspiration stood out on his forehead and his hands clutched the arms of the chair tightly. This was the test he welcomed. He wondered how long it would be before it would all be over."
~ Ely Green:
  ". . . lay beside the chair, a thin, distinguished-looking man with some of his dignity disturbed by a long, bloody gash that ran along the right side of his neck, under the ear."
~ District Attorney Fred Mitchell:
  "'Say it the way you want to,' Mitchell said. 'I'm arresting you for the murder of Ely Green. There'll be no jury trial for you, Sand. I'm going to send you straight to Detecto. I'll get permission from the State to do it. You'll save the court time and money, Sand, and you'll burn beside Sam Fletcher, the other wise guy who tried to beat his rap'."
~ Professor Judson:
  "'Detecto was inspected by State Control men just before this trial,' he said. 'There is no chance that a mechanical error was made. Fifty cases have been tried on Detecto this year. All of them were faultlessly conducted'."
~ Detecto:
  "Men are stupid, foolish things."

References and resources:
- Is Detecto a "ghost in the machine"?
  "The 'ghost in the machine' is a term originally used to describe and critique the concept of the mind existing alongside and separate from the body. In more recent times, the term has several uses, including the concept that the intellectual part 
of the human mind is influenced by emotions; and within fiction, for an emergent consciousness residing in a computer." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- Our justice machine seems to share similar ambitions with another cybernetic control freak, this one from the movies. (WARNING! SPOILERS! Wikipedia HERE.)
- A similar situation, of whether machines can be better judges of guilt or innocence than humans, also comes up in Frank Riley's "The Cyber and Justice Holmes" (HERE).
- Most robots are basically perambulating computers, but is it possible that some day we can confidently say that "Robots Can't Lie," as per Robert Leslie Bellem's story (HERE)?
- A lie-detector figured prominently in Charles Phelps Cushing's "The Crime-Detector" (HERE; second story).
- Our latest meeting with Leroy Yerxa was his "The Story Escapes Me" (HERE).

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

Monday, May 6, 2024

An Offbeat Detection Trio

YOU have probably never heard of Charles Phelps Cushing, a professional photographer who decided in the early '20s to try his hand at writing detective fiction, generating six narratives (at least two of which feature his series sleuths Andrew Kerrigan, Mamie Skaggs, and Snap-shot Bill Kelly), five for Blue Book and one for The Black Mask. So far, we've been able to track down only those two Kerrigan and Co.'s adventures. As always, we'll let you decide if our author has succeeded:
   (1) "'Save the Mail or Die'," (ss) The Blue Book Magazine, May 1922
   (2) "The Radio Murder," (ss) The Blue Book Magazine, June 1922
   (3) "A Bit of Old Paper," (ss) The Blue Book Magazine, July 1922
   (4) "The Perfect Alibi," (ss) The Blue Book Magazine, August 1922 (below)
   (5) "The Crime-Detector," (ss) The Blue Book Magazine, September 1922 (below)
   (6) "A Tassel of Black Yarn," (ss) The Black Mask, March 15, 1923.

"The Perfect Alibi."
By Charles Phelps Cushing (1884-1973).
First appearance: Blue Book, August 1922.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at (HERE).

   "Don't fall down on this case, hear me? Get your man or turn in your badges."

IN detective fiction, the bad guy often searches for the perfect alibi, that unbreakable point in space (and/or space-time) that exonerates him or her. "I couldn't have done it," the baddie says, "because I was somewhere else when it happened, and I can prove it." So it seems with today's killer. It's going to take some persistent police work and technical know-how to break this alibi, but the detecting team of Kerrigan, Skaggs, and Kelly are up to the task . . .

