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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 E.Q.M.M. on 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 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. But 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 looks at  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, there’s 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 for 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

Pietro De Palma short story : Senator Banner’s Death

Exceptionally, today I don’t post on my blog an article critical about a novel, but a short story I wrote several years ago, translated into american language a few years ago, at the request of an acquaintance of mine, because it could have been inserted in an anthology of pastiches dedicated to Ellery Queen. The anthology has not been realized, and then today I publish my short tribute: it is an  Ellery Queen apocryphal adventure , with a variation of “Locked Room”. I think it’s quite enjoyable. Happy reading.

Senator Banner’s Death


Pietro De Palma

Ellery was still sleeping when the doorbell rang. Sergeant Velie and Policeman O’Rourke were there, looking for his father.

  • “Inspector Queen is here?”
  • “Heck, what’s the matter on this Sunday morning?”
  • “Inspector, the D.A. wishes to see you in a hurry.”
  • “But what’s so pressing to knock me out of the bed at 8:30 of a Sunday morning?”
  • “Murder! Senator Banner was killed.”
  • “Listen to this!”

Half an hour later the Inspector said to the filipino servant:

  • “When Ellery wakes up, send him to…”
  • “I’m ready, Pa’.”

Ellery fully dressed and with the usual fisherman’s cap on his head, was already at the door.

  • “I heard the conversation and I dressed immediately. Let’s go.”

Together the fours went to Senator Banner’s.

The house was built on the 6th Avenue and was more a villa then a mansion, with Palladian features like Jefferson’s home: in fact it was built at the beginning of the 19th century.

Inside a crowd of policemen, people of the forensic department and homicide squad where waiting for their arrival. Someone was checking the fingerprints and others were questioning the witness.

A policeman with a mop of blond hairs stopped them.

– “Where are you going?”

– “I’m Inspector Queen. The D.A. Fallagan sent for me.”

– “Sorry. You are awaited there”, and pointed out to an open door. No, the door was really flung open or better was thrown away on the side.

Ellery asked:

  • “Did you break the door down to enter, didn’t you?”
  • “Yes, indeed. But who are you, Mister? Asked the D.A.”
  • “He’s my son”, answered Inspector Queen. – “He solved the case of the “Dancing Dead”, do you remember?”
  • “Ah…that’s him”, he mumbled, looking Ellery up and down.
  • “Don’t take offence, Inspector, but your son doesn’t seem to me a smart one.”
  • “Yes, I agree. But at the right moment nobody can stop him.”
  • “Speaking of the door, why did you break it?”, asked Ellery.
  • “It was closed from inside!”, said another guy with a trench coat and a fedora on his head in Bogart’s style.
  • “I wonder why people wish to dress that way…”.
  • “Listen to who’s talking!”, replied the guy with the Bogart’s attire. “You seem to me like a fisherman who forgot his rod and wading boots.”
  • “But who are you?”
  • “I’m Commissioner Brady.”
  • “Mmm, the famous Commissioner Brady. Haven’t you retired?”
  • “I won’t let you use this tone, young man!”
  • “Ok, Ok, don’t get angry!”

Inspector Queen gave him a nod to let the matter go.

  • “Where is the Senator?”

They pointed out to a body lying under a sheet. A stout man in a purple dressing – gown, lay lifeless on the floor, a little bullet hole on the right temple.

  • “He shot himself in the head” – said one of the presents,

pointing out to a .22.

Ellery sniffed the barrel: the gun had undoubtedly fired shortly before.

  • “Case solved”, exclaimed Richard Queen.
  • “Why did you summon us?”
  • “Well, actually there’s something…”, said the Commissioner.
  • “The Senator was left-handed, so he would have shot himself on the left temple. Besides, some months ago he had suffered from a hemi paresis on the right side, so…he would have used the left hand.”

The Inspector objected:

  • “But if he had half turned the trunk, he would have been able to shot himself on the right temple!”
  • “You are in the right, Dad, but the bullet would’ve followed a different trajectory, hadn’t it?”
  • “Yes, son, but what does it mean?”
  • “The Senator was killed in a room closed from the inside, and him alone could close or open it. Naturally you did not found some kind of a hideout where someone could have lie in wait…”.
  • “No, in this room there aren’t hiding-places. But the earth place in the hall has a secret door that goes nowhere; the ceiling has crumbled long time ago, judging by cobwebs.”

Ellery looked around. It was a studio with two great windows with bars on. He tried them ascertaining that they were made in solid wrought iron. No signs that they had been removed and then cemented back in place.

  • “So the room was locked from inside?”
  • “Sure. Double-locked. No chance that it was locked from outside. There are no scratches on the key, and the lock is in the right place.”
  • “But are you really sure that it wasn’t locked from outside?”
  • “Yes, of course. You see, if you insert the key from the outside it doesn’t turn. You can use it only from inside.”
  • “Odd!”
  • “Not for me. The lock is defective on the outside. However this settle things one and for all, doesn’t it? You can open that door only from inside.”
  • “Who were at home at the moment of the murder?”
  • “The wife, two sons, the secretary, the butler. And the cook of course.”
  • “Why of course?”
  • “Because the Senator loved the good food. Particularly chocolate. We found him with the mouth and the fingers dirty of chocolate. There was a chocolate paper on his side.”
  • “A chocolate?”
  • “Probably. There is a big packet of assorted chocolates on the desk, full of discarded papers.”
  • “Inspector, there is another one on that bureau. Much more assorted.”

Ellery got near the furniture and saw that the packet was full of Avalanche chocolates, the best of all. He unwrapped one of the chocolates to take it to his mouth when he noticed a little hole on the paper. Rapidly he examined the other ones and ascertained that all of them had the same infinitesimal hole. He broke the chocolate and immediately smelt the characteristic scent of bitter almonds.”

  • “But what the hell…”, said the Commissioner.
  • “Cyanide!”
  • “Whoever has committed this murder wished to be sure he were plumb dead!”
  • “Yeah. But why shoot him if…?”
  • “Who can say? Now I wish to talk to the butler, said Inspector Queen.”

Velie came back accompanied by a loose-limbed guy with an impassive face and a look more proper to a gravedigger than to a butler.

  • “I hope your name isn’t Jarvis, doesn’t it?”
  • “That’s my name. What’s the matter?”
  • “Really your name is…?”
  • “Jarvis, at your service, Sir.”
  • “Of all the queer things…”
  • “Have you ever seen this packet?”, asked Ellery pointing out to the poisoned one.
  • “Oh, yes Sir. I’m sure that it was delivered last evening.”
  • “By whom?”
  • “I can’t say. The doorbell rang, I opened the door and the packet was there, on the ground. A beautiful chocolate box, with a note of thanks. The Senator read it, frowned and observed that he didn’t know the sender.”
  • “That was…?”
  • “Let me think, Sir. M.M. Mulligan, I’d say. Yes, Vera Mulligan. He said he didn’t know that lady, or maybe he didn’t remember her. In any case she must know him very well, seeing that the chocolates are the Senator favourites. Cherry brandy, walnut, strawberry and orange.”
  • “Show me where you find it.”

They went out.

  • “Here”. The point was near one of the column of the

open gallery. Ellery saw a sudden glare; he leaned and picked up something, setting it in his pocket. It seemed a metallic object.

  • “You were alone when you found that box?”
  • “Meaning at home? No, no. They were all here.”
  • “Where precisely?”
  • “Mrs Rita, the wife and the two sons in the dining room on the other side of the house; the secretary on the second floor, the cook in the kitchen. He pointed out to a door not far from the doorway.”
  • “However yesterday the Senator had come back with a box of cinnamon chocolates. You know, he was crazy about them.”
  • “Thanks, Jarvis. Ah, wait a moment. Do you recognize this key?”

Jarvis examined it.

  • “Where was it, Sir?”
  • “In the lock, of course.”
  • “That’s strange, Sir. The key of this door were lost long time ago. It’s strange that it reappeared just now.”
  • “Are You sure?”
  • “I swear it on my son’s head…he died in the war!”
  • “Why this key can lock the door only from the inside?”
  • “I don’t know, Sir.”
  • “Well, you can leave.”
  • “The wife and the sons since when they do live here, Jarvis?”, asked Commissioner Brady while the butler was going away.
  • “They don’t live here, Sir. They live in Richmond.”
  • “Then why they are here?”
  • “Senator Banner summoned them yesterday. He wished to change his will and today he would have read to them the new arrangements.”
  • “Here we go with the motive. But what was the content?”
  • “How could I know, Sir? Better that you ask to the D.A.”
  • “I don’t understand.”
  • “Inspector, the Senator was a friend of mine. He wished that I rode the will to his relatives. But I don’t know the content. It is a holographic will, you know.”
  • “Where is it?”
  • “In that safe, he said pointing out to a massive cupboard.”
  • “You know the combination?”
  • “No.”
  • “Velie, we must open this safe. Check if someone of the relatives knows the combination, otherwise find me a guy that could open it.”
  • “That’s me, butted in Policeman O’Rourke.”
  • “That’s fine.”

Half an hour later, O’Rourke had opened it with a vial of sulphuric acid that he had poured in a row of holes he had opened all around the combination. The fumes were so suffocating that they had to open the windows in the dead of winter while the snow was falling copiously on the ground. Unfortunately inside there was nothing that seemed to a will.

  • “Stolen, I’m sure”, exclaimed Ellery smoothing some scraps of paper that he had found in the ashes of the fireplace placed on the opposite side of the windows.
  • “Probably this was the will.”
  • “A last question, Jarvis. When you picked up the chocolates box did you notice something odd?”
  • “I don’t know. It has snowed a lot, but there were no tracks in the snow.”
  • “Thanks, Jarvis.”
  • “Who knocked down the door?”
  • “Jarvis and the Senator’s son, John.”
  • “Jarvis, when you entered in the room, how was it?”
  • “Dark.”
  • “Thanks, Jarvis you can go. Oh, please, sent the others in.”

