Paul Halter : La Mort vous invite, 1988 (Death Invites You)

Before 2003, I did not know the works by Paul Halter. But in that year I met Igor Longo,  consultant of  “Giallo Mondadori”. It happened by chance: I asked the editor of those years, that could give me directions on how to find Mondadori novels who could contain Locked Rooms, because they were always my cue ball. He passed the word to Igor Longo, who answered me – I have to say enthusiastically – as he had found another type set about the Locked Rooms (Igor participated in the meeting a few years ago – directed by Roland Lacourbe which also participated John Pugmire – aims to choose the 99 best Locked Rooms in the history of the Mystery (novels of English-speaking and French-speaking novels). And so began a correspondence which became friendship correspondence: Igor among other authors, urged me to read Paul Halter (Igor Longo is his italian translator) which he said was the most important contemporary author of impossible crimes and locked rooms. I took him in word, and so .. I started to collect the Halter novels.

Death Invites You (La mort vous invite, 1988) is a novel that  enjoyed until the beginning by a great success (especially in France) also on the basis of a television drama that was taken from it. In Italy, the novel by Paul Halter was published with the title “Le mani bruciate” ( “Burned Hands” ).

Harold Vickers is a successful writer of detective novels, but by bit of time the sales trend is declining, so he decides to write a novel with which plans to reverse the descent of likings: it will be a phenomenal Locked Room.
He lives alone in a villa in St. Richard’s Wood, with his wife Dane, with brother-in-law Roger Sharpe illusionist a with his daughters Valerie and Henrietta; Valerie is engaged to a police sergeant, Simon Cunningham.

One evening Simon comes to Vickers home: he was invited to dinner by the landlord, but no one knows anything of the occurrence. Another was invited to dinner: Fred Springer, critic of detective novels. For more Valerie who had to go to the theater with Simon was angry because she thought that Simon would have preferred another woman.
They are going to call the landlord, but he does not answer: he said to at that day not to disturb him for no reason. Knocking on the door, screaming, both don’t get any response. They turn around  the house: through taxes, they see the room illuminated. The butler gets a key from another port, since the locks of the house are all equal, Simon uses it to open, but it idles. It means that Harold put the bolt, so .. they decide to break the door down, which gives after a shoulder. The scene which presented itself to the eyes of those present is horrifying: on a laid table, is placed a pan with hot oil in which the flesh is sizzling: in this plan are immersed the face and hands of the writer, burned to the point of prevent a formal recognition. The death was due to a gunshot wound to the head. To witness the immediacy of death is the fact that two chickens still sizzl and smoke on the table, at the center of which towers a triumph of pheasants, near the pulses passed through with the shallot and bacon.

Near the window there’s a glass half full of water and two gloves. And of course no one is in the room: windows are closed and there’s no other passage to the outside, secret or not, and yet the chimney has a grating, small enough to allow the passage of only small animals. His wife fainted on the threshold, and immediately they call the police and so Archibald Hurst Inspector of Police, and Alan Twist criminologist, who are playing chess at home in the first, are thrown into another adventure absurd.
Right from the startyou know thatthedeath was notsudden, but it tooksome time before,at least 24hours, andthat the writer hada twin brotherwho livedin Australia.Thequestion who begins to emergelittle by littleisthat theburnedfaceis intended toprevent the recognition: want to see thatit is notHaroldbutStephenVickers,richas much if notmore than thebrotherwriter?

The first thing to check is the teeth, but in this case it is useless: Vickers boasted of his healthy teeth and he never went to the dentist for this reason. At the morgue, before a show so painful, one of the daughters remembers something that happened the year before: his father was wounded in the leg and was left a little scar. She remembered because the wound initially had been slow to heal. So he is Harold..seems.

Meanwhile, we learn about a curse: Harold’s father had died by heart failure and its causes were to be found in the fact he did not appreciate the genre of fiction practiced by his son. One of the two daughters, Henrietta, who hated his father because, in turn, he didn’t appreciate her talent as a painter, evokes the presence of his grandfather. One night, Simon Cunningham sees a shadow in the cemetery: he says that seemed an old man, who wandered with on dirty rags in the direction of the old cemetery that is adjacent to the house: it is presence or hallucination?:
The fact is that just when you think that the identification has been well-founded, check out from autopsy that the deceased had two teeth implanted: then it is not Harold but Stephen? Where is Harold? Did he kill his brother?

Soon other unforeseen events occur. Twist realizes the pants of his friend are stained with the blood: where else may he to have soiled his pants?  Maybe when he kicked the rags in the street? When they find a piece of cloth stained with fresh blood, Twist has a premonition and they head home, where at her room they find Henriette slaughtered. At this point, they go to the cemetery, and they find the grave of his grandfather, although they can smell a strange odor, the smell of death. Hurst realizes that behind the tombstone, there is another corpse, old of few days: even if the features are distorted and he smells a lot,he  is undoubtedly the twin brother. They want to know why Vickers was so often to find Colin Hubbard, his neighbor? After the visit, and after having given a copy of the first detective novel by Gaston Leroux, they know about a crime took place fifty years ago, in which several of the details are the same as those found at the scene of Vickers: the cup half full of water and a pair of gloves on the ground, near the window: Hubbard was the witness of this fact . paul Halter

Under the Dane Vickers mattress are found the tools used for the staging of the death of her husband, and among these two his hairs. This is enough (in addition to her severe psychiatric conditions, to converge on her the Inspector’s allegations.
But it is not over, because Alan Twist with a quick about-face turns over the cards and he nails the authentic murderer.
First and foremost, this novel is that of smells: the scent of fried chicken, vegetables, stench of corpses, pungent smell of fresh paint , the smell of fresh paint in the color of which the murderer has anointed the lock after having unscrewed and tampered. Many perfumes, too many of them so as not to remember other.
At first when I started reading the Halter, I noticed right away (and I said to Igor) of that long string of citations present in the novels by the Alsatian writer: Igor justified it with the love of Paul Halter to Agatha Christie and especially to John Dickson Carr.
To date I would say even more: while accepting that version, I would incline for another that does not necessarily eliminate the first but integrate her: the volume of citations is too important because it is made only by quotations.

