Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Debut of Paul Halter : La Malédiction de Barberousse

"Reader Beware: SPOILERS"

When, in 1985, Paul Halter wrote La Malédiction de Barberousse, anyone didn’t know him, at least as a writer of detective novels. But he wanted to emerge. I imagine he liked to think that as he had loved Carr, Christie and Rawson, so other people could fall in love with his novels. So I suppose well that he well thought to be known without resorting to friendships that may not have had at that time, it was necessary to win a competition, no matter how big, too small, a local contest, but sufficiently large to make it known in a circle of admirers. And so he joined the "Prix de la Société des écrivains d'Alsace et de Lorraine" in 1986. And he won. From there he began his career, which then had a surge when the year after he won with "La Quatrième Porte" the "Prix du Festival de Cognac" and two years later with "Le Brouillard Rouge" the all-important "Grand Prix du Roman d'Aventures ". So, in 1988, it could be said he came to success, which never left him. Since then he has written many novels in their field, you can basically recognize two well-defined series, related to the characters of Owen Burns (5 novels) and especially Dr. Alan Twist (plus or minus twenty, to date), and even some novels without recurring character. It 'was translated mainly in Italy and Japan, and elsewhere.
If there is one thing that strikes the eye immediately is that Halter's fame is linked to the novels that have as their protagonist Alan Twist. They are the novels in which he has ever competed, that sub-genre of whodunnit that purists call "Locked Room", which from the beginning he has given his best energies. So, to put it short, you are almost sure to read a good novel like that, only if there is Dr. Twist, then ensures that, in most cases, the installation of a nice room closed, to the delight of all estimators.
The fact is that, mainly, Halter in turn has always professed admirer of Carr, Christie (and also Rawson). And so it happens (and it happened in the past) that several times he has cited his favorite authors. I think so. In the past I have voiced this position several times to Igor Longo, I have treated for many years, and that is his Italian translator, and his friend more than a simple decantation of expedients invented by others, seemed to me to always the custom of a perfect tribute to his myths. For this, read a novel by Paul Halter, if it is a pleasure for the enthusiast, becomes a pleasure for the critic who can recognize the many influences masked. In other words, the mere reading of a novel, becomes, in the case of Halter, a meta-reading.
However, a question that leaps to the eye even more is this: why Halter tied to its success to Twist?
Good question!
In the Italian case (I do not know whether it can apply elsewhere), the success was mainly due all'anglofilia surname. Italy has been particularly receptive from the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon police culture, and even when I was massively translated French authors, these states are relegated to a niche, so that the issues which I refer, are becoming a rare commodity. Beyond collecting, Italy has loved from the beginning all the leading exponents of Anglo-Saxon rather than tolerated Alps. So it ended up that if the character's name from the author calls a primary hard by France, success is relative, whereas in the case calls the Anglo-Saxon origin, it has the opposite. In our case, then, even the author's name can lead into error, because, essentially French, Alsatian is actually Halter. And so, even for a coincidence of fortuitous (or desired: Halter has not taken a pseudonym), the writer Alsatian became the idol of many.
But the success of the novels that Dr. Twist as a main character, is also due to other reasons. First of all ... having chosen "her shoulder", a character like the Inspector Archibald Hurst, inventory that Halter is a bit of romance 'as the Inspector of the CID Hadley by Carr, a policeman, whose misfortune is that to encounter more cases that have neither head nor tail, and which seem to belong to the supernatural and the impossible. Luckily the bad luck is offset by the good fortune to know precisely how a criminologist Dr. Twist, who, like Fell or Merrivale Carr, has the advantage of being able to solve the mysteries just as impossibly intricate. Moreover, the pair of investigators, from the time of Conan Doyle, is synonymous with success, what would Holmes without Watson? Or Hercule Poirot without the naive and hopelessly romantic Cap Hastings? Philo Vance without Markham ? O Queen without Ellery Queen Richard? Or Drury Lane without Thumm? Without doubt, the novels of these authors that there are almost always more expensive than the figure in which the character of the foreground and his shoulder.
So he tied Halter Twist, at some point in his literary parable, when it became independent from the contests in which it participated, with his entourage. I do not think one case, in fact, that the first three novels, those with whom he had participated in the three competitions of 1986-1987 and 1988, showing Twist, two robes a little 'different: the first ever, La Malediction de Barberousse , which is curiously not be the first to be published, but is only in 1995, Twist has already presented as a criminologist, while in the second novel to be presented in corcorso "La Quatrième Porte," which then will be the first to be published, Twist is still presented as an ex-Inspector of Scotland Yard. In essence then, the very first of his novels is set in an indefinite, if not later, when packs his second novel, in which, having become aware of the success of Twist, in a sense it anticipates the previous adventure.
