Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Honda Tetsuya (誉田 哲也,) : Strawberry Night ; Omicidio a Mizumoto Park (ストロベリーナイト, 2006 )


 Murder in Mizumoto Park, is the first in a series of novels by Honda, which focus on the figure of the Tokyo Homicide Inspector, Reiko Himekawa.

The novel takes place in Tokyo, in the month of August: five parts of which the first three, anticipated in substance by a kind of prologue, with which the one who is understood to be the murderer, completes the murder of his parents , addicts and delinquents lost, then burning them together with the house; she then joins a gang; and finally under the name of F, she becomes the killer of an attraction known as Strawberry Night. In these sorts of prologues, at least at first glance, with a very raw and direct type of language, it would seem to be a novel ideally linked to the hardboiled or to contemporary American crime fiction, and instead.. reading the rest of the five parts of which composes the novel, it can undoubtedly be said that it is a precedural, which in its movements is slow as are the very complex and difficult investigations, and then in the last part it suddenly wakes up and picks up pace up to the absolutely original ending, at least not in line with what one would have expected midway through the book.

For the gloom of the narration, and also for the merciless description of contemporary Japanese society, and of the police force itself, it recalls certain American films, such as Robert Aldrich's The Choirboys and Japanese films such as Ryū Murakami's Tokyo Decadence, and also certain Hillary novels Waugh for the kind of very gray almost black, pessimistic procedural.

Reiko Himekawa is a twenty-seven-year-old Tokyo Police inspector, well liked by her boss, Captain Haruo Imaizumi, leader of Unit 10, of the Homicide Squad: she became an inspector only with her will, but in the still patriarchal Japanese society, she is seen with suspect and even condescendingly, even if in his team he enjoys an excellent relationship with his subordinates and with his superiors. Despite this, her everyday life sees her having a very conflicting relationship with her relatives, as her independence is not so much accepted and instead she is repeatedly asked to get married and return to the home. ,. Precisely this lack of symmetry between her conception of personal and social affirmation and that of her family of origin spurs her even more to find ever greater satisfaction in her work in the police.

So then a case that happens to her in August finds her immediately ready to immerse herself in it, all the more so as she avoids having her relatives in the way: a corpse was found at a crossroads near a small lake, in Mizumoto Park, a corpse wrapped in plastic, in an advanced state of decomposition. It will be discovered that it is a certain Taiichi Kanebara, a thirty-one year old from Nakano, whose completely naked body presents an infinite series of more or less serious wounds up to the fatal one in the neck that slain his throat. Furthermore, very strange thing, he has a huge wound in his belly, inflicted post-mortem, which no one can explain, and the most bizarre hypotheses are made about it, even with regard to drugs. Why was he wrapped in plastic, but left in plain sight, when he could have been thrown in the lake?




Many are wondering, including the inspector, who however reasoning arrives at the reason for the injury. In addition, the lake has a sign which strictly prohibits bathing. It is then that Reiko makes a strange instinctive association: she connects the pond with the death a few days before of a certain Yasuyuki Fukazawa, who had drunk without meaning to some water containing a certain amoeba, which then had literally eaten his brain. What if that was the pond in which the amoeba was present? In that case it could also have been hypothesized that Yasuyuki Fukazawa was the one who should have thrown the body into the pond, but he couldn't do it because in the meantime he was dead. The wound would have been a ploy to prevent the putrefactive gases from inflating the abdomen of the corpse, making it re-emerge. And therefore, it would also have been possible that there was something else on the bottom of the lake. And in general disbelief, Reiko manages to convince the high ranks to do research in the pond, which leads to the discovery of another more decomposed corpse, dating back to at least a month earlier. From the dental impressions, it is also possible to give a name to this second body: it is a very brilliant creative mind in the field of advertising, a certain Yukio Namekawa, a successful thirty-eight year old, with a very high number of women with whom he had sex besides having a wife and lover. This guy, however, he had periods in which he was very down, to which he was however counterbalanced by other periods in which he had a superhuman energy which he poured above all into his work. With the continuation of the investigation, Reiko learns that the period of exaltation of Namekawa always began with the second half of the month, the day in which he was untraceable. What happened on that second Sunday of the month? Reiko will discover that everything is connected to an imaginary "Strawberry Night" website, normally untraceable and located in the so-called deep internet, a site that promises those who view it an unforgettable experience: being able to see someone die live, chosen at random in the public. It is obvious that whoever was not chosen and saw someone else die received an enormous adrenaline rush, consisting in the awareness of having escaped it and at the same time in the willingness to give everything in the month that would follow until another appointment with death from I live. Reiko and the partner that her boss has chosen to work with her, Inspector Katsumata, hated by her, will find themselves working together, and after discovering many other corpses, they will know an uncomfortable truth, the only one for which Yazuka, having learned of this shocking spectacle, had pulled out of it. And in an equally unexpected ending, they will be able to stop murderer and accomplices hidden in the shadows.

