Will Lieutenant Jones EVER return from the alternate timeline?
The Lieutenant reflected that he would never get used to people appearing and disappearing into thin air. Meanwhile Valeria continued to shimmer in the greenish mist which continued to glow strangely. The men eventually continued their conversation as though they were alone.
‘Listen,’ began Mandible, ‘I’m from Evanston, and I love the ol’ Windy City. I wouldn’t do anything to harm it.’
‘But how can I be sure of that?’ replied Lt. Jones.
Mandible paused, then sighed. ‘Jones, I’m going to tell you something. I’ve been here a while. This is my home now. I can’t go back. Do you think I’d want to destroy my own place?’
‘Can’t go back where?’
‘To my time.’
‘Which was when? I’m very curious.’
But before Mandible could reply, the shimmering green image of Valeria began to speak. But strangely, it was a disembodied sound, emanating from the shimmer itself, rather than from her image. It was as if someone was using the portal to channel a message.
‘We haven’t much time.’
Now wasn’t that a relative statement to make to two time travellers!
The Lieutenant took some initiative and replied first.
‘Not much time for what?’
Now Valeria spoke.
‘To save the city. When I summoned you to this continuum to help I perceived your usefulness. Was I mistaken?’
Lt. Jones hesitated, then said, ‘I really don’t know. It depends on your real goals and your methods.’
‘My goals and methods are the same as yours, the preservation of this city for past and future generations.’
‘That doesn’t say much for the present,’ interjected George Mandible.
The misty green field exploded, bathing the room in the eerie light and blotting the vision of the two men. When it cleared, Valeria was standing before them, no longer appearing as a human female, but only vaguely humanoid, with two small tentacle-like appendages hovering from her midsection. Luckily both Mandible and the Lieutenant were experienced enough in time and space not to react overtly, but both could only guess at the function of these extra arms and hope they weren’t violent or hostile.
A forlorn hope indeed, since both tentacles expanded in length and girth to envelop Mandible and Lt. Jones in an unbreakable grasp.
When she spoke, it was in a deep, stentorian voice, utterly unlike the high tenor of before.
‘And now, interlopers---the final reckoning!’
Yikes! It sure looks like the Lieutenant and George Mandible are in for a spot of bother, doesn’t it? How will they get out of this one? WILL they get out of this one? Of course they will--it’s fiction! On the other hand, y_r friendly blogger can do whatever he pleases with his own characters, so you’ll just have to tune in next time to read what happens! Important note: starting next week, each new installment of All Things Mysterious will appear on Fridays, just in time for your weekend!
And now, some books to consider:
This one hooked me from the get-go, and between le Carre and McCarry and Fleming, I've discovered an affinity for the spy stuff that I never knew I had!
And check out the seminal adventure of George Smiley:
This version of Chicago is hard-boiled like a egg:
Short stories, most from the Golden Age, set in and about the Windy City.
Questions/Comments/Deep Dish Pizza? email@example.com
Lt. Jones Visits Yet Another Possible Future Part Four
Mandible pointed to the machine. ‘There you go. Keep me posted, Bibby.’
Bibby gestured to Lt. Jones. ‘Ok. But what about him?’
‘You trying to tell me my job? I’ll take care of it. Let’s go, Jones.’
And with that they went out the shimmering orange field through which George Mandible had entered. When they entered the anteroom, the Lieutenant started to speak. ‘Shh!’ said the security chief. ‘Not here. Come into my office.’ Then, with but a gesture, or so it seemed, another shimmering orange field appeared in the center of the wall; then Mandible stepped through, beckoning Lt. Jones to follow, which he did, although not without some trepidation. They entered a spartan office with another bare desk although this one did not have a big red button on it.
Mandible smiled. ‘Takes some getting used to, doesn’t it?’ The Lieutenant spun to face him, his face betraying his shock.
‘It’s not hard to tell that you don’t belong here. I felt the same way when I arrived.’
‘Then you’re from another time too?’
‘I was sent here, just as you were. I’m trying to turn the Chicago of the future into a desert.’
‘What! I’m trying to PREVENT Chicago being turned into a desert! Why would anyone want to destroy the city?’
‘Not to destroy it, to save it!’
‘How do you figure?’
‘You see, radiation from the atomic testing program will destroy the ecosystem over time--the soil, the water, the air--all of it. If we act now, if we turn it back to nature, then the environment can regenerate itself.’
The Lieutenant pondered this. ‘What you say makes sense, but how can I be sure? I barely know what is going on as it is.’
Mandible smiled. ‘Didn’t get much information from Valeria, did you?’
‘I’ll say I didn’t! I pretty much got shanghaied here!’
‘Well, look, let’s get out of here and talk someplace. I’ll give you my take on things, and you can decide what to do then.’
But before Lt. Jones could reply, there appeared, coming up from the ground, a strange greenish mist. It grew and grew until it approximated the shape of a humanoid. All at once it coalesced into the inimitable shape of Valeria!
Now what? Is The Windy City to be turned into a desert, or will that possible future be averted? And what of Valeria? Whose side is she on? Stay tuned and we hope you enjoyed this special Wednesday edition of ATM; y_r friendly blogger is taking some sun the next couple of days but never fear! We'll continue the adventure next week!
