Thursday, November 29, 2012

Death Among Friends - Cyril Hare

Story: Death Among Friends
Author: Cyril Hare
Source: Death Among Friends & Other Detective Stories
To quote Michael Gilbert from the introduction to this title: The other way, in which the crime story differs from its more lawful kin, is that it is often presented as a conjuring trick. The narrative is but a piece of entertaining patter, designed to fix your attention upon the conjurer’s right hand, whilst his left hand is palming the black-jack with which he plans to hit you in the final line. To my mind Cyril Hare had very few equals at this.
One of the very succinct stories which best exemplifies the above praise is the title story. Sir Charles Gilray, the Chairman of the Wimblingham Motor-works was cordially detested by most of his subordinates. But in case of Powell, the chief engineer at the works, he had aroused a feeling of loathing which could be assuaged by nothing short of murder! Powell had only one true friend in his colleague McDougall! McDougall’s wife and Sir Charles are lovers. Rapidly and methodically, Powell makes his plan to avenge both(himself & his friend) at one blow.
The circumstances present itself when Sir Charles introduces the shift system. He took advantage of this system to visit Sylvia on evenings when McDougall was taking a turn of night duty. Powel ascertains that during these visits, Sir Charles is careful in letting the car rest in a lonely lane. Powell’s plan is rig up the brakes on one such night which would lead to the accidental death of his arch nemesis – but in spite of his brilliant design, things go horribly awry and the story concludes with a typical O’ Henry style of ending.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Death Of Amy Rosbart - Cyril Hare

Story: The Death Of Amy Rosbart
Author: Cyril Hare
Source: Death Among Friends & Other Detective Stories
The thirty stories which make up this book come in all shapes and sizes but they can broadly be classified into three categories – there are stories with a legal background, stories dealing with murder and stories dealing with other criminal excursions. The stories dealing with murder can further be classified into pure puzzles, inverted detective stories and straightforward pieces of narrative. The Death of Amy Rosbart, the longest story in the collection, depicts the traditional detective story at its best.
Gus, Chairman & Managing Director of Cyclops Films Ltd is celebrating the opening of his first film and in attendance are his close associates. The drama starts after the party is over among the 4 who stay back in Gus’s house. The cast includes a champion swimmer who swims twice a day without fail to keep himself in shape, his wife who knows about all the females her husband has been running around behind her back, the wife’s lover who wants her to divorce her husband, Camilla the actress loves the champion swimmer – who equally reciprocates her feelings and the host.  The actress is found dead outside in the garden with her head smashed - looking as if she committed suicide by throwing herself out of her first floor room window. But there are two facts which Inspector Mallet points out which points to murder: the actress was found dead not under her room window but by the adjacent room’s window & the towel wrapped around her head as though she had gone swimming! In the final act, the inspector asks everyone to re-enact the events of the previous night to catch the killer - fairly clued & wonderfully plotted.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Blood Pressure - Damon Runyon

Theme: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Story: Blood Pressure
Author: Damon Runyon
Source: Guys & Dolls
The nameless narrator of this story has been warned by the doctor that his blood pressure is way beyond normal and hence should avoid all excitement. Just when he is thinking that it wouldn’t be too difficult not to get excited, he bumps into Rusty Charley, the hardest man in the world and the last guy that anyone would want to meet. Rusty is a big man who thinks nothing of knocking people down, a man who would shoot down people if he doesn’t like the way they wear their hats. On top of that Rusty is broke! Rusty requests our Guy to accompany him to Nathan Detroit’s crap game, a seedy place where our guy can hardly suppress his excitement! But he cannot say no to Rusty.
And hence starts a very funny and a nerve racking adventure for our narrator: accompanying Rusty to a crap game where everybody knows that Rusty is cheating but no one dares to question him, followed by a game of stuss in another seedy place called Ikey The Pig’s, knocking the taxi driver out and driving away with his taxi, followed by a visit to a joint called Bohemian club - the last place that anyone would go when there is positively no other place in town open, provoking the coppers in the Bohemian club leading to a big fisticuff with Rusty emerging victorious and so on. Will our narrator live to see another day? Will his blood pressure hold up amidst all the excitement that he can’t handle? He very shortly ends up with his doctor again ….

