Martin Porlock (Philip MacDonald): Mystery at Friar’s Pardon (1931)

Philip MacDonald, as well as his real name, used various pseudonyms to publish his novels: Anthony Lawless, Oliver Fleming and Martin Porlock. With the latter sewed only three novels: Mystery at Friar’s Pardon (1931), Mystery at Kensington Gore (1932) and X Vs. Rex (1933). The first and third are justly considered masterpieces and were both translated in Italy, while the second isn’t.

Of those published in Italy, today we talk about the first.
Mystery at Friar’s Pardon, published in 1931, is one of the cornerstones of production Philip MacDonald, one of the greatest innovators of Crime Fiction.
It introduces the character of Charles Fox-Brown, and to do that MacDonald takes even a chapter to outline the smallest details: the son of a wealthy couple, remains orphan at the age of thirteen and he is entrusted to an uncle who does not want to deal with it. Soon he enlisted to participate at the First World War as a simple soldier and scale all grades becoming the first sergeant, then entering the official rank and ending the war as a major, highly decorated.
The next civilian life is a series of successes and failures: a series of successful entrepreneur and insights make him potentially wealthy, until a distant relative does not seek help (in cash) and so ten thousand pounds are given to her. However the woman, who does not use the money just to live, but to live well, dies in a hunting accident and ten thousand pounds (that was the heritage that Fox Brown had gained with his work) fade forever, so he has to start working again, becoming director of property. In this capacity he is employed by “Lioness,” Lester-Enid Greene, a successful writer, become very wealthy woman by virtue of her romance novels, to administer her property.

Together with her, he meets Norman Sandys, her secretary, and soon he is informed about what will be his duties. Charles, however, will have to live at the mansion that Enid has bought long before, spending a lot of money, to restructure it completely, and reopening the east wing, whom the previous owners had made inaccessible, muring the entry. In fact, Friar’s Pardon, this is the name of the mansion, was built in the late seventeenth century, and despite being a building of fine harmonies, soon had gained a sinister reputation that had maintained in the remaining two centuries: the owners were dead in the same room, drowned, though it had not been found even a drop of water in it, or they had worn wet clothes. It was so widespread belief that there were evil entities in the villa, and it was haunted. But Lester-Enid Greene does not believe in spirits and decides to go in disregard of beliefs to live there; indeed, she decides to restructure the damn room preceded by a sort of vestibule, combining two rooms into a huge studio, where she sleeps and writes her masterpieces.

Soon at the house, there are rumors of paranormal phenomena: voices, footsteps, hands that appear out of the windows, doors that suddenly close by themselves, vessels that break without which no one has touched them, as if they were the subject of Poltergeist. Many in that house have something to say: in addition to Norman, also Lady Maud Vassar student of occultism and noble, Claude Lester brother of Enid, Baron Trevor Ignatius Pursell, the niece Lesley Destrier, and much of the easement, reports to have seen some of these phenomena: only Enid and Charles Fox-Brown are skeptical about it.

Yet one evening, after a sumptuous dinner, after the same owner has retired at her study to work, by a phone call come from the studio she cries out for help, but after trying unsuccessfully to enter inside because the door is locked from the inside, Fox-Brown demonstrating contempt of danger, walking on the ledge outside, is unable to break the glass of the closed window and to enter the environment, finding Enid dead, with no signs of any kind indicating a struggle.
The policemen are called to the scene, and soon even the coroner, which recognizes unusually Fox-Brown: Dr. Riley, inform the Inspector Willis and the Chief of Police, Amblethorpe, how Fox-Brown, when he was Chief of a section of Counterintelligence during the war, had solved a case rather mangy. So, they rely on his detective skills.

Fox-Brown will be able to understand how the murderer has been able to get out of the room leaving it closed behind him, and how he did it to kill Enid and escape in a few minutes, without being seen. And in addition to this to show that it was not a supernatural event (as did think the deaths have occurred during the past centuries and all that taken place with the same causality), showing how it was possible that Enid died drowned in a room where there was not the minimum drop of water. And how was it possible that a person used the internal phone line, without others knowing it.
He will reveal the name of the killer, during a fake seance that he will organize, making use of the special participation of the coroner (former actor) in the role of a famous spiritualist.

Extraordinary novel, a true masterpiece, Mystery at Friar’s Pardon, has a unique atmosphere. Moreover MacDonald structures the plot in distinct sections, creating the basis for a genre that Carr will develop in large part: the first he sets the scene for the amateur detective can go live at a particular villa, then reserves an entire chapter to the figure of the same, then describes the mansion and the mysteries related to it, and finally goes on to describe the characters who move, giving long space phenomena that happen, thereby increasing the thrill until the catharsis comes with the impossible crime, a crime more impossible than it is not :a woman dies drowned, with all the signs of drowning, without her or her clothes are wet, and without even a drop of water is found in the room where she died, although there it should be a sea at the room. I say crime more than impossible, because in addition to this there is also a locked room, and even more a voice that is recognized as that by Enid, but that should not be her, asking for help when, as will establish Charles, she was already dead.

Both the locked room that the trick of the call fall into that series of tricks of Locked Room Mystery, already introduced from Carr in his famous Locked Room-Lecture and then called in the Locked Room-Lecture in Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher, when the locked rooms are restricted to a scheme according to whether they occurred before, during or after: in this case the death occurred before, and then it was a trick. Which? The same occurred at Carr’s Hag’s Nook, that is of 1933, while this novel is of 1931.
Charles still provides a clue to the careful reader, long before solve the mystery, when he looks at the watch and compares time.

The Locked Room even here – I repeat once again – is spectacular, perhaps one of the best and most fascinating ever invented, because it involves two people: one is in charge of impersonating Enid, the other to kill her and simulate with a spectacular staging, the intervention of supernatural powers. In some ways, the very impossibility of a similar crime, reminds me another novel to the memory, the first by Talbot, The Hangman’s Handyman: even there an evident impossibility occurs (a curse for which a corpse at few hours looks like it’s been dead for several days and presented a very strong putrefaction).

But in addition to the created impossibility, the novel is remarkable because, by virtue of a tension expertly administered, creates conditions so that the reader could almost believe to the poltergeist phenomena and at the same time asking how ever has managed to simulate a drowning without water. And also adds, to a story of mystery also a love story, more classical than ever, which somehow reminds us a previous, Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers (1930). Even there, the protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey, in love with the detective writer Harriet Vane, must prevent she be accused about murder by poisoning and trying to save her finding the true killer, as is the case here, since Charles Fox-Brown, in love with Lesley Destrier, must avoid she is accused of murdering her aunt, after that inside the mantel of her fireplace were found a number of incriminating evidence, apparently put there from the killer to divert suspicion from himself; the rest here, as in the novel by Sayers appears a poison, only that in our case it is not used to kill but to stun.

