Saturday, November 22, 2014

Anthony Berkeley Vs Patricia McGerr





At which novels by McGerr and by Berkeley would be so similar than they can be compared?
In the fact that the Inspector Moresby, mindful that Roger Sherringham ( of which he has already served as external in police investigations before that told in The Murder in the Basement), was at Roland House in the past, challenges him and plays to hide and seek with him: he doesn’t immediately reveal the name of the victim, but challenges Sherringham to find out, basing on what he remembers about the environment, and especially upon a brief, a cloth that Roger wrote the summer before wanting to use for a first novel, but that was dropped. This story, which is included in the novel, of which the reader is made aware, becomes the basis of the psychological reasoning by Sherringham. That comes to identifying the victim, later confirmed all from Moresby.


We have two sources that is so similar and with overlapping features so that they can not be classified as two isolated cases: both novels are based on the memories of a person who is not involved in the case as suspected but at the same time knows the environment so as to extrapolate the psychological characteristics more meaningful; In both novels, the type that shows the general psychological framework and the stakeholders,  in first place does not know the identity of the victim; in both cases, the identification of the identity of the victim, takes place during a challenge, of a bet; in both cases, the identity of the suppository victim is compared with those who are perfectly aware (Sheila in the first case, in the second Moresby); in both cases there are personal reminiscences that includes all the characters involved; in both novels the victim performs the same tasks; in both novels the murderer has the same management positions, despite the diversity of the workplace (a trading company and a school); in both cases the motive of the murder is the blackmail, of which the killer is the victim from the same victim.

The only two major differences are expressed in the fact that the story is based about the identification of the victim in the first is the soul of the plot while in the novel  by Berkeley is just an aside, that might not have any use for Moresby already he knows the identity of the victim but that gives to Roger the power once again to assert his qualities about psychological insight; and that while in the novel by McGerr the entire novel is based only on the identification of the victim, as you already know the name of the killer, in the novel by Berkeley, both are analyzed and are discovered by Sherringham: victim and murderer. Because based on that story, we outline the clues to get to the final solution.
It would a finding that is even more shocking: Patricia McGerr would not only be liable towards  Berkeley of inversion between victim and murderer at  Pick Your Victim, but also the subsequent The Seven Deadly Sisters presenting another variation - the discovery of the victim and murderer – would be not at all original, as this changeof the Whodunnit, is already the soul of the novel by Berkeley, in which Sherringham during a bet with Moresby, finds who  is the victim, but even then, at the end of the novel, the murderer.

It would be interesting to see when the novel by Berkeley was first translated and published in America: in the same year of the first English edition in 1932, Doubleday Crime Club of New York, signed the first US edition of the novel by Berkeley. At this point it would be interesting to investigate about the influence that this novel by Berkeley may have had on the novel by Patricia McGerr, as long as it felt, however, that she liked the English detective novels.
What could have happened if the two authors have formulated two stories so overlapping each other? A case similar to that by Hilary St George Saunders, who took as his model for The Sleeping Bacchus, the famous Locked Room by Pierre Boileau, Le Repos de Bacchus?
Only that in that case the citation was obvious and deliberate: in fact the British author asked the French, for permission to adapt his novel on the other's. In the case by Patricia McGerr , instead, this situation does not exist. Pat McGerr claimed his genius in these words:

“From my reading I knew that a classic mystery included a murderer, a victim, and several suspects. So I began by assembling the cast of characters. But when I began to assign roles, it was obvious that only one of them could commit murder, whereas any of the other ten might be his victim. So, reversing the formula, I named the murderer on page one and centred the mystery around the identity of the victim.”

