Thursday, December 31, 2015

Alan Thomas : The Death of Laurence Vining, 1928



That The Death of Laurence Vining Alan Thomas is a masterpiece of the genre "Locked Room", it is an indubitable fact. However, it is structured in a unique way, and for this I want to analyze it in its entirety.
First, we look at how the various novels written by Thomas (born in 1896 and died in 1970), this, his first feature, is considered the best among all: Thomas began with a bang, but then, as often happens, it could not be repeated with his other works. Among these fifteen others, as stated in the notes in the flap of the novel, "only eight can be considered real mysteries, while the others have a mystery implication only marginal." The account seems to me very important because I will use this statement to explain my point of view about it. In fact, in my opinion, absurd as it may seem, this novel could be part of those in which the mystery implication has a marginal importance: in fact it seems to me that Alan Thomas, when he wrote the story, interested more writing a fictional story than a true crime novel. In this there is no doubt that there is a profound difference between a novel by Agatha Christie, and John Dickson Carr and one, in this case, of Alan Thomas. While in the early the mystery texture takes the whole book and the rest of the coins, in Thomas is the opposite seems to me: basically the plot of mystery in itself, its presentation and solution, occupies the two extreme parts, while in the middle space is the part of the fictional text, in which Thomas is to get carried away from wanting to tell, from the show that he  knows narrate. Oh, not that he does not concern the plot, but however the substance is not treated with the same force and tension of the opposing sides and extreme!
Then we let's better understand what it's about.
Lawrence Vining is an amateur detective who has helped on various occasions Scotland Yard to extricate themselves in cases of special mangy, and therefore has a prominent reputation. However, outside of his superior instincts turned to pure deduction and problem solving more complex, Lawrence Vinig is a ruthless man, ambitious, without moralizing, which operates as a function not of the common good but of self-interest: as well as he deliveries to executioner John Plunket, accused of killing a businessman during a robbery, crushing him in a series of accusations and suspicions, which will be followed in manufactured artfully, but not true in an absolute sense. What matters is having identified a possible culprit, not that it was the only effective. He will leave to mourn the sons who will hate from that moment the first father’s executioner.



Lawrence, however, is not alone, but was helped in the investigation by his assistant, Dr. Benjamin Willing; indeed these, collected clues that allowed the "great man" to analyze them and come through them to incrimination of the suspect. Willing is the shoulder of Vining, it can be said, in a sensible comparison, which for him is like the Watson of Sherlock Holmes.
Vining has an adopted son, Jack Ransome, and wants he becomes a surgeon; but that instead is more inclined to horses and women, rather than books, and so between the two is not good blood flow, until Vining, knew the intention of the adopted son to marry his secretary, Pamela, claims to want to disinherit. At this point enters a friend of Vining, Colonel Robinson, who takes the side of the adopted son of Vining, however, unable to change his mind friend. You will see later in the story is the same as both Jack Robinson had good reason to hate Vining, and not necessarily the same.
In short, Vining, is not that it is loved by all. And so it happens that someone wishes to eliminate him. And he does it with a very spectacular crime: Vining takes the elevator Metro Hyde Park, to reach the train, but if when he enters into the elevator, he is live, where he is completely alone, when it gets to destination and opens, Vining collapses face down dead with a dagger driven into the shoulder in the cab, there is no one besides him. Who could ever have been and how particularly did he manage?

