Friday, June 4, 2021

Alfred Hitchcock's Down by the Old Bloodstream

Summer is here, and that means short stories. With so much going on - vacations, outdoor activity, beaches, sports, etc. - I don’t always have time to direct my attention to a full novel, but there’s always room for a short story. The vintage paperback collections from Dell Books bearing the Alfred Hitchcock brand are a reliable source for great short fiction. Today, we’ll spend some time with Down By the Old Bloodstream from 1971, a collection of stories from the 1960s featuring many Paperback Warrior favorite authors.

“The Happenstance Snatch” by Fletcher Flora

The paperback describes this one as a “novella” but it’s only 24 pages long - make of that what you will. The story is about Banty, a degenerate gambler who loses a bunch of money he didn’t have at the poker table. The winner is a hard case who gives Banty until morning to raise the dough... or else.

Rather than raising the money somehow, Banty and his pal Carny (our narrator) decide to hightail it to an abandoned farm to hide out. En route to the cabin, the boys stop at a rest stop and a foxy girl sneaks into their back seat and falls asleep without them noticing until they’re 100 miles down the highway. After discovering the girl, the two decide to hold her for ransom as a solution to Banty’s problems.

This is a great story with a fantastic guessing game and a clever plot twist finale. If you enjoy a good kidnapping story, check this one out.

“Lucky Catch” by Ed Lacy

Jimmy is a patient in a mental institution who is being released for a weekend - without supervision - to visit his mother. Mom is a domineering sort with obsessive tendencies, so Jimmy plans to take in the city a bit - maybe see a movie or a ball game - before checking in with the old lady.

Blowing off some steam at the baseball game, something happens that makes all Hell break loose. Jimmy is confused and targeted by others, leading to an act of violence. The story ends abruptly with Jimmy gaining an understanding of what he walked into. It’s not a great story, but it’s very short. You don’t need to spend much time before you get to the O’Henry-style ending.

“The Monster Brain” by Richard Deming

Quinn is an insurance fraud investigator who receives his leads from a corporate computer that spits out suspected fraudulent claims - something commonplace today that must have seemed space-age when this 1966 story was first published. In this case, the computer spits out a cluster of rare Typhoid deaths in one town with policies all sold by the same agent with a $10,000 death benefit. Quinn gets the assignment to figure out: coincidence or fraud?

Quinn performs some pretty realistic forensic accounting to develop a suspect for this epidemiological mystery and travels to the small town in search of the truth. This is a diabolically-clever mystery with a satisfying conclusion and a twist ending further cementing Deming’s legacy as an unsung hero of the crime fiction genre.

The Wrongo by Michael Brett

Oakes is a hotel detective and former vice cop. One day in the lobby, he spots a hot chick in a short white dress with a deep tan. His training and experience tells him she’s a pro working the hotel to separate lonely rich dudes from their money. Once you’ve been doing this for a while, you get a knack for spotting the “wrongos.”

Oakes keeps an eye on the girl at the hotel bar until she latches on the wealthy pigeon she’s going to fleece. Oakes takes the gentleman aside and warns him that he’s walking into a bad - albeit attractive - trap. The guest is skeptical of the professional assessment and tells Oakes to buzz off. This sets up a clever, but short, con-artist story that was a lot of fun to read through the final twist.

Overall Assessment:

These four stories alone - there are 14 in the paperback - make this anthology an easy recommendation. The Hitchcock brand name is responsible for bringing a lot of great short works into print, and Down By the Old Bloodstream is an outstanding entry in this paperback series of curated stories. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

1 comment:

  1. I have that book! I love the Hitchcock collections, and the ellery queen ones. I buy all that I find. the short stories are normally pretty fair, and I often get lists of authors I enjoyed enough to hunt down novels from...