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Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher

Rocket to the Morgue (1942)

by Anthony Boucher

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1344138,066 (3.64)8
'A fine craftsman' Ellery QueenA deadly net of danger tightens around Hilary Foulkes as an unseen enemy makes constant, bizarre attempts on his life. Detective Terry Marshall and his unusual assistant, the inquisitive nun Sister Ursula, work desperately against the clock to break the case - for Foulkes's luck is due to run out at any moment . . . Rocket to the Morgue is the novel in which Anthony Boucher's two interests, crime and SF, collide. As well as being a classic locked-room mystery, it is also considered something of an SF roman a clef, featuring thinly disguised versions of such luminaries of the Southern California science fiction culture of the 1940s as Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard."… (more)



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Science fiction is in its infancy, and one of its earliest legends is Fowler Foulkes, who created the immortal Dr. Derringer. Fowler’s son, Hilary, administers the Foulkes estate with a view to wringing every penny out of reprints, not even extending favours to the nuns who would make a Braille version for blind readers. With such a talent for making enemies, it’s not surprising that someone would try to kill Hilary. What is surprising is the locked-room nature of the attempt—and it will take all the ingenuity of Detective Marshall and his occasional confidante, Sister Ursula, to figure out who attempted-to-do-it.

This book is not only a mystery novel; it’s a portrait of the sci-fi community in the United States in the late 1930s. Boucher himself makes a cameo appearance, while several of his friends appear as caricatures or as composite characters. It’s a light, wry sort of mystery, both in terms of writing style and in terms of plot. I’m not really one for the locked-room mystery, because I don’t have the faintest hope of guessing whodunnit, but this story was agreeable enough. I’d recommend it if you like light Golden Age mysteries, mysteries about writers, or perhaps the Anthony Horowitz books where he is a character in his own story. (Or if you thought Horowitz’s idea a bit over the top, you might like this better, because Boucher appears only sparingly in his own book.) ( )
  rabbitprincess | Aug 30, 2019 |
Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher is one of the classic mysteries re-printed by Penzler Publishers under their American Mystery Classics imprint. Writing in the 1940s, Boucher was known for his versatile talents within Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery fiction. A prolific contributor to each of these genres, Boucher utilized his familiarity with the publishing world to add depth and humor to his work. Rocket to the Morgue is a classic detective novel representative of its time with all the requisite elements: an insightful and quirky detective, a plethora of potential suspects from all levels of society, and a seemingly unsolvable locked door case to confound the police. What distinguishes this novel, however, is its setting within the incestuous and often cut-throat world of Los Angeles pulp fiction. Boucher provides his inside view of the experience of a writer in the pressurized atmosphere that he himself inhabited. Along the way, he does not neglect to provide a charming, fast-paced and well-plotted mystery to challenge any armchair sleuth. Delightful for its reflection of a revered era of detective fiction, and surprising for its unexpectedly modern approaches to class/gender stereotypes, Penzler Press has done a favor to modern mystery fans by introducing Rocket to the Morgue and Boucher to a new crop of readers.

Thanks to NetGalley and Penzler Press for an ARC of this book in return for an unbiased review. ( )
1 vote jnmegan | Jul 18, 2019 |
A. P. White (a.k.a. Anthony Boucher) used the pen name H. H. Holmes in writing the novel Rocket to the Morgue, but he includes a character named "Anthony Boucher"! "Boucher" is not all a central figure in this murder mystery, which postpones the accomplishment of the crime until the later chapters. But he is included as an element in a milieu that the author drew from his own experience: the Los Angeles "scientifiction" scene of the early 1940s. The roman à clef elements of the novel supply various characters transposed from members of the actual Manaña Literary Society, to whom the book is also dedicated. These include Robert A. Heinlein ("Austin Carter"), L. Ron Hubbard ("D. Vance Wimpole"), Cleve Cartmill ("Matt Duncan"), Jack Parsons ("Hugo Chantrelle"), and Jack Williamson ("Joe Henderson"). The portrayals are loose, but recognizable. Rocket scientist Chantrelle, for example, is abstemious with respect to drink and sex, which is hardly faithful to the actual Parsons. The Hubbard-based character Wimpole is the one who is likely to inspire the most suspicion as a possible culprit.

The book is also the second written by "Holmes" to feature the nun Sister Mary Ursula as a principal sleuth, although the police lieutenant Terry Marshall -- also a continuing character -- is the main protagonist with whom readers are invited to identify. The mystery genre aspects are all self-reflectively stock elements, with much made of the "locked room" scenario. (Marshall's wife is an avid mystery reader.) These are then counterpoised to the novelty and marginality of the experimental "magazine-based" science fiction genre. I'm no wide reader of mystery fiction, but this one seems to derive its enduring interest for readers primarily from its social setting and metatextual features.
3 vote paradoxosalpha | Jan 16, 2018 |
Mystery in a series in which the detectives are a regular policeman and a nun. This one is interesting chiefly because the murder is set in the California science fiction writing community of the 1940s -- it is dedicated to the Manana Literary Society and especially Robert Heinlein and Cleve Cartmill. Several of the characters are based on real sf writers of the period, notably Heinlein. ( )
  antiquary | Aug 26, 2014 |
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For the Manana Literary Society and in particular for ROBERT HEINLEIN and CLEVE CARTMILL
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Sister Ursula and Lieutenant Marshall encounter bizarre crimes among a coterie of science-fiction writers and enthusiasts.
A roman à clef in which many of Boucher's science fiction writer friends appear in disguise.


Almost anyone could have entered Hilary Foulkes' study and stabbed him, but there was no way Lieutenant Marshall could find for the attacker to have left. The lieutenant of the Los Angeles Homicide Squad could see no reason why locked room puzzles should pursue him. (There was an excellent reason, but he was not to discover that until later.) Meanwhile, he found himself involved with perhaps the screwiest bunch of people he had ever met — the boys who write scientifiction — those stories dealing with time machines, rockets to the moon and interstellar space.

They were not much help, these writers. Their considered opinion of how to escape from a locked room included such surrealist methods as going out through the fourth dimension. Marshall was grateful for the common sense and quick wits of Sister Ursula, who had helped him once before.

Haiku summary
authors are chief suspects in
a fumbled murder.

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