Thursday, June 14, 2012

Derek Smith: Whistle Up The Devil, 1953

Legendary novel, as much as the author himself would seem to be.
Very little is known about him. Doug Greene, recently revealed that he had with Derek Smith a sort of correspondence, and even Bill Pronzini met with him. Few and scanty biographical: Smith was born in 1926 in the outskirts of London, and has lived all his life in the house, not ever getting married and staying close to his mother until she died. Smith had amassed such a collection of books, thousands, including many first editions, which would delight those who know me, that when he died, ten years ago, who had been instructed by him to take care of his collection after his death, had major problems seem to access it, because the books were stacked in piles, in the midst of dust and moisture loss from the ceiling. Apparently, according to Pronzini, that even a part of the second floor had collapsed under the weight of books.
Derek Smith wrote only one work worthy of passing into history of the Locked Room, but .. this is enough. In fact, another novel that he wrote "Come to Paddington Fair" was never published in their mother tongue, but only in a limited edition in Japan: it seems, however, that this isn’t a Locked Room, but an impossible crime.
Whistle Up The Devil can be considered one of the novels born along the lines of the example given by Carr and Rawson: not only a novel based on Locked Room, but also a symbolic monument to the greatest novelists of Locked Room that preceded the same Derek Smith . So Whistle Up The Devil becomes in itself a novel that transcends even the same plot, becoming part of that trinity of the genus that composes The Hollow Man by J. D. Carr and Death from a Top Hat by C. Rawson, all novels as if to emphasize its uniqueness in the genre of which are examples, have their own  Locked Room Lecture.
The novel is remarkable for the impact and intelligence with which it is built, so that the ingenuity of the idea is somehow obscured by the veil of mystery and atmosphere of the plant. Obviously, since even the small number of suspects, the solution to a suitably experienced player in the genre, does not seem difficult to imagine, contrary to what may seem to a common reader. The fact is that the figure of the murderer is readily detectable only if you have some encyclopedic knowledge of the genre: in other words, those who have not read a novel (and I do not make the name) will not understand right away who it is.
Beyond this, the novel is imposed for a first offense of a show that traces its origins not so much on mechanical tricks of illusionistic as at use of human capabilities in diverting attention from a certain object of attention and direct it to another.
In addition to the original crime, there is a second, more simple in construction but not less spectacular, the explanation of which is identifying the key person, who has been mentioned above.
But the merit of the goodness of the novel is also knowledgeable in the use of narrative tension obtained with false solutions that pave the real ones, no less spectacular, indeed ..
The plot hinges on a "family secret" or as the Querrin is passed from father to son (I speak of more son), a month before the wedding of the latter, and that is also linked to a certain room of the family residence, called "the Room of Passage", the story requires, however, that at some point, something has gone wrong and mysteriously the father (Thomas Querrin) that his son (Martin Querrin) are dead, the father later to seizures, son stabbed in the locked room from the inside. And before that he had felt a terrible inhuman scream coming from the room. Since then, he says that the father's ghost haunts the room in question.
The last two scions of the family are Querrin Roger and Peter. Roger, who is engaged to Audrey, decided to revive the tradition of family and "blow the whistle to the Devil" will remain in the room in question defiantly discrediting the tradition which says that room to be haunted. The point is that the tradition has it that those who agree to spend the night in the room, taking the secret with courage and honor, to be spared, while those who die will spend the night disputing these rules.
Audrey is so apprehensive. And so is Peter, his future brother in law. So that is aimed to Castle, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, who tells him the inability of police to deal with the matter. However, Castle remembers his friend Algy Lawrence is an amateur detective, who has already worked brilliantly with the police, and he prospects the case.
Roger wants at all costs to spend the night in the room so as to dispel the curse that hangs over it, and then you decide to watch it: Algy and Peter stood in the hallway that connects the room to the rest of the house, while the sergeant Harding parks under a tree outdoors, watching from outside the door that connects the room or outdoors on a garden full of flowers, whose land because of the rain is ideal because it will let anyone trample his prints.
Despite what the impossible occurs and Roger is killed in the locked room, closed by him at the inside, stabbed with the same dagger with which he had been killed long before Martin. Only it seems that it can only be killed by a ghost, as neither Peter and Algy have seen anyone leave the room, nor Sergeant saw someone to enter or to exit from the door-window, nor the dagger with which Roger fingerprints has been killed, even those gloves, nor even the rain has soaked the soil fingerprints. So a puzzle to be crazy. At some point it would seem that the suspects can concentrate on a certain Turner, vagrants seen wandering around the estate, and so he is arrested.
