Thursday, November 29, 2012

Alexis Gensoul (another forgotten french writer) : Gribouille est mort, 1945.

Today we speak about an unknown novel, published in Italy in 1954 by Gherardo Casini Editore (Gherardo casini publishing house).
In the case of Casini Publications, the covers are never original, but they are frames taken from famous movies of the time that the situation can recall the title of the novel: in our case, for example, 'cover image is taken from "Red Snow". The actor holding the phone is the great Robert Ryan, an unforgettable protagonist of the film mentioned above, one of the best noir of the '50s, On Dangerous Ground (1951), by Nicholas Ray.
In these novels often descriptions of the atmosphere has been sacrificed in favor of the police bare fact: it can be an advantage or a disadvantage. Nevertheless they are the only chance we have to acquire information about forgotten authors.

The novel in question is by Alexis Gensoul, French writer active after World War II and remembered even today in some circles for a wonderful Locked Room written in collaboration with Charles Grenier, La Mort vient de nulle part (1945) and for another written by him alone in the same year, 1945, L’Énigme de Téfaha.
It must have been a very fruitful 1945, end of the Second World War, in the production of Gesoul, because of the same year is also Gribouille est mort, translated by Casini with "Un morto al telefono (=A dead man on the phone)"
Alexis Gensoul whose biographical information absent, we only know he was a physician and that between 1945 and 1946 he published four novels from the same publisher STAEL, three in 1945 and one in 1946: the first of these was L’Énigme de Téfaha, which has a fairly simple Locked Room, the second work was written with Grenier that still stands as one of Locked Rooms signposting written after the war, the eastern third was Gribouille est Mort, a great novel with a crime impossible, the fourth novel more on the adventure, L'Affaire de la maison Faroux (1946).images.jpg

Gribouille est Mort would be a Locked Room , if it had  not  the window opened, but all other conditions are impossible for the crime: sealed door, missing weapon, and above all, since that distinguishes this novel, the dead, Gréje, which prophesies the first his own death, writing the letter to an acquaintance of his, Godinet, and call and talk to a policeman friend of his, Corbellet, somewhat naive cop, when he was already dead, the house littered with false evidence and strange clues, and jokes, also. Additionally, there is such Ternaud, with yellow boots that everyone is looking because he was seen at the crime scene, outside the house, and then he ran away; out of the fencing off of the house there 's whole class of school that draws, and the instructor, Tresquat, is none other than the illegitimate son of the victim and sole heir to a fortune of two hundred thousand francs at the time: he obviously suspected, even if no one saw him jump over the fence, because at some point has moved away from his students  with the excuse to go look for mushrooms in the forest; a mysterious person phoned the local police station from the house of Greje to denounce the murder, but not the murderess, and there is a nearby curious Gourgeot; then there is a weapon found by a policeman amateur Vérannes, before Corbellet, a gun for women, size small, still stuck with a piece of rope, and many characters that are the corollary: Police Commissioner Estreval unlucky in his moves, and which moreover has the his few successes to the collaboration of an underground Sherlock Holmes in the shadows, who signs his suggestions and his letters with a nickname alluding to Perspicax; and the judge Blacy who believes smart himself.
All Ternaud chase, then tried to charge Tresquat, then they find Ternaud and they should wish he proclaimed himself guilty for taking them off the embarrassment of an investigation that does not go forward, especially since the open window, the only possible escape of the murderer ,overlooks a small garden in front of which there’s the famous fence beyond which there are many small children playing draw, all witnesses of the fact that no one may have missed it. Yet the murderer has jumped from the window: There are his footprints in the ground. At some point there is a revelation: an acquaintance of the victim Godinet that will reveal something to the police, but as the best dramas, the precious witness is found at the bottom of a ravine in the burning car.
At this point we need to find the culprit and then a lot of reconstructions face again: Estreval  tends to blame Ternaud, Vérannes frames no the murder but a spectacular suicide with a lot of crow flapping at the crime scene and  crucial because you do not find a certain thing; and then at the end, Perspicax reveals how Ternaud was not murderer but  blackmail, in his turn of the real murderer who is the least  to be suspected.

Great test of skill of Alexis Gensoul in having created a novel that approaches the impossible and never cross it, vividly illustrating the French province and subtle psychology of the characters.
However, in this novel, I emphasize the dependence about the British detective novel: the Perspicax solution is identical to that of Evil Under the Sun, by Agatha Christie, novel written in 1941, in particular where the victim has made an agreement with his unknown associate with whom they want to play a joke to others, in pretending to be dead, only that the murderer is not expected by the victim and he murder the victim.

