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

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