Honda's novel, despite the fact that at the beginning it had somewhat shaken me with its very direct and unrefined language (which wanted to be unrefined, to outline such a reality), in reality I really liked it later. It follows Western yellow models in which the precedural is used in very long and complex investigations, in which despite having little as clues, with the power of intuition and deduction, it is possible to reconstruct absolutely little proven truths, only relying on a few clues . Hillary Waugh's novels such as Sleep Long My Love, 1959 or A Rag and a Bone, 1954 would come to mind. , of an audience that enjoys death, also satisfying the risk of being chosen instead of the unfortunate person tied to the center of the lights and tortured to death, even films like Eli Roth's Hostel. In other words, it is a procedural but with very black hues, which also borders on horror (slightly, but as much as it takes to outline a shocking truth, connected with the degeneration of Japanese society, dedicated to work and nothing else and devoid of real stimuli).

Beyond this, in a certain sense it is also a social novel, because it takes a look at society, and its traditional models which sometimes clash clearly with what are the demands of the contemporary world: the woman, who according to parameters Westerners, tends to affirm herself more and more, but which cannot escape both those who would like her at home to raise their children, and those who cannot bear that the affirmation of women takes her away from male authority, and therefore makes fun of his work successes.

Inspector Kensaku Katsumata, inspector of the homicide of the metropolitan police, foreman of Unit 5, interprets this macho attitude, but in the extraordinary finale, he will overturn this license of his, with a hidden attitude, much closer to Reiko, than she herself imagined.

To put it this way, the novel would seem like a little thing, and instead it is a powerful novel, which manages to conquer and outline shocking truths, the most shocking of which, can already be guessed before the murder of the policeman Otsuka, a friend of Reiko, but which then, acclaimed and trumpeted, recalls distant novels and one in particular French from the early twentieth century. In other words, that this novel was not born suddenly like a cabbage, but rests on the very solid foundations of the historicized crime novel of Western origin.

And the murderer? He/she too is the victim of this society which is the daughter of the economic miracle, of a society which is also violent, and which ends up creating many dissociated models. And the murderer is also one of these mentally ill subjects, even treated in a psychiatric hospital, who has cured his own self-harm, with the will to hurt and kill others and who draws his own satisfaction from blood from seeing his world gray and dull, shine with the brilliance of blood. But before being an insane subject, he was a normal person, raped and beaten repeatedly in the family. However, this way of approaching the murderer is not an end in itself. In a certain sense, a parallelism can be drawn between the murderer who curiously in his delirium will associate Reiko with Mako, the only person who in his past had shown her friend, and therefore will save the inspector from certain death, and Reiko herself: in fact both, murderer and policewoman, have a past of violence and abuses in common, which however have generated two different futures: that of F, has materialized in evil, in killing and torturing others; Reiko's, in wanting to become a policewoman, to try to prevent what had happened to her from happening to others as well.

Pietro De Palma


Thursday, February 16, 2023

Yokomizo Seishi : L'ascia , il koto e il crisantemo ((犬神家の一族, Inugamike no Ichizoku, 1950-1951).



