Sunday, June 29, 2014

John Dickson Carr : In Spite of Thunder, 1960

Carr's novel goes back to 1960
Eva Eden is a famous actress, but she gets better when, in Nazi Germany, she speaks well about Nazism. Girlfriend of Hector Matthews, she is invited with him to Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitler's Kehlsteinhaus . While is there, Matthews, a handsome man, that he has never suffered from dizziness, falls from terrace, smashing into the ravine below. It 'obvious that this is an accident, because there would have been no reason to commit suicide, and most importantly Eve was a few steps away from him as witnesses Gerald Hathaway and Paula Catford, there too they say, what of the rest supported by the Nazi present there. That, however, would have had good reason to lie and do a favor to the beautiful Eva, who rumors say was the cause of death of Mathhews.
Years later, Eve, who were married in the meantime with the famous actor Desmond Ferrier and lives in Geneva, would like to permanently remove all malicious gossip on her behalf. That's because she calls the two witnesses of the distant calls 1939 episode of Berchtesgaden.  She also invites Audrey De Forrest, of which is infatuated Philipp her ​​stepson and son of Eve Desmond. Audrey actually has accepted the court of Philipp almost out of spite against Brian Innes, a painter who lives in Geneva, who does not want to recognize being in love with herr and who is a friend of her father, who, knowing the sinister reputation of Eve, asks Brian to prevent her daughter to accept the invitation of Eve. In fact he is one of those who believe Eve have been the cause of the death of Matthews, and now strangely the other two invitees are those who were present seventeen years ago to the death of the actor. Audrey does not accept and go to Geneva. When Eve Ferrier goes at the Hotel du Rhône, where Innes is having dinner with Sir Gerald Hathaway, a freak accident occurs: a bottle that should contain perfume, that is in her bag, actually contains, without her knowledge, sulfuric acid. The day after this strange incident, another more serious happens, when Eve, in his villa, falling from a high balcony, smashes into the ravine below, as if she had been thrown by someone; only Audrey is close, but not enough to push it. Strangely, this death repeats that of Matthews.

Desmond Ferrier, the husband of Eve, father of Philipp has meanwhile called Gideon Fell, his friend to unravel the tangle, which the mammoth Fell will make not before an attack by a masked character, in The Cave of the Witches, a distinctive place in Geneva, has narrowly shot Audrey.
Classic novel by  Carr,it is not focused on a Locked Room, as usually for him, but on a 'fascinating variation of the crime impossible: that is how we can kill at a distance and with which weapon, without leaving  a trace, and making sure that all leave thinking that this is an accident. This variant of impossible crime had already been examined by Carter Dickson, aka Carr, previously, in 1939. And in 1939, becomes the link between the novel today and the novel  yesterday, between John Dickson Carr and Carter Dickson between the two sides of the same coin. It 's like Carr, fifty-three years old, he wanted to resume a speech, reaffirming his identity, and tying In Spite of Thunder in glove with each other: The Reader Is Warned, a novel  of series by Henry Merrivale, which debates whether it is true that a murderer could kill at a distance, creating the "perfect crime." But, as two novels are linked through time, so too in the same novel presented today, two crimes repeat in time, it would seem at the same way: in fact, through the actual crime, it reiterates the memory of another drama happened in the same year in which Carr / Carter Dickson had published his novel, precisely  at 1939.
Obviously Carr wallows in situations of altered historical flash-back: he was able to invent a plausible context, to describe with vivid colors and to bring down the reader in a unique atmosphere once again: that at Germany of Nazi, a few months before the invasion of Poland. In my opinion, Carr was the greatest historical novelist of the detective genre, in absolute. His technique is different from the more commonly followed today, at least in Italy: while today there’re the artists and literary detectives (Leonardo Da Vinci, Dante, Pico della Mirandola) in England still, the historical Mystery, derived from Carr , in which the setting is recreated, faithful as possible, in which moves a certain character: it is the case later in The Devil In Velvet , or the Witch of the Low Tide, and in all those novels almost all without character fixed, in which Carr admirably recreates a historical event . However, Carr, in the novel I present, creates a synthesis: he fastens the past to the present, and it does so through the reenactment of certain characters: so he recreates the time immediately before to the beginning of World War II.
How to do it? He Introduces a certain environment (in our case, is the Adolf Hitler's Eagle's Nest, the Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, the famous retreat of Hitler on a mountain peak (with a personal elevator) in which the dictator received usually representations (Mussolini endowed him with a fireplace adorned with Italian marble red) and it does so in a suggestive manner. Even, he  puts around Eve and Matthews, on the terrace  you see in some vintage photos with Hitler, Eva Braun, Goebbelsthe Scharführer Hans Johst with some other minor characters nazi. Now that Hans Johst was or was not Scharführer do not know nor I don’t know if the rank had been given as a sort of recognition (it was the first instance of officers of the SA and then one of the degrees lower of the SS, a kind of Sergeant), but it is certain that Hans Johst is not a subject invented: in fact Johst was in Nazi Germany what at the Soviet regime was Mayakovsky, the poet of the regime.