After some minutes Ellery posed the same question to John Banner, a tall and slim youngster that was about the same age of Ellery.

  • “You and Jarvis alone knocked down the door?”
  • “Yeah. My mother, my sister and the cook arrived after a couple of minutes.”
  • “The old will, what does it say?”
  • “Why do you say “old”? There is only one will!”
  • “Now there is only one, yesterday there was another. You see…the second one was burned. I found some scraps in the fireplace.”
  • “Dad disposed that all his properties were to be divided in equal parts between me, mama and sis, plus a 150.000 dollars legacy to his half-sister Geena.”
  • “Where is she?”
  • “We have no notice of her from the moment she went to Amazonian jungle three years ago.”
  • “So the properties were to be divided in about four parts, didn’t they?”

An hour later the investigators, without Ellery that had gone out for some mysterious errand were discussing the case sipping an aged bourbon.

  • “A complicated case, don’t you think?”, asked the State Attorney.
  • “He is one of the heirs, added the Inspector.”
  • “The butler and the cook, do they inherit something?”
  • “Nothing at all.”
  • “Meanwhile Ellery, after a leave of about half an hour, was entering in the room.”
  • “Here you are, Ellery, where did you go?”
  • “Oh. I was looking around for clues.”
  • “Did You found something?”
  • “A little particular, maybe. But Jarvis said to me that he wishes to tell us something of great importance. Must be here in a couple of minutes.”.

They waited patiently, but the butler didn’t show. They went out looking for the man, but it seemed that he was vanished into thin air.

They found him outside, the body outstretched in the snow. The snow was red. There was an axe driven into the head and the corpse was near the garage. No tracks in the snow.

  • “Two murders in so a little time.”
  • “It’s horrible, isn’t it? But who is the murderer?”

The Senator’s wife and daughter were weeping.

  • “We will die, all of us…you must protect us!”
  • “Have you something to say to us to catch the culprit?”

They didn’t answer.

  • “Did the Senator be afraid of someone in particular?”
  • “He did fear nobody. He was afraid of the dark, really.”
  • “What an interesting thing.”

The Inspector invited all the people in the study and said that Ellery would resolve the case soon. At six o’clock in the afternoon they all were I the room, and ten policemen were guarding the doors, while other officer were outside guarding the house.

Ellery was allowed to speak.

-“A very interesting case, nothing to say. The best clues were hidden. The Senator was afraid of the dark, but why he switched off the light before killing himself? On the contrary if he was killed, why the murderer operated in the dark when he well knew the Senator’s phobia? Maybe the dark was of significance. And why Jarvis telling about the chocolate box said that the package was beautiful and perfect? Why did he choose that adjective? Why perfect? And why the key we found in the lock inside the room showed itself after so much time and turning blocked the mechanism? Last but not least what was the use of this thing?”.

He showed a little metallic device to the onlookers.

– “I found it in the snow near the arcade.”

It was a hook.

  • “Let me explain the succession of the facts.. Yesterday Jarvis opened the door after hearing the knock and found the chocolate box. He said the package was beautiful, perfect, probably he thought why there weren’t tracks in the snow and why the box was clean.”
  • “It was put there before it snowed.”
  • “Maybe. But in that case the snow would have cover the box and damp the package. On the contrary it was in order, tight and clean. Why? Simply because it was put there at that hour.”
  • “It’s not possible! There would be tracks, there was not snowing at that time.”
  • “You say so? Well, why did they knock at the door and didn’t ring the bell?”

Nobody answered.

  • “The only reason is that no one deposited there that box coming from outside, otherwise they would have rang the bell. No, gentlemen…the box was put there by someone coming from inside and using this.”

He showed the hook.

  • “This was used to hook the perfect knot and with a fishing rod or a long cane the box was let down from a window. Unfortunately the hook came off, while someone knocked at the door and Jarvis opened. However the poisoned chocolates didn’t kill the Senator. Why? Because he loved the cinnamon ones and ate only those, sparing the others. The murderer must have seen the scene and took his measures. He killed the Senator by means of this.”

He showed the key to the bewildered onlookers.

  • “This was found in the inside lock of the study door and Jarvis said that is has been lost a long time ago. Yesterday after my inspection in the house I noticed that the keys of different doors could open other doors and this in particular could open the second floor bathroom that nobody uses at the moment, due to the fact that the second floor is reserved to the guests. Who could possibly notice that the bathroom had not a key in the lock? This key is perfectly functioning from the inside but of no use if you intend to close the study room from outside. So the person who has let down the chocolate box from the window, used this key to close the room from inside.”
  • “And how could you explain the fact that if the murderer really closed the door from inside, after he had shot the Senator with a silenced .22, could not go out the room?”
  • “Remember the dark, Mister State Attorney. The dark could explain all. The murderer, after killing the victim, stayed in the room and switched off the light, so the people who would break down the door could not possibly see him and he could feign to be arrived after them. Who presented himself soon after you and Jarvis broke down the door, John? And who could possibly know, living here, that some of the keys could open different doors? Who induced Jarvis to think that someone had knocked at the main entrance? Only one person could. The same person that was hiding in the room near the entrance. The same that knocked from inside after having let down the box from the window with the bars using a fish rod or a long cane with a hook attached. The cook.”

All the onlookers turned their eyes on Helen. They saw her dimming look while she took her hands at the throat and collapsed on the floor with the fingers dirtied by chocolate. At last her poisoned chocolates had been useful even tough not for the appointed victim.

  • “She was not a real cook. She was Geena, the Senator’s half sister. She vanished in the Amazonian jungle some years ago, after his brother had nominated her in his will. Then she reappeared in disguise and she had changed so much that his brother didn’t recognize her. Her wish is clear. To wait the right occasion, kill him and escape the punishment. Then he decided to change his will because he thought she was dead. That was the moment when she decided to accelerate her murderous plan. It’s possible that the poisoned chocolates would have served to eliminate one or all the other heirs also.Then she killed Jarvis.  At the beginning my suspect were diverted by the fact that in the will there weren’t legacies for the butler and the cook; then when all the cards were put in the right order the puzzle was perfectly reconstructed.”
  • “Well Done, Ellery, you could be a real investigator.”
  • “In my family that place his already taken,” said the youngster.