The novel was first serialized in magazines in 1950-1951 and then published later. A famous film by Japanese filmmaker Kon Ichigawa was made from the novel.

The novel is written and set in the period following the end of World War II.


Detective Kosuke Kindaichi is reached by a letter from a certain Wakabayashi Hoichiro who begs him to join him in Nasu (Tochigi Prefecture, Honshu Island), a small town on the lake of the same name, to investigate a hereditary succession which according to the sender could be at the basis of a feud. As soon as he arrives at the hotel, Kosuke discovers that Wakabayashi Hoichiro has been killed (it turns out he was poisoned). The event confirms the fears of the victim. Interrogated by the police, he soon becomes a valuable ally of Commissioner Tachibana who is well aware of the fame of the Japanese investigator. But why was he killed? So no one knows, but a fact is that the victim would have survived and probably would have revealed to Kosuke his fears about

It soon turns out that at the base of everything, is the struggle for the legacy of the Inugami Clan: the old Inugami Sahee died leaving three daughters Matsuko, Takeko and Umeko, whose mothers were not married by the old man, but were l object of his sexual pleasures, in short, his concubines, each housed in a different pavilion of the Western-style building. Matsuko has no husband, while the two sisters do: Takeko's Toranosuke, Umeko's Kokichi. To complicate matters, there are also the grandchildren of the old man: Sukekiyo, son of Matsuko; Suketake and Sayoko, son and daughter of Takeko and Toranosuke; Suketomo, son of Umeko. And as if that weren't enough, it will be known that Aonuma Shizuma son of Aonuma Kikuno also shares the claims, who had been the only woman loved by the old Sahee, much younger than him, forced to hide after giving birth to a child who would have been the natural heir of the old Sahee, industrial tycoon, and therefore disliked by the three aunts. The old man had given her the golden emblems of the family: an axe, a koto and a chrysanthemum. Whoever had them, would have had the right to administer the Clan's assets. But the woman, joined by the old man's three daughters, had been forced to hand over the three objects, to prevent her son from being injured or killed by the three women.


The will of which the notary Furudate is the depositary will increase the hatred and the power struggle existing within the Clan, assigning the task of settling the dispute, establishing who will inherit most of the assets , to the young Tamayo, a woman of great beauty, adopted daughter of Sahee, as granddaughter of Nonomiya Daini, a Shinto priest who had been Sahee's main benefactor when he was young, as well as being his lover. However it will be Nonomiya's successor at the Shinto temple, to learn by reading old documents he found, that she was the daughter of Moriko, daughter in turn born from the extramarital relationship between Sahee and Haruko, wife of Nonomiya Daini, and therefore granddaughter by Sahee. That's why she had had a significant part in her inheritance: essentially whoever married her among her three male grandchildren would inherit the Inugami industrial empire.

Soon the woman is stalked by the children of Takeko and Umeko, who each try for their own part, to make inroads into her heart. Then there is also Sukekiyo, who before the war was the one who had been closest to Tamayo, but since he returned, a rubber mask covered his features horribly disfigured by the explosion of a grenade, and no one nourished the little chance that a woman as beautiful as Tamayo could join a man now horribly disfigured. But if she was able to marry anyone, unless they died and in that case she alone would inherit, she would be succeeded by Aonuma Shizuma, who, however, was not known to have ended up with her.


But crimes disturb the precarious coexistence in the Inugami Clan Palace: first Suketomo is found decapitated: in reality the head is found placed one of the four mannequins in the chrysanthemum garden, representing the 4 characters of the Kabuki Theater, while the body is not found and will be found only later in Lake Nasui; then Sutekake will be found tied to a chair and strangled by a Koto rope; finally Sukekiyo will be found upside down in the frozen lake, with his legs apart to symbolize an axe. The crimes seem to recall the three symbols of the family.

