Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rufus King : Holiday Homicide, 1940

Rufus King (1893-1966) was a novelist very active since the late '20s to late '50s early '60s, and very famous and  all in all retired life: in life, nothing much was known about him, besides the fact that he lived in rural upstate New York, who was single, and had every yearproblems caused by snow”, so much so that he bought a house in Miami ( the rest just he set there some of Miami his stories).
 Another thing we know it’s that he had studied at Yale. It is curious that in those years at Yale were studying both “King of Mystery”: Rufus and Charles Daly, and that they both graduated in 1916. It’s possible that they did not know? Both King, both followers of Van Dine (but Reginald De Puyster of Rufus King made
​​his debut in 1926 as Philo Vance, the two are very similar. Normally it is said that Rufus King has copied Van Dine, but .. is it really so?). Rufus King in 1916 he enlisted for the Great War and when after war he turned home, he worked for some time as a radio operator on ships
Today is very little known and his novels are rarely published, but the time was well known: it was a fine exponent of that school of American writers (as JDCarr, Mignon Eberhart) who refused to give up the English Mystery, rather in favor of the Hard-Boiled, born in American environment. Mike Grost believed to have heavily influenced the first novel of two cousins
​​Dannay & Lee, who became known for signing a brand internationally recognized and appreciated: Ellery Queen: “Rufus King’s first Lt. Valcour novel, Murder by the Clock,had a simple plot idea involving men’s hats…It is possible that EQ used King’s work as a jumping off point and subsequent works. One wonders if the name “Rufus King” affected EQ’s choice of the pseudonym Ellery Queen”.
 In other words, according to him, Ellery QUEEN would be influenced by the success achieved by Rufus KING’s Murder by the Clock. The report QUEEN-KING could mean more than that a subsidiary, the recognition of the fact that King, by the time they released debut of the Queen, was more important to them or two cousins considered him so. 
It ‘s good to say, however, that Rufus King achieved considerable success over time for reasons other than for being a follower, a little unusual of Van Dine. Rufus King in fact, having for the time worked as a radio operator of ships, brought that maritime environment in many of his novels: Murder by Latitude (1930), The Lesser-Antiller Case (1934), Murder on The Yacht (1931), are all novels that are built so. And it’s to mention the fact that some time before he began his career as a novelist, Rufus King had written the original story of The Silent Command , a film from 1923 directed by J.Gordon Edwards and starring Bela Lugosi: the final scene took place on a ship during a storm
The reason, however, is also psychological-descriptive: Rufus King was very keen to describe the characters and moods, and to concentrate the action in a closed space (the ship so to speak are the extensions of a Locked Room), and this gave him the opportunity to emphasize the drama and anguish of changing situations and characters, before the stillness of the sea, with a very effective contrast effect.
Also in Holiday Homicide, the story takes place on the sea.
The novel is required for entry of a new protagonist, Cotton Moon, a wealthy investigator who spends all his money in search of rare nuts, and his assistant-secretary Bert Stanley and is followed by an expert chef, Walter: it is clear that in this case, Rufus King has created a character referring to Nero Wolfe, his secretary-assistant Archie Goodwin, and the Swiss chef Fritz Brenner. It follows that this is one of those novels in which Rufus King began to denounce the influence of other mystery writers: in essence begins to lose its originality. However, the King's writing is great.
In this case, Rufus King plays down the action humor found: Cotton Moon comes here did begin, in an almost comical manner: a nut of Sapucaia, set by a man a board of  Aliseo, a luxury yacht anchored near the yacht of Cotton Moon, hits him on his forehead: Bruce Jettwick, wants to get his attention, because there was a murder on board and he is afraid of being accused. To be killed is the uncle of Bruce, the wealthy building contractor Myron Jettwick. On board the yacht, there is also
 the mother of Bruce, Helen Jettwick former wife of Myron (Bruce is the son of Helen's first marriage); Myron's sister, Emma; McRoss Jepson, secretary of Myron, a business woman, Harriet Schuyler together with his daughter Elisabeth. So it's a strange and varied wildlife of characters, all ambiguous and reticent .. interested.
From the cabin where he was found dead Myron, disappeared a metal box with compromising documents. Where ever may have been "placed", if it is not?
Here, then, that to Cotton Moon is the idea of
​​using a diver. Note carefully: a diver. This Rufus King, in spite of the influence of affected mystery writers "more square" as Stout, may have been a good model for other novelists: for example, Jonathan Latimer.
And the point of union with Latimer may be just a diver. At this point should be introduced which would be affected by Latimer: the novel in question is Headed for a Hearse, 1935.
Fie, there must be an error: why King had influenced by a Latimer’s novel in 1935, when his was in 1940? The fact is Rufus King had published The Lesser Antilles-Case, one year before the novel Latimer, in 1934. In all three novels, the previous and the next King to Latimer that arises between the two, in time, we find ... a diver. In fact, is this singular figure that is in charge of finding incriminating evidence under the sea. However next to the diver, we find other elements that allow us to say that King could have influenced Latimer: for example, the opening scene of the novel by Latimer (the man who is waiting in the cell death his last hours) is very similar to a story by Rufus King (The Weapon That Did not Exist ,1926), in which an Ireland girl awaits his fate in prison in New York.
Returning to Holiday Homicide, H.H. (Also Headed for a Hearse by Latimer is .. HH: curious!), we see essentially just nuts of Sapucaia are used to build the evidence of the guilt of Bruce. Followed by two more deaths, the last of which will it’s that of secretary of Myron, Jepson McRoss, appropriately out of the way through a razor sharp, because It thought that he had committed suicide for remorse of killing. The real murderer, will be the least suspected, only this time, and this is the real weak point of the novel:  the guilty will not be identified on the basis of precise indications, but according to the intuition of the protagonist without the reader will have no had, during the course of the story, the slightest consciousness of it.
Beyond this .. it is a great novel, with a decent plot, English humor, and, despite being essentially a pastiche of Rex Stout’s novels , is very well written, with great descriptions, and an engaging storyline.

Pietro De Palma


In these days, in Italy, it's now available again the extraordinary Rufus King's novel, Muder by Latitude.

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