Metacritique of “The Third Bullet”: The Triumph of the Double in John Dickson Carr / Carter Dickson

You can not really say that “The Third Bullet ” by John Dickson Carr is a famous work , as  many other novels. The fact is that we are speaking about one of the most interesting works by Carr, not known like his large Rooms of the ’30s : The White Priors Murders , The Judas Window , The Three Coffins .
First, it is to say that by this work , there are two versions: the first , published on behalf of Carter Dickson , in 1937 , is longer than a short story : in essence a short novel. Then there’s another, published before in EQMM  of January 1948 , and after in an anthology , The Third Bullet and Other Stories , in 1954 , signed by John Dickson Carr , along with the stories The Clue of the Red Wig, The House in Goblin Wood (Sir Henry Merrivale ), The Wrong Problem (Dr. Fell ) , The Proverbial Murder” (Dr. Fell ) , The Locked Room ( Dr. Fell ) , and The Gentleman from Paris. The story in the original version has been republished in the 1991 collection , Fell and Foul Play .
The shortened version is explained by the fact that, to be included in the publication  E(llery) Q(ueen) M(ystery) M(agazine) , the story could not preserve its intact length (it was a short novel ) and for this Frederick Dannay (one of the two cousins ​​authors of Ellery Queen ) provided with the consent of Carr himself, as is explained in the bibliography of Carr signed by Douglas G. Greene .

The Third Bullet is a great locked room, meticulously constructed following the 20 rules for the construction of police, by S.S. Van Dine : a judge is killed in a pavilion. Nothing strange: things start to get complicated when you find that the likely murderess did not kill the judge and in addition to his weapon, in the same room , at the moment when he shot him, two other weapons shot, and between them one it’s to compressed air. If from a weapon didn’t you find the bullet , from other you found the bullet shot, but no the weapon. In other words a quadruple volatilization: weapon, bullet and two shooters, because in the moment in which the suspect, then arrested , shot lacking the judge , nobody saw other people. Coincidentally , however, on the the site of the shooting there were policemen that didn’t see shooters: one had control of the output from the pavilion (in the corridor ) and from there no one escaped; then the windows of the west side are so rusty and caked that not even Hercules would be able to open them. Yet, footprints are found there as if someone had come out from there , as the bullet, that nobody had found before, it’s found into the trunk of a tree , but it is not in a straight line from the point where it is supposed someone shot, but at the end of a curved trajectory . In short, a firework of riddles and impossible situations The long story is interesting in my opinion for other reasons, which at first glance would seem to be of very little importance.
First of all, the protagonist of this story is the Colonel Marquis: is a character who only appears in this work .. and then disappears. Or better .. Carr says that he would have been “ probably a mental forerunner of Colonel March”, but if it really was true, Colonel March, Head of ” Department of Queer Complaints ” like Carr told, he should have kept the characterizations of his progenitor; instead, to remember a possible filiation, is the group of three letters at the beginning of surname: Marquis – March.

The appearance of Marquis is very different from the appearance of Colonel March , head of Department D- 3 Queer Complaints , in which, however ( freckles , sideburns , mustache ) will accrue the characteristics of carrian Watson, Masters and Hadley ” a large, amiable man (weight seventeen stone)” : “…with his florid complexion, sandy moustache, and bland blue eyes…he was smooking a large-bowled pipe with the effect of seeming to sniff smoke from the bowl rather than draw it through the stem” ( J.D.Carr , The New Invisible Man, from the Collection Department of Queer Complaints) .

Moreover, as Merrivale was created looking at Churchill, and Fell, having to model Chesterton , in the case of March, it was created looking the character and the  personality of someone whom Carr knew well: a friend of his, John Rhode . Many times Carr borrowed in his novels, characters really existed : at The Bowstring Murders he created John Gaunt , probably remembering John of Gaunt , fourth son of Edward III , Duke of Lancaster and Aquitaine , founder of the eponymous real Lancaster family and guardian of Richard II , who will return in many novels by Paul Harding, pseudonym of Paul Doherty (series of Brother Athelstan ); and at the same The Burning Court, two characters mirrored the historical characters: Marie d’ Aubray, looked at the famous poisoner “La Marquise de Brinvilliers”, and Gaudan Cross , looked at the Knight Gaudin de Saint- Croix ( the french Croix means “Cross” in English); and Mark Despard – the neighbor of Edward Stevens, whose wife looks so disconcerting to the  ‘600 famous poisoner – who dies poisoned by a mysterious lady dressed in a gown century : Mark Despard let us remember the Desgrais or Desgrez or even Desprez ( Despard – Desprez ) , charming captain of some troops quartered near the convent , where he had the certainty that the poisoner had fled ( taking advantage of the extra- territoriality and of the right to asylum enjoyed by the ecclesiastical institutions ), who managed Brinvilliers to leave the convent, and stopped her.

In his turn, Marquis, is depicted so:  “On the edge of the Assistant Commisioner’s desk, a folded newspaper lay so as to expose a part of a headline: Mr Justice Mortlake Murdered. … On top of it was an official report sheet covered with Inspector Page’s trim handwriting. And of top of the report sheet, trigger guard to trigger guard, lay two pistols. One was an Ivor-Johnson .38 revolver. The other was a Browning 32 automatic of Belgian manufacture. Though it was not yet eleven in the morning, a raw and rainy day looked in at the windows over the Embankment, and the green-shaded lamp was burning above the desk. Colonel Marquis, the Assistant Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, leaned back at ease and smoked a cigarette with an air of doing so cynically. Colonel Marquis was a long, stringy man whose think and wrinkled eyelids gave him a sardonic look not altogether deserved. Though he was not bald, his white hair had begun to recede from the skull, a though in sympathy with the close cropping of the grey moustache. His bony face was as unmistakably of the Army as it was now unmistakably out of it; and the reason became plain whenever he got up – he limped. But he had a bright little ye, which was amused”. 

However, we can well say that the way at which Colonel Marquis is outlined in the course of the long story, takes into account the characteristics of other carrian characters . S.T.Yoshi will tell:

“Toward the end note is made of his “deplorable foundness for flourish and gesture”, but this is equally a trait of Bencolin, Fell, Merrivale, and even Rossiter and Gaunt” (S.Y. Joshi John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study (1990).

We can not be in agreement with Yoshi: in fact the Colonel Marquis follows many among the traits of the other most famous carrian detectives. For example, sometimes the Colonel, while he’s lame, indulges in disconcerting manifestations of joy. When Page understands that Marquis if he was not lame, he would start dancing, we could associate him to the typical manifestations from Dr. Fell; when Marquis is very elegant: “.. in dark blue coat and hat pearl gray, so that you tell how Colonel Marquis was a real appear”, in my opinion, we could look to the Juge d’Instruction Henri Bencolin.

The first thing that surprises us is the difference of the surname : Marquis , for us, looks at France, March  to England. Carr seems to have forgotten the foggy atmospheres and full of mystery of bencolinian Paris , looking rather to the ghosts from UK : we remember that when Hodder & Stoughton in London in 1937 published The Third Bullet, have already gone out for a short time the  great Carter Dickson’s novels ( The White Priors Murders , The Red Widow Murders , The Unicorn Murders , The Magic -Lantern Murders , The Peacock Feather Murders , and shortly thereafter released The Judas Window ), but also novels with Fell had been published (Death -Watch , The Three Coffins , The Arabian Night Murders ) .
This short novel , is the last great thought to France : with the transition to the hazy atmosphere of London, Colonel Marquis will turn into Colonel March . So you can just say that this story is a large pot ,in which many projects boil , so many characters , so many events : You can also find something of the earlier novels . For example, the lawyer Travers , who comes out from his office , whose only exit door is guarded by his secretary , coming down the fire-stairs of the building, in coat and cylinder , might remind us another character in coat and cylinder , in The Arabian Night Murders ( there will also have a false beard , a book of recipes next to a knife driven into the body).
In my opinion, the Colonel Marquis is still tied as genesis, to the French stage by Carr : Marquis could also be French name rather than British , and it could mean a title : Marquis . If Bencolin looked to Mephistopheles as his likely referent, Marquis instead which could be referring to?
Douglas G. Greene  traces the name by Marquis , in a deliberate carrian homage to Melville Davisson Post, because one of the his characters was called just Sir Henry Marquis . However, I believe that Carr might have looked to other, increasingly from French area : after all, what does a writer do,  to invent a character? He draws from his surroundings .

In the case of Marquis the reference, for me, is a coeval carrian novel : The Burning Court, 1937. One of the characters of the novel , the female character is Marie d’ Aubray that would appear to be the reincarnation of a famous poisoner of the seventeenth century, La Marquise de Brinvilliers , historical figure at the center of a murky affair of poisoning, one of the few representatives of the French aristocracy ( the time of Louis XV ), which has been entrusted to the secular arm : the Brinvilliers was tortured ( subjected to water torture ) and then burned : in French we would say ” La Marquise de Brinvilliers .” Possible that did Marquise turn into Marquis? Could be, although I think that The Third Bullet should be considered closely related to The Burning Court for other reasons : they are two contemporary works , in 1937 , and in both there are negative female characters : the first has hair blacks ( Carolyn Mortlake ) , the second has brown -blonde hair ( the Marquise de Brinvilliers ) , the first is lithe and lean , the second is plump and smaller in stature. Moreover, one of the reasons base of the short novel is the confrontation-clash between the two sisters Mortlake : between the black , impetuous , charming and vulgar Carolyn who from the beginning is referred to the black sheep , and the little fair-haired and gentle Ida, the prototype that the literature often transformed into a tiger . I would like to point out another feature that jumped in my eyes: both feminine figures of the two novels are similar, despite having different features . Marie d’ Aubray Marquise de Brinvilliers was a woman of insatiable sexual appetites , who on several occasions had incestuous relations with his brothers and had had many lovers including the last, fatal for her Jean -Baptiste Gaudin de Sainte -Croix ; also Carolyn Mortlake is a woman of insatiable appetites , that has had more lovers.

As the Marchioness of Brinvilliers as Carolyn Mortlake desperately need money , and both they have a father who loathes their love story, and tightens the purse strings : Dreux d’ Aubray, father of the Marchioness of Brinvilliers imprisones in the Bastille the Knight de Saint- Croix, and refuses to give her daughter the huge sums of money that she uses to satisfy her appetites , while the Judge Mortlake ago so that is imprisoned Gabriel White ( who just like the Knight of Saint- Croix, has noble origins , and whose original surname , begins at the same way: Croix – Cray ) and is presented in the novel as a father who coming to the knowledge of her turbulent loves,  hardly he would leave her any money in the testament:

Finally , another parallel : just as the Marchioness Brinvilliers is accused from the letters of confession found in a metal cassette in the rubble of the laboratory in which Saint- Croix, her lover, prepared the poisons which she needed to suppress her family, as well the same Gabriel White actually the son of the Earl of Cray , in a dramatic confrontation, accused her of being a murderer : ” .. I did not commit a murder. Given the circumstances, I will be forced to testify against you” ( Carter Dickson , op. cit. , p. 171).