If with the novel by Dorothy Sayers I note a community, and so the previous novel could have provided MacDonald idea for his novel, I must also observe that in my opinion, Mystery at Friar’s Pardon may have influenced Carr not only for the solution behind the impossible murder into The Hag’s Nook, but also for the series of novels by Henry Merrivale: there as here we have a detective who has been dealing with the Military Counterintelligence as an official (Merrivale is Head of Military Counterintelligence, Fox-Brown was Head of a section), and we are here as there phenomena evoking the paranormal, that would justify one or more crimes impossible, if the detective, skeptical and rational, does not oppose the truth of the facts, where paranormal gives way to a carefully premeditated murder, committed by men, not by spirits; in addition the same system to lock the door from outside, simulating a supernatural event because the suicide is impossible to have occurred, is located in the compiling by Fell, during his conference in The Hollow Man.

Pietro De Palma


Robert Adey has died

Bob Adey, a historical figure with regard to history, criticism and analysis of crime fiction about The Locked Rooms and the Crimes Impossible, has left us alone: he has died for an incurable disease.

British, was born in 1941. From an early age he had as passion the study of tales of impossible crimes. The fruit of his research had been his most important work: Locked Room Murders and Other Impossible Crimes, published in 1979, that is also today the bible for us.
In 1991 he published a second edition, revised and enlarged in the amount of collected material.
The first chapter of 99 Chambres Closes by Roland Lacourbe had been written by Adey as a  passionate historical introduction of the genre.
He also published several anthologies: Death Locked In (with Douglas Greene), Murder Impossible (with Jack Adrian), 20 défis à l’impossible (with Roland Lacourbe), one of which even in Japan: 18 Locked Room Puzzles (along with Idetoshi Mori).
P. D. P.

Paul Halter : The Demon of Dartmoor, 1993

You can say, without fail, the first production of Paul Halter has been the best. This does not mean that the novels of the 90s and the first decade of the twenty-first century have been a small thing (indeed, in some cases, the finished product was qualitatively very interesting!), but it is equally indubitable that the first 7-8 novels (except for La malediction de Barberousse, opera in my opinion still immature) were the best of his production: all, in a case or in another, have, without exception, great atmosphere and superb deductive problems. Moreover, with the exception of the very first novel already mentioned, set in France, all the others (at least the ones in the series with Dr. Twist) have locations in England.

Is no exception, Le demon de Dartmoor of 1993.
An evil presence is said to haunt the vicinity of the village of Stapleford in the wilderness of Dartmoor in Devon: someone thinks to have seen a headless horseman, riding a beheaded horse, gallop near the rock in the form of animal overlooking the river which flows through the village. The fact is that three girls, Eliza Gold, Constance Kent, and Annie Crook make a bad end: they climb the Wish Tor granite promontory, laughing as if they were dialoguing with someone (you can not see though!) and then they fall down in raging torrent as if they had been thrown: their bodies will be found (the first two, not the third, which is supposed to have done the same end) further downstream, trapped between the rocks, in the creek, massacred by the force of the current, that slammed the bodies several times causing multiple fractures and wounds.

For the period of 6 years, nothing happens, and you think nothing will happen; and life goes quiet on in the sleepy village. But one fine day, Nigel Manson, actor in sight, buys the Trentice castle, a manor in ruin restructuring completely, except for the left wing of the castle, where in the past there was a mysterious death.
Nigel’s wife, Helen, doesn’t want to go, because she suspects actress and colleague of her husband in the successful theatrical piece “The Invisible Man”, Nathalie Marvel, be her husband’s lover, and that her presence in their dwelling could coincide with the betrayal of Nigel.

If everything starts badly, ends worse then: in fact, Nigel, photography enthusiast and owner of various camera bodies, vain and lover of the poses more strange, would like to lay on the windowsill, in a pose very dangerous. The sill of the window is on the second floor, in the hall of the castle, overlooking the surrounding lawn: in the living room with him, are the wife Helen, close the fireplace, and Dr. Thomas Grant, doctor at Stapleford, sitting in armchair behind him. No one else. Too far away, or unable to have a part in what happens on the sill, at least to hear Franch Holloway, theatrical agent of Nathalie and her lover in the past, which enters in the hall a moment after Nigel falls from the window sill, his hands in forward, as if he had been pushed down, while Nathalie picks him up downstairs with the camera.

The invisible being who killed the three girls, did he kill also him? The fact is that other unexplainable things happen after: a red shadow that walks across the streets of the village, who manages to scare even Basil Hawkins, gardener, friend of Victor Sitwell, a professor of philosophy at the Lyceum of Tavistock; a photo that disappears from the inn where Frank Victor and other people go to get drunk one night, photo in which would be represented someone who would frighten Nigel, the night before he was killed (because Twist imagines there isn’t a spirit behind his death, but a wily murderer); the attempt to kill Victor, who owns another duplication of this photo. Someone even tells to have recognized in Nigel, one of two beautiful young people who years earlier had gone to bit interleaved parity in the inn, where they had drawn the interest of their three girls, then disappeared: possible that he was the lover of the girls, and someone thinks they were in love with him, and that for some obscure reason did he kill them? If he was their killer, the Nigel’s death could be not murder but almost capital justice: an executioner came from beyond? Or we are faced with a far-fetched hypothesis and Nigel was killed for other facts, maybe for what he would see in the disappear picture?

Alan Twist will be to put a face to the mysterious killer and to explain the impossible deaths of the three girls and of Nigel, all four occurred under the gaze of reliable witnesses, without anyone could see their murderer.

Once again Paul, in this novel, demonstrates his own love toward Carr: there are indeed many references to his favorite author.

First, the impossible crime in front of witnesses: Nigel who dies falling from the window of the hall of the castle, immediately brings to mind a famous novel by Carr, the shortest of his: The Case of the Constant Suicides, of 1941, in which a man falls from the window of a tower, whose door was bolted from the inside. According to me, the novel by Paul, it is a very fascinating variation; then, it brings to Carr when at the 16th chapter, he talks about “The man who explained miracles” so appealing Inspector Hurst (but The Man Who Explained Miracles is not only the other title of the story All In A Maze, of the 1956 signed by Carter Dickson, the latest adventure of Merrivale, but also the famous biography written by Douglas Greene about Carr. And finally, there are other little things that, in my opinion, that approach this novel to Carr.

First, a quote from Carr could be the final step of the 19th chapter: “The light in the window, which it watched for a moment, created yellow reflections in eyes which were clearly not those of a balanced and stable individual.”(Paul Halter : The Demon of Dartmoor – translation: John Pugmire). To me, this step has drawn immediately for mental association, the look of the killer, hidden among the rooftops, at Death-Watch (1935).

