Monday, April 6, 2015

Margery Allingham : Black Plumes, 1940


Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham, one of the 4 Crime Queen, was one of the big names of the detective novel of the '900. It is no coincidence. Indeed she probed various subgenres in her long career: from the adventurous mystery to the classic whodunnit, from thriller to the locked room, but everything with great class, and much originality, what's in this novel.
That the wind could become almost a cornerstone of a detective story, we didn’t understand.
Just the wind is the basic element of the novel in which I am going to speak, Black Plumes, 1940: appears in all the key moments of the story and with its appearance it marks the rhythm.
And the wind begins the novel: "The october wind, which had promised rain all day, hesitated in its reckless flight down the moist pavements to hurl a handful of fine drops at the windows of the drawing room in the big Hampstead house. The sound was sharp and spiteful, so that the silence between the two women within became momentarily shocked, as if it had received some gratuitous if trivial insult"(Chapter 1, the first page).
The two women are Gabrielle Ivory and Frances Ivory, grandmother and granddaughter: comparison of two generations: the octogenarian Gabrielle, old physically but with the awake mind and the 20 years old Frances, fresh and naive, ready to fall in love but also to fight. No coincidence that two of the three major personalities of the novel (the other is David Field) are women: this is a real novel of women! Almost all of the most important roles are performed by women: Gabrielle, Frances, Phillida, the nurse Gabrielle, the secretary Dorothy. The men have minor roles or almost, except David who is the hero without blemish and without sin, like a knight of the past, who saves the damsel (Frances) from the mire of the ogre's turn (Lucar). But among the various female figures, in my opinion those I think stand out more and more are precisely Frances and Gabrielle. Not by chance the wind, creeping and producing a sharp sound, is as imposed to the attention of the reader the two figures: the noise separates them, breaking the silence that was in common and defines the contours; but at the same time it unites them, differentiating them from other persons who are waving vaguely in the big house.
Gabrielle is the mother of Meyrich Ivory, gallery owner, master of the Art Gallery at 29, Sallet Square, a paradise of collectors, where you can buy the junk as well as the masterpieces of the great artists. The gallery over time has had ups and downs but on it weighs a tragedy: Dollie Godolphin, famed explorer who had shared with Robert Madrigal and his orderly Henry Lucar, a trip to Tibet in search of fabulous treasures to can bring the Gallery to the  glories of the past, has disappeared. Seems to have been sacrificed, sick, unable to be transported, by an act of personal heroism, allowing to  two companions to escape, leaving him in the midst of perpetual snow. When Godolphin has gone away, was the favorite of Phillida but she after having waited in vain and left for dead, she got married just with Robert, which quickly became a member of the father and his lender. But also, in his absence, a bad manager. The fact is that, in addition, Robert is strangely under the thumb of his secretary Lucar, a slippery and dangerous character, who tries to take advantage of his strong influence on Robert in the absence of the owner of the gallery, to marry his more young daughter, Frances, although she completely refuses him. Why does Robert support Lucar in his attempt to marry Frances and does support him at the climbing to the property of Ivory family? Lucar blackmails Robert and keeps him in his power by virtue of something compromising he knows and that Robert does not want you  know : more, to win the mere strength of the husband of Phillida, Lucar uses real intimidations: he destroys at the last time the catalog of the Gallery prepared for the visit of the Royals, he crashes a precious vase, and irreparably damages a painting of the young painter David Field, protected of Meyrich and much appreciated.
David is the third strong character of the story: is he who saves Frances from the mire of Lucar, simulating an engagement in the eyes of the world, that instead there is not, the more he is refractory to the associations and even more at weddings; however, this union, which initially is fictitious, it will become true because he will win the girl's heart. It is interesting to note that, while Robert and Henry are linked to one another by hatred and by a ratio of psychological submission (of the first to the second), but they tend to act as members of the gallery, trying to become the masters marrying the two daughters Meyrich, , the only one who would not want to bind to the gallery, engaging emotionally, that is David, is he to do so. When David and Frances, they will agree to cheat Lucar, is always the wind to scan the march: “As they went over each incident in that fateful day the motif of the squalling wind kept recurring like the thin blast of a warning trumpet, but they were deaf to it and went on their predestined way unaware” (end of Chapter 3).
Then, at the chapter 6, the wind reappears, just to focus attention and Allingham writes that someone had come out in the dark and in the wind.  

