Saturday, February 25, 2017

"The Crime Simply Couldn't Have Been Committed at All, but It Was"

THE NAME OF Charles S. Wolfe isn't well known today, but at one time (1918-1922) he was regularly churning out stories for Hugo Gernsback's publications: Electrical Experimenter 
(6 tales), Science and Invention (the new name for Electrical Experimenter, 11 stories), and Radio News (3 stories), in addition to getting three more tales placed in The Black Mask 
(all data from FictionMags).

Was Charles S. Wolfe a nom de plume for Gernsback? We can't find any information that indicates he was, but Wolfe's writing does bear a striking resemblance to the publisher's 
(and that's not necessarily a compliment; remember, the scientific idea's the thing, not plotting and certainly not characterization).

At the moment we're considering returning to this author in the future, simply because he sometimes wrote about one of Gernsback's favorite notions, the scientific detective. The following story is typically Wolfe-ian:

"The Educated Harpoon."
By Charles S. Wolfe (?-?).
First appearance: Electrical Experimenter, April 1920.
Reprinted in Amazing Stories, December 1926.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (START HERE: select page 64) 
and (FINISH: select page 102, et seq.).
"Our author Chas. S. Wolfe seems at home with murders and the police. He has a special talent in bringing a mystery before us and in picturing some of the efforts of the ordinary mind, solving it and then in his own gripping way developing all the details so as to bring the story to a conclusion which is a revelation of a mystery. Here is a mysterious stabbing, no weapon to be seen or found, the ingress and regress of the murderer a profound mystery, and we almost fear the very name of the story tells too much, but we know our readers will find plenty of suspense in its text."
You've heard of the "magic bullet," but how about the "magic knife"?

Comment: This one strongly reminds us of a Dr. Thorndyke mystery, but is far less plausible—and if Gernsback's so concerned about the story's title, what about the illo, Hugo?
- Of course the ISFDb hasn't overlooked our author; go (HERE).

The bottom line: "Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"I Mean What Would Be the Good of My Making Passionate Love to You?"

"The Modern Thriller."
By Anonymous.
First appearance: Pan, February 7, 1920.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
"This is nonsense," she said. "You're simply being tyrannised by the story."
Some things never change . . .
"But supposing he takes it into his head to poison us or murder us or make one of us commit suicide?"

"Here Is the Dusk Again; the Friendly Night!"

"Dupin and Another."
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
First appearance: Weird Tales, August 1939.
Poem (1 page).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF).
Starrett captures the tenebrous milieu in which Poe's intellectual detective and his "Watson," ever eager for adventure, thrived.

- The ISFDb has an entry for Vincent Starrett (HERE).
- One of Starrett's Jimmie Lavender stories, "Recipe for Murder" (Redbook, November 1934), got badly treated by Hollywood, being filmed as The Great Hotel Murder (1935); see the IMDb (HERE) and be sure to read "User Reviews."
By all accounts, a lousy movie.
- Our last visit with Vincent was (HERE).

The Top 5 in January

THE MOST POPULAR POSTINGS from last month featured a thespian cop, a review of a tribute volume to Peter Lovesey, an adventure with a female Nero Wolfe, a clever story about a safe robbery, and a skyfy tale about the unusual use to which a time machine can be put. You might also note, in skimming the lists below, the continuing popularity in every year of articles that relate to Sherlock Holmes, whose "immortality" seems assured.

~ January 2017 ~
(1) "Good Old Christmas Theatricals!" - (HERE)
(2) Who Knew There Could Be So Many MOTIVES FOR MURDER? - (HERE)
(3) "Nothing Out of the Ordinary; Only the Robbery and Incidental Murder of an Old Man" - (HERE)
(4) "Mr. Bond, I Am Afraid Your Safe Has Been Tampered With" - (HERE)
(5) "For the First Time in the History of Crime, a Murderer Had at His Disposal the Sure Means of Ridding Himself of His Corpse" - (HERE)

~ January 2014 ~
(1) "Lynx-eyed Science" and the Talking Dead Men - (HERE)
(2) Van Dine's Detective Novel Lecture - (HERE)
(3) Sherlock's First Theatrical Outing - (HERE)
(4) Hoch's Locked Room Winner - (HERE)
(5) THE HOUND Again - (HERE)

~ January 2015 ~
(1) Often by and Sometimes about Vincent Starrett - (HERE)
(2) Murder on the Final Frontier - (HERE)
(3) OLD-TIME DETECTION, Autumn 2014 - (HERE)
(4) "He Was Solely an Expression of the Analytical Capacity of the Intellect—A Ratiocinative Device" - (HERE)
(5) Sherlockian Miscellania - (HERE)

