Sunday, June 30, 2013

Clayton Rawson : From Another World, 1948


Clayton Rawson

Clayton Rawson : From Another World, 1948 (at Anthony Boucher’s Quintessence of Queen , New York, Random House, 1962)

Among all the stories presented in the anthology Italian (reduced), based on that prepared by Boucher, I will talk about the story by Clayton Rawson.
In my opinion, Rawson is the only author, who as part of the mysteries of the Locked Room, and can be historically and inventively on a par with Carr,  on his same floor. In essence, Rawson, who has an obvious gap in the literary quality of his stories, always too cold, without that inspiration divine who have the carrian works, full of extraordinary atmospheres, cancel the gap by virtue of an extraordinary inventiveness that mutes more skeptical, deriving from the core of Rawson, that of illusionist.
Some critics, especially Americans, underestimate him, because in the structure of the text, he does not give importance to certain parties, such as witnesses, or he does not emphasize the descriptions, downplaying these components to essential and instead focusing all his attention on the imagination of the plot. Rawson, in other words, focuses his attention on finding all those effects acts to impress the reader at all costs by proposing impossible challenges, made of small details that make his works, however, in my opinion, absolutely visionary. A bit like what happens in certain novels of Paul Halter, a writer who shares a certain dichotomy of opinions, some too enthusiastic, others are too critical. Not by chance the illusion enters by force in many of his works, who are true cornerstones of the more cerebral mystery, that of Locked Room.
Among the stories featured in this extraordinary anthology of Boucher, defined at the time of publication, by the New York Times
The best anthology of mystery stories that has ever been published”, the story that for me, can better represent the most extreme visionariness of imagination, is the astonishing “ From Another World” (included in the collection, published posthumously in 1979, in the anthology "The Great Merlini", but originally published in 1948). 
Here, in essence, there is a mystery proposed to “The Great Merlini”, a great illusionist, who occasionally helps the police to solve real impossible challenges.
Andrew Drake is a rich man, who, like all the rich people in America, makes the charity. First he gave interviews he will subsidize research on cancer of the reach of 15 million dollars, then says he wants subsidize the PES (or ESP), that is, the Extra Sensory. Rosa Rhine, a famous medium, is trying to make him believe that she can materialize out of thin air of real things, with the power of thought. Rose aims also to something, else: she would conquer him with his physical attractiveness, and so be able to marry him. Therefore she organizes a pretty sight: at the presence of Drake, she will materialize the things that do not exist in the room. However, something does not go the right way. In fact, Ross Harte, a friend of Merlini and narrator of the adventures of illusionist, is invited to Drake house, but, arrived in front of the door, he finds a doctor, Garrett, who is trying to ring the bell of the house, extremely worried. Garrett tells Ross he had received shortly before, a phone call from Drake, who gasping, murmured him, going to die.
Entered the house, they are faced with a first impossibility: Drake is locked in his room and there is no way to enter it. So, they try to enter by breaking down the door. When you succeed, Ross hears the sound of torn paper. Immediately after both are inside the room, and they found Drake dead, stabbed with a reverse phone close, two snails on the table, a screen, and the beautiful Rosa Rhine, in a skintight swimsuit, fainted. No one else in the room. Ross Harte when he entered the room, he realized the only window was sealed with gummed paper, and yet the door was, before they were entering, breaking through the door and jamb. Just they try awaken the beautiful medium, she starts screaming like a crazy, a sign that she is in shock.
