Friday, August 3, 2012

Into Thin Air (1928) by Horatio Winslow & Leslie Quirk, absolutely one of the best "Locked Rooms"

The great theorist Tzvetan Todorov, in his seminal essay on fantasy literature, Introduction à la littérature fantastique, among all possible writers, cited only two authors of genre fiction thriller: John Dickson Carr, about The Burning Court, and Agatha Christie, about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
The reason for the choice of Christie's novel, resided for Todorov, in the sense of alienation and dismay that ensued in the readers, in 1926, when for the first time the masterpiece was published, when for the first time began to fire in a detective story, also the narrator, taking part in history, could become an essential part of having a suspect, not only assisting you, but scrambling back those cards already Gaston Leroux in 1907, with his Le mystère de la chambre jaune, had already upset.
It is interesting to note that the novel that we are going to review, is of the first novels in a temporal order that has adopted the invention of Christie (perhaps the only found its true) and has applied to one of his novels, varying subtly in short : the murderer is not the narrator, but another novel’s character.
Into Thin Air is a good reason a masterpiece, even if long and undeservedly forgotten: it possesses the qualities that make it a must-fiction, and also only for lovers of that sub-genre of whodunnit, that is “The Locked Room” : it was added in all the rankings of the best history of Locked Rooms.
The plot is based on the murder mystery (and definitely more mysterious disappearance of the murderer), Dr. Klotz, a caricatural figure , who, with its colorful expressions, with his quotes, jokes, also in German, and its culture encyclopedic, reminded us Dr. Gideon Fell by Carr, whose first adventure, Hag's Nook, dates back to 1933, 5 years after the release of the novel Into Thin Air.
Dr. Klotz is a criminologist (and therefore may have been, with Chesterton, the source of inspiration for the Carrian character). He is “Head of the Department of Criminology at the University of Wisconsin”, has the habit of unmasking impostors, to bother and making fun of the beautiful young women, to ridicule anyone he deems worthy of it, not caring about the resentment. As long as he, too, falls victim to one of his sins: he manages to capture a famous criminal, The Spectrum of Salem, a thief who after to have scored fantastic shots, has built his reputation more than anything else on the possibility of vanishing from the crime scene, and for this he is told "Spectrum". The thief, after he was killed, was buried, but even after his interment, the shots seem to go on: in fact, vanishes a precious cameo in the Klotz house, and who assists swears that it was right to commit "The Specter of Salem", an evanescent figure that at some point emits a mournful bleating goat. Klotz, decides to check if indeed the coffin containing the body of the criminal, traveling at night the burial place and opening the coffin, in the company of witnesses. So he will find an absolutely disconcerting fact  : the fact that, his ring with cameo previously stolen,
has been stuck on a finger of the dead.
Could a dead man have gone out of his tomb and to have manifested himself stealing an artifact then found in the coffin which is then sealed? This first locked room (we might say “a double locked room”: disappearance from a room, and appearance in a sealed coffin), will be followed by the murder of the same Dr. Klotz and the disappearance of his murderer, dissolved into air, vanished under the eye witnesses and so defined absolutely baffling.
The resolution of the arcane, not will be carried out by an investigator, but - is characteristic of the novel - by Ernest H. Fitkin, called "The Great Galeoto"
conjurer, magician and illusionist no longer in business, previously humiliated by Klotz. In this, the novel by Winslow & Quirk, reveals a very strong knowledge of the world of illusionism: we could say that in those years, the memory of the spectacular find of the great Houdini was still alive , because someone did not transfuse the miraculous illusion of the stage in a miraculous narrative illusionism. In our opinion, into atmosphere and into texture, dominated by magic tricks, optical illusions, collective hallucinations, spiritualist seances and phony demonstrations, the novel may have had an influence on later works and the best known: for example on Rim of the Pit, the celebrated novel by Hake Talbot, written with Carr as the main model.
In fact, also the work of Talbot, focuses on spiritual manifestations, during sessions of the same name, and on the appearance and disappearance of demons, in situations that would seem more fantastic environment that crime, if there wasn’t a murder at a Locked Room in an impossible place. Unlike the work of Winslow & Quirk is marvelous, Rim of the Pit  is certainly better known, but also because the judgment of Carr enthusiast, friend of the same Talbot.
May Talbot's work to have kept this by Winslow & Quirk,  especially for the manner in which it is treated the illusion of the novel, explaining, as does The Great Galeoto then in Into Thin Air, the methods used by magicians to believe in spiritual manifestations? In my opinion… yes
It is not the only later work (remember that Rim of the Pit is of 1944) to contain allusions that make reference to the masterpiece of Winslow & Quirk. There is, in fact, also the wonderful novel by Clayton Rawson, starring Merlini the Magician, No Coffin for the Corpse (1942), in which we live seems a lot of remembrance of the dead coming out of the coffin, and reveals himself in the eyes of witnesses, for not to be considered a subsidiary of Winslow & Quirk. AndMerlini the Magician”, as well as its inventor, Clayton Rawson, were, the first in the imagination, the second in reality, great illusionists and magicians.
The main advantage of the novel, however, is the freshness and the alternation of situations that are incompatible, that generate narrative tension palpable (admission of guilt of Judge Mather, and the groundlessness of the same, then demonstrated, for the impossibility that he could escape from the hospital where he had been hospitalized in conditions of "unconscious"; the fears of Miss Clem suggesting that she has to do something and it's not true; the unscrupulousness of other people, you might suppose they
got nothing to do with it , and instead ..). Not to mention the great idea of the last pages, where the subsidiary from Agatha Christie is headed, despite it did make ​​in a very attractive manner, before indicating the murderer and then ..
So a final overwhelming, with a sweet and romantic: Miss Clem addressed to the narrator, she is as if  reminded him, that “Tomorrow is another day”. She doesn’t say the same thing, but about the meaning and intention is that.
Reading the novel is mandatory for those who love the genre.

Pietro De Palma

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