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Very Honorable Guy - Damon Runyon

Theme: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Story: A Very Honorable Guy
Author: Damon Runyon
Source: Guys & Dolls
Damon Runyon wrote five different fictional series: ‘ A detective’s Confession’, which satirized the Hammett-Chandler private-eye school of whodunit writing; ‘In Our Town’ sketches; ‘My Old Man’ tales; ‘Joe & Ethel Turp’ bagatelles and the ‘Broadway Guys & dolls’ Stories.
Guys & Dolls is one of the best examples of depicting the subtle permutations in the technical and thematic variations of the detective-crime short story! As Heywodd Broun wrote in the introduction, “Damon Runyon caught with a high degree of insight the actual tone and phrase of the gangsters and racketeers of the town.” In a series of 13 stories, the reader meets a choice collection of cheap chiselers, chippie chasers and cheesecake chewers – or to put it differently, the Runyon guys and dolls are Broadway bandits, metropolitan mobsters & Times Squares thugs – tales of passion and violence with a unique type of humor.
Feet Samuels, the honorable guy of the story makes his living by hustling around race tracks and crap games and prize fights or by acting as a runner for bookmakers or scalping bets or steering suckers. He is never really in the money and is always owing and always paying off – but he is very honorable about his debts and maintains his credit! Because Feet’s word is considered good at all times, he can raise a little dough even off The Brain, the toughest moneylender of Broadway. If one maintains a good credit with The Brain, he can maintain a good credit in the whole of the town.
Feet Samuels is in a tough spot – he has an approaching deadline to clear off a debt (to The Brain) and he has no money as he has been on a losing streak,  his doll is no more interested in him as he has competition in the form of another guy who can pamper her with diamond bracelets.  Samuels decides to commit suicide. Finally, he hits upon an alternative - he sells himself to a doctor –by providing Brain’s reference - promising the doctor that he would get his (Feet’s) body in exactly 30 days. From the money he gets, he pays of The Brain, he showers his doll with gifts and with the rest of the money, decides to enjoy his remaining few days at the crap table. At the end of the 30 days, Feet has multiplied his money by 10 times, he has got back his girl and everything seems to be going great for him. Being a honorable guy, and with all negotiations failing as the doctor  is not ready to settle for anything less than Feet’s body, he starts thinking about the ways in which he can get himself killed so that the doctor can get his body in good shape. The Brain (the Credit Agency) who comes to know about this feels that Feet should keep up his promise and shouldn’t default. Does Feet survive? Does he live up to his reputation of an honorable guy?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Hepplewhite Tramp - Arthur Train

Theme: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Story: The Hepplewhite Tramp
Author: Arthur Train
Source: Tutt and Mr. Tutt
It all starts innocently enough – a tramp is found asleep in the rich man Hepplewhite’s bed. The watchman calls for the police, the police arrest him for burglary and the tramp is waiting to be tried in court and then Mr. Tutt gets to hear about it and all hell breaks loose. Mr. Tutt comes forward to defend him and expose the overzealousness which the officers of the law exhibit in protecting the privileges and property of the rich. The district attorney’s office, which had no plans whatsoever to try the tramp find themselves cornered and find no alternative but to try him in court as Mr. Tutt has made it very political. Mr. Tutt also sues Mr.Hepplewhite for false arrest and the rich man who had no intention of appearing in court to testify, finds himself in a tricky situation of either prosecuting the tramp or pay the damages!
And so the case comes to court with everyone deciding to play out the drama to its expected fateful end of Mr. Tutt defending his client successfully! But Mr. Tutt is not the one to settle for a simple victory! He makes the police force look like a bunch of fools; he distresses Mr. Hepplewhite so much on the witness stand that he accepts to pay the tramp for all he was sued if the case is put to an immediate end, the judge wants to end this trivial case as early as possible; the prosecuting attorney has become a fan of Mr. Tutt’s antics and seems to be enjoying the drama; the jury knows very well as to what this case is all about and who is winning but Mr. Tutt is no mood to close the case! Absolutely funny and an absolute gem of an ending! J

