Monday, August 12, 2013

John (Francis) Russell Fearn : Within That Room! , 1946

(Cover of the rare Italian Locked Rooms collection, which includes the novel by Fearn)

Published at 1946 with name and surname original, Within That Room!, is still, by someone defined more than a mystery, a horror novel. But, instead, it is a mystery novel with a strong and steady connotation of the gothic genre. 
John (Francis) Russell Fearn was born in 1908 in Worsley in Lancashire (UK). He published many novels, especially westerns and science fiction . In this last genre, he excelled, winning the masses of readers, under the pseudonym Vargo Statten. Other pseudonyms, signed novels of a different kind: Thornton Ayre, Polton Cross, Geoffrey Armstrong, John Cotton, Dennis Clive, Ephriam Winiki, Astron Del Martia, etc. ..
Fearn also published 26 novels under various names, of different genres, among them, several contained Locked Rooms.
Fearn died in 1960.
Within That Room! is still essentially a room that kills. It’s the old subject invented by Eden Phillpotts with The Grey Room, and then cooled by other authors, including for example The Door to Doom by John Dickson Carr.
Here is a heroic nurse of Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), which, immediately after the second world war, rather unexpectedly inherits from a geezer uncle, famous entomologist, a site surrounded by an aura strange and disturbing: Sunny Acres
. Vera Grantham, does not believe the old stories of ghost that surround the castle inherited from his uncle Cirrus; yet she is located just before the hostility of the people, when you know she is the new owner of the manor: no one wants to go with her, so young woman ends up accepting the offer of a young man who does not know, an airman in the RAF, veteran as she, Dick Wilmott, who is trying to open a radio repair shop. On the shabby car of him, they reach the castle, inhabited only by two servants, the Failworth , he the butler, she the cook and the housekeeper.
The young woman, newly arrived, hopes to find a peaceful atmosphere, and instead the two servants, begin to press her to sell the property in order - they say - to avoid the problems by the girl's uncle, Cirrus Merriforth, become mad . More, however, the two servants, and in particular the housekeeper , trying to terrorize the younger, get as result her apathy. One evening, the girl surprises without being seen, the two servants intent in the basement to pump a mysterious liquid from a manhole in the stone floor of the cellar and to open all sorts of containers at their disposal: the two are wearing gas masks to protect themselves from poisonous and stinking fumes, immediately convincing the girl who is spying them, to seek some help. So the next morning she goes to Godalming, a place near where is the shop of Dick Wilmott and prays the young man, who is secretly in love with her, to go with her to the castle, pretending to be engaged. Mrs. Failworth does not believe at all that the two say, realizing that the game of terror and the sale of the castle can not result as they had intended: the young does not sell, even better, together with the young , she wants to visit the cursed room, that had led to the madness her uncle, and at which is said to manifest a ghost, and at June 21, also an evil spirit. They made ​​unrivet the door, whose jambs are nailed and whose cracks are sealed with adhesive tape, the two entering into: it is a completely empty room, filled to capacity with dust and dominated by a large fireplace, the bottom of which has collapsed. Soon, they begin to have serious breathing problems, and also see a ghost materialize,  grinning. They have to leave the room, to go back to being able to breathe and to reflect with clear mind.
More and more convinced by the attitude of the servants, that they are involved in some kind of plot against them, the two young people come to the law firm that handled the transfer of property from his uncle to his niece and come to know that such a chemical analyst, Harry Castairs, offered to detect the castle and around the property, about fifteen thousand pounds; connecting to the profession of the buyer clues concerning the mysterious liquid pumped from underground and smelly stench that accompanies the extraction, are convinced of the existence of some underground source, corroborated by the discovery in a book from the library of the castle, news about the castle, built on an ancient volcanic fault apparently.
The two suspect now that those feelings of suffocation and the stench of rotten eggs, is due to sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, two substance present in volcanic gases, and the gas is pushed up into the room through the chimney flue: they prove that the unhealthy atmosphere in the room does not exist when the servants are engaged in other activities and do not suspect that the two young people should enter the room. The ghost manifests anyway, and then, to find the explanation, before they attribute the cause to a mysterious substance on the ceiling of the room, then clinging to ivy climbing of the tower, Dick is hoisted out to see from the outside the window glass, finding a drawn figure corresponding to that which is manifested in the damn room.
In the book found in the library of the castle is missing a map of the manor, torn by someone, so the young man goes in search of another copy of the book, which located at an acquaintance of his, not realizing that the cellars are accessed only by the main staircase, but also by a ladder of service.
Again a lot will happen, and continuous revelations will accumulate with each other until the dramatic end, at the torture chamber of the castle.
Novel with a great atmosphere, and with a brisk pace, does not keep its promises to the end, deflating soon, and especially giving the answers too early, so that the expectation of the final revelation is replaced by that concerning the lives of two young men. You will know about the culprits from the beginning and still a few surprise covers only the role of one spouse to the other, and that of the analytical chemist. Moreover, the two young men have not won deservedly the combat with the murderers of his uncle, as they are able to get the better just because one spouse rebels himself to the other while Dick and Vera are helpless, chained and point of being tortured with red-hot embers.
A final liberator, very cinematographic, dominated by the outdated system, but rather elementary and childish ghosts, bad domestic (obviously as in the tradition of the mystery novel super-fashioned), inheritance disputes, treasures, mysterious roots, hell poisons.
Novel does not belong to a distant time, and for this reason excusable, but even to 1946, as if 30s never existed,  Fearn realizes a ghost comedy, tucking the reason for the room that kills, but too early revealing the mechanisms deadly , and then removing bite to the story. And setting the novel in the way of the stories of Nancy Drew, in which women are always defenseless beings, engaged couples are knights who rushed to defend the maiden and if there are castles, surely the servants are required to be treacherous.
It 's interesting to read only for lovers of Locked Rooms, who want to add another Room to the list of read and understood works.

Pietro De Palma

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