Jon L. Breen’s Gilbert and Sullivan Clue

EQMM Sep/Oct 1999 coverThe third story in The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, pastiche section:

Jon L. Breen’s “The Gilbert and Sullivan Clue” first appeared in a double-issue of EQMM (Sep/Oct) in 1999. After a wildly successful comedy duo splits, Ozzie Foyle’s career as a solo takes off, while his old partner Joey Dugan’s tanks. A murder takes place on the cruise ship where Foyle is headlining and Ellery Queen is onboard courtesy of Foyle’s agent. The mystery requires nearly a dozen characters, which in turn requires four pages to introduce and clarify their relationships. Even with Breen’s efficient prose, the story ramps slowly. Fortunately, once the setup’s complete, the pace quickens and the plot thickens quite nicely.

EQMM base image from Galactic Central.

More to come . . .

Leyne Requel’s Dying Message

Ellery Queen July 1966 coverThe second story in The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, pastiche section:

First published in the July 1966 edition of EQMM, Leyne Requel’s “Dying Message” is a playful romp. A murder sprawls its victim in a lakeside hunting lodge, while the victim scrawls a clue to his murderer’s identity in his final message. Things look dire for the obvious suspect as the clues mount in his direction. Fortunately, there is a simple, but crafty key that clears the innocent and reveals the real killer by the story’s end. In this case, the “challenge to the reader” caps the finale.

EQMM cover image from Galactic Central.

More to come . . .

Milton Lesser’s The Circle

Story splashpageThe final story in Marvel Science Stories, May 1951:

In “The Circle,” Milton Lesser explores immortality through a husband and wife who, after traveling from one end of the universe to the other, settle on Earth. An Earth with no other humans and with the couple’s immortality contingent on their abstinence from procreation. A well-crafted story built on too many illogical contingencies.

Milton Lesser (1928–2008) wrote science fiction under his given name and his detective stories, including the Chester Drum series, under the pseudonym Stephen Marlowe.

Thomas Narcejac’s Mystery of the Red Balloons

The Misadventures of Ellery Queen coverThe opening story in The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, pastiche section:

Thomas Narcejac is credited with writing the first Queen pastiche in 1947. However, it was written in French, and appears for the first time in English here, thanks to Rebecca K. Jones’ translation. “The Mystery of the Red Balloons” is a classic Ellery Queen whodunit and gives the collection a pitch-perfect start. A series of murders plague New York City, with no discernible connection between the crimes, save the presence of a single red balloon tied outside each victim’s environs. When Queen ascertains the solution he broaches the third wall and issues a “challenge to the reader” to solve the mystery before he reveals its solution.

More to come . . .

The Misadventures of Ellery Queen: Intro

The Misadventures of Ellery Queen coverIntroduction for The Misadventures of Ellery Queen edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews

Make room. Wildside’s new anthology is both an instant classic, and an instant pleasure to peruse. There is mystery history here. In 1929, writing cousins Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Manfred Lee (1905–1971) created Ellery Queen as both character and author. In 1944, Ellery Queen (the writer) edited and published a collection called The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, Arthur Conan Doyle was not amused with other writers’ emulations of his famous detective, and the volume soon made itself scarce. Mystery fans, however, enjoy reading both a pastiche or a parody based on their favorite series, and the first of many such stories inspired by Ellery Queen (the character) began to appear as early as 1947.

Not long after Manfred Lee’s death, Josh Pachter suggested to Frederic Dannay it might be time for a collection of such stories, fittingly titled The Misadventures of Ellery Queen. Dannay agreed, but the concept languished for reasons lost to history. That is, until 2015, when Pachter met co-editor Dale C. Andrews, and together they brought the idea to life in a collection of 16 stories. After the Pachter/Andrews’ introduction, and two others by Richard Dannay (Frederic’s son) and Rand Lee (Manfred’s son); the volume is divided into three sections: pastiches (6), parodies (3), and potpourri (7), which are basically stories inspired by Queen but not featuring him.

To be continued . . .

C.D. Ellis’ World of the Ancients

Worlds of Fantasy #4 cover
Worlds of Fantasy #4 cover by Gerald Facey

Far and away World of Fantasy #4’s (1951) best story is “World of the Ancients” by C.D. Ellis. The story opens in the third era of a planet referred to once or twice as earth (not Earth). The emerging world order are the survivors of a war that nearly destroyed the planet and swept away all records of past achievement. Now a primitive society, the only remains of their world’s long bygone glory are legends of the ancient Greeks, which form the basis of their religion and beliefs. Even the names of their people are Greek names like Hercules and Diocles.