Quotations may be unconscious and conscious: I would say that too many times, in hindsight, seem aware of it. It’s as if the writer, having to write a new novel, resorted to the inventions of other writers. The point is that to understand the scope of the quotes, you have to be too a great reader as he is, and then automatically, there are many people who don’t understand the mechanism.
Of course, this does not mean that elsewhere, ie in other novels, the scope of the citations could not be less important or even not be there. For example, Red Mist (Le Brouillard Rouge 1988), which I still consider today if not the masterpiece by Halter, at least one of his masterpieces, reveals an evocative power of imagination and writing so addictive you do not need any gimmicks and quotes: if you will, in that novel, the least important thing is just the Locked Room, which then does not serve the novel, but it was just a gimmick!

In this novel, quotes abound citations: to his novels (Red Mist, in fact: it is spokenin the beginning,but there is anothermore directreferenceat a certainpoint in the novel: in both novelsthe murdererhasto do withthe paint,eachof a differentsubstance.

A characteristic of novels Halter is that some novels contain parts already used in other novels, so far I have distinguished at least three pairs (but could be more): the paint into Death Invites You and Red Mist, the bags with pieces of dismembered women in the Tiger’sHead (La Tete du Tigre 1991) and the BloodyMatch (the L’Allumette Sanglante, 2001), the cup full of water, in The Madman‘s Room (La Chambre du Fou, 1990) and Death Invites You, etc. etc.
The staging of the crime so imaginative and culinary (exclusive, I would say, among all the novels read so far) calls Arabian Nights Murder by John Dickson Carr: there the dead is dressed in a cylinder, a coat, has a false beard and nearby is a recipe book kitchen.
But at the same time, the fact that invokes a crime took place fifty years ago (mind you, fifty years, not forty or sixty!) calls a radio play by Ellery Queen, The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, where an event happened fifty years first, occurs exactly fifty years later.
But there is also a reference to Gaston Leroux.

And then .. the scar in his leg: what do we think? The strawberry-shaped birthmark on Brad’s thigh, in The Egyptian Cross Mystery by Ellery Queen: could also refer to the fact that the corpse as that of Brad Vickers and his brothers can not otherwise be identified: here the features are burned, as if he had no face, there just the head misses.
But there may be another meaning of citations, in addition to the one connected with the memory of the great writers of the past: it could also be a game, a challenge, whom the author throws to his readers . Ellery Queen did not behave in the same way in his first novels?
Ellery Queen left clues to the reader and they were ordered in the right way to come to rival the author: may Halter disseminate quotes, who properly interpreted can reveal the identity of the killer? The most direct quotes here are to Red Mist and to Le Mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux.But there is also another significant quote: the cup full of water, is related to another novel Halter, The Madman’s Room at which is just a glass full of water. This is another characteristic of the novels of Halter: being coupled two by two on the basis of specific clues.

Halter proposes two solutions: the first is given by Hurst who accuse a false killer, the second by Twist who instead identifies the murderer. But it should be said at once, Hurst identifies already half solution: he understands how the door could have been made ​​up to look like closed, but it was not entirely. In this case, the link is to The Hangman’s Handyman by Hake Talbot: it is evident that he must have had considerable influence on Halter as many ideas of the original novel can be found not only in the novel that I’m analyzing but also in others, such as The Madman’s Room. The difference between the two solutions is given by the name of killer, substantially; in addition to the solution given by Hurst, Twist will explain other things, including, for example, where the corpse of his brother might have been concealed without the stench of decomposition was felt by anyone.

However, the thing that I like most of Halter is its tendency to describe situations or descriptions macabre: the “macabre” which is one of the peculiar characteristics of the French writer, is taken to the extreme in some novels: for example in which there is a lot of “macabre”, The Madman’s Room or 139 Steps from Death.

Connected to this trend macabre Halterian narratives, is the last quote I found: the rotting corpse of his twin brother, reminds us again The Hangman‘s Handyman by Hake Talbot. Not only. There is another quote I do not know whether conscious or unconscious: the corpse hidden and then revealed, here is designed to make impossible the recognition of the corpse. In fact if the corpse is decomposing it will be problematic. In the first novel by Abbott, About the Murder of Geraldine Foster, the corpse is hidden, then later revealed, intact, so that the time of death may be delayed. The effect is the opposite, the medium is the same: the body is concealed, and in both cases the odors are doing their part: in the case of Abbott,  the smell of pine shall turn to the identification of the substance in which it was immersed body, ie the tannic acid; in the case of Halter,  the pungent smell of the paint he has sniffed at certain point in the novel, Twist will understand how and where the body may have been concealed. In both cases the smell of the substance leads to locate the murderer.

In conclusion, Death Invites You is a good novel, replete with quotations, who has a great atmosphere (Halter is a master of atmosphere, as Carr), and grips the novel from beginning to end.

Pietro De Palma 




Bill Pronzini : Bones, 1985

Who does not know Bill Pronzini? And who does not know his famous detective, Nameless? A detective with a great humanity, that combines wisdom and action. However, his adventures differ from other detectives typical of the genre Hard-Boiled. Pronzini has always been sincere about it, rejecting the subsidiary of Chandler and instead recognizing as the only novelist to have played a key role in the creation of his character, was Dewey, with his “Mac”. Pronzini, however, is not alone in this, unlike many authors Hard-Boiled. He also has solid foundations and cultural history of the genre: you known, from a mile away, as his readings have not only caught in the genre Pulp and Hard-Boiled, but also in that of the Mystery Classic. And his stories have an air of light, sparkling, with remarkable leaps and grand finals, and also possess a remarkable humorous vein, sometimes irreverent, even against his character, which is very rare.
Bones, who also has a nice Locked-Room, is a novel that also speaks about bones, but it is not a thriller by Kate Reichs. No. It’s a novel that sinks its own investigation into the past. And as happened before, the plot is intertwined with the traditional mystery.

