Stories I’m Reading


$500 and a Dream
at the Manhattan County Clerk’s Office:
A Review of Author Kevin Egan’s Latest Courthouse Story
by Gilbert Colon


KEVIN EGAN “The Movie Lover.” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, July-August 2018.

   Kevin Egan returns to the pages of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, contributing the eleventh story in his courthouse series, “The Movie Lover.” The July-August 2018 issue, on newsstands now, is devoted to film-themed fiction, so Egan makes his key character Nouri, sighted helper to the blind manager of the court’s lobby concession, an aspiring screenwriter.

   The most prominent feature of these tales is the iconic and historic courthouse building at 60 Centre Street, long famous even before being immortalized in the opening credits of the long-running television series Law & Order. Egan has used it as the location for all but one of his Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine stories to date.

   The series also features a recurring character, the enigmatic court officer Foxx. While the judges of the New York State Unified Court System balance the scales of justice, Foxx personally keeps them balanced in-house by anonymously operating in the building’s shadowy spaces and corners.

   Enlisting Foxx is Ray Dempsey, the crusty concessionaire of the on-site coffee shop serving the public through the New York State Commission for the Blind. Dempsey suspects someone in his employ is embezzling from the register of one of his stations. Foxx intimately knows the lay of the land, making his beat the circular court corridors that lead to the “dark, nameless door[s]” behind which lie secret rooms – or at least forgotten ones – that hold secrets only Foxx seems to know about.

   From a high vantage point above the fourth-floor pastry-and-coffee table Nouri tends, eagle-eyed Foxx spies “a quarter view sight line behind Nouri [and] watch[s] the money change hands, then retreat[s] around the back of the circle.” From here he can see “the way the cash is arranged in the till” and observe every transaction unnoticed…

   In no time, Nouri becomes the focus of Foxx’s investigation. Nouri’s background as a Middle-Eastern American, along with his housemates’, gives the story the opportunity to present the experience of regular immigrants in the early stages of assimilation, a normalized depiction not unlike that of the more established and even more ordinary Pakistani-American family in the 2016 HBO crime series The Night Of, scripted by crime author Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland, five episodes of The Wire).

   Nouri is also the movie lover of the title, a would-be writer desperate – too desperate – to sell a Hollywood blockbuster script and hit it big. By day he works his job, learning dialogue by hearing everyday customer interactions that “no writing teacher or voice coach” could impart, artistically inspired by the courthouse every time he “walk[ed] up those front steps,” “carv[ing]out…quiet hours [to] write in his notebook” – “the hothouse for all his ideas.” (It bears noting that “The Movie Lover,” and all the stories of the courthouse series, are written by a man who works as a senior settlement coordinator in the same building – these lines could be Egan writing about himself.) By night Nouri types away on his “dilapidated laptop,” “hearing the dialog in his head and visualizing the camera angles with his mind’s eye” as he daydreams about his screenplays becoming “beautiful movie[s].”

   There, in those moments, and also on the terrazzo floor where he crouches in his downtime to scribble his inspirations, he lives inside his head creating, but he is also hopelessly over his head in trouble. The constant presence of production companies shooting big and small screen dramas that use the court interiors and exteriors as a backdrop, the production trailers and huge booms and cameras and film crews and PAs “wearing identical black tee shirts emblazoned with the name of the movie” only fuel what his realist roommate Asif regards as Nouri’s cockeyed delusions. There is a subtle contrast to be made here between the wide-eyed Nouri and his cynical blind boss Dempsey.

   Nouri’s innocent dreaming will leave readers dying to know the content of the “beautiful movie[s]” – ten screenplays in total – that he has recklessly sacrificed so much for, but alas the movie scripts remain a mystery, perhaps a casualty of the lean, clean short mystery story format. Perhaps these kinds of short fiction constraints are what led Egan to expand his Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine stories “Midnight” and “A Small Circle” into, respectively, the Centre Street courthouse novels Midnight and A Shattered Circle. The efficient crime narrative delivers the requisite resolution, action, and catharsis by the end, all in one fell swoop. But because Egan never overlooks the emotional notes, there is also bittersweet light and hope in the epilogue, qualities generally in short supply in the dark and jaded world of the crime genre.

