Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, January 1, 2023


Openers:  There were thirty or forty personally addressed leters, the daily heritage of the head of a great busniess establishmen; and a plain, yellow-wrapped package about the size of a cigarette-box, some three inches long, two inches wide and one inch deep.  It was neatly tied with thin scarlet twine, and innocent of markings except for the superscription in a precise, copperplate hand, and the smudge of the postmark across the ten-cent stamp in the upper right-hand corner.  The imprint of the cancellation, faintly decipherable, showed that the package had been mailed at the Madison Square substation at half-past seven o'clock of the previous evening.

Mr. Henry Latham, presidenr and active head of the H. Latham Compnay, manufacturing jewelers in Fifth Avenue, found the letters and the package on his desk when he entered his private office at few minutes past nine o'clock.  The simple fact that the package bore no return address or identifying mark of any sort caused him to pick it up and examine it, after which he shook it inquiringly,  Then, with kindling curiousity, he snipped the scarlet thread with a pair of silver scissors, and unfolded the wrappings,  Inside was a glazed paper box, such as jewelers use, but still there was no mark, no printing, either on top or bottom.

The cover of the box came off in Mr. Latham's hand, disclosing a bed of white cotton.  He removed the downy upper layer. and there -- there, nestling against the snowy background, blazed a single splendid diamond, of six, perhaps seven, carats.  Myriad colours played in its blue-white depths, sparkling, flashing, dazzling in the subdued light.  Mr. Latham drew one long quick breath, and walked over to the window to examine the stone in the full glare of day.

A minute or more passed, a minute of wonder, admiration, allurement, but at last he ventured to lift the diamond from the box.  Ir was perfect, so far as he could see; perfect in cutting and colour and depth, prismatic, radiant, bewilderingly gorgeous.  Its value?  Even he could not offer an opinion -- only the appraisement of his expert would be worth listening to on that point.  But one thing he knew instantly -- in the million-dollar stock of precious stones stored in the vaults of H. Latham Company, there was not one to compare with this.

-- The Diamond Master by Jacques Futrelle (serialized in three parts in The Red Magazine, December 1908 through February 1909; published in book form in 1909; later adapted as "a 
three-reel photoplay by the Eclair Co. in 1914" and silent film serials The Diamond Queen [1921] The Diamond Master [1929])

And the diamond was perfect.  An examination by Latham's expert showed it tyo be perhaps the most perfect diamond in existence.  Yet there was no indication of who had sent the gem to Latham, or why.   As Latham makes inquiries, he discovers that four other diamond merchanyts in New York have been sent similar diamond anonymously.  No, not similar -- exact replicas down to the exact weight, cut, and depth, with all facets (fifty-eight of them) mathematically correct to the minutest fraction.  Impossible?  Yes.  But it happened.   Then Latham received a note from a man signing himnself E. van Courtland Wynne, who claimed to be the person sending the diamonds, and asking to meet with the five diamonds merchants who received the gems.  At the meeting, Wynne produced gems the exact replicas of the world's most famous diamonds, including the Koh-i-noor.  From a leather pouch, he poured millions of diamonds worth onto a desk.  Wynne told the five that he had the power to devalue the world's entire supply of diamonds by flooding the market with more gems than were known to exist on the planet.  To prevent him from doing that, the five must puchase from him one hundred millioin dollars worth of diamonds at half the carat price; they could then  dispose of the diamonds slowly on the marker so as not to upset the market value of the world's diamond supply.

Combining crime with a science fictional aspect, Futrelle produced a highly readable, fast-moving tale of romance and corporate greed with a plot somewhat removed from the nearly four dozen tales of his most famous creation, Professor S. F. X. Van Dusan, "The Thinking Machine," one of the seminal characters in mystery fiction.

Futrelle (1875-1912) was born in Georgia and spent most of his life as a journalist for newspapers in Atlanta. New York and Boston.  While at the Boston American he wrote "The Problem of Cell 13," the first of the Thinking Machine stories.  He left the paper the following year to pursue a siccessful career as a novelist and short story writer.  Futrelle died on the Titanic after refusing a seat on a lifeboat and forcing his wife into it instead.  Her last memory of him was of Futrelle standing on the deck, smoking a cigarette with with fellow first-class passenger John Jacob Astor IV.  Reportedly, several unpublished manuscripts of Thinking Machine stories also went down with the ship.