Michael Kiskadon has recently discovered to be the son of the great writer of Mystery, Harmon Crane, who died thirty years before. A sad story: depression, alcohol and then suicide. So far nothing strange, especially since  had been found a farewell letter in the typewriter. And to validate the theory of suicide was the mode of discovery: the room was locked from the inside, was on the first floor, and it was not possible then exit from the windows: in short, a situation defined. The fact is that “Nameless” starts to investigate, but is faced what might be called a “conspiracy of silence”. Before Crane’s wife, Amanda, who talks about his lovely family life lived with Crane until the death of her husband, but does not really talks about suicide: that flaunts a glacial that “Nameless” initially misinterpretes, then understanding how the woman has suffered such a severe shock to be assisted by his granddaughter now for more than 35 years, the years since her husband’s suicide.
Then the detectives went to interview the lawyer of Crane, such Yankowski, a bad guy, who along with teacher painting of the wife of Crane, Adam Potter, he broke down the door of the room, finding Harmon Crane died,: he seems that he had shot a few minutes after talking on the phone just with him, Yankowski. Ends thrown out of the house, when Nameless, accuses him of having paid his court to Amanda for a long time.

There is also the first wife of Crane, such Corneal Ellen, who was blackmailing him. He says it Russ Dancer, a writer of Pulp failed and chronic alcoholic. Russ Crane had known, and reveals himself to Nameless in the course of a drink (but how should this American detectives!) The most interesting things: Crane not had sex with his wife was being blackmailed by his first wife, drank a lot, but it was not all depressed. The investigations shows that the day of the suicide, he had been in his cottage that had been rented by a certain Bertolucci: the chalet now no longer exists in its place there was an oyster farm, then also went to the down the drain. Bertolucci makes the taxidermist (he stuffes with straw the animals) is strange and he evasively answers, so that Nameless suspects he has not said anything about behalf of Crane. One thing he understands: to Bertolucci, Crane was strongly disliked, even if the rent he had paid him forever. He will know that Bertolucci was married (at that time in which Crane had lived), with a beautiful redhead, who then disappeared, ran away they said.
And the brother of the artist Potter, tells him the depression of Crane was initiated the day after the earthquake of 35 years before, on arrival from his vacation in the chalet of his property.
One day a new earthquake devastates San Francisco and vicinity. The earthquake to Nameless is bearer of good feelings: his girlfriend, Kerry Wade, which makes sex so rewarding for both, feeling the shock, she hears a new irresistible urge to have sex, but it is only the desire to be protected , connected to someone. But then Nameless discovers the earthquake has also brought other news: when he goes to interview the new owner of the area where once stood the chalet, he locates by chance, an old unmarked grave, anonymous, that the earthquake has helped to discover: bones have surfaced and what looks like a purse, and a ring. You will find that she is the red dead, Bertolucci’s wife, Kate.

Why her bones are located close to the chalet rented to Crane? And Crane killed himself or was he killed? And if he was killed, as was rigged so that the door seemed locked from the inside? And who closed the door rigging it, was the murderer or an accomplice? Nameless will understand after that Bertolucci is killed, especially when he discovers the lifeless body of Michael Kiskadon, who died the same way of his father, found dead just from Nameless, who broke down the door of the room, alerted by the wife of Kiskadon, Lynn . Suicide or murder?
In a novel enjoyable as ever, in the midst of breathtaking descriptions of San Francisco, interspersed by quarrels with his friend investigator Eberhardt, by hilarious scuffles between Kerry and Wanda, the Eberhardt’s pupa, Nameless will find a disconcerting truth and the answer to many , too many questions left without no satisfaction by a hasty survey ended 35 years before. And the answer will own those bones, found by chance, buried in an old crevasse, opened after the earthquake 35 years ago and again revealed by the new one, and a carbon copy of a letter sent by Crane to his lawyer.

A vintage Pronzini, who does not forget the lessons of the greats of the past (Hake Talbot) and leads us, in a survey never dull, carefully constructed, with withering dialogues and well-aimed descriptions, to an ending that leaves you speechless. And knowing Pronzini, it takes also discouragement.

Because it isn’t said that all the guilties, in reality, pay the penalty for their actions. And seeking the truth takes, most of the time, sufferences. Luckily the epilogue save all, with a final reflection on the philosophy of life, which will riport attention to the things that save us every day: love, understanding, friendship.

A great Pronzini.

As always.


Pietro De Palma

Clash of Locked-Room Lectures : J.D. Carr Vs C.Rawson


John (Francis) Russell Fearn : Within That Room! , 1946

(Cover of the rare Italian Locked Rooms collection, which includes the novel by Fearn)

Published at 1946 with name and surname original, Within That Room!, is still, by someone defined more than a mystery, a horror novel. But, instead, it is a mystery novel with a strong and steady connotation of the gothic genre. 

