Sunday, February 26, 2017

Soji Shimada : The Locked House of Pythagoras (P no Misshitsu, 2011) – Translation: Yuko Shimada/John Pugmire – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine August 2013



It is recommended read this analysis, after reading the short story in question, because many of the plot details are revealed





Eriko has taking away from the classroom of his school, a series of unnecessary things such as posters. He meets another boy who is the son of Tomitaru Tsuchida, a famous painter who has been entrusted with the task of selecting a series of works made by elementary and middle school students, and who was the victim of a cruel murder a few days earlier, together to his lover Kyoko Amagi. Eriko is surprised a bit 'for the request of a sheet of tissue paper to use to create a headdress, but not too much then, since the boy and his mother were poor because the father did not pass food to the ex-wife and son; the day after Eriko talks about this meeting with his friend Kiyoshi Mitarai.
Moreover, for those who live in that school, the murder of the painter in charge of selecting the works, it’s cause of discussions: he was killed in his home with his lover, only that the room where the bodies have been found was locked from the inside and the house as well, around the house there were only footprints around her but none came in or out, in the wet soil sodden for continuous rain. The two bodies had been pierced with numerous stab wounds which caused a real pool of blood. At first it was supposed Tsuchida had killed the lover and then he had killed himself, but the number of stab wounds which had reached him, all mortal, and the fact that the weapon had not been found together with victims, had ruled out the hypothesis of suicide and corroborated that instead of the double murder.
The contest had been canceled not only for the examiner's death, but also because the competition entries were all hopelessly ruined: the locked room from the inside, where the bodies had been found, was covered with the works in competition, impregnated by blood of the two victims. However not all artworks were encrusted with the blood but also with red paint. Why?
Another strange thing: the Commission had proposed 90 artworks of elementary schools and 50 of middle schools, but Tsuchida had opted instead for 88 and 48. Why?
It has been found an umbrella  also.
The two secondary school children are sure to solve the mystery, especially Kiyoshi: he knows the things pertaining to the competition (because he was in the competition), makes assumptions and says he can solve the case, failing to understand why those four drawings were eliminated from the competition. But he should know more, and to do this, he goes with his friend to the house painter, which is opposite to that in which lives his ex-wife and son. In the land surrounding the house were found fingerprints, but not direct inside or outside the house, and not from the woman or her child, but from the ex-husband of Amagi, who was arrested: after exhausting interrogation he admitts was he to kill the two, but in the same time he is not able to say how. Some suspects he admitted only to end the real psychological torture against him.
The boys ask the two police detectives to have access to the house, but are mocked. However Kiyoshi is able, while he never came to the inside, to provide the exact dimensions of the room in which was made the massacre, in the general astonishment. And guess even those of two rooms placed upstairs. The two policemen, who do not know which way to turn, capture the ball, and accept, even if not willingly, to permit to see the house, whose floors encrusted with blood do not seem very annoy the two boys.
Kiyoshi will first explains because Tsuchida had requested a smaller number of works of four compared to the selected by the Mayor's Commission works numbers: it is related to the square surface of the closed room from inside and those of two rooms on the upper floor, of which a room is a laboratory and the other a study. They seem to be built on the sides of a right triangle whose hypotenuse is the basis of another room. Since the two plans are identical and also the structure, layout and arrangement of the rooms, it follows that the principle by which Kiyoshi solves the riddle, is the Pythagorean Theorem.