But this might just be my obsession. Instead, I believe that there is another quote more important from Carr, indeed by Carter Dickson, which immediately brings to mind, the fall from the promontory of the girls: in fact, it remembered to me “She Died A Lady”, of 1943 in which two lovers fall from a cliff in the underlying ocean (but despite the tracks are only their, it is a murder: one of the most beautiful locked rooms by Carr and one of his masterpieces). And yet .. “The Invisible Man”: the title of the comedy starring on stage by Nigel and Nathalie, recall as well as the science fiction novel of 1881 by Herbert George Wells, also a collection of short stories by Carr entitled The New invisible Man (with Colonel March).

However it would be wrong to say that Paul has created his novel starting from Carr:


Instead, I believe Paul has somehow tapped something by Carr (perhaps even subconsciously), creating an original work, I would say one of his most fascinating.
First, the two novelists have a different idea of their stories: while Carr creates intense and dramatic stories, Halter creates fairy “black”tales, that have a great atmosphere, with false supernatural elements: the atmosphere is magical, because magical are the descriptions of the places (a similar process can be seen in L’arbre aux doigts tordus or La malediction de Barberousse), and there are supernatural references (an invisible man, a headless horseman, a deck of diabolical cards, a flying horse). Moreover Carr creates stories suited to adults, in which lack drastically almost very young subjects, because the story is told through the eyes of an adult, unlike Halter where instead these subjects are often present (La malédiction de Barberousse, Le diable de Dartmoor, Spiral) because the story is told through the eyes of a boy. I quote an important step of interview done by me to Paul, 1 year ago, and that had an echo quite significant, even abroad:

Le gros problème, pour un roman policier, est que la magie du mystère cesse d’opérer à la fin, lorsque tout est expliqué par le menu. Il faut donc trouver un truc pour que le charme opère toujours. Le meilleur exemple reste à mes yeux la fin de La Chambre ardente de Carr. Autrement dit, trouver un truc pour accréditer le fantastique après les explications finales. Comme définition du roman policier, Pierre Véry parlait de “conte de fées pour adultes” et je sourscris à cette affirmation sans la moindre réserve. Pour les petits enfants que nous étions, ces histoires de sorcières, de fées et de dragons étaient une véritable école de préparation au roman policier ! Et inconsciemment, je crois que j’essaye de retrouver ces premièrs frissons en écrivant mes histoires. Le thème du conte de fées est toujours au moins sous-jacent. Dand “L’homme qui aimait les nuages”, c’est même manifeste. L’héroine semble être une fée, tandis que le coupable est le “vent”. Pour ce qui est de l’atmosphère, je ne sais pas si c’est inné, en tout cas, ce me semble indispensable pour écrire une bonne histoire. Et tant que je ne la “sens” pas, pas question pour moi de commencer mon récit.    

( ).

In addition, while in the case of Carr’s novels the culprit almost never is a victim of fate and almost always he is a being who killed maybe pushed by necessity, or for cold and calculated skill, but not for madness, in the novels of Halter (and also in Le diable de Dartmoor) peeps insistent the theme of madness:

Oui, j’aime le thème de la folie. Cela permet de présenter des mobiles variés et surprenants. Les problèmes psychologiques liés à l’enfance (en évitant le sacro-saint viol de l’oncle si possible !) sont également intéressants. Je dirais que mes criminels sont souvent “obsédés”, par une passion, une phobie, etc. Pour être plus précis, il faudrait que je détaille chacune des mes histoires, mais je laisserais au lecteur le soin de les découvrir par lui-même. 

( ).

Another difference between Carr and Halter concerns the construction of the plot: while Carr reserves importance both to the “How” and “Who”, Halter is mainly concerned to explain how an event took place: not at random, except La quatriéme porte and Le brouillard rouge , and some other novel among the first issued, such as La mort vous invite or La lettre qui tue, it is not so difficult to frame the guilty, which instead doesn’t happen in the case of Carr. This because Halter inherits the tradition of the French enigma novel in which the enigma has prevalence respect to the identification of the culprit.

Other difference between the two relates to the details of the story: while in Carr, and generally in the case of Anglo-Saxon novelists of the 30s (E.Queen, Van Dine, CDKing, etc. ..), the details, the particular have a significant and are extremely complex in their explanation, and each contributes to the final solution, in Halter this is not always the case, as the microstructure of the novel does not care him far as the macrostructure: interests him the problem and not its outward expressions instead. If the difficulty in La Quatrième Porte has a very high level of complexity, almost pure virtuosity, in many of his novels, the difficulty is only apparent.

Not surprisingly, in a history of Halter, if you understand how he thinks, and what is his “modus agendi et procedendi” (which are often repeated in the novels), it is not difficult to spot the culprit, unlike in Carr. Carr, has the ability to explain in the minutest details the solution of a certain fact, even after you have stretched the plot of the novel. And in this it differs from other contemporary novelist: for example Talbot, that in Rim of the Pit creates a sum of impossible situations insomuch to fatigue then, in the final solution, to explain realistically them, climbing often on the mirrors. Hi because Halter, in my opinion, very intelligently, knowing he isn’t on the same level of Carr, does not try to emulate him failing in the attempt, but instead he creates very attractive narrative buildings, but easy to explain, because they have no real complexity (except in some of the early work): it is also reflected in the length of his novels, which often stands on 200 pages or less, unlike the carrian novels.

In the novel, however, there are also other interesting things, that relate to the quotes submitted. For example, the beginning of Chapter 8, presents us Frank, in a dingy hotel room, who caters to his lover Nathalie and says:
“Couvrez ce sein que je ne saurais voir”
The complete period would be: “Couvrez ce sein que je ne voir saurais voir. Par de pareils objets les âmes sont blessées, et cela fait venir de coupables pensées.”(Molière: Tartuffe, Act III, Scene II, verses 860-862). Nathalie and Frank are lovers and her nakedness, is the prologue to an embrace. However, he turns to her, mentioning a step away from Molière’s Tartuffe: Tartuffe wants to seduce Elmira, with his moralizing maxims, expressed in a manner that, not too subtly, she understands how he wants to possess her. In essence, the advances of Truffle / Frank is the soul of hypocrisy, duplicity, the dichotomy between being and appearance: in fact even Frank, like Tartuffe, is a hypocrite, which manifests ihimelf in a certain way to win the next , i.e. starlets and showgirls in search of success (as Nathalie).