John (Francis) Russell Fearn was born in 1908 in Worsley in Lancashire (UK). He published many novels, especially westerns and science fiction . In this last genre, he excelled, winning the masses of readers, under the pseudonym Vargo Statten. Other pseudonyms, signed novels of a different kind: Thornton Ayre, Polton Cross, Geoffrey Armstrong, John Cotton, Dennis Clive, Ephriam Winiki, Astron Del Martia, etc. ..
Fearn also published 26 novels under various names, of different genres, among them, several contained Locked Rooms.
Fearn died in 1960.
Within That Room! is still essentially a room that kills. It’s the old subject invented by Eden Phillpotts with The Grey Room, and then cooled by other authors, including for example The Door to Doom by John Dickson Carr.
Here is a heroic nurse of Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), which, immediately after the second world war, rather unexpectedly inherits from a geezer uncle, famous entomologist, a site surrounded by an aura strange and disturbing: Sunny Acres
. Vera Grantham, does not believe the old stories of ghost that surround the castle inherited from his uncle Cirrus; yet she is located just before the hostility of the people, when you know she is the new owner of the manor: no one wants to go with her, so young woman ends up accepting the offer of a young man who does not know, an airman in the RAF, veteran as she, Dick Wilmott, who is trying to open a radio repair shop. On the shabby car of him, they reach the castle, inhabited only by two servants, the Failworth , he the butler, she the cook and the housekeeper.
The young woman, newly arrived, hopes to finda peaceful atmosphere,and insteadthetwo servants, begin to press herto sellthe propertyin order-they say-to avoid the problems by the girl’s uncle, CirrusMerriforth, become mad .More, however, thetwo servants, and in particular the housekeeper, trying toterrorize theyounger,getas result herapathy.One evening,the girlsurpriseswithout being seen, the two servantsintentin the basementto pumpamysterious liquidfroma manholein the stone floorof the cellarand to openall sorts ofcontainersat their disposal:the twoare wearinggas masksto protect themselves frompoisonousandstinkingfumes, immediatelyconvincingthe girl whois spying them, toseek somehelp.Sothe next morning she goes toGodalming, aplace nearwhere is theshopof DickWilmottand prays theyoung man, whois secretly in lovewith her, to go with herto the castle,pretending to beengaged.Mrs.Failworthdoes not believeat allthatthe two say, realizingthat the game ofterror andthe saleof the castlecan not result as they had intended: the young does not sell,even better,together with theyoung, she wants tovisit the cursed room, that had led to themadness her uncle, and at which is said tomanifesta ghost,and at June 21, alsoan evil spirit. They made​​unrivetthe door, whose jambsare nailedand whosecracksaresealed withadhesive tape, the two entering into:it is acompletely emptyroom, filled to capacitywith dust anddominated by a largefireplace,thebottom of which hascollapsed. Soon, they begin to haveseriousbreathing problems, andalso seea ghostmaterialize,  grinning. They have toleave the room,to go backto being able tobreathe andtoreflectwith clear mind.

More and moreconvincedby the attitudeof the servants, that they are involvedin some kind ofplotagainst them, the two young people cometo the law firmthathandled thetransfer of propertyfrom his uncleto his nieceandcome to knowthat such achemicalanalyst, Harry Castairs, offered to detectthe castle andaroundthe property, about fifteen thousand pounds; connectingto the professionof the buyercluesconcerningthe mysteriousliquidpumpedfrom undergroundandsmellystenchthat accompaniesthe extraction,are convincedof the existence ofsomeunderground source, corroboratedby the discoveryin abook from the libraryof the castle,news about thecastle, builton an ancientvolcanic faultapparently.
The twosuspectnow thatthose feelings ofsuffocation andthe stenchof rotten eggs, is due tosulfur dioxideandhydrogen sulfide,twosubstancepresentin volcanic gases, andthe gas ispushed upinto theroom throughthechimney flue: they provethattheunhealthy atmospherein theroomdoes not exist whenthe servantsare engaged inother activities anddo not suspectthat the twoyoung peopleshould enter theroom.Theghost manifestsanyway, andthen,tofindthe explanation,beforethey attribute thecauseto a mysterioussubstanceon theceiling of theroom, thenclinging to ivyclimbing of the tower, Dick is hoistedouttoseefrom the outsidethe window glass, findinga drawn figurecorresponding to thatwhich is manifestedin the damn room.

In the book found in the library of the castle is missing a map of the manor, torn by someone, so the young man goes in search of another copy of the book, which located at an acquaintance of his, not realizing that the cellars are accessed only by the main staircase, but also by a ladder of service.
Again a lot will happen, and continuous revelations will accumulate with each other until the dramatic end, at the torture chamber of the castle.
Novel with a great atmosphere, and with a brisk pace, does not keep its promises to the end, deflating soon, and especially giving the answers too early, so that the expectation of the final revelation is replaced by that concerning the lives of two young men. You will know about the culprits from the beginning and still a few surprise covers only the role of one spouse to the other, and that of the analytical chemist. Moreover, the two young men have not won deservedly the combat with the murderers of his uncle, as they are able to get the better just because one spouse rebels himself to the other while Dick and Vera are helpless, chained and point of being tortured with red-hot embers.
A final liberator, very cinematographic, dominated by the outdated system, but rather elementary and childish ghosts, bad domestic (obviously as in the tradition of the mystery novel super-fashioned), inheritance disputes, treasures, mysterious roots, hell poisons.

Novel does not belong to a distant time, and for this reason excusable, but even to 1946, as if 30s never existed,  Fearn realizes a ghost comedy, tucking the reason for the room that kills, but too early revealing the mechanisms deadly , and then removing bite to the story. And setting the novel in the way of the stories of Nancy Drew, in which women are always defenseless beings, engaged couples are knights who rushed to defend the maiden and if there are castles, surely the servants are required to be treacherous.
It ‘s interesting to read only for lovers of Locked Rooms, who want to add another Room to the list of read and understood works.

Pietro De Palma

John Sladek : Black Aura, 1974



John Thomas Sladek




When John Sladek wrote Black Aura was 1974: up until then he had written only  science fiction novels .The ” conversion” to the Genre Mystery ,  it had occurred two years before, when The Times had announced a competition for the best unpublished mystery story , “The Times Detective Story Competition” – and bear witness to the high quality of selection conversely would have guaranteed the high quality of work winner , there was also the presence of Agatha Christie among the jurors:  He was awarded winner, with a flattering opinion by A.Christie .

The story was called By an Unknown Hand (in Italy it  is still unpublished): a locked room of extraordinary level, as the best by Carr or by Rawson. Sladek had a feature (he died 12 years ago of pulmonary fibrosis) , typical of science fiction novelists : his novels had some fantastic plots , verging on the bizarre and on the visionary ( like some by Fredric Brown ).

The plot and the staging of the impossible crime is one of the most exciting in the flow of crime fiction in general, and more specifically of the locked rooms, I ‘ve ever read. Because, even if the substance would be impossible (the subject enters into a hotel room, and then when you enter into, he is strangled to death . And there was only the detective to guard the front door and he swears that no one came out of it. But someone has murdered a man , in a room from which no one left or entered from the outside) , but the solution is reduced to an orange chair and to an old trick as the world . The detective , Thackeray Phin , with the help of readings by Carr and by Chesterton,  finds the key to the problem and reveals very ingenious premeditated murder, by virtue of an unprecedented imaginative virtuosity (except Fell, Merrivale , Bencolin , Don Diavolo , Merlini , and a few others ) .


