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This Week, April 2, 1950 included the short story “The Sound of Blackmail,” reprinted in QBI as “Blackmail Department: Money Talks.” The main character is from Italy, and so, for this huge 14-million readers across the nation audience, the cousins crafted images of Italian-Americans which make most of us cringe today. To wit: “Mrs. Alfredo was as broad as gnocco [sic], her skin had a time-grated Parmesan look, and her hands had been marinated in the Chianti of hard work.” I enjoy gnocchi, parm and red wine, but that description leaves me gagging.

Although there is a mystery, of discovering a blackmailer, all is as it seems. Mrs. Alfredo is Italian, her daughter an aspiring opera singer, and her three boarders are employed in professions that perfectly match their appearances. “Mr. Collins was large, powerful, and slangy and if he had not turned out to be a taxicab driver Ellery would have turned in his honorary police badge.” And the blackmailer must be English, and he is caught by using British idioms. What bloody rot!

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