Yet the pace, in my opinion, could be the soul of the whole novel, and it would not be entirely accidental that Paul had entered it: a novel about the duplicity and falsehood. In fact, if we analyze the behavior of the various characters in the novel, you will see that several of them, it is as if they recited a part, and so in essence they are the hypocrites: Nathalie is false, false is Frank, Nigel is false, false is Helen, Victor is false, false is Annie, and could also be false Basil also.

In conclusion, another very beautiful novel by Paul Halter.

Pietro De Palma

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

Anthony Abbot : About the Murder of A Startled Lady ,1935

In America, at the time of Van Dine, Abbot was one of his most important followers.He wrote eight novels since 1930 :  About The Murder Of A Startled Lady, 1935, is the fifth.Anthony Abbot (very name Charles Fulton Oursler ) was a knowed writer and pressman: with other writers, connected to S.S. Van Dine, he partecipated to a legendary mystery (legend, certainly not a masterpiece, but more like a curiosity): the novel was born from a bet, in 1935, during a dinner with the then U.S. President Franklin  Delano Roosevelt. The same Abbot was present, which with his real last name was  Director of the New York Newspaper “Liberty”: He thought from the innocent subject of the U.S. President could have derived a novel, and then alerted a number of writers to write the chapters:  The first chapter was the turn of Rupert Hughes, Samuel  Hopkins Adam the second, then came the turn of the same Oursler; then succeeded the comedienne  Rita Weiman, and the famous S. S.Van Dine. Finally John Erskine.

The work was serialized in Oursler’s Liberty Magazine in 1935, and the book was published in 1936. After thirty years Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason) remembered the story and he wrote a final charter, an Appendix in which Perry Mason and Paul Drake pulled the threads of the story. The book was reprinted in 1967 and retitled The President’s Mystery Plot.

But we go back to our novel, to About The Murder Of A Startled Lady .The story begins with a seance: Mr and Mrs Lynn, self-styled spiritualist, refer to Professor Gilman, a scientist who converted himself to parapsychology, had learned from a spirit of a crime happened long before: a certain Madeline would have been killed, dissected and closed in a box thrown in the waters off a popular beach.
Thatcher Colt, High Commissioner and Chief of Police of New York, only for the sake, without believing all the mediums and the like, secretly sends his men and a diver to check the news, and to his astonishment, the case is found , and in it they find a totally decomposed corpse, a skeleton in short, at a lot of pieces: 200 or more bones.
In Colt’s own house is reassembled the skeleton, but are not data that may be valid for identification: the clothes are almost completely destroyed, the case is cheap, the victim’s teeth are perfect.
The victim was shot through the forehead, and in fact the skull is a rattling noise when you shake: is the bullet of a caliber 32. And since it does not appear to have been any complaints regarding disappearance of a young woman, Colt decides to rely to Imro Fitch, a failed sculptor but a genius at the same time that mixing anthropomorphic knowledge and sensibility of an artist basing on accurate anthropometric relationships, reconstructs the face as it presumably would have been.

Fitch makes a true work of art and life to the skeleton. Also, basing on the few remnants of clothing, he find any similar clothing, one that should have been wearing Madeline in his last days of life. From here begins the survey itself: you get to the victim’s identification: Madeline Swift, 22 years.
Close relatives of the girl revealed a strongly suppressed family. Father and paternal grandfather fanatical religious: the grandfather, manufacturer of amulets; the father, a dealer in sheet music and records; her mother, a milliner, enslaved to his father; her sister, Verna, had been hospitalized for exhaustion nervous. In short, an environment that could not stand the exuberance of Madeline, girl described so old too modern for that environment (a reaction?): Smoked, drank and collected stories of love. Until .. until you fell in love with a certain Alfred Keplinger, a university student. And here was derived from a furious argument with his father, who did not want her daughter frequented such an individual .. Well .. the first motives emerge and the first suspect.
Apparently the girl was frightened by whom? It is not known. He said that a mysterious person followed her: policemans find a taxi driver who had brought the girl, but he does not know where she went but he knows from where he had taken her in the car: the house is that of an influential Democratic politician, Daniel O ‘Toole, connected to the District Attorney, whose elections are short term.
Then, interrogating Keplinger, we learn that he was a medical student, who tells how her Madeline was misunderstood. But does not say everything. Colt finds out and put under surveillance, the switchboard of the building where home is here and confirmed his suspicion: the young man talks to his sister he did not say anything. Bottom line: Keplinger is stopped.

From the investigation you transpire that some of his entourage and even a politician, harbored resentment. And that the same seance had been rigged: Colt discovers that the voice had revealed to the medium where to find the chest with human bones, he had not felt in a trance nor had dreamed, but had a presence in her room . The strange thing is that when she heard these things she was alone: there was no one else, not even her husband, and the door was closed by a bolt inside. An inspection is done: if at first you think of a concealed microphone and connected to the antenna cable, it turns out that the branch was covered with a cobweb, a sign that was placed at the corner of the window at an earlier time ‘arrival of Lynn. This leads to looking further at Colt’s room, finding a removable panel and a hole in it that communicates with the adjacent apartment. So as you can see, many suspects and little evidence. Colt understands who the murderess, but has no evidence. Then he tries going for broke: relying on improvisation. Who could he be?

Abbot begins this novel, the same way as “About the Murder of the Clergyman’s Mistress” her second novel, in which a corpse is found not identified. Since the discovery begin the investigation: the atmosphere in both is left with the tips of “macabre” in “About the Murder of a Startled Lady” quite pronounced tones reach. However, if we could say that the beginning is much the same, from that moment on, the two novels differ considerably.
Let’s say that the murderess is imagined long before those who may be: Abbot differs quite significantly from the earlier novels, where the revelation came in the final pages.
It’s common knowledge fact that the Abbos novels follow two distinct ways of conceiving: the first four novels (all written before 1932) are more or less all attributable to vandinian writing (plot very spectacular revelations in the last pages, detailed descriptions, investigations in well-defined structure of the novel in which you give a lot to the deduction of the subject and little scientific evidence): About the Murder of Geraldine Foster (1930), About the MUDER of the Clergyman‘s Mistress (1931), About the Murder of the Night Club Lady (1931), About the Murder of the Circus Queen (1932). Those that are written after 1935, though they differ: plot less spectacular but more complex, the deduction is put into a corner in favor of a survey tighter, the style is less elaborate and more fluid, the scientific evidence are more and more police in the investigation: About the Murder of a Startled Lady (1935), About the Murder of a Man Afraid of Women (1937), The Creeps (1939), The shudders (1943).