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mock Hen and Mock Turtle - Arthur Train

Theme: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Story: Mock Hen and Mock Turtle
Author: Arthur Train
Source: Tutt and Mr. Tutt
An interesting title to be included in the Queen’s Quorum – it has 7 stories featuring the gentlemanly legal sharpshooter Mr. Ephraim Tutt and his assistant Tutt (no relation to his employer) – none featuring any detection. I would suspect that it justifies its inclusion on three factors: stories featuring legal legerdemain with nimble-witted humor, the popularity of Tutt stories with the American public and it’s academic relevancy as pointed out by Ellery Queen: ‘It is interesting to note that in a list of books prepared by a committee of the faculty of Harvard Law School for prospective law students – “books which will help them decide about the desirability of entering the legal profession or which will be of value in preparation for the study of law” – the tales of Tutt are included as “an entertaining collection of short stories showing the great variety of questions which may confront a practicing lawyer and the chances for ingenuity” – an academic acceptance seldom bestowed on fictional ferrets!’
Mock Hen and Mock Turtle is one of the most humorous stories that I’ve ever read – farce at its supreme best! Mock Hen has been selected as the man who will kill a rival Chinese gang member for taking out one of their own gang members. Mock Hen is caught red handed at the scene of the murder and the gang lord entrusts the defense of his fellowman to Mr. Tutt. What follows is one of the most comical and most probably the longest trial in the history of fiction!
Mr. Tutt declares in his opening statement to the Judge that it would take six weeks for the trail to complete because of the complexities involved in trying a Chinaman. First problem to crop up is in picking the jury – no one believes that it is a good idea to try a Chinaman in a court of law for murder; they all think that it should be settled in their own historic and traditional way and no one accepts to convict him even if the evidence clearly shows that he is guilty. They somehow get a 12 member jury at the end of 19 days! Next comes the problem of an interpreter. The prosecution appoints one, the defense appoints one and finally the Judge appoints one to arbitrate the other two. Next is the problem of swearing in the witness – on what basis can the man’s oath be considered sacred? The Chinaman finally reveals that the oath would be sacred only if it is over the head of a white rooster! And so the story goes on……, the trail lasting for 69 days…. to a fitting climax!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Man Who Murdered in Public - Roy Vickers

Theme: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Story: The Man Who Murdered in Public
Author: Roy Vickers
Source: The Department Of Dead Ends
A unique story in this collection in the sense that everybody knows that the protagonist is a murderer but they just can’t prove it! George Carshaw’s first victim is Elsie, the maid against whom he harbors a revenge for the treatment she meted out to him in his younger days. Mode of murder – death due to drowning when the boat was overturned – the nearby tourists on the other boats see the accident but they don’t notice George holding the girl under the water. The verdict: death due to accident.
Second victim happens to be his first wife with the same modus operandi. The wife dies because she doesn’t know swimming. He pleads in front of the coroner that he couldn’t have saved her because he himself doesn’t know swimming. Every time he escapes the death row, he changes his name and moves on to a different location. Third victim happens to be his second wife in exactly the same manner as the previous one. This time, the police smell a rat. They realize that he collected huge insurance money on both the occasions. They also stumble upon the first death but they fail to see any motive in the first one. The public prosecutor declines to proceed with the case.
George is not so lucky when his third wife is killed in exactly the same manner – in front of all the witnesses. In the coroner’s court, a lawyer starts questioning whether he had taken insurance against his wife. When the answer is affirmative, they present to the coroner’s jury the two previous instances where George got away with murder and the insurance money. They come out with a verdict of willful murder and George is committed for trial on the coroner’s warrant. In the actual trial, it is proved that George is an expert swimmer but it doesn’t stop the clever defense lawyer from saving his client on a technicality.
So what more could the police do to apprehend this multiple murderer? Well, the help comes in the way of a ruby bracelet - a bracelet which is on the list of things stolen in a case that the police are investigating – a bracelet which the police find in a pawnshop – a bracelet which was given as a gift to the maid Elsie.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Rubber Trumpet - Roy Vickers