And therefore she did not mention in anything the original model from Berkeley.
Why Berkeley, and this is the thing that intrigues me, would not have claimed responsibility for the genius novel  from himself  invented well before that Patricia McGerr wrote? Is it possible that he was so uninterested of the world of crime to refuse even to stake claim on something of which another writer declared  herself parent?
Although as I have shown, however, the comparison between the two novels leads to an almost perfect overlap between the two models, Patricia McGerr may have found new life and inspiration to write and publish his novel after reading one by Ellery Queen (as supposed a few days ago Mauro Boncompagni, in the debate that emerged after the publication of the long article, from which I took these three parts:  http://blog.librimondadori.it/blogs/ilgiallomondadori/2014/11/12/patricia-mcgerr-vs-anthony-berkeley-storia-di-un-modello-non-riconosciuto/  ).  In fact, at The Chinese Orange Mystery, 1934 "the mystery to discover the identity of the victim is almost important than  finding out the identity of killer" . So there is another source from which Patricia McGerr may have been inspired not only for Pick Your Victim, but also for The Seven Deadly Sisters.
A friend of mine, always during the debate on the Italian site, mentioned how the subject had been yet mentioned by Martin Edwards in his blog. A few days ago I read the article published by Martin about a year ago: in fact he had noticed the resemblance between the two novels (Martin is an expert about Berkeley), but he did not compare the two novels.

Even today I do not understand how the two novels can be so similar, in particular the story by Berkeley used as the basis for that by Patricia McGerr, and how did the American writer to claim his genius, without recognizing the paternity of the invention by Berkeley . Possible that another person, who had read the novel by Berkeley, had informed her allowing her to baste a captivating story? I do not know. Certainly, the literary criticism of the detective genre could have another mystery to solve

Pietro De Palma


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Anthony Berkeley: Murder in the Basement ,1932



The novel goes back to the period of greatest international success and the height of his literary activity: of the same year is Before the Fact (The suspect) that had a well-known film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock's nine years later; the year before, Berkeley had published another of his great success, Aforethought Malice (1931). And in 1933 will publish another novel fundamental: Jumping Jenny. The plot is gruesome.
Two newlywed return from their honeymoon and take up residence in a rented house. While she unravels the bags, he goes to inspect the basement where he would keep his wines. But a particular catches his attention: in a corner,  the brick floor is sunken, as if someone had dug to hide something. He thinks about a treasure, but instead finds a corpse of at least six months old, so decomposed beyond recognition and that by chance you can not understand that it was a female and had a scar in one of her thighs. The body is naked, but on hands, it is a pair of gloves. Why?
The Inspector Moresby Scotland Yard navigates in the dark: Who was the woman? And how did she end in the basement? Why did she have the gloves? The previous tenant was an old above all suspicion, and the date of death would seem to coincide in the period of August, when the old woman was on vacation and the house was empty: who could have the keys? Her relatives? The two only,  are two her nephews but they have solid alibis so as to be immediately ousted from the investigation. So what? At the painstaking police investigation does not miss a thing. Yet Moresby is unable to give a name to the body! The gloves are commonplace, and house by house investigations do not lead to results because no one in the houses nearby, saw nothing. It would be enough to know whose is that body and he - he's sure -  would be on horse, because the murderess would not escape.
But ... you do not find anything. As long as there is an his intuition: the scar. On the basis of the autopsy is established that the victim had been operated to the femur and was applied a metal plate welded to the bone after a fracture: the fortune that smiles is given by the fact that the plate is made of a material now abandoned, used only as an experiment in a few cases and certificates. In short, discarding all those who were not to have disappeared and whose relatives would have immediately reported their missing, you get to identify the victim in a Mary Waterhouse who had managed to get a job in a private school at Allingford, Roland House, in the staff administration. 
Moresby remembers that the writer and amateur detective said Roger Sherringham, who helped him  in many cases, has been at the school long before; and so he informs him to ask if he remembers something about the environment. In fact, contrarily to what were the initial beliefs of the Inspector, once known the identity of the victim has not arrived to the identification of the murderer. And not even leaving the other opposite, that by the place of grave, he come to some result, because there is no way of figuring out how the body has arrived there, and especially those who might have the key of the house because has not been reported in the past, any attempt to break in to the house.
Roger willingly accepts to help the Inspector, even he gives him a report that was drawn up long before picking his impressions about the people working in the school and that should serve as a canvas for a novel ever written. Basing on this Roger manages to figure out who might have been the killed woman without knowing it from the Inspector. However, to the next request by Moresby to be infiltrated by the police, he refuses, as the people he described welcomed him as a friend and he refuses to spy them now.
In practice he observes the actions of the inspector, acting when he considers appropriate it, because thet come to the identification of the case.
Also Roger does not figure out how Mary ended underground, in the cellar, until a disclosure of the police reveals that the bone plate was purchased from a prison, where the chick had been locked up a few years earlier, with a different name, as thief pickpocket: had slipped at the time of the capture of the police, and had broken his leg. Next, repented, after a course of shorthand-typing and some other works, and with a false surname she had been able to get a job at the school. So it is possible that Mary had not completely abandoned her occupation of the past, or that dated back to the time when she was a pickpocket, a theft at house of the old mistress of the house in Lewisham, # 4 in Burnt Oak, and also this is confirmed. So she had the key. But why did she end there?
The investigations of the police in Roland House show a very diverse picture: to direct the school, nominally is the principal Harrison, but truely it’s the daughter, Amy, who directs, drawing more than a dislike. Amy is related to Mr. Wargrave, a Professor of Chemistry: the two, despite not loving, they know that only together they can achieve their purposes; then there is Elsa Crimp, another teacher romantically linked to the curate; Mr. Duff, Mr. Parker, Mr. Rice also their teachers: this is the lover of Mrs. Phyllis Harrison, the wife of the principal, who does not seem to notice anything, losing only in the way the school; finally, there is the housekeeper, Jevons.
Finally, the interviews reveal a particularly revealing: Mr. Wargrave was seen coming out from the room of Miss Mary Whitehouse, when the former was in school. Later it was known that the young lady was pregnant and that she would go away being to get married to an Australian: proof of this, was a ring with diamonds and emeralds that she sported on her finger.
The Inspector is convinced that he has found her murderer, and by this time the whole investigation is initiated in order to demonstrate that Wargrave killed Whitehouse, and to find the weapon. But the evidences are not there and the clues are so uncertain that not  even when Wargrave gets caught with a .45 revolver, his pistol during the First World War, whose the caliber corresponds to the bullet that killed the woman , you can connect him to her, because the gun is dirty and lacks the shell indicted. In conclusion ..
Then enters Sherringham and at a pyrotechnical finale he manages… to exonerate Wargrave, identifying the real murderer. However, he doesn’t deliver him to the police, because his purpose is not the purpose from Moresby, and even he invents a plausible story for the use of the Inspector, giving him a solution and in the same time saving from hanging Wargrave who took on himself the crime of another, and saving the real murderer who killed because he had blackmailed.
Another novel with a penetrating psychological insight, Murder in the Basement, is only apparently a procedural: in fact the procedural serves only to provide a basis for the survey, from which the Inspector and Detective diverge at a certain point in the identification of the guilty. The survey by Sherringham is very similar to that by Poirot: he uses the deduction, to which is added an in-depth analysis of human nature. And as Agatha Christie, Berkeley is also an innovator: in fact this novel in the history of detective whodunnit, reserves more of a surprise[i].


