Sunday, August 21, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July 1965

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 7, July 1965. 160 pp
G. F. Foster, Editor
Richard E. Decker, Publisher
Victoria S. Benham & Pat Hitchcock, Associate Editors
Marguerite Blair Deacon, Art Director

For the great interior artwork, please visit this page.

This ugly cover is supposed to be celebrating Independence Day of 1965. Ugly most definitely, but, in comparison to the other covers from the decade, there is at least something going on.

Thirteen short stories and one novelette over 160 pages (the 164 advertised on the cover includes all four cover pages). There are no stand-out stories in this issue, the strongest being Clark Howard's lead-in piece "The Peregrine," Gloria Ericson's "See No Evil" and "The Five-Minute Millionaire," by James Cross. The only real downer is D. S. Halacy Jr.'s "Hard Headed Cop," which falls apart due to the plot's latter turn of convenience.

What's interesting is that a number of our stories here feature criminals who get away with their crimes.

"The Peregrine" by Clark Howard. 7/10
Prison road workers Conley and Beever come across a helpless young female falcon, and Conley immediately recognizes the bird as a potential for escape. The wise and experienced Conley begins to train the bird with the help of the slow-witted old Beever, and tensions rise steadily between the two during the month of the peregrine's training. A tightly-written story and quite suspenseful; though we know the story will end with some kind of backlash twist, I personally could not tell how Conley would get caught.

"The Little Things" by Ed Lacy. 4/10
Chief Paul Polo is awaiting the 6:45 train and its passenger, recently released convict Harry Morris. Morris was convicted years before for murdering his lover, and Polo's diligent investigating had secured a confession from a dying man, proving Morris's innocence. Pleased with himself yet still sympathetic to the painter Morris, Polo invites him to stay at his home, but Morris declines, confessing he had saved up $6,000 (which was quite a bit back in 1965). A few minutes following this conversation, Morris is gunned down by men in a passing car.

This interesting mystery leaves little to remember it by. Though I was clueless as to the murderer's identity and the motive until Polo speculates on it, the writing itself is so straightforwardly dull that I also didn't care too much. There is nothing about the prose, about the dialogue or the characters to set this piece apart from any other generic mystery. The resolution of the case is also anticlimactic, since the telling is so straightforward and the reveal so unexciting that in a month I won't recall a thing about the story.

"Hardheaded Cop" by D. S. Halacy, Jr. 3/10
Police Sergeant Dave Hackett arrives home for dinner in a bitter mood. His pregnant wife Margie is cooking steaks, fetching him beer and asking about his day, but Hackett, oblivious to her attentions, is so grumpy that he is downright mean. It turns out he didn't get that promotion to Lieutenant. Moreover, it went to Jerry Nelson, a man with two years less on the force. Dave is a good, dedicated cop, but a little too by-the-book, and the town takes advantage of his strict code to ridicule the entire understaffed police force.

There are a number of reasons this story doesn't work, and a few that make it dull.

A lack of plot makes a good character study, or an examination of a scene or scenario, any moment in time, but not a good mystery story, especially one that pretends the elements of plot. It's not that there's no cohesive story, but very little happens, and what little does happen is too conveniently appropriate. The final showdown has nothing to do with the story taking place, and comes in too conveniently to alter the course of the narrative and bring it to its end. A deus ex machina, as Henry James called it.

This trope also manages to reform the town's perception of Hackett. The townsfolk dislike the cop, and Hackett does absolutely nothing to gain their trust and respect. It's the chance heroic act that changes the town's feelings toward him, yet he does nothing to change his ill-tempered ways. The incident has nothing to do with his longed-for promotion, and moreover his actions were risky since he endangered the life of a young hostage. A chance shooting does not a hero make, and the story is saying that a chance shooting not only makes a hero, but defines the man.

Speaking of the man, the scene between Hackett and his wife is uncomfortably aggressive. Behind the times, even for 1965, Mrs. Hackett does everything to ease her hubby's ill-feelings, and receives nasty treatment in response. The story also manages to promote the notion that a son has more value than a daughter.

