The subtitle I originally planned for this book was “the obscure short stories of Jon L. Breen,” but that would just be asking for wisecracks. After all, my whole oeuvre is pretty obscure. Still, of the hundred plus stories I’ve had published over the past forty-five years, a majority have either appeared in one of my three previous collections or in book form in original or reprint anthologies. So, I asked myself, could I make up a collection entirely of stories that have never been in book form and have something that satisfies me and that someone else might possibly want to read? The first part was easy—I’m a pushover for my own work. For the second part, you be the judge.
I’ve divided the offerings here into four sections. First are stories about radio. I am just old enough to remember a time when network radio was still big and television was not yet available everywhere. Through the 1950s, radio offerings of comedy, mystery, and drama gradually diminished, but I listened to Jack Benny for years and can remember hearing Amos ’n’ Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, Our Miss Brooks, and Henry Aldrich; Nick Carter, The Shadow, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, and Hearthstone of the Death Squad (hardly anybody remembers that one); and (on days home from school because of illness) Our Gal Sunday, The Romance of Helen Trent, and that odd hybrid of newscast and soap opera, Wendy Warren and the News.
When I became a sports fan in my teenage years, I listened to Vin Scully broadcasting Dodger games (he’s still at it as I write!), Buddy Blattner and Don Wells calling the Angels (both long gone). As a college student in the early sixties, I worked as a sportscaster on the campus station and occasionally did play-by-play of basketball and baseball games. (I was good, too, and somewhere I have an ancient tape to prove it.) I even worked at a professional radio station, manning an old-fashioned telephone switchboard in the off hours at KMPC, Los Angeles.
For years, I was an inveterate listener to call-in talk shows. In the early days, hard as it is to believe, KFI’s all-night talk show banned discussion of race, politics, religion, and “insults to the other night owls.” I still get the occasional talk-radio fix in these polarized days, but a little goes a long way.
In the late 1970s or early 1980s, a radio pro and collector named Dave Amaral sent me a not-for-broadcast adaptation of one of my stories, and subsequently he did a whole series of Ed Hoch’s Dr. Sam Hawthorne cases. The production values were always fully professional, including the insertion of commercials, which briefly led Ed to wonder if somebody was ripping off his stories for profit. He was quickly assured it was all a labor of love. The acting ranged from pro caliber, Richard Gulla as Dr. Sam and radio historian Jim Harmon as Sheriff Lenz (both now sadly departed), to—well—less so. To give you an idea, I made an appearance as an actor in one of the Dr. Sam shows. Over the years Dave has stayed in touch and kept me supplied with enough old radio mysteries to last a lifetime.
Anyway, the first four stories in this book all have something to do with the world of radio. Oddly enough, they are even more obscure than the rest of the contents. Two were published in mystery magazines of limited circulation and lifespan, a third was from the longtime number three market among mystery digests, and the fourth has never appeared in print before.
The second group is comprised of crime stories that don’t involve a detective, unless it’s the reader trying to outguess the writer. The third section consists of a quartet of fair-play detective stories, including three about series sleuths, while the fourth pays homage to my detective-fiction idol(s), Ellery Queen.
As always, I must acknowledge the editors who accepted these stories for publication, particularly Frederic Dannay (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine), Eleanor Sullivan (EQMM and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine), Charles E. Fritch (Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine) and EQMM’s wonderful current editor Janet Hutchings. And special thanks to my in-house editor and plot doctor these forty-plus years, Rita A. Breen.