Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Philip MacDonald : Murder Gone Mad, 1931.


When you speak about great writers of detective novels, generally you speak about the great triad - Carr, Christie, Queen - forgetting many other names, sibling, if not quantitatively, at least qualitatively. Among these others, there are what I call the "innovators", the writers who have innovated the genre, not at the variation of plot, but at the invention of a different narrative structure. Among the innovators, securely I must remember Philip MacDonald, english writer..

He was definitely one of the most important writers of the twentieth century detective: I would say that of his production many are masterpieces, worthy to be authoritative in any ranking of the best novels of all time: The Rasp, The Noose, The Link, Rynox, The Choice, Murder Gone Mad, The Maze, The List of Adrian Messenger , X v. Rex (aka: Martin Porlock). Why? Because he has got ever originality and almost every time he writes a novel, makes some surprising stylistic changes to the whodunnit: writing a novel about the serial killings, Murder Gone Mad, he met a huge success and it was repeated with another on a more series of crimes committed by a killer, X v. Rex; he subverted the rules of the English whodunnit in The Maze; I didn’t introduce the murderer in the Warrant for X; in Rynox, he began with the epilogue; still in seventies, Barzun and Taylor described  The Rasp, a "epochmaking": in it was all: the murder of a head of state, clues, extraordinary ambience and atmosphere and a variety of psychological thrill.

Our novel is of 1931. John Dickson Carr, who at first was called The Rasp, the debut novel of the Colonel Anthony Gethryn, “one of the ten greatest detective novels”, he later replaced it with The Murder Gone Mad, to enshrine the importance that " The Murder Gone Mad " has and that was already recognized eighty years ago.

The novel is a precursor, one of the first to talk about serial killings, in a time when The ABC  Murders of Agatha Christie was yet to come: a novel counter, whose mere mention would be enough to erase all an annoying literary criticism, which tends to frame the Mystery as a genre dead and buried, unable to generate tension, and prepending to it a paraliterature; forgetting that the serial murder genre was born with Steeman and MacDonald. But if Steeman, with "The démon de Sainte-Croix" opens the strand talking about a series of crimes apparently disconnected and then that prove joined by a particular truly surprising, and if Christie christen the murder multiple that must conceal in the series apparently disconnected interest to a single murder (as if concealing something from other things like that and putting everything under the sun becomes it unknowable), Philip MacDonald provides to exaggerate the genre. In fact, for the first time ever, we see a litany of murderers, quite disconnected from each other, can be associated only in the unknowable depths of a sick mind who likes to kill for the sake of it, keeping police at bay .


So slowly, then more quickly we witness the horrible business of "The Butcher", the psychopathic murderer that, in the charming town of Holmdale, a few miles from London, sowing chaos is the discovery of the bodies, all killed with a bloody same technique (using a sharp knife blows, usually to the stomach), to dictate the pace, and especially through authorship of the letters to the police, the pathos and tension. Thus, where in many other examples of contemporary thriller, the tension is crystallized in literary devices, for example in the construction of floors and temporal narrative that often run in parallel and then intersect (for example the Lee & Child’s novels starring Aloysious Pendergast), here the tension is a characteristic of wisdom literature that articulates the writer with a relentless procession of the deads, before with frustrating attempts , then more more specific and more selective for identification of the murderer, with the growing dissatisfaction of the public, represented by newspapers, politicians, and less and less popular demonstrations peaceful, and the sardonic safety sported by the murderer in  mock and ridicule of established even in charge of the investigation, Arnold Pike, superintendent of Scotland Yard, which, like a bloodhound, regardless of the tricks of the murderer and reproaches of his superiors, leads his investigation made by attempts, each one different, but always more effective to end once and for all the carnage. So to mark the time of novel are more extensive tables that contain the likely suspects. As a corollary, a series of unlikely assassins arrested: the boeotian, the director, the famous doctor.

Without doubt the most curious and interesting history, is that a procedural analysis of the survey, lack any evidence that in an usual survey that was based on abduction of Sherlock Holmes, should abound: instead they roam here. In the painful deaths (Lionel Colby, promising young man, from  middle class family; Pamela Richards, rich bourgeoisie; Amy Adams, bartender, working class; Albert Rogers, skilled worker, about to become a soccer player; Marjorie Williams, nurse), relentless and ferocious in its impartiality, as if death is common to all, a "leveling" relentless, you do not see nothing but the absence of any motive: unknown to each other, elements taken at random, whose unique common reasons are the horrible gash in the belly and enjoy the chilling of the murderer about the death of one and about the pain of those who loved this victim. The killer comes even to send a letter to the police, promising that he will hit on December 7, this time enjoy pain just of Pike who finds the mother of a girl with which he enjoyed playing with the train, Molly Brade, curled up next to a wall and behind the chair where he sleeps unaware her daughter Millicent.

She will be the last to fall.

After Pike will ariive briskly, with a series of insights on how to proceed, that have nothing to do with normal investigative inquiries, as here, there is no evidence that helps to discover the killer. He is discovered because Pike is increasingly resorting to the help of improvised means of investigation: reflectors located in the town, they will turn on randomly illuminating different parts of the city; lights that are lit in the post office where the yellow envelopes with the offending oblique black handwriting, are wrapped and then fall directly on the table in front of employees and policemans; cameras, as cameras are today, they control the various streets of the city .. But Arnold Pike, with an idea as old as the world, he will manage to reveal the true identity of the murderer: creating a false butcher eager to take the fame of the real and the true is induced  not to resist the temptation to see who has the will to emulate
himself

And so from an entire city sifted, he will lead to narrow the grid of the suspects in only 4 suspects, one of which necessarily will be "The Butcher". But the truth will surprise all. Because once the killer will be again the least suspected, and the weapon .. the least suspected.

A novel in conclusion, of a disarmingly modernity, that in the absence of any indication enlightening and rambling in the theory of serial murder victims, clearly does justice to the title Murder Gone Mad.

A masterpeace.

Pietro De Palma

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