The final solution, fine, is opposed to the other two solutions (not less effective, particularly that of Vérannes): the killer, when killed Gréje, was motivated by revenge and Perspicax says  in practice he should waive the right to designate him as the real murderer (felt against him "an instinctive sympathy and inexplicable") if that had not spotted the second death, that of Godinet, so could not be acquitted. A choice that makes Perspicax more than one investigator, a real sort of executioner in the shadows, very close to Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc.

Pietro De Palma

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Claude Aveline Case: La Double Mort de Frédéric Belot, 1932

Claude Aveline

Claude Aveline: La doppia morte dell’Ispettore Belot (La Double Mort de Frédéric Belot, 1932) – Translation: Cesare Giardini – Preface: Alberto Tedeschi – in appendix: Doppia nota sul romanzo poliziesco in generale e su questa “Suite” in particolare (Double note sur le roman policier  en général et sur ​​cette “Suite”en particulier) – Oscar Mondadori N. 1556 – August  1982

More the time passes, more I find references to a question that springs to mind every time, and so I can not answer: why in 1932 were born many masterpieces of crime fiction?
Why at that year? I do not know.
In 1932, they went out countless masterpieces: Peril at End House by Agatha Christie; Poison in Jest, by John Dickson Carr, The Greek Coffin Mystery, by Ellery Queen; Obelists at Sea, by Charles Daly King, Murder on the Yacht, by Rufus King, Sudden Death, by Freeman Wills Crofts, La Maison interdite, by Michel Herbert & Eugen Wyl, The Devil Drives, by Virgil Markham, The Wailing Rock Murders, by Clifford Orr, La Maison qui tue, by Noel Windry, etc etc etc.
Among others, the extraordinary La Double Mort de Frédéric Belot by Claude Aveline.
Born in 1901 and died in 1992, Claude Aveline was a great French intellectual, famous poet and critic, activist and partisan during the Petain government, a friend of Anatole France and Jean Vigo, character always on top until the last years of life.
In 1932 he wrote his masterpiece, as part of crime fiction, La Double Mort de Frédéric Belot, but until then, he had not written anything about detective fiction. One can therefore say without any fear of being wrong, that this coincided with his debut genre literature.
Extraordinary novel, it is said, but also a huge success for its time. The French public went wild for mystery novels, and you can tell a good reason that, in France, you want to parochialism, either by the tendency of the French to not recognize less than anyone else, soon many authors still speaking French or had tried to write stories of mystery, and had proven to be on par if not better than other Anglo-Saxon writers.
The novel had undergone many editions in France and was translated in a short time in thirteen different countries, including Italy, where the novel with a title quite faithful "The Double Death of the Inspector Belot," was translated by Cesare Giardini and published in “I Libri Gialli Mondadori”, with the number 77, in 1933.
Why this novel was so successful at home? To various factors.
The first is due to the publisher:
Bernard Grasset, founded in 1907, "Les Nouvelles Editions" and from that moment, his publishing house was distinguished in the publication of works by major French writers and intellectuals, including for example Lourdines des Monsieur Alphonse de Chateaubriand, Filles de la pluie André Savignon, and also Du côté de chez Swan of Marcel Proust. But he had also published Diderot, Voltaire, Gide, Valéry. So, in 1932, editions of Bernard Grasset, who as then, they are still in the Rue des Saints Peres, 61 in Paris, were the spearhead of the French publishing and presenting works extremely serious.
The second factor is certainly due to the novelist:
Aveline was a big name in France, already at that time. He published several works of literary criticism, with its eponymous publishing house, and had already distinguished friendships, including especially that of Anatole France, who had become the most faithful follower; and the friendship of Jean Vigo, the director of "L'Atalante," one of the most important movies of the last century
In short, the fact that the most important French publisher at the time and one of the leading French intellectuals of the time, together, they decided to focus on the launch of a work of detective fiction, had its immediate echo in the society of the time and contributed to the spread of the novel. Intention was intentional or unintentional? Aveline makes it clear when, in his " Double note sur le roman policier" (as Mercurie edition at 1963), states that if “The Double Death" had belonged to a specialized collection, it would have gone unnoticed by critics, who insist to ignore crime fiction. A famous editor’s name on the cover of publisher, editor that had nothing to do, too, with this literature, caught their attention. Reading my preface, forced them all to take sides for or against .. I've had good allies and opponents rough. But I had reached my goal”.