Obviously, Homer Gavigan, Inspector of Police in New York, does not believe in his innocence, the only one who examines his innocence is Merlini. However, the beautiful Rose was trying to cheat the old Drake with trick of things swallowed and then thrown back out, when something must have happened: she remembers only the old man had a surprised and scared expression (just before she lost the senses , a blow to the head) for something he had seen behind her. Gavigan doesn’t believe, while Merlini is perplexed.
The tests at the expense of the beautiful Rosa seem overwhelming: she has been found with the corpse of the old in a room not just closed, but sealed from the inside, without the others being found on the inside or they are able to escape; there are no openings or secret doors hidden; to seal the room was used gummed paper, then found torn around the outline of the door; the murder weapon was finally found: it was a knife of bronze contaminated by blood. What do you want? Ross Harte tells Melini about "a sealed room that defies all rooms sealed ". How to say at words, "the best of the genre".
But the strange thing in the eyes of Merlini (and the reader) is that Rosa Rhine was perhaps the only person Vs the park of those with some interest in the death of the old Drake, not to have interest: it is evident that killing Drake, she killed "her goose that lays the golden eggs". While to Paul Kendrick, in love with Elinor Drake, the death of the old planing his marriage to Elinor, because Drake did not accept the union of his daughter with Kendrick. And of course Elinor reaps benefits from the death of his father, also. And Isabelle Potter, the secretary of the Society for Psychical Research, who accompanied Drake at home, Rose, has something to do? He had spoken of evil entities that would have overwhelmed benign evoked by her friend and then killed Drake. And Garrett has something to do? But if the old man was dead, he would have received an injury, because he pleaded cancer research. So .. a beautiful patchwork of suspects, liable to suspicion and innocent.
It’s obvious to solve the riddle, The Great Merlini will pull from his hat a bomb-proof solution that meets the two impossibilities:
1) closed room from the inside rather sealed with gummed paper
2) no one else inside the room except the body and the likely murderess.
The two impossibilities become even three when you find out, after the autopsy, that the blow to the chest of Drake, hit a rib: the weapon in other words, it is checked. There would be no great surprise if you did not find out that .. the tip of the metal extracted from the rib is not by bronze but by steel. Well. Found a weapon that now doesn’t seem be the murder weapon and another weapon “ghost” disappeared from the scene of the crime. So the impossibilities become three:
1) closed room from the inside rather sealed with gummed paper
2) no one else inside  the room except the body and the likely murderess.
3) a ghost weapon.
The Great Merlini solves the puzzle by providing a simple explanation, because essentially the whole plot - he explains - is based on an illusion. After excluding gradually the other, he will indicate “X” as the real murderer, giving birth to a solution, which basically takes into account the historian holmesian said, dated but still valid: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. The famous judgment of Holmes, will be improved by Merlini who exclaims: “Do not believe everything you see is good advice, but there is an even better: Do not believe what you think”.
It ‘s widely believed that Clayton Rawson has excelled in the stories, because they probably fulfilled his desire to create a virtually unsolvable problem, and then furnish the solution, in a few pages, without bothering to dwell in psychological descriptions and places, in artificial style , upheavals in the plot that gave rise to tension. This view is quite unbalanced, because his first novel, Death From a Top Hat, which will examine one day, although in fact it’s a bit frosty, is a firework of impossibility and artifice-breaking brains, that tests also the most gifted brains, and keeps the voltage to the end.