I mentioned the story, because Black Aura, the first between two novels , takes up a lot from the story : the first, Sladek entrusts the investigator part just to Phin , and he prepares an ingenious  plot.. Then , he disseminates a series of impossibilities  really impossible. In essence, what we can say to introduce the novel is that Sladek was an author so intelligent than a simple and straightforward reading is never enough to understand the mechanisms that conceal the plot : you often resume reading and go to re-read what you just read, to have a mindset and to be able to follow the author and his detective, in the labyrinths of the plot.
Black Aura is so. The birth of a visionary fantasy . But at the same time it is a clear-cut answer to own convictions . Sladek was a positivist and as such, a materialist subject : everything did not fall within the scope of demonstrable , it was discarded. For example the occultism . His intellectual conception , had already been released in his sci-fi works in the form of irreverent and sarcastic judgments .


Phin works within a community of spiritualists , conducted by a medium that prides to get in touch with many otherworldly entities , and so doing seems she ensnared some of her members; and he suspects that in this community there is not just plagiarism or circumvention of the weak and incompetent persons, but also real crimes . Therefore, he who does not believe to mediums and seances, pretends to want  join , although some of the followers of this cult know very well he is a detective.
To heterogeneous group , a company of the ethereal Mandala, part several persons: there is a reverend, a psychologist, a retired military officer , a pop singer , and, of course, the medium, and a scientific researcher . Everyone is there for a purpose : there’s who exploits the gullibility of others, who in order to avoid any interference of entities that are not beneficial, who really gets in touch with the ghosts by his dead . It’s the case of Lauderdale , who lost his son Dave . It is said that his ghost has appeared to the pop singer . Dave was a drug addict , who had come into possession of an authentic Egyptian talisman , which is said to bring bad luck, a cursed talisman in the form of a beetle .


He died for a drug overdose: this is the verdict by the police. But some is not convinced . The fact is that Phin begins to investigate . He knows nothing about Dave, but he wants go to the bottom of things and he starts asking questions . At one day , Lauderdale, in front of everyone , including Phin, goes to the bathroom : Steve Sonday , the pop singer and his friend , is out.  Some time elapses, but he does not come out . Eventually they decide to go to see if he felt bad, but they found the empty room, without he has been able to get out without the others could not see : vanished into thin air.


Phin is the most worried . And while others persons are scrambling to look in all the corners of the building , he is increasingly concerned , as the time passes and Sonday is not found : did Sonday dead? This fact becomes apparent when they found him in the shed , in a kind of vertical caisson , sitting and strangled .


Is not the only disturbing thing, though. Some time later, just Steve Sonday , the friend of Lauderdale, organizes an experiment in which he can prove to the group, even disbelief , that he can levitate in the air, in front of their eyes , to the height of the balcony. Too bad! He precipitates and he remains stuck in the gate . In short, too many criminal events . To which again it is associated the attempted poisoning of the medium, and the extraordinary disappearance of Reverend: he comes to pray in the mortuary chapel of the funeral company , although there are no other means by which he can come out, if not precisely the coffin, he mysteriously disappears , he vanishes into thin air , only to be found elsewhere, in a state of unconsciousness.
To Phin will be hard to find the key to the problem , and nailing a slippery and unpredictable murderer.


Again Sladek demonstrates a capacity to surprise, playing with the readers: by directing them in one direction and then making fun of them with pure conjuring tricks : for example, the disappearance of the reverend. How did he vanish into the chapel ? The two doors were guarded : the first  by  two pallbearers , the second by the other persons of the Company spiritualistic: someone obviously is not telling the truth. Or .. is it possible that the coffin might contain two bodies. The reality will be less gruesome than you might think, but the  possibility that in the coffin there could be two bodies, it drews The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen ( and I’m sure that this remembrance Sladek  had in mind when he designed the situation ) .
The levitation that is an optical trick : which writer does it bring to our mind who put a famous optical trick at his very famous novel? J.D.Carr , at The Hollow Man, but also at a short story with Colonel March: The New Invisible Man .


The trick of the bathroom is a variation of a locked room he designed in the case of Invisible Green: in the first novel, Sladek devised a locked Room, making finding the victim locked in the bathroom; here, he invented a disappearance from a closed bathroom.


But the best thing about the novel is the literary quality , the suspended tone between the satirical and the ironic , with some good joke;  the rhythm is smooth and the style is flowing , very light. The inventions are wasted , and so the tension remains very high until the end .
But like any good final, at the manner by Fredric Brown, Sladek is astonishing : where Mrs. Webb was defended from the charge of stealing the ring from a dead , citing the fact that a martian entity Martian had given her it  , Phin fixes a spaceship : it will not be true that the Martians really exist ? , is as Sladek wants tell us .
Talking between us, if we must say, the two disappearances from the bathroom and from the chapel they are not much, because the astute reader directs his gaze in the right direction: it is the levitation levitation the real trick who leaves us completely astonished .
Then when he will explain the trick, someone will can say, of course, could not be otherwise.
Strange nobody has thought before, though.

Pietro De Palma

Michael Innes – Appleby’s Other Story, 1974


Some time ago, I have already examinated John Innes Mackintosh Stewart  and discussed about him when I analyzed The Gay Phoenix, 1976.
“Appleby’s Other Story”, John Appleby’s twenty-sixth adventure, was published in 1974.