It 'good to say that even the modus operandi of the murderer, his instrument of death, the weapon is, as improper and already introduced in a radio play in 1942, even before Fell clarify speaks how the murderer did to kill distance, it is announced in a hushed tone, as if Carr gave to the attentive reader a clue how to direct his inquiry, softly. In fact, Carr gets to tell to Paula Catford, the story of a famous crime, for which Switzerland is famous, that by the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898: Empress was stabbed by a stiletto so  she did not notice of it and so she walked not knowing she was already virtually dead: in fact the dagger had pierced his heart and lungs, causing internal bleeding important, so that in a few moments the victim died . Now, through this re-enactment, in my opinion, Carr subtly provides an important clue to the attentive reader. It’s as if he spoke : "Look, even in this case it is not murder at a distance, but murder by something that has been done before, of which the victim did not notice, except when she died" . And remembering  the famous murder in Geneva Carr once again makes a flash-back, resumes, things he talked years ago.
As in my first short essay published on the blog Mondadori, whom many readers remember, focused on the first 4 stories by Bencolin, I highlighted the similarities between Bethune and Bencolin, and then between the novel of 1972, Deadly Hall, and the 1930 novel, It Walks by Night ( ), So Carr in this novel makes another flashback. In fact, recalling the case of 1890, it is as if he put forth a temporal bridge and returned back in time, when into He Who Whispers 1946, he had spoken about a similar crime: the play of mirrors are always lurking in Carr! In fact, in the novel of 1946, you talk about Dr. Antoine Georges Rigaud, who was supposed to hold a conference about a famous crime involving a British family in Chartres, France, in 1939 and who later died in mysterious circumstances, on the roof of a tower. That’s again year 1939. It’s as if it’s  a catalyst! And how can we recognize the evident similarity between Rigaud from He Who Whispers and Grimaud from The Hollow Man? Not only. The game of mirrors between these two novels is clear: Fay Seton,  character who is in the first of two novels, was accused by slander from the populace about Vampirism. And what is one of the themes from the second? Vampirism. It then occurs in a radio play, Vampire Tower, a title that would have to be that in place of The Hollow Man, if at the beginning of the first draft was later followed up. Instead, as many people know, after the false start of Vampire Tower (the novel, not the radio play!), in Which had fallen back Bencolin, Carr chose to change register and to enter Dr. Fell:
"After the false start in Vampire Tower (which he had rewritten as The Three Coffins), Carr realized that he could not bring back the satanic Bencolin who had enjoyed tormenting his prey. The original Bencolin of Carr's college stories, however, had been gentle, amiable, and even a bit shambling. If Bencolin were to come back to life, he would have to be that original Bencolin" (Douglas G. Greene, John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles, p. 173).
And which is the present character  in The Hollow Man / The Three Coffins, as in Vampire Tower? Dr. Grimaud. And what does it speak about? About a poisoner.
The poisoners are largely the work of Carr: how can we forget The Bourning Court? Look at the case in In Spite of Thunder, what do they think about those who believe Eve the Mathhews killer? Then you will understand that the poison has a role  in this novel, even if Eve was not a poisoner.
Yeah, a poison. Used to kill at a distance. So the poison is the weapon. But,  How did the poison arrive at destination if no trace of poison, was there ?
But, why is beautiful this novel?
The value of the novel lies not so much in the atmosphere or in solution (taken from a radio play: how much grace in those wonderful  radio plays!) but at the parsiflage by  the grand old man, which confuses the waters with a lot of misleading speeches, in which you say nonsense to no end: you think who  could be the culprit, you analyze the possible candidates, you delete them one at a time but you can not figure out who is the real culprit, which is there in the corner, which confuses the waters with the odd attempt to Audrey. Then, Carr The Great, extracts  from the cylinder an offender absolutely plausible and at time invisible. It explains so many things. Among the Carr’s novels, of the Fell's series, of recent years, In Spite of Thunder is the best, no doubt. I read it a few days ago after many years, and the pleasure was greater.