The abandonment of Vandinian writing you can clearly also constructive abandonment of the formula of the title, which is typical of both novels greatly SS Van Dine, Ellery Queen both of those up in Halfway House, The House of the Metamorphoses (whose first title was supposed to be The Mystery Swedish Match): if it is visible from 1937, it is equally true that even before Abbot that date had changed his style in the making of a detective story: the police investigation more space (formerly Abbot tends to differ from Queen and Van Dine, when he created his first novel, because the protagonist is not an amateur educated, snobbish, even as the Chief of Police: Van Dine if the Police were represented by the investigator who had shoulder if anything, true deus ex machina of the survey, the figure of the District Attorney Markham, Ellery Queen and the investigator father, an Inspector of Police, and if other authors, born in the wake of Vandinian writing, the first detective was still a detective from the wealthy, educated, and that helps the police (Rufus King, Stacey Bishop, Rex Stout , Rufus Gillmore), we must recognize that the Abbot had opened another branch which shall Vandinian conform other authors, for example, the Lord Lieutenant of King Charles Daly, whose first novel was in 1932, Obelists at Sea and ‘curious experience, but clearly shows a change of taste from the abundant second half of the thirties, the fact that Abbot, both Ellery Queen,  C.Daly King is the same, all authors born in the wake of Vandinian writing pure mutate the way to build title of the novel: in fact even C.Daly King, which we discuss in more detail one day, until 1935, the word “Obelists” follows the noun and identifies the novel, but dating from 1937, the novel’s title changes. In fact, in that year, C.D.King changes the manner to name his novels: Careless Corpse: A Thanatophony.

What emerges from About The Murder Of A Startled Lady, is the investigative action that is not exclusively the investigator on duty, what is the summation of a series of parallel investigations that can be misleading but also tangible results: Abbot opens in essence a kind of Procedural, which alleviates a lot of reading, as though not a Hard Boiled, approaches him greatly, as “acting” is unclear how this new genre in some writers tend to influence the creative outcomes: However, if the reading is much easier, it is equally true that the spectacle of the plot undergoes a decisive blow: the atmosphere is never the same criminal who can be expected and found in his first two novels, or even in the third.
The novel was nevertheless, as we said in the presentation, chosen by Roland Lacourbe for his “99 Novels for a Locked Room Library”: so there is a Locked Room? Yes, but although important for the solution to the developments that follow, however, is not closely related to the crime itself: if I have to express myself, in my opinion the choice of this closed chamber seems to have been a little ‘forced as if it were another story for all of these could be fully inserted in the list. Moreover, the presence of a hole that communicates with the other room, hidden by a removable panel, inside a closet, it seems a particularly pretty laughable, because you can talk about Locked Room: it is as if they would introduce Also amble of the secret passages, ways to get himself between the hook!
However, the manifest impossibility is given by a bolt inside the door that closes, the absence of other people across the medium, that might connect any microphone to the radio antenna cable had not been found and that There was even a cobweb on copper cable outside the box to signify that no one had busy for a long time, long before they got to live there the Lynn. The presence of a web logically remember us a Paul Halter’s novel, that is clearly derived from this: La toile de Penelope in which a spider web on a window, however, is directly connected to the closed chamber.

If, however, I doubt that this closed chamber could in effect compete with all other submitted on that list, however, is primarily a psychological reasoning: Carr, although the U.S. was British by adoption, and the British were behind a whole literature supernatural (Fantasy literature, gothic ghost story) whereby the impossible situation of a Locked Room, if it is subsequently reduced to rational bounds of reason (except to propose a parallel solution Court in The Witches), initially with good reason may have a characterization of the supernatural: it is realized so that clash between opposing natures, which causes an interesting development of the action in the plot. Therefore even a development as that established by Abbot, if it was practiced by Carr, maybe, just maybe, however, could have an excuse. Instead, for Abbot, U.S., too, Thatcher Colt is a character too rationalistic and too contemptuously antispiritualist because a gimmick like “seance” might here, in this novel, could to have an influence on the reader, and on the novel’s atmosphere. So if it occurs a seance in Christie or  Carr, the reader feels a certain uneasiness, if the same occurs in Abbot, at least in these early novels, the reader does not think the slightest possibility that the seance may have been true, it assumes that the voice heard was the product of some device hidden.
That’s because being the same impossible situations, for me is much more interesting as a Locked Room, the one in About the Murder of the Night Club Lady (1931) which, although resulting from the trick invented by Edgar Wallace at The Four Just Men (1905 ), it differs a lot.

Pietro De Palma

Christianna Brand : Heads You Lose, 1941

The first novel by Christianna Brand, with the Inspector Cockrill was Heads You Lose, written in 1941. Before it, in the same year, Christianna, had made ​​her debut with Death in High Heels, a novel who had given her a warm reception and that was served to spur, when she was still working as a clerk, convincing her to continue her career as a writer.

It’s a novel of impossible crimes, subtly macabre , veined by the veil of madness and in any case by the oddity that gives the novel its own special charm.
Stephen Pendrock is the squire of the village. Grace Morland is a painter, who now is talking to him on the terrace of his house. She is in love with him, maybe yes maybe no, but certainly she would like to live the rest of her life with him in Pigeonsford. The fact is that Stephen, so measured, so sober, and also so mature, secretly loves Fran, one of the nephews by Lady Hart that he is hosting in his mansion. Fran, however, is so young, so saucy, that Stephen is in doubt whether he really, fifty, may be of interest for her: his at the moment is a platonic love and does not know if it will ever become something else.
Grace paints at different times of the day, the landscapes that attract the most her: from the Stephen house’s terrace she can paint enjoying the best scenery, but she knows to be tolerated; nevertheless she imposed her presence, that for kindness has not been refused. She immediately has notice that Stephen only has his eyes for Fran, despite also James Nicholl is interested to her, young and wealthy bachelor. And because she is jealous of Stephen, really wants to despise the only thing that Fran has proven to be enthusiastic, a charming hat, that she makes everyone see: to her grandmother, Lady Hart; to her sister Venetia and to his brother-in-law Henry Gold, rich jew; to Stephen Pendrock; and Grace, who is there to paint, which says that not even dead in a ditch, she would like wear on the head a hat like that!

At that night her corpse is found, at the property belonging to the mansion, just in a ditch, with the Fran’s hat pulled down over her head , by the old butler Bunsen, who went in bycicle to visit his sister, and was returning to Pigeonsford. The shocking fact, that leaves everyone aghast, is that Grace Morlan has not only been killed, but also beheaded; and that on her head, as a kind of scarring, the reviled hat was pulled down on her head. It ‘obvious that only a few people were aware of what Gracehad said, and always the same people only knew where the hat had been placed, in what place of the house: so it is clear that if an offender must find, he must be found in the house.