The End

John Dickson Carr : The Witch of The Low Tide, 1961

Little known novel, if not unknown, The Witch of The Low Tide, it’s indeed one of the most fascinating novels by Carr.
Published in 1961 , ie in the same year of The Demoniacs, it would seem for the time collocation , a historical mystery. However, to place a novel 50 years before his time , in 1903, doesn’t seem to me to write a historical novel; if anything is a clever attempt to move back the time and to be able to describe in detail the company , not only the customs, but also the clothing , architecture , discoveries, cars, the first supplies of electricity for the home . Descriptions so minute and so accurate to leave open-mouthed and at the same time able to bring down the reader into the atmosphere of the facts narrated .
The story also hides various impossible situations.
The Locked Room ( because that’s what it is ) highlights several possibilities:
1 ) David Garth lied ( we would have the case in which Carr copies Agatha Christie )
2 ) David Garth told the truth.
In this case we would have :
1 ) Marion lied saying that the bomber fled from there
2 ) Marion lied saying that there was a second person who tried to kill Lady Montague
3 ) the alleged strangler vanished into thin air , being able to get out from a cellar where the windows are boarded up from the inside and also is blocked the only exit to the outside.
At first insoluble enigma – gone out from the barred cellar from the inside by two heavy locks and windows locked from the inside – followed a second equally difficult enigma to be deciphered by the means of the intellect : Betty Calder, after arguing very publicly with her sister Glynis that she reached her in her cottage cloese the sea, and after moving away by Cycling, when she arrives to appointment she gave to Garth at 18 o’clock, she finds him already in the pavilion that overlooks the beach .
Garth , however, meanwhile made ​​a terrible discovery , after he was accompanied to villa and to pavilion beside the sea, by his nephew in the car : he found Glynis, strangled , her body still warm , and the tea , packed in a boiling still pot. The reason would want the murderer was still present at the crime scene , because the only footprints in the sand are only those produced by Garth, when he approached the pavilion by the sea, footprints left also by Betty when she reached him . Garth has determined the body to be the sister of Beth , because he is kneeling before and he turned, and after he put things on purpose and then without a will he resulted the broken of a china cup. How did the murderer to strangle her there, if there are no fingerprints , and if the only person who has been seen straying towards the pavilion was the same Glynis wearing a swimsuit of Betty , origin of another quarrel between the two sisters ?
Despite having checked the reliability of statements by Betty about the identity of the sister, and having them confirmed, the police men are not sure that the Glynis murderer has not been made ​​by Betty , perhaps with the abetment by Garth.
Abbot Cullingford , deputy head of the CID , proposes to Garth, his acquaintance, that in return for accepting the proposed versions , he reveals everything he knows about the attempted strangulation of the Marion’s governess and why he does not believe to her version . But Garth is an upstanding doctor , who, having been treating Marion, does not want to reveal anything that might damage her , as well as friendship . But the rejection by Garth, causes resentment of Cullingford which removes his support and leaves him in the hands of the Inspector Twigg , who can not stomach hi .
David thinks he knows who is the murderer, he knows Betty is not the murderess, and she imagines that the story told by Marion about the attempted strangulation , has flaws ; nevertheless he is willing to hold off judgment both Marion and Betty , and fatigue becomes unlikely , because Marion , trusting his word, tries in every way to accuse Betty , since the two women are incompatible : David in a dramatic face to face in which come to light unspecified sexual habits of Marion with an unspecified man, in Paris, he forces her to admit things, heared not only by him but also by someone that was eaves dropping at the door.
At this point, Garth looks for Abbot, and in the name of their friendship , he asks him to give him 24 hours, so that he can set a trap the killer and bring him to the police, asking in return as the two women are exempt to testimony and to reveal “scandalous” facts of their past. Meanwhile, it is found that the young Fielding knew Glynis, and how he escaped an attack in the Grotto , i.e. the billiards room , put in the basement of a famous hotel .
In a tight final , the murderer will prove to be just this after the Garth will make understand him to have gotten the truth , but the Inspector Twigg will be to guess how Glynis Stukeley was killed and how and who confused the events so to imply that the crime had been committed in the pavilion , leaving no footprints in the sand .
First of all, The Withch of The Low Tide is one of the greatest novels of Carr : it is a true masterpiece ! Divinely written (the descriptions , as I mentioned before, are magnificent : see the hotel, or even the clothing of the persons involved or even passers-by , and even descriptions of the cars! Carr, who you know was quite fussy , when it was to evoke atmospheres that did not belong him, documenting about periods and events , made an intensive study, no doubt about it ! On more than one occasion that he almost seems to had experienced that atmosphere, that he was found to live those experiences: almost a case of reincarnation that could excite Paul Halter (as long as he did not think of ) .
I noticed one thing , of which I had never noticed before : another stylistic particular by Carr. When Carr wants hit with emphasis a special pareticular , a name or a certain attitude , he makes a caesura: he refers to what he wants to say , then stops and usually describes something ( such as a fireplace with photographs by Betty and parents by David , or a statue or a candelabra with flickering flames or more ) and immediately picks up where he left off, saying with more emphasis that thing he said. In a sense it is always part of that so-called augmentative mechanism , which is present in some of the novels of the first period , for example It Walks By Night : to increase tension, it says something, then you stop and then when you resume dialogue , something happens and what he had said before, it is magnified , because maybe you changed the tone ( for example, the fountain that once seemed so crystal clear laugh, now it seems to do it or a sinister grin, etc. ..
I like to emphasize another detail , or rather two : at the first, the locked room is once again the result of an act. Here it relates to a given spatial and one temporal together : you remember the exemplification of the Conference by Dr. Fell about Locked Rooms at The Hollow Man and what Leona says at Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher about it: it refers to spatial elements (such as a room may be closed ) and temporal (when the murder was committed before, during or after the room had been closed). Well, in this novel the two elements are combined to make a truly spectacular trick: Carr in this novel tries in every way to put in the mouth by Twigg and by Garth, Le Mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux. But .. there are also other interesting things:
Firstly, the detective who solves the mystery is Garth that is a neurologist who has read Freud’s theories about psychoanalysis ( and here Freud gots to do a lot! ), and he is also an author by mystery novels , at one of which he imagines that is going to happen right here: it is as, called upon to solve the case, were an extension by Carr himself, as if he for once had said Behold, I will solve the case!, constructing a building very complex;
Secondly, if there’s a novel it can be taken as an example (not in the case of Locked Room but in the case of the impossible crime ) is Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie , which I think is very relevant also in the case of the used place, a beach;
Thirdly , the motive: it is the blackmail, for some unconfessable secret. Here we have to do with psychoanalysis, and in fact anything that comes from a certain type of sex drive : you could almost say that this is the most current novel by Carr, and one of the most unusual : it is very rare to find in the novels by Carr , allusions to sexual motives (whereas it is much more frequent in the novels by Ellery Queen) . But John Dickson Carr when he wrote this novel, he had gone out from England , the nation of respectability. However, the subject matter is very despicable : pedophilia. An adult who engages sexual intercourse with a teenager.
It’s interesting to see how Carr , a man, a conservative man, noticed this disturbance of psychological and sexual nature, not from usual prospective for us , men of the twenty-first century, that’s as an adult violence against the child, but from the typical glimpse of that time, i.e. always a disturbance of psychosexual origin who cared a child and an adult, but where the child manifested at a later time, a certain power on the adult , a sort of parallelism that other despicable attitude for which the executioner becomes a prisoner of his own victim, according to a mechanism already unveiled by Proust in his Recherche . We have to remember that Nabokov’s Lolita was written in 1955: Carr may have been well impressed by this work!
The fourth particular I point out, it’s like again, John Dickson Carr in the years ahead, while crafting a problem absolutly magnificent (the crime in the pavilion), when incorporates a double problem ( the locked room in the basement ) ends up focusing on just one, immediately giving of the other problem the easiest possible solution. In a similar situation , perhaps in a more youthful novel , or if Paul Halter had written it , once proposed the problem , it would be done so to give an explanation in line with the difficulty of the problem .
Pietro De Palma

Joel Townsley Rogers : The Hanging Rope, 1946

Joel Townsley Rogers is best known for The Red Right Hand, work which combines in itself the mystery , horror , fantasy and an evident streak of eccentricity . And this definitely deserves the benefit of the public and of the critics. Nevertheless Rogers, not only wrote the thing , but .. a lot more. Indeed, The Red Right Hand , is just one of many works he wrote . Rogers was not so much an author of novels, short or long , but of short stories : he wrote hundreds.

And so The Red Right Hand was an expansion of a story written and published in the same magazine which was published on The Hanging Rope: in fact, the first short story from which was made the famous novel , was published in March 1945 on New Detective Magazine, unlike The Hanging Rope was released in September 1946.

This sort of long story (but I would opt more for the meaning of ” short novel ” because of a little, but always substantially , the work exceeds the threshold of 100 pages that is accepted as a limit because we can start talking about the novel ) , The Hanging Rope , was forgotten for a long time and only in 1990 was rediscovered by Robert Adey ( author of the Bible of Locked Rooms , Locked Room Murders and Other Impossible Crimes: A Comprehensive Bibliography ) and Jack Adrian, who together created an anthology I would say historical, The Art of the Impossible , containing short stories and tales of absolute value , where next to the most famous works (but not much) there are some almost unknown works . It ‘s the case of this work of Rogers.

Daniel McCue lives on the fourth floor of a large luxurious palace , in a large luxury apartment: he is a wealthy businessman who is also a politician .

Every evening, go to visit him two of his friends: his lawyer Paul Bean, who is also a friend of his (who after leaving it , in the street is the object of a joke on the part of boys : he falls , peels one knee and palms of the hands, and bleeding back to his house, without no one saw in that street him neither helped him) and Father Finley, a priest devoted to the cause of abandoned cats, mild and quirky . Both , however , left the building before the murder of the old McCue , and the witness who confirms it is Boaz , the elevator man . The murder of the old man was accomplished with the aid of a bottle of champagne( brought by his friend Paul Bean, who presented it as a gift for his birthday) and then with the poker: but if Paul Bean returns home with bloody hands , the priest enters a building not far from that where the old McCue is dead, when he knows that there’s no one, to find a cat .However, in that building, half deserted , in a bare apartment, devoid of furnishings that are not almost just a bed, a table and a typewriter, also lives the famous playwright Kerry Ott, deaf, there abiding, in absolute silence , to find the inspiration for his new comedy. Tuxedo Johnny Blythe, former police lieutenant , coming from Washington gives the alarm: he came to the apartment of McCue , and found the handle of the door of the house dirty of something that looks blood . Tuxedo which is the former son of McCue having married his daughter , before she remarry Paul Bean and divorce from him. Frightened by the blood, he gets down the stairs and finds that the goalkeeper, such Ignaz Slipsky, wearing the uniform of the police patrols: Tuxedo doesn’t know he came out from police . Slipsky confirms to Tuxedo no one came out, and the other says the door of McCue apartment is locked , having he tried to open it using his key since he failed.

Together they decide to go into the house from the outside, from the balconies. The caretaker , Rasmussen, another weirdo , tells them he saw the devil come out from the apartment of the old Dan :he would go to recover the soul of the old possessed man.

When Tuxedo and Slipsky arrive on the fourth-floor balcony by fire escape stairs and break the glass, they find the corpse of Dan with his hands cramped in the act of grasping the edges of the Bukkara Persian, near the desk Louis XV, the back of his head smashed by a heavy bottle of Champagne ( brought by Paul ) and by wild strokes of poker. As Johnny goes to see the front door ( to make sure whether it is locked from the inside ) and desn’t realize that behind him is Slipsky , they hear a piercing scream coming from one of the other rooms. Tuxedo rushes towards it, and a second later Slipsky finds him dazed at the corpse of Kitty Kane , the beautiful Kitty, whose jugular someone has cut: the warm blood is still gushing out from the mortal wound of the neck. None , however, has seen the murderer , who escaped to the two in no time . He could walk out the door , but it is blocked for the inner chain , and from the balcony no one comes out. So what? How did he do? The only possibility is the bathroom window , which faces on a smooth wall .

The only possibility would be a window opposite , belonging to another stable : watch the odd case , the window overlooks the apartment by the famous playwright Kerry Ott, who lives in a world devoid of its sounds : Ott in fact is deaf . Possible that was just Ott ? Or to kill McCue and Kane were Father Finley ( who just moments before was seen by Slipsky and Boaz , the man of the elevator, go away ; or Paul Bean, went away again before Finley, from McCue home ? The fact is that the two men would have an airtight alibi which is given by Slipsky ; yet the first , who lives in the same building of Ott, and on his own landing, among a myriad of cats , has been seen with wearing gloves covered by blood (but he says it was the meat that he gives her cats ) and one he lost at Ott’s home , where he came in ignoring in that place lived the playwright , from a few days . Instead Bean was attacked in the street by the terrible sons by Kitty Kane , hurting and being robbed of purse , which was found at the Ott home : were they to lose it or was Ott, penetrated through the window ? The fact is that to put in communication the two windows would serve a scale or a board like those used by painters to paint the walls of the rooms. In fact, one of these is found in the apartment occupied by Ott.