It begins, without any introduction, right away with the murder.John Appleby former Chief Commissioner now retired, along with his friend Colonel Tommy Pride, Chief of Police County, is on his way to Elvedon Court, an ancient manor house, owned by Maurice Tytherton, businessman and big collector of paintings . The secret intention of Pride, which has happily involved Appleby, happy to wake up from the slumber of retirement, is to get an opinion by his friend regarding a matter which occurred a few years earlier: the disappearance of some valuable paintings from the mansion of Elvedon Court, well paid by the insurance guy. However in Pride something is wrong in the disappearance and so the two are bringing the collector. But they find him already dead and stiff: he was killed in the night with a gunshot wound, in his studio.

Pride, asks Appleby, to deal fairly with the benevolence of the Inspector Henderson, happy to obtaining a prestigious advice as that of the former Commissioner,.
The environment in which the police must move is nebulous, far beyond the most optimistic expectations: the inhabitants of the house, from the familiar to the household, are the most treacherous might exist.
The second wife of Maurice Tytherton, Alice, is beautiful but cold and distant: she is interested in the good name of the property to be well regarded by society, and takes advantage of her husband substances considerably, living comfortably. As you know her relationship with her husband are cold: her husband has a mistress, Cynthia Graves, a girl of dubious morality, a courtesan of luxury, a kept short, that is not ashamed to warm not only the bed of her lover but also the bed of Maurice’s nephew, Archie, other debauched, whose favorite activity is to have sex with whoever chicks in sight, including the maids. Cynthia, after all, has not lost time: she has a extramarital affair with Dr. Carter, an eminent surgeon. So a family where the infidelities are mutual and also well known.

In addition to the immediate family members, other strange characters move in the house: Raphael, strange mediator of works of art, by his criminal record not spotless, involved in the past of Appleby at investigations concerning disappearances of works of art and receiving, who is around the huge and multiple rooms of the villa, apparently invited by the landlord; Miss Kentwell, another strange character, whose occupation seems to be to extort money for charity, and finally the butler, Catmull and his wife, both slimy, very interested in the property of the house, and gossips. Finally, there is also the prodigal son, just got home, Mark, only son of Maurice, who Appleby located in the woods around the house, and that seems to have been at home the night before  his father was killed, and that he had with him a furious quarrel, which ended with his escape into the woods. The reason for so much hatred? The jewels of the mother, the first wife of Maurice, valuable jewelry, including a diamond parure, which as own property of his mother and not given her by her husband, they should be own of Mark and instead they are over, despite aspirations to possess them from part of Alice, in the hands of a bitch of Maurice, Cynthia, who on every occasion never loses an opportunity to understand how sex is a job and a chance to succeed.
In addition to these moral exemplars”, two other characters turn in tourbillon entourage: the vicar Voysey, and secretary of Maurice, Ronnie Ramsden, another character rather ambiguous.

The investigations of Appleby and Harrison have suffered quite complex: Miss Ramsden and Kentwell, the night before, they toured the house, with destination roofs, climbing and descending stairs inside to enjoy the full moon. First they entered at the studio on the first floor, but did not find Maurice Tytherton, then when they went back down, found him dead: curiously, the tray with brandy instead of being on the mantelpiece was in another place as if Maurice had received a visit. In addition, the first time they entered at the study, they felt the scream of a peacock, and looking out saw him stationed on the head of the statue of Hermes, just under the window, and the second time they didn’t heard.
The time is twenty minutes, in which anyone in the house could have shopped the crime without being seen: the two that probably, as mentioned, are excluded before are Ramsden and Kentwell, who as together, to provide everyone another an airtight alibi (always, however, that they have killed him together!). Either you do not understand why Ramsden had to suppress his master, and even more so the Kentwell which is apparently in the house to raise funds for charity: she would have to kill “his goose that lays the golden eggs.” Why?

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Appleby begins to investigate. And soon understand that each one of the subjects of this drama has two or three different faces, each lying at the same time presenting the truths that are more comfortable. And he understands among the possible motives of murder (jealousy versus his wife or his nephew, and for this reason he had asked the same afternoon of his death his lawyer, to change the testamentary dispositions, changing beneficiaries (niece, wife, child); possession of his wife’s jewelry (son, wife, lover); stolen paintings (Raphael); icons removed from the USSR and ended up in the hands of Maurice), the driving factor was that of art objects. You find Miss Kentwell be a private detective in disguise, whose double occupancy in that house was to control Alice on behalf of her husband, to demonstrate her betrayal and at the same time to look for the icons stolen. And within a day Appleby comes to solving the case, after having made ​​the rounds of the immense villa and having visited all the rooms and floors and even having been in attics, after finding the torn paper in the local deputy to the trash; after hearing the cry of a peacock, on the night of the murder, after finding the stolen icons, behind the innocent squares.
Highest class novel, Appleby’s Other Story has a tension that does not loose a moment and various are its characteristics.

The first, theabsence ofa prologue, anintroductionto the crime: Innes, despite being a pureBritish, andthen inserted into thevein of theAnglo-Saxon detective story, he actsas J.D.Carr used to do: he entered hischaracterincrime took place, most of the time, alien to thecontext in whichthe crimehas matured, impartial, “superhomines” and then be able to assessthe half-truthsas wellashalf-lies.
The second,the presence ofrhetorical figuresscattered here and there, including some very effectiveallegorical representations: John InnesMackintoshStewartwas aprofessor ofgreatqualities humanities thatyou couldappreciate into thetrendmoreoften expressedin his novels, at theliterary referenceworks ofLatin and Britishauthorsof the past: here, too, sometimes, hisliterary knowledgediffer. At the beginningof the novel,there is a stepin point:Grove nodsatgrove, eachalleyhasabrother, AndhalftheplatformjustReflectstheother and the reader notvery curious,couldfalselyattributed toWilliamBlake, whois mentioneda few linesbelow,andabove allthatcouldbe attributed toa displayofpoetic cultureabsolutelyvain. In fact,Grove nodsatgrove, eachalleyhasabrother, AndhalftheplatformjustReflectstheother that is a passage from EpistlestoSeveralPersons: EpistleIV, To RichardBoyle(Moral Essays,p. IV, l.117)by Alexander Pope, in my opinionbehindtoother reasoning.