Of the spectacular crime has instructed the Inspector Widgeon, who begins to investigate. It is helped, in fact  is he who accepts to be supported by Dr. Willing, however, that, together with the conductor, is the only witness who saw the victim get off the elevator (he was at the scene of the crime by accident) and was he who witnessed the death. For him, Willing will operate the same as he had in many cases alongside Vining: it is the best way for him to help his friend dead, assist the inspector in his investigations.
Widgeon investigates, but from the survey nebula, do not emerge at first sight facts that could explain the death of Vining, as an endless series of clues and anecdote that appear to have no connection with the case. So he learns that Vining probably was lured into a trap by a "Red Hat". Who is? He will find that a red cap was wore by the maid of Vining, Grace, who has a love affair with the conductor of the metro station Hyde Park (despite this is already married), one of the two witnesses of the murder of Vining. And then you will come to know that Captain Jack Ransom, who works as a medical practitioner in Georges Hospital has disappeared, and with him the Vining’s domestic Malaysian, also; coincidentally the room where Ransom was resting in the hospital, is located very close to the site of the murder; the dagger nailed in the shoulder of Vining, up to the handle, is a Malay kris, stained, with ivory handle, which has a history that refers to the Far East: it was stolen, apparently from Vining to a sultan, so that he added it to a number of valuables eastern whom Vining collected: an another possible motive, in addition to the interest, and vengeance, he adds the honor. And another possible killer: the domestic Malaysian. Which in turn disappears. His fingerprints are found on cabinet at Vining house, at which was guarded the Malay dagger. But was really he who he who killed Vining? And how?
If before some seem guilty and instead will be found innocent and others seem innocent but they will be convicted, even if only of complicity, he will come to the identification of the real culprit. However he will escape to justice because the inspector, although he realized who may be, will not be able to collect evidence of his guilt. The perfect crime, will be revealed in the last part of the novel, in the pages of the diary of the murderer, he remained unpunished but later died from other causes, once his executor will have provided the last will.
The solution is highly spectacular, truly one of the best locked rooms read in the last years: once again we are dealing with a hoax, which from the beginning wants to upset the plans of the police: it is not a crime that by accident it becomes a Locked Room, but a crime that wants to be recognized from the outset as a Locked Room. Because the order has to be that it remains unresolved.
Why?
I would say that once again it is connected to Lawrence Vining: the killer wants to insult the memory of the detective who solved all cases impossible, making sure that his own death is not resolved.
Interesting the structure of the novel. Three are the protagonists, and three the sections of the novel in which they play a predominant role: in the first, in which are narrated the events of Vining is he the protagonist; in the second, in which they speak about his death and about the investigation, the protagonist is the inspector; in the third, where there is the confession in retrospect, the protagonist is the murderer of a perfect crime.
Who is the murderer? It is a person who has learned to hate Vining and hated him more and more up to devise a plan so perfect and so free from nicks, the inspector will recognize him but could not accuse him about the murder. He is not a murderer rained from the sky, but a person who is present throughout the novel, which is presented under other garments and only finally confesses, though to himself (his diary) to be the culprit. This manifests his true purpose: that is not revenge, not honor betrayed, not monetary interest, but advertising, becoming famous in turn, emerge from anonymity, and even in death to steal to Vining the limelight.
The only flaws of a perfect plan are two trivial details: the raincoat whom Vining had on the shoulder before he entered into the elevator; and the train ticket, whose absence in the cabin, convinces the inspector that the facts are otherwise. But these details, for the perfection of the central construct of the plan, will not be of any help.
The novel is also interesting for some irreverent and sarcastic vein present in it.
When Widgeon visits Robinson and comes to his home and waiting makes considerations about his interests, in particular about his novels by literary crime, he muses that since there so many crimes on real life he does not understand how some writer should joke above; he most of all hates them because they usually when talk about the police at Scotland Yard they hatched usually the policemans  "like a bunch of idiots." The irony is obvious: Alan Thomas quotes himself, and his novel, and his last end. In fact at the end Widgeon will appear, in front of the killer (and the reader), a complete imbecile. Although it will not be at all easy flush out the killer. The vein desecrating it seems to me, however, that it is even finer: in his novel Thomas celebrates the death of Sherlock Holmes, dressed as his ideal successor (Vining); and even he reverses the same dichotomy Sherlock Holmes-Dr Watson, in that Dr. Willing-Widgeon. In fact the only sensible hypothesis throughout the novel will come from Willing, namely that the crime can be explained with the launch from a distance, of a dagger. It’s as if Dr. Watson / Willing, for a time stole the show to Sherlock Holmes / Widgeon, revealing how another Sherlock Holmes / Lawrence Vining was dead. But this will not be the exact solution.
The novel is even more a comedy of errors and false leads, and it responds to that kind of novel typical of the twenties, in which the murderer will never be a woman, because a woman is a being who knows only mild fall in love with villains and suffer for the death of an innocent father, but she will never be the one that vibrates the fatal blow; where there are echoes eastern; where there is a story that has its origins in the past (how can we forget just a particular novel with Sherlock Holmes?); where there is a false adoptive father, a colonel false friend, and a true father who is not recognized as such; and a romance of the past ended tragically; where they are detectives in bright light (the two Sherlock Holmes: Widgeon and Vining) and detectives in the shade (Watson and Willing) but no less important; where there are two dead, a real and a virtual, but of the same character: dies Vining andit  is as if died Widgeon, not solving the case. In short, the novel is like the death of the detective novel in its apotheosis: the murderer becomes more important than the detective, as he wins in single combat. It’s a novel in which the murderer wins the detective who is recognized from himself, loser.
But in the anthology of the clues and herrings, it lies a will to tell, that reveals the true purpose by the author: tell a story, or rather many stories linked together into a story, and at the same time connect them to a crime, locked room, which unsolvable as such, claims to have the scene only at the beginning and at the end, that is to be the alpha and omega of the novel. For the rest, a novel too wordy, stretching the broth with exotic narratives and descriptions, however, far from wanting to be a part similar to those of the crime and its solution, it has the task of adding smoke and away with the hypothesis least imaginative the reader from the real culprit, whom the careful if not mischievous reader would have found if not immediately, at least almost.
So if there is not in my view a incredible murderer, and then ultimately the "Whodunnit" is not completely satisfied because the careful and cunning reader could identify the murderer for his behavior and for a screening, the novel instead is characterized as a sample of the kind called "Howdunnit" since the predominant part has explained the "how" the murderer has killed, by implementing an illusion of higher species, because "the killer" before the part final starts, it has been revealed, and who had thought the killer was that person, he finally said, "I knew ..". Illusionism which not only participates the murderer and the victim, but some supporting actors and accomplices, who have key parts of the plan, and that they too disappear and can not be traced by the police. In a sense, this novel by Thomas is the opposite of Tour de Force by Christianna Brand: while here the staging takes place before the crime, and who personifies the victim is before the death of the victim, there who impersonates the victim impersonates him after the murder took place.



