Thursday, April 30, 2015

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1969

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 1, Richard E. Decker, publisher, Ernest M. Hutter, editor, January 1969. 160 pages

AHMM January 1969 at Goodreads

Overall: 6/10

Other AHMM issues reviewed:
AHMM, July 1965
AHMM, April 1964

For more of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Todd Mason's site.

(Note that I will be adding more photos shortly, or creating a separate post.)

The January 1969 issue of AHMM replaces the usual "Alfred Hitchcock" introduction with a colourful "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." Moreover, the usual signature at the end of each story (at least when there's space to print it) is now encircled by a yuletide wreath. Moreover, inside is a full page subscription offer at the "Christmas Gift Rate" of $6.00 (which I can't place in proper context as I was not yet alive). I can, however, compare it to the current annual subscription rate of $34.97 USD (or $49.97 if, like me, you live in a foreign land). That is quite the Chritmas Gift Rate, and I'm tempted to fill it out and send it in to see the response, but I wouldn't want to damage the (browning) issue and certainly not that page add printed all in (of course) green.

Overall the issue is quite good with only one flop (Edwin P. Hicks's "Chaviski's Christmas"), and while there are no spectacular stories, there are some good ones. My favourite is Jack Ritchie's "Dropout" (though I tend to be partial to his shorts), but I also like those by Richard Deming, Miel Tanburn and the issue's novelette by Ed Lacy. What highlights this issue is the variety: two quick shorts with surprise endings, some private investigators, criminal protagonists, some humour, a serial killer and even a UFO.

"A Born Killer" by Max Van Derveer. 5/10

Peter Holiday is a born killer, literally, despite a strong affinity to dogs and children. He discovered this killing ability while a soldier in Vietnam, yet now that he is back on peaceful U.S. soil, in his multi-million-dollar estate, his need to kill hasn't evaporated, and he is overwhelmed with boredom and restlessness. Fellow soldier Larry Pole locates Holiday at home, telling him he had always been aware of his need to kill, and convinces Holiday to kill a man Pole claims to have abused his daughter. Holiday agrees, and things proceed with less direction than one would expect. With the somewhat lame ending I was left wondering why there were so many plot elements. It's not a bad story, especially with a plot progression not at all predictable, but for a slightly longer story that was so involved in its character, it needed better direction and a better finish; what we get is almost a punchline, and not a satisfying one.

Van Derveer's story "The Kidnappers," from AHMM July 1965, is better, and is reviewed here.

"Holiday" by Hal Ellson. 5/10

This story's title is also the name of the protagonist in the previous story. (The next story, however, is not titled Peters.) Roger Peters is on holiday seeking some prescribed rest, but instead wallows in an incredibly hot climate where the men are many and predatory. At the resort he encounters the beautiful and seemingly elusive Miss Boyd, who quickly traps him into taking her to a dance club. Eventually, while dancing with one of her many pursuers, she disappears, and Roger feels responsible for her well being. A short story that takes too long in getting anywhere, and ends in a kind of joke. Some interesting sentence work to keep the attention, but lacking in most areas.

"Chaviski's Christmas" by Edwin P. Hicks. 4/10

Retired former chief of detectives Joe Chaviski shows up at the station on Christmas Eve hoping to replace an officer as a means to end the boredom of his lonely life. Given the chance he soon ends up involved in a minor case of stolen presents, which escalates into something far greater. I suppose we need a holiday story, especially after the first two involved a sunny locale and a psycho killer. "Chaviski's Christmas" is too obvious both in plot and intention, and the humour does not work. I suppose using props as dated as explosive cigars doesn't help, but neither do the saccharin elements.

"Dropout" by Jack Ritchie. 7/10

A small town sheriff drags an out-of-town lawyer to help in recording the confession of a safe-cracker the police have just caught. The authorities are concerned that if they don't take care of the thief's rights and act by the book, his case will be rejected by the court. Jack Ritchie is among the most reliable of mystery short story authors of the 1960s and 70s, and this story does not disappoint. Though written with humourous intentions, there is nonetheless more to the story than at first expected.

Interestingly, this story is similar to Talmage Powell's "The Privileges of Crime" which appeared in AHMM March 1967 (and included in the anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Tales to Be Read with Caution, which I review here). Evidently the human rights movement affected all facets of society, and left behind are satirical pieces of pulp fiction toying with notions of the rights of obvious criminals. I'm certainly no expert in the history of criminal law in the US, so perhaps there is more to this trend than awareness of civil rights, such as the historical case of Miranda v. Arizona of 1966.

Others by Jatck Ritchie include "That Russian!" and "Silence is Gold."

"The Guide's Story" by Dion Henderson. 5/10

Snowed out on the first big day of hunting season, men gather in a local eatery and discuss the bank robbery that morning while state police investig
ate. Expert guide and wisecracker Joe Grignon has his own theory as to how the robbery might have been done. Amusing story with some humour that works, though the mystery is not so mysterious and the suspense is lacking. There is discussion on the possibilities of crimes committed on hunting day, from stray bullets to pre-sold deer carcasses, yet this story focuses instead on a bank robbery. Of course the crime is tied to the bustling day of hunting and the stalling affects of a snow day, but the story is more telling of its character than of its crime. Grignon is the focus, his expert guide skills, knowledge of the area and its people, and his humour that essentially elevates him above the townsfolk, the visiting hunter tourists and the state police.

