Thursday, April 19, 2018

"I Can't Electrocute a Clew!"

"The Frame Up."
By Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916).
First appearance: Metropolitan, August 1915.
Novelette (13 pages as a PDF).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

"If their object was to lead him into a trap, of all baits they might use the promise to tell him who killed Banf was the one certain to attract him. It made their invita-tion to walk into the parlor almost too obvious."
For an acrobat, walking a wobbly tightrope isn't easy; for District Attorney Wharton—up for re-election, hamstrung by an irresponsible brother-in-law, and hounded by political enemies just waiting for a chance to discredit him—walking a tightrope would, in comparison, be a piece of cake . . .

Comment: Our author seems to be besotted with the inverted sentence; in other words, with the inverted sentence our author seems to be besotted.

Typo: "it [?] an air of peaceful inactivity" [missing a verb]; "George, the water" [waiter].

Resources:
- Few school children have escaped hearing about the infamous Tammany Hall, but if you're a little hazy on the subject see Wikipedia (HERE).

- Richard Harding Davis did more than write fiction, as Wikipedia attests (HERE):
   ". . . [being] an American journalist and writer of fiction and drama, known foremost as the first American war correspondent to cover the Spanish–American War, the Second Boer War, and the First World War. His writing greatly assisted the political career of Theodore Roosevelt. He also played a major role in the evolution of the American magazine. His influence extended to the world of fashion, and he is credited with making the clean-shaven look popular among men at the turn of the 20th century."

- Davis is primarily associated with "yellow journalism"; see the PBS page (HERE).
- Project Gutenberg has fifty titles by Davis in their library beginning (HERE).
- The IMDb (HERE) lists 58 film and TV adaptations of Davis's works from 1910 to 1968.

The bottom line: "The king! I thought he was philosopher enough to allow that there was no murder in politics. In politics, my dear fellow, you know, as well as I do, there are no men, but ideas—no feelings, but interests; in politics we do not kill a man, we only remove an obstacle, that is all.”
  ― Alexandre Dumas (père)
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"What’s the Proposition—You Want Somebody Knocked Off?"

"It's a Cinch!"
By Jordan Cole (?-?).
First appearance: Secret Agent X, November 1934.
Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"He recently pulled a heavy job—about two hundred thousand dollars in cold cash, and he gave her the money to hide for him."
Two hundred G's can buy an awful lot of doublecross . . .

The conferees:
~ Malthus:

  ". . .  was handsome, without doubt; handsome in a weak sort of way, which was why the women liked him. There was a little sweat now on his well modeled face; his shifty little eyes darted around the office, awestruck."

~ Ringler:
  ". . .  massive, wide shouldered, with a huge thatch of red hair, a battered nose and a square chin, sat behind the desk and scowled . . ."


Resources:
- The only other story credited to Jordan Cole by FictionMags is "Silenced Partner," Secret Agent X, December 1934, which is not to be confused with G. Fleming-Roberts's "The Silenced Partner" (1933).
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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"He Was Willing to Take a Risk"

"Death by Radio."
By Edward Podolsky (?-?).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, December 1932.
Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
(Note: Text is faded.)

"Van Sicklen evidently did not want this note-book to reveal its contents to anyone, for he had taken special pains to lock it away where it would not ordinarily be found."
A knotty problem manifests itself when a scientist, alone at the time, dies of hydrocyanic gas poisoning in what could be described as a hermetically-sealed room:
   "How had the cyanogen gained entrance to the laboratory when there had been no means of it doing so. The windows had been barred, the door did not have the conventional keyhole. The room was made sound-proof, and was almost air-tight; there were no crevices or other means by which the gas may have seeped in from the outside. There was nothing within the room, no chemical compounds, which by being mixed would react to give off any cyanogen compound. And yet this was the gas by which Van Sicklen had come to his death."

Comment: Starting out as he does with a really great locked room premise, our author could have presented us with a nicely turned out puzzler, but didn't.
Resources:
- The only things we know for sure about Edward Podolsky—and that's not much—are to be found on the Internet Science Fiction Database (HERE).
- Our author could well be the Edward Podolsky, M.D., who wrote a non-fiction article for The American Mercury about "The Radio Knife" (HERE; PDF).
- Some of the science in this story has a suspicious aroma about it; even so, there could be something to the whole idea after all—see the Quora Q & A (HERE).
We have no idea what this man is doing, but it's interesting, isn't it?
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Monday, April 16, 2018

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Twenty-seven

IF AFTER NINETY-TWO YEARS you still haven't read or learned about the Big Reveal in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), then we recommend you avoid Davis's article until you do; however, it won't be necessary to do that with the following posting, because we always endeavor to avoid plot spoilers.

