A wonderful Locked Room by Christianna Brand

Christianna Brand 

The Gemminy Cricket Case aka Murder Game, 1968

Released some months ago, the Special N°69 of “Il Giallo Mondadori”, entitled The Detective of Impossible, as always cared by stainless and forward MauroBoncompagni, presents on this occasion, The Four Just Men by EdgarWallace, The Kennel Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine and, finally, The Cricket Gemminy Case by Christianna Brand.
We must say, in all sincerity, that never before in this case,we are faced with three works of excellence, united by a common denominator: a Locked Room.
Wallace and S.S. Van Dine are known as their novels, of the milestones in the genreand very well known. However,  if you ever want to some howen courage the purchase of this volume, I would use as an example the legendary story by Brand (published in 1968), for the aura that surrounds it: surely one of the best Locked Room short stories ever.
Thomas Gemminy is a well-known criminal lawyer based in London, assured himself a great personal wealth from his law practice, he has dedicated himself to philanthropic activities in favor of children from highly disadvantaged family situationsin essence children relatives of known criminals who, remaining in the same bad environment family of origin, they could develop the same germs delinquent of their relatives. These children were from him and his wife, as long as it is lived, bred, educated and protected, starting them to be sure;  sometimes he also made sure that those in possession of hereditary defects, migratedso they lose the basic references and thus be freer create a life with out knowing anything of his past. We distinguish these individuals from having two surnames together: their surname associated to surname of their stepfather.

A three boys Gemminy was most fond of: Giles Gemminy Carberry, Rupert Gemminy Gemminy Chester and Helen Crane, the two males are both in love with Helen and work in the law firm of his stepfather. However there is one inconvenience: a third “cricket” (as they were called his boys by Thomas Gemminy), that the two men do not know, it seems too in love with Helen.
The story begins with Giles going to find, at a nursing home, an acquaintance of his, old age, particularly paid to the resolution of puzzles and give a very daunting subjects one: Thomas Gemminy was found strangled, bound and stabbed in the shoulder in his study, almost unadorned, with the desk on which it is collapsed, engulfed in flames and a broken window in the middle. The door was locked and bolted from the inside, through the broken window to the sidewalk below were no more than fifteen feet overhang, and the weapon with which he was stabbed (and still comes out of the blood when the cops burst), a letter opener , has disappeared from the desktop. The police, whose Central is located right in front of the house of the lawyer, were alerted by a phone call, came from the study of Gemminy, in which the lawyer in a desperate voice had spoken of “something that disappears into thin air.” “Of” something strange to the window, “and” two long arms. ” Arriving at the door of the studio after less than two minutes, found that Rupert is trying to kick down a locked door; manage to break two panels of the door, one of them put an arm and slide the 2 bolts horizontally and vertically, then everybody can to open the door and find yourself in front of the horrible sight: the dead lawyer, the corpse in the process of burning, the broken window that still vibrates, fragments of it on the sill and, of course, no one in the room, and the desk burned by the flames. In the smoke that chokes and burns the eyes, Rupert finds a message that speaks of Helen and runs away, a policeman comes running out to go and call the fire department, but all the others are there to look for evidence, non-existent.

An hour later he was found dead a policeman on patrol, Dinkum Cross, in the same way lawyer: bound, strangled and stabbed. He, too, before he was killed and later found in the old cistern on a farm near there, had spoken from a phone booth where he had taken refuge, about “Long arms” and about “something that had vanished into thin air.”
The old man is the investigator, here.
Based on its own acumen and his own deduction, he reconstructs the stages of the murder, working for three types of crime, each for each of the three young men, who had been the murderer. Then draw a fourth hypothesis, borne by the fourth subject, assuming that he could be a policeman killed and in that case then he was killed by one of the three for some reason related to revenge for the death of the old criminal lawyer, who essentially was opposed that one of the protected males marry Helen:  could be to the detriment of hereditary taint of Rupert Giles or Dinkum, or be borne by the girl. The fact is that this is the motive, the love between Helen and one of the three males, since the track linked to the heritage is discarded immediately because it was entirely devoted to the Foundation for the benefit of underprivileged children. However alibis seem to exclude the three friends: Giles that he had an appointment with the lawyer has seen at 14.30, arriving at the house where he is living together with Rupert, he had watched his friend who was going away in advance (having him the appointment at 16 with Gemminy) his great-coat to the arm: in those moments the reconstruction of the police showed that the lawyer was dying, then the two young people are protected by alibi of being away from the scene of the murder; Helen would remain, but Giles says that there was a verbal misunderstanding with her, not having gone she to a place called Bell but Dell. Basically would be to examine the position of policeman.
But then the old man retraces his steps, taking into consideration Rupert with another hypothesis, and here the story ends. Indeed it would end, if it were not the real end, with two twists ending, one more overwhelming than the other, that indicates the true murderer and the identity of the old “detective”.

