The Great Locked Room by Herbert & Wyl

 

 

Michel Herbert & Eugene Wyl : La Maison Interdite, 1932

 

 

 

Michel Eugene Herbert & Wyl, published it in 1932. La Maison Interdite, since then, including the experts, has always been considered a classic of the Locked Room.
In Italy it was published, not full edition, in 1941, in the series of GEM, “Gialli Economici Mondadori” (pre-war series), with the title “La casa vietata” but with a pseudonym: Michael Wally. Igor Longo discovered many years ago that Michael Wally was the union of  name by the first, Michel (Herbert) and the surname by the second (Eugene) Wyl.
The biographical facts are which seem random: it is known that they were written three other novels (here disparut l’Homme, Le Crime derriere doors, Les Serpents d’Or).
From some French sources, it appears that the two names Herbert & Wyl, were traceable to the same author, who had also used the pseudonyms Michael Herbert and Joan Sun (to publish other novels) and was born in 1898 and died in 1978; other sources speak of two distinct authors.
Unfortunately since then, the novel La Maison Interdite has not been published, nor has anyone thought of proposing it in full.
And that’s a shame, because I think it’s a masterpiece unknown (to us, of course). And I must say that from having tried a lot but never having found (rarely), I finally managed to read it just because it was given to me by a friend at Christmas.
First is notable for a feature throughout the French, the atmosphere: an impossible crime occurred in a castle surrounded by a park.
Many elements characteristic of this atmosphere:
Luckenbach Castle, built by banker Goldenberg, then ended up in jail for defrauding many investors, and several million francs disappeared into thin air (which is suspected to have been hidden in the castle), a series of warnings to all those who have become After the owners to abandon the castle, on pain of death, the death of one of the castle, Grodman, what happens in one case, the purchase of property by a butcher, even the president of an association of butchers, who got rich during World War I, with orders to the army, Stamford, Stamford sending three threatening letters, the last of which announces the death at midnight on October 28.
Around the intended victim was a crowd of characters, all of his subordinates: the servant Sting, Butler Merriam, the driver Hector Hunter, the lame Tonio, the former nurse and wife of Charles of Stamford, Teresa; Bennard the custodian of the property; Secretary, Marquis (decayed) Laguyéres.
The night of the alleged murder, Stamford Tonio commandeth to be alert and to accompany a mysterious visitor he expects, so it is, but once entered, into the library, the guest kills Stamford and.. disappears into thin air: for home there’s some people and a lot of servants and all are agreed that the murderess was not seen in the basement, ground floor or first floor and is not even out the front door, and there is no’ other output (except for a secret passage which is then found in the cellar, but that was not feasible because it is full of water and mud as soon as it opened, the water floods the one who broke through the door, if the hole had been opened before, There would be all that excess water and mud and the floor of the cellar would have shown traces, while it is clean). In short, a disappearance and a Locked Room magnificent.
At this point I report of the additional interesting trivia peculiar of this book.
First, uncharacteristically, the subjects investigated for a murder in a house are not good members of society, but all belonging to the servants, and the rest of the landlord is a butcher, very well characterized (like all the other characters), there are those investigators who arrive at conclusions all different from each other (the lieutenant, the judge and the private detective, Inspector of Police, the prosecutor) and that, this novel has a point of contact with the Leo Bruce’s masterpiece, A case for three detective, novel of 1936, after this by Herbert & Wyl: there but the one who gives the fourth solution, the real one is a policeman, Sergeant Beef, whilst here in reverse the situation, making fulfill the butler who was about to be sentenced to death, is a domestic, Gustavo Sting, which explains the arcane mystery, brilliantly, and does, in the process, becoming a role in the process of Anglo-Saxon, is never just a defense witness, but the main subject of the parties (defense and prosecution). However, the two heroes, Sergeant, and the servant of the campaign are those “good”, which are much more opposed to detective referenced. In fact, in A case for three detectives, the good Sergeant Beef, expression of the investigative work is not in the limelight, the long ridicules the three imaginary solutions of Lord Simon Plimsoll, Monsieur Amer Picon, and Bishop Smith, caricatures of Lord Peter Whimsey (D. Sayers), Poirot (A.Christie), Father Brown (GKChesterton). Instead it “The house is prohibited,” the Lieutenant Trench, Judge Gray, the Inspector Travis, the Deputy Attorney General, the great private detective Tom Morrow characters are cocky and mean: the first has never managed to solve a case, while believed “to have the soul of a Sherlock Holmes” and, although to do so, formulates his allegations proved unfounded then the Marquis, the second, young and active, but with “a spirit of contradiction pushed to the extreme” does not hesitate to ridicule and discredit the work of the first, releasing the Marquis and accusing Charles Merriam, the third, pinning their suspicions on the lame, Tonio, the fourth of Bennard, because it must stand as a solver of all, contemptuous of the thesis of the policeman, the fifth, just to pocket the prize promised by cousins ousted from the butcher will (other characters mean and greedy, beautifully sketched in their inconsistency social and even able to condemn an innocent man to pocket the inheritance, and fight among themselves because the cousin still more greedy brother would not want to recognize even the ten percent at the private eye), does not hesitate to accuse the butler, in alliance with the judge incompetent, just to get him condemned to death.
This characterization is a very popular data distinctive of this work: it is as if the novel was conceived as a re-evaluation of the populace, a sort of revenge of the subjects usually not considered in the literature Yellow: the first of this novel had never as a servant, who usually has in the Golden Age detective novels a marginal role (except for butlers and housekeepers), could rival even to debunk the claims of a lieutenant, a police inspector, a judge, a prosecutor and a famous private detective. A major role that rivals and surpasses even the great role of Sergeant Beef. So Herbert & Wyl subvert the rules of customary Crime Novel and create a small jewel.

Moreover, the presence of a crowd of people belonging to the people and enriched the bourgeoisie, which also belongs to a marquis fallen, demonstrates the habit of never calmed French, daughter of the revolution of 1789, to oppose the rise of the aristocracy and upper classes , which instead are typical subjects of the novels of Anglo-Saxon (the aristocracy in America is replaced by the big bankers, businessmen, the entrepreneurial middle class) is no accident that the Marquis Guyeres is a crook, a scoundrel short Then little by little began to live an honest man, however, experiencing a condition of subordination that clashes with its noble origins. So, deep down, we see in the novel is also a hidden motive is social.
And the incongruity of the situations that make the crime “impossible” is explained with great subtlety, revealing many different interests and so many secrets unconfessed explained that once they rise Gustavo Sting detective leading is no accident that three procedural subjects, in ‘ courtroom, the (National) President of the Court of Appeals, the (city) Deputy Attorney General, the (city) Parker’s defense attorney, recognized the greatness of a servant (another citizen of the French Republic founded on the eternal values of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternity), much detective race than they have been demonstrated. What is surprising is the reasoning behind the explanation, simple but incisive: the mysterious visitor who can be and how it could vanish. I must admit that surprised me. I have read all the major Locked Rooms and shut the other hand I realize that there are still many that can be a pleasure for the intellect.
Ah, the good novels of the past …

Pietro De Palma

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