"Playing by the Rules."
By J. Madison Davis.
First appearance: World Literature Today, May 1, 2015.
Critical article (3 pages as a PDF).
Online at The Free Library (HERE).

"All writers invent within the contexts of their genres and times, but those who cannot reach beyond them are only good for a laugh."
  If there were ever any immutable rules for writing detective fiction, you can bet they've been violated by now:
   "Writers are a classroom of rude boys, ready to chuck spitballs and erupt with razzberries as soon as the teacher turns to the blackboard. Tell them they must follow a set of instructions and they will immediately think of ways to undermine and oppose it. The number of articles and books instructing us how to write a mystery is legion, and when these proscribe one thing or another, an imaginative writer's immediate thought is of how to subvert the rule and still produce something dazzling."

  As for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd:
   "The kerfuffle that resulted from this trick—not to mention her mysterious disappearance that same year—helped make Christie one of the most famous writers in the world and, ultimately, the best-selling novelist of all time. Christie was never averse to manipulating readers' expectations."

"Yes, Mr. Wilson, it is pointless. What is your point?"
  Ackroyd also served to disturb that sense of complacency into which the detective fiction "industry" had settled:
   "That there is a controversy at all, however, implies that a mutual conspiracy of publishers, authors, and readers has created a set of rules that crime novels are obligated to obey. The existence of a genre implies a set of expectations in readers. Writers, by inclination or with an eye toward economic well-being, are usually happy to accommodate it. 'If you have any comments,' Erie Stanley Gardner once told an editor, 'write them on the back of a check.'"
  Not even that formidable array of writers who comprised The Detection Club felt any strong obligation to follow their own rules, especially if the opportunity to contrive "something dazzling" should present itself:
   "Behind the mock seriousness of the rules, the masters are sniggering at inferiors who resort to any obvious, and often ludicrous, device to get them-selves out of a corner. The Detection Club, after all, was a supper club for highly talented people with a similar vocation who would share tips, perhaps offer suggestions to one another, try out ideas, and laugh about particularly hideous examples they had encountered. Writers like to hang out with writers like cops like to hang out with cops.
   "It is extraordinary, however, that Christie or one of the others was threat-en
ed with expulsion because she had violated some part of the oath or the 'Ten Commandments' composed by member Ronald Knox. Try to imagine
them giving Agatha Christie the boot!"
  Despite the passage of a turbulent century in which the hardboiled school has dominated the mystery field with an unbecoming arrogance, however, the traditional mystery is never-theless still with us, dei gratia, and enjoying something of a renaissance:
   "Much of the pleasure of the traditional mystery is that it is a game of playing 'catch me if you can' with the author. Many times it isn't really about crime or its consequences, or even about character, but rather the comfortable pattern of the form. In many ways, the genre is an improvisational game . . ."


Resources:
- The GAD Wiki has info about The Detection Club (HERE); you can also find Father Knox's "Ten Commandments" on, for instance, Wikipedia (HERE).
- Our previous Miscellaneous Monday, which was about Edmund Pearson's "Vanishing Favorites," can be found (HERE), while the last time we saw J. Madison Davis was (HERE).

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Friday, April 13, 2018

"None of This Plays Fair with the Reader"

Snippet from an interview with Ron Goulart (born 1933).
Amazing Stories, August 1980.
Interview with Darrell Schweitzer (born 1952) begins (HERE); relevant passage (HERE) reproduced below.

When two literary genres mix, the result can be a pleasant medley or a deplorable mess. As we've discovered since we started this weblog, science fiction and mystery are often joined (or, conversely, mashed together); in our postings, we usually leave it up to you to decide how successful such a "marriage" is. SFF pro Ron Goulart has been working both sides of that street and briefly comments on his experiences:

   Goulart: "I’m very fascinated with the mechanics of suspense and mystery, so I tend to mix them with science fiction, even though I’ve had editors annoyed with it. Asimov does that, and Fredric Brown did it in the past, producing science fiction detective stories, or mysteries with fantasy elements. Again, none of this plays fair with the reader, I guess, which
is why there is some annoyance from some circles."
   Schweitzer: "A mystery with fantasy elements should be fiendishly difficult to do, but a science fiction mystery shouldn’t be too hard, as I see it, as long as you state your premises ahead of time instead of suddenly coming into the locked room through the fourth dimension."
   Goulart: "I’ve never done anything like that. I've always followed the rules, but I get the feeling that sometimes there is a certain kind of reader who wants a mystery to be a mystery and a science fiction novel to be a science fiction novel and deliver certain ingredients."