The Inspector Cockrill, known familiarly as “Cockie” from the occupants of the house, because inhabitant in those zones, of this he is especially convinced: he was deeply disturbed at the sight of the Grace’s body, also because he had known Grace Morlan in his youth: “a sentimental goat “was for him, and then he had never had any stimulus affective against him although she had on several occasions attempted to be seduced. The sad fate of Grace: although she had tried to avoid being “old maid” for the rest of her life, no one had ever shown affectionate feelings towards her. Perhaps for her acidity that she showed at the first opportunity. The fact is that now she is dead. And too bad.
The firstalarm bellforCockie, isthe phone call thatcomesto policeand which comesfrom the house ofPendrock: to talk about isa woman,who claims to bethe killer, and claims that soonFranalsodie. Cockrillmust find the killer before he/she killsagain; andsince also the summer before, ascullery maid, after saying goodbye toher lover, had been foundin the groveof the estate,with his hands tiedbehind his back andhis headsevered from the bodybya sharp sickle, left thereclosely,thething becomes damnly urgent.. It’very strange thatafter oneyearare foundtwoheadless corpsesin the sameestate.

Another character peeks at the death of Grace: is her half-sister Pippy Le May, actress.
Pippy Le May subtly hated half-sister. When the crime took place she was far away and therefore it’s not a good reason she can be concerned. Pippy who is awake, saw something in that house, and really wants to take advantage. He’s going to blackmail someone? But also she is soon killed in a horrible way, beheaded. Near the tracks. It’s as if someone with an enormous force, he tore the collar from the trunk, leaving no footprints in the snow. If on the severed head from Grace had been put the Fran’s hat, now around the Pippy’s mangled neck the murderer put the scarf of the woman. In short, three people were beheaded, in less than a year. Everything revolves around this house, a cursed house.

Cockrill investigates but soon he finds himself up against a wall of silence: someone must have been in the house, certainly, to kill Grace Morland, perhaps Pippy Le May, and perhaps also the scullery maid killed at the year before. Covering each other the occupants of the house, it becomes extremely difficult to nail down the murderer to his/her responsibilities: in this situation, the virtually unassailable alibi make these last two crimes “impossible” to have occurred. 

Of course it is strange to happen three crimes, all with the same characteristics,at the same place! Cockrill thinks and makes his conjectures, but to remove the wall created from the members of the house around them, each other, is no small thing. It seems they want to believe that the person responsible has come from the outside, but even they are reliable. In fact, as the Grace murder is at least strange, for the detail of the hat, that one hand at the same time mocking and mad, trod on the severed head by the painter, a sign that someone by force, even though all deny it, and no one saw anything, he/she must be returned to the home, stealing the hat from the box where it was put, and have it taken away, even the Pippy murder someone can not say that it is not curious: Pippy has returned to his home, but has forgotten her glasses at Pendrock’s home and then she has reported to her maid she would return there to take the glasses; but she has not returned. This thing reconnect the crime at Pendrock home. In this case, however, the detail that makes it all the more difficult, is that around the body there are not footprints but an expanse of untouched snow: how did the murderer to kill Pippy?

In a whirlwind of blows, Cockrill will nail the murderer, less guilty than we would think, for the murder of two cousins​​, but not for that of the scullery, of which will be blamed another person. Before it will make the name of a lot of persons as the killer: Trotty, the maid; Pippy (for Grace); the true killer; Lady Hart. Why, if did you mention the name of the murderer (by Cockrill, which he considers responsible, and of which he explains the actions and the guilt), then was another person accused? Because here Christianna Brand resorts to a trick she will use other times, for example in Tour de Force: to indicate the real murderer, then to invent another solution that put him in the shade, and then to return on his culpability.
Again, Christianna Brand surprises and charms. And once again, a hallmark of his narrative style, are the multiple solutions, which succeed each other, and the multiple culprits are indicated and discarded from time to time; but also the multiple identities of the same people, as we have already seen in other novels, for example in Tour de Force. But since this is the first novel, it is even more special.

The identification of the murderer comes almost unexpected. I say almost, because the careful reader (who had read the other novels in which a certain particular uses) may have been suspicious for a certain thing (which I do not mention, otherwise it is as if I took the name of the murderer). This thing, however, occurs in other novels: it reminded me Helen McCloy, about his masterpiece about the Doppelganger; and, above all, in the same way, in one of the masterpieces by Paul Halter, Le Brouillard Rouge. In other words, the murderess is not fully responsible, because he’s crazy, and after killing, he does not remember anything: it is as if he had acted in a state of trance, because epilepticus. Now, crazy killers in the novels of Halter, there are several, but, in that novel, the murderer, and his “modus operandi” are shown twice: first mentions about a certain thing he does, and then, in another step of the novel, takes this action in particular juncture that described before, but explaining it in all its horrible significance. Here, the same thing happens.
Another interesting thing, because it will also be used later, is the presence of a prologue: we will see a similar thing for example in Death of Jezebel.

Finally, there is the use of solutions that contemplate the locked rooms : in this case, it is explained by referring to the gymnastic skills by the killer (Carr already had experimented this, for example, in The Footprint in the Sky), in a way specifically, it will be taken verbatim from Joseph Comming in one of his stories; and much later, in a novel by William De Andrea: Killed on the Rocks, at a similar. But the really interesting thing is that in this novel, there are three victims and two separate killers. What does it mean? Christianna Brand that is inclined to the extreme originality, and for not bind the chariot to anyone, already in his first work. Which also reveals a great self-confidence. Moreover, the ploy, let’s face it, is the real “coup de theater” of the novel.

Finally, there is the use of solutions that contemplate the locked rooms: in this case, it is explained by referring to the gymnastic qualities by the killer (Carr already had experimented this, for example in The Footprint in the Sky), in a way specifically, it will be taken verbatim from Joseph Comming in one of his stories; and much later, in a similar manner at a novel by William De Andrea: Killed on the Rocks. But the really interesting thing is that in this novel, there are three victims and two separate killers. What does it mean? Christianna Brand is inclined to the extreme originality, and for not bind the chariot to anyone, already in his first work. Which also reveals a great self-confidence. Moreover, the ploy, let’s face, it is the real “coup de theater” of the novel. If Agatha Christie, on two occasions, had given a shove to the classic Whodunnit (before in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and after in Mrs McGinty’s Dead), also regulated strictly by SS Van Dine, in the case of Christianna Brand, the thing is more remarkable because it is performed on the occasion of her debut: while Van Dine, in order not to confuse the reader had forbidden that there was in an enigma novel over a murderer, here there are two!

I must note at this point that I was surprised by some comments by Christianna Brand when she describes Henry Gold, the jew husband of Venetia (Henry “Gold”, mind you): describes him as anti-Semitic propaganda of the that time described the Jews. The particularly strange is that it comes from a writer of Anglo-Saxon origin, a sign that this cultural setting was not own  of certain individuals identified politically and geographically, but that the same cultural setting was more widespread than you think.

