Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Santa Claus Has Been Murdered"

"Santa Thumbs a Ride."
By Johnston McCulley (1883-1958).
First appearance: Popular Detective, January 1948.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"Deputy Dan Burke battles to solve the strange case of the Yuletide deaths!"
If Dan has just given the man who is to play Santa Claus a ride to a Christmas celebration at a nearby church, then how come his body is found lying sprawled on his own living room floor with a knife in his chest—murdered, the coroner confirms, hours before Dan ever caught sight of him thumbing a ride on the side of the road?

A couple of Deputy Dan's observations:
  "Given enough provocation, or a situation to bring on temporary insanity through rage, and anybody is the killing type."
  "Knowing his own guilt, worrying about being found out, a man like that, not used to crime, will generally betray himself, if you give him enough to think about."

The bottom line:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"You Could Have Played Santa Claus—a Santa Claus in Buckskin"

"Buckskin Santa Claus."
By Johnston McCulley (1883-1958).
Genre: Western.
First appearance: Texas Rangers, January 1948.
Reprinted in Exciting Western (U.K.), April 1955.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"Christmas Eve at Fort Bent seemed a long-chance bet to Scout Reilly as he read sign ahead of the wagon train!"
Simply getting a wagon train safely from Point A to Point B is an iffy proposition at best; add an incompetent train boss, freezing weather, a renegade white man, and blood-thirsty Kiowa braves, and Tim Reilly has his hands full . . .

The bottom line:

Monday, December 11, 2017

"Like I Said, Les Is Desperate, and a Murderer Ain’t Like Other People"

"Home for Christmas."
By Larry Holden (Lorenz Heller, c1911-?).
First appearance: Thrilling Detective, December 1947.
Reprinted in Thrilling Detective (U.K.), October 1948.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"His convict brother's escape from jail plunges stolid, law-abiding Sam Murtagh into a confusing murder mix-up!"
Sam is sure Les didn't murder their father, but proving who did just might be beyond his abilities . . .

Comment: Deeper characterization than usual, with even minor characters getting small but agreeable authorial highlights: "She followed him, twittering, her eyes bright"; "cold cheek"; "born on an iceberg, sired by a glacier"; "The voice was weak, but it needed no strength"; "his thick eyebrows overhung his eyes as if he and sleep had been at one another’s throats the night long"; "The plugs went in and her flurried voice whispered the open sesame"; "his creased monkey face even more creased in a grin of welcome"; "dark deacon in banker’s gray"; "the two plainclothesmen with the cold, vigilant eyes"; "a thin, gray, unrewarded spinster"; "a few economical dabs with her fingers to lay the hair over the worn spots of the fur collar"; "as the hours stretched into the silent night, feeling for the dawn, his eyes closed and his head turned sideways on the pillow, looking haunted even in sleep"; "His fingers knotted, meshed." Because of the shallow suspect pool, however, the big reveal isn't much
of a surprise.
- The FictionMags index shows that Larry Holden produced several dozen pulp tales in the sports or crime fiction genres from 1946 to 1959. His only series character, Dinny Keogh ("fat and forty"), appeared in seven issues of Mammoth Mystery (1946-47); you can find a Keogh story, one that compresses a typical Raymond Chandler novel into ten pages ("Start with a Corpse"), at (HERE; Adobe Flash Player needed).
- When he wrote for TV, Holden/Heller used the name Burt Sims (HERE); he's not to be confused with the late actor (HERE).
- Christmas mayhem courtesy of the incomparable Edward D. Hoch was covered on Steve Lewis's Mystery*File (HERE).

Friday, December 8, 2017

"In a Game Like the One I’m Playin’, Kid, Yuh Don’t Forget Things Like That, If Yuh Want to Live"

"Ranger Santa Claus."
By Johnston McCulley (1883-1958).
Genre: Western.
First appearance: Texas Rangers, December 1947.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"Christmas finds Ranger Renbolt following the tricky trail of a tricky killer, in order to rescue young Harry Burley!"
If he's going to make it back to Gray Mesa in time for the Yuletide festivities, Jim Renbolt will have to collar or kill one of the orneriest varmints ever to plague those sleepy little towns that hug the Border . . .

Comment: The author makes the mistake of having his characters talk out their motivations too much; understatement would have been more effective.

Nice instance of personification: "A gun flamed and cracked, and two bullets sang and struck rocks and whined away in spiteful ricochet."

Typo: "Billy's voice" ["Bully's"].