If this was not enough to establish a clear parallel between the two novels , there would also be the further complaints by the two servants : in fact at The Third Bullet, the old keeper Robinson to which  an important pivot of the staging had been given, without he understood the purpose, is who makes the most tremendous “Je t’accuse” , against the murderer : ****** ” .. I know that I swore on the Bible that I would not have said a word to anyone, and I also said that , if I went to tell it, no one would believe me , but I have no desire to be hanged because of him ” (Carter Dickson , op. cit. , p. 172) , while at the case of La Marquise de Brinvilliers , to accuse her, is the faithful servant and accomplice , Jean Hamelin said “La Chaussée” , who reported to the authorities from the wife of Saint Croix, under torture, accuses her about serious crimes. Thus we see that The Third Bullet if individually is part of a remarkable example of Locked Room (the explanation is really extraordinary), broken down into its components, it can be identified as the second face of the same coin, of which the other side is represented by the other novel by 1937.

In The Bourning Court, the characterization and the characters are obvious, while in our they are masked. Why would Carr hidden this second nature of the characters? To subvert their rules, and return to the charming blonde women their place in society female. In fact at the end of the story, he writes: “..”In one way this has been a very remarkable case,” said Colonel Marquis. “I do not mean that it was exceptionally ingenious in the way of murders, or (heaven knows) that it was exceptionally ingenious in the way of detection. But it has just this point: it upsets a long-established and domineering canon of fiction. Thus. In a story of violence there are two girls. One of these girls seems dark-browed, sour, cold-hearted, and vindictive, with hell in her heart. The other is pink-and-white, golden of hair, innocent of intent, sweet of disposition, and (ahem) vacant of head. Now by the rules of sensational fiction there is only one thing that can happen. At the end of the story it is proved that the sullen brunette, who snarls all the way through, is really a misjudged innocent who wants a lot of children and whose hardboiled worldly airs are a cloak for a modern girl’s sweet nature. The baby-faced blonde, on the other hand, will prove to be a raging, spitting demon who has murdered half the community and is only prevented by arrest from murdering the other half. I glorify the high fates, we have here broken that tradition! We have here a dark-browed, sour, cold-hearted girl who really is a murderess. We have a rose-leaf, injured, generous innocent who really is innocent. Play up, you cads! Vive le roman policier! Ave Virgo! Inspector Page, gimme my hat and coat. I want a pint of beer” . A metaphor? Ave Virgo is the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary: and the Virgin Mary  is depicted in the European tradition with blond hair. It’s a revaluation by Carr about traditional image of women? Possible, bearing in mind the conservative nature of Carr. In my opinion, however, there is also something else: Carr with the double meaning given to the characters, means that the feminine nature has two different faces: the devilish and the angelic, and that it is not always said that the devil is truly such, and the angelic the same thing.
And then Marquis which is referring to? Why this name? Carr could not have looked, in-depth historical investigator, also to Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade, “ The Divine Marquis”? Marquis! But why the Colonel Marquis would have kept in mind the Marquis de Sade?Perhaps because the Colonel Marquis – as De Sade discovers the perverse ambivalent nature of human nature and of the female in particular, in “The Justine” and “Anti-Justine”, comparing the different personalities of the two sisters Justine and Juliette (the first image of virtue and his misadventures, the second that of the defect and its triumphs), so he reveals the nature of the two sisters, Ida and Carolyn, are profoundly different: the blonde angel in which Carr has restored once such expression is reversed in blonde lustful and perverse de La Marquise de Brinvilliers; the brunette who normally throws at the end of the cloak, and reveals a gentle creature and fond of children, is reflected in the nature of evil and impetuous Carolyn.The Bourning Court and The Third Bullet, compared, acquire depth meanings.
You may notice another important thing: in our opinion, the judgment that Carr put into Marquis mouth is actually his, is his conception of ethics: good always triumphs over evil. For this reason his Marquis is a double of the  Sadian Marquis: he discovers and does affirm the virtue over vice, not vice versa. But everything in this novel is twofold: First, the two sisters, Ida- Justine and Carolyn-Juliette are the doubles and are the doubles also because during the course of the novel they seem  be the double of themselves : Ida doesn’t seem be virtuous sister and  Carolyn doesn’t seem be the vicious sister; two sisters oppose the two suitors who are also themselves the doubles: White-Travers, and they  are so in relation to the double of their beloved women: it is almost a chiasmus. Travers is suspected to be involved and he’s not instead, White who seems to be out precisely because he is inside, instead .. Also White is the double of himself: White named, in reality he’s black inside. White is the personification of evil: he’s beautiful, he’s s noble, he’s s athletic, loves women, but he’s rotten inside.The novel is a double compared to The Bourning Court ( in which the double is obvious : Gaudin de la Croix/Gaudan Cross ; Marie d’ Aubray Marchioness de Brinvilliers/Marie d’ Aubray , the first reincarnation of the second , and then the double of herself , the doppelganger ; Desprez – Despard ) because it is based on the double Marie d’ Aubray/Carolyn Mortlake .
Double is also the volatilization : a bullet that is found (from air pistol), but not the corresponding weapon, the Browning gun is found while no the corresponding bullet. And if you see, double would have been the volatilization of the other two alleged shooters in the pavilion , and when you understand that the air pistol is out of the context of the other two weapons , these mean a double, to a character , White, who, in his nature , is the double of himself.In addition Marquis is almost double of Marquise. Without the intervention of double of Marquis, of carrian double Marquis against the Sadian Marquis, virtue would not have prevailed over vice; and the fact that Robinson did not fix the window, while in reality he says he did, shows how a double truth for once penalize evil instead good: it is as if the Fate, the Chance, the Divine Providence as is commonly call, had intervened to change the course of events: if there had not been, the window would be repaired and White could get rid of the gun, throwing it out the window: here, then, the ethical outburst by Carr. You would not understand, moreover, why Carr did invoke to the size of the detective novel. That is perhaps because it was published on EQMM and specifically it was reduced by two cousins QUEEN: even the 2 cousins Queen ​​are a triumph of double : double is the name because in Queen word there’s a double “E”, and “ u” and “n” are two letters of equal form but inverted, they are doubles because a surname shares two persons, two cousins ​​who both were born in the same year, in 1905. In addition Barnaby Ross is a double of Ellery Queen, and the double  is often present in their production, from The Siamese Twin Mystery to The Finishing Stroke, until The Greek Coffin Mystery, where two corpses  are found in the same coffin.
In short, a triumph of the double.

Vive le romance policier!

Pietro De Palma

Anthony Abbot : About the Murder of A Startled Lady ,1935

In America, at the time of Van Dine, Abbot was one of his most important followers.He wrote eight novels since 1930 :  About The Murder Of A Startled Lady, 1935, is the fifth.Anthony Abbot (very name Charles Fulton Oursler ) was a knowed writer and pressman: with other writers, connected to S.S. Van Dine, he partecipated to a legendary mystery (legend, certainly not a masterpiece, but more like a curiosity): the novel was born from a bet, in 1935, during a dinner with the then U.S. President Franklin  Delano Roosevelt. The same Abbot was present, which with his real last name was  Director of the New York Newspaper “Liberty”: He thought from the innocent subject of the U.S. President could have derived a novel, and then alerted a number of writers to write the chapters:  The first chapter was the turn of Rupert Hughes, Samuel  Hopkins Adam the second, then came the turn of the same Oursler; then succeeded the comedienne  Rita Weiman, and the famous S. S.Van Dine. Finally John Erskine.

The work was serialized in Oursler’s Liberty Magazine in 1935, and the book was published in 1936. After thirty years Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason) remembered the story and he wrote a final charter, an Appendix in which Perry Mason and Paul Drake pulled the threads of the story. The book was reprinted in 1967 and retitled The President’s Mystery Plot.

But we go back to our novel, to About The Murder Of A Startled Lady .The story begins with a seance: Mr and Mrs Lynn, self-styled spiritualist, refer to Professor Gilman, a scientist who converted himself to parapsychology, had learned from a spirit of a crime happened long before: a certain Madeline would have been killed, dissected and closed in a box thrown in the waters off a popular beach.
Thatcher Colt, High Commissioner and Chief of Police of New York, only for the sake, without believing all the mediums and the like, secretly sends his men and a diver to check the news, and to his astonishment, the case is found , and in it they find a totally decomposed corpse, a skeleton in short, at a lot of pieces: 200 or more bones.
In Colt’s own house is reassembled the skeleton, but are not data that may be valid for identification: the clothes are almost completely destroyed, the case is cheap, the victim’s teeth are perfect.
The victim was shot through the forehead, and in fact the skull is a rattling noise when you shake: is the bullet of a caliber 32. And since it does not appear to have been any complaints regarding disappearance of a young woman, Colt decides to rely to Imro Fitch, a failed sculptor but a genius at the same time that mixing anthropomorphic knowledge and sensibility of an artist basing on accurate anthropometric relationships, reconstructs the face as it presumably would have been.

Fitch makes a true work of art and life to the skeleton. Also, basing on the few remnants of clothing, he find any similar clothing, one that should have been wearing Madeline in his last days of life. From here begins the survey itself: you get to the victim’s identification: Madeline Swift, 22 years.
Close relatives of the girl revealed a strongly suppressed family. Father and paternal grandfather fanatical religious: the grandfather, manufacturer of amulets; the father, a dealer in sheet music and records; her mother, a milliner, enslaved to his father; her sister, Verna, had been hospitalized for exhaustion nervous. In short, an environment that could not stand the exuberance of Madeline, girl described so old too modern for that environment (a reaction?): Smoked, drank and collected stories of love. Until .. until you fell in love with a certain Alfred Keplinger, a university student. And here was derived from a furious argument with his father, who did not want her daughter frequented such an individual .. Well .. the first motives emerge and the first suspect.
Apparently the girl was frightened by whom? It is not known. He said that a mysterious person followed her: policemans find a taxi driver who had brought the girl, but he does not know where she went but he knows from where he had taken her in the car: the house is that of an influential Democratic politician, Daniel O ‘Toole, connected to the District Attorney, whose elections are short term.
Then, interrogating Keplinger, we learn that he was a medical student, who tells how her Madeline was misunderstood. But does not say everything. Colt finds out and put under surveillance, the switchboard of the building where home is here and confirmed his suspicion: the young man talks to his sister he did not say anything. Bottom line: Keplinger is stopped.