Already in his first novel of the Inspector Cockrill series, Christianna Brand sets up spectacular stagings, in the case of the murder of the scullery maid, and in the case of the murder of Grace and Pippy. But it happens also at her other novels (for example, Death of Jezebel and Tour de Force) and at some of her short stories (for example The Gemminy Cricket Case).

Finally,a characteristic thing:in somenovels byChristiannaBrand,the victims arebeheaded. It does not happenonlyinthis her first macabre divertissement,butalsoinDeath of Jezebel. I believe that this can probably be related also with the fact thatChristianna Brand was born in Malaysia, Borneo, where the dajachi practiced the beheading of enemies: this horrible practice may be stuck in her mind and then reproduced in her “crimes of paper”.

Pietro De Palma

Noël Vindry : Le Piège aux diamants, 1933

Noel Vindry is a historical figure of the French enigma novel to and in particular of the Locked Room.

Born in 1896 in Haute-Savoie and died in Paris in 1954, he, a lawyer and then a judge, created a character in which he transfused his own business, giving it a great calm, reflection and ability to thoroughly analyze a problem; a great culture, combined with a love for good food; and making it a great pipe smoker. In essence, at the character of the judge Allou you can easily notice the letters of at least six great detective, before his appearance. Vindry handed thirteen published novels, with the judge Allou, all locked room. Of these, very few have been reprinted in modern times, and in the market of antiques and collectibles books, the Vindry’s novels being hard to find , they are also quite expensive.

It’s good to anticipate here that the protagonist of Le Piège aux diamonds is not so much the Judge Allou, the protagonist of the novels, as his colleague Dampierre, in charge of the investigation. Allou, appears at a later time, as in the first novel by Carter Dickson with HM, and then becomes the “deus ex machina” of the reconstruction and the final solution.
The main actors in the drama are three members of a company port: Flavio Dancour, his brother Paul and André Caroux. The original owner is Flavio but soon realizing that he had undertaken a task beyond his strength, he is associated with a friend and his brother Paul. The two, to enrich themselves behind the ingenuous Flavio, fraudulently make sure that his business go to hell and longer grant him a loan that they know will never be honored. So, soon, against Flavio is issued an arrest warrant for fraudulent bankruptcy. Only in extremis his brother Paul repents, and also if he is miserly and stingy, he gives his support of seventy-five thousand francs to Flavio and the possibility of escape by speedboat, since for the French law, the domicile was inviolable from dusk until dawn: then Dalcour, unless he deliver him to the police, he will be arrested at dawn, and until that time the commissioner Laurent and agents will surround the house to prevent any person who was in that house, to get out without being they intercepted. During the siege, Flavio will be seen looking out of the window and answer the call to police to surrender and he will be seen by an agent, climbed right under the window, before sitting at a table, then at a second time, on the ground. The fact is that before it is seen on the ground, you can hear clear a gunshot, then saw the body of Flavio is on the ground and then you are inclined to think that he killed himself. Instead, all is not well.

In fact, despite the shooting, the police did not enter at the house because the door is provided with lock detail. However, they see a car approaching more and more: is Dr. Rufare, a friend of the victim, who frightened by the sound of footsteps at the house he asked him to come right away. However, no one can be released, because there is a police cordon around. But when they enter, and they find Dacour lying on the ground, the doctor, visiting him attests that he was killed with a blunt instrument that fractured his skull. While the doctor is visiting the body, the police and the inspector search the house, while the son of the doctor is on the doorstep, unable to bear the sight of a corpse.
They do not find anybody. Neither the gun. Nobody can be escaped, because the output was manned by Pierre, the son of Rufare. So what? How did the murderer to escape?

To first mystery , others mysteries add.
The doctor says he saw in Dalcour’s home, 5 wonderful blue brights, estimated three hundred thousand francs, which the victim had apparently hoped to take away with him. But the 5 brilliant are not: they were in a box of iron, which opened with a device to be activated by a secret mechanism. But brights and litter box are not: the crime is the result of a theft? The murderer is the thief?
The police examines the housemaid of Dalcour grown from a few days to service of Caroux: she may have been to steal the diamonds. The police did not believe her words and stops her. The fact is that the police is convinced there are two culprits: the murderer and Janet Arlaud, the maid. Why the fingerprints found on a silver candlestick, do not belong to any of the suspects, nor to Janet ?
A few days later, was found dead Paul Dalcour, brother of Flavio: it was found in his poor room (he was not poor, but lived as a poor man for not spending money) closed from the inside, asphyxiated by gas; on the table a letter in which he proclaims himself murderer of his brother. Only that the fingerprints on the lamp are not his

Raises another important fact now: Flavio, eight days before his death he had sold the diamonds to his brother Paul, in exchange for a check for two hundred and fifty francs. Why then Rufare said to have seen them at the home of Flavio? While the housemaid says he does not see at least two more weeks, the time would coincide with the sale of the same? Flavio not sold them, and then the news is false, or Flavio sold them and Rufare lied. But why? Rufare be unrelated to the crime: it was found the phone call from his friend was made. Why Dalcour would call his own murderer? But then how would he kill him, if he there was not when Dalcour died? No, it is an assumption that does not hold. Rufare must be stranger.
How unusual and a source of doubt is the matter of Paul Dalcour. Why he would be declared responsible for the death of his brother if he had given a check for two hundred and fifty francs, compared with five brilliant? And even more strange is the matter of the murder: why would have been killed if he had not already more diamonds? Perhaps the killer did not know, a killer still unknown in the affair.

A new twist explodes. The police received an anonymous phone call, and listens for two thieves who have completed a burglary in the apartment and the house is of Caroux: they are taking away a litter box, which is recognized by Rufare, like that of his friend Dacour. After having made her break into, there are inside, dipped in cotton wool, five brilliant blue. Possible consequence? If Caroux had the brilliants, it is clear that he is the murderer. It always raises the question: how did he make? Caroux is stopped: thief and murderer are the same person. Or so it would seem.
But a new upheaval happens: the five brightest, analyzed, are fake: why Caroux would kill Dalcour? For five blue false brilliant ? Caroux did not know it? And why had Dalcour 5 fake brilliants, the real ones when he sold to his brother, now missing?
A jeweler presents and spontaneously over to the police a bright, which was purchased by him at the home of an old hag, the housekeeper of Paul Dalcour, Natalie. In short, a new character enters the story: what is her role?