Lt. Jones Visits A Possible Future Part Three
Lt. Jones whirled, facing the two men at the other table, who were still absorbed in their own project, which involved close inspection of a unit shaped vaguely like a coffee pot that was perched in the center of the table and alternately glowing and gently shifting its shape.
The Lieutenant, being unused to fisticuffs, formed a plan of action of an instant. He shoved the edge of the table towards the four plutonium men who were menacing him, bowling them over. He ran into the anteroom, leapt at the still-empty desk, and mashed the palm of his hand onto the giant red button at its center. Expecting a deafening klaxon of warning, he was surprised to hear none; instead, the walls of both the outer and inner rooms slid silently together, interlocking and forming a tight seal.
Jack actually rubbed his hands together. ‘Guess you’re in for it now, Sunny Jim.’
‘Do your worst, Cloudy Jack!’ shot back Lieutenant Jones. To his surprise, Jack actually laughed. ‘Cloudy Jack! That’s pretty funny!’
One of the other men gaped at him. ‘Jack, are you forgettin’ this man’s a commie?’
Bibby said, ‘Yeah, you gone soft or something?’
Jack said, ‘Calm down, boys. Let’s wait for Mandible to get here.’
The first man, whose name was Glenn, replied, ‘But he activated the Unit! Now we’re sealed in and Mandible is sealed out!’
‘Come on, Glenn, you know Mandible can override!’
At this, a humming noise filled the room. All seven men turned to face the front wall, where an oval space six and a half feet tall and perhaps two feet wide glowed bright orange. The hum reached a fever pitch, the orange glowed so vividly the men had to avert their eyes, and then, just as calmly as you please, George Mandible stepped through the wall and entered the room to face the others.
‘Gentlemen. What seems to be the trouble?’
Glenn spoke, not first, but loudest. ‘Look here, George, this guy’s an imposter! He was supposed to come in here and fix the L-37 and G-59 and he didn’t do a thing!’
Mandible considered this, then said, ‘Can I see your credentials, sir?’
The security chief was incongruously mild and soft-spoken, but deep in his countenance was a foundation of cold hard steel and woe betide anyone who caused that foundation to bubble to the surface. He held out another of the scanning devices the Lieutenant had seen before. The same yellow rays emanated from it, and luckily Lt. Jones’ past (or possibly future) molecules passed muster. The rays turned green, which he hadn’t seen before, but Mandible and the others did not seem overly exercised by this.
‘Ok, buster, what’s your story,’ said Mandible, slightly sharpish now.
‘It’s just a mixup,’ began the Lieutenant. ‘I was led to believe that I’d be working on the previous model of this machine, that’s all.’
Bibby exclaimed, 'But he pretended to--'
Mandible cut him off. ‘There's nothing to it. I wish you guys wouldn’t drag me away from more important work for this kind of thing! Would you come with me, please, Mr...Mr…’
‘Right this way.’
But before the two men could advance so much as one step toward the door, another man, clad in white coat and coveralls like the others, stepped in.
‘Hey, guys, I’m here for the G-59 and L-37 reset!’
Now six pairs of eyes were glaring at Lt. Jones.
Exposed as an imposter!
Now he’s in for it! How will the Lieutenant get out of this one? Stay tuned!
Science fiction fans might recall the name Fredric Brown, known for writing the story upon which the original Star Trek episode 'Arena' is based. He also wrote a great alternate future kind of story called What Mad Universe. We have a lot of his books here at Mysterious, most of them mysteries, to be sure, but what a terrific writer! Of note is the new two-volume collection of his best work--Check out those covers!
Questions/Comments/Yellow-ray identity scanners? firstname.lastname@example.org
Lieutenant Jones Visits One Possible Future Part Two
‘Is this the future of Chicago?’ asked the Lieutenant.
‘I am Valeria, and this is one possible future. You have the power to make it thus or to change it, as you will.’
Lt. Jones said, ‘Is there hope for a better future?’
‘Yes,’ was the reply. ‘Two centuries ago, a road not taken led to a great conflagration. The accepted story was a package of lies. The fire was not set by an animal, it was interference by time travellers that destroyed a major part of the city.’
‘How did they interfere?’
‘They meant to arrive ten years prior, to observe the American Civil War, but an accident with their machinery caused them to overshoot their destination by a decade. When they realized their error, they tried to jury-rig an apparatus to return, but they failed.’
The Lieutenant shuddered at the unspoken implication, but said nothing.
‘So as to the fiery inferno, thus to the shifting desert sands. So to an ever-changing future, as to the immutable past.’
How Valeria liked to talk in riddles! Lt. Jones was starting to wonder about all of this. Was he really in the future? Well, in for a penny, in for a pound! He said, ‘The power is mine to change this grim future. How may I best use it?’
Lt. Jones walked up to the nondescript building on a side street off of Lake Shore Drive and paused. He was none too sure about this; so many things could go wrong. But one look in his mind’s eye at the desolate wasteland, one possible future for Chicago, decided for him. There was nothing for it but full speed ahead and let the chips fall where they may. And if they fell right into a barren desert where a thriving city used to be? Best not to dwell on that. The Lieutenant strode up to the door and pushed it open.