To make Takebana's investigation increasingly convoluted and difficult, there is also a phantom demobilized soldier, who stays in small hotels under a convenient name and wanders around the house, proving to know too many things: who is he? Is it Aonuma Shizuma, the son of Sahee and Aonuma Kikuno, or is it Sukekiyo, the son of Matsuko? Indeed at one point Matsuko presented as his son, the man wearing a rubber mask to cover the horror of a face devastated by war, but no one is really sure it's him. And besides, when he touches something that might keep his fingerprints, he too hastens to erase them. Yet when it's the long-awaited moment to confirm one's identity, to affix his fingerprints so that Furudate can compare them with the fingerprints left by the three nephews before the war, in the end it is confirmed that he is indeed Sukekiyo. So why does that something indefinable associated with his person remain? Is it that mask? Will Tamayo's behavior be so strange when he sees him? Why did someone, after beheading Suketake, bother to go and make his body disappear, risking being seen? Who was it that was hiding in Sahee's first house, along the reed bed, washing and eating in the bathroom, the only room not visible from the outside? Was he the one who, after having saved Tamayo's virginity from the aims of Suketomo - who by dishonoring her would have offered to save her by marrying her - killed him? Why did he kill Sukekiyo by sticking him upside down in the ice?

It will be up to Kindaichi Kosuke, settle suspicions and pierce the veil of truth, revealing the twisted plan of a murderer in the shadows and at the same time saving those who accused themselves of the crimes.


Frankly, I don't know which Yokomizo's best novel is, but this is a true masterpiece: a novel in which three horrendous crimes are perpetrated in dreamlike landscapes, in an atmosphere in which hatred, passion, envy, lust mix in an explosive amalgam .

Kosuke plays a role here that goes beyond mere investigative action: he is the true center of the action. In fact, there is a prologue that precedes the discovery of his murdered client. It is centered on Tamayo: in fact, someone has staged some attempted accidents against her and the latest of which consists of a hole made in the boat with which she rows on the placid surface of the lake. Basically, if Kosuke hadn't come to save her, the commissioner of his coming to Nasu would have been saved from him, and would have revealed his fears about some of the hereditary people. And so he saving Tamayo (who would still have been saved by her bodyguard) decrees the death not only of Wakabayashi Hoichiro, but also of all those who will come after her. It's a real needle on the balance. And of the action of the novel, which takes place in the period following the end of the Russo-Japanese treaty, in a war-torn Japan; and the Inugami family, devastated in their affections and interests, in turn become a metaphor for Japan. Moreover, this devastation contrasts with the descriptions of the places: the lake, the snowy landscape, the Japanese gardens. And therefore the comparison that derives from it is all the more stringent.

That it is then a novel derived in part from mechanisms typical of Western mystery, is something that is immediately understood: the series of killings in the family to eliminate the suitors, recalls many novels but many, and also the return of the heir, a characterizing element of the British novel, here it is present in the double hypothesis that it could be Aozuma or Sukekiyo. And after all, even if they are typical elements of the western novel, no one can dispute that they may have been chosen regardless of this, because in feudal Japan how many wars of succession and murders and devastations have there been for power? And with a war that had just ended, with so many dead and missing, how many cases were there also in Japan of men believed dead and then returned, who perhaps aspired to take back what they had left behind, leaving for the war? Another element is the continuous masking and unmasking of the characters according to a mechanism typical of the Feuelliton, which could have been absorbed by Gaston Leroux's novels with Rouletabille, above all the first two: Le mystère de la chambre jaune, and Le parfum de la dame en noir and Leroux's first novel had already been recalled in Kindaichi Kosuke's first adventure, Honjin Satsujin Jiken (本陣殺人事件).