How did she get hold of brilliant? Possible that his master, miserly and stingy even on his deathbed (he went to bed early so as not to consume the light, and saved money about the ink and the nib, and used as letterhead that obtained from other sheets already used) he said this to her, and he trusted her so much?
Caroux before he declares alien to each other, then calls into question Rufare and Janet. Rufare, when pressed, reveals the true purpose by Dalcour, who had “forced” to stay rather than flee immediately: to grope a scam, selling his friend, but also member of Caroux in financial transactions on the edge of legality, the five pieces of glass cleverly counterfeited.
The investigations are at stalemate, because if it is true that Caroux was arrested on charges of theft, there is no evidence that he killed Dalcour, nor the police have evidence to prove it.

Enters the scene at this point the judge Allou, a friend of a cousin of Judge Dampierre, who, not wanting to humiliate his colleague, he prefers to be the one to deduce, after collecting the evidence. Allou is already well known for having brilliantly solved the unsolved cases of Locked Room. After he has asked questions that no one had place (Dalcour had a life insurance? Who made the call to police that he allowed to block the two thieves? Really are the brilliants the motive of the murder?) Allou causes the action of his colleague. The investigations identify the mysterious informant in the person of Dr. Rufare: how did he know that Caroux had stolen the diamonds? Rufare is included in the investigation, the fingerprints are taken, and hi..these fingerprints are those found on the candelabra. Reversal of the situation: Caroux is no longer the murderer, but only the thief; Rufare is the murderer. But how did he make? And why did Paul Dalcour declare himself the brother’s killer?

Allou offers his truth: Rufare would not kill but only attempted extortion. But then who was it? And how did he do? In a succession of pyrotechnic events and revelations, Allou identifies the murderer, the role of an accomplice, the mystery of the disappearing of the gun, of other four brilliant and of the check of two hundred fifty thousand francs.
Pyrotechnical novel, it offers a continuous inversion of roles and situations, coming at the end of the novel to propose a shocking hypothesis: is the murder a murder? Or is it a suicide? And the suicide is real or is it a homicide? The all being able to reconstruct exactly the story and the role of each protagonist. The continuous turbillon of events, revelations and contra revelations that cancel the previous, create a disorientation of the reader who, captivated by events, is unable to understand anything. Truly, an extraordinary novel !
Moreover, the involvement of Rufare in the story is expressed in a sham: the steps that Dalcour had heard, they are just a red herring, for … But why? How is not he the murderer if on the candlestick there were his prints? But did Dalcour die by a skull’s fracture or not? And why did Rufare certify the death by Dalcour? And why did the autopsy reveal the true fracture? A lot of questions !
Let us remember that the novel, the third in the succession of twelve by Vindry, is of 1933.

In 1941, Agatha Christie will give to the story a novel that will be remembered and will affect all the gender: Evil Under The Sun. Do you remember the trick of the novel? Well, I think the basic idea is brought forward in this, neither more nor less. Possible that Christie has adapted the idea by Vindry, modifying her plot? Very possible, I would say, i.e. strangely also that from a novel by Steeman, Six hommes morts, finds itself in her masterpiece, Ten Little Niggers, and in that by Bristow & Manning, The Invisible Host.

In my opinion we should analyze the work of Christie in light of the influence by the French novel. No coincidence that she recognized the enormous influence that gave to her ambition to write novels, Le mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux. In fact, the ascertainment of death in the novel by Agatha Christie leads to a series of consequences, because death has not yet occurred; while in the novel by Vindry the death occurred, but the finding of it, it is carried out with a different procedure consequential. However, the basic idea is the same: a false assessment carried out on a dead body and that does the investigating person when he dismissed the present.

And Vindry? Undoubtedly already in this novel we find a theme hewill use in one of his later masterpieces, La Bête hurlante: the fact that the house is surrounded by a cordon of police determines that it is impossible that the murderer was able to escape. But we also find features related to other French novelists of the period: the fact that the center of the plot there is not a psychological characterization of the characters but the enigma: it’s the enigma, the center of everything, around which moves the story. In itself the psychological characterization is almost nothing and also the smallness of the actors of plot makes the action focuses exclusively on the history, a procedure which is also shown by Boileau. It ‘s obvious that Vindry is raised in a manner antithetical to Simenon, for which, instead, the enigma is not the focus of the story but only one piece, and the center of everything instead is the psychology of the characters.

For the specialist in crime fiction Roland Lacourbe, Vindry is the French equivalent of John Dickson Carr.

I think otherwise. In my opinion, Vindry more than to be the equivalent of John Dickson Carr, he is the equivalent of Clayton Rawson. As Clayton Rawson in the atmosphere is not the best, so it happens in the novels by Vindry, where yet the quality of the plot and the solution are of the highest quality, of extreme virtuosity. Almost more than in Carr, as happens for example in my opinion in the novels by Rawson.

If Vindry is close to Carr, his character Mr. Allou is close above to Bencolin and this can be inferred from a fact: Vindry began writing in 1931, while the first novel of Carr is from 1930 In both, the protagonist is a judge, even more juge d ‘instruction: he solves the mystery. The first Bencolin’s adventures among which, the first novel, are Locked Rooms[1]: by which cases does Allou occupe? Locked rooms. Vindry is cloose to Carr and Rawson also for another matter: to arrive to a solution, they (but also Boileau) reverse the situation and the thinking. Gideon Fell, Merlini and Allou have the ability to break away from the real world and look at the sequence of events as if their spirit had soared astrally, breaking away from the materiality of earthly events.

However, when this reversal of perspective happens, it also increases the virtuosity of the investigation. In the moment in which Allou takes into account a different solution, it doesn’t happen that the effects are more linear but the opposite. So in his investigation to prove incontrovertibly a certain fact and arrive at a plausible solution, instead of simplifying things, they tend to become more complex. It follows that the reasoning to solve all should be of the highest quality.

I also get a quote from Chesterton, in the novel of Vindry. In fact, the letter in which Paul accuse himself of being the murderer of his brother is actually a fragment of a longer letter, properly cut, as in The Wrong Shape, at The Innocence Of Father Brown by Gilbert Chesterton.

We must say, however, that Vindry, unlike Agatha Christie and once again as Carr and Rawson, he does not cheat in anything the reader: the framework of the facts is absolutely what is before the eyes de judge, what changes is the perspective from which he is looking at the problem and the ability to imagine, moving away from the real.
And in some ways Vindry, realizes something of his own, a feature very personal, in his to make difficult the easy thing: unlike all the common detectives who seek in every way to simplify the sequence of events, reducing the factors to a minimum, Vindry realizes an absurdum: explain the unexplainable, making it even more abstruse and denser of recondite implications, and at the same time explaining and giving to the whole, a meaning.

Pietro De Palma

[1] Pietro De Palma: La prima produzione di John Dickson Carr : i 4 racconti di Bencolin