He was immediately frozen to the spot by yellow rays emanating from each corner of the foyer. Luckily he passed the inspection; Valeria had told him that his molecular structure from the past (or future, as the case may be) would sufficiently confuse the scanners as to allow him to pass. The rays receded and Lt. Jones continued down the corridor to the unmarked door at the end.
Surprisingly, he walked right in. There was an anteroom that contained a desk which was empty; not only was no one sitting at it, but there wasn’t anything on it except a large red button right in the center. Tempted to press it but not having the nerve, the Lieutenant kept going into the next room, in which two men conferred around a table and, over in one corner, four more men were at a giant machine which seemed to take up half the building. All were wearing white floor-length lab coats which made Lt. Jones feel somewhat out of place in his sober business suit.
One of the men at the giant machine heard his footfall, turned, and addressed him. ‘Oh, there you are! You’ve come to work on the computer, have you?’ gesturing at the apparatus. Experienced as he was in faking expertise, the Lieutenant nodded and inspected this ‘computer.’ Most of the other timelines and places that he’d visited had intelligent machine technology that was much more compact. Funny how they could develop wheel-less trains and sensitive scanners but not microchips! He peered at the innards of the supersized mainframe for as long as he dared, until one of the other men pointedly checked his watch and said, ‘Sometime today, bud?’
Exasperated, the Lieutenant straightened up, adjusted his tie, and said, ‘Listen, mac, if you guys would stop fooling around with dangerous elements like this and concentrate on feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, this would be a better world!’
Shocked, the other man paused a moment before barking, ‘What are you, some kind of radical?’
‘We don’t need that kind of talk around here!’ chimed in another.
‘All of youse shut up and get back to work!’
‘Wait a minute, Bibby! Did you hear this commie talk?’
‘The man’s entitled to his opinion. We’ve got a deadline. Let’s get to it!’
Grumbling, the other men eyed Lt. Jones suspiciously as the latter bent over the machine. Now why had he shot his mouth off? Much better to remain unobtrusively in the background, but no! he had to put his foot in it.
Since he had no idea what he was doing to this machine, he’d better take some initiative so as not to be revealed as a traveller in both time and space. He banged the access door shut and said, ‘There we go!’ with a heartiness he did not feel.
‘So the G-59 and L-37 systems are back on line? We’ve got to make our refining goal today, we’re still behind from yesterday.’
‘Absolutely!’ chirped Lt. Jones.
The other men immediately set about their discrete tasks but almost immediately confronted the Lieutenant.
‘What’s the big idea? You didn’t fix nothin’!’
‘Yeah, what goes?’
‘I think he’s a Red spy!’
So they had the Cold War here too. How sad. And sadder still, the Lieutenant was now a suspect in sabotage!
Slowly the other men surrounded Lt. Jones. Advancing upon him, they hurled invective.
‘Who sent you, commie?’
‘This is America. We got no truck with spies!’
‘Jack, call Mandible over at security. Quick!’
As the men tightened their circle around the Lieutenant, he looked furtively for an escape route. Finding none, he prepared to fight. Four-to-one odds! All he’d wanted to do was prevent Chicago from being turned into a post-apocalyptic waste. How had it come to this?
Yikes! What will happen to the good Lieutenant? Will he be a victim of a Red Scare? Will he have to make like Jack Dempsey and duke it out? Will bomb-ready plutonium production be transitioned to a more peaceful program? And what of Valeria? Some help she turned out to be! Tune in next time for the next installment of---Lieutenant Jones Visits Another Possible Future!
Apocalyptic? We got it!
A dirty bomb has hit Times Square. Uh-oh.
A meteor is going to strike the Earth in six months. Knowing this, what would you do? New Hampshire detective Hank Palace keeps right on doing his job, chasing crooks even in the face of the impending apocalypse. Check out the other parts of the trilogy also:
Only two months to go before Maia the asteroid hits the Earth, and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job. No more detecting for him--until a woman begs him for help finding her missing husband.
This is it! The end of the world, the end of Detective Hank Palace, and the end of this terrific series!
Questions/Comments/Used Eclipse Glasses? email@example.com
Lieutenant Jones Visits a Strange Land Part One
For once the Lieutenant found himself doing the same thing when he materialized into his next assignment that he had been doing! He was strolling down the street near the Loop in downtown Chicago when he felt the disorienting, fuzzy sensation. For a moment he wondered if he had imagined it, but he was dissuaded from this notion by the elevated train entering the station over and above him. Funny, the train kind of snuck up on him, without the usual rattling roar that accompanied the El. Lt. Jones craned his neck, trying to see if there was anything unusual or alarming going on. He saw someone’s arms waving frantically at a window, clearly trying to catch someone’s attention. But whose? The police, fire department, ambulance? Someone on the ground, like the Lieutenant himself?
Lt. Jones ran up the stairs to the platform where the train was still waiting. He quickly paced the length of the track, not wanting to call attention to himself by sprinting. If he could only find the person who was trying to get his attention before the train pulled out! But something was strange about this. Somehow the car was sitting lower than it should. Wait a minute--there were no wheels! The train was apparently supported by a glowing green energy field just a few inches thick. Amazed, the Lieutenant stopped and stared until he was jolted by an ululating wail accompanied by a flashing strobe. This evidently was to let everyone know that the train was about to pull out, so Lt. Jones slipped into a car just as the doors slid closed.