   Besides being a solid and satisfying piece of crime fiction, “The Movie Lover” is a loving reminder of the glamorous Hollywood history surrounding the New York County Courthouse, storied in more than one sense of the word. Nouri wistfully reminds us of the many movies, some recent and others classic, that have filmed at the celebrated courthouse: “When I walk up those front steps, I see Charlie Sheen climbing to meet his fate at the end of Wall Street. When I wait for the elevator, I gaze up at the same WPA mural that loomed above Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau. When I get off the elevator, I pass the courtroom where John Payne proved Edmund Gwenn to be Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.” Of course there are so many others – 12 Angry Men, The Godfather, and Carlito’s Way, to name a few – too many to list, in fact.

   In this way, “The Movie Lover” lets its readers appreciate anew the old building and its rich history which court staff, jurors, lawyers, litigants, and the general public take for granted, all through the “dreamy eyes” of Nouri, a starry-eyed romantic who, despite his many flaws, helps us to see it freshly as the thing of wonderment it is.

            FIN

   Other film-themed stories in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s July/August “Lights! Camera! Murder!” issue, include Robert S. Levinson’s “Nine Years Later” (set during the filming of a Hollywood gangster picture) and Rebecca Cantrell’s “Homework” (a jewelry heist caper involving acting).

            * * *

KEVIN EGAN’s latest novel, A Shattered Circle, earned an early Publishers Weekly review hailing it as “his best to date.” He has authored eight novels and numerous short stories, many published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, not to mention an upcoming one in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Visit him at www.kjeganfiction.com.

            * * *

GILBERT COLON has written for several print and online publications, including Filmfax, Cinema Retro, Crimespree, Crime Factory, and Strand Mystery Magazine. He is a contributor-at-large for both the St. Martin’s Press newsletter Tor.com and the Alfred Hitchcock Presents-heavy bare•bones e-zine. You may reach him at gcolon777@gmail.com.

CAROLINE WHEAT “Crime Scene.” First appeared in Sisters in Crime, edited by Marilyn Wallace, paperback original, May 1989. Reprinted in Carolyn Wheat’s story collection Tales Out of School, Crippen & Landru, November 2000.

   In its original appearance this story is only eight pages long, but what it does in those eight pages is show what a good writer can do in only a limited number of words.

   When a young police officer named Toni Ramirez is the first on the scene of a gory murder scene in an apartment building, her first instinct is to keep her composure at all costs while the lab guys are joking around while examining the body as part of their obviously usual routine. But when she sees the supervising officer wiping away his tears, she finds that she can no longer hold back her own.

   Telling her the story of his own first crime scene one in which he reacted much the same way, the older man helps clear the younger woman’s head enough that she is able to make some deductions from the evidence right there at the crime scene, and the killer is caught. Ellery Queen could not have done better!

   This is a story that you will have do some hunting in order to track it down. The reason I wanted to tell you about it, though, is to let you know that every once in a while you can find a detective story in which the heart — honestly and somehow not mawkishly — and the brain are of equal value in solving a case. It’s well told, as well.


[ADDED LATER]   Carolyn Wheat is a former criminal defense attorney who as an author is best known for her series of five books about Cass Jameson, a Brooklyn-based night court lawyer. According to her website, “[t]wo of the books were nominated for Edgar awards. She is also the author of numerous short stories which have won her an Agatha, an Anthony, a Shamus, and a Macavity award.”

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Lord of the High Places.” Speed Dash #12. Top-Notch Magazine, February 1, 1928.

   When I started reading this story, I was under the distinct impression that it was the very first appearance of Richard “Speed” Dash, since Gardner spent so much space explaining who he was and what skills he had. Not so. I was wrong about that. With the resources available to anyone on the Internet in today’s world, it was not difficult to learn that it came along well after the middle of the series. Speed Dash’s first adventure into crime-solving appeared in the February 1, 1925, issue of Top-Notch Magazine. There were twenty in all, all for the same magazine.

   In his early days Speed Dash worked in side shows and circuses as an acrobat, or in particular a so-called “human fly,” with the strength and ability to climb nearly perpendicular surfaces, using, we are told, only the tips of his fingers. But after doing a regime of experimental exercises prescribed by a noted psychiatrist, he developed what is called in the vernacular a photographic memory, and he decided to turn his talent to crime-solving.

