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The Power of the Puppets

Published in 1942 in the pulp magazine Thrilling Mystery.

Synopsis

Thrilling Mystery Jan. 1942 The Power of the Puppets is a supernatural story with enough hard-boiled detective elements to be published in Thrilling Mysteries in 1942. Delia Lathrop, the story’s damsel-in-distress cum femme fatale, approaches old friend and detective George Clayton with near-panicked concern for her husband’s life and that of her own. Her husband, Jock Lathrop, is a famous puppeteer who only a few months previous, sustained a serious injury to both his hands when a window dropped and crushed his fingers. After his recovery, Lathrop’s puppet shows started back up with new critical acclaim, only now his puppets seem to be capable of movements impossible for a puppeteer to manipulate!

Delia hasn’t seen Jock’s hands since the accident as he has taken to wearing gloves and she has heard him arguing with strange voices when he is in another room. Five pin-sized scratches like that from a tiny claw above her eyes acquired the night before have added an new urgency to her worries. She believes that the puppets are alive!

The Supernatural

There is a supernatural mystery at hand for Clayton. The story progresses with accumulated hints of sinister forces at work in Lathrop’s puppeteering. Lathrop’s mentor, Luigi Franetti, his insurance agent, and his doctor all have their own tale to tell about his strange behavior, and each testimony builds the atmosphere further, perpetuates the dread, and brings us closer to the horrible truth.

Power of the Puppets“Last night I attended, unannounced and uninvited, a performance of his puppets. They do things that are impossible – impossible without Black Magic. I am Luigi Franetti, and I know! Nevertheless, I thought he might be able to explain it to me today. But no, he shuts me out! He has the evil eye and the devil’s fingers, I tell you. In Sicily people would understand such things. In Sicily he would be Shot! . . . ”

The Hard-boiled Detective

The hard-boiled detective elements are minimally present. It is told in the first-person narrative of the detective and when Delia arrives in Clayton’s office, she is described with admiration and the exacting detail that is expected in the genre. Power of the Puppets, however, lacks any of the seedy or glamorous locales that are normally depicted in the pulp detective stories, nor any of its vocabulary. The hard-boiled detective element is merely window dressing for the supernatural tale, and it's in the supernatural telling that lies its strength.

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