Boxing Day saw me at Barnes & Noble where I nobly tried to stimulate the economy by buying three Hard Case Crime novels and one super-nifty nonfiction book.

  • Alec Nevala-Lee, ASTOUNDING:  John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimove, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.  A detailed, warts and all account of the relationship between these four seminal science fiction writers who "set off a revolution in science fiction and forever changed our world."  A truly fascinating account.  I've started reading it in little chunks because I simply don't want the book to end.  This one was a finalist for the Hugo and Locus Awards.
  • Robert Silverberg, The Hot Beat.  A combination of crime and erotica.  First published in 1960 as a Magnet paperback under the pseudonym "Stan Vincent."  "Meet Bob McKay:  once a rising star in the toniest nightclubs of Los ?Angeles, now a down-and-out denizen of tawdry bars where B-girls hustle drinks and brawld break out nightly.  When one hustler winds up strangled, McKay lands on Death Row.  Can a starlet and a sympatheitc newspaper columnist clear his name before his date with the death chamber?"  The Hard Case Crime edition adds three stories form the l;ate 1950s digest magazines Guilty Detective Story Magazine and Trapped Detective Story Magazine,
  • Jason Starr, The Next Time I Die.  Science fiction/fantasy/suspense mash-up.  "Steven Blitz didn't think about his own safety when he saw the man tying to force a woman into his car.  He stepped in to defend her, and got a knife in the gut for his trouble.  But when he wakes up in the hospital from what should have been a fatal wound, he finds the whole world changed -- a different president in the White House, a loving family when he'd been on the verge of divorce, more money in  the bank than he's ever seen.  There's a dark side, though; in this world, Steven Bllitz is not a good man.  And now he's got to get himself out of serious trouble without even knowing what it is he's done wrong.  A paranoid thriller in the mind-bending tradition of Philip K. Dick and The Twilight Zone, The Next Time I Die will draw you into its clautrophobic web of suspense and leave you questioning everything you think you know,"  Starr is a fantastic writer but this time he may have outdone himself.
  • Donald E. Westlake, Call Me a Cab.  A suspense novel without a crime.  ""You won'r find any crime in these pages -- but what you will find is a wonderful suspense story, about a New York City taxi driver hired to drive a beautiful woman all the way across America, from Manhattan to Los Angeles, where the biggest decision of her life is waiting to be made.  It's Westlake at his witty, thpught-provoking best, and it proves that a page-turner doesn't need to have a bomb set to go off at the end ot it to keep sparks flying every step of the way."  Although Westlake mainly concentrating on crime, he was truly sui generis, a complete original and unfailingly entertaining.  Hard Case Crime has published three other posthumous novels from Westlake and this may well be the final one.  (**sniff**)  It was edited by publisher Charles Ardai from several varying drafts of the novel and other material providing by Westlake's widow and one of his agents to provide a seamless read.
It should be said here that every single one of the books published by Hard Case Crime is worthy of your attention.