In essence, the artworks had been requested by Tsuchida on the assumption they covered together, just the floor of the large room, on the ground floor, and separated depending on the origin (Elementary School and Middle School) the two rooms upstairs: walking over, he would choose the most deserving. It follows from this that the double murder was not conducted in the downstairs room but in the rooms on the upper floor: here the murderer had killed the two, slaughtering them with a knife, then the blood had literally covered the works that carpeted the floor , and in doing so he had raised the issue that other works were not covered in blood (those at the other room): you explain  because it was thought about the red paint. Then the bodies and blood sullied drawings were brought downstairs, everything had been carefully cleaned, so that you do not dated back to the real fall of the crime, and then it was arranged the final scene: the room had been closed from inside and the murderer had come out  by a trick from a flap of  a "tokuroma" tight, too tight for doing it considered a manner of escape: the murderer had used a loophole obviously. This will realize Kiyoshi, identifying also because he had hidden the true scene of the crime, how he had been able to emerge from the first floor leaving no footprints, and also understanding the identity of murderer.
Extraordinary tale of Shimada, is "black" to the core. In disturbing violence and morbidity, the Japanese crime fiction is similar to the French, and Shimada in particular seems to me that he can be compared for example with Paul Halter. In both above all, protagonists are the boys: how not to remember the various Halter novels at which the principal characters are boys? And here the "actors" are the boys. One is even the true detective who discovers the secret, and undoubtedly stems - in my opinion - from Detective Conan, the Japanese cartoon character behind many stories of impossible crimes.
Shimada is sensational not only for his delusional vision of the blood: the blood covering the floors of the upper rooms, soaking the papers of drawings (A3 sheets), there is so much to slip into the gutters between the various sheets, and to force the murderer / murderers to thoroughly clean up the crime scene, and scales, used to drag the bodies and bring down all the drawings covered in blood, to prepare the final staging downstairs, and covering the other artworks with red paint of a blood-like color. All this feverish work of cleaning and sanitation will be discovered only through the Luminol. The comparison with Halter is pivoted on a novel like Le Brouillard rouge, where a room is painted with blood.
But Shimada is also stunning especially for having conceived a plot based on geometry, at which the same solution as the locked room is in relation to the fact that the two square upstairs were constructed on the hypotenuse, the base of the square of the locked room from inside; and having removed the suspicion that the murder had been achieved at the upper floor with an act, because perhaps someone would immediately sense the way out of the house. And even, perhaps, he would discover the murderer.
The Japanese Mystery, indeed, while pays its tribute to Anglo-Saxon Mystery, it’s different for a very specific character: the Mystery of the Anglo-Saxon genre, presents a survey carried out in a certain group of  suspected persons of which is necessary to remove the alibis, then we have to find the proofs and especially the motives and finally understand the "modus operandi" of killer. In other words, almost always, when it presents an impossible situation, it must be understood independently from finding the killer, according to two distinct phases; in Japanese Mystery instead, at least in this Shimada, where there is an impossible situation, it need resolve the situation impossible (here "the Locked Rooms"), to understand who is the murderer. In other words, the action of the crime does not presume a survey based on “Whodunnit” but on “Howdunnit”: not who is the murderer (which may suggest how he murdered), but how the murder had been achieved (from which you deduce who is the murderer). It changes the whole perspective. In this I think I can assert an essential truth: the Mystery Japanese, at least that of Shimada, is very close to that of the French Mystery by Halter, Boileau, where the suspects are few, and they can be put questioned only when the mysterious action of the crime is exorcised through the solution of the impossible crime, that unequivocally directs the attention of the investigators against a just and obvious murderer.
Moreover the solution of the Locked Room relative not to the room where the two bodies were found, but to the manner to leave the house, it is very similar to that adopted by Halter in Le Tigre borgne.
Discovering  the killers is not difficult; instead it’s difficult understanding how the killer has killed. And in this Shimada’s tale, this is very difficult.