Others in my opinion are the elements that directly or indirectly recall the western novel: first of all the death of Wakabayashi Hoichiro, one of the employees of the Furudate Studio, recalls a novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Links, a 1923 novel in which Poirot is sent a letter in which a man who urgently summons him in a case of life and death is found dead, was serialized in the Japanese translation in the magazine Shin Seinen in 1929. And the editor-in-chief of the magazine at that time was Seishi Yokomizo (detail known from Shunichro Futono). So it is certain that Yokomizo took advantage of Christie's gimmick at the right time

Then there is the question of the mask: perhaps Persons Unknown by Edgar Wallace from 1929, but another historical reference is the novel Le Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas, even more stringent, in which the central element is the Man in the Iron Mask, a man who was forced to wear an iron mask from which he could never be separated (except in certain moments of intimacy). A direct reference to the rubber mask would have been Sauvestre's Fantomas who wears rubber masks for his disguises, but as Shunichro told me, this French novel was translated for the first time in Japan in 1964 and therefore long after the publication of the Japanese novel. Now whether or not Yokomizo has read these novels I don't know; what is certain is that in one way or another they could have provided inputs. I confess another association came to mind: the one with the novel by Claude Aveline, La double mort de Frederic Belot, but Shunichro Futono, friendship on Fb, told me that it was first published in Japanese in 1983, the year after Yokomizo's death.


Finally, the last association that I allow myself to hypothesize about a Western novel is the one that refers to an Italian one: Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, translated for the first time from Italian and published in Japanese in 1922, with the title Shinkyoku (literally Divine Song), although already at the beginning of the 1900s, the work was circulating translated from French or German. It was in 1922 that the first complete translation from Italian was prepared by Heizaburo Yamakawa, but the best known and most appreciated translation was that of 1962 by Soichi Nogami. Why allow me to ideally associate Yokomizo with Dante? Because in the third crime, a man is stuck upside down in a frozen lake, with his legs spread, to symbolize an axe. Now there are at least two examples in Dante's Inferno of the Damned inserted into something: the simoniacs those who in the Middle Ages marketed sacred things, whom Dante places in the III Bolgia of the VIII circle, in Canto XIX of the Inferno: the simoniacs are placed upside down in circular holes, with the legs raised and the soles of the feet touched by flames; and, a comparison even closer to us, the traitors of relatives, inserted in the ice (Lago Cocito) up to the head, even if not upside down: in the IX Circle (Canto XXXII). Now, for something that will only be known at the end of the novel, in the final explanation, whoever had been placed upside down in the ice had, in a certain sense, been a parental traitor. Not forgetting that death upside down is historically attributed to George of York, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV and Richard III, drowned in a barrel of Malvasia: George of Clarence had betrayed his brother Edward by conspiring against him.

Why, in my opinion, is Yokomizo's novel a masterpiece? His greatness in this novel lies in continually turning the truths upside down: is Tamayo an unfortunate woman, or is she astute calculator? Is the man wearing a rubber mask Aonuma or Sukekiyo? Is Shizuma's mother Aonuma Kikuno dead or is she hiding under other guises? Why did the demobilized soldier who hides his face save Tamayo and probably kill Suketomo? How come the individual with the mask who was afraid of leaving footprints, is then recognized as the one who had the honor of wanting to be recognized? The continuous change of situations and hypotheses is rendered in such a refined way by Yokomizo Seishi, who reaches peaks of unusual virtuosity. In a certain way it reminded me of Christianna Brand's Cat and Mouse, precisely because of the ability to keep the reader in suspense, continually turning the same thing over and over again: in some ways Brand's enterprise is even more titanic than that of Seishi because while the park of Yokomizo's characters is large, that of Brand is extremely narrow, and therefore the action of the plot is less varied and the ability to keep the reader captivated is due to her in an even more deserved way. And this ability to disguise himself under different guises is not his only, but also Aonuma Kikuno's, since he will take on the appearance of a koto teacher, who occasionally visits the Inugami Clan mansion, to teach koto (and also to see for the last time old Sahee, dead).

It's not a cheerful novel, far from it. It is a desperate novel, just as the situation in Japan was desperate at the time. But the tragedy of the novel is mitigated by the figure of Kosuke and his obsessions, first of all that of scratching his head conspicuously, as well as dressing in a scruffy way. A detective who is in a sense an anti-detective, an anti-hero: not the pomaded Poirot, not the impeccable Philo Vance, not the noble and snobbish Lord Whimsey, but a dark fellow who would go unnoticed and somehow even disgusted for these detestable quirks of his, were he not a highly regarded and respected detective. And above all a genius of the reconstruction of the facts.