To take care of the investigation is “Big ” Bat O’Brien, Homicide Inspector , who will turn , and will be misled in the investigation until Kerry Ott, with the involuntary complicity of a spider, argiope , will demonstrate that the window could never be used , also for a spider web that covered it completely . He will indicate to Inspector who could kill at an absolutely extraordinary manner .

Work of absolute importance, it is a real masterpiece . It has a tension that takes the reader to the end, since after the same identification of the murderer, because the end is built like a thriller : the murderer be able to get away or not? Will he be able to escape using the escape way that he has developed , a hanging rope , to avoid being caught?

In the final, are found other things that give a glimpse of an absolutely diabolical plan .

The novel has also the features that make it if not unique, at least rare: the plot has a very strong atmosphere , which almost turns the detective story in a horror story by the oddity of the situation and by the components that Rogers glimpses , taking care to give each character a benevolent air that strides and contrasts with a more hidden : in this , and in the end at nothing granted, could remember Fredric Brown . A more direct feature exclusively attributable to him , differentiating him from all other writers is his literary style , which uses a language sometimes obsolete , with exclusive words . The construction of the same period , uses a syntax strongly sought, almost before writing the sentence , he weighed the impact on the reader. These phrases sometimes may be too grotesque if not surreal .

A such perspective would suggest a slow writing, but obviously at Rogers was an innate characteristic to want and to know write in such way , if we think to the hundreds of stories that he wrote. From a certain point of view , the bizarre and horror remind me the stories by Stanley Ellin .

The Hanging Rope , from another point of view is a kind of synthesis of Mystery (the two impossible crimes) and Hard Boiled . From this second kind , it takes the claustrophobic atmosphere , made almost exclusively indoors , and the topics covered: the playwright could remind for example a reporter , the politician is disliked ( Dan McCue ), there’s femme fatale (Kitty Kane) , there is the sad murderer.

However, outside of the Baroque and refined style (an example is the description of the spider web: “It is not the sloppy and messy canvas , woven haphazardly in a quarter of hour by a teridio , but the patient work of an argiope , an octagonal canvas, geometric , flawless, with four rays of silk. A job that takes time” ) , surprises the reader.

It reminded me – certainly daring comparison – how Marcel Proust set the writing of À la recherche du temps perdu, with a semantics tortuosity that goes round and round on a certain fact to reveal the hidden aspects as well as the visible ones . This continuous spin of situations , means that the suspicions are cast out for things that appear the most obvious, on all the characters that appear in the plot: for example, Paul Bean , who falls across the street, mocked by the terrible sons by Kitty Kane, woman loved in the past by some characters of the story, that gives herself to the old Dan. There would be nothing strange if falling, Bean had scraped knees and the palms of his hands were scratched and then he bled ; but .. the suspect that knocks him Townsley Rogers is that the blood can belong to old Dan ( then Paul would return later , in the Dan’s apartment) .

The references to the great tradition are countless and the same murderer who in some respects may call some other great previous novels as The Big Bow Mystery by I. Zangwill and The Peacock Feather Murders by Carter Dickson, in fact in my opinion it’s much closer to Le mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux.

The last thing I want to emphasize is that the brilliant idea by Ott on the spider’s web , which essentially concludes the novel “ante litteram” , makes already know who is the murderer without reaching the final , because the final idoes not have to reveal the killer’s name, but to ensure that he comes out of the scene in spectacular fashion.

Notice how the novel gaits about the subject of blood: on the door handle , on bathroom tiles , the blood that flows from the neck of Kitty, that flows from the murderer, is perhaps the most obvious feature of a baroque horror , which is in the same time very spectacular and cinematographic : each of the sequences is as if it was conceived as a pose distinct from the next. The repetition of the scenes of blood permeates the plot also has a golden unhealthy , by grand guignol . The insistence on the gurgle of blood that comes gushing from the throat of Kitty, terrible because the blood is associated with the life ( it is as if we were witnessing her death) , brings to my mind the verses of A.E. Housman : Some can gaze and not be sick , But I could never learn the trick . There ‘s this to say for blood and breath , They give a man a taste for death , which are mentioned by P.D.James before the beginning of her novel, A Taste for Death .

However, it is interesting to note the detail of the web of Argiope because I think it is the direct source of inspiration for other web that in another novel , more contemporary for us , covers the frame of a window, like a glass : I’m talking about La toile de Pénélope by Paul Halter , although Paul interviewed by me long time ago while admitted to have in his library the novel by Rogers, he did not remember that particular in a book that he admitted he had read in the 80s.

 (  ).

I think the reference was , however, settled in him , unconsciously , and then it produced the idea of a spider’s web that deals with the window frame (let look the note No.4 of interview).

However , the two novels differ in the solution that is diametrically opposite : in Rogers , the presence of the web prevents the window may have been used as the entry of the elusive murderer ; in Halter, the presence of the spider’s web is not in itself a fact that prevents the action, because he , overcoming the obstacle,explains by Twist how that window could have been used .

In Halter, basically, there is the overcoming of the idea base , creating the “plus ultra” than the other, bearing in mind , however, that in Rogers, to legitimize the web is also the fact that the window was locked and nailed anyway .

In short , the idea of ​​a spider’s web is the same, but everything changes.

Pietro De Palma


Ulf Durling : Gammal ost , 1971

Ulf Durling is a name that very few people , I suspect, will know . Yet he deserved a mention in the appendix of the famous Mystères à huis clos by Roland Lacourbe, examined ( with its french title: Pour un bout de fromage ) in his beautiful article, A Locked Room Library, by a friend of mine, John Pugmire  ) . 

The reason is clear: in that list , the best Locked Rooms were designed in the opinion of a pool of experts. And Gammal ost has a very nice Locked Room : no doubt about it !

Ulf Durling is a Swedish writer , born in 1940 in Stockholm and became then, after graduation and specialization , a famous psychiatrist. In 1971 he tried to start their own com Gammal Ost ( trans. old cheese ) which was a great success , so much to convince others to write . It ‘s still alive .
The plot takes place in a Swedish pensioner , where they live : the retired printer , founder of the Club of Mystery , Johann Lundgren ; Carl Bergmann , bookseller retired , he also a founding member , and a physician, Dr. Nylander , belonging to the club of mystery ; Alex Nilsson ; the traveling salesman Johanson ; the two teachers , Miss Hurting – Olofson and Mrs. Soderstrom ; Marshal of the army Renqvist .
One of the guests of the pension, Alex Nilsson , 52, already abiding by a few weeks in retirement, is found dead in his room , locked from the inside : lies ” fully clothed, next to the bed , as if he were beating the wounded head against the back … blood on his face and the front of the shirt. On the table .. a bottle of wine and the wine upside down .. spilled on the floor … and even on the face and shirt Nilsson “. In addition, it is found in the trash a piece of cheese ; and on the bedside table , a very powerful diuretic , the Diclorotride -K. There is also a towel stained with red ( wine only ? ) .
But has anyone heard a commotion in the room the night before , as if there had been a quarrel and then there was a second person , because even appears the request of a patch, by the victim to Mr Blom, the owner of the pension: yet there is no injury , even very small body of Nilsson.

Ephraim Nylander assumed that the quarrel ended in tragedy , and that the murderer didn’t of what it had happened : in essence, the death would have occurred at a later time , and then the same victim would have been to turn off the radio , remained on during most of the night , to close the door and then to remain, and  then to succumb for a stroke previously reported ; Johann Lundgren instead ties to Alex Nilsson to his brother, the mysterious visitor Edvin Nilsson , who would be responsible for a fatal poisoning by methanol (a little ‘ what happened in Italy many years ago), and would be back by a mysterious inheritance. Edvin Nilsson would have been the guest of his brother in his room at the pension house , without anyone knowing , and to do so they would come up with a trick , that Alex would pretend to be lame because his brother was, and in this way they would be were traded for one another, and there would be no problems. The two would have had a row and Edvin would kill the other brother . Finally Carl offers his theory : the radio “on” during the night, would mean the manner with which Nilsson would fall asleep because of the wine drunk , because he would have an appointment with his murderer who is supposed to be the husband of the daughter:  i.e. Edvin Nilsson would  blackmail Edvin his daughter and her husband. In practice, according to this latest reconstruction, there would have been two visits : the first of a random buddy of Nilsson , with whom he woluld eat cheese and drink wine, and during which the visitor is injured so much as Nilsson ask s Blom  a patch ; then this goes away and here occurs the second visit, during which the second visitor kills Nilsson and then, after killing him with a blunt object , jump out of the window , using a mattress of blankets taken ​​from the pension , which then he sneaks back in across a secondary port.

The second part of the novel instead supports the theory of Gunnar Bergmann , son of Carl , and police officer (Deputy Commissioner ) , according to which the death was due to natural causes : a cerebral hemorrhage not caused by the blow, but that would have caused the heel to the base of the blow.

The third section is one in which one of the three fans , Dr. Nylander , revises his previous theory integrating it with all the new learned: he remodulates it. Nilsson would have had before his return to Sweden from America , a stroke or a cerebral hemorrhage, which would have caused a emiparalisi: from it,  the lame movement lame . In addition, he would suffer for high blood pressure. Just to his state of health would be connected the medicine found on the bedside table , a very powerful diuretic , the Diclorotride -K. How could a patient very diligent in taking the medication, die for a brain hemorrhage? For a piece of hard cheese and another medicine completely harmless .

Ephraim Nylander finds the murderer , who had to protect someone, for which the Nilsson return would have been a damage. A simple murder but equally highly ingenious.

In essence, at the novel by Durling , the 3 major hypotheses head to three different sections of the novel, of course, that frame the same truths , according to three perspectives and three different views.