   In “Lord of the High Places” he his hired by a rich debutante who is looking for adventure. She has been shown a map of hidden treasure on an island somewhere in the South Seas, and wanting some excitement in her otherwise boring life, she has agreed to finance the venture, but only if she can convince Speed Dash to come along.

   The map is a phony, of course, and Dash is prepared for that, but what he does not plan on is that all of his backup contingencies will fail, and he and the two women are quickly caught between the gang they came in with, another rival gang of pirates, and the savage natives already on the island. See the cover for the means that Dash finds of making his escape. It is quite accurate.

   This is the first adventure of Speed Dash I have read, and it will probably be the last, as I have sold off all my copies of Top-Notch Magazine in which his adventures were recorded. I do not think I am missing anything, however. Action-adventure is not typical Erle Stanley Gardner fare, and he is no better than average at it. Many pulp writers knew their exotic locales a whole better than I think Gardner did.

   An interesting change-of-pace, in other words, but far from essential, even for Gardner fans.

ROBERT SHECKLEY “Subsistence Level.” Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1954. Collected in Shards of Space (Bantam J2443, paperback original, July 1962) and The Collected Short Fiction of Robert Sheckley: Book Three (Pulphouse, hardcover/softcover, 1991).

   As a young writer Robert Sheckley was a perfect fit for the early days of Galaxy magazine. H. L. Gold, its agoraphobic editor, was looking for literary quality for the science fiction he published, not necessarily technical expertise, and the magazine was known for its emphasis on the effect that technology had on the human race, often with a satirical and/or ironic twist.

   Which was, of course, Robert Shckley’s forte. Although this story is not one of Sheckley’s better known ones — it’s never been reprinted except in two collections of his own work — it serves to show the point very well. “Subsistence Level” is the tale of a pioneer in the age of space, a man with a wanderlust and a fear of being crowded, and ready to move on when he runs out of elbow room.

   And his wife, determined to make their marriage a success against the advice of her mother, is forced to move along with him. When the Gobi Desert gets filled up, and so does the Southern Polar Cap, their next stop? The asteroid belt.

   Warning: I’m about to give the essence of the story away in the quote that follows, taken directly from the story, but it goes a long way in illustrating what I was saying there up above. The couple, man and wife, have been putting in hard five-hour days getting settled on their small rock in space, bossing robots around, and:

   After helping Amelia pile the dishes into the washer, Dirk set up a projector in their living room. As a double feature flicked across the screen, they sat in durable foam-ribber chairs, just as generation of pioneers before them had done. This continuity with the past touched Amelia sharply.

  SCOTT CAMPBELL “The Case of the Vanished Bonds.” Felix Boyd #1. The Popular Magazine, February 1904. Collected in Below the Dead-Line (Street & Smith, paperback; 1906; G. W. Dilingham Co., hardcover, March 2006). Currently available in various Print on Demand editions. Silent Film: Edison, 1915, with Robert Conness as Felix Boyd.

   The foreword to the hardcover edition credits New York City police inspector Thomas Byrne for creating the phrase “below the deadline” referring to “the immediate arrest of every crook found day or night in that part of the metropolis lying south of Fulton Street.” This includes (I am told) Wall Street and the location of the fabulous diamond houses of that era.

   Felix Boyd is something of a mystery man. He is hired by a distraught banker whose shipment by single messenger of valuable bonds has gone missing en route to the sub-treasury where they were being sent. But when the case is solved, he refuses payment for succeeding, remarking that he is paid by the year, not the job, evidently by some third party not yet identified.

   The messenger, quite trusted, it seems went straight from the banker’s office to the sub-treasury, but when he arrived, the bonds were gone from his bag, but the gold inside still there.

   Some investigation on Boyd’s part, however, reveals that he did stop once, to talk to an acquaintance on a doorstep with the bag on the ground. The solution from there is easy enough, but it does require Boyd, described as an American Sherlock Holmes, to disguise himself as a Jewish gentleman to elicit information from the foreman of the work crew inside the building where the messenger had stopped.

    Ordinarily this statement may fall into the category of too much information, but since you nor anyone else is likely to read this story any time soon, it is not likely for me to lose any sleep over it.