From the investigation you transpire that some of his entourage and even a politician, harbored resentment. And that the same seance had been rigged: Colt discovers that the voice had revealed to the medium where to find the chest with human bones, he had not felt in a trance nor had dreamed, but had a presence in her room . The strange thing is that when she heard these things she was alone: there was no one else, not even her husband, and the door was closed by a bolt inside. An inspection is done: if at first you think of a concealed microphone and connected to the antenna cable, it turns out that the branch was covered with a cobweb, a sign that was placed at the corner of the window at an earlier time ‘arrival of Lynn. This leads to looking further at Colt’s room, finding a removable panel and a hole in it that communicates with the adjacent apartment. So as you can see, many suspects and little evidence. Colt understands who the murderess, but has no evidence. Then he tries going for broke: relying on improvisation. Who could he be?

Abbot begins this novel, the same way as “About the Murder of the Clergyman’s Mistress” her second novel, in which a corpse is found not identified. Since the discovery begin the investigation: the atmosphere in both is left with the tips of “macabre” in “About the Murder of a Startled Lady” quite pronounced tones reach. However, if we could say that the beginning is much the same, from that moment on, the two novels differ considerably.
Let’s say that the murderess is imagined long before those who may be: Abbot differs quite significantly from the earlier novels, where the revelation came in the final pages.
It’s common knowledge fact that the Abbos novels follow two distinct ways of conceiving: the first four novels (all written before 1932) are more or less all attributable to vandinian writing (plot very spectacular revelations in the last pages, detailed descriptions, investigations in well-defined structure of the novel in which you give a lot to the deduction of the subject and little scientific evidence): About the Murder of Geraldine Foster (1930), About the MUDER of the Clergyman‘s Mistress (1931), About the Murder of the Night Club Lady (1931), About the Murder of the Circus Queen (1932). Those that are written after 1935, though they differ: plot less spectacular but more complex, the deduction is put into a corner in favor of a survey tighter, the style is less elaborate and more fluid, the scientific evidence are more and more police in the investigation: About the Murder of a Startled Lady (1935), About the Murder of a Man Afraid of Women (1937), The Creeps (1939), The shudders (1943).

The abandonment of Vandinian writing you can clearly also constructive abandonment of the formula of the title, which is typical of both novels greatly SS Van Dine, Ellery Queen both of those up in Halfway House, The House of the Metamorphoses (whose first title was supposed to be The Mystery Swedish Match): if it is visible from 1937, it is equally true that even before Abbot that date had changed his style in the making of a detective story: the police investigation more space (formerly Abbot tends to differ from Queen and Van Dine, when he created his first novel, because the protagonist is not an amateur educated, snobbish, even as the Chief of Police: Van Dine if the Police were represented by the investigator who had shoulder if anything, true deus ex machina of the survey, the figure of the District Attorney Markham, Ellery Queen and the investigator father, an Inspector of Police, and if other authors, born in the wake of Vandinian writing, the first detective was still a detective from the wealthy, educated, and that helps the police (Rufus King, Stacey Bishop, Rex Stout , Rufus Gillmore), we must recognize that the Abbot had opened another branch which shall Vandinian conform other authors, for example, the Lord Lieutenant of King Charles Daly, whose first novel was in 1932, Obelists at Sea and ‘curious experience, but clearly shows a change of taste from the abundant second half of the thirties, the fact that Abbot, both Ellery Queen,  C.Daly King is the same, all authors born in the wake of Vandinian writing pure mutate the way to build title of the novel: in fact even C.Daly King, which we discuss in more detail one day, until 1935, the word “Obelists” follows the noun and identifies the novel, but dating from 1937, the novel’s title changes. In fact, in that year, C.D.King changes the manner to name his novels: Careless Corpse: A Thanatophony.

What emerges from About The Murder Of A Startled Lady, is the investigative action that is not exclusively the investigator on duty, what is the summation of a series of parallel investigations that can be misleading but also tangible results: Abbot opens in essence a kind of Procedural, which alleviates a lot of reading, as though not a Hard Boiled, approaches him greatly, as “acting” is unclear how this new genre in some writers tend to influence the creative outcomes: However, if the reading is much easier, it is equally true that the spectacle of the plot undergoes a decisive blow: the atmosphere is never the same criminal who can be expected and found in his first two novels, or even in the third.
The novel was nevertheless, as we said in the presentation, chosen by Roland Lacourbe for his “99 Novels for a Locked Room Library”: so there is a Locked Room? Yes, but although important for the solution to the developments that follow, however, is not closely related to the crime itself: if I have to express myself, in my opinion the choice of this closed chamber seems to have been a little ‘forced as if it were another story for all of these could be fully inserted in the list. Moreover, the presence of a hole that communicates with the other room, hidden by a removable panel, inside a closet, it seems a particularly pretty laughable, because you can talk about Locked Room: it is as if they would introduce Also amble of the secret passages, ways to get himself between the hook!
However, the manifest impossibility is given by a bolt inside the door that closes, the absence of other people across the medium, that might connect any microphone to the radio antenna cable had not been found and that There was even a cobweb on copper cable outside the box to signify that no one had busy for a long time, long before they got to live there the Lynn. The presence of a web logically remember us a Paul Halter’s novel, that is clearly derived from this: La toile de Penelope in which a spider web on a window, however, is directly connected to the closed chamber.

If, however, I doubt that this closed chamber could in effect compete with all other submitted on that list, however, is primarily a psychological reasoning: Carr, although the U.S. was British by adoption, and the British were behind a whole literature supernatural (Fantasy literature, gothic ghost story) whereby the impossible situation of a Locked Room, if it is subsequently reduced to rational bounds of reason (except to propose a parallel solution Court in The Witches), initially with good reason may have a characterization of the supernatural: it is realized so that clash between opposing natures, which causes an interesting development of the action in the plot. Therefore even a development as that established by Abbot, if it was practiced by Carr, maybe, just maybe, however, could have an excuse. Instead, for Abbot, U.S., too, Thatcher Colt is a character too rationalistic and too contemptuously antispiritualist because a gimmick like “seance” might here, in this novel, could to have an influence on the reader, and on the novel’s atmosphere. So if it occurs a seance in Christie or  Carr, the reader feels a certain uneasiness, if the same occurs in Abbot, at least in these early novels, the reader does not think the slightest possibility that the seance may have been true, it assumes that the voice heard was the product of some device hidden.
That’s because being the same impossible situations, for me is much more interesting as a Locked Room, the one in About the Murder of the Night Club Lady (1931) which, although resulting from the trick invented by Edgar Wallace at The Four Just Men (1905 ), it differs a lot.

Pietro De Palma

Christianna Brand : Heads You Lose, 1941

The first novel by Christianna Brand, with the Inspector Cockrill was Heads You Lose, written in 1941. Before it, in the same year, Christianna, had made ​​her debut with Death in High Heels, a novel who had given her a warm reception and that was served to spur, when she was still working as a clerk, convincing her to continue her career as a writer.

It’s a novel of impossible crimes, subtly macabre , veined by the veil of madness and in any case by the oddity that gives the novel its own special charm.
Stephen Pendrock is the squire of the village. Grace Morland is a painter, who now is talking to him on the terrace of his house. She is in love with him, maybe yes maybe no, but certainly she would like to live the rest of her life with him in Pigeonsford. The fact is that Stephen, so measured, so sober, and also so mature, secretly loves Fran, one of the nephews by Lady Hart that he is hosting in his mansion. Fran, however, is so young, so saucy, that Stephen is in doubt whether he really, fifty, may be of interest for her: his at the moment is a platonic love and does not know if it will ever become something else.
Grace paints at different times of the day, the landscapes that attract the most her: from the Stephen house’s terrace she can paint enjoying the best scenery, but she knows to be tolerated; nevertheless she imposed her presence, that for kindness has not been refused. She immediately has notice that Stephen only has his eyes for Fran, despite also James Nicholl is interested to her, young and wealthy bachelor. And because she is jealous of Stephen, really wants to despise the only thing that Fran has proven to be enthusiastic, a charming hat, that she makes everyone see: to her grandmother, Lady Hart; to her sister Venetia and to his brother-in-law Henry Gold, rich jew; to Stephen Pendrock; and Grace, who is there to paint, which says that not even dead in a ditch, she would like wear on the head a hat like that!

At that night her corpse is found, at the property belonging to the mansion, just in a ditch, with the Fran’s hat pulled down over her head , by the old butler Bunsen, who went in bycicle to visit his sister, and was returning to Pigeonsford. The shocking fact, that leaves everyone aghast, is that Grace Morlan has not only been killed, but also beheaded; and that on her head, as a kind of scarring, the reviled hat was pulled down on her head. It ‘obvious that only a few people were aware of what Gracehad said, and always the same people only knew where the hat had been placed, in what place of the house: so it is clear that if an offender must find, he must be found in the house.

The Inspector Cockrill, known familiarly as “Cockie” from the occupants of the house, because inhabitant in those zones, of this he is especially convinced: he was deeply disturbed at the sight of the Grace’s body, also because he had known Grace Morlan in his youth: “a sentimental goat “was for him, and then he had never had any stimulus affective against him although she had on several occasions attempted to be seduced. The sad fate of Grace: although she had tried to avoid being “old maid” for the rest of her life, no one had ever shown affectionate feelings towards her. Perhaps for her acidity that she showed at the first opportunity. The fact is that now she is dead. And too bad.
The firstalarm bellforCockie, isthe phone call thatcomesto policeand which comesfrom the house ofPendrock: to talk about isa woman,who claims to bethe killer, and claims that soonFranalsodie. Cockrillmust find the killer before he/she killsagain; andsince also the summer before, ascullery maid, after saying goodbye toher lover, had been foundin the groveof the estate,with his hands tiedbehind his back andhis headsevered from the bodybya sharp sickle, left thereclosely,thething becomes damnly urgent.. It’very strange thatafter oneyearare foundtwoheadless corpsesin the sameestate.

Another character peeks at the death of Grace: is her half-sister Pippy Le May, actress.
Pippy Le May subtly hated half-sister. When the crime took place she was far away and therefore it’s not a good reason she can be concerned. Pippy who is awake, saw something in that house, and really wants to take advantage. He’s going to blackmail someone? But also she is soon killed in a horrible way, beheaded. Near the tracks. It’s as if someone with an enormous force, he tore the collar from the trunk, leaving no footprints in the snow. If on the severed head from Grace had been put the Fran’s hat, now around the Pippy’s mangled neck the murderer put the scarf of the woman. In short, three people were beheaded, in less than a year. Everything revolves around this house, a cursed house.

