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The Thinking Machine: Including The Problem of Cell 13 (Modern Library) [Paperback]

Jacques Futrelle , Harlan Ellison (Introduction)
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Dec 2003 Modern Library
This irascible genius, this diminutive egghead scientist, known to the world as The Thinking Machine, is no less than the newly rediscovered literary link between Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe: Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, who with only the power of ratiocination unravels problems of outrageous criminous activity in dazzlingly impossible settings. He can escape from the inescapable death-row Cell 13. He can fathom why the young woman chopped off her own finger. He can solve the anomaly of the phone that could not speak. These twenty-three Edwardian-era adventures prove (as The Thinking Machine reiterates) that two and two make four, not sometimes, but all the time. Since 1917 The Modern Library prides itself as The modern Library of the world s Best Books . Featuring introductions by leading writers, stunning translations, scholarly endnotes and reading group guides. Production values emphasize superior quality and readability. Competitive prices, coupled with exciting cover design make these an ideal gift to be cherished by the avid reader.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library Inc; New edition edition (1 Dec 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812970144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970142
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.1 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 511,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Harlan Ellison is the author of a plethora of short stories, scripts, essays, and reviews. He has written or edited more than seventy-five books, including Slippage, Angry Candy, and Dangerous Visions. His numerous awards include Edgars, Hugos, and Nebulas. He lives in California with his wife, Susan.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Holmes than Holmes 1 Feb 2013
By JK
Format:Paperback
Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph.D., LL.D., F.R.S., M.D., M.D.S. is a sort of experiment on the part of the author: what if there was such a person ... ? Dusen's prime (though not sole) characteristic is his commitment to reason above all things, much in the vein of the better-known Sherlock.

He has not the charisma of Holmes (but I wonder if that's not prejudice on our part?), and there is no Watson character in the stories I have read to date. There is a distinctly European flavour to the style of Futrelle's writing (although he was an American), and a sense that one is reading a literary exercise, along the lines of something by Georges Perec, rather than a work of art. But it is none the worse for any of that, and I'm glad I've discovered the Thinking Machine!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Was he a Holmes derivative? 7 Aug 2006
By Puskas
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I first became aware of the name Jacques Futrelle when reading a newspaper report of his fatal heroism on the Titanic, which inspired me to look him up on the internet and seek out his work. I liked this book. I liked the Thinking Machine's simplification of complex problems. It helped me think more clearly. I don't normally read this type of work, and have never yet read any Conan Doyle, so I don't know whether or not it's highly derivative. Obviously it owes a debt to Conan Doyle, but its Edwardian American setting is quite novel. I would recommend this book.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I have frequently found it necessary to make a fool of myself to convince people. I'll do it again." 19 Nov 2007
By H. Bala - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bet you've never heard of the Thinking Machine. Today he's not very well known at all. But based on one short story read years and years ago, the Thinking Machine stamped himself indelibly onto my consciousness. And on the strength of that short story, "The Problem of Cell 13," I purchased JACQUES FUTRELLE'S "THE THINKING MACHINE" which, at 370 pages, collects 23 short stories about the Thinking Machine and offers a 13-paged introduction by Harlan Ellison, who here also dons the editing hat.

A bit more background: During the early 1900s, before he boarded the ill-fated RMS Titanic, American (not French) newspaperman Jacques Futrelle penned a series of short stories starring his testy but brilliant puzzle-solver the Thinking Machine. The Thinking Machine, whose real identity is Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, is not your average detective. He chooses to solve mysteries to exercise his brain. Van Dusen is actually a 50-year-old logician, an incandescent mind housed in a frail, tiny body, and, in his time, deemed the foremost authority in the scientific fields. But his mantra of logic overcoming all obstacles frequently leads him to be involved in the most bizarre of conundrums. Or, as he's most wont to say to his reliable aide, reporter Hutchinson Hatch, "Two and two make four not sometimes, but all the time."

The Thinking Machine's most celebrated case is "The Problem of Cell 13" and rightly so as it's one of the best "locked room" mysteries I've ever read. Thankfully that gem is included here. Sad to say, Futrelle never before or again matched the gripping quality, the delicious suspense of "The Problem of Cell 13." The rest of the stories in this collection range from good to decent to drab. Set in the Edwardian era, several mysteries don't lend themselves well to contemporary times (Harlan Ellison covers this in his intro). This is exemplified in the dated "The Silver Box" and "The Superfluous Finger." Too, Futrelle seems to be reaching with his far-fetched solutions to "The Mystery of the Grip of Death," "The Problem of the Hidden Million" and "The Roswell Tiara."

But there are also the memorable stories. "Enter: 'The Thinking Machine'" is noteworthy for revealing how Prof. Van Dusen got his nickname. In "The Jackdaw Girl" we meet the one person who comes closest to one-upping the Thinking Machine. And "The Fatal Cipher," "The Brown Coat," and "The Problem of the Stolen Rubens" are all fairly clever puzzles. Now, more often than not, the Thinking Machine does his crime-solving after the fact and is more often than not accompanied by his trusty sidekick Hutchinson Hatch or another recurring character in the person of Police Detective Mallory, but in "The Problem of the Deserted House" he goes it alone and actively places his life in jeopardy. He almost doesn't make it. Meanwhile, I'm still scratching my head over "The Problem of the Broken Bracelet," which is either too smart or too confusing for me.

