Sunday, September 25, 2016

"No Contributing Factors in the Way of Bullets, Poisons or Blows Were Found—It Was a Perfect Crime"

IF BY SOME miracle you've never seen a movie from the '30s, '40s, or '50s, then you've never been exposed to the screen work of Ben Hecht; he had a knack for film writing (and script doctoring) that kept him very busy in Hollywood (see "Resources," below); but on occasion he would produce a fine piece of prose having a criminous theme, such as the three stories that follow.

"Miracle of the Fifteen Murderers."
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, January 16, 1943.
Reprints (FictionMags data): The Avon Annual #3, 1946; The Saint Detective Magazine, Spring 1953; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), September 1954; The Saint Detective Magazine (UK), November 1954; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1962; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (UK), January 1963; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (Australia), March 1963; Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, May 1965; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #23, 1972.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 22).
"They were a congress of killers, but no jury, interested solely in justice, would find them guilty."
Doctor Alex Hume divulges what happened at a recent meeting of the X Club, an informal society of medical doctors who confess to the group their "murders" (i.e., unintentional medical blunders that kill a patient), unaware that what they've learned from their combined mistakes will lead to saving a life.

~ ~ ~
"Café Sinister."
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, August 21, 1943.
Reprints (FictionMags data): Avon Modern Short Story Monthly #37, 1947; The Saint Detective Magazine, October 1954; The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia), April 1955; and The Saint Detective Magazine (UK), June 1955.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (start) and HERE (finish; scroll down to page 66).
(Note: Some text trimmed but readable.)
"Café El Granada — showcase for wealth, photographers' heaven, breeding ground of gossip and intrigue — spawns a revenge too long delayed, in a memorable tale told by a master."
A man of mystery is this Baron Corfus, an exile from his own country, indulging in ostentatious elitist dissipation while furtively working towards . . . what?

~ ~ ~
"Swindler's Luck."
(a.k.a. "The Sunset Kid").
By Ben Hecht (1894-1964).
First appearance: The Saturday Evening Post, January 12, 1952.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
(Note: Some text distorted but barely readable.)
"The mobsters would kill him if they ever caught on to his game. He was betting his life they wouldn't."
In this age of specialization, the Sunset Kid has an especially dangerous specialty: he's been astoundingly successful as "a crook who devoted himself to swindling members of the un-derworld. He specialized in trimming big-shot bookies and professional card gamblers," it being an understanding "between the Kid and his victims that they would have to catch him only once," after which . . . well, you don't need much imagination to know what that would mean.

But now the Kid wants to get married and go legit; he figures he can take mob boss Rocky Blair for the ten grand he needs to start a new life, but it's going to involve some clever planning, including a blown fuse and five automobiles . . .

- See Wikipedia (HERE) for biographical information about Ben Hecht and the IMDb (HERE) for his extensive filmography.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Three Years Running

Today, September 23rd, ONTOS celebrates its third year as a going concern. To be frank, when we started we didn't think it would last six months, and that we might get 50 postings out before closing our doors. But thanks to the warm support from you Wonderful Readers out there in the dark ONTOS keeps rolling along. Our weblog stats might not be very impres-sive—98,000 page views (after factoring out spambots) and 819 postings spread over roughly 155 weeks—but we believe that striving for quality is how any endeavor should be approach-ed. We hope you'll keep dropping in now and then to see where ONTOS is headed because, to be truthful, we don't know ourselves.

"The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the general care of humanity to escape." — Dr. Johnson

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"I Know You, and That You Are the Murderer of Mr. Blagden!"

"Murder Under the Microscope."
By "Waters" (William Russell, ?-?).
First book appearance: Autobiography of an English Detective, Volume 2 (1863).
Book chapter (43 pages).
Reprinted at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and HERE.
"Seldom has evidence—almost supernatural it seemed to the astounded audience—produced a deeper impression . . ."
Arthur Blagden, a retired solicitor turned real estate wheeler-dealer, has been found dead and Joseph Gibson, an amateur in the art of farming, has been accused.

