Friday, August 22, 2014

Noël Vindry : Le Piège aux diamants, 1933

Noel Vindry is a historical figure of the French enigma  novel to and in particular of the Locked Room.
Born in 1896 in Haute-Savoie and died in Paris in 1954, he, a lawyer and then a judge, created a character in which he transfused his own business, giving it a great calm, reflection and ability to thoroughly analyze a problem; a great culture, combined with a love for good food; and making it a great pipe smoker. In essence, at the character of the judge Allou you can easily notice the letters of  at least six great detective, before his appearance. Vindry handed thirteen published novels, with the judge Allou, all locked room. Of these, very few have been reprinted in modern times, and in the market of antiques and collectibles books, the Vindry’s novels being hard to find , they are also quite expensive.
It’s good to anticipate here that the protagonist of Le Piège aux diamonds is not so much the Judge Allou, the protagonist of the novels, as his colleague Dampierre, in charge of the investigation. Allou, appears at a later time, as in the first novel by Carter Dickson with HM, and then becomes the "deus ex machina" of the reconstruction and the final solution.
The main actors in the drama are three members of a company port: Flavio Dancour, his brother Paul and André Caroux. The original owner is Flavio but soon realizing that he had undertaken a task beyond his strength, he is associated with a friend and his brother Paul. The two, to enrich themselves behind the ingenuous Flavio, fraudulently make sure that his business go to hell and longer grant him a loan that they know will never be honored. So, soon, against Flavio is issued an arrest warrant for fraudulent bankruptcy. Only in extremis his brother Paul repents, and also if he is miserly and stingy, he gives his support of seventy-five thousand francs to Flavio and the possibility of escape by speedboat, since for the French law,  the domicile was inviolable from dusk until dawn:  then Dalcour, unless he deliver him to the police, he will be arrested at dawn, and until that time the commissioner Laurent and agents will surround the house to prevent any person who was in that house, to get out without being they intercepted. During the siege, Flavio will be seen looking out of the window and answer the call to police to surrender and he will be seen by an agent, climbed right under the window, before sitting at a table, then at a second time, on the ground. The fact is that before it is seen on the ground, you can hear clear a gunshot, then saw the body of Flavio is on the ground and then you are inclined to think that he killed himself. Instead, all is not well.
In fact, despite the shooting, the police did not enter  at the house because the door is provided with lock detail. However, they see a car approaching more and more: is Dr. Rufare, a friend of the victim, who frightened by the sound of footsteps at the house he asked him to come right away. However, no one can be released, because there is a police cordon around. But when they enter, and they find Dacour lying on the ground, the doctor, visiting him attests that he was killed with a blunt instrument that fractured his skull. While the doctor is visiting the body, the police and the inspector search the house, while the son of the doctor is on the doorstep, unable to bear the sight of a corpse.
They do not find anybody. Neither the gun. Nobody can be escaped, because the output was manned by Pierre, the son of Rufare.
So what? How did the murderer to escape?
To first mystery , others mysteries add.
The doctor says he saw in Dalcour’s home,  5 wonderful  blue brights, estimated three hundred thousand francs, which the victim had apparently hoped to take away with him. But the 5 brilliant are not: they were in a box of iron, which opened with a device to be activated by a secret  mechanism. But brights and litter box are not: the crime is the result of a theft? The murderer is the thief?
The police examines the housemaid of Dalcour grown from a few days to service of Caroux: she may have been to steal the diamonds. The police did not believe her words and stops her. The fact is that the police is convinced there are two culprits: the murderer and Janet Arlaud, the maid. Why the fingerprints found on a silver candlestick, do not belong to any of the suspects, nor to Janet ?
A few days later, was found dead Paul Dalcour, brother of Flavio: it was found in his poor room (he was not poor, but lived as a poor man for not spending money) closed from the inside, asphyxiated by gas; on the table a letter in which he proclaims himself murderer of his brother. Only that the fingerprints on the lamp are not his
Raises another important fact now: Flavio, eight days before his death he had sold the diamonds to his brother Paul, in exchange for a check for two hundred and fifty francs. Why then Rufare said to have seen them at the home of Flavio? While the housemaid says he does not see at least two more weeks, the time would coincide with the sale of the same? Flavio not sold them, and then the news is false, or Flavio sold them and Rufare lied. But why? Rufare be unrelated to the crime: it was found the phone call from his friend was made. Why Dalcour would call his own murderer? But then how would he kill him, if he there was not  when Dalcour died? No, it is an assumption that does not hold. Rufare must be stranger.
How unusual and a source of doubt is the matter of Paul Dalcour. Why he would be declared responsible for the death of his brother if he had given a check for two hundred and fifty francs, compared with five brilliant? And even more strange is the matter of the murder: why would have been killed if he had not already more diamonds? Perhaps the killer did not know, a killer still unknown in the affair.
