Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stuart Palmer : Omit Flowers aka No Flowers By Request, 1937

Stuart Palmer is one of the great writers of the thirties of the past century.
Born in 1905 and died in 1968, made a multitude of different jobs, including journalist and investigator, before devoting himself to writing. His first novel, Aces of Jades (1931), had no success crabs, and his few remaining copies in circulation have made it a rarity. However, he recovered quickly, releasing more and in 1931, just The Penguin Pool Mystery: the novel was so popular that immediately from it was made a film. Since then he devoted himself assiduously to the elaboration of new novels.
Today, however, we will introduce another one of his most popular novels (and better, I'd say), Omit Flowers, also published as No Flowers By Request, 1937.

Joel Cameron is a former oil tankers. He gained a lot of luck with the extraction of oil, enough to have built a village of houses (Cameron Heights), for his employees, with the streets inspired by the great actors of the past Hollywood; and he built above all his house (Prospice), an immense residence of many rooms, many uninhabited or left abandoned, on which stands a billiard room on the top floor, pretentious ambitions. However with the end of oil production, the village was abandoned, and into the houses reside only ghosts and dust. Only Prospice is inhabited by the old Joel, since his wife died a long time ago, leaving him desperate and alone.
Over the years, his loneliness has become misanthropy.
Joel has many relatives, including his sister, but he is holed up in his lair, servants looked after by a pair of Mexicans, the Oviedo. Over time it has become too stingy, not giving away anything of his immense fortune to his relatives, who hate it and see it at the same time as the only alternative to non-realization of their dreams. So one fine day, one of them, Gilbert Cameron, invites all  relatives by Joel, to spend Christmas from their rich relative, with the secret purpose of him declared insane power and then to dispose of his substances. An invitation that does not remain unheeded, since all the relatives of the old Joel go to Prospice, not so much to visit their aged parents, but instead to steal him riches. In short, scoundrels, some more than others!
The narrator is Alan Cameron, one of the grandchildren, a science fiction writer who, on the way to Cameron Heights, tows the street two beautiful girls, his cousins Mildred and Dorothy: they are Ely Alger grandchildren, and Ely Alger is Joel brother . Together they arrive in the evening, to the village: there is no light, the wind howls, and the girls who tremble with fear. When we got home, they would expect to be greeted with joy, and instead found the home closed, and when they enter into, they found it also desperately empty, with all the furniture covered with sheets. Master even the shadow. The light does not work, no one rushes to their calls, and they also feel rattling of chains. For the types impressionable is the maximum. Actually, no, it is not yet: the maximum is reached, when the trio enters into the library and here at the dim light of a candle they see a woman lying on the couch, Evelyn Cameron, the sister of Joel, and a being bent over her. When he turns, that's barely recognize the old Joel, with a 'horrid expression, covered with cobwebs, like a corpse got up from his coffin in a dusty crypt.
Soon the other guests arrive. Meanwhile, he, Joel, apologized for his appearance, due to his descent into the cellars in order to repair the fault in the electrical system of the house.
Soon, behind the old, relatives gather to boast some more than others, their claims on assets. However, just Gilbert Cameron, who, kicked off the meeting, is missing.