Cockrill investigates but soon he finds himself up against a wall of silence: someone must have been in the house, certainly, to kill Grace Morland, perhaps Pippy Le May, and perhaps also the scullery maid killed at the year before. Covering each other the occupants of the house, it becomes extremely difficult to nail down the murderer to his/her responsibilities: in this situation, the virtually unassailable alibi make these last two crimes “impossible” to have occurred. 

Of course it is strange to happen three crimes, all with the same characteristics,at the same place! Cockrill thinks and makes his conjectures, but to remove the wall created from the members of the house around them, each other, is no small thing. It seems they want to believe that the person responsible has come from the outside, but even they are reliable. In fact, as the Grace murder is at least strange, for the detail of the hat, that one hand at the same time mocking and mad, trod on the severed head by the painter, a sign that someone by force, even though all deny it, and no one saw anything, he/she must be returned to the home, stealing the hat from the box where it was put, and have it taken away, even the Pippy murder someone can not say that it is not curious: Pippy has returned to his home, but has forgotten her glasses at Pendrock’s home and then she has reported to her maid she would return there to take the glasses; but she has not returned. This thing reconnect the crime at Pendrock home. In this case, however, the detail that makes it all the more difficult, is that around the body there are not footprints but an expanse of untouched snow: how did the murderer to kill Pippy?

In a whirlwind of blows, Cockrill will nail the murderer, less guilty than we would think, for the murder of two cousins​​, but not for that of the scullery, of which will be blamed another person. Before it will make the name of a lot of persons as the killer: Trotty, the maid; Pippy (for Grace); the true killer; Lady Hart. Why, if did you mention the name of the murderer (by Cockrill, which he considers responsible, and of which he explains the actions and the guilt), then was another person accused? Because here Christianna Brand resorts to a trick she will use other times, for example in Tour de Force: to indicate the real murderer, then to invent another solution that put him in the shade, and then to return on his culpability.
Again, Christianna Brand surprises and charms. And once again, a hallmark of his narrative style, are the multiple solutions, which succeed each other, and the multiple culprits are indicated and discarded from time to time; but also the multiple identities of the same people, as we have already seen in other novels, for example in Tour de Force. But since this is the first novel, it is even more special.

The identification of the murderer comes almost unexpected. I say almost, because the careful reader (who had read the other novels in which a certain particular uses) may have been suspicious for a certain thing (which I do not mention, otherwise it is as if I took the name of the murderer). This thing, however, occurs in other novels: it reminded me Helen McCloy, about his masterpiece about the Doppelganger; and, above all, in the same way, in one of the masterpieces by Paul Halter, Le Brouillard Rouge. In other words, the murderess is not fully responsible, because he’s crazy, and after killing, he does not remember anything: it is as if he had acted in a state of trance, because epilepticus. Now, crazy killers in the novels of Halter, there are several, but, in that novel, the murderer, and his “modus operandi” are shown twice: first mentions about a certain thing he does, and then, in another step of the novel, takes this action in particular juncture that described before, but explaining it in all its horrible significance. Here, the same thing happens.
Another interesting thing, because it will also be used later, is the presence of a prologue: we will see a similar thing for example in Death of Jezebel.

Finally, there is the use of solutions that contemplate the locked rooms : in this case, it is explained by referring to the gymnastic skills by the killer (Carr already had experimented this, for example, in The Footprint in the Sky), in a way specifically, it will be taken verbatim from Joseph Comming in one of his stories; and much later, in a novel by William De Andrea: Killed on the Rocks, at a similar. But the really interesting thing is that in this novel, there are three victims and two separate killers. What does it mean? Christianna Brand that is inclined to the extreme originality, and for not bind the chariot to anyone, already in his first work. Which also reveals a great self-confidence. Moreover, the ploy, let’s face it, is the real “coup de theater” of the novel.

Finally, there is the use of solutions that contemplate the locked rooms: in this case, it is explained by referring to the gymnastic qualities by the killer (Carr already had experimented this, for example in The Footprint in the Sky), in a way specifically, it will be taken verbatim from Joseph Comming in one of his stories; and much later, in a similar manner at a novel by William De Andrea: Killed on the Rocks. But the really interesting thing is that in this novel, there are three victims and two separate killers. What does it mean? Christianna Brand is inclined to the extreme originality, and for not bind the chariot to anyone, already in his first work. Which also reveals a great self-confidence. Moreover, the ploy, let’s face, it is the real “coup de theater” of the novel. If Agatha Christie, on two occasions, had given a shove to the classic Whodunnit (before in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and after in Mrs McGinty’s Dead), also regulated strictly by SS Van Dine, in the case of Christianna Brand, the thing is more remarkable because it is performed on the occasion of her debut: while Van Dine, in order not to confuse the reader had forbidden that there was in an enigma novel over a murderer, here there are two!

I must note at this point that I was surprised by some comments by Christianna Brand when she describes Henry Gold, the jew husband of Venetia (Henry “Gold”, mind you): describes him as anti-Semitic propaganda of the that time described the Jews. The particularly strange is that it comes from a writer of Anglo-Saxon origin, a sign that this cultural setting was not own  of certain individuals identified politically and geographically, but that the same cultural setting was more widespread than you think.

Already in his first novel of the Inspector Cockrill series, Christianna Brand sets up spectacular stagings, in the case of the murder of the scullery maid, and in the case of the murder of Grace and Pippy. But it happens also at her other novels (for example, Death of Jezebel and Tour de Force) and at some of her short stories (for example The Gemminy Cricket Case).

Finally,a characteristic thing:in somenovels byChristiannaBrand,the victims arebeheaded. It does not happenonlyinthis her first macabre divertissement,butalsoinDeath of Jezebel. I believe that this can probably be related also with the fact thatChristianna Brand was born in Malaysia, Borneo, where the dajachi practiced the beheading of enemies: this horrible practice may be stuck in her mind and then reproduced in her “crimes of paper”.

Pietro De Palma

Noël Vindry : Le Piège aux diamants, 1933

Noel Vindry is a historical figure of the French enigma novel to and in particular of the Locked Room.

Born in 1896 in Haute-Savoie and died in Paris in 1954, he, a lawyer and then a judge, created a character in which he transfused his own business, giving it a great calm, reflection and ability to thoroughly analyze a problem; a great culture, combined with a love for good food; and making it a great pipe smoker. In essence, at the character of the judge Allou you can easily notice the letters of at least six great detective, before his appearance. Vindry handed thirteen published novels, with the judge Allou, all locked room. Of these, very few have been reprinted in modern times, and in the market of antiques and collectibles books, the Vindry’s novels being hard to find , they are also quite expensive.

It’s good to anticipate here that the protagonist of Le Piège aux diamonds is not so much the Judge Allou, the protagonist of the novels, as his colleague Dampierre, in charge of the investigation. Allou, appears at a later time, as in the first novel by Carter Dickson with HM, and then becomes the “deus ex machina” of the reconstruction and the final solution.
The main actors in the drama are three members of a company port: Flavio Dancour, his brother Paul and André Caroux. The original owner is Flavio but soon realizing that he had undertaken a task beyond his strength, he is associated with a friend and his brother Paul. The two, to enrich themselves behind the ingenuous Flavio, fraudulently make sure that his business go to hell and longer grant him a loan that they know will never be honored. So, soon, against Flavio is issued an arrest warrant for fraudulent bankruptcy. Only in extremis his brother Paul repents, and also if he is miserly and stingy, he gives his support of seventy-five thousand francs to Flavio and the possibility of escape by speedboat, since for the French law, the domicile was inviolable from dusk until dawn: then Dalcour, unless he deliver him to the police, he will be arrested at dawn, and until that time the commissioner Laurent and agents will surround the house to prevent any person who was in that house, to get out without being they intercepted. During the siege, Flavio will be seen looking out of the window and answer the call to police to surrender and he will be seen by an agent, climbed right under the window, before sitting at a table, then at a second time, on the ground. The fact is that before it is seen on the ground, you can hear clear a gunshot, then saw the body of Flavio is on the ground and then you are inclined to think that he killed himself. Instead, all is not well.

In fact, despite the shooting, the police did not enter at the house because the door is provided with lock detail. However, they see a car approaching more and more: is Dr. Rufare, a friend of the victim, who frightened by the sound of footsteps at the house he asked him to come right away. However, no one can be released, because there is a police cordon around. But when they enter, and they find Dacour lying on the ground, the doctor, visiting him attests that he was killed with a blunt instrument that fractured his skull. While the doctor is visiting the body, the police and the inspector search the house, while the son of the doctor is on the doorstep, unable to bear the sight of a corpse.
They do not find anybody. Neither the gun. Nobody can be escaped, because the output was manned by Pierre, the son of Rufare. So what? How did the murderer to escape?

To first mystery , others mysteries add.
The doctor says he saw in Dalcour’s home, 5 wonderful blue brights, estimated three hundred thousand francs, which the victim had apparently hoped to take away with him. But the 5 brilliant are not: they were in a box of iron, which opened with a device to be activated by a secret mechanism. But brights and litter box are not: the crime is the result of a theft? The murderer is the thief?
The police examines the housemaid of Dalcour grown from a few days to service of Caroux: she may have been to steal the diamonds. The police did not believe her words and stops her. The fact is that the police is convinced there are two culprits: the murderer and Janet Arlaud, the maid. Why the fingerprints found on a silver candlestick, do not belong to any of the suspects, nor to Janet ?
A few days later, was found dead Paul Dalcour, brother of Flavio: it was found in his poor room (he was not poor, but lived as a poor man for not spending money) closed from the inside, asphyxiated by gas; on the table a letter in which he proclaims himself murderer of his brother. Only that the fingerprints on the lamp are not his

Raises another important fact now: Flavio, eight days before his death he had sold the diamonds to his brother Paul, in exchange for a check for two hundred and fifty francs. Why then Rufare said to have seen them at the home of Flavio? While the housemaid says he does not see at least two more weeks, the time would coincide with the sale of the same? Flavio not sold them, and then the news is false, or Flavio sold them and Rufare lied. But why? Rufare be unrelated to the crime: it was found the phone call from his friend was made. Why Dalcour would call his own murderer? But then how would he kill him, if he there was not when Dalcour died? No, it is an assumption that does not hold. Rufare must be stranger.
How unusual and a source of doubt is the matter of Paul Dalcour. Why he would be declared responsible for the death of his brother if he had given a check for two hundred and fifty francs, compared with five brilliant? And even more strange is the matter of the murder: why would have been killed if he had not already more diamonds? Perhaps the killer did not know, a killer still unknown in the affair.