Pietro De Palma

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Christianna Brand : Tour de Force, 1955

Tour de Force is like the swan song of the series: I do not know if it, when was written, C. Brand had decided not to write others novels. The fact is, however, that in this novel happens everything  and there is really good reason for which it can be defined as an extraordinary novel.
 The Inspector Cockrill is on vacation. Together with other people, he  is embarking on a discovery tour around the Italy: the ultimate goal is the island of San Juan de Pirate, a little island in front of Sardinia, that  is not subject to Italian law, but to law of a local Duke, a sort of absolute ruler: the island derives its name from the fact that in the past it has been a haven for pirates and even during the period when the story takes place, is home to a thriving smuggling trade, the main economic activity together with tourism.
 After a series of waypoints, in Italian cities of art, culture and natural beauty (Milan, Siena, Rapallo, etc. ..), the tour of the Odyssey arrives in San Juan el Pirata. It can be said .. finally, since up to that time it was a real odyssey: bad food, bad hotels , ramshackle tour. So, the angry Inspector Cockrill is happy to be staying in a beautiful hotel , the Bellomare Hotel, with private beach.
The company seems varied: there is a fashion designer, Cecil; there is the musician Leo Rodd who has lost a hand, but he doesn’t lose the desire to flirt right and left with all the beauties he looks, he is accompanied by his wife Helen Rodd, who helps him and assist him; there is Edith Trapp, tourist from the past unknown but which must be certainly rich, since the objects she needs, fashion accessories and clothes she wears are ultimate in terms of quality and refinement; there is Fernando Gomez, the leadership of the Odyssey; Finally, there are Vanda Lane, a tourist rather shy and reserved, and "Louli" Louvaine Barker, a famous writer.
Soon, become manifest  dangerous attractions : Fernando is courting Edith Trapp .. and so it’s far nothing bad; The dangerous thing is instead the extramarital relationship that develops between Leo and Rodd Louvaine Barker, thing made all the more dangerous by the fact that his wife has it all figured out: she is now used to the escapades of her husband, but she loves him and forgives him because he, poor in cane, always comes back to her, rich; however, this time it is different, because Leo has vowed to Louvaine he will flee with her, and the wife has realized that this is not a story like the others. The beautiful thing is that in addition to being desired by Louli, Leo is also loved by Vanda Lane, the classic ugly duckling, who falls in love but often she’s not loved in return.
The sea is blue, the beach is lovely and the tourists enjoy fully.
Vanda Lane that prides herself being a great diver, delights others with her famous dives, but just before she delights Cockrill with a strange speech, with which she puts to shame the secrets of the other fellow adventurers, who would have a double life, or at least the skeletons to hide in the closets: Edith Trapp and Fernando Gomez, Helen Rodd and Leo.
The fact is that she begins to dive, and she makes it from a trampoline place on a tip of the cliff; nearby there is just Ms. Trapp: to enjoy more integral tan possible, she has lined up a series of umbrellas and towels in front of her to form an impenetrable curtain to the looks, but from which it is impossible to even get out without being noticed. Especially since Cockrill choses a beach location from which he can eventually dominate the look with his companions without  they to see him, as he is, compared to them, in the highest position.
On the second dive, the Lane makes a mistake and she enters into the water wrongly, doing a "belly flop". She apologizes and goes to the terrace of the hotel to go back on their feet in the cabin; just she stoppes for a moment with Louli Barker, that after  two or three minutes, gets down.
Then, they plunge into the sun. Louli dozes off in her very small white bikini next to Cockrill, who disenchanted, he throws some glance to the body by his occasional companion; Trapp is naked or nearly behind the curtain; Cecil is inflated lying above a duck to roast in the sun; Fernando performs in strange styles of swimming to impress Edith Trapp, while Leo and Helen are both under a shelter which would serve to repair only one: the fact is that the Leo’s half body is under the sun, while the other half body  is protected by sheets of music. And the afternoon drags on until the sun dies on the horizon. And only then returning to the hotel, across the terrace, they notice that not only the sun is dead, but also .. Vanda Lane. They enter into Vanda’s room and they found her, made on the bed, sit on a large red shawl, not her but by Louli, with her hands clasped around the handle of a dagger planted in her chest, and her hair loose around her head, as if she were a sacrificial victim, and that was some ritual. Murdered no doubt, because there are traces of blood and water in the bathroom, as if someone went after the murder, to wash himself. But if someone had smeared, easily he would not go unnoticed, because blood is splattered and you understand well where the murder was committed: behind a table, in front of which presumably the victim was sitting. There are drops of blood and the rectangular shape of something, a book, a notebook, something, which is then found. It 's a diary, with annotations, which make it clear how the activity of Vane was the blackmail: at each page there is a record in respect of each of the persons constituting the group of tourists, including the Inspector, and then a low number in a circle, representing the amount that would have wanted to extort.
But why just one of them? Because a person in a bathing suit, even when wet, would not arouse suspicion, as it would have seemed as he was out of the sea, as if he had not properly dried.
The murderer is a blackmailed who has been forced to kill? This is the first of the assumptions. A police chief is the General Manager who must answer for his actions to Exaltida, the Grand Duke of the tiny island state.
Cockrill consulted about the movements of his companions, at first states that the location where he was, he would have noticed if someone had climbed to kill Vanda Lane, but he did not see anyone. However, the Inspector Cockrill soon becomes clear that his interlocutors are all less that fools, and that he must strive to find the murderer, because otherwise he becomes the first in the list to suspicion: in fact, if he could see all without being seen, the other, because any lower than him, could not realize what he had done; and this small state  applies the death penalty for murder: if the others were not, remains only he. So Cockrill is forced to exculpate himself, when he was arrested, so he can understand why that he needs to get busy, to review the position of all of them and investigate.
The first indicated culprit is Helen. Basing on the assumptions by Cockrill she could eclipse behind him without  he had been able to detect, and she could be able to penetrate at the hotel where she would  kill Vanda. But Leo is not already in love with Louli and she reciprocated? It 's true, but the wife could have ignored it and instead she could think her husband  meant with Vanda.
However, Helen is stabbed at night with a letter opener like the one that killed Vanda, so clumsily as to suggest a play. If Helen seems to be the culprit predestined, the same Leo is summoned to the palace of the Grand Duke. But when he returns to the hotel, husband and wife together are closer. Everyone knows that the other was not. Then? It must have been another one! But who? The only person who can not be suspected, but the only one who cannot be suspected is Louvaine Barker, because he slept beside Cockrill and then she surely can not have departed. Because Leo seems to have eyes only for his wife, Louvaineand  spontaneously confesses the murder, explaining the ingenious way in which she would have done so; also reveals that she and Vanda were cousins, and that the true writer was not Louli but Vanda: since Vanda was shy and terrified of the world around her and unable to deal with the company, Louli agree with her, became Vanda i.e. the asserted writer, while Vanda in her little had continued to churn out successful novels.
But why murder? What is the motive? A quarrel between the two women for Leo, resulted in the murder ? Then she would assume the identity by Vanda (so the two women looked like a lot) removing make-up; then it would be enough to summarize her identity, taking off rubber shoes, hat and black costume, put them somewhere, and reappear with tiny white bikini that she wore at first, under the black costume.

