Monday, February 20, 2012

Peter Curtis (Norah Lofts) : Dead March in Three Keys, 1940

Peter Curtis was the name that Norah Lofts, born Robinson (writer very popular in England until the seventies, and author of more than fifty works more like a historical narrative) chose for her mystery stories : it was thought that so aficionados readers of his most romantic, not remain shocked by the plot of a murder. So a female writer in some way close to Georgette Heyer, also a female writer of historical fiction and love, and mystery, but that she had abandoned her more famous name.
In fact in the plots, expressed under the pseudonym of Peter Curtis, the Lofts of characters introduced stylistically very close to his best known works: for example, the great concern for the plight of the poorest in society, unable to change them, and stories of love .
Dead March in Three Keys, 1940, was the first of four novels, which obtained considerable success in the public enough to be transposed in movies: eg. You're Best Alone was transposed in the movie Guilt is My Shadow (1950) and The Devil's Own (also known as The Little Wax Doll and Catch As Catch Can) was the basis of the screenplay of The Witches, the 1966 film starring Joan Fontaine .
What is the plot of Dead March in Three Keys?
Heloise is a beautiful girl, lived almost always protected by her nanny, Emilia. She has to be pretty rich, and has a cousin that looks like a drop of water, and is just a little 'more' in the flesh " her. Antonia (the name of her cousin) differently from Heloise has few resources, but many suitors. Among these Couwen Richard, a scion who has squandered his fortune and luck in the ancient, remains just an old villa. Between Richard and Antonia born explosive passion, and the two become lovers. But the two lovers understand that without the money they don’t go on, Richard designed a plan to ensnare,  on suggestion of Antonia, the rich cousin Heloise, while the same Antonia accepts the court of Joshua Meekin, a fifty-five rich jew . The two, however, succeed, in spite of their spouses, to get rid of the afternoon hours of fiery passion and live.
One day, the Wall Street crisis of 1929 led to ruin also Joshua that died from a stroke when he discovers he has lost his fortune, and the poor Antonia finds herself with a few furs and jewels, but without a house, for which begins to look for work.
Richard , who has since become a father, but whose relations with Heloise have increasingly cracked, thus finds its way to take her home and the poor Heloise, not suspecting anything of the affair of the two (but I suspect Emma, his nanny), is very happy to host it. One fine day, indeed a beautiful night, a commotion disturbs the quiet of the house: Diana, the daughter of two, is ill and Emma Plume cries in the night. Richard Curwen, who put on the excuse of insomnia to be more free from the control of his wife, asleep in another room, and then going every night of room Antonia, do not think there to pretend, and instead of going out the back door, climbing through the attic and back down the side of his room, opens the door to the room of Antonia, face to face with Emma and his wife. In short, the affair is discovered, and Antonia has to go
Antonia looks for other employment and finds her in the kind of board where she finds aristocratic several lovers. The guesthouse is situated a short distance from the villa of Heloise and Richard, and thus Richard and Antonia succeed in hotel rooms to steal the afternoon, each other's arms. But things get worse between Richard and his wife when Antonia should go away: Heloise falls into deep crisis nerve, Richard can not resist the remoteness of Antonia, and this is far away. At this point Richard conceived the plan of femicide, rather charming, which ends beautifully for him. But when the two lovers are sure they can live together enjoying the money Heloise, Emma can not see clearly and decides to investigate: Riccardo she will get a conviction.
A work of 1940, Dead March in Three Keys is a thriller, with a high voltage, narrated in first person, with a material that changes the perspective of the narrative, as the chapters, there are real parts. The author calls them, however, "movements". There are 5. And 'as if it were, then, a suite: a suite of murder, in 5 movements, of which the first three form a "death march in three days": the first time is given to first-person narrative of Emma, ​​who is fired at the end of summer, and his figure assumed by a governess Daffield Myra, taken care of Diana and the second is given to the narration of Richard narrating the background to the drama and how he came to premeditate a femicide; the third to Antonia, which lends herself to satisfy Richard, but who she is unaware of the proposed murder of his cousin, who realizes during her narration, without her ever knowing how it is done: in fact, apparently died of a Heloise stroke. However, caused by what? She did not know, but in the meantime enjoy the money of the victim with him, mistaking herself Eloisa to be dead without  that Richard was the cause of death.
The other two movements are subsequent to the death: the fourth is again entrusted to the voice of Emma, ​​who can not see clearly, and is keen to avenge the death of Eloise, while the fifth, the final movement, culminating with the voice of sentenced, waiting for the next hanging in the confession of what happened and who sentenced him.
Richard is presented as a victim of fate, in fact, despite his plan is perfect, he is not charged on the basis of the discovery of the weapon and the unveiling of his whole plan (very clever and subtle even for psychological acuity), but on based on a false charge that accuses him of having poisoned his wife with progressively morphaline, a derivative of morphine, used as a narcotic, which, paradoxically, he knows nothing: his wife had stuffed this tranquilizer to keep sleeping, she could no longer there, imagining that her husband, who had married for money, continues to betray his cousin.
As seen, the plot of the novel is based on the story of a premeditated femicide, in a great love story: the story of passionate love of Richard and Antonia, disrupts the lives of other couples: Richard and Eloise, Antonia and her occasional lovers. What remains, until the end, is a great passionate love: a story of passion and death.
Writing well, I could already tell that I reveal who the murderer: it is true, but the rest is history that suggests only a straight run. In fact we are dealing with a classic mystery, which is necessary to discover the murderer from a shortlist of suspects, but before a thriller, where murder if the plan is known and also the future murderer, the only unknown is represented by its detection and conviction.
Cleverly written, with a style very fluid and subtle psychological,  novel of Lofts traps the reader into a growing tension, surprise, also, some very explicit expressions: Antonia turns to Richard and saying that it is a miracle of intelligence, however, accepts which is "a superb lover." This in the '40s. And moreover in a novel written by a woman, who apparently was not afraid to express it directly, as she usually wrote novels that spoke of loves and passions, and then turned to a very specific audience: Norah Lofts, born Robinson , was already known to the British public for a multitude of historical novels, many have become best sellers.
In a sense we could speak of an inverted half-story. In fact the first movement is linked, completing the fourth, both narrated in person by Emma Plume, for murder done. This could be a story inverted. But that is not at all: in fact, that we might talk about "fully" inverted story, the offender would be necessary, as the novel tends to only one conclusion, had already acquired and condemned, but not here it’s yet. In other words, the inverted story that can be said has been made with a flashback of the plot, the first-person narrative of Richard and Antonia, that by the two protagonists negative, ends where it begins the Revenge of Emma, ​​who wants to do justice;  and it ends in the story of Richard, which continues the inverted story ending it with the inevitability of fate announced.

Pietro De Palma

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