Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day Never Came by Steve Fisher

Day Never Came by Steve Fisher
Copyright 1938
Short Story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,
Oct. 1953

He had no fear. If he died, then he died, and that would be that. But as long as he lived, he was looking out for himself. He took his living and his world without the hurrah of emotion.

Steve Fisher packs a lot in the pages of this short psychological thriller. Day Never Came is a bleak and dark story of a psychotic killer who gets a little too clever for his own good.

Set in prewar Shanghai as the Japanese are bombing the city, a isolated American Marine station waits for orders with a handful of jailed service members awaiting court-martial. Most involve petty stuff, but the Navy prisoner called Clark is in for espionage and as for moral principles, he has none. There is a witness out in the city and his only hope is to get to her before the trial. Clark plans and executes an escape which involves secretly murdering a guard. Dodging bombs he makes his way to the girl's apartment. The kicker is that the girl loves him, but that's a one way street for Clark and he ends up strangling her to keep her from testifying. Without being seen, Clark quitely sneaks back into the Marine brig and thinks he devised a solid alibi. Of course you can be a little too clever, and Clark surely is ... as we waits in his cell.

Readers of Steve Fisher's work know that he was a highly influential author in his day. Pulp, noir, and lives lost in the seedy underworld - his novels and stories are filled with a gritty, raw, (and yes, a romantic) edge on them. Day Never Came has all those. Unseen love, which Clark doesn't realize until it's too late. Madness, as he kills without remorse to save his neck. And pain, sadness, and a lost chance-as he sits in his locked cell at the end. For a short story it's very atmospheric and "the nasty's" what go around in Clark's head are oddly appealing. For me this short story came up as the best of the bunch in this fine 1953 edition of EQMM.

But that is not to say that the others weren't very good. Fredric Brown's 4 pager titled, Cry Silence is a masterfully written tale that questions, "was it murder or was it not." Which lines in parallel to the old question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Another enjoyable yarn is the retired cop story Before The Act. Thomas Walsh wrote solid cop mystery novels (some involve rogue cops) and after reading The Night Watch and Nightmare in Manhattan, I realized I'd stumbled on lost treasures. I enjoy his storytelling and when I come across an anthology with a short story of his in it, I'll but it. And that was the reason I bought this EQMM years ago.

Here are the stories in this October 1953 edition:

High Court by Thomas Kyd
Back In Five Years by Michael Gilbert
The Stroke Of Thirteen by Lillian de la Torre
Before The Act by Thomas Walsh
Laugh It Off by Charlotte Armstrong
Day Never Came by Steve Fisher
Cry Silence by Fredric Brown
A Wish For A Cigar by Will Scott
Ms. In The Safe by Frank Swinnerton
Night Of The Execution by Faith Baldwin
Helpless Victim by C.G. Lumbard
The World Series Murder by Rex Stout

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Quite an issue. Been years since I saw Faith Baldwin's name.