In short, another milestone of the "Locked Room" and a novel that is impossible the lover of the genre do not read, at which a lot of things happen (of which I didn’t speak about) and at which, though the tension is palpable at beginning and end, and less in the middle of the novel, however, the narrative relaxes and is easier to read. If anything can turn up their noses to certain readers, the fact that out of the blue, after the impossible crime was presented at the beginning and then in the course of the narrative, nothing has emerged nor has said, in final  it is revealed in great detail. Certain readers bothered Thoman was not completely honest with them, accustomed to the fair play by Carr. But do not correct improper comparisons especially among the weakest:  if Thomas had spoken about the details mentioned by the epilogue, first, surely many more readers than those who are surprised by the final revelation, would arrive long before the identification of the culprit. Essentially then Thomas resorts to the old expedient of lengthening the broth and add a bit of smoke and mirrors, justifying it with the desire, by the inspector Widgeon, reaching the indictment of the culprit away from starting and following a roundabout way, with the continuous interrogation of the other actors in the drama, hoping the real murderer betrays himself. Which it does not happen, and justifies the final revelation of the killer post mortem. Especially the thing that makes perplexing is the fact that Thomas is silent at the beginning and at the end proves to be only a very important detail: that the trains at that station not only pass to the upper level but also the lower one. And so the scale is not only useful to those who have to go to the toilet, but especially useful to those who, not wanting to take the elevator, should take a train passing on the tracks on the floor below.
The rest is to be virtuous of the detective novel, hold the attention of readers and voltage, focusing on a single criminal act; that's because many great authors, when repackage books of a number of pages, to keep fixed the perception of tension, insert multiple crimes in the same novel.
One last note: the Inspector Widgeon, having appeared at this novel, will reappear in another novel by Alan Thomas, Death of the Home Secretary (1933).


Pietro De Palma


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