A new twist explodes. The police received an anonymous phone call, and listens for two thieves who have completed a burglary in the apartment and the house is of Caroux: they are taking away a litter box, which is recognized by Rufare, like that of his friend Dacour. After having made her break into, there are inside, dipped in cotton wool, five brilliant blue. Possible consequence? If Caroux had the brilliants, it is clear that he is the murderer. It always raises the question: how did he make? Caroux is stopped: thief and murderer are the same person. Or so it would seem.
But a new upheaval happens: the five brightest, analyzed, are fake: why Caroux would kill Dalcour? For five blue false brilliant ? Caroux did not know it? And why had Dalcour 5 fake brilliants, the real ones when he sold to his brother, now missing?
A jeweler presents and spontaneously over to the police a bright, which was purchased by him at the home of an old hag, the housekeeper of Paul Dalcour, Natalie.  In short, a new character enters the story: what is her role?
How did she get hold of brilliant? Possible that his master, miserly and stingy even on his deathbed (he went to bed early so as not to consume the light, and saved money about the ink and the nib, and used as letterhead that obtained from other sheets already used) he said this to her, and he trusted her so much?
Caroux before he declares alien to each other, then calls into question Rufare and Janet. Rufare, when pressed, reveals the true purpose by Dalcour, who had "forced" to stay rather than flee immediately: to grope a scam, selling his friend, but also member of Caroux in financial transactions on the edge of legality, the five pieces of glass cleverly counterfeited.
The investigations are at stalemate, because if it is true that Caroux was arrested on charges of theft, there is no evidence that he killed Dalcour, nor the police have evidence to prove it.
Enters the scene at this point the judge Allou, a friend of a cousin of Judge Dampierre, who, not wanting to humiliate his colleague, he prefers to be the one to deduce, after collecting the evidence. Allou is already well known for having brilliantly solved the unsolved cases of Locked Room. After he has asked questions that no one had place (Dalcour had a life insurance? Who made the call to police that he allowed to block the two thieves? Really are the brilliants the motive of the murder?) Allou causes the action of his colleague. The investigations identify the mysterious informant in the person of Dr. Rufare: how did he know that Caroux had stolen the diamonds? Rufare is included in the investigation, the fingerprints are taken, and hi..these fingerprints are those found on the candelabra. Reversal of the situation: Caroux is no longer the murderer, but only the thief; Rufare is the murderer. But how did  he make? And why did Paul Dalcour declare himself the brother’s killer?
Allou offers his truth: Rufare would not kill but only attempted extortion. But then who was it? And how did he do? In a succession of pyrotechnic events and revelations, Allou identifies the murderer, the role of an accomplice, the mystery of the disappearing of the gun, of other four brilliant and of the check of two hundred fifty thousand francs.  
Pyrotechnical novel, it offers a continuous inversion of roles and situations, coming at the end of the novel to propose a shocking hypothesis: is the murder a murder? Or is it a suicide? And the suicide is real or is it a homicide? The all being able to reconstruct exactly the story and the role of each protagonist. The continuous turbillon of events, revelations and contra revelations that cancel the previous, create a disorientation of the reader who, captivated by events, is unable to understand anything. Truly, an extraordinary novel !
Moreover, the involvement of Rufare in the story is expressed in a sham: the steps that Dalcour had heard, they are  just a red herring, for ... But why? How is not he the murderer if on the candlestick there were his prints? But did Dalcour die by a skull’s fracture or not? And why did Rufare certify the death by Dalcour? And why did the autopsy reveal the true fracture? A lot of questions !
Let us remember that the novel, the third in the succession of twelve by Vindry, is of 1933.
In 1941, Agatha Christie will give to the story a novel that will be remembered  and will affect all the gender: Evil Under The Sun. Do you remember the trick of the novel? Well, I think the basic idea is brought forward in this, neither more nor less. Possible that Christie has adapted the idea by Vindry, modifying her plot? Very possible, I would say, i.e. strangely also that from a novel by Steeman, Six hommes morts,  finds itself in her masterpiece, Ten Little Niggers, and in that by Bristow & Manning, The Invisible Host.
In my opinion we should analyze the work of Christie in light of the influence by the French novel. No coincidence that she recognized the enormous influence that gave to her ambition to write novels, Le mystère de la chambre jaune  by Gaston Leroux. In fact, the ascertainment of death in the novel by Agatha Christie leads to a series of consequences, because death has not yet occurred; while in the novel by Vindry the death occurred, but the finding of it, it is carried out with a different procedure consequential. However, the basic idea is the same: a false assessment carried out on a dead body and  that does the investigating person when he dismissed the present.