But the car was rattling a bit as it picked up speed. It looked like the train had been retrofitted with the wheel-less system and still had some loose ends to shake and make a racket!
Now to find the person in distress. As he made his way through the cars, Lt. Jones noticed something else strange. Passengers were waving their hands in the air seemingly without rhyme nor reason. When the train slowed to a stop at the next station, it became clear why. Those who were disembarking were having their handprints scanned by a remote device to indicate that they were leaving the train, and those who were boarding were being scanned to indicate that their journey was beginning. No need for tickets, it seemed. The Lieutenant was used to strange situations but this was certainly a new one--no wheels or tickets on a train! Come to think about it, he hadn’t seen a conductor either. He had landed in the Chicago of some future time! But why? And what had it to do with the passenger frantically waving to him, if he or she had been waving to him at all?
This car was mostly empty, so he took a seat to ponder his next move. As he did so, a young woman materialized next to him. As in, not there one moment, and there the next. What strange time was the Lieutenant in? Did they have the ability to teleport? Before he could get much further upon his speculation, she gripped his forearm tightly and exclaimed, sotto voce, ‘Thank heavens you’re here! I had almost given up hope! Let’s go!’ And with that she hauled him out of his seat with the strength of ten men, plus two, and just about hurled him into a small chamber at one end of the car. It was only a few meters square, dark and gloomy, with creeping shadows and one flickering light in the corner. And were those cobwebs? Lt. Jones prided himself on keeping a level head in unusual situations, indeed it was a requirement, but this case was really testing him. Next thing, the Lieutenant felt a strange sensation, not unlike his usual feeling of disassembly when he was called to mission. He and the mystery woman had materialized in a desert waste, with sand blowing via the sirocco. Visibility was nil, and indeed they could scarcely stand up straight.
As Lt. Jones was trying to get his bearings, the mystery woman suddenly grew to robust proportions and in a stentorian voice called, ‘Behold the future!’
Uh-oh. While we’re awaiting Chicago’s fate, have a look at a Lew Archer novel set in the desert:
And one set in the Windy City:
And a non-fiction title about an early example of a heinous serial killer during the Chicago World's Fair:
Questions/Comments/Deep Dish Pizza? firstname.lastname@example.org
Hysterical For Historicals
Time. Is it an artificial construct for human convenience, or an immutable law of nature? What of the near-universal desire to bend it to one’s needs and desires? Will there ever be actual time travel? Where would you go? What would you do? As far as y_r friendly blogger is concerned, we’d have to travel to at least four places:
Sixty or seventy or a hundred million years ago to see what dinosaurs looked like;
1920 at the Polo Grounds in Harlem--Babe Ruth vs. Ty Cobb;
1962 at the Cavern Club in Liverpool to see the Fab Four;
Dallas, Texas, November 1963 to see what really happened to Kennedy.
There are others, to be sure, but for now the closest we are liable to get is with historical fiction. Herewith, some of the best novels involving time travel:
A Murder In Time by Julie McElwain--FBI agent Kendra Donovan is on a hot case when she’s thrust into the year 1815. How will she cope with being stripped of twenty-first century amenities? How would you?
Time and Again by Jack Finney--A man from 1970 ends up in 1882 New York, and rather likes it. A classic. A sequel, From Time To Time, sees Simon Morley journey back to 1911, hoping to prevent WWI, or at least the sinking of the Titanic.
Experiment by Fredric Brown--Sending a small brass cube back and forth in time results in disaster.
The Tourist by Robert Dickinson--Back and forth from the 21st century to the 25th.
11/22/63 by Stephen King--A man discovers a time portal and tries to prevent the assassination of JFK.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde--Time shifting and alternate reality collide around a literary classic.
Top-notchers set in the past:
The Alienist by Caleb Carr--In 1896 New York City, NYT reporter John Schuyler Moore is summoned to a crime scene by his friend Laszlo Kreizler, an ‘alienist,’ or psychologist. Police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt enlists both men to investigate.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco--In 1327, Brother William is sent to investigate charges of heresy in an Italian abbey, and runs into multiple murders.
Pompeii by Robert Harris--The Roman empire is at its zenith, but storm clouds are on the horizon.
Moping about the present? Gloomy about the future? Then head to the past! Most of these titles are available or order-able here at Mysterious, so drop a line or stop by!
Questions/Comments/Mr. Peabody says, ‘Quiet, you!’
Wondering what the Mysterious Bookshop staff is reading these days? Here are our picks for April, as published in our August Newsletter.
Ace Atkins, The Fallen, G.P. Putnam's Son.
Atkins’s versatility and professionalism as an author are exemplified by the fact that he publishes two books a year: this spring it was his sixth novel in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, and now it’s his seventh to feature Quinn Colson, his own creation. Most mystery readers know Spenser but if you aren’t familiar with Colson, the cigar-smoking, turkey-hunting, Army Ranger-turned-North Mississippi lawman, it’s time you got acquainted. Quinn is the sheriff of Tibbehah County, a fictional region east of Oxford and crime writing’s equivalent of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha. He’s doing his best to clean up the county but a cast of outlaws and misfits always seems to get in the way. In The Fallen, Colson takes on a crew of bank robbers in Donald Trump masks who terrorize small town banks across the Mid-South while quoting the president’s “locker room talk” to threaten their victims. While the investigation develops, Colson gets pulled into a local feud between a truck stop brothel owner and a puritanical county supervisor who wants to make things “like they used to be.” In the in-between time, Colson hunts with his nephew, listens to Elvis with his mother, and courts a new love interest. The result is great fun, another excellent installment in one of the finest series set in the contemporary South. $27.00.