Main characters:
~ Andrew Kerrigan:
  ". . . it would be just our luck, on a big case like this, to hit just what you spoke of—the perfect alibi."
~ Mamie Skaggs:
  "'You don’t get my idea, at all. My clue’s a woman’s clue.' Her eyes sparkled with triumph and suppressed gayety. 'All I wish is that this case was going to be put up to a jury of twelve women. I could smash that Rensselaer alibi in two minutes—just long enough to say six words and run the film'."
~ The Chief:
  "'Clear-r-r out!' he bellowed, rolling his 'r's in a broad Irish brogue in the stress of his emotion. 'Land yer-r-r man in thr-r-r-ee days, or-r-r I'll kill the both of ye with me own two hands. So help me, St. Patr-r-rick, I will!'"
~ Henry Oswald:
  "Young Henry Oswald evidently had not died without a desperate struggle. The room where his body lay sprawled face downward, arms outstretched, was littered with the wreckage of battle, and his shirt was torn to ribbons. Every chair in the room was upset. A card-table tipped on two legs against the wall, and cards and poker-chips strewed the rumpled rugs. Hair-brushes, neckties and collars were all over the floor near where a dresser-cover had been yanked off. Books had been hurled about as missiles. A broken walking-stick gleamed in a beam of sunshine near the window, and bits of colored glass from a broken lamp-shade glittered with reflected light from the borders of the highly polished hardwood floor."
~ The superintendent of the apartment-house:
  "'Poor Mr. Henry!' he said, shaking his head mournfully. 'Such a wild young man! I might have known it would come to this. Horrible!'"
~ Raeburn Rensselaer:
  "Raeburn Rensselaer? He’s another of old man Oswald’s nephews. You can’t pinch him unless you’ve got enough evidence to convict a holy saint."
~ Snapshot Bill Kelly:
  "I think he’s had his right eye doctored. But I’m afraid the picture won't prove it."
~ Mr. Coyne:
  ". . . a lean, beady-eyed, hatchet-faced youth, clad noisily in a suit of Broadway cut, obviously new, and his prosperity further advertised by squeaky new yellow shoes and a new silk shirt with a bright red tie, strode down the aisle of film-cutters’ tables and eyed the three visitors with haughty condescension."