A few other goodies made their way here to make me super-excited:
  • "Jon Hanlon" (Earl Kemp), ed. - The House of Living Death and Other Terror Tales.  Collection of four weird menace pulp tales, three of them culled from the first issue of Terror Tales, September 1934, with a fourth from Operator #5, June 1934. "Things the Go BUMP in the Night...make this book a lympannic symphony of terror, an anvil chorus of fright, a thunderstorm of thrills.  Lunatic shrieks shiver the timbers of the macabre House of Living Death, where Harold Armour and the girl he loves thread a maze of bloody madness...and a foul hell-hound bays balefully on the trail of Bart Nisson, Blood ancient curse turns John DeJarnett's wedding into a shivaree of screaming ghosts...a vengeful spirit croaks his dire threat from beyond the veil -- to possess Robert Mercer's body and then use it to murder Robert's beloved!  Here, then, are four nightmares of short fiction as shuddersome as any the thirties produced."  This is one opf three collections of thirties weird menace tales that Kemp edited for Bill Hamling's Corinth Books under the name "Jon Hanlon."  Gloriously gory and packed with purple prose, The House of the Living Death is a rather rare paperback, and one of absolutely no redeeming social value whatsoever.
  • Bill Pronzini, The Cemetery Man and Other Darkside Tales.  Collection of nineteen stories from an undersung master of the genre.  I've read a number of these stories before and I am eager to get to the entire book.  In his introduction, Ed Gorman (a sharp-sighted observer if there ever was one) found a Steinbeckian quality to many of Pronzini's stories; for myself, I'd prefer to think there ws a Pronzinian quality to much of Steinbeck's work.  An autographed proof copy.
  • Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller , editors, 1001 Midnights:  The Afficionados Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction. Doorstop seminal reference book and a Christmas present to myself.  As the title suggests, 1001 mystery and detective books covering a period of 140 years are reviewed here, arranged alphabetically by author, from Edwards S. Aarons to Donald Zochert.  All of the seminal authors are included (as well as a number of lesser-known authors and works) covering fourteen general types of books (Action and Adventure, Amateur Detective, Comedy, Classic Sleuth, Espionage, Historical, Paperback Original, Private Eye, Police Procedural, Psychological Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Short Story Collections, Thrillers and Whodunnits); outstanding books and cornerstone books in the field have also been identified.  Other works by the authors are also noted.  There are 28 reviewers, including Pronzini and Muller, and their names read like a Who's Who of mystery critics and fandom, among them Robert A. Briney, Max Allan Collins, Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, Edward D. Hoch, George Kelley, Marvin Lachman, John Lutz, Barry N. Malzberg, Kate Mattes, Ellen Nehr, Francis M. Nevins, Robert J. Randisi, Art Scott, Charles Shibuk, Julie Smith, and Bruce Taylor.  Published in 1986, this book was both a labor of love and a celebration of the genre.  It is now economically unfeasible to produce such a work again, although the internet has allowed fans access to many similar reviews.  In fact, Steve Lewis's has been reprinting many of the original 1001 Midnight reviews over the past few years but has barely scratched the surrface.   I feel lucky to finally own this book, collecting all the reviews in one place.  This is one that I'll be going to over and over for both reference and for pure entertainment.

Ian Tyson:  The Canadian folksinger dies this past Thursday at his ranch in Alberta at age 89.  Tyson gained fame performing with his then-wife, Sylvia Fricker, as Ian and Sylvia; they went on to become one of the most popular and influential folk groups of the Sixties and Seventies.  Thier band Great Speckled Bird was the forerunner of today's country rock bands.  In 1983 Tyson returned to his cowboy roots with the album Old Corrals and Sagebrush.  (Tyson has first taken up the guitar after he had been injured ina rodio accident.)   His enduring legacy has to be thea song he wrote, "Four Strong Winds," yet his talent and professionalism went much deeper than that.

"Four Strong Winds"

"Someday Soon"

"Navaho Rug"

"The Old Double Diamond"

"Short Grass"

"Friends of Mine"

"Hey, What about Me"

"Song for Canada"


"Jaquima to Freno"

"Early Morning Rain" (with Gordon Lightfoot)

Pele:  Soccar legend Pele also left us last week.  He made it all seem so easy:

Barbara Walters:  Another well-known figure departed lasr week.  Barbara Wlaters, legendary television journalist and formarer host of Today, ABC Evening News, 20/20, and The View, died Friday at 93.  A pioneer in the field, she led the way for may female journalists to come.  she was talented, hard-working, and dedicated.  Walters is remembered for her one-on-one interviews and for bringing personality journalism to an art form.  She interviewed many of the world's most notable leaders as well as a host of entertainers and popular figures.  Some of her questions seemed out of left field, as when she asked Katherine Hepburn what kind of tree she would have liked to have been.

