Another week, another brace of stories from Mystery and More Mystery (1966) by Robert Arthur.
Here are the links to everything:
Week 1: ‘Mr. Manning’s Money Tree’ (1958) and ‘Larceny and Old Lace’ (1960)
Week 2: ‘The Midnight Visitor’ (1939) and ‘The Blow from Heaven’, a.k.a. ‘The Devil Knife’ (1936)
Week 3: ‘The Glass Bridge’ (1957) and ‘Change of Address’ (1951)
Week 4: ‘The Vanishing Passenger’ (1952) and ‘Hard Case’ (1940)
Week 5: ‘The Adventure of the Single Footprint’ (1948) and ‘The Mystery of the Three Blind Mice’ (1963)
I have written about ‘The Glass Bridge’ (1957) on the blog before here, and I largely stand by that assessment from two years ago — good work, Past Jim. I love a no footprints mystery, and the contrast at the heart of this one — footsteps on the snow-covered steps going up to the house, but no footsteps found anywhere going down — is delightfully infuriating. Also very pleasing, after several ‘straight’ narratives thus far in this collection, is Arthur’s decision to tell this through various witness testimonies, turning it into a piece of pure armchair detection for the “hawk-nosed Hungarian” Baron de Hirsch.
With a largely intact memory of the events herein — get me — my mind was freed up to dwell on some of the finer points of Arthur’s narrative which had eluded me first time around. When Lieutenant Oliver Baynes and our nameless narrator challenge de Hirsch to put up of shut up when he claims to have an explanation for the woman’s disappearance, Baynes putting $50 and the narrator $100, there’s an interesting moment of reflection:
I knew my Hungarian friend did not have a hundred, did not have fifty, and I doubted if he had five.
Since my first reading, I have learned of the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and it’s tempting given the vintage of this to wonder if de Hirsch is supposed to be one of the many who fled and somehow found his way, penniless, to the US. Like so much of Arthur’s writing, this little moment opens up possibilities which are all the more powerful for never being addressed directly (whatever happened to Jupiter Jones’ parents, eh?), and in an age of prequel movies and books in which every single aspect of a famous character’s life, dress, name, haircut, and catchphrase are established to wearying and ill-conceived ends, leaving a little space for the imagination is appreciated.
There’s also a brief mention of the disappearance of Marianne Montrose here being “as tantalizing as the mystery of what happened to the famous Dorothy Arnold“. I’m not sure I see the parallels quite as strongly as we’re supposed to, and surely there were more other, more recent, famous disappearances one could refer to, but I appreciate the way detective fiction continues to bring these obscure-to-me sensational cases to my attention.
Once more, with apologies to Arthur for continuning to compare his writing with the works of others, we find ourselves in something approaching Stanley Ellin territory with ‘Change of Address’ (1951), first published under the nom de plume Mark Williams. To a certain extent, you know where this is going to end up: Mr. and Mrs. Hollins — he a “small man with a merry twinkle in his eye”, she “tall and angular” — are viewing a house on the California coast which has him in rhapsodies and her less impressed:
“I promisied you six months in California and then we are going back to Philadelphia. … Six months is all we’re staying, and not one minute longer.”
Mrs. Hollins objects to “the smell of dead fish”, the fact that the nearby cliff “will cut off the sunshine for all except a few hours a day”, the fact that she believed the Pacific Ocean was “blue, not gray”, and most of all to her husband “toying with that ridiculous idea of painting pictures you had when I married you and made a successful business man out of you”. And still Mr. Hollins accepts the rental terms and signs them up for the six months his wife is willing to bear.
The didactic Mrs. Hollins, though, is not to be beaten so easily: insistent that the house is not to her liking, and determined to glean more of its history that they may plead shenanigans and break the lease they have signed despite her husband enjoining her otherwise, she becomes determined to write to the house’s owner for information. And then the trouble starts… You can see from this how Arthur ended up linked to the sort of macabre tales “Alfred Hitchcock” filled anthologies with, because the crash when it comes is like the ending of An Inspector Calls (1945) — one does not write something that devastating ay accident, without finding pure joy in others who have done the same. Rather like ‘The Midnight Visitor’ (1939) from last week, this is sort, effective, and lands with a wonderful knockout blow.
The insight involved to devise this sort of story, too, must be something to behold. Okay, no, you cannot actually watch the creative process in motion, but to have those ideas kicking around in your head and then link them with the flash of inspiration that struck Arthur here must be one of the purest joys of being a writer.
And…that’s it for this week. I could go on, but it’s not like I’d have much to say. Keep ’em short and relevant, I say. No refunds if you’d prefer otherwise.