The novel is an excuse to compare 3 different ways of seeing things. In essence Ulf Durling develops, to the extreme, the confrontation / clash that it’s at Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce , where the three detectives are caricatures of Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey and Father Brown. Moreover it must be remembered that already at the The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley, different exposures of the same background , performed by different characters, led to the identification of several hypotheses with many different makers . It ‘s the case yet to report , as the same procedure was adopted in The Five Fragments by George Dyers , another extraordinary novel very little known ; the same fact , that seen from the perspective of five different witnesses, different angles and reveals the truth.
In fact, I would almost think that since space in the novel are many references to the authors of the Mystery , which the novel is a tribute ( Bentley, Sayers , Carr, Allingham , Christie , Millar , Brand, Milne , etc. .. ) , and even a reference to the Conference of Dr. Fell in The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, could very well be that happened rather than taking such Case for Three Detectives  by Leo Bruce , he had taken as his inspiration , just The Five Fragments by George Dyers : could be valid both the first and the second hypothesis . In fact, if the three sections of the book underlying to three different formulations of the hypothesis accusatory , it is also true that for the first formulation (the one that provides the Locked Room ) you get three different sub- hypotheses , which, along with the second and third , they would become five.

As part of the divertissement , which is what is ultimately , the novel is , moreover , written in the form of parody . It is not a unique case , because at least in very close to us , other authors have tried to bring their brick building of the palace of Mystery, writing novels in which the protagonists are amateur detectives who take the moves from other : so John Sladek , so Isaac Asimov, so Peter Lovesey , so … Ulf Durling .

The Locked Room  is explained only in the first three hypotheses of the first part , because they belong to the idea of ​​murder that includes the direct presence of the murderer with the victim, while in the second , there is not mention of murder because it is a natural death, while at the third par, the death by Nilsson designed with a murder in a few moments before it happens, assumes that the murderer is not  in the room when Alex dies .

All at a very interesting novel , whose solution is already present in the first part , only that it is not probed properly, and that the final solution is made in front of the reader’s amazement,  distracted by something else, not having a way to digest what he reads .

Pietro De Palma

Christianna Brand : Tour de Force, 1955

Tour de Force is like the swan song of the series: I do not know if it, when was written, C. Brand had decided not to write others novels. The fact is, however, that in this novel happens everything and there is really good reason for which it can be defined as an extraordinary novel. The Inspector Cockrill is on vacation. Together with other people, he is embarking on a discovery tour around the Italy: the ultimate goal is the island of San Juan de Pirate, a little island in front of Sardinia, that is not subject to Italian law, but to law of a local Duke, a sort of absolute ruler: the island derives its name from the fact that in the past it has been a haven for pirates and even during the period when the story takes place, is home to a thriving smuggling trade, the main economic activity together with tourism.
 After a series of waypoints, in Italian cities of art, culture and natural beauty (Milan, Siena, Rapallo, etc. ..), the tour of the Odyssey arrives in San Juan el Pirata. It can be said .. finally, since up to that time it was a real odyssey: bad food, bad hotels , ramshackle tour. So, the angry Inspector Cockrill is happy to be staying in a beautiful hotel , the Bellomare Hotel, with private beach.

The company seems varied: there is a fashion designer, Cecil; there is the musician Leo Rodd who has lost a hand, but he doesn’t lose the desire to flirt right and left with all the beauties he looks, he is accompanied by his wife Helen Rodd, who helps him and assist him; there is Edith Trapp, tourist from the past unknown but which must be certainly rich, since the objects she needs, fashion accessories and clothes she wears are ultimate in terms of quality and refinement; there is Fernando Gomez, the leadership of the Odyssey; Finally, there are Vanda Lane, a tourist rather shy and reserved, and “Louli” Louvaine Barker, a famous writer.
Soon, become manifest dangerous attractions : Fernando is courting Edith Trapp .. and so it’s far nothing bad; The dangerous thing is instead the extramarital relationship that develops between Leo and Rodd Louvaine Barker, thing made all the more dangerous by the fact that his wife has it all figured out: she is now used to the escapades of her husband, but she loves him and forgives him because he, poor in cane, always comes back to her, rich; however, this time it is different, because Leo has vowed to Louvaine he will flee with her, and the wife has realized that this is not a story like the others. The beautiful thing is that in addition to being desired by Louli, Leo is also loved by Vanda Lane, the classic ugly duckling, who falls in love but often she’s not loved in return.
The sea is blue, the beach is lovely and the tourists enjoy fully.
Vanda Lane that prides herself being a great diver, delights others with her famous dives, but just before she delights Cockrill with a strange speech, with which she puts to shame the secrets of the other fellow adventurers, who would have a double life, or at least the skeletons to hide in the closets: Edith Trapp and Fernando Gomez, Helen Rodd and Leo.

The fact is that she begins to dive, and she makes it from a trampoline place on a tip of the cliff; nearby there is just Ms. Trapp: to enjoy more integral tan possible, she has lined up a series of umbrellas and towels in front of her to form an impenetrable curtain to the looks, but from which it is impossible to even get out without being noticed. Especially since Cockrill choses a beach location from which he can eventually dominate the look with his companions without they to see him, as he is, compared to them, in the highest position.
On the second dive, the Lane makes a mistake and she enters into the water wrongly, doing a “belly flop”. She apologizes and goes to the terrace of the hotel to go back on their feet in the cabin; just she stoppes for a moment with Louli Barker, that after two or three minutes, gets down.
Then, they plunge into the sun. Louli dozes off in her very small white bikini next to Cockrill, who disenchanted, he throws some glance to the body by his occasional companion; Trapp is naked or nearly behind the curtain; Cecil is inflated lying above a duck to roast in the sun; Fernando performs in strange styles of swimming to impress Edith Trapp, while Leo and Helen are both under a shelter which would serve to repair only one: the fact is that the Leo’s half body is under the sun, while the other half body is protected by sheets of music. And the afternoon drags on until the sun dies on the horizon. And only then returning to the hotel, across the terrace, they notice that not only the sun is dead, but also .. Vanda Lane. They enter into Vanda’s room and they found her, made on the bed, sit on a large red shawl, not her but by Louli, with her hands clasped around the handle of a dagger planted in her chest, and her hair loose around her head, as if she were a sacrificial victim, and that was some ritual. Murdered no doubt, because there are traces of blood and water in the bathroom, as if someone went after the murder, to wash himself. But if someone had smeared, easily he would not go unnoticed, because blood is splattered and you understand well where the murder was committed: behind a table, in front of which presumably the victim was sitting. There are drops of blood and the rectangular shape of something, a book, a notebook, something, which is then found. It ‘s a diary, with annotations, which make it clear how the activity of Vane was the blackmail: at each page there is a record in respect of each of the persons constituting the group of tourists, including the Inspector, and then a low number in a circle, representing the amount that would have wanted to extort.
But why just one of them? Because a person in a bathing suit, even when wet, would not arouse suspicion, as it would have seemed as he was out of the sea, as if he had not properly dried.

The murderer is a blackmailed who has been forced to kill? This is the first of the assumptions. A police chief is the General Manager who must answer for his actions to Exaltida, the Grand Duke of the tiny island state.
Cockrill consulted about the movements of his companions, at first states that the location where he was, he would have noticed if someone had climbed to kill Vanda Lane, but he did not see anyone. However, the Inspector Cockrill soon becomes clear that his interlocutors are all less that fools, and that he must strive to find the murderer, because otherwise he becomes the first in the list to suspicion: in fact, if he could see all without being seen, the other, because any lower than him, could not realize what he had done; and this small state applies the death penalty for murder: if the others were not, remains only he. So Cockrill is forced to exculpate himself, when he was arrested, so he can understand why that he needs to get busy, to review the position of all of them and investigate.

The first indicated culprit is Helen. Basing on the assumptions by Cockrill she could eclipse behind him without he had been able to detect, and she could be able to penetrate at the hotel where she would kill Vanda. But Leo is not already in love with Louli and she reciprocated? It ‘s true, but the wife could have ignored it and instead she could think her husband meant with Vanda.
However, Helen is stabbed at night with a letter opener like the one that killed Vanda, so clumsily as to suggest a play. If Helen seems to be the culprit predestined, the same Leo is summoned to the palace of the Grand Duke. But when he returns to the hotel, husband and wife together are closer. Everyone knows that the other was not. Then? It must have been another one! But who? The only person who can not be suspected, but the only one who cannot be suspected is Louvaine Barker, because he slept beside Cockrill and then she surely can not have departed. Because Leo seems to have eyes only for his wife, Louvaineand spontaneously confesses the murder, explaining the ingenious way in which she would have done so; also reveals that she and Vanda were cousins, and that the true writer was not Louli but Vanda: since Vanda was shy and terrified of the world around her and unable to deal with the company, Louli agree with her, became Vanda i.e. the asserted writer, while Vanda in her little had continued to churn out successful novels.

But why murder? What is the motive? A quarrel between the two women for Leo, resulted in the murder ? Then she would assume the identity by Vanda (so the two women looked like a lot) removing make-up; then it would be enough to summarize her identity, taking off rubber shoes, hat and black costume, put them somewhere, and reappear with tiny white bikini that she wore at first, under the black costume.

OK.Word order.Not a chance! Doubts resume when Louli, which is saved from arrest just from Helen, she realizes that she is still loved from Leo, and then she retracts; Cockrill gives reason her and so we find ourselves at the point of first: everyone may have been to kill! Even Cecil that he was off his booby duck, he could get to the shore and swimming underwater wearing goggles and respirator by Leo, as well as Fernando could have been the killer, or Leo, or Helen, or Edith. Or to do by agreeing on most people and carrying out operations relating to the staging a little at a time. In short, everything and its opposite.But incumbes on all the judgment by Exaltida, who must stop one, to leave others free. Who will never be the murderer? Cockrill will be up to verify it, in a final fireworks display, in which everything will happen until the final twist, almost a serial novel.