OK. Word order.
Not a chance! Doubts resume when Louli, which is saved from arrest just from Helen, she realizes that she is still loved from Leo, and then she retracts; Cockrill gives reason her and so we find ourselves at the point of first: everyone may have been to kill! Even Cecil that he was off his booby duck, he could get to the shore and swimming underwater wearing goggles and respirator by Leo, as well as Fernando could have been the killer, or Leo, or Helen, or Edith. Or to do by agreeing on most people and carrying out operations relating to the staging a little at a time. In short, everything and its opposite.
But incumbes on all the judgment by Exaltida, who must stop one, to leave others free. Who will never be the murderer? Cockrill will  be up to verify it, in a final fireworks display, in which everything will happen until the final twist, almost a serial novel.
Novel multi-faceted, it could have a good reason to call “Nothing is what it seems”: in fact, never as in this novel, one must be careful in how reality is presented because anything can have a double aspect. Anyone who suspects it will be found to have a dual identity that he had kept hidden, not necessarily linked to the murder but not to be ignored. So, if you really want to define in another way this novel, I would say it, the Doubles Novel.
Yes I know, I'm partial for the "Double" in novels, but in this case the reference to the novel by Ellery Queen, dedicated to the double, is very apt: in fact, the murderer follows a peculiar feature present in The Twin Syamese Mystery . In fact, I could say that it was precisely for this feature  I easily identified the murderer, wondering how he did it nevertheless.
In another article, dedicated to this novel, an acquaintance of mine from overseas, John Norris, called Christianna Brand  "the mistress of the multiple solution murder mystery" alluding to the presence of multiple solutions in his novels (referred to Death of Jezebel and Suddenly His Residence) I frankly, while acknowledging the presence of multiple solutions in his novels, I do not think she is the "Lady of multiple solutions" because it would seem as if it were a fact her peculiar. And for this, she distincter herself in relation to the other novelists of the genre. In fact she was not the only one to have considered several solutions related to different suspects in several of his novels: a novelist who normally has multiple solutions in his novels is, for example, Anthony Berkeley (eg. at The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) , in which there are six different solutions, or at The Wychford Poisoning Case, 1926, in which four solutions are contemplated; and at least four different solutions, each time presented and then exceeded, are shown in Not to Be Taken, 1937; then there’s Ellery Queen (at least, with its different solutions, The Greek Coffin Mystery, 1932, and  The Egyptian Cross Mystery, 1932); and again Leo Bruce (his famous Case for Three Detectives (1936) in which they are provided four options produced by four different characters. Instead, if I had to frame a characteristic, peculiar, in his novels, it would be the mistaken identity, playing on the duplicity of the individual characters, so that in his novels there are continuous sets of mirrors : basically anything that she shows  may not be true but in reality only be the result of a hoax resulting in misdirection. In this case of duplicity (i.e. an alleged picture and a real picture of each character) there are galore (Edith Trapp, Cecil, Leo Rodd, Fernando, Louvaine Barker, Vanda Lane) as well as there is an exchange of identity between Louli and Vanda, one of which it will be known hereafter between Cecil and some Jane Woods, and yet another that will introduce you to the final solution, which will revolutionize the cards on the table, yet.