What I once again emphasize is the magnitude of Berkeley, not only one of the great masters of the British psychological police novel but also one of the most successful writers in the mechanism of multiple solutions: to frame the development in a sense, directing the reader's concentration on a given subject and then, at the appropriate time, rejecting it, and providing a solution entirely plausible, even more than it had envisaged until then. In this sense, here is the peculiarity of this novel: if for all its conduct seems a thriller as the victim is well known and well the murderer and and so the survey is only paid to see to realize the clues and turn them into overwhelming evidence , only to the end with the real solution, which runs in part from that envisaged until that moment, Sherringham can once again beat Moresby, and with a soaring, distorts the performance of the novel, directing it in the wake of Whodunnit classic.
In most, the style is crackling, never verbose and never tedious. And once again, the accuracy of Berkeley remembering true facts of blood and place them in the context of the novel affirms (The  Rainshill Case: the Deeming spouses), to make it more close to the British reader of those times. In addition, Berkeley, within the context of the narrative, put the humorous, which serve to better characterize the protagonists: as when Sherringham proposes to inspector who vowed to go away and to can not waste any more time, to be his guest at dinner: the only mention of tripe, a culinary specialty no british, and very Latin, instead convinces him to give up his commitments.






Pietro De Palma



[i] Read the article: Anthony Berkeley Vs Patricia McGerr