Book Review: Classic American Short Stories compiled by Michael Kelahan
This book is more or less exactly what it says in the title, a compilation of short(ish) stories written by American authors, most of which are acknowledged as classics by American Lit professors. The stories are arranged by author in roughly chronological order from the early Nineteenth Century to the 1920s to stay safely in the public domain.
The fifty-one stories included begin with Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”, a tall tale about a henpecked husband who drinks ghostly beer and sleeps for twenty years, right through the American Revolution. The book ends with “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A young man from Minnesota finds great success in the laundry business, but heartache when the woman he loves cannot settle for just him. In between are ones that are very familiar to me, like “The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe (a murderer confesses his crime in an effort to prove his sanity) and stories that were new to me, like “The Revolt of ‘Mother'” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (a New England woman, tired of an unkept promise, takes matters into her own hands.)
There’s a wide variety of genres represented, from “realistic” slice of life stories through mystery and fantasy to outright horror. The chronological order highlights the changing social attitudes depicted in the stories, particularly the two Edith Wharton stories about divorce. Women are reasonably well-represented, and there are a couple of writers of color as well.
Of course, just because a story is “classic” does not mean it will appeal to everyone. I found Henry James’ novella “The Aspern Papers” (literary buff infiltrates the household of a famous poet’s ex-lover in an effort to gain any memorabilia she might have of him) tedious and predictable. I am not alone in this, but many other readers have found it fascinating.
Content issues: Many of these stories have elements of period racism, sexism and classism; sometimes it’s dealt with within the story itself, but other times it pops up as a nasty surprise. “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather, about a boy who wants the finer things in life without the tedium of putting in decades of hard labor to get them, deals with suicide.
This is a Barnes & Noble collector’s edition, and is quite handsome and sturdy, with a leather binding, gilt-edged pages and a silk bookmark for a reasonable price. However, the fact that it has a “compiler” rather than an editor is telling. There are scattered typos; I do not know if they were caused by errors in transcription, or if the sources were not scrutinized carefully enough. The author bios at the end are not quite in alphabetical order, and miss out Washington Irving altogether.
Overall, most of these stories are worth reading at least once, and many are worth rereading over the years. Highly recommended to people who don’t already have their favorites from this collection in a physical book, or are curious about the stories they haven’t read yet. It’d also make a nice gift for your bookworm friend or relative.
Anime Review: Lupin the Third: The Italian Adventure
Arsène Lupin III, alleged French-Japanese descendant of the famous 19th Century criminal Arsène Lupin, is a master thief. If he says he’ll steal something, Lupin the 3rd most certainly will. A master of disguise, able to open any lock, and possessed of great cunning, he steals treasures and hearts with equal ease. Lupin usually works with gunman Daisuke Jigen, swordsman Goemon Ishikawa and femme fatale Fujiko Mine, though they aren’t always loyal to each other–particularly Fujiko. The gang is perpetually pursued by the dogged Inspector Koichi Zenigata of the ICPO. Now Lupin the Third has come to Italy; what is he up to this time? Is he really just there to get married?
This Italian-Japanese co-production is the latest anime series based on the Lupin the Third manga by Monkey Punch. The manga in turn was loosely based on the original Lupin stories by Maurice Leblanc. Back in the 1960s, Japan didn’t enforce international copyright, so when the Leblanc estate finally found out about the manga, they couldn’t block it or insist on a cut of the profits, but were able to tie up international rights, meaning that most Lupin III products overseas had to use other names like “Rupan” or “Wolf.” (The original Lupin stories entered the public domain in 2012.)
The series begins in the small independent republic of San Marino, as Lupin marries bored heiress Rebecca Rossellini as part of a plan to steal the greatest treasure of that tiny country. However, it turns out that Rebecca has her own plans, and with the aid of her faithful manservant Robson turns the tables partially on the master thief. Since he never formally consummated his marriage with Rebecca, but neither is he formally divorced from her, Lupin decides to stay in the Italian area for a while.
One of his thefts brings Lupin into conflict with Agent Nyx of MI-6, who has superhuman hearing, among other gifts. Nyx turns out to be a less than enthusiastic agent, who wants to retire from spying to spend more time with his family…but MI-6 needs him too much.
