Death by a Dusty Blade by Frank Johnson appeared in the June 1943 issue of G-Men Detective.
With Death by a Dusty Blade, I’ll be wrapping up on the June 1943 issue of G-Men Detective.
Not counting the Beware! feature, Death by a Dusty Blade was the shortest piece in this issue of G-Men Detective, coming in at barely over two pages. Even so, I really need to read it two or three times to appreciate it.
Death by a Dusty Blade is a pulp murder mystery in its absolute simplest and most stripped down form possible. There is one murder, two suspects, and one significant clue upon which the mystery hinges. The bit of action at the end is icing on the cake. It’s really perfect, in its way.
Two men have a meeting with a third, the victim, to discuss business arrangements. The victim was only going to invest with one of the two men, so each has possible motive. The victim was the owner of an impressive collection of old swords and was murdered at some point in the evening with his own antique sword.The detective is an avid swordsman and knows a thing or two about weapons; he asks one of the men to identify the murder weapon. The first man is a known expert on swords, so when he fails to correct the second man’s obviously incorrect answer, the detective knows something is up – the expert would not have let the wrong answer stand without saying something unless he had something to hide. Even without fingerprints on blade, the murderer has given himself away! The story concludes with a brief sword fight between the detective and the killer – the perfect way to end any story, really.
While I won’t say that I disliked G-Men Detective, I found that on the whole it was less exciting, original, and romantic than the contemporary SFF pulp I’ve read. The best stuff here could be considered state-of-the-art for detective stories, but it largely lacks the wonder and exploration of new ideas and examinations of society and humanity that was going on elsewhere in sci-fi. While a Dan Fowler story might hit all of the beats of a thrilling detective pulp, stories like Red Witch of Mercury or The Martian Circe were pushing boundaries of detective noir while still hitting those beats.
I also get the sense that G-Men Detective skews a little young in its audience. It’s not a bad thing, but G-Men does not really disguise the fact that it is both entertainment and propaganda – it’s stories about Feds for people who look up to the Feds and who themselves want to be Feds (presumably when they grow up). Membership to the official club to be a Jr. G-Man would get you a “valuable” brass token if you swore to uphold the law and be ever vigilant. Though there are some more bawdy adverts (a little book called “The G-String Murders” sounds promising), nothing comes close to the number of lonely hearts club and get rich quick ads you find in Planet Stories. G-Men is a publication that feels “safe”, something that your mom wouldn’t take a look at and throw out and one that your dad would approve of for its healthy law and order message.