Sunday, May 31, 2020

Paul Halter: Le Géant de pierre (The Giant of stone), 1998

 "Reader Beware: SPOILERS"

The novel focuses on Crete, and in general volcanoes, and develops on two parallel planes, as sometimes happens with Paul's stories: one in the present, another in the past. Which then inevitably intersect causing various situations.
The protagonist, Patrick Marais, has fallen in love with Nanno, the beautiful daughter and heir of a wealthy shipowner, who cannot have children.
Together they are visiting the slopes of an active volcano in America, when a sudden eruption divides them. Patrick and Nanno run to save themselves. Patrick, however, only realizes after stopping the absence of his wife, who at best could have been saved, in the worst death. The complaint is made to the authorities who begin to suspect Patrick, thinking of a uxoricide, a hypothesis that falls when the guide tells how the events unfolded. Then when a charred body, wearing personal belongings that the husband recognizes to be those of his wife, is found, Patrick finds himself heir to a conspicuous fortune.
Begin to make an expensive life, to travel the world. Years after the death of his wife, on the seashore, he meets a group of hippies, including a young man, Guy, and a woman Helène Garnier. It is above all her that interests him, and he soon falls in love with her. The girl should be carefree, but instead she gets sad sometimes: Patrick, also informed by Guy, soon understands that in her live two different life experiences, belonging to two different time periods: one is in the present, the one that Patrick also lives, the other is in the past. In this other temporal dimension, she is the youngest daughter of Amintore, the king of a happy island, on which however the catastrophe is always imminent: the stone giant, the volcano that rises on the island, could awaken, and when this happened in the past, the events were mournful.
Days go by, and the bond between him and Helène is strengthened: the two go to live together, in a villa that the heir bought. Helène falls prey to her hallucinations, and this often happens when she takes drugs or drinks cocktails; when she is in these almost dreamlike states, Patrick discovers that even the reflection of the fire, or the vision of an eruption, can accentuate the cathartic state in her. And for this she makes sure that she often falls into these hallucinatory states, as she increasingly thinks that she can help him in his research. Marais is prey to his ambitious research: he dreams of finding Atlantis, and he is increasingly convinced that Plato's Atlantis was not in the Atlantic Ocean but in the Mediterranean Sea, and that the eruption that determined the sinking of the continent, is that occurred around the sixteenth century before Christ, which led to the sinking of Thera and the end of Crete.

Photograph received by Paul and taken on the occasion of his trip to Crete
What does Helène have to do with it? Patrick is convinced that Helène is the reincarnation of Cleo, the daughter of a king of Thera, or that in any case she relives past life experiences that apparently are not hers, as a déjà-vu, and that it can help him to identify the point where a great sinking part of the island.
Helène relives the drama of Cleto, and the death of her daughter, sacrificed to the volcano, the stone giant after Maleus, the island's minister, who wanted to marry her to become king, vaticated the need for sacrifice. But when the volcano continues to express its anger, the old king Amintore accuses him of having exploited the volcano's wrath to remove an obstacle to the throne. And so we come to a challenge: Maleus will remain closed in his room, and if Poseidon wants to avenge Amintore, he will die; but if he remains alive, Amintore will abandon the throne. The following day, however, Maleus is found killed by a bronze newt in the locked room from the inside while outside the guards have not noticed anyone approaching. Being able to understand how, is an enigma, especially since the room was closed from the inside by means of a bolt placed inside the heavy cypress door, and on the ground there were the pieces of a terracotta disc and also a dagger of bronze without hilt not used, however, to kill, and with an absolutely clean blade.
The assassination mentioned by Helène in her dreams becomes a way like any other to locate in the city brought to light by an archaeological mission, on the island of Thera, precisely the place of Helène's dream: Atlantis. Moreover, an object found during the excavations turns out to be extremely similar to the terracotta disc which, in the dream, had been found next to Maleus' corpse, broken into a thousand pieces.
Moreover, Helène and Guy seem to see lights in the portion of the sea near Thera. At first Patrick thinks they are mad, but then he too witnesses this phenomenon, and he convince himself of the existence of a marine base of Atlantis.