Things take a SFnal turn when it turns out there’s a virtual reality/shared dream device out there which ties into the return of Italy’s most brilliant mind, Leonardo da Vinci! Lupin, his allies and adversaries must figure out how to survive the Harmony of the World.
The series is largely comedy, but with serious moments, and some episodes are very sentimental indeed. (This contrasts with the original manga, which had a darker sense of humor, and a nastier version of Lupin who would not hesitate at murder or rape to get his way.) All of the major characters get focus episodes that explore their personalities and skills.
Placing the entire series on the Italian Peninsula (with brief excursions to France and Japan) gives it a thematic consistency that previous Lupin series have lacked, and this is all to the good. Having new recurring characters also allows a bit more variety in plotlines for the episodes. Mind, Rebecca can get annoying from time to time and feels shoehorned into a couple of episodes. (A couple of Rebecca-centric episodes were removed from the Japanese broadcast order.)
While the primary appeal will be to existing Lupin the Third fans, this series does a good job of filling newcomers in on everything they really need to know. If you enjoy stories about clever gentleman thieves with a soft spot for pretty ladies, this one is for you.
Here’s a look at the Italian version of the opening theme!
Quick recap: When teen genius detective Shin’ichi Kudou (Jimmy Kudo in the American edition) is targeted by a mysterious criminal organization, the experimental poison used shrinks him to child size rather than killing him. Assuming the identity of Conan Edogawa, the pint-sized sleuth moves in with incompetent private eye Kogoro Mouri (Richard Moore) and his daughter Ran (Rachel), who is Shin’ichi’s love interest. Now Conan solves mysteries, but must be more clever in how he lets the police know whodunit, as his true identity and capabilities must remain secret.
In the volume to hand, #59, the Rena Mizunashi subplot has a shocking conclusion…at least for now. The Black Organization seems to be fooled, but for how long and at what cost?
Then Kogoro’s ex-wife Eri (Eva) keeps an appointment at the hairdresser’s, only to have the beautician’s ex-boyfriend turn up dead nearby. Conan must break a seemingly perfect alibi. There’s another near-miss for Eri and Kogoro getting back together.
The “Centipede” case follows, as two families’ sons are murdered in bizarre fashion, each with a centipede dropped near the corpse. The parents initially suspect each other due to a long-standing feud, and Kogoro and Osakan teen detective Heiji (Harley) are called in on opposite sides. Heiji and Conan quickly ally as more murders happen according to a pattern inspired by famous samurai Lord Shingen and his battle motto, “Fuurinkazan.”
This case also introduces a new police character, Kansuke Yamato of Nagano. He’s crippled and scarred from an avalanche, which has the advantage of making him very distinctive and unlikely to be confused with the many other cops in this series. He independently works out the identity of the killer, but the younger detectives are still very useful.
The volume concludes with Eisuke, Rena’s brother, returning to school and being talked into a karaoke party. Conan spots an FBI agent tailing Eisuke, but when the agent then turns up dead, is Eisuke the killer, or is it the Black Organization…or someone with no connection to that case? You’ll need to wait for the next volume to find out!
As always, the art is decent, and the writing fun. I really appreciated that the new police detective was competent and didn’t need to be handheld by Conan as so many of the others do. The only real flaw is that the first chapter depends so heavily on previous knowledge of the Rena subplot that it’s likely to be confusing to someone who picked up the book randomly.
The U.S. release is still years behind Japan, so it may be a while before we learn the next parts of the subplots.
Comic Book Review: The Fix, Volume 1: Where Beagles Dare written by Nick Spencer, art by Steve Lieber
Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was requested or offered.
Roy and Mac are crooked cops in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, they’re not very good at being crooked. Or cops. They’ve gotten themselves deep into debt with the Mob, and now the local crimelord wants them to do him a favor. A large favor that’s going to take more smarts than these two have put together…and involves a beagle named Pretzels.
Of course, the actual plot is much more complicated than that, and most of this first volume of the comic book series is dedicated to setting up the many moving pieces of the story, some of which Roy and Mac have no clue about. There’s at least one scene which makes me wonder if there’s going to be a sudden genre change in the next volume. This does create the problem that my opinion of the series might drastically change based on how well all the pieces fit together in the back half of the story.