For me, Death From a Top Hat is an absolute masterpiece. But even this story it is.
Probably, it was the Clayton Rawson’s reply to He Woluldn't Kill Patience, a shocking Carter Dickson’s masterpiece (John Dickson Carr), published in 1944, in which the victim is killed in a room not only closed, but sealed, so much so that even the air comes out.
Normally, when you read a Locked Room, at the base of the story is always a trick (the only time there is, is when an accident occurs that turns a normal situation in an impossible situation: for example, if an air flow slams a door, letting down the latch. And so on ..). Now this trick may involve tampering with the bolt or anything else, the door or windows, or is related to something that someone has testified to having seen (for example at It Walks By Night by Carr, Bencolin and another of his most trusted men, François, they are ready to swear that no one is out of the room;; or in The Wrong Shape by Chesterton, someone has been led to believe that what he saw was something he was not and instead) having excluded suicide.
But in this story for the first time, that I know, is put in place a trick not about the view of the witness, but  about the hearing. That is, a sensory element that more often than not comes into play with regard to the closing of a door or window, but only in the determination of what happened (a scream, sounds of a struggle, a shot), i.e. with the murder or the disappearance of something in a room locked from the inside. The only noise that is in direct relation with the closing of the door, is usually that produced by the door and the jamb that are smashed, together or the one excluding the other, for the action of something that is used to bring them down. When there is an illusion, it is associated with, if anything, to the sound of a gunshot, which serves to delay the action, attributing it to a time when the testimony is premeditated, perhaps in good faith, to those who swear that the murderess was with him when he felt the shot. Here, however, the sound of tearing of gummed paper used to seal doors and windows of the room, is directly associated with the impossibility that the murderess is able to leave the room. There would be, it is true, also the possibility that in a locked room is heard the noise of the bolt, or the key is turned, and these are sounds that are also connected with the closing of the door from the inside, but only serve to ... convince you that the door was closed. Here, however, we know that the door is closed, but even if it were not, we would think the gummed paper to establish a clear impossibility, that is not so much so that someone or something enters (into the room, canceling the experiment PES) at the presence of Drake and Rosa Rhine, but rather that someone or something bait, resulting in the possibility that the locked room  is no longer such. Moreover, you can make up a latch, but how you can make up a simple roll of gummed paper?
Here is the skill of Clayton Rawson, in convincing the illusion that there is not as it exists. And how!
The solution, simple (so that it remains open mouth), satisfies all three impossibility indicated before, by providing a solution imaginative and nailing the least likely of the killers to the test of the hypothesis, but the most likely indeed the only, to that of the facts.
A want to analyze, even more in detail, the solution proposed by Merlini, we see that in practice it is a variation ingenious (and more complicated, because it presents the aural illusion) of the trick adopted by Hake Talbot in the locked room, invented in his first novel.