The mountain of circumstantial evidence against Gibson seems absolutely incontrovertible: It is common public knowledge among the locals that Blagden (just as he did with the previ-ous owner) had cheated Gibson, something of a naive city dweller, when he purchased a run-down farm for over twice its actual worth; that after Gibson hit difficulties in making his ren-tal payment, Blagden had flatly refused any extension of the deadline, leading to "a stormy scene" between the two men during which Gibson "leapt at his landlord, and inflicted a severe blow upon his face, at the same time howling forth threats of direst vengeance"; and that many auditors at the local pub had heard Gibson making even more ominous threats against Arthur Blagden.
When the very next day Blagden's dead body is found sprawled across a narrow road, his gig overturned and his horse tortured by a broken leg, everyone assumes at first it's an accident—but then comes a discovery that casts the spotlight of guilt on Joseph Gibson:
There was a deep wound in the back of the dead man's neck—apparently delivered by a sharp axe, which had cut through the stand-up fur collar of the cloak he wore. No question that he had been struck from behind.
The London detective officer called into the case isn't content to settle for the obvious explanation for a crime until he can account for those anomalies that crop up from time to time in an investigation, among them in this instance:

   ~ "a clothes-line, almost new, one end of which had been recently cut" and "carefully buried near the scene of the awful crime," an item which "might suffice to hang whoever could be proved to have had it in his possession on the night of the murder";
   ~ "a sharp billhook, the blade and handle of which were stained with blood," as well as a bloody apron;
   ~ the fact that none of the missing money belonging to Blagden, "neither notes nor coin—he had a small canvass bag full, or nearly so of sovereigns—had been found, nor had the gold watch";
   ~ how to account for Gibson's keeping of the "easily discoverable" and incriminating rent receipt;
   ~ the way Blagden's horse and gig were upset: "to do so was scarcely to be expected of a Cockney oil and colourman [Gibson]—one too prematurely feeble, aged. No, no; if that trick had been played, it was by some one whose eyes could see in the dark as well as daylight; one possessed of nerve, quickness, decision, which would bring down a partridge before it had fluttered its wings thrice";
   ~ and finally what the microscope reveals about the blood, fur, and human hair found on the apron, the billhook, and the victim's cloak collar.

   ~ "It was a very, very ugly affair."
   ~ "This expression was held to indicate a settled determination in Gibson's mind to kill his landlord, should the required favour be refused. A skilled detective would have drawn an inference just the reverse of that. No man, unless he be delirious with drink or rage, hints of his intention, under certain contingencies, to commit murder!"
   ~ "It can only be explained by the axiom that whom God determines to destroy he first deprives of reason."

Typos: "bark of the dead man's neck"; "suddenly tighteued."

- An earlier book by "Waters" is online (HERE).
- Researchers maintain that "Waters" wasn't a police officer at all:
By 1842 the police presence in London had become acceptable enough to make possible the creation of a small, plain-clothes detective police force and it is the activities of the detective police that finally bring crime and detection together in popular literature, initially in fiction. In 1849 hack journalist William Russell, perhaps inspired by the 1830s and 40s fashion for pseudo-autobiographical narratives of professional men such as physicians, lawyers and barristers, produced the first fictional account of professional policing in his “Recollec-tions of a Police-Officer,” which were published in the popular Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 1849–53. Russell overcame the class problem by making “Waters,” his policeman protagonist, a gentleman forced into police work after losing his fortune to dishonest gamblers. The stories are set in the recent past prior to the establishment of the detective police, but “Waters” functions as a detective, working in plain clothes, and there are anachronistic references to his “fellow detective-officers.” The stories proved popular . . . — For more, see Chapter 1: "From The Newgate Calendar to Sherlock Holmes" by Heather Worthington, in Rzepka & Horsley's A Companion to Crime Fiction, 2010 (HERE, PDF).
- Concerning our story:
As a rare example of "Waters" fiction available today, "Murder Under the Micro-scope" is of fascinating historical interest. It is a landmark in the depiction of science to detect crime. It is in the anthology Isaac Asimov Presents the Best Crime Stories of the 19th Century (1988) edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg and Charles Waugh. — Mike Grost, "'Waters': Founder of the Casebook School" (HERE), A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection.

The bottom line: "We are only tenants, and shortly the great Landlord will give us notice that our lease has expired."
Joseph Jefferson

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"I've Got a Score to Settle on Earth"

"Creegar Dares to Die."
By David Wright O'Brien (1918-44).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, August 1942.
Novelette (45 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (with 8 illos).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"Death meant nothing to Creegar when he came out of prison. He had something to do, and he did it!"
Thorne Creegar—framed by the man he worked for, deprived of the woman he loves, sen-tenced to years on the most isolated penal planet—is determined to get revenge; Creegar thinks he's come up with a way of doing it, unaware that he's actually part of someone else's larger, much more intricate plan, a subtly conceived frame-up which that someone will regard as being successful only when Creegar is lying dead . . .

Chapter I: "Free and alone, and filled with bitterness"
Chapter II: "Bellham Builds a Frame"
Chapter III: "Building a Snare"
Chapter IV: "The Web Tightens"
Chapter V: "The Trap Is Sprung"
Chapter VI: "The Black Network"
Chapter VII: "Hudge Closes In"
Chapter VIII: "Inside New York"
Chapter IX: "Hudge Strikes"
Chapter X: "Hudge Returns"

~ Thorne Creegar:
   "His knees, as he hit the rusty wharf planking, seemed for an instant to refuse to support his tortured body. And then he found balance, and moved lurchingly, almost blindly, to the machines ahead of him."
~ Sherry Bennet:
   "Her cheeks were wet, her hazel eyes misty, her lovely mouth forming a tremulous smile of joyous relief."
~ Nana:
   "Your fear has driven you into this bargain. You are afraid of Judson Bellham, afraid of what he might do to Thorne if you didn't comply with his wishes."
~ Judson Bellham:
   "My first hunch, on his release, proved damnably correct. I knew he'd try to get back."
~ Lee Hudge:
   "Lee Hudge was no larger than a small atomic cannon. He was also just as deadly."
~ Captain Treowlan, of the Venusian space freighter, Verieshu:
   "You can't try to jump ship and slip onto Earth Federation without getting a death ray through your hard young head."
~ A bandy-legged space tar:
   "The skipper just didn't like the way you tried to make him run small-time errands. But he's dumping the shipment tonight. Space port. Smart thing to get down there."
~ Mecks:
   "You'll need a few of the boys, then?"

Typos: "he would face Cregar"; "An as Thorne began to stride"; "Then Venusian captain"; "a few minutes before learned"; "the storm of abuse an invective"; "its still in one piece"; "seedy litle man"; "his indominatable will."
- Our last session with David Wright O'Brien, a World War II combat casualty, was (HERE).

The bottom line: "Revenge, the sweetest morsel to the mouth that ever was cooked in hell."
Walter Scott

Monday, September 19, 2016

August's Top 5

Being in the center of summer, when just about everybody (including us) in the Northern Hemisphere should be outside doing something, August has typically been a slow month here at ONTOS, but for some inexplicable reason August of 2014 saw all-time high record viewership numbers. We're not complaining, however, and welcome any and all readers with open arms (although open pixels might be more accurate).

~ August 2016 ~
(1) "You Were a Fool to Let Ruzza and Me Live" (HERE)
(2) "Luck Followed Him As It Sometimes Does the Evildoer" (HERE)
(3) "The Beloved Fable of Baker Street" (HERE)
(4) "Fred Stone Could Have Been Killed Last Night and Yet Be Walking Around Full of Life Today" (HERE)
(5) "Maybe I'd Better Call the Morgue and See If They're Missing You" (HERE)

~ August 2014 ~
(1) "A Thoroughly First Rate Detective Story, Rapid, Absorbing, and Credible" (HERE)
(2) "Witty, Decorously Exciting, and Brilliantly Written" (HERE)
(3) "There Is Even a Twist at the End, As If There Were Anything Left to Twist" (HERE)
(4) "What Good Is a Mystery Yarn If in Retrospect It Is Illogical and Silly?" (HERE)
(5) The International Society of Infallible Detectives (HERE)

~ August 2015 ~
(1) "It May Not Be Terribly Original, but Shooting Someone Tends to Be Pretty Effective" (HERE)
(2) "I Am an Old Man Who Has Retained the Use of His Brains" (HERE)
(3) "A Nice Example of the Locked Room Mystery" (HERE)
(4) "Proves That Mirth and Murder Can Mix" (HERE)

"It Was a Series of Intangible Clews That Led Me to This Concrete Bit of Lined Paper"

"The Intangible Clew."
By Reita Lambert (?-?).
First appearance: Munsey's Magazine, October 1925.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"How Émile Duret Worked on Novel Lines to Solve the Mystery of the Murder of André Garnier"
Congreve assures us that "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak"—but in the case of the untimely death of André Garnier, Congreve not-withstanding, music has, in a manner of speaking, moved an otherwise placid individual to commit murder:
WHEN the body of André Garnier was found, one spring morning, with an ornate knife still protruding from the dead man's breast, there was little reason to believe that his murder would be difficult of solution. He was the sort of person whose biography, had it been written, would lead the reader to expect a tragic ending.
. . . During the first few days following the murder it appeared as if the case would make no trying demands upon the police. A few weeks later, however, it was a hardy individual indeed who broached the subject of the Garnier murder to monsieur le préfet.
The gendarmes are indeed baffled, primarily by a surfeit of suspects, nearly all of them of the feminine persuasion:
Preliminary investigations showed, rather appallingly, that there were as many probable reasons for André Garnier's murder as there had been ladies who had temporarily shared his success. It is almost as confusing to discover twenty motives for a crime as to discover none.
Yet they all, even potentially jealous husbands, have rock solid alibis and, upon closer scrutiny, no strong motive for murdering M. Garnier. Exasperated, the chief of police calls in Émile Duret:
M. Duret was a dapper, gentle-mannered little man with a neatly trimmed Van-dyke and a preoccupied manner. After thirty years of notable services to his country, he had ostensibly retired, and was consulted only on occasions when the endeavors of the police had failed of results.
And fail of results they have, primarily because the police haven't bothered to delve as deeply into the circumstances of the case as our dapper sleuth normally does in his investigations:
M. DURET never took up a case where the police had left off. He made it a rule to go back beyond the place where the police had begun.
Patiently and methodically, Duret assembles clues, both tangible and intangible, all of them individually of no apparent importance:

   ~ ". . . André Garnier had been considered a criminal—a despicable thief who stole the output of his fellow worker's souls . . ."
   ~ ". . . he was to meet a new amoureuse at the Claridge that evening, and to dine with her."
   ~ ". . . a dirty-faced, dark-eyed boy digging in a neglected garden with a broken spoon, and singing as he dug . . ."
   ~ ". . . she did not know of her master's return, contrary to his plans, on the evening before she discovered the body . . ."
   ~ ". . . he was eccentric, irresponsible, undependable . . ."
   ~ ". . . She had sung half a dozen bars when Duret's hand clutched the railing before him spasmodically . . ."
   ~ ". . . no notes or sketches of new songs or verse on either piano or desk . . ."
   ~ ". . . he had drunk a full pot of coffee . . ."
   ~ ". . . The cup was on the piano—within easy reach . . ."
   ~ ". . . he left no manuscript . . ."

Comment: "The Intangible Clew" is apparently M. Duret's only case available to us.

The bottom line: "Everyone is a potential murderer — in everyone there arises from time to time the wish to kill — though not the will to kill."
Hercule Poirot

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"Why Not Look Around for a Few Clues Before They Die of Old Age, Spurlock?"

"Murder in the Blue Room."
Script, pencils, and inks by J. A. Patterson (?-?).
First appearance: Detective Picture Stories (1936).
Comic book story (7 pages).
Online at Bill Peschel's website HERE and at Comic Book Plus HERE (select page 11).
"Oh, Mr. Spurlock, my husband's secretary, Miss Lovelace, has been murdered the same way as poor Hector. Oh, me!"
Another four-color Sherlock Holmes story, this one a mild spoof featuring master sleuth Spurlock and his put-upon assistant Doctor Watkins.
Comment: It's a Holmes parody, and not a very good one at that, so don't expect much.

Typos: Numerous, including "your left handed" and "I'm broadmined."
- Our previous encounter with Sherlock Holmes comics is (HERE).
- Concerning the silly names that parodists employ in their Sherlock spoofs, Ellery Queen wrote in the Introduction to The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (HERE):
As a general rule writers of pastiches retain the sacred and inviolate form Sherlock Holmes and rightfully, since a pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author. But writers of parodies, which are humorous or satirical takeoffs, have no such reverent scruples. They usually strive for the weirdest possible distortions and it must be admitted that many highly ingenious travesties have been conceived. Fortunately or unfortu-nately, depending on how much of a purist one is, the name Sherlock Holmes is peculiarly susceptible to the twistings and misshapenings of burlesque-minded authors.
That is why you will meet in this volume such appellative disguises as:  Sherlaw Kombs - Picklock Holes - Thinlock Bones - Shylock Homes - Hemlock Jones -Purlock Hone - Holmlock Shears - Herlock Sholmes - Shamrock Jolnes - Solar Pons - Shirley Holmes . . . and, by comparison, such moderately warped Watsonisms as:  Whatson - Potson - Whatsoname - Jobson - Whatsup . . .
. . . to which we might add Shorleck Humes, Doctor Wadson, Mrs. Hubson, and Professor Moreyorey (HERE) and (HERE).
- A properly done Holmes parody, picked at random, can be found (HERE).
- Bill Peschel has been compiling an impressive list of parodies and pastiches; go (HERE) for more.

The bottom line: "Crime travels on odd highways, my dear Watkins."
— Spurlock