Roy is our narrator, a sleazy grifter who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, and tries to project a “lovable rogue” image without being likable. His schemes succeed less often because they’re well thought-out than that they are so stupid and audacious that people don’t realize it was an actual plan. That, and a crooked Internal Affairs officer is covering for him. Roy doesn’t learn from his mistakes, and operates under the assumption that everyone else is secretly just as awful as he is, but covering it up better, or stupid.
Mac is slightly more sympathetic, being the follower type–he could have developed some decency if he had a better friend than Roy. Mac is vaguely aware that following Roy’s lead always gets them in worse trouble, but doesn’t know any other way of doing things.
I should mention that this is a comedy, with riffs on Hollywood option deals, anti-vaxxers and celebutantes, among other targets. Most of the humor is vulgar, with body fluids, sexual references and foul language, as well as some gory violence played for laughs. It’s got a “Mature Readers” rating for a reason.
The art is okay, but I really want to point up Ryan Hill’s coloring job as his work carries several sequences where pencils & inks just aren’t enough.
Overall? Again, a lot will depend on the conclusion of the series and how well all the moving pieces mesh together. I don’t really care much what happens to Roy or Mac, but at this point I do want to know what is up with Pretzels and hope he succeeds at bringing down the criminals.
Recommended to fans of the creators–others should wait until the second volume is confirmed up to snuff.
Comic Book Review: The Drained Brains Caper written by Trina Robbins, art by Tyler Page
Megan Yamamura wants a pet. Unfortunately, the young poet’s (she specializes in haiku) father is allergic to all fur-bearing animals, so she’s thinking maybe a tarantula, which is fuzzy but not furry might be the best bet.
She’s been looking all over her new city of Chicagoland and having no luck when she comes into the pet supply store Raf Hernandez is manning the counter of. The young computer whiz is helping out his mother, but the store’s policy is clear–they sell pet supplies, not animals.
Megan has other problems. One of the reasons her family had to move was because she’d been expelled from her old school (a total overreaction to a minor offense) and she now has to spend the summer at Stepford Academy. The students and teachers there are all smiling zombies, and the meat-laden school lunches (anathema to vegetarian Megan) have unusual effects if overeaten.
Raf is the only person her age she kind of knows in the neighborhood, so she has to turn to him when her father ignores the warning signs that something’s not right at Stepford Academy. (In the tradition of middle-school stories, Mr. Yamamura is totally oblivious to what Megan tells him and only listens to other adults.) The kids are soon joined by Bradley, a talking dog, and must stop the mad scientist, Dr. Vorschak, before she can bring the entire city under her sway.
This is the first volume in the Chicagoland Detective Agency series of children’s graphic novels. Trina Robbins is a long-time comics creator, and her writing here is decent if perhaps a bit shortcut-heavy. There’s not much mystery here, but then the detective agency hasn’t been formed yet. The detective himself doesn’t come in until halfway through, and he just happens to have known what was going on all along.
The city of Chicagoland is about 90% Chicago (it has the El and the Cubs), but presumably isn’t just Chicago so that the creative team can shove any odd buildings or fictional organizations they want in.
There’s some slapstick violence, and Dr. Vorschak engages in unethical animal testing as well as unethical human testing. But in general, this should be suitable for middle-school readers.
Recommended to fans of things like the Scooby-Doo cartoons.
Book Review: The Sculthorpe Murder by Karen Charlton
Disclaimer: I received a Kindle download of this book as a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was offered or requested.
The year is 1810, and Bow Street Runner Detective Stephen Lavender has been called from his native London to Northamptonshire. It seems that an elderly man, William Sculthorpe, has been robbed and murdered. The most likely suspects are a gang known as the Panthers, whom the local authorities have been unable to put their hands upon. But when Lavender and his friend Horse Constable Ned Woods investigate at the request of a wealthy noblewoman, they find clues that suggest otherwise. Most notably, the testimony of Sculthorpe’s son Billy who actually saw the murderers. But he’s an unreliable witness who talks about “dark elves”, so has been mostly ignored.