References and resources:
- "the two collars":
  Those would be detachable collars, first developed (if the legend is true) in the 1820s by a woman. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the holiday celebration—Memorial Day, you know":
  "Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) is a federal holiday in the United States for honoring and mourning the U.S. military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. From 1868 to 1970, it was observed on May 30. Since 1971, it is observed on the last Monday of May." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "the ten o’clock train from New York—the Broadway Limited":
  "The Broadway Limited was a passenger train operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) between New York City and Chicago. It operated from 1912 to 1995." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- By pure coincidence, there's a Rensselaer County in New York, its capital is Troy, and it just happens to be the home of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "the silver-plated mustache cup":
  "The moustache cup (or mustache cup) is a drinking cup with a semicircular ledge inside. The ledge, called a moustache guard, has a half moon-shaped opening to allow the passage of liquids and serves as a guard to keep moustaches dry." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "you’d better touch it up a bit":
  Not surprising that General Grant approved of it: "A common form of photographic manipulation, particularly in advertising, fashion, and glamour photography, involves edits intended to enhance the appearance of the subject. Common transformations include smoothing skin texture, erasing scars, pimples, and other skin blemishes, slimming the subject's body, and erasing wrinkles and folds. Commentators have raised concerns that such practices may lead to unrealistic expectations and negative body image among the audience." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "the bright lights along the Great White Way of Twelfth Street":
  "One famous stretch near Times Square, where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan, is the home of many Broadway theatres, housing an ever-changing array of commercial, large-scale plays, particularly musicals. This area of Manhattan is often called the Theater District or the Great White Way, a nickname originating in the headline 'Found on the Great White Way' in the February 3, 1902, edition of the New York Evening Telegram. The journalistic nickname was inspired by the millions of lights on theater marquees and billboard advertisements that illuminate the area. After becoming the city's de facto red-light district in the 1960s and 1970s . . ." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "The news reels":
  You betray your age if you admit to seeing one in a movie theater: "A newsreel is a form of short documentary film, containing news stories and items of topical interest, that was prevalent between the 1910s and the mid 1970s. Typically presented in a cinema, newsreels were a source of current affairs, information, and entertainment for millions of moviegoers. Newsreels were typically exhibited preceding a feature film . . ." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "two flappers with skirts cut almost to their knees":
  "Flappers were a subculture of young Western women prominent after the First World War and through the 1920s who wore short skirts (knee height was considered short during that period), bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for prevailing codes of decent behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes in public, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "Civil War Zouaves":
  "A feature of some American zouave units, at least in the opening stages of the American Civil War, was the light infantry tactics and drill they employed. Zouaves 'utilised light infantry tactics that emphasised open-order formations, with several feet between soldiers, rather than the customary close order, with its characteristic "touch of elbows". They moved at double-time, rather than marching to a stately cadence, and they lay on their backs to load their rifles rather than standing to do so. To fire, they rolled prone and sometimes rose on one knee'." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "a tower building in Times Square":
  "In 1904, New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs moved the newspaper's operations to a new skyscraper on 42nd Street at Longacre Square, on the site of the former Pabst Hotel, which had existed on the site for less than a decade since it opened in November 1899. Ochs persuaded Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. to construct a subway station there, and the area was renamed 'Times Square' on April 8, 1904." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "the old G.A.R. men":
  "The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army (United States Army), Union Navy (U.S. Navy), and the Marines who served in the American Civil War. It was founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, and grew to include hundreds of 'posts' (local community units) across the North and West. It was dissolved in 1956 at the death of its last member, Albert Woolson." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "a long pan":
  "In cinematography and photography, panning means swivelling a still or video camera horizontally from a fixed position. This motion is similar to the motion of a person when they turn their head on their neck from left to right. In the resulting image, the view seems to 'pass by' the spectator as new material appears on one side of the screen and exits from the other, although perspective lines reveal that the entire image is seen from a fixed point of view. The term panning is derived from panorama, suggesting an expansive view that exceeds the gaze, forcing the viewer to turn their head in order to take everything in. Panning, in other words, is a device for gradually revealing and incorporating off-screen space into the image." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "the crowd close-ups":
  "A close-up or closeup in filmmaking, television production, still photography, and the comic strip medium is a type of shot that tightly frames a person or object. Close-ups are one of the standard shots used regularly with medium and long shots (cinematic techniques). Close-ups display the most detail, but they do not include the broader scene. Moving toward or away from a close-up is a common type of zooming. A close up is taken from head to neck, giving the viewer a detailed view of the subject's face." (Wikipedia HERE.)
"You ain't no ravin' beauty yourself, Bud."
- "a double exposure or any other trick stuff":
  "In photography and cinematography, a multiple exposure is the superimposition of two or more exposures to create a single image, and double exposure has a corresponding meaning in respect of two images. The exposure values may or may not be identical to each other." (Wikipedia HERE.)

Typos: "wont" (two times).

"The Crime-Detector." 
By Charles Phelps Cushing (1884-1973).
First appearance: Blue Book, September 1922.
Short story (15 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go to text page 111).

   ". . . that poor devil dyin' in the street, flat on his face there, with a black knife stuck into his back."

THERE'S a killer running loose in the streets (as well as an office building and a costume ball), and in none of those places are the police able to snag the villain. The Chief and Detective Kerrigan are having no luck at all on the case, and for Detective Skaggs "there seemed to be little hope in her case either"until she has a brainstorm and decides to run her own customized psyop on their best suspect using something in a way that it wasn't originally designed to function: ". . . it began to buzz. A green disk gleamed and dimmed; a red disk glowed for two seconds; then a bell tinkled, a whistle shrilled, and a disk of sapphire began to glow" . . .