Pietro De Palma



One thing that surprised me, but not so much, is that the names of some characters change according to the western translations, which strengthens my desire to compare, whenever I can and when I notice something strange in the Italian text, the same with the text basis. This time I realized that the names of the three male grandchildren, in French Sukekiyo Suketake, Suketomo, in Italian have been reported verbatim, but in the English edition they are instead in the meaning Kiyo, Take, Tomo. And so they also appear in the English subtitles of the 1976 film. It would therefore be necessary to compare them with the original edition in Japanese: therefore I turned to some friends on Fb, people I follow and who follow me. Shunichro Futono was the one who gave me more than a hand, whom I have already mentioned and who dispelled all my doubts: both nomenclatures in both the English and French (and Italian) editions are correct. Why? The English one is the original one, the other two add (we don't know why) the prefix Suke which in Japanese is a sort of honorific, noble title that indicates belonging to a family and descent (like my De). Moreover, that the original meanings of the names are Kiyo, Take, Tomo, is confirmed by a fact which is reported in the novel and which explains why in the third crime the victim was placed upside down: because in addition to the shape of the body, it must mean how Kiyo is to be seen backwards, and therefore Yoki (which in Japanese means Axe). And therefore to be related to the three symbols of the family: "Yoki", "Koto" and "Kiku", the axe, the Koto and the Chrysanthemum.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Tom Mead : Death and the Conjuror - The Mysterious Press, New York, 2022




Tom Mead is a dear friend. We've known each other for a few years.

Friendship born on Facebook, but not like many others: deepened and marked by readings and discussions.

He remembered me because years ago in an anthology by John Pugmire & Brian Supkin a story of mine with a classic locked room had appeared, he told me that he really liked it and asked me if I had written anything else. I told him that I had written many short stories, some published in the past and many unpublished, and that I had also written a novel, which probably would never be published, with two locked rooms and an impossible crime. From there, various discussions on concomitant areas, and reflections on French authors of the past, too, Steeman for example (of which he told me he had in mind to have novels published in his translation from French). Then the request to read my stories (some I had even translated into acceptable English) and the offer to translate some of his choice. Obviously he flattered me, also because he was the only person who could do it, as he used to do his best in Italian: as we know, Igor Longo, a splendid translator and once friend, disappeared from the scene about two years ago, and we don't know when and if he will come back.

Moreover, one of the three stories that he translated better than I had done was then published in Arthur Vidro's prestigious American magazine, and for this I thanked him for the translation and Mike Grost for the feed.

Tom told me about two years ago that he had written a novel, and among others had made Gabriele Crescenzi read it. Then he happily told me that he had sent the novel to Otto Penzler, who had appreciated it so much that he wanted to publish it. However, it must be said that Tom is not a completely new name: he has already published some stories both in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, moreover focused on the adventures of the same character, who acts in the novel, i.e. Joseph Spector, and he has already made himself known for his propensity to invent impossible crimes.

That of impossible crimes and locked rooms is in a certain way "a mental distortion": it is not only a very particular and very elitist subspecies of mysteries, but also in my view, "a mental distortion", and I say it without only as a reader and critic but above all as a writer of locked rooms and impossible crimes. In other words, whoever writes inventing this kind of misdeeds is so in love with and even obsessed with the crime that takes place in impossible circumstances, that not only cannot he find satisfaction in inventing a story based on a common crime, but he is also linked to the willingness to continually outdo themselves, always inventing new original tricks.

About this, it is good opening a parenthesis: as someone said, after the death of the great writers of Locked Rooms, the historical ones, I mean Carr, Rawson, Crispin, Talbot, Sladek, Commings, Hoch, Wynne and some others, writers who invented tricks there are very few originals, and normally the novels that are written are almost always real or ideal tributes to these great writers of the past.

Tom's novel is too. 


The action takes place in the past, in 1936.