P. De Palma

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Stacey Bishop (George Antheil) : Death in the Dark, 1930

Article rewritten on occasion of the publishing in U.S. also, after in Italy, of the Antheil novel.
It is recommended read this analysis, after reading the book in question, because many of the plot details are revealed.

To celebrate the first 1000 visits to my blog, I dedicate to my readers a novelty, the analysis of a legendary novel, published only in Italy : Death in the Dark, 1930, by George Antheil.

Once this phrase had a sense, now  he does not have it anymore. Infact after the second publication of this novel in Italy ten years ago -Title of italian publication "La morte nel buio". Preface Mauro
Boncompagni, translation Giancarlo Carlotti – Shake Edizioni, Nnoir Sélavy , Milano, 2009, pagg.188 - now the John Pugmire's publishing house publishes, also in U.S., the Antheil novel.

Death in the Dark hadn't the success Antheil thought to have, for a strange reaction of the public, and so he decided to abandon the ambition of all light literature, and spent his brain energies on other things.
In truth, the noted British critic and novelist Julian Symons said Antheil would write a second novel, in addition to this published at the time by Faber & Faber, the publishing house founded by Elliot, but this second work, nobody has seen. So, unless you are one day buried in some private collection, the only detective wrote and published by Antheil, is Death in the Dark. Why was it the only Antheil’s attempt ? Why the public did not accept him as he would have expected? What did happen it ?
First we say that the Antheil book is super-vandinian novel. 
At the time, in which Antheil wrote, Van Dine was the champion and the archetype to model, especially for an American author as Antheil who albeit temporarily transplanted in Europe (after the First World War had been created a community of Americans: Ezra Pound, Antheil, Hemingway, Miller, etc. ..), especially in Paris,where he had become familiar with European authors: Elliot, Joyce, Miro, Picasso, Stravinskj, De Chirico), deeply resented from Nietzsche’s influence in Van Dine.  Philo Vance detective is a bourgeois, but very rich and cultured, who despises the vulgar, and for which has value only  “the murder committed by a fine art” like wrote Thomas De Quincey. In short, a detective that personified the theories of Nietzsche on the birth of Superman (which in the German writer, beyond the post-mortem manipulation of Nazism, however, has a more philosophical sense). However, this Superman’s philosophy , also had a deeply irrational soul, which is well married with the yearnings of those who wanted to awaken the conscience from the torpor in which they were sunk.
So then Antheil could only create a detective who was largely tributary to Van Dine. And so Antheil, who took the pseudonym of Stacey Bishop, created his Philo Vance who called Stephan Bayard: as Philo Vance is an esthete, a passionate lover and critic of contemporary art (such as impassioned and art critic is Philo Vance), and as Vance music fan, it's just that Bayard of contemporary music, he has a friend Attorney: the Philo Vance’s Markham is the Antheil’s Wayson. And Antheil's novel is based on a Van Dine’s novel, in a manner so obvious,  being almost a quote.
A chain of murders takes place in a house, in New York: at Denny home, wealthy family of the rich bourgeoisie, Dave Denny was found dead for a gunshot in the forehead. What's wrong? The fact that at the time of the shooting, the house was dark: how did the murderer in the dark recognize his victim and how did he shoot him exactly in the middle of the forehead, in his bedroom? The fact is that all the suspects were at the time of the gunshot together in same room: Frieda Alvinson was sunk in an armchair to read, Dr. Stein and John Alvinson were looking out the window, while another, adjacent, or nearly so, was Gertrude Denny, the victim's wife, and finally in his bedroom was sleeping the matriarch of the family, the mother of Denny. There is also a half brother, Aaron, who at the time of the murder, was out of the house.
The surveys seem at first sight more than difficult: who killed, did he take advantage from a fortuitous distraction of the present (the wailing of the sirens of fire that passed under the windows of the house), or was everything knowingly premeditated ? And whom Gertrude expected to see into the bathroom, when Captain Jules opened the door? And who did write a mysterious book in which the crime is described in detail ? And especially why was inserted the door key from the inside, when it was customary that when a belonging to the family was out, he had to hang it  on a hook? And why did the gun shoot  twice and the second bullet was blank?
