“The Trigger” (1958)
Best of Beaumont
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Investigator Philip Ives doesn’t believe in unsolved cases, only open or closed ones. Assigned a case of seemingly-connected suicides, Ives searches for the trigger.
Not much of a detective story but enjoyable. It has a similar conceit to “Night Ride” (Post 7, note ), where someone is able to talk others into suicide/depression by using emotional pressure points.
Originals by Wyeth and Benton and Hopper studded the walls.
Thomas Hart Benton (1889 – 1975) was an American painter and muralist. He was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. His fluid, sculpted figures showed everyday people in scenes of life in the United States.
There was something hard and metallic, expressionless, about the lean man’s voice. It told you that he was more than just a policeman, more than a man with a job. A specialist called in to perform a delicate operation on a patient he’d never seen before would speak this way. Upon his patient’s death, he would express sorrow; but only because he had failed in his duty – not because a life had been lost. He wouldn’t be interested in life.
“We’re not stupid, Mr. Ives. We’re just tired.”
In the corners, tiny fires wriggled in chafing dishes.
“It’s the difficult cases that are easy,” he’d often said. “The more complicated you get, the more likely you are to leave clues. Really simple murders are much, much harder to solve.”
“ ‘Within each human heart there is a trigger. When a person destroys himself, we know then that something, or someone, has pulled that trigger.’ You wouldn’t recall who said that, would you, Harold?”
 “The Vanishing American” (1955)
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Mr. Minchell is a typical middle-class American with a life lived so quietly for so long that he is disappearing. Literally.
Moving without resorting to sentimentality. There’s something real in this one, some intangible connection between main character and reader.
He stretched and said good night to the people who filed past him. As usual, no one answered.
Ice-cold shadows fell off the tall buildings, staining the streets, now. Crowds of shoppers moved along the pavement like juggernauts, exhaustedly, but with great determination. Mr. Minchell looked at them. They all had furtive appearances, it seemed to him suddenly, even the children, as if each was fleeing from some hideous crime. They hurried along, staring.
He walked past high buildings, and now past the library and the stone lion he had once, long ago, named King Richard; and he did not look at the lion, because he’d always wanted to ride the lion, ever since he was a child, and he’d promised himself he would do that, but he never did.
 Bernice M. Murphy, in her introduction to The Hunger, mentions an recurring theme in Beaumont: Men in his stories are unhappy and lonely when married with a child (usually it’s one son that the father cannot relate to; see “Fritzchen” Post 2, note , “The New People” Post 6, note , and “The Pool” Post 8, note ). If a woman is the lead, she’s repressed, sexless, and unhappy because she is single. In Beaumont’s world, a woman needs a family to be whole, while a man is smothered by it.
He could only watch and remember. Himself as a youngster, reading the Oz books, and Tarzan, and Mr. Wells. Himself, going to the university, wanting to teach, and meeting Madge; then not planning any more, and Madge changing, and all the dreams put away. For later. For the right time. And then Jimmy – little strange Jimmy, who ate filth and picked his nose and watched television, who never read books, never; Jimmy, his son, whom he would never understand.
In “Open House” (Post 7, note ):
Mr. Pierce relived the transformation of his life; all of it, over two years. He relived it in those minutes. How his unconsciously ordered existence had been slowly uprooted and destroyed. How Emma had changed into a new person, one he’d never known. A fat candy-eating movie-magazine-reading dirty-bathrobe-wearing wife, with a million nauseating habits.
(The Hunger, p.72 – 73)
Contrasted with Elouise in “Fair Lady” (Post 2, note ):
He was not there, the tall stranger who waited to love her, only her, Miss Elouise Baker, and she knew now that he never would be. Because he never was.
It was on that night that Miss Elouise wept softly for death to come and take her away.
(The Hunger, p.48 – 49)
…and Miss Maple, when she discovers her night-lover has left her (in “The Dark Music” Post 2, note ):
She put her face against the rough bark of the tree and wept for the first time in her life. Because she knew that there was no more music for her, there would never be any music for her again.
(The Hunger, p.99)
…and Julia in “The Hunger” (see Post 3, note 114).
Then he thought about going back to work tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. He’d have to, of course. He couldn’t let Madge and Jimmy starve; and, besides, what else would he do? It wasn’t as if anything important had changed. He’d go on punching the clock and saying good morning to people who didn’t see him, and he’d run the tapes and come home beat, nothing altered, and some day he’d die and that would be that.
All at once he felt tired.
The city stretched before him, and the people, and the lights. He tried quite hard not to cry, because he knew that forty-seven-year-old men never cried, not even when they had vanished, but he couldn’t help it. So he sat on the stone lion and lowered his head and cried.
 Last line:
Later, when he was good and ready, he got down off the lion.
 “With the Family” (unpublished until 2000 collection)
A Touch of the Creature
1 out of 5 stars.
Christmas night and Gallagher is at the bar instead of home with his wife and her family.
Too depressing to be funny and too cruel to be poignant. An odd companion piece to “The Rival” (Post 8, note ).
 Why does Gallagher keep calling the bartender “Solly”?
Solly is a semi-popular name for bars and taverns. User imurgoodfriendsteven added on urban dictionary that Solly “supposedly originated somewhere in Ireland in ancient times when a young bearded man drank a pint of beer and it gave him the speed and strength to kill and [sic] man and woe [sic] any women [sic].” This is not very helpful.