Take the case of "La malediction de Barberousse".
The story unfolds in Alsace, Huguenau, the city where the same Halter was born.
The story starts off in 1948 with a letter from his brother Etienne Jean Martin, remembers where the murder took place in impossible circumstances, sixteen years before, in 1932, Eva Muller, a German girl, the one that call a girl of easy virtue, who soon became the muse of erotic fantasies of three children: Jean, Etienne, and François. Instead, Marie Biechy had never born.Together with the sister of Francois, Marie Biechy, five had gathered in the ruins of the castle Huguenau to play. The ruins of the castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who had lived before leaving for the Crusade. The father of Jean and Etienne had conjured them not to go there anymore, and still had begged them to hear what he had to tell the Commissioner Sutter, a policeman with the hobby of ethnic and historical research, which had done extensive research on the Barbarossa in their region: there was an old legend that anyone who had offended the memory of Alsace Barbarossa or places dear to him, incurred the wrath. And in fact there had been several centuries in a series of deaths incomprehensible: all had one thing in common. The victims were killed by a sword.
The next day the Commissioner Sutter tells them about the various suspicious deaths, through the centuries: the bailiff dead in his room locked from the inside at the time of Frederick II; Sublon a soldier at the time of the Dutch War in 1675, which wasfound dead with severed hands and a sword planted in the back on a street surrounded by flames, with no possibility of escape, but even without that others outside of the farmers who wanted to kill him, I could do; a foolish German during the occupation of'Alsace, after insulting the residents and the town, and a friend had been hunted by villagers who wanted to make him pay for: not to be taken was hoisted on the roof of the bridge over the river, where nobody could get him down but, while watching the two outputs of the bridge, no one was able to prevent the German was killed with a sword.
After two weeks of the story had taken place the crime in impossible circumstances.
The ruined building was an old square tower, with a single old wooden door that duceva intro to a vestibule that communicated by means of a ladder with one room upstairs.
Eva Muller had decided to dispel superstition and was closed to the inside of the tower. When friends went to see her, they found in the tower, locked from the inside, dead, curled up, his eyes gouged out and mortal wounds in his back caused by a sword.
The crime there is no explanation.
As there would be no explanation for the death of the father of Jean and Etienne, took place in impossible circumstances, unless they are accused of the death Etienne. But Alan Twist, addresses the death of Mr. Martin as well as Eva Muller, happened sixteen years ago.
This is the debut Halter in fiction, but already we can identify the aspects that will become distinctive of his later novels: the madness(remember for example the Red Mist), gruesome detail, theboyhood. Also already exists that is the main feature of his literary style: create a unique atmosphere, assembling local history,landscape features and sites of historical and architectural legends.Here, although the atmosphere you breathe, is still immature, as the best is the final explanation: you can hear everything that is a first novel.
First, to create the legend of Barbarossa, Halter uses a series ofcircumstances derived from many works of other writers: for example The soldier killed in the street, is clearly derived from Chesterton, as well as the German killed on the roof deck cites "The second problem of the covered bridge" by Hoch; Carr goes back to the place of the murder, a tower (He Who Whispers or The Case of the Constant Suicides) and draws from that, by varying the contrary by The House in Goblin Wood brought the theme of the corpse in the house rather than the opposite; from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Evil under the Sun (the victim that gets along with his murderess wanting to play ajoke to others, not knowing that the victim will be her), Christie's,however, draws inspiration for the solution. In this first novel, alreadywe see another of the characters Halter: the challenge of the impossible, and even himself.
Halter sometimes staged at the edge of the impossibility of creating, managing to satisfy them fully. But this does not always happen though. This is one of these cases: if he had created a situation where the pin had been the tower, the solution should have been magnificent: a girl killed by a sword in his back and his eyes gouged out, in a room in a tower, with the only door guarded by a model and a painter, and with the window, the one that on a wall overlooking the river, for the most slippery because it is covered with moss. The trouble is that he tried to do too much. So the action’s hub isn’t the tower, but a crime happened elsewhere and then set in the tower: the fact that a boy of fourteen years may bring a corpse in a backpack on his shoulders, and dragging it through the woods until the mail room on the first floor of the tower seems to me far-fetched. And certainly not something that a guy can accomplish successfully, unless he is Hulk.
For Halter, then, the dialogue of love don’t interest: so, he seems  obvious.
In short, an excellent debut novel, but certainly not a masterpiece as other Paul Halter’s novels.

Pietro De Palma

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