Algy goes to jail for questioning, but before he is able to find anything, although he and the sergeant are in the adjacent room, Turner is killed, in the cell locked by the sergeant before.
Paradoxically, everything seems to turn to the indictment of the poor Algy, although it remains unclear because he would kill Turner.
At this point, for Algy, find the murderer of Roger and the murderer of  Turner (obviously he is the same) is not just a matter of principle but also the only way to convince the police that he was not the killer. And so, after Audrey's uncle, Craig Russell, who also lives in Querrin House, thought to nail the murderer with his deductive explanation of events, failing miserably, it will just Algy to resolve the matter and give a face a crafty murderer.
What I want  observe is that in this novel, curiously, there's not the figure of the detective, the one that imposes itself on others, as that of a character that should be less than: D. Smith, if gives to the first a vague description, and certainly not attributable to that of a detective who solves mysteries important oddest, connotes instead the round figure of Audrey's uncle, Russell Craig, even comic character, swindler, trickster, who loves the good life and the flesh: already more than mature, he bustles with the waiter, with one in particular,  with satisfaction of both. So if Algy is romantic and goofy, and women doesn’t  know, Uncle Russell is even defended by his women. An unabashed Don Giovanni, whose virility is loved by women, is opposed to a moderate Don Ottavio.
However one of the most interesting features of the novel is the Locked Room Lecture, which declares openly be the same novel, a tribute to Carr and Rawson:
Do you remember the Case of the Dead Magicians? A spark of interest showed on the Inspector's rugged face. "You mean that odd affair in America, round about 1938? Yes, I remember. Homer Gavigan handled that for the New York Police Department. Though I believe most of the credit went to a man calling himself"—the Inspector's voice held a high pitch of unbelief—"the Great Merlini."
"That's it. Merlini solved  the mystery, then wrote upthe case as a novel, calling it Death From a Top Hat. He collaborated with Ross Harte—they used 'Clayton  Rawson' as a pseudonym." Lawrence digressed slightly. " There have been four Rawson books to date, though only three have been published in England. More's the pity. Every one is first rate”.
Castle stirred restively. Lawrence said quickly:
"Here's the point. Merlini devoted the bulk of Chapter Thirteen to a lecture"—Castle groaned—"on the general mechanics of the sealed room murder. He indicated that everysuch crime falls within one of three classes, namely----"
The Chìef Inspector held up his hand.
"I've read the book," he growled. "And before you go any further, I'm also well acquainted with Doctor GideonFell’s famous Locked Room Lecture in The Hollow Man"
'Published in the U.S.A.," threw in Algy irrepressibly, "as The Three Coffins. . . . I'm glad you know it. Fell and John Dickson Carr are experts.” (Derek Smith, “Whistle Up the Devil”, Gifford, London 1953, pagg.108-109).
Moreover, the novel retains the same basic approach of Carr's novel: the hapless protagonist of the story, Roger Querrin here, there Professor Grimaud, defy the forces of darkness, the underworld and end "apparently" destroyed by them.
The novel by Derek Smith confesses his addiction, in the construction of plot and dramatic staging, just by the writers mentioned in his dissertation: by each of them, you could say, he is inspired. In particular by some.
“..there was no opening at all in that room. No secret panels, whether the size of a man or a sixpence. And that knife certainly wasn't shot through the keyhole or a Judas window."
Not very much. We've exhausted nearly every possibility in Class One. Roger definitely wasn't the victim of any elaborate trickery such as Rupert Penny described” (op. cit. pagg.110-111).
But other authors have mentioned before the dissertation, in the course of events narrated in the novel.
In the dissertation, Derek Smith through dialogue between Castle and Algy Lawrence, examines the three classes about which Carr and Rawson had placed their focus, reaching the final deduction, which does not explain how the murderer has completed his crime, but only where he was at the time of the murder.
“We've eliminated Classes One and Three. Therefore the killer's method must be somewhere in Category Two."
The Inspector nodded agreement, though he still looked worried.
"You mean that the room only seemed to be sealed because the murderer tampered with the door or the windows."
"Yes. But," warned Algy, "be careful. There's a big headache in store. This room wasn't just locked. It was also guarded."
Castle swore. He said :
"Don't confuse me, curse you. Our conclusion is that the killer was in the room with Querrin. When he knifed Roger, he somehow contrived an escape.”(op. cit. pag.112).
Algy nails the murderer only collecting ideas.
I only say that in my opinion, Derek Smith, if declares that the models are Carr and Rawson respectively, and then he quotes The Hollow Man and Death from a Top Hat, in fact, the elaboration of the idea behind the creation the first Locked Room in Whistle Up the Devil, runs two other novels by Carr: The Third Bullet and
The Peacock Feather Murders, both 1937 novels.
Before concluding, I note that among the influences on this novel, there may have been that of Hake Talbot. His Hangman's Handyman (1942), written before that of Derek Smith, contains a dark curse connected to a family secret, as it happens in Whistle Up The Devil.
Derek Smith may have taken something also from Talbot?
I leave my readers to be in agreement or not. But I think it is quite possible.

Pietro De Palma

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