Charles Daly King : Arrogant Alibi, 1938

Born in 1895 in New York, Charles Daly King was educated at Newark Academy, Yale and Columbia University. He graduated in psychology, and after having fought as an officer during the First World War, he became one of the biggest followers of Gurdjieff, interesting about the sleep and its components, since his thesis, publishing thick essays about psychology, including Beyond Behaviorism (1927) and The Psychology of Consciousness (1932). He was part of the group of AR Orage in New York and later headed the group in Orange in New Jersey. Besides the two texts quoted, he wrote a manuscript which circulated only in circles of fans, The Oragean Version. He died in Bermuda in 1963.

From 1932, he wrote seven novels, six of which are published, which represent the legacy of vandinian mystery school, perhaps of more than the highest expression.

Arrogant Alibi is characterized, like all the his other five novels (but we should say six, because you know for sure that Daly King finished a seventh novel whom he was waiting to be published after the Second World War, but that it was not more) from atmosphere heavy with suspicion, and a plot as usual complicated: here Michael Lord (police lieutenant), always accompanied by psychologist Rees Pons, is invited to Hartford, home of the rich Victoria Timothy wife of an Egyptologist (rather, predator of tombs) that has brought in America a large part of the things he had stolen in Egypt, constituting in a place, united to his home, a gifted museum. The name of this villa is Perkette.
That evening there will be a reception, during which they provided the musical entertainment, and will be attended Grant Worcester friend of Lord (is he who invited him) and his wife Garde; Charmion Dannish, girlfriend of Dr. Earley, young protege of the rich widow, who will sing, and the same Earley who should play something; the lawyer Gilbert Russell, office of the widow; and two Egyptologists, Ebenezer Quincey and Elisha Springer. However in the mid-evening, during the interval, Charmion having a bit of sore throat and remembering that in the bathroom next to the bedroom of the home mistress, on the first floor, there is a tube of aspirin, went there. She takes the aspirin, also she makes some gargle, then hears something in the neighboring room, and then not going across the door through which she entered, but from another through which the bathroom communicates with the dressing room adjoining the bedroom, she goes here.

A few minutes later, the Inspector Lord, downstairs, while the guests and his friend Pons are in the room where there will be a concert, hears the sound of a phone, but does not understand at first where it comes from; when he picks up the phone, he learns from Dr. Earley, left shortly before, called at the home of a patient who is very ill, that he would not return home to perform, because his patient is dead and he must also attend to bureaucratic chores: he pleases Lord to report the incident to the hostess excusing him. While he has laying the receiver, Lord is intrigued by a faint glow of light at the end of a corridor, where he knows that there are no lights, but while he is about to go and to see, first he hears a loud scream and then the same cry more attenuated, that comes from upstairs. Bouncing down the stairs, he hears a noise coming from the master bedroom, he enters, and he sees Charmion deathly pale that looking at a point she is going to faint. He supports her in time to see he too, a body lying on the floor near the bed: is the body of rich widow, with a dagger by the unusual shape, stuck in the throat, so that the handle baits parallel to the chin.

Michael Lord, immediately sees a phone and tries to call the police, but the line is silent because someone cut the wires: you will find that the scissors used are those which come from the basket of embroidery work of the mistress, placed elsewhere. Lord, puts Charmion on the bed and, after making sure himself about the death of Victoria Timothy, goes downstairs to ask the butler, Rath, when the hostess was uphill. Also turns to his friend Grant Worcester, asking him to call the police because there was a murder, even if that on the front does not believe him. Meanwhile, the attention of Lord is again drawn to the dark corridor from which comes out a dim light: he goes there and understand that ithrough it that the museum is connected to the house. Gone into, he finds at a huge room, lit by a dim light, two men, Springer and Quincey, self-styled Egyptologists, who are discussing about the dating of something that attracts the attention of Lord: it is the same dagger that a few minutes ago was stuck in throat of widow Timothy. Why is there, more of everything clean?