- Just the other day we were talking about another of Johnston McCulley's saddle-sore Santas: "Merry Christmas, Ranger!" (HERE). You might remember that we noted how McCulley reused titles; in "Ranger Santa Claus" he also recycles a few plot elements,
as a comparative reading of the two stories will show.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Unless I Miss My Guess, This Is No Diamond Bracelet but Is the Kind of Thing a Copper Might Flash on Occasion"

"The Light Fingered Santa."
By Richard E. Glendinning (1917-88).
First appearance: Short Stories, October 10, 1946.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"Santa Claus Just Has to Keep Out of the Police Lineup"
It just so happens that Charlie Malone, an amiable dip, chooses this time of year to grow a big, bushy beard that makes him a dead ringer for Youknowwho, but he has no idea about how doing that's going to put him squarely in the middle of a blackmail plot . . .

Comoedia personae:
~ Charlie Malone:
  "Now hold it just a minute, boys. You got me all wrong. I’ve been behavin’ myself."

~ Pat Rosen:
  "All I got to say is you picked a fine time of da year to put on a beaver for a disguise."

~ Mrs. J. Anthony Abernathy Dinkler:
  "Nobody who looks so much like jolly Santa could be dishonest."

~ Lou McGuire:
  "Well, lady, it’s your funeral. If you wake up tomorrow morning and find everything

but the plumbing gone, don’t be surprised."
~ Mr. J. Anthony Abernathy Dinkler:
  "What happened to my wife’s diamond bracelet?"

~ J. Anthony Abernathy Dinkler, Jr.:
  "Santa, are you sure there wasn’t a Junior Detective set in your bag for me?"

~ Mr. Tom Neil:
  "I don't believe in Santa Claus."

"He was wearing white pyjamas with built-in feet and if he had a candle he would have looked just like an ad for a tire."
Comment: Light-hearted Runyonesque caper of high society rubbing against low life:
  "There are many things associated with the Christmas spirit that a man such as me
cannot understand."
Typo: "arc old stuff"

- "Runyonesque": It's in the dictionary (HERE); one of Damon Runyon's most famous characters was "The Lemon Drop Kid" (HERE); and Runyon's influence is still being
felt in fiction today (HERE).
- A criminous Christmas-themed anthology that has stood the test of time is Thomas Godfrey's Murder for Christmas, featured on ONTOS (HERE).

The bottom line:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Dishes Rattle and the Log Roof Bounces and the Lamp Goes Out"

"Gunman's Christmas."
By Caddo Cameron (Charles Richard Beeler, 1888-1961?).
Genre: Western.
First appearance: Short Stories, December 25, 1946.
Reprinted in West (U.K.), December 1951 and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (AHMM), January 1994.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"Christmas Was Just Four Days Away, and for All the Fugitive Knew, the Guns of the Law Were Even Closer"
By the time this Christmas is over, our nameless narrator will come to see what a real life saver it is to have company for Christmas; as he says, "a powerful fine idea"—and we're serious about that life saver bit . . .
Typos: "I Injun down"; "Nobody taken up"; "there saddle stock"; "on the room."
- Pulp Flakes has a substantial article about our much-traveled Western author, Caddo Cameron (HERE).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"If It’s a Twister Case, We’ve Got to Crack It Wide Open Before Morning, Even If We Have to Beat the Truth Out of Somebody"

"Death Plays Santa Claus."
By Johnston McCulley (1883-1958).
First appearance: Popular Detective, December 1945.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).

"Lieutenant Mike O'Hara of homicide makes short work of a murder case—so that he can spend his Christmas at home!"
If there's one kind of case O'Hara hates most, it's a twister, where there isn't an easy and straightforward solution to a murder and figuring it out could take a long, long time . . .
and wouldn't you know it, the death of a wealthy benefactor on Christmas Eve turns into
one, particularly when the prime suspect, Santa himself, also goes toes up . . .

Pleasing phrase: ". . . an old residential part of the city where imposing mansions sat far
back from the street in groves of trees, and expressed the grandeur of an earlier era."

Comment: It looks as if, twelve years later, Rex Stout borrowed a plot element from our story for one of his own (HERE); McCulley did some borrowing, too, lifting the same element from an Agatha Christie novel from seven years prior. (Three guesses as to which book.)
Typos: "Hara asked"; "the side of to"; "I suppose hasn’t been changed" [missing a subject]; "Penny and Bob Blodger and gave gasps."

- Another instance of urban Yuletide mayhem is John D. MacDonald's "Dead on Christmas Street," which we highlighted along with "Who's the Blonde?" in our twofer posting, "A MacDonald Duo" (HERE).