The quality of the plot is very high. The voltage and intelligence in creating the situations is miraculous. By creating the plot, Christianna Brand elaborates the ideas of other writers to her earlier: thus, in essence, she is a mannerist, but a very high quality mannerist and very smart, since when she uses her ideas, creates completely new situations, which in some way to make them the new model to be imitated: I mean the reason why the policeman is killed. When I read the story years ago, venturing in solving the riddle (because essentially there is also this in this novel, a sort of challenge relates to Ellery Queen: the race that pits the reader to the writer to explain the performance of facts), I realized several things which were then covered later. And one of the solutions that I wanted to give, in part, coincided with the final solution by Brand: I realized I had figured out the trick. But if you see well, even the “great find” by Christianna Brand, despite being “original”, is at the same time a variation of a “great revolutionary idea for the era in which it was conceived” by another author, French, of which I will not name, then widely exploited: who guesses the name of this great French author? The idea of ​​Brand and the idea of ​​this great author are essentially two sides of the same coin: the original author was based on the use of a distorted identity, Brand using the same procedure uses an object, which in a sense is its symbol. Found a really brilliant idea!
“Detective” lent to the story, the old man whom Giles goes to see , in what I call “a challenge with the reader”, discards the various solutions one at a time, and in that Brand has historical references: The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Berkeley, where each of the participants in the meeting elaborates his own theory into something different from the previous ones, and The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen, in which there aren’t several explanations associated with different subjects, but only one, Ellery, which processes 4 different solutions, and discarding three arrives at the final one: a little ‘what happens here.

The story is called “warm white mist” in Italian, referring to mental confusion of the murderer: when will escape the hot white fog that invades his mind, he will able to remember how the facts are. This “warm white mist” reminded me “Red Mist” by Paul Halter who has close ties with our title: the murderer is insane, the beginning of the end finds its explanation in ours in the end, almost in the end in that by Halter, and Red Mist dims the mind of Jack The Ripper when he is taken from the murder rampage. In this case, of course, Halter could have taken something from the story of the Brand!

I would add that the story of Christianna Brand is linked to The Finishing Stroke by Queen. The writer, in a sense, the reference ranges, clobbing it. Who read the novel ’58 by Ellery Queen understood me (but of course after reading this story), who is not,obtains thebook andread it.

One last observation seems relevant: the modus operandi of the murderer seems to me akin to that of the murderer in Death From a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson. In fact, in both works, the succession of events, the two murders, is not that effective, what appears at first sight. 

In addition, the Locked Room proposed by Christianna Brand seems to have been designed after reading the crucial addition by ClaytonRawson, in the LockedRoom Lecture of his main character “The  Great Merlini”  turn in Death from aTop Hat.

 Merlini said that Fell at The Hollow Man mentions basically two classes of Locked Rooms:
 “.. He mentions two major classes: (A) The crime committed in a hermetically sealed room Which really is hermetically sealed,and no murderer has escaped from WhichBecause no murderer was actually in the room, and (B) the crime committed Which in a room only Appears to be hermetically sealed,and from Which there is some more or less subtle means of escape
And then unexpectedly he adds  there is also a third not covered by Fell:
 “…There is, “he unexpectedly announced basis,” one more class of locked-room  flimflam.  Class C.
What is Class C?”
“It’s something Dr.Fell did not mention, as I remember. Superintendent Hadley was always interrupting him in the most interesting places.
“If this person Fell always had to work up a lather of suspense On His listeners before he flesh out with itI do not blame the SuperintendentGet on with it!
Class C includes Which Those murders are committed in a hermetically sealed room Which really is hermetically sealed and no murderer escapes from Which, not Because He was not there, but Because He stays there, hidden-
But-Gavigan and  I both started to protest.
Stays there hidden until after the room Has Been broken into, and leaves before it is searched.”
In essence, the Locked Room used by Christianna Brand.

Pietro De Palma


2 pensieri su “A wonderful Locked Room by Christianna Brand

  1. 282daniele Autore articolo

    Thank You, Sergio. Christianna Brand is one of the best writers I read. Her Locked Rooms (this, Death of jezebel, Tour de Force, Suddenly at His Residence) are very nice, written very well, and with great imagination.



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