The fact is that the investigations would lead to Aaron, accused even by his stepmother and whose part in the affair seems to be dangerously established, and the police can not help but stop it, because just as the old mother is about to pronounce the name of the murderer ( him?), someone among the present shoots. Except that no one saw who fired, and, even more strange, the gun that fired, it is found on the bed of the first victim: in practice mysteriously would it have  crossed the aisle that divides the room from the Denny room where the second crime occurred.
Everything solved? No, not at all. Because the suspect is in turn found dead in his cell, killed by a gunshot fired almost point-blank. The strange thing is that no one has seen come in room who killed him, let alone get out and  no gun was found inside the cell.
So among the three crimes one is more insoluble than other.
In the midst of this jungle of suspicion, false leads, more or less convincing evidence, clues solvers, analysis and other weird at all weird, artistic and musical considerations, endocrine Criminological Research, Stephen Bayard will able to trap a murderer of higher mind, smart , vengeful, and evil.
It 'clear that the false line on which Antheil builds his novel, as we have said before, is a novel by Van Dine. Considering the year in which it was not merely writing and publication of his novel (1929), Death in the Dark, she could have just as an example of  vandinian novels are written until that year. Among these is chosen that is still considered perhaps if not “the masterpiece” one of his masterpieces, and one that certainly has affected more than any other, the detective novel tout court: a chain of murders that occur in a family.
Antheil from Van Dine had taken some of the characteristics we have mentioned above. I will say that the same first-person narrator Stacey Bishop, the pseudonym of Antheil, is modeled on S.S.Van Dine, who appears in novels and that is the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright.
There lies the Greene family, hence the Denny family. In both there is a stepmother, a widow. In both, she is killed. In both there is a library, where there is a particular book, revealing the murder (the first), in both cases there is an evil mind that plans the massacre, in both cases there are artistic considerations, in both cases there is a doctor there, Von Blon, Stein here, but in both cases there is a crime committed with a gun that is not (the third murder), in both cases there is something that is open and that causes death. Too many similar elements not to mention an example of super-vandinian writing.
The thing that intrigued me most, however, is the fact that in a novel built (perhaps) as a tribute to Van Dine and his way of building the novels, there Antheil had entered his thoughts on art (Miro, Picasso) and on music (Stravinskj, Schumann, Raff), giving it the title character, and especially his remarks (which won him, as recalled in the preface Boncompagni, the consideration of the Paris Police) Endocrinology of the nature of the crime.
Moreover, that these assumptions endocrinological crime were his fixation, it is explained by the fact that a few years after the publication of this his novel, Antheil published a separate study, the title of which was Every Man His Own Detective: A Study of Glandular Criminology (1937).
Considerations that he - in the discussion of the novel - assigns to Dr. Stein. But what particularly struck me is how Stein speaks of the phenomenon and how he intends to cure him: and for that, among others, expressed their thoughts on the fact that, using certain scientific devices, you can turn a mass of deficient a series of bright minds. The creation of a super race? The description that makes Stein is a well-educated scientist, but also that blindly believes in his project. The laboratory with all its appliances, and the aura that manages to get around the human body, make me think to  Fritz Lang's “Metropolis”. But the consideration that making a radical change of  centrism thyme he is able to transform a criminal into a bright brain man, a superman, as he says, reminds me  Nietzsche, but also to the studies of genetics that came after it and spotted the chromosome of crime.
Beyond this, the novel, despite being a triumph of pure deduction, it is too difficult for the average reader, because it can be thoroughly understood, requires a reader who knows certain issues, and certainly this may have affected the success of the novel . Perhaps the striking similarity (and I am silent on other similarities even more direct) with The Greene Murder Case, had its importance. Who knows ..
It is certain  Antheil was expecting a great recognition of the public, and instead the reception was not what he  expected. What resulted was a great interpreter of American musical modernism, tried without much luck detective work to deliver wide-ranging history of the genre.
It almost seems like the story of another American musical performer, Blanche Bloch, also she vandinian writer, which gave the story a single novel worthy of note: The Bach Festival Murders (1942).
But that's another story.
Beyond this, an extraordinary novel, published for the second time ever, before in Italy, after the first publication, in 1930, and now in U.S.

Pietro De Palma