Mattias Boström, From Holmes to Sherlock, Mysterious Press.
These days, it's easy to forget that Sherlock Holmes is a character created by a single author. Thanks to a seemingly endless supply of spin-offs, parodies, films, and scholarship, Holmes has become a household name, a kind of authorless mythical presence as often identified with Benedict Cumberbatch as he is with Arthur Conan Doyle. Confronted with the wealth of material in the present, it's hard to imagine a linear development of Sherlockiana spreading out from the original source, and tracing the character's proliferation through popular culture seems an insurmountable task; it is akin to the work of the etymologist who boldly endeavors to trace the rise of Romance languages from thier Latin roots. But, in From Holmes to Sherlock, Mattias Boström has done just that, beginning with the publication of the original stories and following various strands that sprung from those tales, including the work of fans across the globe to continue the life of the character in spite of efforts from the Doyle estate to suppress it. The result is a thorough, enjoyable work on Sherlock Holmes quite unlike other studies of the character; it bursts with historical detail, maintains a brisk pace throughout, and furthers our understanding of how the Holmes we know came to be. Personally, I've never read a work of literary criticism that is such a page-turner. Sherlock Holmes fans will devour it, as will any reader interested in the journey of a character from literary phenomenon to cultural icon. $28.00.
Ryan Gattis, Safe, MCD.
Ryan Gattis’s Safe is the rare thriller that maintains a pulse-pounding pace without sacrificing an ounce of character or heart. Ricky “Ghost” Mendoza Jr., a former criminal and drug addict, now works as a freelance safecracker for the DEA in Los Angeles. When confronted with a mammoth stash of cash, he enacts his long-fomenting plan to grab some for himself and become a modern-day Robin Hood, stealing from the criminally rich to pay off the mortgages of families on the verge of eviction. But no good deed goes unpunished, especially when it involves stealing millions from a drug cartel, and Ghost quickly finds himself teetering on a tightrope between pursuers on both sides of the law.
The strength of Safe lies in the details. From cracking safes, to avoiding police surveillance, the backdrop of L.A. gang culture is described with a visceral sense of knowing, and every character is rich and humanized, no matter how despicable their actions. Gattis keeps the tension building throughout, while slowly revealing the heartbreaking backstory that made Ghost the unlikely champion of the people willing to risk it all. To be signed. $26.00.
John Farrow, Perish the Day, Minotaur.
Detective Emile Cinq-Mars and his wife are vacationing in New Hampshire when scandal rocks the local university. A coed is found dead, a close friend of Emile’s niece. But why was her body so carefully arranged in death? Then, a professor shot in his own home, a cryptic note found upon his person. Another murder where the slain professor was known to have been on the scene raises more questions given the university’s curriculum of training in the art of spyhood. The French-Canadian sleuth is out of his jurisdiction but not out of his element and he proves adept at investigating under the radar, so to speak. The local authorities understandably resent outside interference in murder cases, but at the same time Cinq-Mars’ reputation precedes him and after all, who wouldn’t want assistance in such a grave matter? Ostensibly retired, Emile Cinq-Mars is back in the thick of a puzzle--just where he likes to be. To be signed. $25.99.
Andrea Camilleri, A Nest of Vipers, Penguin.
A rich widower is shot to death and Inspector Montalbano is called to the scene in the latest of this wonderful series. The list of suspects grows when a cache of photographs is discovered showing the victim with various very young women. A missing will, compromising letters, a man living in a cave, the victim's beautiful daughter, and a visit from Livia. This would be enough for any Inspector, but this being Montalbano there's always time for a lunch at Enzo's and a walk along the beach. PB. $16.00
Cuyler Overholt, A Promise of Ruin, Sourcebooks.
A young woman, newly arrived in New York from Italy, is waiting at the pier for her fiance to meet her. When he arrives she is gone. In the second book of the series, Doctor Genevieve Summerford is drawn into the nightmare world of the white slave trade and The Black Hand. Ms. Overton deftly weaves historical detail into a riveting tale that is sadly all too timely. PB. $15.99.
Sinister Doings In the Garden State
Everyone knows that New York City is the center of the universe for everything, especially the creative arts. But what about some love for New Jersey, right across the river? There have even been several mystery series and standalones set in the Garden State:
Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax--Through a misunderstanding, widowed, bored little old lady Mrs. Emily Pollifax is given a simple courier assignment for the CIA. The sort-of-successful conclusion to this caper leads to others. Quite often seemingly ordinary people get sucked into a mission, likely set during the Cold War. And lest you think that romance is for the very young, in one story Mrs. Pollifax herself finds love.
William Arden (aka Michael Collins, among other pen names, real name Dennis Lynds) and Kane Jackson--Industrial espionage expert and occasional PI Jackson starred in five novels between 1968 and 1973. Lynds/Collins/Arden was quite prolific, using several pen names and garnering acclaim for modernizing the traditional hard-boiled detective story. He’s probably best known for his Dan Fortune series featuring a one-armed detective of Eastern European descent operating in New York City, that place right across the Hudson River from New Jersey.