After a hunt for game, Agamemnon journeys back to his village empty-handed and spots a dense, black smoke rising above the tree line. “As his eyes sought the source of the fire and found it, he became rooted to the spot. The cold hand of fear clasp at his throat, rendering him temporarily speechless. This was no fire in the scrub surrounding the village precincts; the whole village itself was blazing fiercely.”

When at last he reaches his home, there are no survivors, including his wife. Heartbroken and traumatized, Agamemnon drags himself to the next village to find refuge and to give warning of the tragedy. The village’s chief, Aramis, invites him to join their village, and a posse forms to investigate the cause of such a great fire that could destroy an entire village so swiftly and completely.

A long and difficult search ensues until finally their fears are borne out. “Nestling in the dense scrub below him was a long, sleek, black oval of polished metal, about one hundred feet long. It lay about seventy to eighty yards down the slope. At one end was a pointed nose, while at the other were several tubular projections.”

Tension mounts as the threat of the space invaders increases until the final showdown, which for me was both unexpected and unfortunate.
Galactic Central lists “World of the Ancients” as C.D. Ellis’ only short story published in a magazine. Unfortunate—I thought it was well conceived and well written; its only weakness, the ending.

Richard Matheson’s The Frigid Flame

Story splashpagePublisher Martin Goodman started both Non-Pareil (Justice) and the Lion paperback book line, so it’s no surprise the novels featured in the digest magazine first appeared as Lion paperbacks a few years earlier. The seventh, and final story in Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955 is Richard Matheson’s “The Frigid Flame,” which was first published as Someone is Bleeding by Lion in 1953.

Matheson is best remembered for his science fiction and horror novels, but he wrote suspense and thrillers too, and this one could be labeled as such—or noir. Young Davie Newton falls hard for the beautiful, but unpredictable Peggy Lister, a young woman with a past. The story is ripe with action and plot twists, and Matheson’s excellent writing does a good job selling the sometimes melodramatic events and dialogue. The mystery here is whether the story is true noir, or a crime drama that wraps things up with a happy ending—and you won’t know for sure until the final page.

Someone is Bleeding coverJames Reasoner’s Rough Edges and Admiral Ironbombs’ Yellowed and Creased cover reviews of the paperback version of the story.

“The Frigid Flame” gives this issue of Justice a strong finish, but overall I’d give the previous edition from July 1955, a slight edge.

Peter Enfantino provides synopses for all four issues of Justice in The Digest Enthusiast book five.

Philip Weck’s The Rat Game

The sixth story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955:

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The quirky elements of Philip Weck’s “The Rat Game” keep an otherwise mediocre whodunit entertaining. The Rat Game itself is rigged in favor of the carny barker who runs it. But the rubes who play along aren’t the only ones being gouged. As the story opens, it’s the barker who’s left face down in an alley, stabbed in the back with a shiv. He miraculously survives despite his refusal to allow the wound to seal properly, while he repeatedly attempts to solve the mystery of his would-be murderer from the narrow list of suspects—his wife, brother, and best friend.

Weck had success with several dozen stories from 1947 to 1961 published in popular pulps and digests like Manhunt and Trapped. I found his “You Can’t Run Away” from Suspense Magazine (Fall 1951) to be outstanding. Michael L. Cook, in Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines highlights the story in his entry on Suspense. “[Weck]…tells with some power about murder resulting when a G.I. returns home and his girl has married someone else.”

Gil Brewer’s Teen-Age Casanova

The fourth story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955:

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Misperceptions abound in Gil Brewer’s “Teen-Age Casanova.” Carol loves Allen, and Allen used to love her back—until he fell hard for Binnie. Now he’s as gaga over Binnie, as Carol is over him. He makes it clear to Carol that he’s done with her—again and again. Yet she persists. In fact, Carol’s indefatigable—unbelievably so. What’s a teenage casanova to do? Allen cobbles together a reverse stalker murder plan that bites back.

Gil Brewer (1922–1983) was a major paperback original writer in the 1950s. His short stories sold to all the digest magazines of the day, most notably Manhunt, The Saint, Pursuit, Hunted, and the short-lived Accused. Bill Pronzini wrote a chapter about him for The Big Book of Noir, citing his novels The Red Scarf and Nude on Thin Ice as two of his best. Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press have reprinted over a dozen of his novels, keeping the works of one of the great 50s and 60s noir writers in print for today’s readers.

John D. MacDonald’s Scared Money

The second story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955:

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By 1955, John D. MacDonald had already written a dozen novels, so Justice editor Harry Widmer was fortunate to secure a short story from the prolific author. MacDonald’s fine writing is the only bright spot in this story of a gambler who kills a pedestrian on his drive home from another in a string of big losses. The vapid ending does nothing help this lackluster tale.

A grandmaster of mystery writers, “Scared Money” is not a good representation of MacDonald’s normally exceptional work.