Sunday, November 20, 2016

Pierre Boileau : La pierre qui tremble, 1934

 "Reader Beware: SPOILERS"

La Pierre qui tremble (The Stone Trembling) is the first of Boileau novels: it is a novel that narratively speaking is closer to 20s than 30s. Begins with André Brunel (the character that will animate all or almost all of Boileau novels) which appears here for the first time, that in the train that is taking him on holiday, he realizesthat a suspect is opening one after the other, the compartments wagon where he is, to look inside. Watching him and watching him discreetly but closely enough
to thwart probably deadly assault against a young girl, Denise Servières. The young, early twenties, is on his way to Britain where after a week will be her
marriage with Lord Jacques de Kervarech, at his castle called "The Stone trembling", by virtue of the stone that is the keystone of the arch
leading into the castle, which seems to fall, trembles, but does not fall.
Brunel understands that the attacker came from Brest, having collected the ticket he had fallen in the struggle: that is, he had organized things to leave from Rennes and return to Brest after having possibly killed the girl. He droops because that's where he is on holiday, the sea, the attacker started to kill the girl. Who knows if it will succeed again in his attempt .. For that, Brunel promises as soon as possible, after having rested a few days, to reach the young girl to the castle. When it will happen, he will be in time to foil another attempt to murder the girl, this time perpetrated in the woods that surrounding the castle.
At this point, he promises to her and her boyfriend to settle at the castle until she will bemarried to Jacques: even knows Dr. Nicol, the doctor of the Count, and the Count same Kervarech, Jacques guardian.
The mysteries do not cease: while Denise, Jacques, Count and Brunel are in the lounge where Denise is playing the piano, Brunel seeing toward the door, the first light through the keyhole of the door and then darkness, someone realizes that, at the beyond the half-open door, he turned off the light and it is there lurking: do you understand that they must act. He gives instructions to others present there and then with a leap opens the door in time to see a shadow that flees at the first floor of the new castle. Having no other way out, locks himself in the bathroom. The bathroom has two entrances: one in the hallway and one in Jacques' room. But while both of overseeing and two outputs, and according to the count outside armed (who shot when the fugitive appeared at the window), the intruder, after opening the bath taps, flees. From where? Through the gutter?  When they barge into the room, they do not find anyone. And the other exit is still closed inside. The Count is always there in the garden, he shot the first time and scrutinizes the windows, so when they tell him that the fugitive is gone, he does not believe his ears. Brunel can not understand how it could escape. But it is not the only thing I can not understand.
Denise then Brunel tells how a few nights ago, finding sleep and remembering the bad experience lived by train, she had wanted to breathe a bit the air of the night, and in the park she had found Jacques dressed all who moved stealthily and from him she has known about a threatening secret of which he could not to warn the girlfriend.
Brunel wants to understand what  Jacques was doing in the park at that time and therefore he decides to watch him at night, discovering that at night goes away in the direction of the old tower, the only remnant of the ancient castle, which accompanies the new building where the family lives. Managed to climb himself, he witnesses a strange scene: Jacques in the tower met with the Count and there repeats a series of phrases, absolutely identical to those he utters his interlocutor. Then everything is resolved with a big laugh and a final toast.
Brunel is increasingly astonished: he does not understand anything of what is happening around him.

Things at this point tangle: a home disappears, the valet Jacques, Yvon. And Annette, his girlfriend, another maid, to raise the alarm. They find him lying in serious condition, on the cliffs, stabbed. Yvon is dying, but nevertheless sets the castle and at one point her let us and shrinks in terror: he saw Jacques standing at the window: he fears that he might kill him. A flash and Brunel, fearing the worst, rushes towards the house: Jacques is no longer there. There are no other exits than that through which Brunel is going up on the first floor, and yet no sign of Jacques. Since in his room there and the bathroom door was locked this time on the side of the room, he decides to go in the hallway that leads to the other bathroom door, but even here there is Jacques. Go back to not understanding where it can be released. Find then down, poor Jacques with the skull shattered by a blow but still alive. However he does not understand how he can be got there, he had come on to the house in less than no time and certainly had not seen leaving the young, nor her attacker from where he had entered.