The late Anthony Bruno created the duo Loretta Kovacs and Frank Marvelli of the New Jersey Parole Violators Search Unit. The last of the three books in the series deals with gourmet ice cream and kinky bedtime fun--what topic could make a better novel than that? And how many states have a Parole Violators Search Unit?
Harlen Coben has written over a dozen non-series novels set in Jersey, among them:
Wallace Stroby’s Rane is an ex-state trooper who begins battling the Jersey mob boys almost by accident, then deals with an ex-con who returns to his old stomping grounds bent on vengeance. So far, there’s just the two, perhaps Rane will return!
Dave White birthed the character Jackson Donne, who was a narc for the New Brunswick PD. This was sort of understandable, since Jackson took dope himself, the better for knowing the lingo and where to find the dealers, etc. But all that got hims was booted off the force, so he switched to booze and became a private eye.
Female bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has been described as a cross between Nancy Drew and Dirty Harry, and who are we to disagree? There are a couple of dozen novels in the series, and from the start Ms. Plum has been based in Trenton. Broke and desperate, she appealed to her cousin Vinnie, owner of a bail bond company. The only position open was that of apprentice bounty hunter and a person’s got to do what it takes to survive, but Vinnie didn’t want to hire her, so she did what any well-brought up person would do. She threatened to blackmail him.
Questions/Comments/You Talkin' To Me? email@example.com
The Noble Experiment Goes Boom!
It was the stereotypically smoky back room where they met. Well off the beaten track, for Clapton Vollmer couldn’t risk being seen in the company of anyone who might be on the wrong side of the law, although he knew perfectly well that might include some of his own men.
‘You’ve got to understand, Mort, I can’t get involved directly. We need a go-between. And we need to meet at the cabin where no one will see us.’
‘Heck, Clap, I know that! That’s why I was thinking...who better than Adelaide?’
What! Using the woman they both were wooing to act as liaison for a bootlegging operation? Maybe the bluenoses were right--maybe the fabric of decent society really was breaking down.
Lieutenant Jones was groggy. He usually was after one of his ‘trips,’ but this time was different. His head felt like a watermelon, and his mouth felt like a lone cactus blooming in a desert somewhere in purgatory. Not only that, but he was lying flat on his face. What was going on here? He picked himself up off the floor and took note of his surroundings. He was in what appeared to be a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, for he could hear nothing but crickets and what seemed to be assorted animal noises. There was a door on one side of the room and one opposite. He selected one at random and it was full floor to ceiling with barrels and the smell of distilled grain was overwhelming. Whiskey! The Lieutenant tried the other door and stepped outside. Sure enough, he was in the woods. It began to dawn on him that this was a bootlegging operation and this must be somewhere in the countryside during the time when alcohol was illegal.
Sherrington Brand was lost. Really lost, as in, not sure what state he was in. Trouble was, all the surrounding scenery looked just the same! At this rate, he’d never be able to get this deal done and get back to his wife and infant son. Wait! There was a filling station! He ought to be able to get his bearings there. As he moseyed over, it began to rain. Swell. Now he’d be soaked when he met up with Sissy, if he ever got there. The attendant wasn’t exactly swamped with customers and was happy to listen to Sherrington’s tale of woe, and laughed heartily when informed of the lost man’s destination. ‘You sure are lost, bud!’ he cried. ‘Look here.’ And he pointed on a wall map. ‘Here’s where we are. And here’s where you want to be. So take this road another mile or so, then turn left onto the main street and you should find your way by daybreak! Haw!’ Sherrington Brand groaned. How had he gotten so far out of his way? Oh well. Nothing for it but to get back into the car and keep going. It shouldn’t take until daybreak, though, the attendant had overlooked the fact that he wasn’t on foot. Maybe he would only be a little late if he put the pedal to the metal. Although with the clutch not working, he had to stay in first gear, which was not conducive to making good time. So he puttered on, found his turn, and eventually, finally, came to what he thought was the right house.
Adelaide Wallace was indignant. ‘Well, Clapton, if you won’t escort me to the dance tonight, I’ll just find someone who will!’
‘Meaning that crook Mayhew?’
‘None of your business.’
‘So it is. Honest, Addy, it’s important business! And I told you I want you to come along and THEN we’ll go to the dance! It won’t start for an hour yet anyway.’
‘Well, maybe I don’t want to be late. Did you ever think of that?’
‘Then the sooner we get started the sooner we’ll get there. Come on now.’
‘Clapton Vollmer, you are impossible!’
‘Au contraire, dear girl, in fact I am most possible.’
‘I love it when you do your Alfred Hitchcock impersonation.’
‘Alfred Hitchcock? It’s supposed to be W.C. Fields!’
Adelaide and Clapton were dressed to the nines, planning to go to the Young Abolitionist’s Ball after the meeting was concluded. When they got out of the roadster, the place looked dark, and was kind of spooky, with the bare branches of the trees swaying in the wind and occasionally striking the side of the house. Heat lightning flashed in the distance.
‘Are you sure this is the right place?’
‘Sure I’m sure. Come on.’
Vollmer strode boldly up to the front door, which was as dark as the rest of the place, but before he could knock, it opened wide to reveal one Mortimer Mayhew.