Hackett does not change, and using more of Henry James terminology, he is a stock character.

"Man with a Hobby" by Carrol Mayers. 6/10
The lone deputy of the small community of Surf City recounts the case of Sam Hubbard, a man with a hobby. Since he moved into town, widower Hubbard has been keeping tabs on wanted and suspicious men, hoping to claim a reward if one were caught through information he's provided. Just before lunch he enters the police station to tell of a criminal-looking outsider who appears interested in the town's Fidelity Loan Company.

A quick and fun read, there is nothing remarkable about the story, the twist or the set-up. There is an attempt at lightness and dated humour (the deputy remarks that his own hobby is girl-watching), which is fine for the type of simple mystery it is. [Spoiler] It also helps the reader accept that a criminal gets away with his crime, a feat rare in most cases of AHMM, EQMM and the rest, though surprisingly common in this issue.

"Gentle Bluebeard" by Richard Deming. 7/10
Sergeant Sod Harris is dispatched to investigate a call from a doctor who has been treating a patient who might have been poisoned. Oddly enough, though she was quite ill, her sickness never approached dangerous proportions, and though there is clear evidence of tranquilizer in her blood stream, it isn't enough to have caused any long-term damage. The case appears at first to be a misdiagnosis, yet it takes on another dimension when Harris learns that the patient, Mrs. Arlene Mosher, has been hospitalized four times in the past two years, three times due to an apparent poisoning, though never of a serious extreme. The first time she fell down a flight of stairs.

A good set-up and a good, straightforward investigation makes for a suspenseful read. Deming was a frequent contributor to AHMM, though I don't know if Sergeant Sod Harris was a regular character (Google gives no evidence). It's nice to read along with an unassuming detective, who is never ahead of us with the investigation, nor behind us for that matter. The reader makes each discovery along with Harris, and learns the nature of the plot at the same instant he does. Some nice character-driven drama and a satisfyingly fitting conclusion make for a well-constructed story.

"Loaded Guns Are Dangerous" by Richard O. Lewis. 5/10
George is at home one evening when there is a knock at the door. Two men are standing there, asking to use his telephone, and George suspects they are those thief-murderers he's been reading about, possibly after his valuable coin collection. He's prepared though, with loaded guns placed throughout the house, but how can he get to them? And then his gullible wife Martha appears and invites the men inside, chatting them up even as they draw their guns and ask about George's coins.

An amusing little story with an out-of-place ending. I just can't imagine [Spoiler] the soft, mild-mannered George pulling a Charles Bronson on these men. But I suppose it was the only way of getting out of this mess.

"A Very Cold Gimlet" by Frank Sisk. 6/10
Architectural engineer Osgood Chace has stricken up an intimate relationship with Janice Sanford, wife of M. P. Sanford, the president of the company he is currently on contract with. An affair with Mrs. Sanford threatens Osgood's career, and yet she is indiscreet, taking unnecessary risks. Most unusual us the particular night of this story, when she drives Osgood to a chic restaurant she and her husband frequent. A good read though an unremarkable story. Sisk once again focuses on character to make the plot work.

"See No Evil" by Gloria Ericson. 7/10
Lonely and arthritic pet shop owner Benjy is tired of running a failing business inherited from his father. He shares the shop with the old caged monkey Jiggs, and the two make a depressive pair. Yet Benjy's luck might have just changed as old lady Miss Decker collapses in the shop from an apparent heart attack while searching for a toy for her ailing dog. Falling to the floor, the contents of her purse spill out and a wad of bills rolls to Benjy's feet. On a whim he takes her key and hurries over to her apartment where he finds, stashed beneath her mattress, thousands of dollars in cash. An easy windfall, yet when he returns to the shop and tries to move the old lady she stirs in his hands. Desperately wanting freedom from his miserable life, without thinking it through and in a fit of frustrated passion, he stabs her to death.

