Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

SHORT STORY WEDNESDAY: THE MYSTERY OF THE MAN WHO EVAPORATED

 "The Mystery of the Man Who Evaporated" by Robert Arthur (anonymously published in Alfred Hitchcock's Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries, 1963)


For Short Story Wednesday I normally post about stories that are free to read on the internet.  In this case it appears to be only availble on the Internet Archive's Open Library to borrow. in the above collection.

Late in his career, writer/editor Robert Arthur (1909-1969) was closely related to the Alfred Hitchcock name.  He ghost-edited ten adult and YA anthologies under the Hitchcock name and created popular The Three Detectives YA mystery series, writing ten books in the series before his death -- all published by Random House.  He edited three another YA anthologies for Random House which, not coincidently, had the same look and feel as the "Hitchcock" YA books; likewise his two collections of short stories.

Then  there was Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries.  Published anonymously but purportedly written by Hitchcock, Arthur (credited in small type for "editorial assistance") wrote all five stories and, presumably the Ellery Queen-ish Challenge to the Reader signe by A.H.  The Library of Congress lists Hitchcock as the author, but what do they know?

In "The Mystery of the Man Who Evaporated," Jeff Landrum is a high school student who liked mystery stories, so much so that he spend a month writing one himself.  Jeff discovers that his high school English teacher, Howard Matthews, wrote mystery stories under the name "Daniel Doom," he gave his story to Mr. Matthews to read.  Although Jeff's story was not up to professional standards, Matthews was impressed and invited Jeff to attend an upcoming meeting of the Mystery Writers of America with him.  Jeff met Erle Stanley Gardner ("stocky, energetic"), Ellery Queen ("Two men who worked as a team.  Jeff couldn't remember their real names, so he settled for thinking of one as Mr. Ellery and the other as Mr. Queen"), the Great Merlini (an actual magician, who pulled out a hankerchief which changed into an egg which, when opened revealed "endless yards of colored ribbon"), and Harley Newcomb -- a reclusive author of fifty locked room mysteries.  It turns out that Newcomb lives in a small cottage at a pig farm not far from where Jeff lived.

Newcomb told Jeff and Mr. Matthews that he has just figured out the solution to his current locked rook plot -- a man experimenting with a magic spell is heard to cry, "Help!  Help!  I'm starting to shrink!" from a locked room.  When the police finally break down the door, the man is nowhere to be found.  All the doors and window were tightly barred with lumber from the inside, and the floor and ceiling are solid with no way to get out.  The roof of the cottage has not been disturbed.

An impossible locked room, but Newcomb has just devised a solution.  He soon leaves the MWA meeting to head home and work on the book.

A week later Jeff is helping the annual Lakeview Athletic Association gather donation for their annual rummage sale.  The annual rummage sale  supports a baseball field and a summer camp, and has grown so large it has to held in a barn; thus, it is called a barn sale.  Whose barn, you ask?  It's the barn of Pete Higgins, who had the only empty barn anywhere near Lakeview.  Mr. Matthews volunteered to help Jeff transport some of the donations to Higgins's barn.  While there, they decided to stop by Harley Newcomb's cottage to say hello.

When they got there, the found the mystery writer's mailbox overflowing with mail and, on his front step, bottles of delivered milk that had been there for days.  There was no answer at the door.  When Jeff went around the cottage to peer in a window, he found it blocked with heavy boards from the inside.  The front door was locked.

Breaking their way into the cottage through a forced window, they found no one there and all the exits frm the cottage sealed from the inside.  Harley Newcomb's locked room mystery had become a real-life mystery.

The clues are all there for you to figure out the solution.  Neither Jeff nor Howard Matthews were able to figure it out, but the method of "evaporting" a man is finally revealed and all ends well.


But there is another mystery that bothers me.  The Mystery of the Man Who Evaporated is a book referenced in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers and was supposedly published by Random House in 1963.  The book does not appear to exist.  Two other books referenced in St. James that appear to be nonexistent were The Case of the Murderous Mice (Tower, 1933) and The Glass Bridge (Scribner, 1958).  Now, "The Glass Bridge" was a short story that appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine for July 1957.  The Case of the Murderous Mice first appeared as a short story in The Mysterious Traveler Magazine, Jiune 1952.  (It could also be a rewritten and alternate title for "The Mystery of the Three Blind Mice," a supposedly original tale from Solve-It-Yourself Mysteries -- the "blind mice" in the story attempt murder.  I'll have to check out the 1952 magazine.)

Do these three so-called books actually exist?  If not, why are they listed here?  Inquiring Jerry wants to know.


6 comments:

  1. Well, there are those clowns (perhaps too harsh, but this annoys me) who slip in "index errata" to catch plagiarists of their indices. That, or simply transcription errors on various people's parts, might've been the culprit here. I know David Pringle did some of the ST. JAMES titles, but doubt he'd let that get by if he was aware of it...shall Go Look.

    Also, in your tallies above, you included the volume in which "Pauline C. Smith" "assisted" Hitchcock in assembling the book in question? Smith was another Arthur pseud, which didn't get to be Too problematic till a Real Pauline C. Smith began publishing in crime fiction in the 1970s. Alas all systems.

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    1. Ha! Never knew there were two Pauline C. Smiths.

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  2. And, as you probably recall, Arthur was also the editor of THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER MAGAZINE, named after a radio drama series he helped devise and wrote for. Arthur was a Busy man, right up till his early death...still would like to know what did him in, but since his daughter has been publicly quiet about it, asking her would probably not be the most sensitive thing to do.

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  3. Really surprised to see such a recent story from you. Love locked room stories so I might have to try this.

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  4. I bought and read a bunch of ALFRED HITCHCOCK anthologies as a kid. Loved the covers, loved the stories. Years later, I learned about the role of Robert Arthur with these books. I might have a copy of SOLVE THEM YOURSELF MYSTERIES somewhere around here.

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  5. This book was part of my AH YA anthology run from my elementary school library. Devoured these as a kid.

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