This novel contemplates an Impossible Crime situation: it is not impossible how the murderer was able to leave the room, but how he / she could have committed the murder, since no one apparently has departed to commit, being a material impossibility and temporal that one of those present may have been the murderer. Moreover, the novel comes very close to another famous novel with Impossible Crime that takes place in a similar location, Evil Under the Sun, 1941, by Agatha Christie.
The novel is also indicative for a certain sarcastic criticism of so-called Operator's Tour.
John Norris in his article about  this novel (  ) also spoke about the biting criticism Christianna Brand would make, describing the bad travel conditions ((insects, hygiene, food, hotels of fluctuating requirements do not correspond to what was paid and what was promised in the initial conditions) of the tour in Italy (note the reference to the waters of Rapallo, turbid due to the presence of sewage directly into the sea): the first few pages are devoted to descriptions of fact, this kind of criticism holiday village.
In my opinion, however, this criticism of Christianna Brand has a double face. It is not only what John saw and anyone can see, but also other: may be contained a sort of paradox: in parts of Italy where tourists are accommodated in hotels, not all of high class, they eat all things not to their taste, and are exposed to conditions of unbearable heat, nothing bad happens ; where instead finally they found a piece of paradise to rest, they are living a nightmare.
One last thing I have to emphasize: the location of the tragedy.
Christianna Brand was not only a great writer of detective novels but has also she distinguished herself in children's literature (Nanny McPhee). So why don’t we think she wanted to remember, honoring, James Matthew Barrie, author of Peter and Wendy, and his Peter Pan, inventing an imaginary island in the vicinity of Sardinia, a his Neverland: San Juan el Pirata (coincidentally also into Neverland there are Pirates!)?
Suggestive hypothesis, is not it?

Pietro De Palma