   I have not yet read any of the other stories in the book, of which there are eleven more, but I enjoyed this one enough that I will, even though the detection is, shall we say, rather rudimentary. But besides a mystery boss for Mr. Boyd, there is a mystery mastermind behind the theft of the bonds, but he gets away, only to be behind the scenes again in upcoming adventures.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “At Arm’s Length.” Detective Fiction Weekly, December 9, 1938. Included in the collection The Case of the Crimson Kiss (Morrow, hardcover, 1970).

   The reason I’ve chosen “At Arm’s Length” to talk about is not because it’s one of his better ones, for it isn’t, but because… Well, here’s how the blurb for the story on the contents page puts it:

  “Lester Leith, Perry Mason, Jax Keene (sic), Senor Lobo! Look to your laurels! Jerry Marr, toughest dick in captivity, is on the scene.” (Raise your hand if you know who Jax Keen was.)

   Or in other words, “At Arm’s Length” serves as the introduction of a brand new character in Mr. Gardner’s long list of same — as well as his only appearance. It’s not that it’s a terrible story, for it isn’t, but in 1939 career writing for the pulp magazines was winding down. He was making good money with the Perry Mason books, and the first Donald Lam & Bertha Cool novel also came out in 1939.

   There are overtones of Lester Leith in this tale. Jerry Marr is the kind of guy who reads a pair of unconnected stories in a newspaper, put two and two together and get five — and cash in his pocket. The lead story of the day is that of a murdered society girl, but what catches Jerry Marr’s eye is a story on page four about a man seen sweeping up large tacks on a street nearby.

   Marr is also a semi-hardboiled kind of PI. What his does is, to put it bluntly, blackmail a possible suspect in the murder case into hiring him. Or at least he would be a suspect if Marr told the police what he knows.

   Marr has a girl friend named Lorrain Dell, and not only do you get the idea that he and she are closer than Perry and Della ever were, but he allows her to do some of his legwork for him. This doesn’t work out all that well when he discovers that Lorrain has pushed someone’s buttons too far, and she ends up a captive. Not only that, but Jerry Marr pulls a Mannix, well before Mannix came along, and is knocked on the head at one point in the story by some unknown malefactor into a short oblivion

   It all works out fine, though, almost making Marr’s client-under-duress happy. The key word is almost, because Marr’s primary motivation, as stated above, is cash in hand.

   Reading back the last few paragraphs to myself, I see that I may have made the story sound better than it is. It isn’t, but nor is it terrible, either.

SELECTED BY DAVID VINETARD:


B. M. BOWER “The Spook Hills Mystery.” Popular Magazine, November 7, 1914. Published in hardcover as The Haunted Hills, Little Brown, 1934, and in paperback by Popular Library, #306, 1951. Also available online here, among other websites.

   “The Spook Hills Mystery” begins rather tritely with the arrival of young Easterner Shelton C. Sherman with a typically cantankerous old hand named Spooky (Gabby Hayes before there was one, “He was not a bad sort, though he was an awful liar when the mood seized him…”) who leads him on about the “ghost” of Spook Hills, but then popular Western writer B(ertha) M(uzzy) Bower, creator of Chip of the Flying U and a long series about that outfit, throws us a curve.

   This, as a beginning, may sound a bit hackneyed. Since the first story was told of the West, innocent young males have arrived in first chapters and have been lied to by seasoned old reprobates of the range, and have attained sophistication by devious paths not always unmarked with violence. But when you stop to consider, life itself is a bit hackneyed.

   At least she noticed, and it is far from the only curve in this tale.

   Sherman, soon to be known as Shep, is greener than the greenest greenhorn who ever lived, and about to join the Sunbeam Outfit (in “that part of Idaho which lies south of the Snake …”) to make a man out of him at the hands of Aleck Burney, who has a way of putting youngsters “on the fence” to make “men” out of them in the time-honored way of obnoxious bullies who are supposed to be makers of men in popular fiction from time immemorial. Never let it be said Ms Bower ever missed a cliché when one was at hand (enter Wallace Beery, or the older John Wayne, making men by breaking their spirit since time began).

   Shep’s parents have sent him West, all pretty 6’ 2” of him: “… to get some width to go with my length: Dad’s an architect. He said he’d have to use me for a straight edge if something wasn’t done pretty soon.”