Main characters:
~ Marcus Vanderbridge:
  "Right under their eyes, and in daylight, Marcus Vanderbridge, a wealthy broker in stocks and bonds, one of the vice-presidents of the exchange, had been struck down at the busiest street crossing in a busy city; but the murderer had escaped unhindered . . ."
~ Selah:
  "Have not left the city, and shall not. As usual, the police show no imagination."
~ Mamie Skaggs:
  ". . . imagination works two ways. If we ever land him, we can make it work for us. We can play on his imagination, torture it if we have to, and get results we never could hope for with a duller sort of brain."
~ Andrew Kerrigan:
  "Her team-mate's face was bruised and swollen; from his lower lip a little stream of blood trickled steadily down his chin. But in his eyes gleamed triumph."
~ The Chief:
  "Tell 'em the Chief of Police is lookin' for a big fellow in a red-brown suit with cauliflower ears."
~ Snapshot Bill Kelly:
  "'I was right there when it happened.' He tapped the battered camera triumphantly. 'And I've got the pictures of it here'."
~ The sergeant:
  "Evidently enough, from his report, he and his men had responded to the emergency swiftly, and according to the best of police traditions."
~ Sadie Hussey:
  ". . . the white-haired and placid-featured proprietor of Wyandotte's notorious gambling 'club'."
~ Professor Alonzo Biggs:
  "As she talked, the Professor gazed at her in solemn silence over the top of his glasses, and at the end nodded in approval."
~ Reggie:
  "Aren't you Daphne? Take it off! I wanna see!"

Typos: "wont" (five times); "aint"(three times).

References and resources:
- "it's a new machine for detectin' crime":
  The Chief does everything but call it by its name: the polygraph. (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "the new traffic-tower":
  Very common before automation: "A traffic tower is a permanent raised structure providing a clearer view of traffic conditions than can be had from street level and protection for the traffic controller from the hazards of moving vehicles." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "orthochromatic speed plates":
  "In photography, an orthochromatic light spectrum is one devoid of red light . . . Orthochromatic photography refers to a photographic emulsion that is sensitive to only blue and green light, and thus can be processed with a red safelight. The increased blue sensitivity causes blue objects to appear lighter, and red ones darker." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "He looked like a pug to me":
  A boxer; the word is probably a shortened form of "pugilist" (a prizefighter).
- "She'd never peach":
  "Inform on: 'The other members of the gang would not hesitate to peach on him if it would serve their purpose'."
- "the clavilux":
  "Clavilux is the term coined by the artist Thomas Wilfred to refer to his mechanical invention that allowed the creation and performance of lumia, which was Wilfred's term for light art. From Latin, Clavilux means 'Light played by key.' Wilfred built his first Clavilux, Model A, from March to May 1919." (Wikipedia HERE.) Also see the article at (HERE).
- "were not cauliflowered":
  You don't have to be a boxer to suffer from it: "Cauliflower ear is an irreversible condition that occurs when the external portion of the ear is hit and develops a blood clot or other collection of fluid under the perichondrium. This separates the cartilage from the overlying perichondrium that supplies its nutrients, causing it to die and resulting in the formation of fibrous tissue in the overlying skin. As a result, the outer ear becomes permanently swollen and deformed, resembling a cauliflower, hence the name. The condition is common in martial arts such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, judo, sumo, or mixed martial arts, and in full-contact sports such as rugby league or rugby union." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "The sparrow-cop saw it":
  Policemen wouldn't normally want to be one: "Try this, if you dare, the next time you see a police officer in Central Park: 'Hey, sparrow cop, what’s new?' This beat was apparently less than desirable, as the phrase 'sparrow cop' was defined as 'policeman in trouble with superiors and assigned to Central Park to guard the grass'." (The New York Times City Room HERE.)

Comment: The light tone the author adopts in both stories works to their advantage.

More resources:
- Our author's previous experience with crime fiction was his short short short story, "Modern Weapons," which predates the Kerrigan stories by a decade; see The Argosy, December 1912, 3 pages ( HERE).
- Here is one of Cushing's photographs:
Charles Phelps Cushing. Fifth Avenue Looking North from 42nd Street. Manhattan. 1940s.
- The New York Times published his obit in 1973 (HERE).
- Cushing wrote a book aimed at nonfiction authors, If You Don't Write Fiction (1920); a free copy is available on Project Gutenberg (HERE).
- Shutterbugs penetrated crime fiction relatively early in the pulps; for example, Flashgun Casey and his successor Kent Murdoch (Mike Grost's site HERE; The Thrilling Detective HERE), and much later a single-season TV series featuring a future movie superstar (The Thrilling Detective HERE).
- Another crime was solved by a magician via photography just the other day (HERE). Photographic inconsistencies also help Julian Morse Trowbridge catch a thief in Arthur Porges's "The Cunning Cashier" (HERE).

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