This is the third Detective Lavender mystery, and I have not read the previous volumes. According to the author’s notes, her main character is loosely based on the life and activities of a real Stephen Lavender, who was an officer of the Bow Street magistrates. Likewise, this book’s case is based on one Mr. Lavender actually solved, though Ms. Charlton took liberties with even the bare bones account provided by historical records.
Billy Sculthorpe has Down syndrome (called “cretinism” in the story because Dr. Down hadn’t even been born yet, let alone started studying the condition.) Lavender quickly realizes that despite his moderate mental disability, and a vivid imagination fed by spooky stories his recently deceased Mum had told him, Billy is a talented artist and has a good memory. Billy’s testimony leads the detectives to discover clues about William Sculthorpe’s actual past and other possible motivations for his murder.
The sleepy village of Middleton and its surroundings turn out to have many dark secrets that get turned up by the murder investigation, multiplying the number of suspects. There are even ties back to London, which allows Lavender’s love interest Magdalena and other city-bound characters to make an appearance. Meanwhile, Constable Woods finds his own past catching up with him.
As often happens with historical mysteries, Stephen Lavender as the protagonist is perhaps just a little too enlightened for the times he’s living in, believing in religious tolerance and treating the women in his life with respect for their intelligence and opinions. Woods is a bit more believable as a person of the early Nineteenth Century, but not so much so as to make him unsympathetic.
I found the solution to the mystery satisfying; genre-savvy readers will spot one of the murderers very early on, and clues as to how it was done are abundant. Much of the last part of the book is Detective Lavender negotiating just how many of the crimes he’s uncovered must come to light, and which must face justice of a more subtle sort.
Possible trigger issues: There’s some discussion of spousal abuse and animal abuse in the backstory, including the fact that it was even more difficult to get out of an abusive marriage in the Eighteenth Century than it is today. There are some slurs hurled by less sympathetic characters towards Billy because of his condition, a bit of slut-shaming, and anti-Catholic slurs.
Recommended to fans of the historical mystery sub-genre.
The generation ship known to its inhabitants as The Ark holds the last fifty thousand humans in the universe. Er, make that 49,999…and falling. When brilliant geneticist Edmond Laraby goes missing only a few weeks before the Ark is finally going to reach humanity’s new home in Tau Ceti (which should be impossible due to the tracking device implanted in everyone’s skull when they’re born), it’s up to Detective Bryan Benson to discover what happened.
Benson must find out what happened to Laraby, and puzzle out the motive. Was it his taste in stolen art? Something to do with his work on adapting plants to the conditions on the new planet? A personal dispute? Or something more sinister? Benson needs to find out fast, or more people are going to die, and failure could mean the end of the human race!
A couple of centuries from now, it’s discovered that a black hole is headed for Earth; there was just enough time to build a huge ship to take fifty thousand humans (chosen for genetic stability and general usefulness) from around the world to the nearest inhabitable planet. This universe doesn’t have faster than light travel, so it’s taken some more centuries to get there, with generation after generation being born and dying.
Benson’s direct ancestors faked their genetic records to get aboard, and got caught harboring a deadly inherited condition. The disease was excised, but the scandal has tainted the family line ever since, resulting in a tradition of being the lowliest of hydro-farmers. But Bryan Benson managed to break out of that by becoming a star athlete at the future sport of Zero, and then becoming the chief security officer of the Avalon half of the Ark.
It’s been something of a sinecure up until now; the Ark’s population is much better-behaved than an equivalent number of people on Earth That Was. So Benson has been pretty relaxed about the job, having an affair with an subordinate and taking time out to watch the final Zero series before the ship arrives. He has a lot of catching up to do when there’s a serious crime to investigate.
It’s interesting to compare this book to One in Three Hundred, the last story I reviewed about the remnants of humanity fleeing a dying Earth. In that one, the governments of Earth decided to go with the cheapest mass-produced ships possible and let the pilots decide which people to bring based on their own values and circumstances, with a low probability of individual success. So the population of the new world was essentially random. Here, the governments decided to build one ship with the maximum probability of success and hand-pick the survivors (with about the same numbers who actually make it through.)
