Sunday, October 12, 2014

Augusto De Angelis : "The Hotel of the Three Roses" (L’Albergo delle Tre Rose, 1935). Mondadori, Sellerio (IT), Pushkin (UK)

The most famous Italian writer of detective novels in the Fascist Era, was Augusto De Angelis, the only whose novels have passed the test of time, and are still replicated successfully.
The most famous novel by De Angelis is undoubtedly L’Albergo delle Tre Rose, "The Hotel of the Three Roses", which is his masterpiece. It is not only a first-rate detective novel, with red herrings, clues, and highly faceted characters, but has a growing suspense, a considerable pace and mysteries galore.  It also has a claustrophobic atmosphere, as it is set in a small hotel, in the space of one night, and proposes also a mystery of a Locked Room, with a very interesting variation.
De Vincenzi, who is younger than his Deputy Commissioner Sani, but he is respected and esteemed by his uncommon genius, just entered at the Police Headquarters, he finds among  the mail, various letters:  one that turns on his interest is an anonymous letter announcing that something sinister is happening at “The Hotel of the Three Roses”, a third-rate hotel, more boarding house  than anything else, with a restaurant. The very phrase effect that draws his attention, is "The Devil laughs behind every door." Struck by the letter, almost immediately called by Commissioner Bianchi, a friend of his, and is informed that at The Hotel of the Three Roses has been a crime.
Once there, they notice a commotion. Since it is evening, the restaurant room is full: in addition to occasional customers, there are those who play a game of cards, and then the regular customers of the pension. The police are informed that on the third floor, Bardi, a hunchback who lives in retirement, found hanged the young Douglas Layng. It seems to have been put to impress or Carlo Da Como, a man who was born rich and has dispelled all his wealth by living a dissolute, or a German, Vilfredo Engel, a friend of Da Como: it is thought that it may be a warning to one of them, because to go to the rooms where they live, they need to pass where the young man was hanged.
The young man, however, seems hung, not hanged. The fact is that theGuardia Medica” (public doctor who works by evening and by night), can not say more than what he sees because the light is very dim: then, at  the light of a bulb high brightness recovered downstairs, he, removed clothes, realizes that the young man was stabbed. The clothes, however, are not torn, a sign that after being stripped clean by the blood, it was covered, and then hung up. A horrible hoax: why? Brought the corpse at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, they make another discovery: the corpse has the secondary flaccidity that occurs after rigor mortis. But, how long is he dead? First we assume a time, but then the importance of the discovery of a cup on the bedside table, coffee cup that would not have been able to be there when the reorganization took place in the morning because the room would have been brought down, it is assumed that the murder occurred after; the fact that it was thoroughly washed, suggests some dissolved substance, or poison, or sleeping pills. The first hypothesis is to be discarded because it would not make sense to poison, stab, and then finally hang the same person; so you think about a narcotic. An examination of the room ensures that under the bedspread, the sheet below is all soaked in blood, a sign that the body naked or otherwise undressed was left there for some time.  How did it change the rigor mortis: one thinks about  a stove, but they do not find traces of it.
Many people are suspicious. First, those who are on the floor where he was found the hanged, among them Engel, who proves to be afraid of something, in addition to possessing a strange thing for a man: a doll. What's even more strange is that even Layng owned a doll, as well as a Swedish nineteen, such Karin Nolan. Three dolls alike, holding three different people. It 's clear that there must be a bond. And since for better,  one of the three owners was killed, De Vincenzi suspects  that the murderer still wants to kill.
To complicate matters, it is also the arrival, just after the discovery of the body,  of a pair of tourists from British nationality, the spouses Flemington, who, having been informed of the sad randomness and invited to go to another hotel, they prefer to declare who must stay in this third-rate. Immediately to the Commissioner, the Flemington wife seems very scared, terrified to even when she knows the identity of the victim. It 's easy to understand that even they know something , but…what?
Among the many regular customers, there is one that immediately catches the attention of the Commissioner: he is a Levantine, from Cypriot nationality, who ekes out a living by making the fortune teller and selling various knick-knacks. Entered at the Layng’s room , immediately declares that that atmosphere is saturated with death and that there someone was killed at 12.30, the day before. Besides this, he says nothing: the only thing he tells it’s he picked up a wickled aura.
Also reticent is the hunchback Bardi, whom De Vincenzi understands have been the mysterious and anonymous writer of the letter delivered to the police station made​​, especially as the typewriter in his room has the same flaws of the characters encountered by him on the typescript.
Other characters are the blonde Stella Essington, starlet, who is visibly frightened and he doesn’t tell anything but she must have seen something; and the same Karin Nolan, a relative of a soldier who had fought in the Boer War, says she does not know anything.
it’s found a scrap of paper on which, signed by a certain Julius Lassinger, he promises more deaths, because the young man killed is the first of a series.
Before that, however, the Commissioner begin to understand anything, in that board so cramped, so dimly lit, littered with cops, takes a second murder: the Cypriot magician, Giorgio Novarreno, is found stabbed. De Vincenzi had given orders to guard the garden closed,  on which look out the windows of the various rooms, but due to the heavy rain his deputy  it was not felt to place a column in the rain. The fact is that the window is open, and since it has not gone out the door because the murderer  would have to pass in front of the cops who say that no one has passed, he has to be passed by the window. In fact, at the foot of the wall, there is a long staircase, lying sideways. The fact is clear: the murderer through the ladder, he must be climbed, he must have met with Novarreno (who probably had the intention to blackmail him) and should have killed him and then the murderer went back downstairs using the same scale. He doesn’t  understand why the killer risking to lose time to fix it, being the the possibility of being seen. Moreover, the only internal access door to the garden is given by the restaurant, but when the cops  break in, no one says he saw someone enter and exit through the door window, nor are the wet footprints that there should be because it's raining outside heavily. In short, a classic mystery of Locked Room. How did the murderer do?
One of the fixed tenants of the property is such Besesti Pompeo, a wealthy industrialist who has not yet returned to the hotel.  Another is Al Nicola Righetti, an Italian-American, by his own confession, who travelled in several foreign cities, the last of which is New York. De Vincenzi suspects, but he has no evidence that he actually is an american gangster. These two men do not seem to have any weight in the death of the young man, because Besesti was out and Righetti was dining in the restaurant, and there are witnesses who saw him to dinner. Also there is another suspect still: a woman, Mary Alton, arrived at the hotel the night of the discovery of the corpse of Layng, who appears to have a dark past. She also owns a doll.
In short, there are suspects galore.