A new twist explodes. The police received an anonymous phone call, and listens for two thieves who have completed a burglary in the apartment and the house is of Caroux: they are taking away a litter box, which is recognized by Rufare, like that of his friend Dacour. After having made her break into, there are inside, dipped in cotton wool, five brilliant blue. Possible consequence? If Caroux had the brilliants, it is clear that he is the murderer. It always raises the question: how did he make? Caroux is stopped: thief and murderer are the same person. Or so it would seem.
But a new upheaval happens: the five brightest, analyzed, are fake: why Caroux would kill Dalcour? For five blue false brilliant ? Caroux did not know it? And why had Dalcour 5 fake brilliants, the real ones when he sold to his brother, now missing?
A jeweler presents and spontaneously over to the police a bright, which was purchased by him at the home of an old hag, the housekeeper of Paul Dalcour, Natalie. In short, a new character enters the story: what is her role?

How did she get hold of brilliant? Possible that his master, miserly and stingy even on his deathbed (he went to bed early so as not to consume the light, and saved money about the ink and the nib, and used as letterhead that obtained from other sheets already used) he said this to her, and he trusted her so much?
Caroux before he declares alien to each other, then calls into question Rufare and Janet. Rufare, when pressed, reveals the true purpose by Dalcour, who had “forced” to stay rather than flee immediately: to grope a scam, selling his friend, but also member of Caroux in financial transactions on the edge of legality, the five pieces of glass cleverly counterfeited.
The investigations are at stalemate, because if it is true that Caroux was arrested on charges of theft, there is no evidence that he killed Dalcour, nor the police have evidence to prove it.

Enters the scene at this point the judge Allou, a friend of a cousin of Judge Dampierre, who, not wanting to humiliate his colleague, he prefers to be the one to deduce, after collecting the evidence. Allou is already well known for having brilliantly solved the unsolved cases of Locked Room. After he has asked questions that no one had place (Dalcour had a life insurance? Who made the call to police that he allowed to block the two thieves? Really are the brilliants the motive of the murder?) Allou causes the action of his colleague. The investigations identify the mysterious informant in the person of Dr. Rufare: how did he know that Caroux had stolen the diamonds? Rufare is included in the investigation, the fingerprints are taken, and hi..these fingerprints are those found on the candelabra. Reversal of the situation: Caroux is no longer the murderer, but only the thief; Rufare is the murderer. But how did he make? And why did Paul Dalcour declare himself the brother’s killer?

Allou offers his truth: Rufare would not kill but only attempted extortion. But then who was it? And how did he do? In a succession of pyrotechnic events and revelations, Allou identifies the murderer, the role of an accomplice, the mystery of the disappearing of the gun, of other four brilliant and of the check of two hundred fifty thousand francs.
Pyrotechnical novel, it offers a continuous inversion of roles and situations, coming at the end of the novel to propose a shocking hypothesis: is the murder a murder? Or is it a suicide? And the suicide is real or is it a homicide? The all being able to reconstruct exactly the story and the role of each protagonist. The continuous turbillon of events, revelations and contra revelations that cancel the previous, create a disorientation of the reader who, captivated by events, is unable to understand anything. Truly, an extraordinary novel !
Moreover, the involvement of Rufare in the story is expressed in a sham: the steps that Dalcour had heard, they are just a red herring, for … But why? How is not he the murderer if on the candlestick there were his prints? But did Dalcour die by a skull’s fracture or not? And why did Rufare certify the death by Dalcour? And why did the autopsy reveal the true fracture? A lot of questions !
Let us remember that the novel, the third in the succession of twelve by Vindry, is of 1933.

In 1941, Agatha Christie will give to the story a novel that will be remembered and will affect all the gender: Evil Under The Sun. Do you remember the trick of the novel? Well, I think the basic idea is brought forward in this, neither more nor less. Possible that Christie has adapted the idea by Vindry, modifying her plot? Very possible, I would say, i.e. strangely also that from a novel by Steeman, Six hommes morts, finds itself in her masterpiece, Ten Little Niggers, and in that by Bristow & Manning, The Invisible Host.

In my opinion we should analyze the work of Christie in light of the influence by the French novel. No coincidence that she recognized the enormous influence that gave to her ambition to write novels, Le mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux. In fact, the ascertainment of death in the novel by Agatha Christie leads to a series of consequences, because death has not yet occurred; while in the novel by Vindry the death occurred, but the finding of it, it is carried out with a different procedure consequential. However, the basic idea is the same: a false assessment carried out on a dead body and that does the investigating person when he dismissed the present.

And Vindry? Undoubtedly already in this novel we find a theme hewill use in one of his later masterpieces, La Bête hurlante: the fact that the house is surrounded by a cordon of police determines that it is impossible that the murderer was able to escape. But we also find features related to other French novelists of the period: the fact that the center of the plot there is not a psychological characterization of the characters but the enigma: it’s the enigma, the center of everything, around which moves the story. In itself the psychological characterization is almost nothing and also the smallness of the actors of plot makes the action focuses exclusively on the history, a procedure which is also shown by Boileau. It ‘s obvious that Vindry is raised in a manner antithetical to Simenon, for which, instead, the enigma is not the focus of the story but only one piece, and the center of everything instead is the psychology of the characters.

For the specialist in crime fiction Roland Lacourbe, Vindry is the French equivalent of John Dickson Carr.

I think otherwise. In my opinion, Vindry more than to be the equivalent of John Dickson Carr, he is the equivalent of Clayton Rawson. As Clayton Rawson in the atmosphere is not the best, so it happens in the novels by Vindry, where yet the quality of the plot and the solution are of the highest quality, of extreme virtuosity. Almost more than in Carr, as happens for example in my opinion in the novels by Rawson.

If Vindry is close to Carr, his character Mr. Allou is close above to Bencolin and this can be inferred from a fact: Vindry began writing in 1931, while the first novel of Carr is from 1930 In both, the protagonist is a judge, even more juge d ‘instruction: he solves the mystery. The first Bencolin’s adventures among which, the first novel, are Locked Rooms[1]: by which cases does Allou occupe? Locked rooms. Vindry is cloose to Carr and Rawson also for another matter: to arrive to a solution, they (but also Boileau) reverse the situation and the thinking. Gideon Fell, Merlini and Allou have the ability to break away from the real world and look at the sequence of events as if their spirit had soared astrally, breaking away from the materiality of earthly events.

However, when this reversal of perspective happens, it also increases the virtuosity of the investigation. In the moment in which Allou takes into account a different solution, it doesn’t happen that the effects are more linear but the opposite. So in his investigation to prove incontrovertibly a certain fact and arrive at a plausible solution, instead of simplifying things, they tend to become more complex. It follows that the reasoning to solve all should be of the highest quality.

I also get a quote from Chesterton, in the novel of Vindry. In fact, the letter in which Paul accuse himself of being the murderer of his brother is actually a fragment of a longer letter, properly cut, as in The Wrong Shape, at The Innocence Of Father Brown by Gilbert Chesterton.

We must say, however, that Vindry, unlike Agatha Christie and once again as Carr and Rawson, he does not cheat in anything the reader: the framework of the facts is absolutely what is before the eyes de judge, what changes is the perspective from which he is looking at the problem and the ability to imagine, moving away from the real.
And in some ways Vindry, realizes something of his own, a feature very personal, in his to make difficult the easy thing: unlike all the common detectives who seek in every way to simplify the sequence of events, reducing the factors to a minimum, Vindry realizes an absurdum: explain the unexplainable, making it even more abstruse and denser of recondite implications, and at the same time explaining and giving to the whole, a meaning.

Pietro De Palma

[1] Pietro De Palma: La prima produzione di John Dickson Carr : i 4 racconti di Bencolin

http://blog.librimondadori.it/blogs/ilgiallomondadori/2009/09/07/la-prima-produzione-di-john-dickson-carr-i-quattro-racconti-di-bencolin/

Pietro De Palma short story : Senator Banner’s Death

Exceptionally, today I don’t post on my blog an article critical about a novel, but a short story I wrote several years ago, translated into american language a few years ago, at the request of an acquaintance of mine, because it could have been inserted in an anthology of pastiches dedicated to Ellery Queen. The anthology has not been realized, and then today I publish my short tribute: it is an  Ellery Queen apocryphal adventure , with a variation of “Locked Room”. I think it’s quite enjoyable. Happy reading.

Senator Banner’s Death

by

Pietro De Palma

Ellery was still sleeping when the doorbell rang. Sergeant Velie and Policeman O’Rourke were there, looking for his father.

  • “Inspector Queen is here?”
  • “Heck, what’s the matter on this Sunday morning?”
  • “Inspector, the D.A. wishes to see you in a hurry.”
  • “But what’s so pressing to knock me out of the bed at 8:30 of a Sunday morning?”
  • “Murder! Senator Banner was killed.”
  • “Listen to this!”

Half an hour later the Inspector said to the filipino servant:

  • “When Ellery wakes up, send him to…”
  • “I’m ready, Pa’.”

Ellery fully dressed and with the usual fisherman’s cap on his head, was already at the door.

  • “I heard the conversation and I dressed immediately. Let’s go.”

Together the fours went to Senator Banner’s.

The house was built on the 6th Avenue and was more a villa then a mansion, with Palladian features like Jefferson’s home: in fact it was built at the beginning of the 19th century.

Inside a crowd of policemen, people of the forensic department and homicide squad where waiting for their arrival. Someone was checking the fingerprints and others were questioning the witness.

A policeman with a mop of blond hairs stopped them.

- “Where are you going?”

- “I’m Inspector Queen. The D.A. Fallagan sent for me.”

- “Sorry. You are awaited there”, and pointed out to an open door. No, the door was really flung open or better was thrown away on the side.

Ellery asked:

  • “Did you break the door down to enter, didn’t you?”
  • “Yes, indeed. But who are you, Mister? Asked the D.A.”
  • “He’s my son”, answered Inspector Queen. – “He solved the case of the “Dancing Dead”, do you remember?”
  • “Ah…that’s him”, he mumbled, looking Ellery up and down.
  • “Don’t take offence, Inspector, but your son doesn’t seem to me a smart one.”
  • “Yes, I agree. But at the right moment nobody can stop him.”
  • “Speaking of the door, why did you break it?”, asked Ellery.
  • “It was closed from inside!”, said another guy with a trench coat and a fedora on his head in Bogart’s style.
  • “I wonder why people wish to dress that way…”.
  • “Listen to who’s talking!”, replied the guy with the Bogart’s attire. “You seem to me like a fisherman who forgot his rod and wading boots.”
  • “But who are you?”
  • “I’m Commissioner Brady.”
  • “Mmm, the famous Commissioner Brady. Haven’t you retired?”
  • “I won’t let you use this tone, young man!”
  • “Ok, Ok, don’t get angry!”

