Friday, August 3, 2018

FFB: TIME BOMB AND OTHER STORIES OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE edited by Peggy Doherty (Scholastic 1971)

Time Bomb and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense edited by Peggy Doherty, Scholastic Book Services; first (only?) printing, April 1971; 95pp; 50c. TK 1821 (cover uncredited)

5 · Time Bomb · William Bankier · (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Aug 1968

13 · The Options of Timothy Merkle · A. H. Z. Carr · (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Jul 1969

42 · A Hundred Times · Syd Hoff · (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jul 1966

47 · The Bargain Hunter April Aarons (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Sep 1968

54 · Wide O- · Elsin Ann Gardner · (vi); in EQMM’s “Department of First Stories” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Sep 1968

56 · The Affair at 7, Rue de M— · John Steinbeck · (ss) Harper’s Bazaar Apr 1955
also reprinted in:
   Magazine of Horror Win 1965/’66
   Knight Sep 1966
   Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Mar 1969
   ...and many anthologies, including Bennett Cerf's Houseful of Laughter...

67 · Mr. Strang Pulls a Switch [Leonard Strang] · William Brittain · (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Jun 1969

85 · The Man Who Loved Baseball · Jerome L. Johnson · (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Apr 1969

This is a curious anthology, even among the sometimes very curious selections made for publication and sale through the classroom-distributed catalogs of Scholastic Book Services, the book publishing arm of Scholastic Magazines. In this case, essentially a couple of years-worth of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine was pored over, 1968 and 1969 issues, with an eye to subject matter or characters that might appeal to teens and older pre-teens ("tweens" a term not yet in use in 1971), matched with Syd Hoff's short 1966 Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine elementary-school revenge story. (It would be a half-decade after this book's publication before EQMM publisher Davis Publications bought AHMM from the folding HSD Publications.) The result is a pleasant, minor collection of stories presumably deemed interesting enough to minors. Perhaps the idea was to build an anthology around the Syd Hoff story, Hoff being a major author/illustrator of beginning readers' books and cartoonist as well as an occasional crime-fiction writer. Even the one chestnut in this box, the Steinbeck story, had been reprinted in EQMM, one might say finally, as it's pretty rare for a reprint from a Big Name to have appeared in the Magazine of Horror before Queen's...if Frederic Dannay was likely to be interested in reprinting the story (and you might gather from the above I first read it in the Bennett Cerf humor anthology when I was about 8y0)(certainly the first citation of a mews I'd encountered).

The Bankier story has a dash of wit, but is a relatively unsurprising story of revenge against a radio dj/call-in chat show host with an abrupt manner, apparently a nastier version of someone like NYC's Long John Nebel...who paved the way for Larry King's first national series. But it you're of the age or inexperience with twist endings to be flabbergasted by Rod Serling, this story might be more effective for you. 

The Carr story is a bit heftier, if flawed by it being primarily a story about the interactions of teenagers...Carr seems to have patterned his teen conversation of the late '60s after characters in Dragnet episodes of the latter '50s , a bit stiff and awkward even when the slang employed wasn't dated for the can almost see 28yo actors reciting the lines as 17yo characters. However, the story itself mixes somewhat drawn-out though not Too unlikely classic detection on the part of a teen journalist, looking into the possible bad act of a classmate, and facing a very tough choice when he discovers what he feared he might. Carr does seem to forget that traffic signals have been putting the red/stop light on top of a three-lamp array for quite a few decades now, though he almost manages to work around that eventually...though not before the reader isn't distracted by asking the absent writer and the characters why they don't realize this.

The Hoff story is pretty cute, and slight, and told reasonably well, while not covering too much surprising ground. Since it is the AHMM story in this bunch, it is the most hardboiled, if not quite the over-the-top junior delinquent sociopath story it could've been in Manhunt or its imitators.

April Aarons's story is a mostly funny bit of ugly business, as a self-righteously stingy husband, shop-owner and customer/tag sale bargainer gets his. Biter bit where he never quite gets how he might've been bitten, rather than simply wronged.

The Gardner debut vignette is effective in its focus, pretty good at misdirection at what amounts to a suspense anecdote.

The Steinbeck revels in the language to a rococo extent, in its tale of an improbably sentient wad of bubble gum which will let no obstacle keep it from finding its way back into the fictionalized Steinbeck's young son's mouth. A horror story with the most remarkable hand-waving quasi-rationalization of the phenomenon, it is grotesquely funny. Steinbeck also refers to paramecia when he means amoebae. I'm pretty sure I was annoyed by that at 8, too.  (Almost certainly a lot more so, I'm increasingly sure.)

The Brittain is part of a series he wrote for EQMM, about a high school science teacher who solves, if this example is an indication, the kind of "impossible" crimes and locked-room mysteries which might arise in a high school context. This one is reasonably well-worked-out, but Strang takes his sweet time, at about 5c/word in those years I think, in explaining how he realized one of his students has faked his disappearance, much to the eventual relief and lesson learned by his parents.

And the Johnson is a neatly bloodless tale of an assassin for hire who has relatively few other skills or passions aside from, as the title suggests, baseball...and how he manages to (rather easily) flummox his bosses when they send him on a contract against the best pitcher on his favorite major league team. 

So, again, a pleasantly readable anthology, not nearly as full of good chestnuts and a few eccentric choices as the other Scholastic anthologies I would read as a youth, and this one unusual as amounting to a kind of "hidden" EQMM anthology for young readers, with the one exception. (The one other review I've found for this book online, at Goodreads, manages to mistake all the stories except the Steinbeck as from EQMM...but since that magazine from inception was about showcasing reprints in a mix with new fiction...)

At least under this name, this seems to be the only book attributed to this Peggy Doherty.
first publication of the Steinbeck


Elgin Bleecker said...

Johnson's baseball story sounds like fun.

Todd Mason said...

It's one of the better stories, if no Westlake nor Leonard-class item.