Resources:
- There's a lot of information on the Interwobblie about Ron Goulart: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE).
- A few years back Crippen & Landru (HERE and HERE) published Adam and Eve on a Raft (2001), a collection of Goulart's short mystery fiction.
- He's also written a detective fiction series starring Groucho Marx . . .
  1. Groucho Marx, Master Detective (1998)

  2. Groucho Marx, Private Eye (1999)
  3. Elementary, My Dear Groucho (1999)
  4. Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders (2001)
  5. Groucho Marx, Secret Agent (2002)
  6. Groucho Marx, King of the Jungle (2005)

. . . as well as the John Easy California P.I. series, about which Kevin Burton Smith admits his surprise at "how convincingly he pulls off the Chandleresque tone and the Ross Macdonald sensibility" (HERE):
  1. If Dying Was All (1971)
  2. Too Sweet to Die (1972)
  3. The Same Lie Twice (1973)
  4. One Grave Too Many (1974).

Artwork by Robert Odegnál
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Thursday, April 12, 2018

"I've Seen Something Enough to Tempt a Saint to Swerve from Virtue"

"A Case of Diamonds: Showing How Robbery May Become an Art."
By Huan Mee (Charles Herbert Mansfield, 1864-1930, and Walter Edward Mansfield, 1870-1916).
Illustrations by Frank Richards (1863-1935; HERE).
First appearance: The Harmsworth Magazine, April 1901.
Short short story (6 pages, 3 illos).

Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
(Note: Some of the text is slightly faded.)

". . . they're a nice little haul, not so big as some things we've had it's true, but little fish are remarkably sweet, and they ought to be easier to land than the salmon of Bond Street."
Whether you're going fishing or planning to pull off the perfect robbery, the rules are pretty much the same, especially the one about using the proper lure . . .
Those concerned:
~ Caleb Winter:
  ". . . a rather curious old man, with greyish beard and thick, bushy eyebrows, whose
sole amusement was reading."
~ Harry Newbold:
  "He was a tall, dark, good-looking fellow, stylishly dressed in the latest frock-coat,

grey trousers, and a very glossy silk hat. He was evidently waiting for some one, for
he constantly consulted his watch . . ."
~ Ted Radnor:
  "He was short, and inclined to be sandy. His appearance was distinctly horsey, not

only in the cut of his clothes, but in his general style . . ."

Resources:
- FictionMags informs us that the only series character generated by our bicameral author "Huan Mee" was Aide Lerestelle (billed as "A Diplomatic Woman"), star of a half-dozen adventures published in Cassell's in 1899. The collected stories are on Project Gutenberg (HERE).
- Steve at Bear Alley has an article about Charles H. Mansfield (HERE):
   "Mansfield said that he felt 'thoroughly at home' writing detective tales, often written in collaboration with his younger brother, Walter, under the
pen-name Huan Mee. The two collaborated on short stories (for Everybody's, Pearson's, Penny Pictorial and various other magazines) and novels. Charles was also a poet, his verse appearing in The Red Magazine."
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"I Am Pleased to Say We Have Found a Slight Clue to the Criminal"

"The Murderer in the Dark."
By F. Britten Austin (1885-1941).
Illustrations by S. Seymour Lucas (1878-1954; HERE and HERE).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, June 1922.
Short short story (8 pages, 3 illos).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).

"How? Why? How? Why? These two questions besieged him incessantly, battering at his crumbling mind."
An incriminating brooch, a missing button, a small splotch of paint, an empty cartridge in the revolver—that ancient Greek guy knew what he was talking about when he cautioned us, "No man is free who cannot command himself . . ."

Comment: This one would have had an afterlife of reprintings if it had been better written.
Resources:
- You can find out much more about Frederick Britten Austin at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers in the Great War (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE).
- Wikipedia has an article that relates to the plot of our tale (HERE), but READ THE STORY FIRST.
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