‘Clapton. I presume you’re well’
‘We’re here, aren’t we?’
‘A little overdressed, aren’t you?’
Vollmer actually blushed, a little. ‘Not for the dance we’re going to.’
‘Oooh, a dance! Wish I had time for this nonsense, but I’ve got business here.’
‘So do I. Let’s get to it. Addy, wait in the kitchen, will you? And if you want to rustle up some coffee, I wouldn’t say no.’
Adelaide stalked into the kitchen, silently fuming. The nerve! She’d show them a thing or two!
Sherrington Brand was beginning to realize that he was in the wrong place after all. This sure didn’t look like the new house his sister had described! No, this place was pretty run-down and shabby-like. Still, maybe he was close, at least, and maybe the folks in this house had a bathroom he could use. So he walked up to the front door and knocked, bold as brass. A tough-looking mug opened it and growled, ‘Yeah?’
‘Pardon me, sir, I wonder if you could direct me to Cavendish Avenue.’
‘Never heard of it,’
‘Oh. Well, I wonder if I might use your restroom.’
‘No.’ SLAM! went the door. Well, that was that, then. Brand walked over towards where his car was parked at the side of the house and stood, unsure what to do. He lit a cigarette while he pondered his next move.
‘So that’s it then. That’s how many kegs we have, and we know how much we want to charge, and we will divide up the proceeds fairly. Anything else?’
‘Guess that’s about it. Let’s get some coffee. Addy!’
Adelaide Wallace smiled grimly to herself. Order her around, will he! And make her late to the dance to boot. Now this was interesting! While searching the cupboards for coffee cups, she found several square glass bottles filled with an amber liquid. She uncorked one and took a sniff. Whew! That stuff was strong! She wasn’t sure, but she thought this was the whiskey that everyone was making such a fuss about. Maybe she’d just give those boobs a taste of their own medicine, and she meant that literally!
Lieutenant Jones heard the planning by the conspirators and was formulating a plan of his own from his vantage point in the closet. He’d been outside getting his bearings when the others started arriving and so ducked back into the house and hid so that he could hear what was going on without being detected.
Adelaide came into the living room with a tray upon which was the coffee pot and served the coffee, a tight smile on her face. In a celebratory mood, the men drank heartily and soon the pot was empty.
Singing lustily at the tops of their lungs, the politician and the crime boss were having a jolly old time when the Lieutenant burst out of the closet.
‘All right, boys, party’s over!’
Instantly sober, everyone reacted very differently. Clapton Vollmer, amateur bootlegger, future politician, and expert in self-preservation, ran out the door, jumped into his car and took off down the road so fast he left a vapor trail, leaving Adelaide Wallace behind, fuming.
Mort Mayhew, no fool he, had ducked out the back door as soon as the Lieutenant appeared and run for the outer cellar door, hoping to make off with a keg or two in the back of his panel truck, which he was sure could outrun whatever old banger the Lieutenant had. He yanked open the door and grabbed a keg, which was all he could manage, and started running for his buggy.
Lieutenant Jones and Miss Wallace went in pursuit of Vollmer but the look of seething rage on Adelaide’s face, and the vapor trail, told the Lieutenant that the man had got away.
Sherrington Brand pitched his cigarette butt away and started for his car. The heck with it! He’d just keep driving until he found his sister’s house, a diner where he could get a coffee, or another filling station where he could ask directions.
The cigarette end bounded down the outside stairs leading down to the cellar where it ignited the booze-making ingredients and BOOM! Ramshackle firewood.
Mayhew was knocked head over heels by the force of the explosion and raised himself up only to see the keg rolling and tumbling down the hill toward the main road. He jumped up to chase it and had nearly caught up when the keg struck a fire hydrant and burst open, drenching him with the noxious bathtub gin.
‘I’ve got you now, you bum!’ cried the Lieutenant. ‘Now to turn you over to the authorities--and good luck beating the bootlegging rap!’
The fire department had put out the blaze and the cops had picked up the booze-reeking Mayhew.
Lieutenant Jones and Adelaide Wallace stood outside the smoldering wreckage of the house and gazed at the carnage. Presently the Lieutenant said, ‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!’
For some hot summer reading set in the Prohibition era, have a gander at these:
The Saint is in the Big Apple rounding up miscreants.
City slickers can outwit dim-witted hillbillies any day. Can't they?
True crime story of a ruthless criminal who invented the drive-by shooting and his gun moll Lottie, who some said was the brains behind the gang.
Questions/Comments/A working still in the backwoods? firstname.lastname@example.org
Brand and the Frame-Up Part Two (continuing The Case Of Mistaken Identity)
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Breck and Prell both jumped several feet. Then they got a look at each other’s mug and laughed. No reason to worry! It was just Manny Mayhew, the nephew of the late crime boss and universally regarded as a nitwit, come by to throw his weight around and act important.
‘Hello, boys!’ he blustered.
‘Hey, Manny,’ said Breck. ‘What’s goin’ on?’
‘Are you guys takin’ it on the lam, or what?’
Prell never failed to get a kick out of the way Manny fancied himself a tough yegg and talked like a B-movie gangster. ‘Or what,’ he said.