Theme: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Story: The Rubber Trumpet
Author: Roy Vickers
Source: The Department Of Dead Ends, The Mammoth Book of Great Detective Stories
This Queen’s Quorum title collects the best ten of Roy Vicker’s celebrated Department of Dead Ends (DDE) detective stories. These are detective stories with a difference. As Ellery Queen says in his introduction, they are of the ‘inverted’ type of detective story. Knowing from the start who the murderer is, the reader is presented with the motive, the workings of the criminal mind, the crime itself, and all the clues. The ‘surprise’ in these stories is, of course, supplied by the way in which these murderers are detected; and this is where the DDE comes in – that repository of files which were never completed, of investigations without a clue and clues which led nowhere. From time to time, quite illogically, Inspector Rason finds a connection between happenings in the outside world and the objects in his Scotland Yard museum, events move inexorably to their appointed end!
George Muncey, under a fictitious name ends up marrying a maid, the marriage being witnessed only by the maid’s parents. The rubber trumpet of the story is a gift article bought by the maid on their honeymoon, the trumpet is thrown out of a moving train by George because he hates the noise which the trumpet creates, the police find a dead child on the same train and as part of this investigation, the trumpet which is retrieved on the railway line is sent to the DDE.
Since nobody knows who Muncey is, he thinks he is gone be safe if he murders the maid and he turns out to be right. He just moves to a different city, starts working in a chemist’s shop and ends up leading a married life with another woman. A few years down the line, the shop owner decides to sell some toys to his customers and one such toy on the counter turns out to be a rubber trumpet. This brings back some unnecessary memories for George. He destroys it in a furnace and puts the required amount in to the cash register. A few days later, the shop owner thinking that this would sell, brings out the entire stock of 77 trumpets! George Muncey again decides to pay for all 77 of them and destroy them. Unluckily for him, the case in which he is carrying them is stolen by a thief who ultimately is caught by the police. And what follows is a series of connections – leading the police to the murderer of the cold case of the murdered maid!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Hiatus

After my 4th movement in as many years, I'd the privilege to lay my hands on novels by GAD authors whom I'd never read before - namely J. J. Connington, E.R. Punshon, R.A.J Walling & Todd Downing. In addition to that was the availability of a few locked room novels which had been reviewed by the fellow bloggers. I had to give in to the temptation and abandon my quest for short stories for a while. Some of the novels that I've read over this period include:
J. J. Connington - The Brandon Case
J. J. Connington - Jack-in-The-Box
J. J. Connington - No Past Is Dead
J. J. Connington - The Four Defenses
J. J. Connington - Grim vengeance
Todd Downing - Vultures in the Sky
E.R. Punshon - Information Received
E.R. Punshon - The Dusky Hour
R. A. J. Walling - That Dinner At Bardolph's
R. A. J. Walling - Corpse Without A Clue
Jefferson Farjeon - The Judge Sums Up
Jefferson Farjeon - Shadows By The Sea
Darwin Teilhet - The Ticking Terror Murders
Darwin Teilhet - The Feather Cloak Murders
William Wiegand - At Last, Mr. Tolliver
Wallace Irwin - The Julius Caesar Murder Case 
David Duncan - Shade of Time
Luis Fernando Verissimo - Borges and The Eternal Orangutans
Fredric Brown - Death Has Many Doors
Q Patrick - Return To The Scene
Jonathan Stagge - Death My Darling Daughters
Not that I've not been reading any short stories over these past few months - I've definitely consumed plenty of them but nothing much to write home about. In the next couple of months, I'll be trying to get back on track - to pursue my original plan of completing 20 'Queen's Quorum' & 20 'Crippen & Landru' titles by the year end.