As Benson’s investigation continues, he learns to his great surprise that there are a few secrets that have managed to survive the centuries; but murder investigations tend to turn up things people would prefer to stay buried, even if they’re not directly connected to the mystery. Some of the characters have surprising depths, while others are exactly what they appear.
Benson is a decent viewpoint character, sarcastic and fallible. In a hard-boiled mystery, he’s a detective that hasn’t finished cooking. The romantic relationship subplot is okay, but nothing to write home about.
There’s some good lines, too. My personal favorite is “The last time this gun was fired, sixteen million people died.”
Recommended for people who enjoy SF-flavored mystery stories, and fans of generation ship stories.
Magazine Review: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine July 2016 edited by Janet Hutchings
Frederick Dannay, who along with Manfred B. Lee wrote the Ellery Queen mystery stories, was asked by Mercury Press to be the editor of a new magazine that would print a higher class of detective stories than the general run of pulps, with the first issue of EQMM coming out in 1941. At first it was a reprint magazine, featuring classic tales by writers like Agatha Christie and Cornell Woolrich. But by the seventh issue, new stories began to appear, and one, “The Bow Street Runner” by Samuel Duff, was that author’s first professional sale.
Over the years, Mr. Dannay sought out new writers to appear in “The Department of First Stories”, many of whom went on to great success. His successors have carried on that tradition, and as part of the magazine’s 75th Anniversary celebration, the July issue #898 features new stories by authors who got their start in EQMM.
“The Staff of Asclepius” by Stephen Saylor features his Roman sleuth Gordianus the Finder. This one is set in his youth, when Gordianus and a friend were on a trip to see the Seven Wonders of the World. They winter in Rhodes, home of the fabled Colossus. During their enforced idleness, Gordianus learns of a shipping magnate named Rhosander who has suffered several bouts of illness, then miraculously recovered due to wacky cures he dreamed of in the temple of the healing god. Perhaps these episodes are the symptoms of some underlying illness…but they could also be slow poison. The illustration has male rear nudity, which is germane to the story.
“Department of First Stories: A History” by Marvin Lachman reveals the material I cited at the beginning of this review, but in much, much more detail, including a list of some of the most famous writers to debut in the magazine and their accomplishments.
“The Granite Kitchen” by David Morrell is a monologue to a real estate agent by a woman selling her home. She’s obsessed with making her homes just so, always moving on to a bigger project once she has it right. And either she has the unluckiest bunch of family and friends I have ever seen, or…. Chilling.
“Blog Bytes” by Bill Crider is a regular column of mystery-related internet sites; this time focusing on fans of the Ellery Queen stories.
“The Jury Box” by Steve Steinbock is a more traditional book review column. Among other works, this month it mentions several novels starring famous writers as the detectives, including A Riot Most Uncouth by Daniel Friedman, which I reviewed a while back.
“Get Them Out” by Nancy Pickard has a homeless man kicked out of a shelter for making a disturbance. The new janitor at an apartment building offers him a place to sleep in the basement, but his motives may not be altruistic. Ends on an ambiguous note.
“Black Monday” by John H. Sherman is a first story. Howard, a lab technician at a hospital, has been having problems with alcohol and painkiller addiction, and has missing time. His dreams of swimming have gone dark, and he can’t remember what he did last night.
“The Red Tattoo” by Percy Spurlark Parker is a noirish tale featuring Las Vegas private eye Trevor Oaks. He’s hired to find a man’s missing identical twin; the only clue is that the twin was seen in LV with a woman who had a red tattoo.
“The Hangman” by David Dean is the story of a cops-and-robbers game gone south, and the years later sequel. Depressing.
“Flight” by Trina Corey is set in a nursing home during the Vietnam War era (I suspect to avoid easy fixes by technology.) Rachel is crippled by multiple sclerosis, unable to speak or write. Perhaps that’s why a murderer has taken to coming into her room at night to gloat, knowing that she can’t tell anyone. But Rachel still has her mind, and there’s a young nurse that hasn’t lost her ability to care yet, and maybe there’s a way to stop the killer.
