Friday, 26 December 2014

Hot Goods by Ray Cummings, 1933

I think our good friend Todd Mason is compiling the links for Friday’s Forgotten Books, today, as Patti Abbott is on a well-deserved holiday.

It was crook against crook when Pete Leroy met Basker — with the devil after both of them.

Hot Goods is one of many short stories written by American sf author Ray Cummings (1887-1957) except this one isn't a tale of science fiction. It’s a straightforward crime story involving, as the above line tells you, two crooks who try to swindle one another and fall prey to a cop who promptly hauls them to the police station.

Much of the action takes place inside a train compartment where Basker is pleading with Pete to buy his diamond ring for $450. He desperately needs the money to bail out his kid brother. Basker had seen Pete with a wad of cash and decides to relieve him of it. Pete, supposedly younger and smarter of the two, sizes up Basker as a sham and decides to turn the tables on him. He ropes in his partner George Snell in his little caper.

But something goes wrong. The old woman from whom Basker stole the diamond ring and $650 raises an alarm and soon cops are pounding on the door of their compartment. The armed trio escapes through the window of the stationery train. They run across the tracks and bundle into the front seat of a parked sedan whose backseat occupant turns out to be an off-duty cop taking a nap—and off he marches them to the police station. They had stolen a police car!

I like the sheer atmosphere in such stories and there is a good deal of it in Hot Goods, which appeared in Argosy Weekly, September 9, 1933. The three characters are drawn well in spite of little or no description. I especially liked the opening line—“Pete Leroy had the theory that crooks were the easiest suckers of all to swindle. And it gave him a thrill when this fellow Basker tackled him”—which suggested humour. An easy and entertaining tale you can clearly picture in your mind.

© www.ebooks-library.com
Author Ray Cummings has been described as one of the “founding fathers of the science fiction pulp genre” and I'm looking forward to reading some of his sf including his major work The Girl in the Golden Atom published in 1922. Among his other occupations, Cummings worked with Thomas Edison and wrote stories for Timely Comics, which we now know as Marvel Comics. His own quote, “Time…is what keeps everything from happening at once,” has been immortalised by both science and science fiction.

12 comments:

  1. I didn't realize Cummings had written outside of SF/fantasy. I've read quite a bit of his stuff in those genres.

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    1. Charles, this story was my first acquaintance with Ray Cummings' fiction and I'll be checking out his sf too.

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  2. Never even heard of this author so thanks for the update as I am always interested in new authors.
    Season's Greetings from this side of the Strait!

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    1. Mystica, Season's Greetings to you and your family too! I read quite a few "new authors" this year, some of them in sf and pulp genres.

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  3. Cummings is new to me. A mystery set on a train sounds great. I am definitely going to attempt to expand my appreciation of short stories in 2015.

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    1. Tracy, I love short stories and nowhere more so than in crime, sf, and western. The train setting in this story is incidental. The trio of crooks might as well have been sitting in a coffee shop.

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  4. Worked with "Thomas Edison and wrote stories for Timely Comics." Now that's an education!

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    1. David, according to Wiki, Ray Cummings worked as a personal assistant and technical writer for Thomas Edison from 1914 to 1919. I'm keen to read his sf in coming months.

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  5. I like the sound of this one - did you find it online?

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    1. Col, I did, and you can read it legally free at this link — http://www.unz.org/Pub/ArgosyWeekly-1933sep09-00096

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  6. Thanks - I'll read and enjoy it next week, I find it easier if I can print and read it rather than read it from my screen. Cheers

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    1. Col, you're welcome. I don't think it's longer than six or seven A4-size pages. I read from a printout too. UNZ has some fine short stories and novellas. I read a few this year.

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