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

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