As I supposed at the case of The Gay Phoenix, here Michael Innes uses his humanistic knowledge using it in  lexical treasures and enigmatic references, which, when placed in the box, they are never separated from the context of the plot, but rather anticipate the nature of revelation and deductions later. Thus, if the title of the novel of 1975 alluded not so much to a quality of the Phoenix as a subtle allusion to the homosexual nature of a character, so also here on several occasions, Innes uses figures of speech to reveal certain characteristics of the plot. The allegory that is inherent in the couplet of Pope, may be reported in addition to the psychological duplicity of the characters, even the double nature of a feature of the plot that will be the basis of the final revelation. I do not think it is my personal guess, so much so that the beginning of the couplet “Grove nods at grove” is repeated later  in the rest of the novel.

However Innes fits other figures of speech in the narrative framework of the novel: a similarity between the way you peel the apple by Reverend Voysey and the gracefulness with which he climbs the flight of stairs of Elvedon Court; or an allegory, referring to the dream of Archie (the pool table who becomes larger and so the slats; and the balls at the end they are like cannonballs, and he has to beat continually them here and there, frantically),  in which, in my opinion, the dream alludes to a representation of intercourse, even in a figurative rather obscene: the pool table could be the lover or the bed, the slats are often figurative representations of the male member, the balls of the testes. Their frenetic movement figuratively expresses precisely the heat of an embrace, in an extremely plastic.
It also describes beautifully the figure of Archie, tying the understanding of his psychological nature to a representation which is also visual, explanatory in his coarseness and associated with a particular type of person.

Then there’s an epic phrase : Hold high your swords shining or the dew will rust . The couplet refers to the famous speech Shakespeare’s Othello does that in English reads: Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them” (William Shakespeare: Othello, Act 1, Scene II, to 60). In my opinion we have ascertained a parody: in fact, the rolling pin lifted into the air by butler Catmull’s wife and ready to strike, draws his sword raised in the air by Othello. Here the image of the epic Shakespearean speech, takes on a sarcastic more , because to the warrior of the sea is countered a warrior of the kitchen. The dew,  as you know is laying on the flowers and grass,  on something that is at the bottom. If you do not use often the sword, that will remain inactive, tucked into the sheath, and may run the risk of rust. If you often use it, fighting, it will not rust, because it will always be used, and then clean and sharp. So the rolling pin often used will be clean, more clean than not used often.
Another figure of speech that appears to me is the circumlocution: the phrase under consideration is at page 114 of the cap. 6th into the Italian translation of the novel, in which Appleby says to himself, his wanderings in the attics of Elvedon Court. The phrase in its original version is “The superannuations of sunk realms (taken from The Fall of Hyperion - a dream” “by John Keats 1, 66), referring to the meaning of the paraphrase mentioned by Innes, because in this case it refers ideally to a dusty attic in which they are stacked many things now put on board because they are no longer usable or gone out of fashion.

These figures of speech and expressions, that every so often you meet, they all looked very ironic, manifestation classic of British humor, a laughter through clenched teeth, which relieves the tension, softening it with the beat of the educated man.

The result in all its complexity, is a writing not very easy to interpret, valuable in its wordplay, its meanings, often double, difficult and therefore also slow in his gait, similar to slowness gait with which a elderly person, such as Appleby, moves and speaks: in short, a similarity hidden in the very nature of the stylistic way of writing ..
Other hidden meaning seems to me to be the reference scream of the peacock perched on the head of the statue of Hermes. As the same Innes says, citing the nature of the psychopomp by Hermes, the god Hermes was the companion of the spirits of the dead, at the journey to the underworld of the afterlife: therefore, the reference of Hermes and of peacock, would be an sought allusion: the peacock screaming (at night, even the hoopoe who is a symbol of death, screams), perched on the head of a deity, with a value of deities of the afterlife, it would allude to the death of someone, in this case of Maurice. In other words, when the peacock screams perched on the head of the statue of Hermes, Maurice is already dead and Hermes is leading him in the kingdom of the dead.

However, the class of Innes lies in the use of these subtleties of poetic practice, and these learned quotations, not as we said before, only to show off his culture, but above all to emphasize certain characteristics of the novel. This, then, once again, the novel reveals the treasures, not so obvious to the first interpretation.

The novel finally possesses some very significant citations, authors of crime: they are manifest, when he cites The Problem of Thor Bridge by Conan Doyle’s The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes published in 1922,  while they are hidden, most likely when he runs in the solution, certainly, to a famous story of Department of Queer Complaints by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr), published in 1940.

Pietro De Palma

Helen McCloy : Through a Glass, Darkly (1950)


Helen McCloy

Some novels  I read in a single blow, putting one or two days, and there are others that takes me a bit more time: I read this in a longer time than other equally challenging.
The thing may seem a pseudo-problem, because it related to subjectivity; in reality its importance has it: the length of the reading of this novel, in my opinion is related to the expectation that you can have. If you read it, like any novel, there is already half a disappointment, because the space before the first offense is too long, if you read it as a supernatural thriller it can be very charming; if, finally, you read it, as in my case, because it has been lauded by the great critics of the “Looked Room”, the attitude of reading oscillates between love and hate.
Because, now, after reading it, and re-reading it a second time to be more secure, I didn’t figure it to be called a Locked Room.
Through a Glass, Darkly (1950) was written by Helen McCloy, from a short story she had written two years before,“Through a Glass Darkly”, published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in September 1948. She is called by many critics the greatest woman writer of detective genre in America: in addition to this novel, that is her most famous, Helen McCloy who was also married to hard-boiled writer Brett Halliday, creator of private detective Mike Shayne, wrote other novels always with his main character, the psychiatrist Basil Willing, including his other masterpiece novel Mr. Splitfoot (1968).
In several novels, McCloy addresses the issue of the crime impossible, for example in Mr. Splitfoot: Mr. Splitfoot is another name for Satan define (the charade is explanatory). It seems curious note that a character at Through a Glass, Darkly , the object of our analysis, the Director of the School Brereton, is called Mrs. “Lightfoot”, as the later “Splitfoot” used elsewhere: the common denominator may be the supernatural call, which can be attributed to the characters in question. In fact, Mrs. Lightfoot is one of the people who claims as Miss Faustina Crayle, the hapless protagonist of the novel, was persecuted by his double if not the evoked with his feelings.
This Faustina is a teacher very unfortunate, because where she is teaching, tends to obscure events occur, i.e. her inexplicable dislocations in different places, in front of witnesses, who swear that while Faustina was engaged to paint, her dual sat elsewhere before their sight aghast. In fact, the origin of the double, the “Doppelganger”, can be attributed to the belief that they experience near death of a person, and that was a manifestation of supernatural origin.