Inspector Queen gave him a nod to let the matter go.

  • “Where is the Senator?”

They pointed out to a body lying under a sheet. A stout man in a purple dressing – gown, lay lifeless on the floor, a little bullet hole on the right temple.

  • “He shot himself in the head” – said one of the presents,

pointing out to a .22.

Ellery sniffed the barrel: the gun had undoubtedly fired shortly before.

  • “Case solved”, exclaimed Richard Queen.
  • “Why did you summon us?”
  • “Well, actually there’s something…”, said the Commissioner.
  • “The Senator was left-handed, so he would have shot himself on the left temple. Besides, some months ago he had suffered from a hemi paresis on the right side, so…he would have used the left hand.”

The Inspector objected:

  • “But if he had half turned the trunk, he would have been able to shot himself on the right temple!”
  • “You are in the right, Dad, but the bullet would’ve followed a different trajectory, hadn’t it?”
  • “Yes, son, but what does it mean?”
  • “The Senator was killed in a room closed from the inside, and him alone could close or open it. Naturally you did not found some kind of a hideout where someone could have lie in wait…”.
  • “No, in this room there aren’t hiding-places. But the earth place in the hall has a secret door that goes nowhere; the ceiling has crumbled long time ago, judging by cobwebs.”

Ellery looked around. It was a studio with two great windows with bars on. He tried them ascertaining that they were made in solid wrought iron. No signs that they had been removed and then cemented back in place.

  • “So the room was locked from inside?”
  • “Sure. Double-locked. No chance that it was locked from outside. There are no scratches on the key, and the lock is in the right place.”
  • “But are you really sure that it wasn’t locked from outside?”
  • “Yes, of course. You see, if you insert the key from the outside it doesn’t turn. You can use it only from inside.”
  • “Odd!”
  • “Not for me. The lock is defective on the outside. However this settle things one and for all, doesn’t it? You can open that door only from inside.”
  • “Who were at home at the moment of the murder?”
  • “The wife, two sons, the secretary, the butler. And the cook of course.”
  • “Why of course?”
  • “Because the Senator loved the good food. Particularly chocolate. We found him with the mouth and the fingers dirty of chocolate. There was a chocolate paper on his side.”
  • “A chocolate?”
  • “Probably. There is a big packet of assorted chocolates on the desk, full of discarded papers.”
  • “Inspector, there is another one on that bureau. Much more assorted.”

Ellery got near the furniture and saw that the packet was full of Avalanche chocolates, the best of all. He unwrapped one of the chocolates to take it to his mouth when he noticed a little hole on the paper. Rapidly he examined the other ones and ascertained that all of them had the same infinitesimal hole. He broke the chocolate and immediately smelt the characteristic scent of bitter almonds.”

  • “But what the hell…”, said the Commissioner.
  • “Cyanide!”
  • “Whoever has committed this murder wished to be sure he were plumb dead!”
  • “Yeah. But why shoot him if…?”
  • “Who can say? Now I wish to talk to the butler, said Inspector Queen.”

Velie came back accompanied by a loose-limbed guy with an impassive face and a look more proper to a gravedigger than to a butler.

  • “I hope your name isn’t Jarvis, doesn’t it?”
  • “That’s my name. What’s the matter?”
  • “Really your name is…?”
  • “Jarvis, at your service, Sir.”
  • “Of all the queer things…”
  • “Have you ever seen this packet?”, asked Ellery pointing out to the poisoned one.
  • “Oh, yes Sir. I’m sure that it was delivered last evening.”
  • “By whom?”
  • “I can’t say. The doorbell rang, I opened the door and the packet was there, on the ground. A beautiful chocolate box, with a note of thanks. The Senator read it, frowned and observed that he didn’t know the sender.”
  • “That was…?”
  • “Let me think, Sir. M.M. Mulligan, I’d say. Yes, Vera Mulligan. He said he didn’t know that lady, or maybe he didn’t remember her. In any case she must know him very well, seeing that the chocolates are the Senator favourites. Cherry brandy, walnut, strawberry and orange.”
  • “Show me where you find it.”

They went out.

  • “Here”. The point was near one of the column of the

open gallery. Ellery saw a sudden glare; he leaned and picked up something, setting it in his pocket. It seemed a metallic object.

  • “You were alone when you found that box?”
  • “Meaning at home? No, no. They were all here.”
  • “Where precisely?”
  • “Mrs Rita, the wife and the two sons in the dining room on the other side of the house; the secretary on the second floor, the cook in the kitchen. He pointed out to a door not far from the doorway.”
  • “However yesterday the Senator had come back with a box of cinnamon chocolates. You know, he was crazy about them.”
  • “Thanks, Jarvis. Ah, wait a moment. Do you recognize this key?”

Jarvis examined it.

  • “Where was it, Sir?”
  • “In the lock, of course.”
  • “That’s strange, Sir. The key of this door were lost long time ago. It’s strange that it reappeared just now.”
  • “Are You sure?”
  • “I swear it on my son’s head…he died in the war!”
  • “Why this key can lock the door only from the inside?”
  • “I don’t know, Sir.”
  • “Well, you can leave.”
  • “The wife and the sons since when they do live here, Jarvis?”, asked Commissioner Brady while the butler was going away.
  • “They don’t live here, Sir. They live in Richmond.”
  • “Then why they are here?”
  • “Senator Banner summoned them yesterday. He wished to change his will and today he would have read to them the new arrangements.”
  • “Here we go with the motive. But what was the content?”
  • “How could I know, Sir? Better that you ask to the D.A.”
  • “I don’t understand.”
  • “Inspector, the Senator was a friend of mine. He wished that I rode the will to his relatives. But I don’t know the content. It is a holographic will, you know.”
  • “Where is it?”
  • “In that safe, he said pointing out to a massive cupboard.”
  • “You know the combination?”
  • “No.”
  • “Velie, we must open this safe. Check if someone of the relatives knows the combination, otherwise find me a guy that could open it.”
  • “That’s me, butted in Policeman O’Rourke.”
  • “That’s fine.”

Half an hour later, O’Rourke had opened it with a vial of sulphuric acid that he had poured in a row of holes he had opened all around the combination. The fumes were so suffocating that they had to open the windows in the dead of winter while the snow was falling copiously on the ground. Unfortunately inside there was nothing that seemed to a will.

  • “Stolen, I’m sure”, exclaimed Ellery smoothing some scraps of paper that he had found in the ashes of the fireplace placed on the opposite side of the windows.
  • “Probably this was the will.”
  • “A last question, Jarvis. When you picked up the chocolates box did you notice something odd?”
  • “I don’t know. It has snowed a lot, but there were no tracks in the snow.”
  • “Thanks, Jarvis.”
  • “Who knocked down the door?”
  • “Jarvis and the Senator’s son, John.”
  • “Jarvis, when you entered in the room, how was it?”
  • “Dark.”
  • “Thanks, Jarvis you can go. Oh, please, sent the others in.”

After some minutes Ellery posed the same question to John Banner, a tall and slim youngster that was about the same age of Ellery.

  • “You and Jarvis alone knocked down the door?”
  • “Yeah. My mother, my sister and the cook arrived after a couple of minutes.”
  • “The old will, what does it say?”
  • “Why do you say “old”? There is only one will!”
  • “Now there is only one, yesterday there was another. You see…the second one was burned. I found some scraps in the fireplace.”
  • “Dad disposed that all his properties were to be divided in equal parts between me, mama and sis, plus a 150.000 dollars legacy to his half-sister Geena.”
  • “Where is she?”
  • “We have no notice of her from the moment she went to Amazonian jungle three years ago.”
  • “So the properties were to be divided in about four parts, didn’t they?”

An hour later the investigators, without Ellery that had gone out for some mysterious errand were discussing the case sipping an aged bourbon.

  • “A complicated case, don’t you think?”, asked the State Attorney.
  • “He is one of the heirs, added the Inspector.”
  • “The butler and the cook, do they inherit something?”
  • “Nothing at all.”
  • “Meanwhile Ellery, after a leave of about half an hour, was entering in the room.”
  • “Here you are, Ellery, where did you go?”
  • “Oh. I was looking around for clues.”
  • “Did You found something?”
  • “A little particular, maybe. But Jarvis said to me that he wishes to tell us something of great importance. Must be here in a couple of minutes.”.

They waited patiently, but the butler didn’t show. They went out looking for the man, but it seemed that he was vanished into thin air.

They found him outside, the body outstretched in the snow. The snow was red. There was an axe driven into the head and the corpse was near the garage. No tracks in the snow.

  • “Two murders in so a little time.”
  • “It’s horrible, isn’t it? But who is the murderer?”

The Senator’s wife and daughter were weeping.

  • “We will die, all of us…you must protect us!”
  • “Have you something to say to us to catch the culprit?”

They didn’t answer.

  • “Did the Senator be afraid of someone in particular?”
  • “He did fear nobody. He was afraid of the dark, really.”
  • “What an interesting thing.”

The Inspector invited all the people in the study and said that Ellery would resolve the case soon. At six o’clock in the afternoon they all were I the room, and ten policemen were guarding the doors, while other officer were outside guarding the house.

Ellery was allowed to speak.

-“A very interesting case, nothing to say. The best clues were hidden. The Senator was afraid of the dark, but why he switched off the light before killing himself? On the contrary if he was killed, why the murderer operated in the dark when he well knew the Senator’s phobia? Maybe the dark was of significance. And why Jarvis telling about the chocolate box said that the package was beautiful and perfect? Why did he choose that adjective? Why perfect? And why the key we found in the lock inside the room showed itself after so much time and turning blocked the mechanism? Last but not least what was the use of this thing?”.

He showed a little metallic device to the onlookers.

- “I found it in the snow near the arcade.”

It was a hook.

  • “Let me explain the succession of the facts.. Yesterday Jarvis opened the door after hearing the knock and found the chocolate box. He said the package was beautiful, perfect, probably he thought why there weren’t tracks in the snow and why the box was clean.”
  • “It was put there before it snowed.”
  • “Maybe. But in that case the snow would have cover the box and damp the package. On the contrary it was in order, tight and clean. Why? Simply because it was put there at that hour.”
  • “It’s not possible! There would be tracks, there was not snowing at that time.”
  • “You say so? Well, why did they knock at the door and didn’t ring the bell?”

Nobody answered.