“The Man from Away” by Brendan DuBois takes place in New Hampshire and Boston. People tell Amos Wilson he’s too gullible, that his estranged wife is a gold digger he’s better off without. But when she is accidentally killed by tourists who then vanish, Amos feels obligated to do something about it. He may be long-suffering, but he’s not stupid. Satisfying.
“Consuming Passion” by Martin Edwards is about two old friends, one a master chef, the other a restaurant critic, having dinner together. It does not end well.
“The Peter Rabbit Killers” by Laura Benedict closes out the issue with a little girl whose mother has an obsession with cleanliness, and a neighbor girl who is bullying and not at all clean. Another creepy tale.
Overall, a strong issue with many fine stories. I liked “Flight” the best, while “Black Monday” and “The Hangman” were less well done. This issue is certainly worth picking up while the anniversary celebration is still on.
Magazine Review: The Saturday Evening Post 6/10/61 edited by Ben Hibbs
The Saturday Evening Post ran weekly from 1897-1963; after several format changes, it is now published six times a year. The Post was well known for its lavish illustrations and a combination of current event articles and short stories by popular writers. I got this issue from the month of my birth as an early birthday present. At the time, this magazine was printed in the broadsheet format, which is too large for my scanner–thus the truncated cover image showing only a part of Amos Spewell’s painting of tourists in Venice.
To entice potential customers at newsstands, the Post front-loaded the illustrations in spreads at the front of the magazine, and each of the articles and stories continued in the word-heavy back pages interspersed with a few cartoons. There were also many large illustrated advertisements–one for tampons is notable for not telling the reader what the product is, showing the product or saying what it’s used for exactly; if I didn’t know from the name of the product, I’d assume it’s some kind of skin cleanser or deodorant.
The Post was also known for having a staunchly conservative editorial stance, and this is on full display in an editorial expressing relief that leftist thought was vanishing from college campuses and conservatism was on the rise. “Of course, the battle isn’t over. Queer characters still appear on college campuses sponsored by ‘liberal’ groups.” Oh, if only they knew!
In the lively letters to the editor section, comments on an article about Bobby Darrin reveal changes in our pop culture, with people being shocked or pleased that he was willing to share personal opinions with the press even if they didn’t match the public’s desired stance. One letter writer asked why an article on “Presidents in Retirement” did not include FDR. The editor waggishly replies that the place that man retired to is not on the reporter’s regular beat. There’s also a couple of letters on segregation, responding negatively to a previous letter writer’s suggestion that since Southerners didn’t go to Northern states to demand segregation, Northerners should reciprocate about desegregation.
Let’s look at the contents.
“The White House Insiders” by Stewart Alsop is a look at President Kennedy’s political staffers (all men, all white-one had a black deputy) and how they helped him keep on top of what was happening in the country and the world. It goes into detail about JFK’s management style. The only top staff name most younger readers are likely to recognize is Arthur Schlesinger Jr., but Henry Kissinger is briefly mentioned as a second-stringer.
“Death of a Demon” by Rex Stout is part one of three of a Nero Wolfe mystery novella. The sedentary detective is briefly engaged by a woman who wants to show him the gun she will not use to shoot her husband. That’s…kind of suspicious, and when the husband turns up dead from a bullet wound, some questions are raised. Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s leg man, is pretty sure the woman didn’t do it, but there are gaping holes in her story. It’s certainly an intriguing beginning! Happily, this story was included in Homicide Trinity by Rex Stout, which you can probably get through interlibrary loan.
“How the Doctors Saved Chicago’s Burned Children” by Alice Lake is a look at how St. Anne’s Hospital dealt with the victims of a fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in 1958. 95 people died immediately or in the aftermath, but this story concentrates on the survivors. Part of the credit for St. Anne’s quick and organized response goes to disaster preparedness they had undertaken after a fire some years before had caught the hospital unprepared for multiple victims. There are details of the treatment s used and updates on a couple of the survivors as of mid-1961. One of the treatments tried was using blood transfusions from recovering adult burn victims in the hope that their blood had antigens against “burn toxin.” (From the little I could find, research into this treatment has shown scant evidence of effectiveness.) For more on the fire, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_the_Angels_School_fire
“Handsome Samaritan” by Phyllis Duganne is a story about an airline pilot driving to vacation in Florida when he stops to help some stranded motorists. One of them is a very pretty woman, but he’s supposed to be meeting his fiancee. The pilot comes to realize he is much more compatible with this new woman who is more interested in who he is than who she can make him become. I found this story uncomfortable, and skimmed to the end.