Benjamin Teasel is the impresario of a theatrical show that promises to be very successful: Miss Death. The protagonist is Della Cookson, an established actress. Joseph Spector, a magician, was called to cure the effects. The show is very successful. Teasel organizes a party at his house and invites everyone and also a psychoanalyst recently residing in the city, who escaped from Germany, Dr. Anselm Rees and his daughter. Rees, however, declines the invitation. Among others, he has an appointment with a mysterious visitor who has urgently asked to be able to see him.

He arrives, with a raised coat and a wide-brimmed hat that prevents recognition, and heads towards Rees' study. After a certain time, he always goes out the front door. They hear the doctor answering the phone. After a while the housekeeper goes to see if the doctor needs anything, but she gets no answer; same thing with daughter Lydia, also a doctor. Furthermore, the room is locked from the inside. They shout but receive no answer. They therefore decide to open the room from the outside with the trick of pushing the key, making it fall and then recovering it with a newspaper from under the door. What they find is the horrific vision of Dr. Rees killed with a deep gash at the base of his neck, so much so that he nearly decapitated him. They try the window, but find it blocked, so they reserve their energies to find the killer who must necessarily be there; and as it happens there is a wooden chest deep enough to receive a body. But..it's empty. Yet the visitor couldn't have been, because then they heard the victim talking on the phone. Or, if he did it, he must have come up with some trick. The fact is that the two women, shaken and on the verge of shock, go to find a bottle of liquor to calm down and then call the police.

It's raining outside. And that will play a part in determining from the fingerprints what has been done and what hasn't.

Enter Inspector Flint and his friend the wizard Joseph Spector. And from here begins an investigation that first of all tends to learn more about the figure of Rees, and his patients. It soon becomes known that the cases on which he had poured his energies were three: Floyd Stenhouse, international violinist, who had recurring horrible dreams (Patient A); actress Della Cookson, who suffers from kleptomania (Patient B); Claude Weaver, writer, suffering from memory lapses (Patient C). And all three will have an impact on the story in one way or another.

If the investigators have to carry out investigations in order to find evidence to stop the murderer, they soon find themselves facing an ancillary problem: someone, on the night of the party at the Teasel house, stole without us being able to understand how he did it, the canvas "El Nacimiento" by Manolito Espina, the mad painter. Does Della have anything to do with the theft? And as it happens, Della Cookson was also present at the crime scene. But she arrived after the mysterious visitor had left.

They learn that the phone call they had heard Dr. Rees answer was from the Steenhouse home.

At this point a close investigation begins, which focuses on other personalities who appear and disappear from time to time: Der Schangenmann (The Snake Man), Frieda Tanzer, the actor Edgar Simmons. Until a second crime occurs, also in impossible circumstances: a young man is found in an elevator, strangled, without anyone being seen approaching it, or opening it.

From here the action becomes faster, other things happen until during a meeting with the suspects, the killer is framed. And Spector will demonstrate how he managed to kill on both occasions.


The novel is gorgeous. And as I've said before, each Great Locked Room always has a great put-on. However, here the staging is not the fruit of the murderer's action alone to perpetrate the crime and get away with it, but also of the combined but not calculated action of interventions by other subjects that make it complex: the mysterious visitor, followed by a another that comes from the garden of the villa and follows it; the presence of Della Cookson; the room that seems closed from the inside, door and windows, only that the windows previously closed from the inside are opened and barred from the outside and then closed again from the inside; the presence of an imposter who brings about a particular situation in the story, which will have consequences upon the act of murder.

However, few know that the genesis of the title was not immediate: in fact, the first draft had a different one: Occam's Razor. Now it is clear that if this first title had been chosen, the reason would have been twofold: first of all, the razor is the weapon used for the first crime, the one at the basis of the novel; and as it is commonly known "Occam's Razor" is also a methodological procedure which consists in giving a problem its simplest solution chosen among some equally valid ones. But Tom Mead preferred to change it to Death and the Conjuror, because as he revealed to me "Otto Penzler didn't like the original title, which is why I changed it".