The old Joel, after putting gifts under the tree for relatives but call it Christmas tree has a meaning too flattering ( since the rest is just dried up, dusty and full of cobwebs, which looks more dismal than festive) of last Christmas tree who saw the wife of Joel still alive, he goes to sleep in one of the rooms above the garage. The fact is that during the night, just Alan is called by the cries of his relatives, among which the cries of his cousin Todd, the black sheep of the family, a pauper, because the garage is an immense fire. Alan says goodbye to his car, parked there, but especially the relatives give the farewell to the old Cameron, not too contrite, quite the contrary as they may finally have full use of  property, and at the same time outraged because the same gifts from places old under the Christmas tree, were nothing more than empty boxes: the last joke in bad taste that Joel had reserved his greedy relatives (after the joke of year before, in which he had sent a blank check to his some relatives, but without no signature, and then waste paper).
The conditional is a must though, because those in charge of the investigation, Sheriff Bates and the judge (and coroner) Sam Eckersall, they find no trace of the body of Joel, but a bone and a jaw that could be the source human, but maybe not. And so the family, all happy for this unexpected death, now is a lot less, since the relatives are found to be suspected and at the same time they are not able to camp out anything until Joel will not be declared dead.
In the meantime, Alan, assisted by his cousin, improvised detective, indeed, the main detective is Todd who inspires Sheriff's investigations  eager to show off and earn ten thousand dollars pledged by a newspaper for the exclusive.
The main suspects are the cousins
​​of Wisconsin, the Waldron, because he, Ely, gave the alarm of the fire, although he could not see anything from her balcony beacause it is directed in the opposite direction. But then by a more thorough investigation, seem to lose in attention from the improvised investigators, which were joined by the sisters cousins​​, Dorothy and Mildred, to the detriment instead of the two Mexican servants, the Oviedo, believed to be the probable murder by the sheriff: they would have been to support on the ground below the window of the room occupied by Joel, the scale heavy, the signs on the ground were marked just by Alan to sheriff in the night of the fire.
The quartet, does not overlook even the possibility that the old Joel is not dead, and then organize a examination,  thorough and unsuccessful, at immense house in which are housed all, without no avail.
Meanwhile finally the investigation into the disappearance of Joel seem to arrive at concrete results: through chemical and biological analysis, the sheriff and the coroner are able to say that the bone remains belong to a human being, but of course only the comparison of the jaw and two teeth, with the tab for the part of a dentist, could undoubtedly attribute these findings to Joel bone or not. But no one is able to know whether or not Joel had gone to a dentist, and none of the neighborhood knows anything.
So you can just wander at random. Todd and the sheriff organized a trap phone: the phone will be called each parent, while hiding in a closet overlooking telephone set, Alan will oversee everything. In essence Todd will say ( to reveal who is the liar) he will get the lie detector. The only one who's impressed is Mildred, who the night before she claimed to have seen the ghost of Joel covered in cobwebs and who reported a severe shock. Just shortly after Mildred will fly out the window of his room in the rose garden below, smashing. Suicide or murder?
In this atmosphere leaden, oppressive, a dentist shows up, sending a bill on December 27. Went to interview him, Dr. Garvey is presented in a beautiful studio, with new furniture and a secretary with a lot of fur: he declares that in fact Joel was his patient and then commanded him to speak by sheriff about the origin of human remains, he declares that the mandible is owned by Joel.
So the money is finally released and now everyone could enjoy it. You just have to find the murderer of Mildred (if not committed suicide) and Joel, as was found in the ashes what looks like a cartridge case of pure silver. Who ever kills with silver bullets? Only in legends this treatment is applied to vampires, werewolves or to mediums. A blanket of superstition and evil thickens on this story.
The questions to answer are two: if Mildred was killed, why she was? And if she was not killed, that is if she committed suicide (excluding the hypothesis of fortuitous accidental fall), why would she do that? Possible that the feared threat of polygraph has so impressed the girl get her to commit suicide? It had to do with the murder of Joel? Or was the meeting night of the figure that she attributed to the spectrum of Joel, to induce insane gesture, provided that she killed herself? The tension culminates when a third victim will be added to the previous two: the dentist will crash aboard his brand Rolls-Royce on a road.
The finish is frantic. Before there will be a morale killer, then other of the two more deaths, and, finally, a real murderer, other than the first, and unexpected. Happy ending, but not too much.
Great novel by Stuart Palmer, Omit Flowers is characterized by a plot poised for a haziness of the situation that increases uncertainty about the fate of the victim (and also of Gilbert, who is still missing) and his relatives. It follows that the atmosphere is the main advantage of the novel: its evocative power is even more enhanced by old gimmicks typical of gothic literature (rattling of chains, cobwebs, dust, ghosts, dark, cemeteries, night), but already being very dense by virtue of the inconsistency of the survey and deaths that follow, in turn dominated by the question of doubt that it’s murder or suicide.

The trick of a quartet of investigators, two and two added, under which moves the second victim, adds bite to each other, especially when the same Alan is suspected to be the murderer because of the fact (before reaching the discovery of the case of silver) that his gun, a .22-caliber, had been placed in the car, destroyed and had not been found. In other words, we would have application of the old trick of Leroux, enlarged by many other writers, that the detective was also the murderer. In this case we would have a double accident, if this were true, since Alan is also the first-person narrator, and then there would be a variant of the solution proposed by Agatha Christie in his famous novel.
But is he really the murderer? Or other?
Nothing is as it seems in this novel. Nothing. Everything is designed to mutate, to be shown in its proper perspective, when Todd, who was also suspected him to the sheriff, he will discover the truth, and how the deaths were only occur randomly within a plan that in its simplicity was aimed at keeping in check the various characters in the play, enjoying their fear, which advocate, will end up being killed in turn.
The novel is written with verve, humor and a very acid, typical of Palmer, presenting more than under the aspect of a novel to enigma, a dark comedy, I would say very close to certain works by Ursula Curtiss, and a novel suspense, in which the voltage is maximum at several points in the novel, capturing the reader's attention to the end and reserving final two surprises, in the overturning of murder-victim relationship, and a still later, in the relationship of love between Dorothy and the two cousins
​​Todd and Alan. Which of the two cousins​​, the beautiful Dorothy confesses to be in love?
Than you will have been able to leave it free to choose, thinking that the other was worth more than him.
But the choice of love is also functional for another reason, that it's up to the reader to find out and that will be revealed in the last lines of 'final apology.

Pietro De Palma

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