This kind of ghost, which creates an aura of mystery, terror, suspicion, and slander about Faustina, real or perceived, means that she has to change seat of learning frequently. Until something happens that is not properly connected to the supernatural: Alice Aitchinson dies, a student who hated Faustina. She dies, breaking his neck, falling down a stairway.
Someone swears he saw Faustina just before the Aitchinson fall, but this is not possible, because in the meantime Faustina is miles away. It’s this a Locked Room? It is because the murderess some persons say they looked her from a distance, she would seem to be evaporated? I do not know. It is certain that this does not seem a “Locked Room” in the strict sense, as there are the qualities that make it impossible to crime, except that the murderess seems to have split in two different places. But what we will see, invests more the sphere of the supernatural or would-be than anything else.
Accidental death? Suicide or something? It ‘obvious that slander now reach the summit, so much so that Basil Willing, the boyfriend of Gisela von Hohenems, a colleague of Faustina, encouraged as a psychiatrist to deal with such events para-psychic, feels the need to defend Faustina. Until that even Faustina died in a way that frees the murderess, if he was stopped, from any possible accusation against him: Faustina injured, nothing that can connect to an assault or act of violence.
She died for a heart attack, and it is Gisela find her, on a dark night in the cottage where Faustina was going to stay. A cottage that belonged to the mother of Faustina, Pink Diamond, a famous maintained high board, and before that it had belonged to one of his lovers.



The testament of Rose, entrusted to his legatee, says if Faustina were to die, the jewelry that her mother has given to daughter would be returned to their rightful owners (heirs of those who had donated to her at the time) even if there were , otherwise would be added to the rest. In short, a good motive to kill her. Why, if she died for a heart attack?

Here, too, I do not really think that there’s a Locked Room: Faustina opens the door and sees that the lighting does not work out so he needs to look for a light switch: she leaves her luggage at the door, which remains open and she enters. The taxi driver who took her home, says that in practice he did not see anyone leave, since the house was in his view until he put back into the path of the forest from which he came, but in the opposite direction. However, the murderess could have been dressed in black, and take advantage of the dark to avoid being seen. Not only. Gisela takes time to get to the cottage, time that could be used in case the killer was there, simply disappearing. But beyond that, Gisela, who is going to Faustina, invests almost a figure in the woods, revealing for a moment, in front of his eyes terrified, Faustina: how could she be there at that time, if the coroner says she was already dead in the house?
Basil Willing demonstrate that the Doppelganger was not really but…of a different nature. If it there wasn’t  a Locked Room, however, it should be a novel about the supernatural. And the method used by the killer to kill, to induce the player to have a heart attack, is the fear: fear of something ancestral, fear of his double, fear of death.


The death, “Der Tod” in German, introduced by male article because he was represented by a knight with scythe, on a black horse, appears in many poems, when the man is about to pass away. The fear of  Faustina to see herself, her Doppelganger, could be related to the fear of being about to die, what then happens. Moreover, the Doppelganger is attested in many literary texts and in the tradition of Central European countries, as a figure appeared, which could be seen only on the bias, with one eye, only near death.
Now the title of the novel, can have a triple meaning: it may allude to the verse of  St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:12: “.. βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι “, “For now we see through a glass, darkly”; it could allude, in my opinion, the way to commit the second murder: “.. as in a mirror, in the dark.” The protagonist was led to see herself, since the murderer has built, based on the absence of light, a mirror, transforming a large glass door, with doors opening at the center of the room, in a craft but tremendously effective mirror.
And it could finally reconnect the eponymous anthology of short stories of the great novelist and Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: In a Glass Darkly, in which Dr. Martin Hesselius investigates cases the limit of the paranormal and can be found in references to the theme of Doppelganger : for example in The Familiar, version of the story appeared in The Watcher in the previous collection Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851), and in Mr Justice Harbottle. Dr. Hesselius, this singular figure of detective before his time, paid to the paranormal, will also make Dr. Fell by John Dickson Carr, if not Colonel March always by Carr.
Through a Glass, Darkly, rather than being another, is a novel that mixes very cleverly and intelligently elements of thriller and the supernatural. It ‘s very close to or even tributary of The Burning Court by John Dickson Carr which is today still the best example of the mixture of supernatural and crime stories, so as to be taken as an object as an example of fantastic literature (besides Helen McCloy dedicated to Carr and his wife Clarice, her novel Alias ​​Basil Willing).
In this, the novel McCloy, is really built in a wonderful way, and that is tributary to the Carr’s novel, it shows the ending very cleverly alludes to Carr with his double hypothesis: the rational, built by Willing at the expense of  killer; the irrational at which the killer, as long as he is the killer of course, will never be accused by any court for the murder happened while he was away: he is accused by Willing only on the basis of a series of clues, very skillfully stuck. However, they are clues, no courts : on these an English-speaking country could put on trial him.


He knows it and Willing knows it, although Basil Willing would expect at least on that occasion, an admission that at least, if it had not the merit of bringing to life Faustina, may clear the field of any supernatural dispute


Only that the accused, not only continues to profess himself innocent, but also he reinforces the supernatural thesis, so it remains the Hamlet-like doubt.



I emphasize “Hamlet doubt”, because I think the end, the last line of this intense dialogue, which concludes the novel, the last page, when the murderer looking at the sky and smiling to himself, says to Willing “only God knows what happens up there”, Helen McCloy  links to Shakespeare:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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