“The Poacher” by Gene Coghlan, set in Depression-era North Dakota, has two brothers growing up on an isolated farm, and using traps to earn a little pocket money. One brother is laid up with a broken leg, and the protagonist takes advantage of this to claim that a fur animal was caught in one of his traps, rather than his brother’s. Presumably he learned a valuable lesson about life, but the conclusion pages are missing from my copy. Unfortunately, Mr. Coghlan doesn’t seem to have any books in print.
“The Case of the Comical Banker” by Harold H. Martin, profiles Mills Bee Lane, Jr., then president of the Citizens & Southern National Bank in Atlanta, Georgia. Known for a jovial style (unlike the stuffy conservatism usually associated with bankers of the period), his business acumen turned the C&S into the largest bank in the South. You may be more familiar with his nephew, Mills Bee Lane III, who became a famous boxing referee and TV judge. Lane, Jr. was credited in the article for jumpstarting tobacco farming in the Atlanta area when cotton took a dive in the market.
“The Meaning of the Eichmann Trial” by T.S. Matthews was published about halfway through the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann. (He was found guilty and hanged.) The article talks a lot about the trial conditions and the thoroughness of the Israeli court system. “Israel means to show the world that, in the British phrase, ‘justice is not only done but seen to have been done.” It also talks about the character of Israel as a country, and its people. The trial took place in a newly built suburb of Jerusalem, because at that time the Old City was in the hands of Jordan. This is a very moving article, and I think the best in the issue.
“Cop with Camera Eyes” by Thomas Walsh features a police detective with “photographic memory”, if he sees something, and it’s important to him at a later time, he will remember it clearly. It triggers when he notices the same person in the crowd three times during a date he’s having with his new neighbor. After safely returning his date home, The cop ambushes this tail. Surprise! It’s a federal agent! Seems the attractive foreign lady is suspected of being a Communist spy. Reluctantly, the cop agrees to keep an eye on the girl he has come to adore, but then she vanishes–and for the first time, the cop’s memory fails him at a critical moment. Can he crack the case before innocents are killed? It’s a pretty good story; I don’t know if it’s ever been reprinted, but Mr. Walsh’s Nightmare in Manhattan is considered a superior mystery novel and that you can find.
“Is Nature Getting Neurotic?” by Corey Ford is a humor piece about how over-complicated gardening and landscaping have become, requiring the homeowner to employ multiple specialists and expensive treatments just to keep the lawn alive.
“In the Best Interest of the Service” by Walt Grove takes us inside an Air Force base. A major must make a difficult decision because of the need for unit cohesiveness. A rescue chopper pilot is being accused of cowardice by one of his crew members. This is complicated by the officer being a Negro, and the crew member being a white man from the Deep South and the type of person who nowadays would be decrying “political correctness.” He doesn’t mean any harm by the N-word, he claims, so why shouldn’t he use it? But that does raise the stink of possible racism. Oh, and the chopper pilot is the major’s best friend on the base, so there may be the question of favoritism. Who will be getting transferred out? The resolution to the situation may be a little too convenient, but is satisfying, and inspires the major to take some steps in his personal life he’s put off too long. Mr. Grove wrote several action books about pilots, but it doesn’t appear any are currently in print.
“Comeback of the Giant Turtle” by Bern Keating is about efforts to increase the population of the green sea turtle (so called because of its distinctive green fat deposits inside the shell) in the Caribbean. Despite these and other preservation efforts, the green sea turtle remains an endangered species.