Dawn does not want to announce that terrible night: in fact another deadly event, comes to disturb De Vincenzi, Sani & Co. It is found Karin Nolan, with scissors stuck in his chest: she is immediately sent to the hospital and De Vincenzi, fearing that she might die, he does not even pull out the scissors from his chest. And it is good because, she, well stated grave, is saved. This time the murderer has failed. The series was interrupted. Who is Julius Lassinger?
Vilfredo Engel reveals the story that is the basis of this slaughter: both the brother and  the greater Alton, both Nolan had been part of the army, in particular a battery of light artillery, and in this capacity they had fought in the Boer War. But before enlisting, both Nolan and Alton both Lessinger had been partners in a company that dealt with the extraction of diamonds. Over time, Lessinger had hoarded the best diamonds , not always with his own merits, but also deceiving the two partners. This had increased the desire of the other two, who, envious, had conceived a plan to recover their stones: with the excuse to flush out the rebels, once enrolled, they had raided the property of Lessinger where he lived with the three daughters, and they had been slain, with the complicity of Engel. The precious diamonds had been hidden. Engel died shortly thereafter, Nolan time after while Alton had survived for several years, and he, old man already, he had married  with Mary Alton, right in the Hotel of the Three Roses.
And Julies Lessinger? He was the only son of the former diamond miner, enlisted as a soldier at the time of the murder of his father and sisters, and for this fact, escaped the massacre, who had vowed to take revenge. It’s obvious that  he is killing the characters. But what Layng had nothing to do? It is established that he was the son of Major Alton, who had a relationship with Ms. Flemington before she remarried with the lawyer: he had to read the last will of that Major Alton, who close to dying, ordered the division of his substance between 3 entitled: Engel, Nolan and Layng.
But, to throw more dust in the face, he’s just Besesti, the President of the Society of Pure Metals, who, when questioned from De Vincenzi, confesses the fact that he had blackmailed in the past Alton  and he forced him to finance his company, threatening to reveal what he knew from the mouth of Julius Lessinger. Only, he reveals a puzzling thing: if before  it was thought Lessinger  had an accomplice at the hotel, as he was unable to write in Italian, barely knowing English, now we learn that Lessinger may not have been the author of these crimes, because he, Lessinger, died in 1913.  So who is the murderer?
De Vincenzi will find out who is the killer not before yet another victim has been sacrificed. And not before the reading of the will has provided the final pieces because the guilty, mad, be entrusted with the care of a psychiatric prison.