Then .. The affair of the letter. Was sent a letter, which arrived addressed to Brunel. Annette saw it, the count also, but letter disappeared. The mysterious assailant ghost must have taken it. Why ? It was important? However who wrote it, Mrs. Marie Calvez, had had the foresight to send another one, same as the first, to Dr. Nicol. So the two men come to know that the woman may know something that could explain everything.  She has seen the birth of Jacques. She promises to tell all. But before it happens, someone, always he, the mysterious ghost, tries to kill her. But not before she proves something to Brunel. Now Brunel is able to begin rebuilding the arcane, but once again the enemy is lurking in the shadows: just driving the car with Brunel comes to the castle, "La pierre qui tremble" that has endured for hundreds of years to gravity, undermined by crime and placed into balance, as soon as the machine is rumbling beneathit, it falls heavily, hereafter with the other stones of the portal on Brunel machine, that for a  miracle is only wounded :.
There will still be an attempted attack on Jacques wounded, before the culprit is identified and put in a condition he can not harm: he will attempt the impossible, then falling on the rocks. Before he falls on the cliff, they see his face ravaged by the fury: He’s Jacques.
Brunel will reconstruct the story of a terrible secret, and an infamous machinations.
Novel full of tension, half could tell between a thriller, so much anguish pervades the pages, and a mystery, for the questions, really tasty that places (a Locked Room in the bathroom and on the contrary, when Jacques disappears from home to be found then hurt downstairs to the house for a blow to the skull:  on the contrary because to determine the impossibility is not a locked door in a room but a locked door outside the room, which therefore can not have been used to enter in the bath and then out into the corridor), it is interesting for the question that arises, which then is the basis of the solution.
However I think I can safely say that here, although there are a typical environment of Belle Epoque (tender love, defenseless women, naive, incapable of abominable acts, always men murderers, shameful and greedy) and a plot that shows the times that were, and that never will, and issues that now are disappearing (honor, scandal), and although there are also a writing style that denotes the dating, for example the frequent invocations, which in contemporary writing are entirely or almost entirely disappeared, and colorful commentary –Ah! The monster! Or All no! A part ... Ah! It's amazing! Or yet Ah! The dirty (not for lustful acts but for hurting Brunel in hand during the scuffle in the train) or Ah! Do not ask me why, it's horrible! O Ah! Understand, understand ... or even on! Now it is all over! …Oh! It's horrible! ... Awful? What will then say when he will know everything? ... Speak my good friend, talk.
I became crazy! – this novel is much nice.
Of these expressions invocative, the dialogues are full. They testify the novel is dated, the style is even more dated (frequent affectation, like two people greet each other lovingly and then embrace, or rather opposite acts, as if the one who looks good could not hear malevolent feelings, or that he that is evil could not even feed good feelings) and a certain psychological simplicity applied to people: women always helpless, men always arrogant or cruel. So, in such a setting, it has a considerable gnashing the fact the novel presents than others of the same period – characterized by mysteries that relate almost exclusively to the material nature of the impossibility (almost they all are howdunnits) – a psychological high component: here the double mystery of the locked room (remarkable the sound of taps and the murderer fading, or a locked room in reverse, due to the bathroom door in the room Jacques not closed from the inside – as in the closed chamber previously mentioned – but from the outside, which prevents to think the aggressor could have come from there), it is explained not with mechanistic or empirical gimmicks, but resorting to the psychological nature of people: it is the incoherent dialogue between the Count and Jacques (which raises doubts into the reader about what he is reading), joined to the strange nocturnal encounter in the park between Denise and Jacques, and the revelation of Marie Calvez, to solve everything, even the locked rooms.
An history of stained honor, dishonor, a single mother, a son not recognized, money to throw, a heritage of which he enjoyed and which it has since been removed, and which also the killer would want again resorting to murder.
However, the kernel of the solution is in the ambivalent nature of a character such as Jacques that is capable of everything, and to the contrary, which is located where he can not be and that is not located where it should be, and his double. The famous theme of the double, here treated superbly.
So something is explained. The rest not, because just reading the novel and the explanation you understand everything. The solution is one of those that satisfy you, no doubt about it! Boileau has this peculiarity: it creates the foundations of buildings that would not be able to withstand a cabin, however, creates a foundation so strong as to defy gravity. Especially because he creates around a system of clues and facts that find perfectly their explanation at the end, when everything is explained. Before it was not possible to explain it.
I'd like to think Boileau has taken anything from two wonderful cousins ​​Queen, to think he was inspired by The Siamese Twin Mystery, which is of 1933 and then published a year before was published this first novel by Boileau, but in reality is just as possible that Boileau had been inspired by a narrative typically French, previous to his: how not to remember two novels by Alexandre Dumas as Le Vicomte de Bragelonne or Les freres corses, where there is the dilemma of two monozygotic twin brothers? Or another story by Alexandre Dumas, Les deux étudiants de Bologne? But if we think about Queen, undoubtedly the topic of replacing a brother with the other, which is not present in The Siamese Twin Mystery, we find, in a story that is affected in a certain way of setting by Boileau, in The Finishing Stroke byEllery Queen, a true masterpiece, little read and remembered.
The beautiful scene where the villain of the two is going to stab the other, previously from him struck but not killed, I also need to think about another aspect of the novel: how not to think that the elimination of the other, it’s also the reappropriation of the uniqueness of a split identity in two? Because if you kill that, you kill you too, or rather a part that is in you. And you become one!
Moreover, in hindsight, everything would have a value only if no one would notice the change. So the element that undermines all, the killer and his accomplice plan (because without the accomplice, the disappearance in the bathroom could not have been explained!) ecomes the non-replacement. And who has once again of considerable importance in a French detective novel? A servant! As in La maison interdite by Herbert & Wyl!
We think about this fact: no one servant in the British crime fiction of the Golden Age of detection has had greats roles! The servants are only an appendix, because they belong to a subordinate class. This is a concept that it’s possible think about an aristocratic society. But in the American society, at which the dream of Self-made man gives the possibility to each person to become important, also the servant is a person like any other. If we wants the french society is closer to american than english. In none british mystery novel, the servant have an important role in the story, except at a Heyer’s novel: “Why Shoot a Butler?”. The novel is of 1933, while the french novel is of 1934.
The killing of Yvon, the faithful servant, has a fundamental importance, more important than it seems and that it appears: Yvon saw the alter of Jacques, and he must die! If he had not noticed that there was a double, the evil double would be replaced the good double, appropriately killed previously and hidden, he would have  married the girl, it would have acquired the inheritance and Brunel would have thought about the impossibility of a disappearance from the bathroom. You see now what is the legacy of the Viscomte de Bragelonne about this novel?
If Yvon had not noticed the double, if the double had not killed him, if Yvon had not survived because they had not noticed his absence, if he had not indicated the room of Jacques and Jacques himself, all would be like in the killer and his accomplice plan. Instead ...
The good triumphs. For a series of facts absolutely random.
The greatness of Boileau.

Pietro De Palma

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