"The Man in the Chair" by Clayton Matthews. 6/10

A small town is visited by a shady city character who settles at the barber shop for information, and soon begins to extort the local shop owners for protection money. But when he tries to take the barber's son under his wing, tensions begin to brew. Another straightforward story focusing on character, as the townsfolk outweigh the plot. This one is narrated by Jed's companion who is conveniently present at the important moments (he does hang out at the barbershop after all), and who has a special understanding of what is transpiring. There is a minor twist at the end, but it is more of a semi-twist and does not interfere or alter the plot progression, though it does elevate a certain point, and helps to assure us that the victor in the battle of character is truly victorious.

"Compromised Confessional" by Margaret E. Brown. 5/10

Two men attempt to extort the members of St. Jerome's church via the church confessional. Lt. Kelly and partner Peter Swenson investigate. An interesting idea not too well delivered as the shift from criminals to police is unnecessary, and the story could have been presented solely through the police point of view. (Alternately, the story could also have been presented solely through the criminal point of view, but would not have been as interesting with the actual outcome.) Author Brown most likely wanted to

"Night Strike" by Miel Tanburn. 6/10

A very short story in which one older man convinces another to commit a random act of murder. Retired loner first-person narrator visits the library to read about history's greats, and on one of those visits he meets Meltzer, a man who gains the sense of power through murder. He claims to have killed several people, all strangers with no connection to him, and each time careful not to leave clued. Wanting also to gain some sense of power, Our protagonist is curious to attempt the deed. Appropriately short and energetic, the story has a nice little twist. It's brevity and speed is what makes the little twist work.

"Money Tree" by Jamie Sandaval. 5/10

Confident and intimidating Taps Enderman arrives at the Carstairs Manufacturing Company one afternoon and forces a manager to write him a cheque out to cash.

I was left unaffected by the twist ending, though the progression was quite good. Unfortunately the dated language, occasionally awkward dialogue and sexism (despite it being a part of the dis-likable Taps) weaken the short piece.

"Highly Recommended" by Michael Brett. 6/10

Aging mobster Harry Grant visits hitman extraordinaire Darbash with a proposal to do away with an arrogant fellow mobster. Though Darbash's fees are incredibly high, his skill and ability to take down targets without awakening suspicion toward the victim are enough for Grant and others to continue hiring him. A good little piece that implicates the entire crime scene in a never-ending loop of distrust and extermination.

"Favor" by Stephen Wasylyk. 5/10

Lawyer John Stoneman receives a reliable tip that a former air force buddy who runs a small airfield is being targeted. Since the old buddy saved his life during the war, he feels compelled to help, and his investigation brings him to a much wanted criminal. Not a bad concept with the way it wraps up, but too conveniently plotted.

"A Name in the Phone Book" by Erlene Hubly. 6/10

In good fun shortly before the holidays, a young couple pull a prank by sending Ferd Lumpp, the funniest name in the phone book, a Christmas greeting with the note, "Remember Miami?" Little do they know that this seemingly nonsensical question means quite a bit to Ferd, who is determined to seek out the pair of strangers.

What we expect will happen does happen, yet the story, devoid of any twist, works well in its structure and doesn't require a twist. If we expect one we will be disappointed, but I can't imagine anyone expecting something other than what we're given. The tragedy and sense of absurdity are present and welcome in a way we don't often encounter in such brief tales. The lives of the young couple, Jonathan in Law school and Patricia at home waiting to be married, contrast well with Ferd's mid-life isolation. Though we know little of Ferd's personality, we do manage to sympathize, and this is the result of the author's great decision to have Patricia feel guilty for their prank, and her small tokens of friendliness toward the friendless Ferd, who will never know of her kind gestures. A good, solid read which manages, in its ten pages, to create some interesting characters.

"The Skim" by Richard Deming. 6/10

With this entry, Richard Deming plunges us into the back-story and plot so clearly and succinctly that he shows talent in the short form suspense story. Eddie Adamski works for brother-in-law Long Jake Attila selling numbers for an illegal lottery. While boss Attila is a cheapskate, wife Nancy spends more than he earns, and the stress of life with these two is sending Eddie over the edge. Until he and lover hazel plot to skim from the daily earnings Eddie brings back to Attila. A difficult task since Attila is so tight with money and so distrustful of everyone that his system is tight, with daily checks and thorough quarterly audits. Eddie nonetheless develops a skimming plan that will allow him and Hazel to flee with thousands just before the next quarterly.

A good story but a little too well plotted in the sense that the outcome is expected and even convenient. Things tie together too neatly yet that is also indicative of Demming's ability to weave together such a tightly contained little mystery. He was certainly one of the better and consistent regular contributors to AHMM at the time. There is a nice little touch in a minor detail, [spoiler alert] in that despite Eddie's horrible (deserved?) doom, he manages to ensure Hazel's safety, which elevates his character.