Pietro De Palma

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Quintessence of Queen. Best Prize Stories from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, selected by Anthony Boucher. An italian translation

Anthony Boucher 

La Queentessenza di Ellery Queen. I migliori racconti della rivista che fece del “giallo” un genere letterario 
(The Quintessence of Queen. Best Prize Stories from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, selected by Anthony Boucher. New York, Random House [1962] ) 
– trad. Attilio Veraldi – Il Brivido e l’Avventura N°14, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, novembre 1965, pagg. 311.
Anthony Boucher was a great novelist but also a great critic. The two activities were the two sides of the same coin: the passion for the mystery.
He cultivated as the novels as the stories, and many of these came under his scrutiny and his increasingly rigorous and careful analysis.
On the occasion of the 25th year of the magazine E.Q.M.M. that it should fall at the beginning of 1966, Anthony Boucher conceived a just homage to the magazine: a collection of short stories by various authors, all published in the magazine, the best of the best in his opinion, a good reason that they could, at best , represent the versatility and quality characteristics of the magazine.
So he created an anthology, which in truth it’s a real firework, by preceding it with an introduction by him, which he prepared for this purpose.
Let's see what understood the collection, in the original:

Introduction / Anthony Boucher --
An error in chemistry /
William Faulkner --
Love comes to Miss Lucy /
Q. Patrick --
The house-in-your-hand murder / Roy Vickers --
The other side of the curtain /
Helen McCloy --
From another world /
Clayton Rawson --
The specialty of the house /
Stanley Ellin --
The garden of forking paths / Jorge Luis Borges --
A study in white /
Nicholas Blake --
The arrow of God /
Leslie Charteris --
Beyond the sea of death /
Miriam Allen de Ford --
The gentleman from Paris /
John Dickson Carr --
Love lies bleeding /
Philip MacDonald --
The trail of John Nobody /
A.H.Z. Carr --
The lady-killer /
Wilbur Daniel Steele --
The enemy /
Charlotte Armstrong --
The contradictory case /
Hugh Pentecost --
Woman hunt no good /
Oliver La Farge --
Homecoming /
Veronica Parker Johns --
The singing stick /
Edgar Pangborn --
The challenge /
John W. Vandercook --
The quality of mercy /
Eleazar Lipsky --
You know what, teacher? /
Zenna Henderson --
Tall story /
Margery Allingham --
Mom in the spring /
James Yaffe --
Dodie and the boogerman /
Vinnie Williams --
The man who went to Taltavul's /
David Alexander --
The customs of the country /
Thomas Flanagan --
Only on rainy nights /
Mark van Doren --
The necessity of his condition /
Avram Davidson --
Lilith, stay away from the door /
B.J.R. Stolper --
The Gettysburg bugle /
Ellery Queen.
A weighty collection of 31 short stories preceded by his Introduction, which Boucher offered a glimpse of the publishing forward-looking EQMM in U.S.
However, in the Italian version by Feltrinelli Publishing House, the stories are  reduced to 14 for 311 pages in all, 249 less, compared to 560 of the American edition:
An error in chemistry (Un errore di chimica) di William Faulkner
The garden of forking paths (Il giardino dei sentieri che si biforcano), di Jorge Luis Borges
The other side of the curtain (Dietro la tenda), di Helen McCloy
The specialty of the house (La specialità della casa), di Stanley Ellin
The gentleman from Paris (Il gentiluomo di Parig)i, di John Dickson Carr
From another world (Da un altro mondo), di Clayton Rawson
The arrow of God (La freccia di Dio), di Lesile Charteris
Love lies bleeding (Amico mio), di Philip MacDonald
The trail of John Nobody (Il processo a John Nobody), di A.H.Z.Carr
The contradictory case (Mille dollari di scommessa), di Hugh Pentecost
Mom in the spring (Mamma a primavera), di James Yaffe
Dodie and the boogerman (Dodie e il Mammone), di Vinnie Williams
Only on rainy nights (Solo nelle sere di pioggia), di Mark Van Doren
The Gettysburg bugle (La squilla di Gettysburg), di Ellery Queen.
In short, a further selection in the selection already prepared by Boucher. Why it was adopted in the Italian edition? Surely even for an economic issue, and for a purely evaluative: can I assume that the authors presented in the collection, you knew that had been presented in Italy, probably in publications in the library, and then it was assumed that they could present to the Italian reader , a valid call. However, you do not understand the exclusion of some superstars such as Nicholas Blake, Roy Vickers, Q.Patrick, Charlotte Anderson, Margery Allingham, David Alexander. I get the impression that, although the authors were by the first order, maybe they were at the time authors only published in the editions at newsstands, and as such, mistreated compared to other authors, perhaps even leading as Vinnie Williams, but that had deserved still an issue in the library. In fact, Vinnie Williams, taken as an example had been published in a selection of Reader's Digest, literary publication which in those years was very popular in Italy.
These stories deserve to be treated separately, each separate from the others.
And it does not mean anything that some of these authors may be unknown to the public Italian (it should be said) more accustomed to prefer novels to short stories.
James Yaffe was the youngest writer discovered by EQMM: he was fifteen years old when the first story was published. So, too, is very famous Stanley Ellin, whose first story ( presented here) caused a sensation. Something about him was published in Italy (by Feltrinelli and by Einaudi), although too little for a Edgar winner. Other authors are very well known: for example William Faulkner, writer of The Sound
and the Fury, 1929, later Nobel Prize for Literature. 
Of course, there are tales of "monsters" of the mystery of all time, as Ellery Queen (had to be a story of the founder of EQMM?), John Dickson Carr, Philip MacDonald, and Helen McCloy; and novelists of literary value perhaps more modest but inventive absolutely extraordinary, that in certain subgenres, surging to the stars of the first magnitude, such as Clayton Rawson within the subgenre of Locked Room. That, beyond my appreciation and his historical importance in the context of Locked Rooms, however, could never be overlooked, for the obvious reason of being Clayton Rawson, in the years when the homage of Boucher was published, the publisher of EQMM.

End od Part One

Pietro De Palma

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