In his shortened time Futrelle wrote around 48 or so short stories centering on the Thinking Machine, as well as a few novellas about him (The chase of the golden plate, The Diamond Master, etc). Futrelle was never the best of storytellers, his writing style more dry and procedural than fluid, which I guess perfectly suited his very precise protagonist. And, at age 37, Futrelle's was an untimely passing. But he did give us "The Problem of Cell 13" which is so good it considerably bumps up my rating for this collection - from two stars to four. Yep, that good.

But, here's the breakdown on the 23 tales told in JACQUES FUTRELLE'S "THE THINKING MACHINE":

1) "Enter: 'The Thinking Machine'" - Prof. Van Dusen baldly states that a logical man, though having never before played chess, may study the rules of the game and then in the same day vanquish a champion chess master. He proceeds to do just that.
2) "My First Experience with the Great Logician" - The Thinking Machine saves the life of a man suffering a mysterious ailment.
3) "The Thinking Machine's First Problem: "Dressing Room 'A'" - In the middle of a stage play, the beautiful lead actress vanishes from inside her dressing room.
4) "The Problem of Cell 13" - Awesome, awesome locked room puzzler. The Thinking Machine is challenged to escape from an impregnable prison cell in death row, using nothing but his wits.
5) "The Phantom Motor" - The police, lying in wait at both ends of a speed trap corridor, are baffled by a speeding automobile who appears nightly only to then spookily vanish.
6) "The Mystery of the Grip of Death" - Another "locked room" mystery. Newspaperman Hutchinson Hatch once again calls on the Thinking Machine, this time to shed light on the murder of a man who seems to have been choked to death with a rope.
7) "The Problem of the Hidden Million" - Lame story. A bitter dying old man vindictively hides his wealth from his heirs, and it's up to the Thinking Machine to find it.
8) "The Ralston Bank Burglary" - The vault of a prestigious bank is blasted open in the middle of the night. Was it an inside job?
9) "The Problem of the Auto Cab" - A necklace is stolen during a gala affair, and Hutchinson Hatch shares a ride with a woman who may be involved in the case.
10) "The Silver Box" - An eminent financier is at wits' end when his business rivals consistently get the jump on his stock market dealings.
11) "The Jackdaw Girl" - An enterprising con man teaches jackdaws to steal jewelry. The robberies soon attract the interest of the Thinking Machine.
12) "The Brown Coat" - A safecracker lands behind bars but is pretty smug about not revealing the whereabouts of the bank loot, much to Detective Mallory's helpless frustration.
13) "The Problem of the Stolen Rubens" - A priced painting vanishes, and the police are again led astray.
14) "The Fatal Cipher" - The Thinking Machine is presented with an enigmatic suicide note.
15) "The Superfluous Finger" - A woman walks into a surgeon's office and asks to have her finger amputated.
16) "The Motor Boat" - A motor boat crashes into the Boston Harbor with its driver already dead. Was it murder?
17) "The Problem of the Broken Bracelet" - A masked woman breaks into another woman's bedroom and asks to borrow a golden bracelet.
18) "The Problem of the Cross Mark" - A character actor tells a story which took place three years ago, when he was destitute and was hired to portray a 75-year-old man under nefarious circumstances.
19) "The Roswell Tiara" - A tiara kept safe in a vault is mysteriously losing the diamonds on its setting.
20) "The Problem of the Red Rose" - A supine young woman clutching a rose and her little dog are both found dead in her bedroom. The police believe that heart failure was suffered by both. The Thinking Machine begs to differ.
21) "The Man Who Was Lost" - A man with memory loss comes to the Thinking Machine for help.
22) "A Piece of String" - In the middle of a kidnapping story, Hutchinson Hatch is instructed by the Thinking Machine to discern the contents of a tree hole; Hatch obligingly finds a piece of string.
23) "The Problem of the Deserted House" - In the middle of the night, the Thinking Machine receives an alarming phone call from a man in distress.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Source 28 Nov 2012
By Chris Ward - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
You'll want to read Harlan Ellison's remarks in this book, but if you want to read the stories online, go to futrelle.com-- 52(!) of his Thinking Machine stories are to be found there. Not all are classics, but the lover of vintage mysteries will be enthralled.
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT STORIES 3 May 2010
By xnysmokie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had previously only read the problem of cell 13 but all of the stories here were 1st grade and enjoyed every one of them. This book is a MUST HAVE for the mystery short story buff
10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Edwardian crime stories as recommended by Harlan Ellison 27 April 2004
By Celia Redmore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book of short stories with a foreword by the great science fiction writer, Harlan Ellison, is centered on one story, The Problem of Cell 13, which was first published in The Boston American in 1906.
Harlan Ellison's twelve-page introduction is entirely honest about the merits of the book. He first met the The Thinking Machine, Futrelle's brainy protagonist, when he read The Problem of Cell 13 as a boy and fell in love with this beautifully-crafted little puzzle story. Futrelle's other stories are distinctly ho-hum and Futrelle himself lost his life when the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912.
The ONLY reason for reading this book is to explore crime fiction as it existed in the Edwardian era. But that's a very good reason and you have Harlan Ellison's word for it.
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