The Hotel of the Three Roses is one of the finest novels of detective fiction Italian of '900: first, it is very well written, with descriptions of the characters that secure well in mind; the same psychological characteristics are extremely determined, and along with the physical ones, he realize fully particular subjects;  the story is compelling, and uses a device that is directly derived from Conan Doyle (the Valley Of Fear): something happened in the past which is the basis of the tragedy that is happening in the present. There are many red herrings, distracting the reader and lead him to consider the roads are impossible to follow, but instead the story is very simple, and also the true motive is simple; there is a Locked Room very interesting (not an expanse of snow, but a garden completely wet with rain, such that the murderer should leave wet footprints, and instead he doesn’t leave them, and he behaves in a strange way,  not like anyone who didn’t want to be seen, he would involve).
There are continuous staging: the dolls that appear; the corpse stabbed, then stripped, coated in such a way that does not see the blood, and hanged; the attempt to eliminate the rigor mortis; the appearance of the real mother of the victim; two different testaments; and finally a marriage of which you do not know anything.
This plot is typical in English novelists (such in Agatha Christie).
In De Angelis you note, however, an extreme version of the stories and characters that are very strong: there are no weak subjects, but all could be the murderer, or at least they have hidden something then joined the rest, form the puzzle reassembled. Even, Bardi, the hunchback, that starts the whole story with the anonymous letter, is a strong character: as he feels a victim of the system for his morphological diversity, he hates more than the others, even though he has feelings of protection against people he considers weak as he was. And it is precisely because he wants to save one of these people, which the notifies to the Commissioner about  something imminent that he thinks is going to happen in that house. But in his anonymous letter there is a misconception that plays in favor of events. He moves to save an innocent, but does not know that the threat is part of a far greater plot .

Beyond this, the critical judgment can not pinning that on other things.
The spirit in which the novel is written is affected by the creeping xenophobia against foreigners (the Italian people was perfect, the others not: in this, the fascist and Nazi propaganda were the same), but it is nevertheless a fact that there had to be otherwise the fascist censorship would not have never authorized the publication of the novel. For the rest, the novel tells the story of three crimes occurred in a hotel (and a fourth alleged, more an attempt to murder), but where several clients reside permanently. More than hotel we could call it a boarding house, with the restaurant. This is a very important detail that I recommend: in fact, years later Steeman wrote L'assassin habite au 21, a novel that takes place in a boarding house.
I would say Steeman might very well have read the novel by  De Angelis, because in those times, De Angelis was the detective novelist most famous in Italy. If Steeman in plot owes something to Agatha Christie, with regard to the place of drama he repeats what it surely already had been written by De Angelis.  Compared to Steeman and Ten Little Niggers by Christie, the De Angelis novel has, however, extremely claustrophobic atmosphere that accentuates the tension spasmodically. In some ways it is very close to The Greene Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine or The Tragedy of Y by Ellery Queen. Furthermore, for the particular that two of the three crimes, including a presumed Locked Room, take place in circumstances impossible or almost, in a hotel guarded by police, may have been tributary of Noel Vindry, that in some of his novels (for example,  Le Piège aux and diamonds and La Bête hurlante written the first, one year before and the second two years before) he let  guard the house by the police. It is one of those novels that despite having a locked room, do not highlight it, because their authors were probably not interested in being ascribed to the genre of perpetrators of impossible crimes.

Pietro De Palma

1 comment: