by Mike Tooney:

   The late Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008) holds — and probably always will hold — the record for publishing the most mystery short stories. At the time of his death, he’d written — and had published — over 900 of them.

   A writer that prolific would be expected to have a lot of his stories reprinted, and that is the case. Moreover, as a professional short story writer Hoch would be expected to contribute to original themed anthologies, and that is also the case.

   Below are the first three of many examples of his voluminous output that I have unsystematically stumbled across in my reading. Another grouping of three will appear here on this blog soon.

   These stories will date from the ’60s through the early 21st century, with at least one from each decade of his publishing career except the first, the ’50s, a deficiency I hope to correct soon.


1. “I’d Know You Anywhere.” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, October 1963. Reprinted in: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories to Be Read with the Lights On, Random House, hc, 1973; Dell [Volume One], pb, 1976.

    “I know my military law and I know my moral law. It’s like the overcrowded lifeboat.”
    “I think you just like to kill.”
    “What soldier doesn’t?”

COMMENTS: Contrell (no first name) and Willy Grove survive a desperate situation fighting the Germans in the Tunisian desert, but Willy betrays a ruthlessness in liking to kill. Eight years later, Contrell encounters Grove again during the Korean War and sees that Willy is just the same.

   In Berlin in the early ’60s their paths cross once more; Contrell can’t help noticing how dangerous it is to have a volatile individual like Grove involved in such a tense international situation. Finally, Contrell and Willy meet for the last time in Washington — the very last time.

NOTES: Not really a mystery, but the buildup to the final explosion is well-laid. And while the ten-page story takes us across three decades, Hoch doesn’t make the mistake of trying to round out his characters too much.


2. “The Leopold Locked Room.” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, October 1971. Reprinted in: Tricks and Treats, edited by Joe Gores & Bill Pronzini, Doubleday Crime Club, hc, 1976.

    “She shot herself with your gun, while it was in your holster, and while you were standing twenty feet away?”

COMMENTS: Captain Leopold has a past, as Lieutenant Fletcher discovers to his surprise: an ex-wife who is unwilling to forgive and forget.

   Leopold’s past violently catches up to him at a wedding when he apparently shoots his ex dead in a completely empty room with absolutely no possibility of anyone else pulling the trigger.

   She dies of a bullet through the heart fired from no more than two inches away, while Leopold is standing almost seven yards from her. Even Leopold’s confidence in himself is shaken, but thanks to Fletcher’s perseverance the “impossible crime” is shown to be altogether possible.

NOTES: This story was adapted for an episode of the TV series McMillan and Wife, starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James (“Cop of the Year,” November 1972), but Commissioner McMillan’s capable assistant Sergeant Enright is the one blamed for the murder.


3. “The Golden Nugget Poker Game.” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March 1987. Reprinted in: The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley. Carroll & Graf, softcover, 1993.

    Ben sat there feeling like a fool. He’d traveled to the end of the world as the bodyguard for a man who was a faster draw than he was.

COMMENTS: Free-lance gun-for-hire Ben Snow finds himself in the wild and woolly Yukon during the Gold Rush, where men were men and women made the most of it.

   In a frontier town like Dawson, occasional violence is fairly normal; but you wouldn’t expect to come across a criminal conspiracy like the one Ben runs afoul of, a variation of the old badger game — but with bullets.

   When a man dies once too often, Ben’s detective instincts are fully engaged; his client, furthermore, is innocent of murder even when several eyewitnesses — including Ben — see him fire two bullets into the man. Ben’s job is to prove his client didn’t commit murder while not getting himself murdered.

NOTES: As a professional gunslinger, Ben Snow is remarkably ineffectual in this one; but he makes up for it with his detective skills.