Presenting himself to two men and informing them about the death of the widow, Lord can know not only their names but also to understand that that dagger is the twin of the other used for the murder, and that both were in a showcase of the museum . When the three enter newly in the house, the cops are coming, under the command of Lieutenant Bergman of the police of Hartford.
 According to the times, the murder seems committed within about sixteen minutes, from 22:45 (time at which the hostess was seen rising, by the butler, who testifies) to 23.01 (the time of discovery of the body part Lord). Only that at this time all seem to be in a barrel of iron: the majority of the guests, including spouses Worcester, Dr. Pons, Russell, were at the hall where was the concert and were still there when it was given the news of the death of Victoria Timothy and nobody saw someone get away; the two Egyptologists were at the time of the cry, in their room of the museum to examine the other dagger, and, unless each covers the other, could not have been them (they also would never know about the existence of the telephone wire and the place where to find the scissors, or you?); Dr. Earley was even out of the house and the phone call came from outside testifies it. So what? Who ever did kill her?

At the hearing in front of the coroner, Lieutenant Bergman, gathered all the evidence, called Charmion and Lord to testify, rebuilt the discovery of the body, called Charmion later to explain why once finished gargle, she was not simply out of the bathroom to go down but had stretched the path entering the dressing room and from there into the chamber of the Mrs Timothy from which she would have to go out in the vestibule leading to the stairs, and not having been able to explain it, the head of the investigation incriminates as the killer, even in contrary to legal procedure of this.
At this point, Michael Lord, Dr. Earley and others agree to try to save the girl.
During the interrogation in front of Dr. Earley, that is the coroner in charge of defining the nature of the death of Mrs. Timothy, Grant Worcester, friend of Lord (is he who invited him to the party) accuses publicly such Kopstein, politician with disreputable friendships, to have made killing the woman, who opposed herself to his claims; and says he saw a man flee from the house. However, if these revelations are new , these are later denied by the revelation that no one came out of the house after Dr. Earley left: it is witnessed by a lot of persons.

However Kopstein is another point to be clarified. As well we learn that the two alleged Egyptologists, old friends of husband of Mrs Timothy killed, were not actually getting together in the museum to date the dagger, as revealed to the investigators, but in turn they went to the toilet and then leaving the showcase with the two daggers into at the disposal of the other, as long as was not the Egyptologist who said he would have gone to the toilet, to kill the rich widow.
In other words, if before the alibis were unassailable, now begin to see the stretch marks.
For more, you find that Quincey had a serious reason to kill her: he had a bill due of two thousand five hundred dollars that he would have to pay to the old woman at the day after the murder of her.

Dr. Earley calls on the phone and happily he says that after a series of tests, the position of Charmion has changed, because it has not disclosed any possible motive against her, as well as anyone, Bergman, had suggested that there could be.
Other strange things happen, however: by the maps of the various floors of the house, used in the renovation of the same house, is torn that about the first floor, where was murdered the old Timothy, a maze of corridors, dark corners, and rooms without a link, which can be accessed not only through the main staircase for which rose Charmion and Lord, but also through a secondary staircase. New questions.
Lord would re-query Quincey about the bill about which he didn’t speak, but he finds the door of the museum closed, boarded up from the inside and moreover he sees slide under the door some rivulets of a viscous liquid and dark red that is undoubtedly blood. He Shoots the door hinges, he manages to demolish it, without falling down to the poor Quincey lying on the ground, whom they find with the other twin dagger, stuck in the back: he, after to have mumbled words that are currently without sense, dies .

The room was locked from the inside. Bystanders frisk it: there is no door or window that may have been used to escape and moreover the sarcophagi are all sealed by pieces of scotch old and yellowed. How did the stabber to eclipse, a few minutes before all persons arrived, without they had seen someone escape?
After Lord will first deciphered the words murmured to his ear from dying Quincey, whom Springer will reveal to be a magic Egyptian formula: Quincey would murmured “sersew wah wah wah wah”, ie 6-1-1-1-1, because obsessed by the magic of Ser Wah, the murderer will be nailed in a spectacular final at which it will be clarified how a first crime was committed without no one could have done, and how could escape a murderer from a locked room, not before an unassailable alibi was shattered.

Extraordinary novel of Daly King, Arrogant Alibi is one of the best novels of the ’30s: fantastic setting, in a spooky house, full of hiding places and dark corridors, blends puzzle mystery (here we have the triumph of Whodunit: also an impossible crime and a crime in a locked room ) with psychological mystery to grind an airtight alibi (with the triumph of Howdunit), creating a superb staging in which the suspects and the persons suspected appear and disappear, mysterious clues overlap (the phone cord severed, two similar daggers, the time clock in the electrical room of the died widow forward over twenty minutes compared with precise, the mysterious number 6-1-1-1-1), in which even the seedlings of various plans at which the tragedy consumes contain puzzles (the torn page with the map of the first floor of Perkette).