Novel multi-faceted, it could have a good reason to call “Nothing is what it seems”: in fact, never as in this novel, one must be careful in how reality is presented because anything can have a double aspect. Anyone who suspects it will be found to have a dual identity that he had kept hidden, not necessarily linked to the murder but not to be ignored. So, if you really want to define in another way this novel, I would say it, the Doubles Novel.
Yes I know, I’m partial for the “Double” in novels, but in this case the reference to the novel by Ellery Queen, dedicated to the double, is very apt: in fact, the murderer follows a peculiar feature present in The Twin Syamese Mystery . In fact, I could say that it was precisely for this feature I easily identified the murderer, wondering how he did it nevertheless.

In another article, dedicated to this novel, an acquaintance of mine from overseas, John Norris, called Christianna Brand “the mistress of the multiple solution murder mystery” alluding to the presence of multiple solutions in his novels (referred to Death of Jezebel and Suddenly His Residence) I frankly, while acknowledging the presence of multiple solutions in his novels, I do not think she is the “Lady of multiple solutions” because it would seem as if it were a fact her peculiar. And for this, she distincter herself in relation to the other novelists of the genre. In fact she was not the only one to have considered several solutions related to different suspects in several of his novels: a novelist who normally has multiple solutions in his novels is, for example, Anthony Berkeley (eg. at The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) , in which there are six different solutions, or at The Wychford Poisoning Case, 1926, in which four solutions are contemplated; and at least four different solutions, each time presented and then exceeded, are shown in Not to Be Taken, 1937; then there’s Ellery Queen (at least, with its different solutions, The Greek Coffin Mystery, 1932, and The Egyptian Cross Mystery, 1932); and again Leo Bruce (his famous Case for Three Detectives (1936) in which they are provided four options produced by four different characters. Instead, if I had to frame a characteristic, peculiar, in his novels, it would be the mistaken identity, playing on the duplicity of the individual characters, so that in his novels there are continuous sets of mirrors : basically anything that she shows may not be true but in reality only be the result of a hoax resulting in misdirection. In this case of duplicity (i.e. an alleged picture and a real picture of each character) there are galore (Edith Trapp, Cecil, Leo Rodd, Fernando, Louvaine Barker, Vanda Lane) as well as there is an exchange of identity between Louli and Vanda, one of which it will be known hereafter between Cecil and some Jane Woods, and yet another that will introduce you to the final solution, which will revolutionize the cards on the table, yet.

This novel contemplates an Impossible Crime situation: it is not impossible how the murderer was able to leave the room, but how he / she could have committed the murder, since no one apparently has departed to commit, being a material impossibility and temporal that one of those present may have been the murderer. Moreover, the novel comes very close to another famous novel with Impossible Crime that takes place in a similar location, Evil Under the Sun, 1941, by Agatha Christie.

The novel is also indicative for a certain sarcastic criticism of so-called Operator’s Tour.

John Norris in his article about this novel ( ) also spoke about the biting criticism Christianna Brand would make, describing the bad travel conditions ((insects, hygiene, food, hotels of fluctuating requirements do not correspond to what was paid and what was promised in the initial conditions) of the tour in Italy (note the reference to the waters of Rapallo, turbid due to the presence of sewage directly into the sea): the first few pages are devoted to descriptions of fact, this kind of criticism holiday village.

In my opinion, however, this criticism of Christianna Brand has a double face. It is not only what John saw and anyone can see, but also other: may be contained a sort of paradox: in parts of Italy where tourists are accommodated in hotels, not all of high class, they eat all things not to their taste, and are exposed to conditions of unbearable heat, nothing bad happens ; where instead finally they found a piece of paradise to rest, they are living a nightmare.
One last thing I have to emphasize: the location of the tragedy.
Christianna Brand was not only a great writer of detective novels but has also she distinguished herself in children’s literature (Nanny McPhee). So why don’t we think she wanted to remember, honoring, James Matthew Barrie, author of Peter and Wendy, and his Peter Pan, inventing an imaginary island in the vicinity of Sardinia, a his Neverland: San Juan el Pirata (coincidentally also into Neverland there are Pirates!)?
Suggestive hypothesis, is not it?

Pietro De Palma

John Dickson Carr : In Spite of Thunder, 1960

Carr’s novel goes back to 1960
Eva Eden is a famous actress, but she gets better when, in Nazi Germany, she speaks well about Nazism. Girlfriend of Hector Matthews, she is invited with him to Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitler’s Kehlsteinhaus . While is there, Matthews, a handsome man, that he has never suffered from dizziness, falls from terrace, smashing into the ravine below. It ‘obvious that this is an accident, because there would have been no reason to commit suicide, and most importantly Eve was a few steps away from him as witnesses Gerald Hathaway and Paula Catford, there too they say, what of the rest supported by the Nazi present there. That, however, would have had good reason to lie and do a favor to the beautiful Eva, who rumors say was the cause of death of Mathhews.
Years later, Eve, who were married in the meantime with the famous actor Desmond Ferrier and lives in Geneva, would like to permanently remove all malicious gossip on her behalf. That’s because she calls the two witnesses of the distant calls 1939 episode of Berchtesgaden.  She also invites Audrey De Forrest, of which is infatuated Philipp her ​​stepson and son of Eve Desmond. Audrey actually has accepted the court of Philipp almost out of spite against Brian Innes, a painter who lives in Geneva, who does not want to recognize being in love with herr and who is a friend of her father, who, knowing the sinister reputation of Eve, asks Brian to prevent her daughter to accept the invitation of Eve. In fact he is one of those who believe Eve have been the cause of the death of Matthews, and now strangely the other two invitees are those who were present seventeen years ago to the death of the actor. Audrey does not accept and go to Geneva. When Eve Ferrier goes at the Hotel du Rhône, where Innes is having dinner with Sir Gerald Hathaway, a freak accident occurs: a bottle that should contain perfume, that is in her bag, actually contains, without her knowledge, sulfuric acid. The day after this strange incident, another more serious happens, when Eve, in his villa, falling from a high balcony, smashes into the ravine below, as if she had been thrown by someone; only Audrey is close, but not enough to push it. Strangely, this death repeats that of Matthews.

Desmond Ferrier, the husband of Eve, father of Philipp has meanwhile called Gideon Fell, his friend to unravel the tangle, which the mammoth Fell will make not before an attack by a masked character, in The Cave of the Witches, a distinctive place in Geneva, has narrowly shot Audrey.

Classic novel by  Carr,it is not focused on a Locked Room, as usually for him, but on a ‘fascinating variation of the crime impossible: that is how we can kill at a distance and with which weapon, without leaving  a trace, and making sure that all leave thinking that this is an accident. This variant of impossible crime had already been examined by Carter Dickson, aka Carr, previously, in 1939. And in 1939, becomes the link between the novel today and the novel  yesterday, between John Dickson Carr and Carter Dickson between the two sides of the same coin. It ‘s like Carr, fifty-three years old, he wanted to resume a speech, reaffirming his identity, and tying In Spite of Thunder in glove with each other: The Reader Is Warned, a novel  of series by Henry Merrivale, which debates whether it is true that a murderer could kill at a distance, creating the “perfect crime.” But, as two novels are linked through time, so too in the same novel presented today, two crimes repeat in time, it would seem at the same way: in fact, through the actual crime, it reiterates the memory of another drama happened in the same year in which Carr / Carter Dickson had published his novel, precisely  at 1939.

Obviously Carr wallows in situations of altered historical flash-back: he was able to invent a plausible context, to describe with vivid colors and to bring down the reader in a unique atmosphere once again: that at Germany of Nazi, a few months before the invasion of Poland. In my opinion, Carr was the greatest historical novelist of the detective genre, in absolute. His technique is different from the more commonly followed today, at least in Italy: while today there’re the artists and literary detectives (Leonardo Da Vinci, Dante, Pico della Mirandola) in England still, the historical Mystery, derived from Carr , in which the setting is recreated, faithful as possible, in which moves a certain character: it is the case later in The Devil In Velvet , or the Witch of the Low Tide, and in all those novels almost all without character fixed, in which Carr admirably recreates a historical event . However, Carr, in the novel I present, creates a synthesis: he fastens the past to the present, and it does so through the reenactment of certain characters: so he recreates the time immediately before to the beginning of World War II.

How to do it? He Introduces a certain environment (in our case, is the Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, the Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, the famous retreat of Hitler on a mountain peak (with a personal elevator) in which the dictator received usually representations (Mussolini endowed him with a fireplace adorned with Italian marble red) and it does so in a suggestive manner. Even, he  puts around Eve and Matthews, on the terrace  you see in some vintage photos with Hitler, Eva Braun, Goebbels,  the Scharführer Hans Johst with some other minor characters nazi. Now that Hans Johst was or was not Scharführer do not know nor I don’t know if the rank had been given as a sort of recognition (it was the first instance of officers of the SA and then one of the degrees lower of the SS, a kind of Sergeant), but it is certain that Hans Johst is not a subject invented: in fact Johst was in Nazi Germany what at the Soviet regime was Mayakovsky, the poet of the regime.

It ‘good to say that even the modus operandi of the murderer, his instrument of death, the weapon is, as improper and already introduced in a radio play in 1942, even before Fell clarify speaks how the murderer did to kill distance, it is announced in a hushed tone, as if Carr gave to the attentive reader a clue how to direct his inquiry, softly. In fact, Carr gets to tell to Paula Catford, the story of a famous crime, for which Switzerland is famous, that by the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898: Empress was stabbed by a stiletto so  she did not notice of it and so she walked not knowing she was already virtually dead: in fact the dagger had pierced his heart and lungs, causing internal bleeding important, so that in a few moments the victim died . Now, through this re-enactment, in my opinion, Carr subtly provides an important clue to the attentive reader. It’s as if he spoke : “Look, even in this case it is not murder at a distance, but murder by something that has been done before, of which the victim did not notice, except when she died” . And remembering  the famous murder in Geneva Carr once again makes a flash-back, resumes, things he talked years ago.

