Sunday, November 9, 2014

George Meirs: Le Cadavre assassin, 1912

George Meirs is an author now forgotten.
The lodging of his novels is that of the so-called realistic mystery, but the French connotations set it apart from other novels of the period (early '900): first, it features adventure, to bring it closer to many other novelists of the period (Leblanc, Sauvestre, Leroux ); then there is a tendency to present a hero who is the protagonist of all the adventures (or nearly so); and finally there is sensationalism typical of the novels of the period, which is cloaked in mystery, in haunted castles, supernatural crimes, cursed jewels. For more Meirs has a significant portion of the sub-genre of the Locked Rooms and Impossible Crimes: is one of its greatest exponents, before Chesterton.
But who was George Meirs?
It was one of the many pseudonyms (AM, Asmodé Dayle, Héma, Adrien Méria, Jean Mires, William Thook, Weal) by Adrien Jean Remy Machaux. He was born May 21, 1878 in France. After studying at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, he became a draftsman. This characterization is in common with other French-speaking novelists, most notably Stanislas-André Steeman, who before exploring the genre literature, were designers.

Under the pseudonym of Adrien Meria, he worked for Le Rire, La Fin de Siècle, Frou-Frou and L'Assiette au Beurre. But above all, he founded a satirical magazine, which became very famous: The Gifle.
In 1911 George Meirs began, for the publisher Albert Mericant, the series of adventures of the famous English detective William Tharps.
The first books, with covers signed by him, were written in collaboration with J.M. Darros, aka Edmond Fricot: L’Enigme du train 13,1912La Carte sanglante,1912;  Le Cadavre assassin, 1912.
"William Tharps, the famous British policeman" (as titled his adventures, the most important series of detective novels in Italy, before the advent of the Mondadori publishing house, that is, "Detective Novels" Sonzogno), is a clone of Sherlock Holmes . Logical, esthete (as the hero by Shiel), Tharps is a graduate in Medicine (coincidentally like Professor Bell, a model for Holmes, which professes to be a former student). He also has his Watson, the lawyer Pastor Lynham; and as Holmes, he has an implacable enemy, Ludovic Marmont. If the mystery and sensationalist characterization are a common feature, even espionage is explored thoroughly in the adventures of Tharps. After 22 novels, Meirs abandoned William Tharps Meirs for a younger hero, Walter Clark, that was involved in a few of them.
During the war, George Meirs wrote the Novelization of Les Vampires, directed by Louis Feuillade, which told the struggle between the journalist Guerande and a mysterious gang of criminals whose leaders were called Le Grand Vampire, Venenos, Irma Vep, satanas.
His last work, a novel scandal over parliamentary life, Monsieur le depute et sa Maitresse, dates back to 1924. Until his death in 1962 in Reims, very sick, he did not write anything.

The first novel, co-written with JM Darros was Le Cadavre assassin (=The cadaver murderer, 1912). It 's the debut of Tharps that so pimp, is presented as the most direct and accredited heir of Sherlock Holmes, as a former student of Professor Bell that had provided the model for Conan Doyle for his famous detective. In fact, in the first pages Tharps who is depressed by the death of her former professor of medicine, states that "only a nice murder" could bring him up. The profession on the beauty of the crafted crimes, is a bit the leitmotif, which we will find expressed in Pierre Boileau, who will inherit a lot from Meirs, but derives his "profession of faith" directly from the aesthetics of crime, discussed in " Murder considered as one of the fine arts " by Thomas De Quincey.
And a nice murder happens to him, when his Watson, the lawyer Pastor Lynham, sees the title of a newspaper, which tells about a mysterious murder at Netley, a small town near Southampton: the late Duke of Willingham, waiting to be buried, who had watched over by a priest and an altar boy in a church closed and barred from the inside, he would have killed the priest, stabbing him. The oddity is the fact that the church had been barred with chains and padlocks from the sacristan, the person of the utmost confidence, which had remained in the sacristy, while in church watching over the deceased priest and an altar boy. The sacristan, questioned further by the Tharps, will reveal some shocking details that had anticipated the crime: the fall of a candle at the foot of the dead, the shroud that had stood before the eyes of terrified onlookers, and a current that had invaded the church. And, after the crime, the fact that was cut the ring finger of right hand by the priest, to steal a ring. This particular, however, would coincide with the release of the sexton of the church, which has charge of the portal shut behind him and to call for the intervention of some people passing by the church, which burst into the church armed, determined to find the murderess. But there is none in the church. At this point, the one that makes its way, is the supernatural assumption. From which it dissociates Tharps, who begins to investigate.
First of all, equipped with a large lens, aided by his assistant, who raises the dead man's head cold, he looks at the coffin beneath the body, revealing fragments of short hair blacks. And then the fingerprint of mud on the shroud. To keep in mind is that the presence of these signs is inexplicable: no rain for several days and there is not mud in the streets; and yet there is mud. From where he was taken?
From the initial investigation of Tharps does not show anything that would contradict the only three hypotheses about the death of the priest:
He was assassinated by a body that was animated at the moment, falling asleep again later in the sleep of death; or was murdered by the sacristan, such Southam, which would threaten the altar boy, not to speak, or else ...; or was murdered by another person, but they would have to find the strength to penetrate there, through the walls or the door, and not being able to completely access the bell tower. So what? The Inspector Gregger suspects the sacristan, because according to the logic can not be more responsible; also the popular rumor speaks about the fact  that the sacristan's wife was the mistress of the priest. Motive of murder it is the jealousy? Or / and the greed (because part of the goods would have gone to the woman, dying the priest)?
Tharps is doubtful. Both he and Linham hosted by a friend of Tharps, the banker Elijah Callon, they find out that he himself had become intimate acquaintance of the old duke Horace Jesson; and how the old duke, feeling close to death, he ordered that at the study of his notary, in addition to being read other bequests, was handed an envelope to his friend that it should be read only after he died: the old Duke confessed to have done something reprehensible. In addition, we learn that in the  ducal residence was in a room in which opened a secret panel by the hilt of a dagger old, used like a key.