  • “The only reason is that no one deposited there that box coming from outside, otherwise they would have rang the bell. No, gentlemen…the box was put there by someone coming from inside and using this.”

He showed the hook.

  • “This was used to hook the perfect knot and with a fishing rod or a long cane the box was let down from a window. Unfortunately the hook came off, while someone knocked at the door and Jarvis opened. However the poisoned chocolates didn’t kill the Senator. Why? Because he loved the cinnamon ones and ate only those, sparing the others. The murderer must have seen the scene and took his measures. He killed the Senator by means of this.”

He showed the key to the bewildered onlookers.

  • “This was found in the inside lock of the study door and Jarvis said that is has been lost a long time ago. Yesterday after my inspection in the house I noticed that the keys of different doors could open other doors and this in particular could open the second floor bathroom that nobody uses at the moment, due to the fact that the second floor is reserved to the guests. Who could possibly notice that the bathroom had not a key in the lock? This key is perfectly functioning from the inside but of no use if you intend to close the study room from outside. So the person who has let down the chocolate box from the window, used this key to close the room from inside.”
  • “And how could you explain the fact that if the murderer really closed the door from inside, after he had shot the Senator with a silenced .22, could not go out the room?”
  • “Remember the dark, Mister State Attorney. The dark could explain all. The murderer, after killing the victim, stayed in the room and switched off the light, so the people who would break down the door could not possibly see him and he could feign to be arrived after them. Who presented himself soon after you and Jarvis broke down the door, John? And who could possibly know, living here, that some of the keys could open different doors? Who induced Jarvis to think that someone had knocked at the main entrance? Only one person could. The same person that was hiding in the room near the entrance. The same that knocked from inside after having let down the box from the window with the bars using a fish rod or a long cane with a hook attached. The cook.”

All the onlookers turned their eyes on Helen. They saw her dimming look while she took her hands at the throat and collapsed on the floor with the fingers dirtied by chocolate. At last her poisoned chocolates had been useful even tough not for the appointed victim.

  • “She was not a real cook. She was Geena, the Senator’s half sister. She vanished in the Amazonian jungle some years ago, after his brother had nominated her in his will. Then she reappeared in disguise and she had changed so much that his brother didn’t recognize her. Her wish is clear. To wait the right occasion, kill him and escape the punishment. Then he decided to change his will because he thought she was dead. That was the moment when she decided to accelerate her murderous plan. It’s possible that the poisoned chocolates would have served to eliminate one or all the other heirs also.Then she killed Jarvis.  At the beginning my suspect were diverted by the fact that in the will there weren’t legacies for the butler and the cook; then when all the cards were put in the right order the puzzle was perfectly reconstructed.”
  • “Well Done, Ellery, you could be a real investigator.”
  • “In my family that place his already taken,” said the youngster.

The End

John Dickson Carr : The Witch of The Low Tide, 1961

Little known novel, if not unknown, The Witch of The Low Tide, it’s indeed one of the most fascinating novels by Carr.
Published in 1961 , ie in the same year of The Demoniacs, it would seem for the time collocation , a historical mystery. However, to place a novel 50 years before his time , in 1903, doesn’t seem to me to write a historical novel; if anything is a clever attempt to move back the time and to be able to describe in detail the company , not only the customs, but also the clothing , architecture , discoveries, cars, the first supplies of electricity for the home . Descriptions so minute and so accurate to leave open-mouthed and at the same time able to bring down the reader into the atmosphere of the facts narrated .
The story also hides various impossible situations.
The Locked Room ( because that’s what it is ) highlights several possibilities:
1 ) David Garth lied ( we would have the case in which Carr copies Agatha Christie )
2 ) David Garth told the truth.
In this case we would have :
1 ) Marion lied saying that the bomber fled from there
2 ) Marion lied saying that there was a second person who tried to kill Lady Montague
3 ) the alleged strangler vanished into thin air , being able to get out from a cellar where the windows are boarded up from the inside and also is blocked the only exit to the outside.
At first insoluble enigma – gone out from the barred cellar from the inside by two heavy locks and windows locked from the inside – followed a second equally difficult enigma to be deciphered by the means of the intellect : Betty Calder, after arguing very publicly with her sister Glynis that she reached her in her cottage cloese the sea, and after moving away by Cycling, when she arrives to appointment she gave to Garth at 18 o’clock, she finds him already in the pavilion that overlooks the beach .
Garth , however, meanwhile made ​​a terrible discovery , after he was accompanied to villa and to pavilion beside the sea, by his nephew in the car : he found Glynis, strangled , her body still warm , and the tea , packed in a boiling still pot. The reason would want the murderer was still present at the crime scene , because the only footprints in the sand are only those produced by Garth, when he approached the pavilion by the sea, footprints left also by Betty when she reached him . Garth has determined the body to be the sister of Beth , because he is kneeling before and he turned, and after he put things on purpose and then without a will he resulted the broken of a china cup. How did the murderer to strangle her there, if there are no fingerprints , and if the only person who has been seen straying towards the pavilion was the same Glynis wearing a swimsuit of Betty , origin of another quarrel between the two sisters ?
Despite having checked the reliability of statements by Betty about the identity of the sister, and having them confirmed, the police men are not sure that the Glynis murderer has not been made ​​by Betty , perhaps with the abetment by Garth.
Abbot Cullingford , deputy head of the CID , proposes to Garth, his acquaintance, that in return for accepting the proposed versions , he reveals everything he knows about the attempted strangulation of the Marion’s governess and why he does not believe to her version . But Garth is an upstanding doctor , who, having been treating Marion, does not want to reveal anything that might damage her , as well as friendship . But the rejection by Garth, causes resentment of Cullingford which removes his support and leaves him in the hands of the Inspector Twigg , who can not stomach hi .
David thinks he knows who is the murderer, he knows Betty is not the murderess, and she imagines that the story told by Marion about the attempted strangulation , has flaws ; nevertheless he is willing to hold off judgment both Marion and Betty , and fatigue becomes unlikely , because Marion , trusting his word, tries in every way to accuse Betty , since the two women are incompatible : David in a dramatic face to face in which come to light unspecified sexual habits of Marion with an unspecified man, in Paris, he forces her to admit things, heared not only by him but also by someone that was eaves dropping at the door.
At this point, Garth looks for Abbot, and in the name of their friendship , he asks him to give him 24 hours, so that he can set a trap the killer and bring him to the police, asking in return as the two women are exempt to testimony and to reveal “scandalous” facts of their past. Meanwhile, it is found that the young Fielding knew Glynis, and how he escaped an attack in the Grotto , i.e. the billiards room , put in the basement of a famous hotel .
In a tight final , the murderer will prove to be just this after the Garth will make understand him to have gotten the truth , but the Inspector Twigg will be to guess how Glynis Stukeley was killed and how and who confused the events so to imply that the crime had been committed in the pavilion , leaving no footprints in the sand .
First of all, The Withch of The Low Tide is one of the greatest novels of Carr : it is a true masterpiece ! Divinely written (the descriptions , as I mentioned before, are magnificent : see the hotel, or even the clothing of the persons involved or even passers-by , and even descriptions of the cars! Carr, who you know was quite fussy , when it was to evoke atmospheres that did not belong him, documenting about periods and events , made an intensive study, no doubt about it ! On more than one occasion that he almost seems to had experienced that atmosphere, that he was found to live those experiences: almost a case of reincarnation that could excite Paul Halter (as long as he did not think of ) .
I noticed one thing , of which I had never noticed before : another stylistic particular by Carr. When Carr wants hit with emphasis a special pareticular , a name or a certain attitude , he makes a caesura: he refers to what he wants to say , then stops and usually describes something ( such as a fireplace with photographs by Betty and parents by David , or a statue or a candelabra with flickering flames or more ) and immediately picks up where he left off, saying with more emphasis that thing he said. In a sense it is always part of that so-called augmentative mechanism , which is present in some of the novels of the first period , for example It Walks By Night : to increase tension, it says something, then you stop and then when you resume dialogue , something happens and what he had said before, it is magnified , because maybe you changed the tone ( for example, the fountain that once seemed so crystal clear laugh, now it seems to do it or a sinister grin, etc. ..
I like to emphasize another detail , or rather two : at the first, the locked room is once again the result of an act. Here it relates to a given spatial and one temporal together : you remember the exemplification of the Conference by Dr. Fell about Locked Rooms at The Hollow Man and what Leona says at Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher about it: it refers to spatial elements (such as a room may be closed ) and temporal (when the murder was committed before, during or after the room had been closed). Well, in this novel the two elements are combined to make a truly spectacular trick: Carr in this novel tries in every way to put in the mouth by Twigg and by Garth, Le Mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux. But .. there are also other interesting things:
Firstly, the detective who solves the mystery is Garth that is a neurologist who has read Freud’s theories about psychoanalysis ( and here Freud gots to do a lot! ), and he is also an author by mystery novels , at one of which he imagines that is going to happen right here: it is as, called upon to solve the case, were an extension by Carr himself, as if he for once had said Behold, I will solve the case!, constructing a building very complex;
Secondly, if there’s a novel it can be taken as an example (not in the case of Locked Room but in the case of the impossible crime ) is Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie , which I think is very relevant also in the case of the used place, a beach;
Thirdly , the motive: it is the blackmail, for some unconfessable secret. Here we have to do with psychoanalysis, and in fact anything that comes from a certain type of sex drive : you could almost say that this is the most current novel by Carr, and one of the most unusual : it is very rare to find in the novels by Carr , allusions to sexual motives (whereas it is much more frequent in the novels by Ellery Queen) . But John Dickson Carr when he wrote this novel, he had gone out from England , the nation of respectability. However, the subject matter is very despicable : pedophilia. An adult who engages sexual intercourse with a teenager.
It’s interesting to see how Carr , a man, a conservative man, noticed this disturbance of psychological and sexual nature, not from usual prospective for us , men of the twenty-first century, that’s as an adult violence against the child, but from the typical glimpse of that time, i.e. always a disturbance of psychosexual origin who cared a child and an adult, but where the child manifested at a later time, a certain power on the adult , a sort of parallelism that other despicable attitude for which the executioner becomes a prisoner of his own victim, according to a mechanism already unveiled by Proust in his Recherche . We have to remember that Nabokov’s Lolita was written in 1955: Carr may have been well impressed by this work!
The fourth particular I point out, it’s like again, John Dickson Carr in the years ahead, while crafting a problem absolutly magnificent (the crime in the pavilion), when incorporates a double problem ( the locked room in the basement ) ends up focusing on just one, immediately giving of the other problem the easiest possible solution. In a similar situation , perhaps in a more youthful novel , or if Paul Halter had written it , once proposed the problem , it would be done so to give an explanation in line with the difficulty of the problem .
Pietro De Palma

Joel Townsley Rogers : The Hanging Rope, 1946

Joel Townsley Rogers is best known for The Red Right Hand, work which combines in itself the mystery , horror , fantasy and an evident streak of eccentricity . And this definitely deserves the benefit of the public and of the critics. Nevertheless Rogers, not only wrote the thing , but .. a lot more. Indeed, The Red Right Hand , is just one of many works he wrote . Rogers was not so much an author of novels, short or long , but of short stories : he wrote hundreds.

And so The Red Right Hand was an expansion of a story written and published in the same magazine which was published on The Hanging Rope: in fact, the first short story from which was made the famous novel , was published in March 1945 on New Detective Magazine, unlike The Hanging Rope was released in September 1946.

This sort of long story (but I would opt more for the meaning of ” short novel ” because of a little, but always substantially , the work exceeds the threshold of 100 pages that is accepted as a limit because we can start talking about the novel ) , The Hanging Rope , was forgotten for a long time and only in 1990 was rediscovered by Robert Adey ( author of the Bible of Locked Rooms , Locked Room Murders and Other Impossible Crimes: A Comprehensive Bibliography ) and Jack Adrian, who together created an anthology I would say historical, The Art of the Impossible , containing short stories and tales of absolute value , where next to the most famous works (but not much) there are some almost unknown works . It ‘s the case of this work of Rogers.

Daniel McCue lives on the fourth floor of a large luxurious palace , in a large luxury apartment: he is a wealthy businessman who is also a politician .

Every evening, go to visit him two of his friends: his lawyer Paul Bean, who is also a friend of his (who after leaving it , in the street is the object of a joke on the part of boys : he falls , peels one knee and palms of the hands, and bleeding back to his house, without no one saw in that street him neither helped him) and Father Finley, a priest devoted to the cause of abandoned cats, mild and quirky . Both , however , left the building before the murder of the old McCue , and the witness who confirms it is Boaz , the elevator man . The murder of the old man was accomplished with the aid of a bottle of champagne( brought by his friend Paul Bean, who presented it as a gift for his birthday) and then with the poker: but if Paul Bean returns home with bloody hands , the priest enters a building not far from that where the old McCue is dead, when he knows that there’s no one, to find a cat .However, in that building, half deserted , in a bare apartment, devoid of furnishings that are not almost just a bed, a table and a typewriter, also lives the famous playwright Kerry Ott, deaf, there abiding, in absolute silence , to find the inspiration for his new comedy. Tuxedo Johnny Blythe, former police lieutenant , coming from Washington gives the alarm: he came to the apartment of McCue , and found the handle of the door of the house dirty of something that looks blood . Tuxedo which is the former son of McCue having married his daughter , before she remarry Paul Bean and divorce from him. Frightened by the blood, he gets down the stairs and finds that the goalkeeper, such Ignaz Slipsky, wearing the uniform of the police patrols: Tuxedo doesn’t know he came out from police . Slipsky confirms to Tuxedo no one came out, and the other says the door of McCue apartment is locked , having he tried to open it using his key since he failed.

Together they decide to go into the house from the outside, from the balconies. The caretaker , Rasmussen, another weirdo , tells them he saw the devil come out from the apartment of the old Dan :he would go to recover the soul of the old possessed man.

When Tuxedo and Slipsky arrive on the fourth-floor balcony by fire escape stairs and break the glass, they find the corpse of Dan with his hands cramped in the act of grasping the edges of the Bukkara Persian, near the desk Louis XV, the back of his head smashed by a heavy bottle of Champagne ( brought by Paul ) and by wild strokes of poker. As Johnny goes to see the front door ( to make sure whether it is locked from the inside ) and desn’t realize that behind him is Slipsky , they hear a piercing scream coming from one of the other rooms. Tuxedo rushes towards it, and a second later Slipsky finds him dazed at the corpse of Kitty Kane , the beautiful Kitty, whose jugular someone has cut: the warm blood is still gushing out from the mortal wound of the neck. None , however, has seen the murderer , who escaped to the two in no time . He could walk out the door , but it is blocked for the inner chain , and from the balcony no one comes out. So what? How did he do? The only possibility is the bathroom window , which faces on a smooth wall .

The only possibility would be a window opposite , belonging to another stable : watch the odd case , the window overlooks the apartment by the famous playwright Kerry Ott, who lives in a world devoid of its sounds : Ott in fact is deaf . Possible that was just Ott ? Or to kill McCue and Kane were Father Finley ( who just moments before was seen by Slipsky and Boaz , the man of the elevator, go away ; or Paul Bean, went away again before Finley, from McCue home ? The fact is that the two men would have an airtight alibi which is given by Slipsky ; yet the first , who lives in the same building of Ott, and on his own landing, among a myriad of cats , has been seen with wearing gloves covered by blood (but he says it was the meat that he gives her cats ) and one he lost at Ott’s home , where he came in ignoring in that place lived the playwright , from a few days . Instead Bean was attacked in the street by the terrible sons by Kitty Kane , hurting and being robbed of purse , which was found at the Ott home : were they to lose it or was Ott, penetrated through the window ? The fact is that to put in communication the two windows would serve a scale or a board like those used by painters to paint the walls of the rooms. In fact, one of these is found in the apartment occupied by Ott.

To take care of the investigation is “Big ” Bat O’Brien, Homicide Inspector , who will turn , and will be misled in the investigation until Kerry Ott, with the involuntary complicity of a spider, argiope , will demonstrate that the window could never be used , also for a spider web that covered it completely . He will indicate to Inspector who could kill at an absolutely extraordinary manner .

Work of absolute importance, it is a real masterpiece . It has a tension that takes the reader to the end, since after the same identification of the murderer, because the end is built like a thriller : the murderer be able to get away or not? Will he be able to escape using the escape way that he has developed , a hanging rope , to avoid being caught?

In the final, are found other things that give a glimpse of an absolutely diabolical plan .

The novel has also the features that make it if not unique, at least rare: the plot has a very strong atmosphere , which almost turns the detective story in a horror story by the oddity of the situation and by the components that Rogers glimpses , taking care to give each character a benevolent air that strides and contrasts with a more hidden : in this , and in the end at nothing granted, could remember Fredric Brown . A more direct feature exclusively attributable to him , differentiating him from all other writers is his literary style , which uses a language sometimes obsolete , with exclusive words . The construction of the same period , uses a syntax strongly sought, almost before writing the sentence , he weighed the impact on the reader. These phrases Sometimes may be too grotesque if not surreal .

A such perspective would suggest a slow writing, but obviously at Rogers was an innate characteristic to want and to know write in such way , if we think to the hundreds of stories that he wrote. From a certain point of view , the bizarre and horror remind me the stories by Stanley Ellin .

The Hanging Rope , from another point of view is a kind of synthesis of Mystery (the two impossible crimes) and Hard Boiled . From this second kind , it takes the claustrophobic atmosphere , made almost exclusively indoors , and the topics covered: the playwright could remind for example a reporter , the politician is disliked ( Dan McCue ), there’s femme fatale (Kitty Kane) , there is the sad murderer.

However, outside of the Baroque and refined style (an example is the description of the spider web: “It is not the sloppy and messy canvas , woven haphazardly in a quarter of hour by a teridio , but the patient work of an argiope , an octagonal canvas, geometric , flawless, with four rays of silk. A job that takes time” ) , surprises the reader.

It reminded me – certainly daring comparison – how Marcel Proust set the writing of À la recherche du temps perdu, with a semantics tortuosity that goes round and round on a certain fact to reveal the hidden aspects as well as the visible ones . This continuous spin of situations , means that the suspicions are cast out for things that appear the most obvious, on all the characters that appear in the plot: for example, Paul Bean , who falls across the street, mocked by the terrible sons by Kitty Kane, woman loved in the past by some characters of the story, that gives herself to the old Dan. There would be nothing strange if falling, Bean had scraped knees and the palms of his hands were scratched and then he bled ; but .. the suspect that knocks him Townsley Rogers is that the blood can belong to old Dan ( then Paul would return later , in the Dan’s apartment) .

The references to the great tradition are countless and the same murderer who in some respects may call some other great previous novels as The Big Bow Mystery by I. Zangwill and The Peacock Feather Murders by Carter Dickson, in fact in my opinion it’s much closer to Le mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux.

The last thing I want to emphasize is that the brilliant idea by Ott on the spider’s web , which essentially concludes the novel “ante litteram” , makes already know who is the murderer without reaching the final , because the final idoes not have to reveal the killer’s name, but to ensure that he comes out of the scene in spectacular fashion.

Notice how the novel gaits about the subject of blood: on the door handle , on bathroom tiles , the blood that flows from the neck of Kitty, that flows from the murderer, is perhaps the most obvious feature of a baroque horror , which is in the same time very spectacular and cinematographic : each of the sequences is as if it was conceived as a pose distinct from the next. The repetition of the scenes of blood permeates the plot also has a golden unhealthy , by grand guignol . The insistence on the gurgle of blood that comes gushing from the throat of Kitty, terrible because the blood is associated with the life ( it is as if we were witnessing her death) , brings to my mind the verses of A.E. Housman : Some can gaze and not be sick , But I could never learn the trick . There ‘s this to say for blood and breath , They give a man a taste for death , which are mentioned by P.D.James before the beginning of her novel, A Taste for Death .

However, it is interesting to note the detail of the web of Argiope because I think it is the direct source of inspiration for other web that in another novel , more contemporary for us , covers the frame of a window, like a glass : I’m talking about La toile de Pénélopeby Paul Halter , although Paul interviewed by me long time ago while admitted to have in his library the novel by Rogers, he did not remember that particular in a book that he admitted he had read in the 80s.

 (  http://deathcanread.blogspot.it/2013/08/entretien-avec-paul-halter-interview.html  ).

I think the reference was , however, settled in him , unconsciously , and then it produced the idea of a spider’s web that deals with the window frame (let look the note No.4 of interview).

However , the two novels differ in the solution that is diametrically opposite : in Rogers , the presence of the web prevents the window may have been used as the entry of the elusive murderer ; in Halter, the presence of the spider’s web is not in itself a fact that prevents the action, because he , overcoming the obstacle,explains by Twist how that window could have been used .

In Halter, basically, there is the overcoming of the idea base , creating the “plus ultra” than the other, bearing in mind , however, that in Rogers, to legitimize the web is also the fact that the window was locked and nailed anyway .

In short , the idea of ​​a spider’s web is the same, but everything changes.

Pietro De Palma