From context, it sounds like a pop culture reference (maybe a bartender in a film had this name), but I can’t find it.
 The casual nastiness of this story is off-putting:
“Here we’re only married six lousy months: She asks would I mind spending Christmas with her folks. Said she’d never spent one away from them and they’d be hurt to tears and would I itsy-bitsy mind. For God’s sakes, what was I going to do – start a big brawl on that little point? Not that I liked the idea, but I figured I’d talk her out of it when the time came, you know? Sure I said yes. All right, I promised if you want to put it that way. What the hell else could I do?”
“What’d you do, finally?”
“I hit her in the mouth with a steam iron and then kicked at her prostate form, of course, Or should have. No: what I did was make an utter ass of myself.”
“Krug [wine], too, damn it, ’27, like in Bemelmans.”
Charles Krug (1825 – 1892) was among the pioneers of winemaking in the Napa Valley, California, and was the founder of the Charles Krug Winery.
Ludwig Bemelmans (1898 – 1962) was an Austria-Hungary-born American writer and illustrator of children’s books. He is best known for the Madeline picture books.
Bemelman’s Bar (in The Carlyle Hotel in New York City) is named after the author, who painted large-scale murals in the bar.
I’m not sure of the connection Beaumont is trying to make. Is his character referencing wine in Bemelman’s Bar or did Bemelman reference Krug wine in one of his books (which seems unlikely as a children’s author)?
“With what simplicity you reduce my problem: like a combination Spinoza, Dunninger, and Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Joseph Dunninger (1892 – 1975), known as “The Amazing Dunninger” was one of the most famous and proficient mentalists of all time. He was one of the pioneer performers of magic on radio and television. He was a debunker of fraudulent mediums.
“On-the-rocks, Petronius. And get out the weeping vase.”
Gauis Petronius Arbiter (~27 – 66 AD) was a Roman courtier during the reign of Nero. He is generally believed to be the author of the Satyricon, a satirical novel.
Weeping vases are real… but I can’t find the origins of their name. Were they actually designed to cry into or does the name come from something in the design?
 “You Can’t Have Them All” (1956)
Best of Beaumont; Perchance to Dream
3 out of 5 stars.
Edward Simms has embarked on a quest to bed every attractive woman on earth. He falls ill on the eve of accomplishing his feat and tells his preposterous story to the summoned doctor.
A ridiculous, impossible story that falls apart the moment any logic touches it. Not to mention the blithely-ignored moral issues of drugging women for one-night-stands… But Beaumont pulls it off with a light, breezy step and I’m entertained. And who knows – maybe the doctor’s theory at the end is the correct one.
“You are, in general, the most singularly rundown human I’ve ever dealt with. There may be nothing wrong with you, but I give you my word that there is nothing right.”
A ravishing brunette (…) lived on the outskirts of Montauban.
Montauban is a commune in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the Occitanie region in southern France. It is the capital of the department and lies 31 miles north of Toulouse.
When the drinks were poured, [I] managed to add a drop of my herbal tea to hers – though it did seem piling Scylla on Charybdis, or however that goes.
Being between Scylla and Charybdis is an idiom deriving from Greek mythology, meaning “having to choose between two evils.”
The narrator of this story (a terrible human being, anyway) is citing the idiom incorrectly. He’s looking for piling Pelion on Ossa, which means: “To further complicate something that is already tedious or challenging; to do something that seems futile.”
Pelion and Ossa are two mountains in Greece.
Scylla and Charybdis are two mythological sea monsters (see The Magus, note ).
 Typo or Vocabulary?
Of course, there were problems (…) but these were circumvented in divers ways.
It could be either. It may be a misprint of “diverse” (though “divers ways” is repeated in this story’s printing in Best of Beaumont [p.57]) or Beaumont is using the archaic, literary definition of “divers”:
adjective – of varying types; several.
Which is from the same roots that brought “divert” and “diverse” to the language.
 Strange word-use:
I registered at a hotel hard by the sight of Number Five Hundred and Sixty-three.
“Hard by” is a phrase meaning “close to.”
My overall rating average for Beaumont’s stories is 2.75 out of 5; I can’t give him a blanket recommendation. You have to be looking for certain qualities. Fans of the Twilight Zone will find things to love in Beaumont. But if you’re just beginning to explore speculative short fiction, start with Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Matheson’s Shores of Space, or King’s Night Shift.
If you’ve already covered those authors and you’re a junkie for this stuff (like some of us…), give Beaumont a try.
Start with The Hunger: it offers the most consistent quality (averaging 3.3 out of 5) and shows Beaumont’s range.
A Touch of the Creature begins very poorly but a handful of stories near the end bring it to a 2.8 out of 5 average. There’s no listing of when each story was written, but I have a feeling that they’re put in approximate order of creation.
Best of Beaumont averaged 2.6 out of 5. It’s out of print and pricey and most of the good stories from it can be found in The Hunger and Perchance to Dream. It’s unnecessary if you’re not a completionist.
Perchance to Dream averaged 2.5 out of 5 and is not recommended. It’s heavy on the jokey/TV-scripty Beaumont but very little feels honest or fun. “The New People” is the only really good story you’d miss out on if you skip both Best of Beaumont and Perchance to Dream.
And don’t pick up Twilight Zone: The Original Stories unless you want more than Beaumont. His offerings in that one averaged 2 out of 5.
Next week: a simple one-post entry for James Herbert’s The Fog.