‘Huh?’ said Manny. Prell sighed and said, ‘No, Manny, I don’t want to be on the run, with appeals and whatnot we can drag this out for a long time.’
‘Just wanted to warn you that you might lose your appeal after tomorrow’s paper comes out.’
That made Breck sit bolt upright. ‘Why? What do you mean?’
‘Some nosy reporter found that uncle Mort and Chief Vollmer had a history!’
‘So they were enemies. Everyone knows that.’
‘Enemies? Not hardly. They had a business partnership that goes all the way back to Prohibition!’
This was news to Breck and Prell, and likely to just about everyone who would be reading the paper in the morning. For all his nitwittery, Manny did have good contacts at the news office.
Avery stared at the article in disbelief. Who would have guessed that the revered Chief of Police was in cahoots with the city’s most notorious gangster? It seems that they had been rivals back in the 1930s for the hand of the local beauty, a woman named Wallace, but had found that they both loved money more than the lady and had gone into business together. The most fraught allegation was that Clapton Vollmer had ordered his men to stand down and allow Mayhew’s trucks full of smuggled whiskey to maintain their delivery routes unhindered. But something was nagging at Avery--what was it?
‘If you were married to the Chief, ma’am, why do you call yourself Wallace?’
‘I went back to my maiden name when he dumped me for his secretary. That’s not uncommon, is it? And my, what a silly expression! Maiden name! Even in my day, most women were not maidens when they married!’
‘I hear that Mr. Vollmer and Mr. Mayhew were rivals for your affections some time ago.’
‘Some time ago! That’s an understatement! But yes, Mort and Clapton were both keen for my hand. And neither one got it!’
‘They went into business for themselves instead, as I heard it.’
‘Glad to hear you read the paper, sonny! So many young people today can scarcely read.’
‘Now, about the situation in the pet store…’
‘That man was looking suspiciously at the cats!’
‘Was it this man?’ and Avery held up a photograph of Brand.
‘Yes it was, and not only that, I could swear I’ve seen him somewhere else. Now where was it?’
‘In a lineup, most likely!’
‘Now let me think. While I’m thinking, would you like some tea, young man?’
‘Why, thank you, ma’am.’
While Mrs. Wallace was bustling around getting the tea, Avery moseyed into the kitchen, his keen detective’s eye observing all and missing nothing.
‘Would you be so kind as to reach up there and get the sugar, young man? I’m getting so I can’t reach the high shelves so well.’
‘Certainly. There we are.’
They sipped their tea and made some small talk. Mrs. Wallace couldn’t remember where she’d seen Brand before, but promised to let Avery know if she had a brainstorm. Avery bade her farewell and hastened back to the office. Something he’d seen in the kitchen piqued his interest!
The phone rang and the call was put through to Avery’s office while the Scientific Investigation Division scrounged up the info that he’d requested.
Mrs. Wallace had said, ‘Young man, I remembered where I saw that man before. It was at the drug store. He was buying some toxic poison, for weeding his garden---he said!’
After spending half the evening hip-deep in the SID files, he’d found what he was looking for. The same chemical that Mrs. Wallace accused Brand of buying was--what do you know?--the same one that he’d spotted in the old lady’s kitchen. It was effective indeed on garden weeds, poisonous to people...and especially dangerous to cats. A quick phone call to the hospital and the vet showed that the attempts on the lives of Costello and Cinnamon were carried out with that very poison!
‘Sure I got the stuff. My gardeners said to.’
‘Your gardeners, eh? What is the name of the company?’
‘Let’s see. I’ve got their card here somewhere. Here it is! Panteen Landscaping over on Southern Boulevard.’
‘Let me see that.’ Avery perused the card and said, ‘You said ‘gardeners,’ were there more than one?’
‘Yeah, there were two guys, a short one and a tall one. You know, they looked like those guys in the paper the other day.’
‘I thought so. Stick around town awhile, will you? I might need you.’
‘Mrs. Wallace, have you ever seen this before?’ Avery was holding a small can of the noxious substance he’d gotten from Brand.
‘Why, no, I haven’t.’
‘Tell me, did you have gardeners in recently?’
‘Yes, I’m just getting too old to putter in the garden like I used to. My neighbor recommended a new company, and my land! They only charged me fifty cents!’
‘Didn’t that make you suspicious?’
‘I like to save a penny when I can, young man. I’m on a fixed income, you know.’
‘Tell me, did you offer them tea?’
‘I certainly did! Proper manners aren’t dead yet, young man!’
‘Besides, those poor men worked so hard, and for so little money too!’
Avery took his leave and rushed back to the office with both cans of weed death, from Brand and Mrs. Wallace. Thank goodness he’d thought to wear gloves! If Breck and Prell’s fingerprints were on them...
Prell opened the door and there stood Detective Avery, twirling two sets of handcuffs on his middle finger.
‘Boys, next time you go to frame someone, make sure it’s not the ex-wife of the Chief of Police!’
Check out some poisonously great titles:
Harriet Vane's fiance died in the same manner as a character in one of her books! Can Lord Peter Wimsey unravel this kerfuffle?
St. Saviour's Infirmary is slated for demolition. Unremarkable--until six tiny coffins are discovered within its walls!
A standalone tale of a man returning to his hometown only to become obsessed with a murder of sixty years past.
Questions/Comments/Timely antidotes? email@example.com