And Vindry? Undoubtedly already in this novel we find a theme hewill use in one of his later masterpieces, La Bête hurlante: the fact that the house is surrounded by a cordon of police determines that it is impossible that the murderer was able to escape. But we also find features related to other French novelists of the period: the fact that the center of the plot there is not a psychological characterization of the characters but the enigma: it’s the enigma, the center of everything, around which moves the story. In  itself the psychological characterization is almost nothing and also the smallness of the actors of plot makes the action focuses exclusively on the history, a procedure which is also shown by Boileau. It 's obvious that Vindry is raised in a manner antithetical to Simenon, for which,  instead, the enigma is not the focus of the story but only one piece, and the center of everything instead is the psychology of the characters.
For the specialist in crime fiction Roland Lacourbe, Vindry is the French equivalent of John Dickson Carr.
I think otherwise. In my opinion, Vindry more than to be the equivalent of John Dickson Carr, he is the equivalent of  Clayton Rawson. As Clayton Rawson in the atmosphere is not the best, so it happens in the novels by Vindry, where yet the quality of the plot and the solution are of the highest quality, of extreme virtuosity. Almost more than in Carr, as happens for example in my opinion in the novels by Rawson.
If Vindry is close to Carr, his character Mr. Allou is close above to  Bencolin and this can be inferred from a fact: Vindry began writing in 1931, while the first novel of Carr is from 1930 In both, the protagonist is a judge, even more juge d 'instruction: he solves the mystery. The first Bencolin’s adventures among which, the first novel,  are Locked Rooms[1]: by which cases does Allou occupe?  Locked rooms. Vindry is cloose to Carr and Rawson also for another matter:  to arrive to a solution, they (but also Boileau) reverse the situation and the thinking. Gideon Fell, Merlini and Allou have the ability to break away from the real world and look at the sequence of events as if their spirit had soared astrally, breaking away from the materiality of earthly events.
However, when this reversal of perspective happens, it also increases the virtuosity of the investigation. In the moment in which Allou takes into account a different solution, it doesn’t happen that the effects are more linear but the opposite. So in his investigation to prove incontrovertibly a certain fact and arrive at a plausible solution, instead of simplifying things, they tend to become more complex. It follows that the reasoning to solve all should be of the highest quality.
I also get a quote from Chesterton, in the novel of Vindry. In fact, the letter in which Paul accuse himself of being the murderer of his brother is actually a fragment of a longer letter, properly cut, as in The Wrong Shape, at The Innocence Of Father Brown by Gilbert Chesterton.

We must say, however, that Vindry, unlike Agatha Christie and once again as Carr and Rawson, he does not cheat in anything the reader: the framework of the facts is absolutely what is before the eyes de judge, what changes is the perspective from which he is looking at the problem and the ability to imagine, moving away from the real.
And in some ways Vindry, realizes something of his own, a feature very personal, in his to make difficult the easy thing: unlike all the common detectives who seek in every way to simplify the sequence of events, reducing the factors to a minimum, Vindry realizes an absurdum: explain the unexplainable, making it even more abstruse and denser of recondite implications, and at the same time explaining and giving to the whole,  a meaning.

Pietro De Palma

[1] Pietro De Palma: La prima produzione di John Dickson Carr : i  4 racconti di Bencolin

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