An extraordinarily vandinian novel.

The thinking behind the crushing of an airtight alibi, and the capture of an evil murderer, is very complicated, son worthy of all this literature that from Van Dine originated: the extremely complicated thinking behind the solution of puzzle at The Bishop Murder Case, by S.S. Van Dine; The Greek Coffin Mystery, by Ellery Queen; or also About the Murder of the Clergyman’s Mistress, by A. Abbot: it is as if Daly King had drawn from all other vandinian authors that before him had their debut as part of the novel, creating a super novel that had characteristics taken from various sources, but in the same time it was not a mere collage, but new original work that transcended its same original sources, creating and recreating all the problems of the enigma novel of the ’30s and bringing them to an unusual level of stylistic perfection.

Moreover, it is obvious that it’s a vandinian novel: first Michael Lord is accompanied by his friend the psychologist Pons, and thus form a pair, at which one of the two elements is an institutional figure: Ellery is related to his father who is a police inspector, Philo Vance is related to Markham which is a District Attorney, Abbot is linked to Thatcher Colt who is a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Daly King perhaps had as model for his Michael Lord, Lieutenant of Police, the character created by Abbot, Thatcher Colt. There is also here a trick that calls another vandinian famous, Ellery Queen, at least in his novels of the ’30), ie the dying message: what else is precisely Sersew Wah Wah Wah Wah? And yet vandinian is another feature: the Egyptian setting. In fact, since the early 1900s when many tombs were discovered and important excavations were undertaken in Egtitto until 1922, the year of the discovery of the tomb of Tut-Ank-Hammon, there are many novels that show locations of Egypt, from R. Austin Freeman (The Eye of Osiris, 1911) to Dermot Morrah (The Mummy Case Mystery, 1933), Agatha Christie (Death on the Nile, 1937 and Death Comes as the End, 1944). But, in the novels of the so-called vandinian school, they rise to a real distinctive character.

In fact, from the novel by S.S. Van Dine, The Scarab Murder Case, 1929, all or most ,those who wanted to refer to Van Dine copying the elements of his narrative style, ended up creating a novel that had Egyptian setting or artifacts that were related to ancient Egypt or other exotic locations that could still arise from Van Dine: Ellery Queen (The Egyptian Cross Mystery, 1933); Rex Stout (Red Threads, 1939) in which the Egyptian setting becomes Indian setting ; Clyde B. Clason (The Man From Tibet, 1939) at which to the setting in Egypt is replaced a Tibetan setting; Richard Burke (Chinese Red, 1940) in which the exotic setting here becomes Chinese; and finally this novel Daly King.

The same trick that the murderer uses to get away with it, brings us to the second novel by Van Dine The Canary Murder Case, not because it is the same instrument, but because on an instrument of common use, ingeniously, the murderer builds his foreignness to the realization of the crime.

Finally the Locked Room: when the room is more closed than ever, and cannot be a suicide, and there was not something that has moved the time of the assassination, and there are not conditions such that the murderer could confuse himself with who had gone into the room, because it was dark or smoke, and there are not other outputs, the solution is only one: there’s some form of output… masked . This masked output then is found, but it is kept locked on the other side, by a nail whose head is rusty which leads to think that output has not been used for a long time. So what?

A new twist will change this solution into another.

But the guilty will flee, only he will not escape a terrible death, that will re-lead us to a previous novel by S.S. Van Dine, The Greene Murder Case.

After writing this article in Italian, I did read it to my friend Mauro Boncompagni and I asked him why the only cover of this novel, which is visible on the network (Collins Crime Club, 1938) was too explicit, revealing a lot of the novel. He told me that my remarks on the english cover of the novel by King were just, but also told me something I did not know: it seems that before me one of the greatest unrecognized and reviewers of mystery novels , Torquemada, in a review of the book, in fact, appeared in the Observer in 1938, had made the same my remarks.
He also told me that he was a great admirer of Carr (Mauro told me that, because we are both fans of John Dickson Carr), as well as a refined man of culture and translator (with his real name Edward Powys Mathers) and compiler crosswords, past to history (under the pseudonym Torquemada). It seems that Colin Dexter has recently reminded him.

Pietro De Palma

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