"Problem of Christmas" by Al Nussbaum. 6/10

A very short story with a twist. Travelling generator salesman George Dell is heading home to Chicago to his wife for Christmas ahead on an incoming storm. Once a wild and conniving womanizer salesman, through a colleague he discovered sincerity that led to better sales and a wife. The little twist is not the most original, though not expected (at least not by me), though as I've mentioned of other stories, this one's brevity (three pages) and quickness doesn't allow the reader to stop and consider the details. Quick and fun but certainly nothing earth-shattering.

"A Singular Quarry" by Ed Lacy. 6/10

Detective William Ash is hired to investigate the death of a man who has just made a fortune by selling the rarest of unflawed diamonds. His widow is convinced the death was murder, that her husband discovered the diamonds in a nearby quarry, and that there were aliens involved. Not the illegal aliens from across state lines, but those extraterrestrials from across space lines. An interesting minor science fiction mystery, highly enjoyable. Lacy is not troubled with mixing elements of sci-fi and detective mystery, which is great, though while I enjoy the mixing of genres, and I did genuinely enjoy this story, I'm not sure it was entirely necessary.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

William Hardy, Lady Killer (1956)

Hardy, William, Lady Killer, NY: Dodd, Mead & Company; London: Hamish Hamilton, 1957
______, Lady Killer, Dell [299], November 1958 (my edition, pictured)
______, Lady Killer, Penguin, 1961

Lady Killer at Goodreads
Lady Killer at IBList

Rating: 5/10

For more Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

The 22 November 1957 edition of The Spectator blurbs that Lady Killer is a "readable" crime novel featuring "yet another mild-mannered man" in a work that adds "little to what Mr. Iles did, once and for all, in Malice Aforethought." I'm not familiar with Francis Iles's novel, though it appears to hold up well, while William Hardy's Lady Killer seems to have been immortalized in lukewarm a Spectator review blurb. In fact, I had to manually add the novel to Goodreads where it did not yet exist, though a small number of little-read Hardy works do (intermingling, incidentally, with other books written by other William Hardies).

In Lady Killer, mild-mannered Earl Borstleman decides, on his fortieth birthday to kill his wife. As a mathematician he feels he can, via the supreme logic afforded by his intellect, produce a perfect crime. With some pondering, both patient and impatient, he settles on a plan to confuse the crime amid others, to essentially kill five unrelated women in his college town, and insert wife into victim slot number three. Conveniently, a bright student, a recent returnee from the Korean War, would fit in nicely to take the fall for the crimes, and Prof. Borstleman could live happily in his little OCD world.

The flaws in the novel are numerous, yet as the reviewer of The Spectator pointed out over half a century ago, it is readable. Quick, somewhat enjoyable, somewhat interesting. Utterly flawed.

"It was a beautiful day, and the fear and ugliness back there had nothing to do with her or with Bob or with the world they lived in." (49) Korean War vet Bob Adams is haunted by his experiences in battle and harbours much anger toward the world. Evidently he witnessed the killing of a superior standing beside him, and is having difficulty coping. (Though he performs well in class and manages to date a pretty young classmate.) Unfortunately for him ugliness exists even in a small American college town (and this could have been a nice sidelong theme throughout the work), as he is soon to become the prime suspect in a series of killings. With the avowed logician Borstleman acting less than logical, you'd think Bob would have little to worry about, but author Hardy weaves the plot in such a way that the ugliness of this world is one made up of coincidence.

The problem with Borstleman's logic is plentiful. Though it is understood eventually that the killing is driving him loopy, his careful planning of the first murder is less than careful. He tells himself he mustn't do anything out of the ordinary, yet the night of the murder he invites two students to his home for coffee, which he hasn't done in many years. He tells himself to select five unrelated women to be his victims, and then chooses the department's secretary Emily Joyner as victim number one; though perhaps Joyner hasn't actually met Sarah Borstleman, the two are immediately linked to Earl himself. He tells himself to space out the murders, to commit one a month, and then kills landlady Nancy Miller a mere two weeks following the killing of Joyner, and then is impatient to do away with wife Sarah.

The greatest flaw, however, is believing that a man as obsessive compulsive, as neat and clean, as orderly as Borstleman would ever marry a woman such as Sarah. She smokes, is untidy, wears appalling house dresses, and overall grates on Earl for countless reasons. This topic is never approached.

And yet the novel does manage to be readable and somewhat enjoyable. The locale is well constructed and the scenes are quite visual. There is even some suspense in various parts. The novel begins well enough as we follow Borstleman planning and committing the first murder. Then the point of view shifts from a limited third person to complete omniscience, which is jarring just as we were made comfortable in Borstelman's skin. Moreover, with the shifts in point of view we experience shifts in tone, and Hardy includes some humour with the bumbling local police, which does not work one bit.

Readable, but there are enough readable works out there that I would not recommend it, and allow Lady Killer to live in two obscure reviews: The Spectator and at Casual Debris.

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