As in my first short essay published on the blog Mondadori, whom many readers remember, focused on the first 4 stories by Bencolin, I highlighted the similarities between Bethune and Bencolin, and then between the novel of 1972, Deadly Hall, and the 1930 novel, It Walks by Night ( ), So Carr in this novel makes another flashback. In fact, recalling the case of 1890, it is as if he put forth a temporal bridge and returned back in time, when into He Who Whispers 1946, he had spoken about a similar crime: the play of mirrors are always lurking in Carr! In fact, in the novel of 1946, you talk about Dr. Antoine Georges Rigaud, who was supposed to hold a conference about a famous crime involving a British family in Chartres, France, in 1939 and who later died in mysterious circumstances, on the roof of a tower. That’s again year 1939. It’s as if it’s  a catalyst! And how can we recognize the evident similarity between Rigaud from He Who Whispers and Grimaud from The Hollow Man? Not only. The game of mirrors between these two novels is clear: Fay Seton,  character who is in the first of two novels, was accused by slander from the populace about Vampirism. And what is one of the themes from the second? Vampirism. It then occurs in a radio play, Vampire Tower, a title that would have to be that in place of The Hollow Man, if at the beginning of the first draft was later followed up. Instead, as many people know, after the false start of Vampire Tower (the novel, not the radio play!), in Which had fallen back Bencolin, Carr chose to change register and to enter Dr. Fell:

“After the false start in Vampire Tower (which he had rewritten as The Three Coffins), Carr realized that he could not bring back the satanic Bencolin who had enjoyed tormenting his prey. The original Bencolin of Carr’s college stories, however, had been gentle, amiable, and even a bit shambling. If Bencolin were to come back to life, he would have to be that original Bencolin” (Douglas G. Greene, John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles, p. 173).

And which is the present character  in The Hollow Man / The Three Coffins, as in Vampire Tower? Dr. Grimaud. And what does it speak about? About a poisoner.
The poisoners are largely the work of Carr: how can we forget The Bourning Court? Look at the case in In Spite of Thunder, what do they think about those who believe Eve the Mathhews killer? Then you will understand that the poison has a role  in this novel, even if Eve was not a poisoner.
Yeah, a poison. Used to kill at a distance. So the poison is the weapon. But,  How did the poison arrive at destination if no trace of poison, was there ?
But, why is beautiful this novel?

The value of the novel lies not so much in the atmosphere or in solution (taken from a radio play: how much grace in those wonderful  radio plays!) but at the parsiflage by  the grand old man, which confuses the waters with a lot of misleading speeches, in which you say nonsense to no end: you think who  could be the culprit, you analyze the possible candidates, you delete them one at a time but you can not figure out who is the real culprit, which is there in the corner, which confuses the waters with the odd attempt to Audrey. Then, Carr The Great, extracts  from the cylinder an offender absolutely plausible and at time invisible. It explains so many things. Among the Carr’s novels, of the Fell’s series, of recent years, In Spite of Thunder is the best, no doubt. I read it a few days ago after many years, and the pleasure was greater.

Pietro De Palma

Paul Halter : La Mort vous invite, 1988 (Death Invites You)

Before 2003, I did not know the works by Paul Halter. But in that year I met Igor Longo,  consultant of  “Giallo Mondadori”. It happened by chance: I asked the editor of those years, that could give me directions on how to find Mondadori novels who could contain Locked Rooms, because they were always my cue ball. He passed the word to Igor Longo, who answered me – I have to say enthusiastically – as he had found another type set about the Locked Rooms (Igor participated in the meeting a few years ago – directed by Roland Lacourbe which also participated John Pugmire – aims to choose the 99 best Locked Rooms in the history of the Mystery (novels of English-speaking and French-speaking novels). And so began a correspondence which became friendship correspondence: Igor among other authors, urged me to read Paul Halter (Igor Longo is his italian translator) which he said was the most important contemporary author of impossible crimes and locked rooms. I took him in word, and so .. I started to collect the Halter novels.

Death Invites You (La mort vous invite, 1988) is a novel that  enjoyed until the beginning by a great success (especially in France) also on the basis of a television drama that was taken from it. In Italy, the novel by Paul Halter was published with the title “Le mani bruciate” ( “Burned Hands” ).

Harold Vickers is a successful writer of detective novels, but by bit of time the sales trend is declining, so he decides to write a novel with which plans to reverse the descent of likings: it will be a phenomenal Locked Room.
He lives alone in a villa in St. Richard’s Wood, with his wife Dane, with brother-in-law Roger Sharpe illusionist a with his daughters Valerie and Henrietta; Valerie is engaged to a police sergeant, Simon Cunningham.

One evening Simon comes to Vickers home: he was invited to dinner by the landlord, but no one knows anything of the occurrence. Another was invited to dinner: Fred Springer, critic of detective novels. For more Valerie who had to go to the theater with Simon was angry because she thought that Simon would have preferred another woman.
They are going to call the landlord, but he does not answer: he said to at that day not to disturb him for no reason. Knocking on the door, screaming, both don’t get any response. They turn around  the house: through taxes, they see the room illuminated. The butler gets a key from another port, since the locks of the house are all equal, Simon uses it to open, but it idles. It means that Harold put the bolt, so .. they decide to break the door down, which gives after a shoulder. The scene which presented itself to the eyes of those present is horrifying: on a laid table, is placed a pan with hot oil in which the flesh is sizzling: in this plan are immersed the face and hands of the writer, burned to the point of prevent a formal recognition. The death was due to a gunshot wound to the head. To witness the immediacy of death is the fact that two chickens still sizzl and smoke on the table, at the center of which towers a triumph of pheasants, near the pulses passed through with the shallot and bacon.

Near the window there’s a glass half full of water and two gloves. And of course no one is in the room: windows are closed and there’s no other passage to the outside, secret or not, and yet the chimney has a grating, small enough to allow the passage of only small animals. His wife fainted on the threshold, and immediately they call the police and so Archibald Hurst Inspector of Police, and Alan Twist criminologist, who are playing chess at home in the first, are thrown into another adventure absurd.
Right from the startyou know thatthedeath was notsudden, but it tooksome time before,at least 24hours, andthat the writer hada twin brotherwho livedin Australia.Thequestion who begins to emergelittle by littleisthat theburnedfaceis intended toprevent the recognition: want to see thatit is notHaroldbutStephenVickers,richas much if notmore than thebrotherwriter?

The first thing to check is the teeth, but in this case it is useless: Vickers boasted of his healthy teeth and he never went to the dentist for this reason. At the morgue, before a show so painful, one of the daughters remembers something that happened the year before: his father was wounded in the leg and was left a little scar. She remembered because the wound initially had been slow to heal. So he is Harold..seems.

Meanwhile, we learn about a curse: Harold’s father had died by heart failure and its causes were to be found in the fact he did not appreciate the genre of fiction practiced by his son. One of the two daughters, Henrietta, who hated his father because, in turn, he didn’t appreciate her talent as a painter, evokes the presence of his grandfather. One night, Simon Cunningham sees a shadow in the cemetery: he says that seemed an old man, who wandered with on dirty rags in the direction of the old cemetery that is adjacent to the house: it is presence or hallucination?:
The fact is that just when you think that the identification has been well-founded, check out from autopsy that the deceased had two teeth implanted: then it is not Harold but Stephen? Where is Harold? Did he kill his brother?

Soon other unforeseen events occur. Twist realizes the pants of his friend are stained with the blood: where else may he to have soiled his pants?  Maybe when he kicked the rags in the street? When they find a piece of cloth stained with fresh blood, Twist has a premonition and they head home, where at her room they find Henriette slaughtered. At this point, they go to the cemetery, and they find the grave of his grandfather, although they can smell a strange odor, the smell of death. Hurst realizes that behind the tombstone, there is another corpse, old of few days: even if the features are distorted and he smells a lot,he  is undoubtedly the twin brother. They want to know why Vickers was so often to find Colin Hubbard, his neighbor? After the visit, and after having given a copy of the first detective novel by Gaston Leroux, they know about a crime took place fifty years ago, in which several of the details are the same as those found at the scene of Vickers: the cup half full of water and a pair of gloves on the ground, near the window: Hubbard was the witness of this fact . paul Halter

Under the Dane Vickers mattress are found the tools used for the staging of the death of her husband, and among these two his hairs. This is enough (in addition to her severe psychiatric conditions, to converge on her the Inspector’s allegations.
But it is not over, because Alan Twist with a quick about-face turns over the cards and he nails the authentic murderer.
First and foremost, this novel is that of smells: the scent of fried chicken, vegetables, stench of corpses, pungent smell of fresh paint , the smell of fresh paint in the color of which the murderer has anointed the lock after having unscrewed and tampered. Many perfumes, too many of them so as not to remember other.
At first when I started reading the Halter, I noticed right away (and I said to Igor) of that long string of citations present in the novels by the Alsatian writer: Igor justified it with the love of Paul Halter to Agatha Christie and especially to John Dickson Carr.
To date I would say even more: while accepting that version, I would incline for another that does not necessarily eliminate the first but integrate her: the volume of citations is too important because it is made only by quotations.

Quotations may be unconscious and conscious: I would say that too many times, in hindsight, seem aware of it. It’s as if the writer, having to write a new novel, resorted to the inventions of other writers. The point is that to understand the scope of the quotes, you have to be too a great reader as he is, and then automatically, there are many people who don’t understand the mechanism.
Of course, this does not mean that elsewhere, ie in other novels, the scope of the citations could not be less important or even not be there. For example, Red Mist (Le Brouillard Rouge 1988), which I still consider today if not the masterpiece by Halter, at least one of his masterpieces, reveals an evocative power of imagination and writing so addictive you do not need any gimmicks and quotes: if you will, in that novel, the least important thing is just the Locked Room, which then does not serve the novel, but it was just a gimmick!