The wind anticipates the first tragic event: Robert disappears after a discussion with David. Then, here is the wind assaults the house, as to bring death and other disorders. The same Phillida talking with Frances, speculates that her husband is mad: and in the short dialogue, the wind takes on a typical characterization of the novels of atmosphere, howling, raising the tension of engraved:“Frances…have you ever thought that Robert might be mad? The question would have been remarkable if only because it came from Phillida and concerned the state of mind of somebody other than herself, but up in the dark-bedroom, with the firelight flickering and the wind chattering round the house, its very directness shot a chill to Frances’ diaphragm” (Chapter 4).
But like a clockwork, while Robert is found, or rather is found his body, already in a state of decomposition, in an old cupboard (hidden by overcoat, hat, as if he had been to go out and then he had been surprised) in that room overlooking the garden, where he had been seen by Frances discuss with David, in the Chapter 9, the wind attacks the house again, with the same irritating intermittently, as if an enemy in the flesh was trying to break into their fortress.
The body has a deep wound: something edgy and sharp, like a long letter opener, hit him in the ribs, catching up to the heart, only that the weapon is not found.
Many suspects: David first; but also Phillida, that at her husband's death, shows her joy; Gabrielle, who despite being invalid,  will be found to be good to walk alone at night; Lucar, who has taken flight, and for this would seem to be the culprit acquired; the same Meyrick, who would be able to return in disguise; and the same Godolphin, that in the same way, would be able to return and to kill the first rival: only that these two would materially excluded.
To complicate the facts, is the discovery that Phillida, before she married Robert, had married secretly with Godolphin, before he left for the ill-fated expedition, and that the witness of the two would be the same Field.
Gabrielle is contrary that the niece fresh widow is going to end up in bed with another, even if he would be her first husband; and so Godolphin and the old, agree to an armistice under the roof of the old house: if Godolphin could find the culprit, could take away Phillida.

After the return of the explorer, and especially after that of Lucar, which convenes in the living room for a series of messages that he wants to launch the murderer, in order to make him understand he knows (and therefore to involve him in a blackmail) , here again the wind that makes the appearance, combined with another criminal event: in the Chapter 15 the wind begins to blow. When ? How ? When the long brocade curtains billow behind Lucar, driven by the chilly breeze coming in from a narrow chink of high sash window.
Whenever the wind appears, something happens: it is like a messenger of something, even of misfortune. The reference to the sash window to me does not seem random, at this time. And Lucar will soon found dead, in the same way than Robert, by means of a sharp and long weapon, like a rapier, but about which there is no trace.
Among all the suspects, David seems to be the most classic among the culprits and for this will also be stopped, after the murder number two. But meanwhile the real culprit when will believe to be safe, it will be unmasked by the Inspector Bridie, that to do so, will have to convince the characters to eliminate false clues that don’t help him to solve the riddle.
At a novel extremely fascinating. Margery Allingham draws from the great classical tradition the theme of the wind, herald of doom when not of messages that are not interpreted in the right way. The interesting thing is that the Allingham, thanks to a very special trick, ie comparing each time the wind to persons or objects,with the mechanism of similarities, gives it a soul, making it a real character like those canonical otherwise presented in the book. A hidden character, but with a very special importance, as it is just the wind to introduce the various sections, to announce to the reader that something is going to happen: it's like an alarm bell. Other times, however, it behaves as if it were an extension of the people's will, for example, when Frances and David are on the roof and he tries to run away to escape an unjust arrest and “the wind attacks with greedy nervousness their clothes and throws soot in the eye”, like you read in Chapter 16.
Sometimes it seems that Margery Allingham recourses to metaphor: when Frances, in the first chapter, prefers to take refuge in the Rolls Royce to escape the ravages of wind, as if to take refuge in the maternal arms to escape to the insistence of a voluptuous and spiteful lover: “Meyrick’s Rolls had never seemed more comfortingly magnificent than it did as she climbed into it out of the irritating wind wich snatched at her hat and whipped at her knees”
Giving to the wind a role that elsewhere it would not have, not destining him to contribute to the creation of the atmosphere, but inserting it in the same mechanism of the action, Margery Allingham undoubtedly insert an element of great originality. For the rest, however, the novel is an undoubted classic Mystery.
First the cupboard in which is placed a corpse: it is a topos that is already in The Yellow Room by Mary Robert Rinehart, in Murder by the Clock by Rufus King, even in The Woman in the Wardrobe by The Brothers Shaffer (although after the release of this novel).
And the presence of the gong, reminds us many famous novels of the Golden Age: from Sax Rohmer to Agatha Christie (And Then There Were None), from Ngaio Marsh (A Dead Man Lied) to Christopher Bush (The Case of the Chinese Gong).
Another interesting feature is how  contributes to the atmosphere, even the house itself, a witness, as the old Gabrielle, of the legacy of the Victorian era, with its furniture, its curtains, its brocades, his paintings: a set of tinsel that, weighing down the atmosphere, also make tangible and striking the contrast between the old and the new, between Gabrielle and Frances (and David).
A great masterpiece by a grandest writer who could write very well.
Pietro De Palma