"See No Evil" is a suspenseful story with a strong finish. More than merely a simple mystery, there is a great link between the old, embittered man and the sour, caged monkey. Depressing notions of wasted lives and utter hopelessness prevail throughout the story, and I'm not sure which creature I feel sorry for the most, but I did feel pangs of sadness toward both sudden criminal and non-comprehending caged witness.

"The Perfect Wife" by Arthur Porges. 6/10
"Every now and then I have to go out and kill somebody." Korean war veteran takes to killing old biddies, nosy, arrogant women with chicken necks who are a nuisance to America society. Told through his point of view, this quick and predictable read is nonetheless enjoyable (mainly because it's so quick).

"The Five-Minute Millionaire" by James Cross. 6/10
Rife with gambling debts, Tommy Russell wants his uncle to release his inheritance, but Uncle Fred Rawlinson is aware of Russell's lifestyle and instead encourages him to find a job. Averse to working, Russell instead convinces his lover Phyllis to seduce the older bachelor, so that when he dies of unnatural causes, they would gain both Russell's inheritance as well as Uncle Fred's fortune.

A fun read, well written, and despite what should be an obvious ending (because it's been done countless times), I nonetheless did not see it coming.

"Gallivantin' Woman" by Wenzell Brown. 5/10
Reclusive Miss Susie Sloane comes down from her home in Mount Solomon to good-naturedly annoy the good people of Cripple's Bend. Yet things change when she unknowingly stumbles upon a bank robbery in progress.

The humour is ultra light and there isn't much a mystery. Written through the point of view of the local sheriff, a man with a soft spot for Susie, we get the full range of small-town dialect, from tone to spellin' to expressions. The story was written clearly for laughs, and though somewhat amusing it certainly isn't memorable.

"The Kidnappers" by Max Van Derveer. 6/10
Lonely and neglected wife of a millionaire Rita Kapon falls for the dashing salesman/crook Robert Shelton, and agrees to let herself and son Timothy to be kidnapped for ransom. Shelton does, after all, promise they will be together after it's all over. While the gluttonous Mr. Kapon cares little for his wife, who he keeps on a shoestring budget, he takes the bait because of his love for his son.

A good read and a plot that can go in many directions. The finish opted for does become obvious once we near it, which is too bad, and the story should perhaps not have been included in the same issue as James Cross's "The Five-Minute Millionaire."

Spoiler: It makes no sense that Kapon's secretary Connie Landers, who he is having an affair with, turns out to be Shelton's partner. Connie taking an inside job, one that she's likely had for some time, does nothing in aiding the ransom plan. Yeah it's another twist, but if we stop to think about it, it just doesn't make much sense.

"Welcome, Stranger" by Elijah Ellis. 6/10
Garvin is driving through a small town notorious for crooked cops who pick up strangers for the most ridiculous of violations, and though he is aware of the town's nature, he is nonetheless committing several offenses. The thing is, hidden in his coat is a tape recorder and in the back of the car his partner Mac; the two men are trying to get caught and in the process catch the crooked law red-handed.

A quick read, and yet another enjoyable yet eventually forgettable little story. The ending is odd, as there is a little additional dialogue that should have been edited out, and its presence really drags the story down at the finish.

"Slow Motion Murder" by Richard Hardwick. 6/10
Sheriff Dan Peavy, officer/narrator Pete Miller, Deputy Jerry and the rest of the gang from Guale County are back for yet another local murder. The victim this time is the despicable Bernie Hibler, a man many would've liked to have seen dead. His body is discovered in his boathouse, tied to a mast, gagged and blindfolded, and shot through the heart.

As with other Dan Peavy mysteries, this one features the comical Jerry getting into some wild and crazy antics that ultimately help Peavy figure out how the murder was set up and who the culprit is. Neat murder idea, though there's enough clues close to the beginning to point the reader toward figuring it out, at least in part. Too bad, as the novelette ends up being too long for its own good. (For a review of Hardwick's Peavy novelette "Sheriff Peavey's Double Dead Case," please see here.)

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