   The Sunbeam Ranch itself is harbinger of “a keen sensation of disappointment,” otherwise little more than a dirt shack seen over by the giant Burney, who typically tries to establish dominance first thing by a crushing handgrip. Give old Shep this, it hardly bothers him.

   Soon he starts to get the hang of things, and they brighten a bit when he meets Vida, daughter of Sam Williams and niece of Uncle Jake and part of a sheep herding outfit, and that should tell you a bit about where this is going, though it is hardly enough, because that is another of Bower’s curves.

   Bower knew a great deal about life on a ranch, in fact too much for her readers’ own good, since some of her books spend more time on the drudgery and boredom of actually living on and running a ranch than any good Western can take. Realism combined with a certain Polyannaish view and too few doses of adventure and melodrama makes for an uncertain read for many. For all her beautifully described scenery and realistic views of frontier life you can find yourself wishing Max Brand would show up and kick a few doors down. You wish a few of those “Gosh Darn” moments were at least “Gol Dangs.”

   This one is made of sterner material than that though, and soon Shep has gotten a glimpse of Spooky’s Spook, a critter that leaves a footprint like a bear, if a bear was big as an elephant. Of course we all know he can’t leave that alone any more than he will the feud building between the Sunbeamers and the sheep herders.

   And he certainly doesn’t leave bad enough alone, tracking the “thing” to a tunnel where, “The terrible silence was split suddenly by a scream. Human, it sounded, and yet not human, but beastly — horrible. Shelton dropped the candle and clung to the rock beside him. His heart, he thought, stopped absolutely. His very knees buckled under him while he stood there. And then he heard something running, somewhere, even while the cave was playing horribly with the echoes of that scream. Running down that other passage with long leaps, it seemed to him, and the beat of four padded feet upon the rock floor.”

   Where’s Sherlock Holmes when you need him, or for that matter Allan Quatermain? From an Indian woman Shep learns Burney’s father was killed by a “big bear” in Montana, which might explain why Burney objects more to his hunt than his friendship and budding romance with Vida, it also makes it unlikely the sheep killer preying on the Williams herd is Burney. Shep has a mystery to solve.

   Then Uncle Jake is killed in the sheep camp while Burney is away in Pocatella, though the herders don’t believe it, and Vida wants his blood.

   “I find,” replied the coroner, “that the deceased undoubtedly came to his death by having his neck broken by twisting. Four ribs were broken also, evidently by crushing. There are no bullet wounds — the only other marks of violence on the body being some scratches on the scalp behind the ear. These, I judge, were made by finger nails, in gripping the head to twist it.”

   Burney is free. He never made the prints the jury viewed. When the wagon where Vida sleeps is attacked in the night and she hears: “a hoarse scream …. Human—and yet not human—mocking, maniacal, horrible. The most awful sound that Vida had ever heard in her life; a squall, a cry — a shriek she could not find a name for. Her memory flew back to the tales of ghosts and demons that an old Scotch woman had told her years ago. Warlock — that was it! A warlock, such as Maggie MacDonald had told about, that haunted the heath behind the village where strange deaths occurred periodically in the dark of the moon. When men and women were found strangled — and none knew how or why.” And then Vida sees the creature pursuing one of the herders, “the huge figure of a man who came on with
giant strides, leaping clean over what bushes came in his way.”

   And then, and then … Shep drops entirely out of the picture. One of the cowhands, Spider, takes up with Vida, they solve the mystery, and all Shep gets is a letter home, while Spider gets the girl.

   Uh, wow.

   The action is everything you could hope for and Bower handles the atmosphere and building sense of danger and threat with the skill of a pro. Some of the passages describing the country and the setting border on beautiful, and for all the Western lingo, it’s not too trying, to this reader at least. If the rather juvenile saga of the Flying U is all you know of Bower’s Westerns, this one will clear your sinuses, it’s a humdinger.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Cold Clews.” Lester Leith #22. Published in Detective Fiction Weekly, January 24, 1931. At one time apparently scheduled to be reprinted (??) in Hot Cash and Cold Clews: The Exploits of Lester Leith by Erle Stanley Gardner, edited by Jeffrey Marks, Crippen & Landru, Fall 2016.