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Agatha Christie : The Murder On The Links, 1923



Agatha Christie wrote The Murder On The Links in 1923.It is the second novel in the series Poirot, after The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the onset of 1920 at which appeared Poirot, and the third in general, because a year earlier, in 1922, was released The Secret Adversary,at which appeared the couple Tommy & Tuppence.
It is one of the novels that I liked most, of the many written by Agatha Christie. One reason: the text is a fresh, crisp, full of pitfalls, of false leads, clues true and false clues, and with a final fireworks display. Also is the novel in which the tender Captain Hasting falls in love with the beautiful Cerentola, and then to each other "yellow" mixes also a rose: in this way, the Christie laid the premises for some novel further, the friend of Poirot emigrated to Argentina, along with his better half, leaving Hercule alone to face from time to time the bad guys that the case puts in front. What do you want: more years pass, I become more romantic!
Poirot received a letter from a certain Mr. Renaud, a resident in France, who implores him to go to his aid for an imminent danger: for this he hires him, promising him a cachet that Poirot himself will have to set: therefore a subject has great economic possibilities. Poirot and Hastings embark, but when they get home to him, they find out that on the night he was murdered.
The wife is the only heir of the Renaud’s - because he, after a furious argument with his son Jack, disinherited him - was found tied so tightly that the strings have plagued meat. Moreover, at the sight of the corpse of Renaud, stabbed in the back with a dagger, memory of war, made by his son Jack, his wife faints. Poirot is convinced that she can not have killed her husband, who was found face down, donning a coat too long for him, where they find a compromising letter with a certain Belle, with below the underwear, lying on the ground, in a pit dug for him, on a golf course. The wife said during that night she was taken by force by two bearded men, by olive complexion, coming from South America (Santiago, Chile, because there Renaud had been in the past), who spoke about a secret that he would have to reveal; that all occurred at two o’ clock, and that her husband was forced, after wearing an overcoat, to walk away with them to a destination not too far away. It is found a clock with broken glass, but working indicating two o’clock. Giraud, a French policeman, opposite to Poirot for ideas (immanence opposed to transcendence, the mere hint material as opposed to psychological analysis) finds also a match and a cigarette butt, a long hair (woman or man). The two are as opposed from beliefs different as from mutual dislike.
Meanwhile, Capt. Hastings has made the acquaintance of Cinderella, a variety starlet that performs with her sister. At her request, he brings her to see the body (tells him to be a freelance journalist) and the dagger that was extracted, she faints, he carries her out, leaving ajar the door of the shed where the body is still preserved, and someone else steals the dagger. Consequence? Another is found murdered, in another shed nearby.

Dresses well but his hands testify that it was someone who did manual labor. No one recognizes him. It would appear that he had been killed with the same dagger, or else the same, but then it turns out that even he was dead before was killed Renaud, and who was stabbed after he was already dead for a seizure. Why?
To all the slaughter of false evidence, true, corpses galore, it is to add a story between Renaud and Mrs. Daubreuil who lives with his daughter Martha, in love with Jack Renaud, in a nearby villa: the wife of Renaud adds that they had a history together, but does not say that, instead, it was blackmail. It learns from the Secretary of Renaud, Stonor, speaking about large sums paid by Renaud to Daubreuil. Why? Who is George Conneau, tied to Mrs. Daubreuil, from a previous famous case of murder, a fugitive for a long time?
Poirot will come to the solution, not before two alleged killers, innocent, has been declared and they have declared themselves guilty (without being this), especially the second, to allow Poirot to frame the real murderer who after killing Renaud tried to kill even his wife.
Novel truly magnificent, with a young Poirot, especially in full mental health (to be enjoyed, his ruminations on his famous "gray cells"), is a constant whirlwind of situations some almost to the limit of the paradoxical, if not grotesque, while being dramatic. You don’t understand how Agatha Christie has given so rein to her imagination, inventing a plot so tangled yet so straightforward: there are two false solutions, obviously indicating two false killers, before the real, in which also enters Cinderella, or not Cinderella, but almost; real clues (those located by Poirot: a piece of pipe, the dirty rags); strange behaviors: why does Poirot  measure the length of the coat that Renaud wore when was stabbed ? false leads (those located by Giraud) and the broken clock, in addition to the dagger: there is one really? Or more than one? And why did Jack say the false swearing that during the night of the assassination of his father, he was away from home, while it was not true?
The set of situations and behaviors we rushed back through the years: there are the alleged criminals, with fake beards, who come from a country far away, where the victim had worked and where he met a "secret"; a famous process that emerges from the past; a strange double murder; a romance and gallantry of the past. There is still a freshness and ingenuity that the '30s will wipe out,  with their hypercomplex plots
.

It’s clear that the careful reader will find strange references, in this Agatha Christie unripe: the victim that recalls a distant land, a secret, an alleged assassination linked to that, of the criminals with fake beards, are all factors that call immediately to mind The Valley of Fear by Conan Doyle (1916), one of the four novels with Sherlock Holmes. But there is not only this. No, there is also the other. Who or what, does draw the twice investigator, the challenge between a serious (Poirot) and a ridiculous (Giraud), each committed to take in the other chestnut? I drew immediately Maurice Leblanc, and situations from feuelliton and recall specific to a compilation of two stories, by the French writer: Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes, where the French champion, gentleman-thief lent to the detection (Arsene Lupin) is opposed to a farcical and ridiculous English detective, Herlock Sholmes, bad copy of the most famous Sherlock Holmes .. The challenge between the cousins ​​across the Channel, which had been marked by Leblanc, stating the French intelligence on stolidity English, here is turned with a challenge not between English and French cousins ​​, but between French and Belgian cousins, where the Belgian is both personification of the English spirit.
That Christie could know the work seems plausible to me, given that the two writings Leblanc are ascribed to the years 1906-1907 and the volume was published in 1908. For the rest, here as well as in the original French, we have situations of hilarity spread: the French policeman, who searchs  for clues like a bloodhound, complete with a magnifying glass, hands and knees on the floor, is opposed to the former policeman Belgian Hercule Poirot (but living in England), who discovers the clue fragment check, just because obsessed to put order where there it is not: and so under a carpet badly put, he finds the clue, escaped the most. This discovery is not a coincidence, but is the product of the method by Poirot, according to which "the order arises from confusion" : as it is necessary for in the study by Renaud the carpet is smoothed roughly and his flap is put back in place, because is inconceivable to Poirot that something is in disorder, so it is necessary that in the context of the problem all the tiles fall into place naturally, without forcing. And then, when there is something in the order of his gray cells can not be explained, it can not be guessed even if it appeared to be that at first sight.

Poirot opposes to mere material evidence, the acute psychology of his gray cells. The false clue from broken clock is a masterpiece, but it is even more the clue coat: his explanation is pure class. Not to mention the dagger, or rather of the two daggers: yes, this is the icing on the cake. The second body, which is stabbed by the same dagger found on the first victim, you know he was already dead when was found Renaud: so how did the same dagger to be in body of a man stabbed before? It’s clear that there should be two daggers! But then the other will happen again and you will find that the daggers were actually ...
For the rest, bad women opposed to good and defenseless women, and a chaperone as Hastings, ready to throw everything to the winds for the beautiful Cinderella, in one of the most compelling novels of the first period of Agatha Christie.



Pietro De Palma