Here's a clip of that classic question:

And here's a clip of the great Gilda Radner as Baba Wawa:

Benedict:  Then on Saturday, Emeritus Pope Bendict XVI died.  While I am not a Catholic (and, according to many, probably not much of a Christian), I mourn his passing.  Benedict was a hard-liner who, before his ascension as pope, was a doctrinal watchdog over Catholic orthodoxy, something that alienated him from the LBGTQ community and other more progressive members of the Church.  Sadly, he was also a man of little charisma, something that both his predecessor and successor had in spades.  As pope, he was ill-equipped to meet some of the challenges of the day-to-day running of the Church .  He did surround himself with the most capable people and scandals and controversies of the past marred his papacy.  But he was at heart a good man, a faithful believer in the ways of the Church.  Ill health led Benedict to become the first pope in 600 years to resign from office -- a significant and daring move, taken only after "long talks with God."  It will now be easier for future popes to step down when they realize they are becoming incapacitated; in fact, Pope Francis revealed that he has prepared a letter of resignation should that day come for him.  I did not agree with much of Benedict's conservative policies but, as I said, I am not a Catholic so I have no real skin in the game.  In my mind, Benedict remained a good man, a flawed and couragous person strong in his beliefs, a believer in simplicity, and one who deserves to be respected and mourned.

Looking Back:  Personally, 2022 was a devasting year for me as I lost my guiding star.  It was a gut-wrenching year for many with COVID, school shootings, assaults on the LBGTQ community, a senseless was against the citizens of Ukraine, including women and children, the megalomaniacal machinations of a Russian autocrat who has needlessly sacrtificed his own citizens (many unwillingly) as cannon fodder, and so much more devastation.  Now is a good time to take stock and remember the horrendous losses 2022 has brought.  These souls should never be forgotten and each of us has a sacred duty to ensure that such tragedies will never be repeated.

New Year's Eve Let-Down:  It's not easy to have a perfect New Year's Eve celebration -- even if you are a bunch of superheroes like the Teen Titans.

R.U.R.:  One hundred two years ago today, Karel Capek's play R. U. R. opened in Hradek Kralove, Czechoslovakia, introducing the concept of robots to the world.  The play had been published the year earlier after its first performance had been delayed.    The original production was evidently staged by an amateur group and its official premiere took place at the National Theater in Prague on January 25, 1921.   In New York, the play premiered at the Garrick Theater in October of the following year for 184 performances -- with Spencer Tracy and Pat O'Brien making their Broadway debuts as two of the robots.  By 1923 it had been translated into thirty languages.

R. U. R. stood for Rossum's Universal Robots.  The "robots" of the play were not the metallic creatures as pictured by today's audiences.  Rather, they were artificial people created from synthetic organic material.  Nevertheless, robots soon became engrained in popular culture and in science fiction.  (Issac Asimov, the science fiction writer who coined the work "Robotics" as well as the Three Laws of Robotics (and who also claimed today as his birthday), felt that Capek's play was " a terribly bad one, but it is immortal for that one word."  In Czech the word robota meant "forced labor" (such as serfs had to perform) and it comes from the word rab, meaning "slave."  Capek credited his brother Josef as the inventor of the word.

Florida Man:
  • Is there anything more dastardly than beating your roommate's pet raccoon with a hammer and then shooting it with a BB gunheld to its neck?  Well, maybe following it up with threatening a neighbor by holding a sewing needle to his neck.  Evidently it was all in a day's work for 31-year-old Florida Man Tevin Williams of Lake County, who started the entire escapade by punching his roommate's car and threatening to kill her.  Williams is facing a maximum sentence of five years.  The raccoon, sadly, was not expected to survive.
  • An unidentified 35-year-old Florida Man was shot Thursday by deputies inMarion County after he took one of the deputy's stun gun during a struggle.  His condition was not immediately known.
  • Breaking up a partnership, Florida-style:  two Florida Men -- business partners in Lakeland -- got nto an argument and killed each other, according to the Polk County Shriff's Office.  31-year-old Akeido Bennett was declared dead on the scene, while his partner, 39-year-old Xavier Figueroa, attempted to leave the scene in his truck but died of the gunshpot wounds.
  • 23-year-old Florida Man Nelson Alejandro Perez-Valdivia recorded and posted his crime to social media because...well, because.  Perez-Valdivia was a passenger in a Lamboghini which was speeding at approximately 111 miles per hour while riding on Miami's Palmetto Expressway and fired fourteen rounds ouot of his window.  He facing multiple charges.
  • Some Florida Men can be heroes.  David Ghiloni, a bartender at the Smiles Nite Club was given a lifesaving award after he went into action when he saw a man put a woman in a headlock.  Hopping over the bar he tackled the man, not realizing that the man had a gunin his hand.   "I was protecting her,  I didn't even know there was a gun involved until I did tackle the guy," Ghiloni said.
  • 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings vanished from her home in 2009 and has never been found.  She ios assumed to have been murdered.  Her babysitter who reported the disappearance, Misty Clrolin, has since been jailed for trafficking in illicit drugs and is expected to be released in 2031.  Ronald Cummings, Haleigh's father -- whom police say is not a suspect in the case -- was released from prison in October after serving twelve years on charges of trafficking heroin and other illicit drugs.  Christmas Day saw Ronald once again behind bars, facing numerous charges after he pushed a Putnam County Sheriff's deputy and knocked his radio to the ground.  The deputy and fire and rescue personnel has responded to a single-vehicle accident and possible fire at an intersection in Pomona Park.  They found Cummings behind the whel of athe still-running car, unconscious, with an empty bottle of liquor in his lap.  When Cummings was asked to get out of the car, he started to, then sat back down and attempted to start the car.  The deputy dragged Cummings out of the car and Cummings allegdly pushed the deputy and reached for the deputy's gun.  After he was restrained, Cummings reportely told the deputy, "You think I'm scared of prison."  Cummings was also booked for trafficing oxycodone and possession of a controled substance.  A sad story all around. 