   Lester Leith was but one of many characters that Erle Stanley Gardner created for the pulp magazines well before he came up with a certain Perry Mason (in 1933) and become rich in doing so. To my mind, though, the Leith stories were a lot more fun — and dare I say — even more inventive than the cases that Perry, Della and Paul found themselves involved in.

   Gardner wrote over 60 Leith stories between 1929 and 1943, mostly for Detective Fiction Weekly, and I can well imagine most were featured on the front covers, the character was that popular. I don’t know if Leith ever had a real occupation, but he was rich and lived in style, complete with a valet he chooses to call Scuttle, a stalwart chap who is really working uncover in Leith’s household on behalf of the police department, and Sgt. Ackley in particular.

   Ackley, you see, suspects — but is never able to prove — that Leith has a way of horning in on local crimes and taking a cut of the loot or insurance/reward money before the cops can even start to make sense of the case.

   And, case in point. In “Cold Clews” Leith takes interest in a valuable stolen necklace, stolen at gunpoint from a jewelry store in broad daylight. Although nearly nabbed while filling up his getaway car at a gasoline station, the thief seems to have eluded the police completely.

   The police are baffled. Lester Leith is not. To his own mysterious ends, he asks Scuttle to obtain the following for him: a fierce bulldog, a cast iron stove, twenty-eight dice, a yard of silk cord, a small vise, a portable drill, and a small emery wheel.

   The police are even more baffled, and equally most of the fun for the reader is reading along to find out what on earth Leith is going to do with this hodgepodge of items. Which he does is fine fashion — and of course he comes out on top once again.

   You probably can’t read too many Leith stories in one sitting. They’re quite long, for one thing, novelette length at least, and rather repetitious in nature as well. But spread out over a period of time, great stuff indeed.

EDWARD D. HOCH “The Theft of the Mafia Cat.” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1972. Collected in The Thefts of Nick Velvet (Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1978). Reprinted in Purr-Fect Crime, edited by Carol-Lynn Rösell Waugh, Martin Greenberg & Isaac Asimov (Lynx, paperback, 1989).

   The charm of the Nick Velvet stories to me is how clever they are, and in fact, they have to be. Not only does Nick have to figure out how to steal the essentially valueless objects he’s hired to obtain, but he also has to work out why he was hired to steal them in the first place. (In this story originally published in 1972, his fee is $20,000.)

   In this case Nick is hired by an old friend from the Italian neighborhood in which he grew up to steal the local Mafia don’s favorite pet, a cat named Sparkle, then return it a day later. Needless to say, Nick does both jobs with eclat and ease. Just another day at the office.

   What makes this particular story stand out a little more than some of Nick’s other adventures is that along the way he tells his friend how he got started in his unique way of making a living. The first job he was hired to do was to help someone break into a museum of fine art, which he accomplished by removing a stained glass window and climbing in.

   Turns out that window was worth $50,000 and that was all the woman who hired him wanted. After she was arrested and the window was returned, Nick decided from that point on his career in thievery consisted of stealing only things that were essentially worthless.

EDWARD D. HOCH “The Problem of the Miraculous Jar.” Dr. Sam Hawthorne. First published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, August 1996. Collected in All But Impossible (Crippen & Landru, 2017). Reviewed by Mike Tooney here. (Thanks to Randy Cox for providing this information.)

   It is November 1939 and even in the small New England town of Northmont, rumors of the impending war are getting stronger by the day. When a married couple are given a welcome home party after their return from a trip to Europe and the Holy Land, no one expects that someone will die later that same evening, including Dr. Sam Hawthorne, one of the attendees.

   Cause of death: cyanide in a jar brought back as a gift from Cana, the site of Jesus’s first miracle, the transformation of water into wine, a feat that seems to have been duplicated here, except that in this case the wine (which was not in the jar when the party was over, only water) is found the next day to have been tainted with poison.

   Question: How could anyone change water into poisoned wine inside a locked house surrounded by unmarked snow?

   Answer: It’s a damned good trick, that’s what it is. Ingenious, in fact, until you know the answer, and then it’s dumbfoundedly easy.

   Except only on occasion, Hoch wasn’t the greatest wordsmith in the world, but his plain-spoken style of writing has to be a lot more difficult to duplicate than you’d think it would be. I also think there is enough plot — with lots of characters complete with backstories, motives, false trails and the like — to fill a complete novel.

   Ingenious, too! Or did I say that already?

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