And finally, “The Big Swindle” by Clarence Budington Kelland is part 5 of 6. Twins Pet and Pete Du Chillon have finally come of age, and are attempting to make sense of what their guardian, Mortimer Norton, has done with the family company. It seems all sorts of shady shenanigans have been going on! The twins have some sort of scheme to expose the truth, involving a phony foreign prince and double-bluffing the man who runs security for Du Chillon Industries. This installment suffers from coming in the middle of the story, but I think it’s also a pretty bad story. Pet and Pete, as well as their beloved grandmother, are the sort of people who the author tries hard to convince us are very witty, but come off snide instead. The funniest bit for me was one of the supporting characters denying the possibility of a “twins threesome” in such a way as to make me think he’s thought waay too much about the topic (and also never mentioning sex because this is a family magazine.) Mr. Kelland is largely forgotten, but once was popular enough that Harlan Ellison called him out by name for lowering the tastes of the American public.
There’s also short poems (amusing but forgettable), jokes and cartoons.
This was a fun look back at a moment in time just before I was born. Copies of the Post in bad condition can be found relatively cheaply; issues in excellent condition, or with stories by top authors, will set you back considerably more money. Also, you can visit the website of the current magazine: http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/
Book Review: The Queen of Zamba by L. Sprague de Camp (Also published as Cosmic Manhunt)
It started out as a normal missing person case. Victor Hasselborg was hired to find runaway heiress Julnar Batruni. Her trail is easy to pick up, as she used her own name to buy tickets off-planet with her lover, one Anthony Fallon. Victor pursues them to the distant world of Krishna, where he runs into a snag.
It seems that Krishna is under a technological interdict, to prevent the warlike natives from gaining the ability to destroy themselves (and others) before their civilizations advance to more peaceful methods of conflict resolution. Thus Victor must shed most of his advanced equipment and disguise himself as a native to search for the lovers. Can a man used to automatic pistols and fast cars survive with a sword and aya-drawn buggy? And once he does find his targets, will he survive his encounter with the Queen of Zamba?
This story is part of the Viagens Interplanetarias setting, created by Mr. de Camp as a way to use many of the tropes of “planetary romance” in a more plausible way than had previously been the case. (Edgar Rice Burroughs, the founder of the subgenre with A Princess of Mars, had focused more on the fiction side of “science fiction” and most authors writing in the same vein had stuck with that.) So the Krishnans, while appearing close enough to Terrans so that they can easily disguise themselves as each other, can make whoopee with humans but not babies. There’s a reasonable explanation for using swords and riding animals when more technologically advanced items exist. And our protagonists can’t just zip between worlds–thanks to relativistic effects, voyages that take months for the traveling characters take years for the people left behind. Even with improved human longevity and safe suspended animation, normal people with settled lives aren’t keen on repeated space travel.
Thus our protagonist, Victor Hasselborg. In some ways, he’s a typical fictional private eye. Disappointed in love, recovering alcoholic, tough talker, will kill if he has to. But he’s also a germ-phobic hypochondriac who is skittish around attractive women who seem a bit too interested, and none too interested in the adventurous life.
There’s also some inventiveness in the general setting–after World War 3, the Soviet Union was gone and the United States crippled to the point it had to merge with Canada to survive. And Brazil became the world’s leading power, aided by having invented starships. On the other hand, people still smoke cigars in this 22nd Century, and the number one occupation of Earthwomen is “housewife.” (A Krishnan woman expresses her desire to become one as the rumors she hears of Earth romanticize the position.)
During the story, Victor runs into treachery and eventually must team up with another Terran in disguise to prevent technological horror from being unleashed on Krishna.
Originally written in the late 1940s, this story was reprinted by Ace Books under the title Cosmic Manhunt and with the ethnicity of one of the characters changed due to politics. This “Asimov’s Choice” edition restores the original title and character.
To fill out the volume, a longish story entitled “Perpetual Motion” has been added. Con artist Felix Borel comes to Krishna to fleece the natives with a twist on the technology ban. He can’t introduce any innovation that is beyond current Krishnan science or technology, but since perpetual motion machines are impossible, they don’t count, right? Felix is not a good person, though he can twist events to make himself look better–right up until his luck runs out. This story shares a minor character with the main event.
This is light adventure and fast reading; even with the added plausibility, you shouldn’t think about the science too hard. Recommended for planetary romance fans. There are quite a few Viagens Interplanetarias stories; I also recommend Rogue Queen if you can find it.