Good News:
  •  First snowy owl seen in California in 100 years
  • MacDonalds workers open restaurant as a 24-hour storm shelter during blizzard
  • 10 acts of kindness from 2022
  • In a world first, scientists use artificial DNa to kill cancer cells
  • Rescuers save 15,000 bats frozen on the ground
  • New evidence unearthed by podcasters free 2 men wrongfully imprisoned for 25 years
  • Christmas spirit enfolds Korean tourists during blizzard after they knock on a stranger's door
  • Last but not least, here's some animal stories from 2023

The Truth:  "I had a linguistics professor who said that it's man's ability to use language that makes him the dominent species on the planet.  That may be, but I think there's one other thing that separates us from anim als:  we aren't afraid of vacuum cleaners."  -- Jeff Stilson

Today's Poem:
It's All How You Look at It

(I mentioned that today is the "official" birthday of science fiction's Isaac Asimov.  Brought to America at age 3 from Russia, Asimov had no true idea of his birthday; he settled on January 2 as a best guess.  Here's a poem that has not appeared in any of this books, although it was anthologized once under the title "The Thunder-Thieves."  Feel free to sing this one to the tune of "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring.")

The Sputniks that fly in the air, tra la,
Bring promise of space flight quite soon.
It's plain that the rockets will try, tra la,
With burning and whoosing to hie, tra la, 
To a quick rendezvous on the Moon --
To a quick rendezvous on the Moon.
And that's why exactly all of us cry,
Just think of the Sputniks that fly in the sky,
Just think of the Sputniks --
Just think of the Sputniks,
The Sputniks that fly in the sky.

The Sputniks that fly in the sky, tra la,
Are stealing our very best plot,
As on through the vacuum they plie, tra la,
With space-flight as esy as pie, tra la,
S.F. will be going to pot --
S.F. will be going to pot.
And that's why we woefully whimper and sigh,
We'll sue those damn Sputniks that fly in the sky,
We'll sue those damn Sputniks -- 
We'll sue those damn Sputniks --
The Sputniks that fly in the sky.

-- from Future Science Fiction, October 1959


  1. I haven't yet read the novel form of the Westlake romance Ardai has published, but have read the short form Westlake placed in the '70s:

    The concept of robots, though not the term, predates fantastica, among the favorites of mine are Bierce's "Moxon's Master" and that Poe thing title slipping my mind (too easy of late).

    Impressive miscellany, as always. Don't forget, as if we could in some ways, too easily in others, all the other misery visited on the people of Iran, DR Congo, and closer to our mixed bag of a species continues to wend its way toward wherever we collectively go, with no little grace, courage and kindness mixed in with the vicious tantrums.

    A much better year.

  2. Best 2022 Wrap-up Blog Post ever! Good luck in 2023!