The dagger can not be used for this purpose because through it the priest was murdered and then this knife is in the hands of the police, and then Tharps by the soft wax, produces a mold from which he forges a kind of key that allows him to open a secret compartment, in which, however, he does not find anything about was said from the old Duke.
The magazine must have been opened before them by others. Even by those who long ago, during the night, had terrorized the old man to the point to make him mad and then cause him from death. At that time nothing was stolen except for the value of the trinkets, so to accredit that the robbery was ruled out.
Gregger is ready to stop the sexton, while Tharps does everything to save him not believing him guilty. Tharps suspect a particular person, when he learns: the priest before his death had called “The Virgin Mary” and that "He had killed him," and especially when he learns that the church before it became the place of citizen worship, had been the old chapel of the ancestral castle that the duke had decided to destroy.
An attempt to get away Tharps and his subsequent assassination attempt, make it clear to the amateur detective who someone fears him so much that he groped to shoot: was found the shell of the bullet, a caliber 6, shot from a Webley pistol. It’s also that which directs the investigation of the police officer in one direction, supported by other findings and discoveries, After stopping the culprit, Tharps will explain the whole case and also the incredible dynamics of the murder.
Beautiful novel of the past, it blends skillfully even if naively, feuelliton, betrayed loves, disowned children, an heir who returns, a priest who dies inexplicably, a large inheritance, secret passages, two castles among which one destroyed, an old chapel of the destroyed castle, a pavilion of the guards where you see strange lights, ghostly apparitions, etc ..
All mixed up atmosphere and tension that makes reading the novel with passion, even though the style is that of a book written in 1912.
Direct seems to me the affiliation of this novel from Le Mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux, who apparently impressed with his solution  many of the French writers who found him. Too many the leitmotifs of this novel: disguises and double identity; the issue of the curse - here, the contract thanks to a cursed dagger - which affects members of a family (a theme that will be picked up by Carr and Derek Smith for example); the theme of the return of the heir (present in most of the best novelists Anglo-Saxon); secret passages and hidden rooms (a characteristic example at Leblanc); the issue of the assassination taken almost as a work of art (it will return in Boileau), not by a common criminal but by a sublime murderer; the fact that the cadaver can in turn kill or his ghost appear (Boileau alone, and then with Narcejac, Leo Duvic, but also Hake Talbot); the disappearance of a finger (Steeman).

The solution of the Locked Room, despite takes place through a secret passage (escamotage  that complaints the age of the novel, and which in the following years will be completely abandoned, but that is still present in Connington and then in a novel by Herbert Brean, one of the friends by Carr), however it’s spectacular, because it confirms the astonishing fact that the murderer got up from the coffin and just wanted to kill the priest, even to steal the solid gold ring from the finger of the right hand by the priest, although the duke was already long dead.
All this is topped by considerations that make us rediscover the old-fashioned goodness of the investigation, acute observations that must immediately bring to mind Holmes, whose Tharps is credited to be the follower, which makes this novel very enjoyable.

Besides the murderer sets up an ingenious plan (you do not appreciate it at first glance, but it is in fact) to steal the murder weapon. It anticipates here, almost before a century, that trick at the base of "Fracture", thriller of 2007 with Anthony Hopkins: to wipe out the murder weapon. In the film, the weapon is changed between the cop's pistol and the killer's pistol, here the weapon, an antique dagger,  is only used  to kill, but the purpose is the same: to ensure that it is taken over by the police. In this way, the murderer, in the novel by Meirs, subtracts the only key to access not only to the magazine, but also to the secret passage in the church, making sure that it is taken over by Scotland Yard, and then subtracted to investigation on the spot. Really ingenious!
Pietro De Palma


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