~ January 2016 ~
(1) "'Your Name?' Said the Police Car in a Metallic Whisper" - (HERE)
(2) "This Case Had More Holes in It Than a Swiss Cheese and More Loose Ends Than a Torn String Vest" - (HERE)
(3) Four-Color Sherlock - (HERE)
(4) France's Answer to Moriarty - (HERE)
(5) Dr. Dannart Will See You Now (or, A Forgotten Detective Who Probably Deserved It) - (HERE)

Monday, February 20, 2017

"In a General Sense, Literature and the Drama Are Saturated with Bandits, Brigands and Outlaws, Sometimes Comical, Sometimes Heroic, but You Will Excuse Me If I Maintain That You Stand on a Different Footing"

"Burglars Three."
By James Harvey Smith (1852?-1925?).
First appearance: McClure's Magazine, August 1893.
Short short story (9 pages, with 10 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and UNZ (HERE).
The hat was optional.
"What is your annual income as a burglar?"
As a target for robbery, the isolated Braithwait residence miles out of town in the suburbs looks like a piece of cake to our felonious trio—callous and brutal Jim Baxter, who doesn't mind violence; affable Wilson Graham, who prefers the peaceful way whenever possible; 
and callow Harry Montgomery, a youthful amateur at the burglary game—until, that is, 
they encounter the homeowner and make the crucial mistake of underestimating him . . .
- There's practically nothing on the Interweb about James Harvey Smith, and we're guessing about his life-death dates; FictionMags gives him credit for three stories:
   "Old Shipmates," Romance, July 1893
   "Burglars Three," McClure’s, August 1893 (above)
   "In the Desert," Munsey’s Magazine, February 1899.
The penny dreadfuls just couldn't help themselves when it came to glamorizing burglars.

The bottom line: "Actors and burglars work better at night."
Cedric Hardwicke

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"We Jumped Him Before He Finished You Off, Though I’ll Admit It Was Close"

AUGUSTUS BOYD CORRELL, according to FictionMags, was "born in South Carolina; Newspaperman, writer for Walt Disney, author of magazine short stories; died in Los Angeles." In 1948 he co-authored a novel, The Dark Wheel (a.k.a. Sweet and Deadly), with Philip MacDonald (briefly noted HERE; criticized HERE; and online at Hathi Trust HERE).
Our author also wrote this one; we wonder what's in it.
Correll specialized in short crime fiction, however, with his over two dozen stories being placed in the major detective pulps of the '40s and '50s; in the '60s he generated two epi-sodes for Robert Taylor's Detectives TV series (HERE; see also "The Legend of Jim Riva" HERE), and the ISFDb credits him with three works of SFF (HERE). Although we're sure 
more of his stories are lurking out there somewhere on the Internet, for the moment we 
can locate only two of them, both of which are, not surprisingly, movie-related:
Correll put words in Edward G.'s mouth; Tige Andrews (left) horsing around with Edward G. Robinson on The Detectives.
~ ~ ~

"A Motive Was Shaping Itself in My Mind, but I Couldn't Tie the Strings Together"

"The Corpse That Played Dead."
By A. Boyd Correll (1905-87).
First appearance: Thrilling Mystery, Winter 1943.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).
"Murder Closes Down on a Hollywood Lot When a Pompous Actor Gives Up the Ghost in the Midst of a Machine-Gun Melodrama!"
Film actor Ronald Edwards's movies always lose money, so why does Panamint Studios boss Emil Friml keep making films with Edwards in them? For Friml, the main concern is that somebody is trying to kill Edwards while he's making a war movie, falling sandbags and flame-throwers blasting real flames at his leading man being enough for Friml to call in the studio's unofficial detective, Jimmy Lee, our first-person narrator. In spite of Lee's presence right there on the sound stage, though, someone succeeds in doing Edwards in just as they're filming a battle scene on a bridge:

   "I jumped up from the pile of scenery and started for the prop bridge, with Jane and her brother close behind. I leaned over the actor. A dark red worm of blood was jerking and twisting from his temple, and his throat moved convulsively. He sighed and gurgled. Then the blood stopped jumping, and merely seeped as though no more was left in his body. . .
   "As I started for the door, the background lights, casting their eerie glow of red, suddenly blinked out. The stage was in total darkness. I let out a yelp of surprise, and was smacked flat as someone rushed past me. Jane screamed—a long, piercing cry that echoed and reechoed through the building.
   "I heard a thumping as I pushed to my feet and held my hands out to avoid another collision. There was a swishing, grating noise as though a body were being dragged 
across the floor, then a bump—and silence. . .
   "I started, when I glanced at the spot where the corpse had been. The body was gone."

Lee doesn't realize it at the time, but the apparently pointless act of the body being dragged across the floor is the key that will unlock how—and who—murdered failed 
matinee idol Ronald Edwards.

Here's a nice bit of descriptive writing that also serves to delineate the character of the studio boss:

   "One moment he wasn’t there, and the next he was. In the ghostly light of the background flares, he looked like Scrooge and the devil rolled into one. His withered leg swung like a pendulum between his good one and the mahogany crutch which supported him. His head, a tremendous load for such a scrawny neck, was covered with a fuzz of colorless hair. His ears were pointed, and belonged on a character from a child’s fairy story book. I had seen him often, but I was always startled when I faced him."

- As mystery writers love to tell us time and again, making movies can be murder; take, for instance, "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario" that Ellery Queen and his dad get to have (HERE) and (HERE).
~ ~ ~

"Some Refugee from Frankenstein Dragged a Girl by My Window"

"Death on Location."
By A. Boyd Correll (1905-87).
First appearance: Mammoth Mystery, January 1946.
Reprinted in Pulp Tales Presents #24, August 2011.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE) (select page 100).
"It seemed to be a very good location for filming a horror movie. In fact it was so good the most horrible of all creatures kept everybody's nerves on edge and finally ran off with the heroine."
Tom Ferguson's normal occupation is scouting for movie locations, but when he embarked on this particular expedition he never anticipated finding an old woman with her throat torn out—or getting attacked by a swamp monster that walks on two legs (a "gibbering thing that smelled of putrefied flesh"), a creature straight out of a nightmare that, oddly, seems a mite too protective, not of its territory per se, but of some small shiny, round things that your average monster wouldn't think twice about, but which would definitely excite human interest, enough human interest to lead to murder . . .

Friday, February 17, 2017

"I Had It When I Stepped on This Car, You Grinning Donkey, and Some One on This Car Has It"

"The Stolen Ten Thousand."
By D. C. Freeman (?-?).
First appearance: The Railroad Man's Magazine, April 1910.
Reprinted in The Underworld, February 1928.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Warning: Text is VERY faded; you should have better reading if you click the "Zoom In" function 3 or 4 times.)
"What Happened on the Night That Denver Joe Made a Haul in No. 47, the Hoodoo."
An awe-inspiring sight, this:
Persons abroad on the streets were appalled by the remarkable vision of the veritable chariot of fire winging its way recklessly through the public thorough-fares.
And how, you might reasonably ask, could such a thing transpire on the avenues of a large American city? We could go way back to Denver Joe's early years, when at some point he must've decided that he's entitled to other people's money whether they like it or not.

Or we could go back to just recently, when Shorty Saunders—conscientious bill-paying family man, trying to overcome "an instalment indebtedness doubling up on him, and the missus and the kid both sick for a time"—fails to persuade his superintendent to give him a better street-car route. Or we could say that Shorty's "cold-blooded" Superintendent Skinner simply refuses to cut him any slack.

Or we could point to that "bad case of nerves" that plagues Mr. Ambey Bennet—"head of Bennet Lumbering Company of Bridal Veil Falls"—leading to "irritation [that] had been at the boiling point for hours" and causing just enough distraction to induce him to lose track of "a neat, compact package of fresh currency" worth ten thousand dollars.

Or we could blame it all on old No. 47, known to a legion of tram car drivers as "the hoo-doo," a street-car with a "reputation for mishaps, and for hurting her motormen and conduc-tors [that] dated back to the days of the single-truckers and the old rheostat," including one memorable trip "with 47 and a trailer with a picnic crowd" during which "the hoodoo scared a hundred people into teetotalism on the way home by trying to peal through the span braces of the bridge."

Or we could simply acknowledge what should be obvious, when you think about it: All of those things will combine to produce that mind-blowing apparition of a "veritable chariot of fire winging its way recklessly through the public thoroughfares."
- All we know about "D. C. Freeman" is that he or she wrote "The Stolen Ten Thousand," which by a wonderful coincidence happens to be the story we just read.
- "Trams," "trolley cars," "street-cars"—depending on where you live, they're all names for the same thing; for history and background on this charming mode of transportation see (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- What do a major league baseball team and trolley cars have in common? See 
this Gizmodo article (HERE) to find out.
- And finally, if you've arrived at a point in your life where you have absolutely 
nothing else to think about, then consider the "trolley problem" (HERE).

The bottom line: "Trams and dusty trees."