One fine day, during a dive, Guy, without anyone approaching him, is pierced by a bronze newt in his chest: it is Hèlene who finds him desperate and shortly thereafter to be able to continue the research without the police investigation, the corpse is placed in a grotto. But when the following day they go there to ballast him at sea, they no longer find him. Subsequently Heléne disappears and reappears two days later just to say that she found him in another grotto, alive and well even if aching in the neck: in the grotto there is a mysterious ancient bronze door. Patrick excitedly ventures into the sea next to his woman, until he arrives at a grotto where they find Guy, but who has been dead for three days.
In the dark of the grotto Patrick will be the victim of a murderer, who will leave him with a very reduced life prospect, in that grotto. Will he be saved?
Atypical detective novel, there is no real police investigation, because detective is Patrick Marais himself, rampant archaeologist: he investigates both the impossible assassination of Guy, which occurred a few meters from him, and a crime in a locked room occurred in a distant temporal dimension.
He is in a sense a detective. Then there is another more hidden one: the missionary priest Pierre Roussel
Of the two crimes, the first is of Christe memory: whoever has read all the Christie novels will not hesitate to understand from which Agatha novel Halter drew the foundations for the assassination of Guy. However the second crime, which then in terms of time, is the first, that occurred in a distant time on the island of Thera, is explained with an absolutely original reasoning and solution, which testify to Halter's inventiveness in his sector of literature.

There are, it is good to say three other deaths: one random, used for an exchange of identity, another desired, but whose moral weight will be the spring of all the drama; and finally a suicide.

The victim? Patrick, of course, who in turn is the instigator of another death, as well as whoever condemns him to starvation, and is therefore the executioner, has also been a victim of his in the past.
And death in the past, the one from which everything originates, from a parallelism is connected to that of Scylla, in the story of Helène.
Patrick finally understands the scheming he was subjected to, only when he is in the grotto, in the company of the corpses of Guy (a few days old) and Helène (a few minutes old).
In the novel, several are the ideas that connect him to others of Paul's production:
first of all the omnipresent theme of madness, lucid madness, revenge that goes beyond normal; then, that of the victim who is in turn responsible for another death in the past: like Patrick, also other characters from other novels: the protagonist of "La Lettre qui tue", for example; then the subject victim of Fate: 
who lives by the sword, dies by the sword , seems to echo in Halter.
The novel is primarily an adventure novel, which mixes the historical novel with the thriller and the mystery.
It is pleasant to read, and because of the theme, it seems to unfold like a fairy tale, telling a story that is not clear to what extent a detective novel is; then at a certain point, many events happen, the drama begins and it is understood that many small things, told innocently before, are important for understanding the story.
Those who saw David Mamet's film, "The House of Games" many years ago, will ideally link it to the plot of this fantastic novel by Paul Halter: a bad fairy tale, but a boundless wickedness, in which all the actors, they seem to say when they express themselves, things that have a double meaning. What it says e.g. the missionary priest Pierre Roussel has an extraordinary value: "Killing someone for interest, to improve their life". And turning to Helène he adds: “They are truly ignoble crimes, Miss Garnier. And sometimes the law fails to punish them ... ". These two sentences are the essence of the novel, because they reveal the key that opens the lock of the scheming. If Patrick, at the moment when Roussel affirms it, takes that truth and compares it with what has happened to him in the past, he could also consider that Roussel has probed his soul and has seen at the bottom of his heart, and that of other people, an ancient evil. Roussel himself, after Guy's death, referring to Patrick and Helène, will say he is always amazed how certain people are able to pass over the corpse of relatives and friends and despite being pleasant people, they have turned out to be despicable killers.

Roussel is therefore the voice of Fate, which nails anyone who has done an action unworthy of their responsibilities, perhaps repaying it in the same currency, in another form. Roussel is the true detective, who on the basis of his own life experience, knows how to go to the bottom of men's hearts and see the hidden evil: he before the last line of the last page of the novel has been written and the last truths have been revealed, sees and recognizes who is a murderer. In a way, Roussel is what Dieudonne is in La nuit du loup, Halter's masterpiece tale.
It also reveals Halter's traditionalist Catholic spirit, which he cannot forget as well as the death of an innocent, a newly conceived child, is still an assassination even if masked.

So basically a gorgeous novel, of Paul Halter  to the maximum of his possibilities, his imagination and his ability to invent fascinating plots and stories.

Pietro De Palma

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