In this novel, quotes abound citations: to his novels (Red Mist, in fact: it is spokenin the beginning,but there is anothermore directreferenceat a certainpoint in the novel: in both novelsthe murdererhasto do withthe paint,eachof a differentsubstance.

A characteristic of novels Halter is that some novels contain parts already used in other novels, so far I have distinguished at least three pairs (but could be more): the paint into Death Invites You and Red Mist, the bags with pieces of dismembered women in the Tiger’sHead (La Tete du Tigre 1991) and the BloodyMatch (the L’Allumette Sanglante, 2001), the cup full of water, in The Madman‘s Room (La Chambre du Fou, 1990) and Death Invites You, etc. etc.
The staging of the crime so imaginative and culinary (exclusive, I would say, among all the novels read so far) calls Arabian Nights Murder by John Dickson Carr: there the dead is dressed in a cylinder, a coat, has a false beard and nearby is a recipe book kitchen.
But at the same time, the fact that invokes a crime took place fifty years ago (mind you, fifty years, not forty or sixty!) calls a radio play by Ellery Queen, The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, where an event happened fifty years first, occurs exactly fifty years later.
But there is also a reference to Gaston Leroux.

And then .. the scar in his leg: what do we think? The strawberry-shaped birthmark on Brad’s thigh, in The Egyptian Cross Mystery by Ellery Queen: could also refer to the fact that the corpse as that of Brad Vickers and his brothers can not otherwise be identified: here the features are burned, as if he had no face, there just the head misses.
But there may be another meaning of citations, in addition to the one connected with the memory of the great writers of the past: it could also be a game, a challenge, whom the author throws to his readers . Ellery Queen did not behave in the same way in his first novels?
Ellery Queen left clues to the reader and they were ordered in the right way to come to rival the author: may Halter disseminate quotes, who properly interpreted can reveal the identity of the killer? The most direct quotes here are to Red Mist and to Le Mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux.But there is also another significant quote: the cup full of water, is related to another novel Halter, The Madman’s Room at which is just a glass full of water. This is another characteristic of the novels of Halter: being coupled two by two on the basis of specific clues.

Halter proposes two solutions: the first is given by Hurst who accuse a false killer, the second by Twist who instead identifies the murderer. But it should be said at once, Hurst identifies already half solution: he understands how the door could have been made ​​up to look like closed, but it was not entirely. In this case, the link is to The Hangman’s Handyman by Hake Talbot: it is evident that he must have had considerable influence on Halter as many ideas of the original novel can be found not only in the novel that I’m analyzing but also in others, such as The Madman’s Room. The difference between the two solutions is given by the name of killer, substantially; in addition to the solution given by Hurst, Twist will explain other things, including, for example, where the corpse of his brother might have been concealed without the stench of decomposition was felt by anyone.

However, the thing that I like most of Halter is its tendency to describe situations or descriptions macabre: the “macabre” which is one of the peculiar characteristics of the French writer, is taken to the extreme in some novels: for example in which there is a lot of “macabre”, The Madman’s Room or 139 Steps from Death.

Connected to this trend macabre Halterian narratives, is the last quote I found: the rotting corpse of his twin brother, reminds us again The Hangman‘s Handyman by Hake Talbot. Not only. There is another quote I do not know whether conscious or unconscious: the corpse hidden and then revealed, here is designed to make impossible the recognition of the corpse. In fact if the corpse is decomposing it will be problematic. In the first novel by Abbott, About the Murder of Geraldine Foster, the corpse is hidden, then later revealed, intact, so that the time of death may be delayed. The effect is the opposite, the medium is the same: the body is concealed, and in both cases the odors are doing their part: in the case of Abbott,  the smell of pine shall turn to the identification of the substance in which it was immersed body, ie the tannic acid; in the case of Halter,  the pungent smell of the paint he has sniffed at certain point in the novel, Twist will understand how and where the body may have been concealed. In both cases the smell of the substance leads to locate the murderer.

In conclusion, Death Invites You is a good novel, replete with quotations, who has a great atmosphere (Halter is a master of atmosphere, as Carr), and grips the novel from beginning to end.

Pietro De Palma 




Bill Pronzini : Bones, 1985

Who does not know Bill Pronzini? And who does not know his famous detective, Nameless? A detective with a great humanity, that combines wisdom and action. However, his adventures differ from other detectives typical of the genre Hard-Boiled. Pronzini has always been sincere about it, rejecting the subsidiary of Chandler and instead recognizing as the only novelist to have played a key role in the creation of his character, was Dewey, with his “Mac”. Pronzini, however, is not alone in this, unlike many authors Hard-Boiled. He also has solid foundations and cultural history of the genre: you known, from a mile away, as his readings have not only caught in the genre Pulp and Hard-Boiled, but also in that of the Mystery Classic. And his stories have an air of light, sparkling, with remarkable leaps and grand finals, and also possess a remarkable humorous vein, sometimes irreverent, even against his character, which is very rare.
Bones, who also has a nice Locked-Room, is a novel that also speaks about bones, but it is not a thriller by Kate Reichs. No. It’s a novel that sinks its own investigation into the past. And as happened before, the plot is intertwined with the traditional mystery.

Michael Kiskadon has recently discovered to be the son of the great writer of Mystery, Harmon Crane, who died thirty years before. A sad story: depression, alcohol and then suicide. So far nothing strange, especially since  had been found a farewell letter in the typewriter. And to validate the theory of suicide was the mode of discovery: the room was locked from the inside, was on the first floor, and it was not possible then exit from the windows: in short, a situation defined. The fact is that “Nameless” starts to investigate, but is faced what might be called a “conspiracy of silence”. Before Crane’s wife, Amanda, who talks about his lovely family life lived with Crane until the death of her husband, but does not really talks about suicide: that flaunts a glacial that “Nameless” initially misinterpretes, then understanding how the woman has suffered such a severe shock to be assisted by his granddaughter now for more than 35 years, the years since her husband’s suicide.
Then the detectives went to interview the lawyer of Crane, such Yankowski, a bad guy, who along with teacher painting of the wife of Crane, Adam Potter, he broke down the door of the room, finding Harmon Crane died,: he seems that he had shot a few minutes after talking on the phone just with him, Yankowski. Ends thrown out of the house, when Nameless, accuses him of having paid his court to Amanda for a long time.

There is also the first wife of Crane, such Corneal Ellen, who was blackmailing him. He says it Russ Dancer, a writer of Pulp failed and chronic alcoholic. Russ Crane had known, and reveals himself to Nameless in the course of a drink (but how should this American detectives!) The most interesting things: Crane not had sex with his wife was being blackmailed by his first wife, drank a lot, but it was not all depressed. The investigations shows that the day of the suicide, he had been in his cottage that had been rented by a certain Bertolucci: the chalet now no longer exists in its place there was an oyster farm, then also went to the down the drain. Bertolucci makes the taxidermist (he stuffes with straw the animals) is strange and he evasively answers, so that Nameless suspects he has not said anything about behalf of Crane. One thing he understands: to Bertolucci, Crane was strongly disliked, even if the rent he had paid him forever. He will know that Bertolucci was married (at that time in which Crane had lived), with a beautiful redhead, who then disappeared, ran away they said.
And the brother of the artist Potter, tells him the depression of Crane was initiated the day after the earthquake of 35 years before, on arrival from his vacation in the chalet of his property.
One day a new earthquake devastates San Francisco and vicinity. The earthquake to Nameless is bearer of good feelings: his girlfriend, Kerry Wade, which makes sex so rewarding for both, feeling the shock, she hears a new irresistible urge to have sex, but it is only the desire to be protected , connected to someone. But then Nameless discovers the earthquake has also brought other news: when he goes to interview the new owner of the area where once stood the chalet, he locates by chance, an old unmarked grave, anonymous, that the earthquake has helped to discover: bones have surfaced and what looks like a purse, and a ring. You will find that she is the red dead, Bertolucci’s wife, Kate.

Why her bones are located close to the chalet rented to Crane? And Crane killed himself or was he killed? And if he was killed, as was rigged so that the door seemed locked from the inside? And who closed the door rigging it, was the murderer or an accomplice? Nameless will understand after that Bertolucci is killed, especially when he discovers the lifeless body of Michael Kiskadon, who died the same way of his father, found dead just from Nameless, who broke down the door of the room, alerted by the wife of Kiskadon, Lynn . Suicide or murder?
In a novel enjoyable as ever, in the midst of breathtaking descriptions of San Francisco, interspersed by quarrels with his friend investigator Eberhardt, by hilarious scuffles between Kerry and Wanda, the Eberhardt’s pupa, Nameless will find a disconcerting truth and the answer to many , too many questions left without no satisfaction by a hasty survey ended 35 years before. And the answer will own those bones, found by chance, buried in an old crevasse, opened after the earthquake 35 years ago and again revealed by the new one, and a carbon copy of a letter sent by Crane to his lawyer.

A vintage Pronzini, who does not forget the lessons of the greats of the past (Hake Talbot) and leads us, in a survey never dull, carefully constructed, with withering dialogues and well-aimed descriptions, to an ending that leaves you speechless. And knowing Pronzini, it takes also discouragement.

Because it isn’t said that all the guilties, in reality, pay the penalty for their actions. And seeking the truth takes, most of the time, sufferences. Luckily the epilogue save all, with a final reflection on the philosophy of life, which will riport attention to the things that save us every day: love, understanding, friendship.

A great Pronzini.

As always.


Pietro De Palma

Clash of Locked-Room Lectures : J.D. Carr Vs C.Rawson