That Sweet Little Old Lady
By Randall Garrett (AKA Mark Phillips)
Published by Librivox
Read by Phil Chenovert
I honestly did not know what to expect from this title and the first line didn’t help; “What are we going to call that sweet little old lady, now that mother is a dirty word?” – Dave Foley Well, I’m not sure that quote really had much to do with the story other than being the inspiration for the title… maybe. It is possible Garrett found the quote after he came up with the title.
Regardless of which came first the quote or the title, neither really prepare the reader for what is an entertaining story about telepathy about some of the implications and complexities regarding law enforcement. The story centers about FBI agent Kenneth Malone who is assigned to find a telepathic spy that is stealing information from the United State Laboratories in Yucca Flats, Nevada.
There are more than a few problems, the first of which is that while a top secret device has been invented that can detect when someone’s mind is being “read,” it cannot actually detect the one doing the “mind-reading.” Instead Garrett runs a variation of the old “It takes a thief to catch a thief” motif and we soon learn that is takes a telepath to catch another. This has been proven except that the only known telepath, a young man with an extremely low IQ, called by the now insensitive and politically incorrect label of “imbecile,” died six months previously. So Malone is tasked with finding another telepath.
He and his colleagues do manage to find not only one, but seven others, but there seems to be one major proviso; all telepaths are insane to one degree or another and the most reasonable one he finds is an elderly woman who thinks she is both immortal and Queen Elizabeth I. Ordered to humor her and “treat her like a queen,” Malone and everyone else involved must dress in Elizabethan costumes and address her as “Your Majesty,” but in return she knights the lot of them and promises them dukedoms in time.
Still, in spite of her delusion, she is rational enough to help Malone, although she has some plans of her own. The whole story is an amusing adventure that if you can get past the way mental illness was portrayed in 1959 is a fun ride and well worth the read.
Once again, Phil Chenovert delivers an excellent reading. I think Chenovert’s sardonic/sarcastic style fits Garrett’s humor perfectly although I think the reader toned that down a bit this time and it was only on listening a second time was I really aware of it after the first track. Chenovert keeps the tone light, to match the humor and odd situations. Sometimes that does not work, but this time it is a perfect match.
So, we have a quick and lots-of-fun story presented in a light-hearted manner by a reader who does that perfectly.