It is divided into three parts: The Thief’s Tale, The Liar’s Tale, The Impostor Tale and each of the three parts contains a sentence dedicated to a great writer of the past. To signify how much the novel is conceived, as happened many other times, as a tribute to the greats of the past, and especially to John Dickson Carr. And it is no coincidence that the inevitable dedication to his parents is followed by that to Carr. Tom, however, does not look at Carr only as a tutelary deity of the sub-genre, but also when he refers to it directly in history: in fact, not only does the appearance of a mysterious visitor hidden by a coat and a hat that hides him take us back to The Hollow Man, where there is a mysterious visitor who visits Doctor Grimaud, who will be killed; but even the references to Vampires (The Vampire Trap) are not ends in themselves, but always tend to connect to Carr's most significant work. As if that weren't enough, in the second part, there is also a disquisition of the Locked Room, as happens in The Hollow Man.

When someone writes a work of the Locked Room genre, he usually tends not only to put in everything impossible he is capable of, but also sometimes to insert a characterizing element, which is, par excellence, the Locked Room-Lecture. And when this happens, it means that the novel is of special importance to the author. However, in Tom's case, the disquisition is approached differently than in Carr's novel and generally in the novels containing it. In fact, in Death and the Conjuror, we do not attend a scholarly conference such as that of Doctor Fell who rattles off all the cases up to that moment, but the disquisition is addressed by adapting it strictly to the problems of the case in progress, eliminating everything that cannot adapt and instead dwelling only on what is the matter of the case.

In the third part, however, before the solution, here is another tribute to another Great of the genre: to Ellery Queen. Because, even if briefly, Tom stops and launches a real Challenge to the Reader, which should anticipate Spector's solution, identifying the murderer. I identified it, before Spector did, and I must say that if it is always difficult, if you really apply yourself, and you are very careful when reading the novel, some assumption about who could be responsible, may not be exactly farfetched . The crucial point for identifying the culprit is the second impossible murder: because those who could not have been eliminated one by one, unlikely as it may seem, the murderer can only be one person, according to the famous aphorism of Conan Doyle : "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth". And since the second crime is the direct consequence of the first, it follows that there can be only one murderer.


But the tributes don't end there: in fact, the very figure of Joseph Spector is a tribute to another great writer of impossible stories: Clayton Rawson. In fact, Spector's specularity with Merlini is extremely evident. All the more so as Merlini in his stories often plays innocent conjuring tricks, pulls rabbits out of hats and proposes riddles of logic, so does Spector in the course of the novel, and in the end proposes with the rigged cage of the canary, a metaphor that can adapt to the novel: that is, if one wants, reality can be changed at will with a trick. Cage, which, depending on how it is turned, causes the bird to be now there and now not, because it is made up with mirrors, and in this it is once again reminiscent of Carr: one of Colonel March's short stories, The New Invisible Man in Department of Queer Complaints.

Anyone who might think that it is only a deductive novel, however, would be misled: the deductive part is predominant, but the psychological one also has its importance: e.g. understanding how "El Nacimiento" was stolen and who could have done it and for what reason, is not a trivial matter; so also what Marcus Bowman, Lydia Rees' boyfriend, was hiding, which concerned another person; and finally the reasoning to explain Weaver's conduct, and his memory holes, which will then be the basis on which Spector will base his final reasoning and explain the crimes.

The novel must be read well and therefore takes his time; however it must be said that beyond the time needed to read it well and dwell on the various steps of the cognitive ladder that leads to the solution, the novel has different speeds: the first and second parts are generally slow and the novel progresses with difficulty, even because the disquisition on the Locked Room and the disquisitions on the disorders of Doctor Rees' patients and that on The Snakeman, must be faced with a firm and measured step; the third part, especially starting from The Vampire Trap, instead becomes nothing short of frenetic, and the surprises follow one another at a rapid pace, outlining a solution that gives us a glimpse of a very different reality from what we thought was the one thought at first.


Pietro De Palma