You can say, however, Aveline, put much of his own, spending many weeks at the Prefecture of Paris, to take possession of a world that he gave in a wonderful way. The success was so resounding that Aveline, who in 1936 published his “The Prisoner”, he thought to write another. Unfortunately he had to die Belot the first time and even two times and thus introduced the adventures that had taken place before he could die. In fact, as he had this to say about his first novel ... “The ennui que c'est mon j'avais Killed policier du premier coup, et même deux fois, je n'avais pas qu'il aurait prévu du service à reprendre . Heureusement, je ne fait pas mourir avais the trop jeune”. And so in 1937, he published his second work, “Voiture 15, place 7”, followed by Le Abonné de la ligne U and finally Le Jet d'eau. Since then, long before he regained writing detective stories in the last years of his life he wrote the last chapter of the Suite, L'Œil-de-chat.
However, his masterpiece is the first of his writings, so that later, during the re-publication of his complete works, in the form of  Suite policière (Mercurie, 1967), he wrote a Double note sur le roman policier and a Confession policière .
How Aveline wrote, the novel “is a story that begins at the end. If there is a book that lends itself to be re-read, this, contrary to general opinion, it  is the detective fiction. The reader has followed an investigation, putting himself in the shoes of the investigator. Well, now he can take it, not with the eyes of the author, but with those of the criminal. With the eyes, the heart, the guts of the criminal. The moves of the future conqueror, replacing the anguish of being hunted by the police, or by their remorse. In literary fiction 'usual', the reader can only dream during his first contact with the work ... Here, however, he is able to evoke a new drama. Here he  can create.”
Aveline imagines that Simon Riviere, a police inspector and son, in turn, an inspector of police, the recount the most sensational, but also the ultimate, adventure of Frederic Belot, Head of the Special Brigade and his godfather. The fact that Belot, man always active, has accepted a position behind a desk, he did mention several of his acquaintances, the more so that he gave the green light to Picard, to become Director of the Judicial Police. But the surprises do not end here: in fact Belot, bachelor, announces the decision to marry Mrs. Déguisé. Then it happens that one evening Belot is expected by Picard, Belot did not turn up. Riviere was sent to look for him. It’s 4 November .
He goes home in which he dwells, in Rue de Crimée 26, and asks the doorkeeper of Belot, feeling to answer that his godfather did not come out. The front door is closed, and not having the keys, he need some tools that cops like him on their back and force. When he enters into the house “it’is pitch dark.”
Turns on the light in the hall, and he sees hung the coat and the hat, of Belot. Finding closed the office door, he opens it, and the study also illuminates the darkness. At the center of the room he sees Belot on the ground, gasping .. Turn on the chandelier and it is that is wounded in the head and also your body, and next to him it is his gun, a Browning. Is excited to call his superiors and ask for help and an ambulance when .. seen coming from under a heavy curtain that divides the living room from the studio, a clenched hand. Draws aside the curtain and he founds the body of another man, lying with his face to the ground, he dressed in gray and he with a Browning. He revolts him and .. “I saw that this man was Frederic Belot. But a Frederic Belot dead”.
From this discovery, starts off a story that is unbelievable, in which the “double” is the predominant element in which these truths are until you find something that will completely overturn, in which the events can be said to be one leading to another, as many Chinese boxes.
First you have who is the real Belot and who is the impostor. Because it is obvious (or seems so) that one killed the other. I emphasize “seems” because in this novel, more than any other, must be taken with the tongs and wary of everything that is taken for granted, because sooner or later take on a meaning different ways.
The bodies look the same, two copies, but then you turn out, the autopsy of the dead Belot wears a mustache hairpieces and the color of the face is given with a foundation. So he is the impostor. At this point, it turns out, however, the comparison of the weapon (gun Belot has the charger with two deep scars etched File) that the gun who shot and killed at the first it is that by Belot: why would he shoot at the first? This is the first question, which it is placed. But it will be one of many, when you know the rest. For example., near the fake Belot,it is found a box full of bullets open: what does it mean? What was reloading his weapon? And why not? If he really were introduced in the apartment, you would have to assume that he was armed ie with gun equipped with a full magazine, ie able to kill the true Belot. But his gun is unloaded. But it is also true that there are shells everywhere. But, coincidentally, also the weapon of Belot is low as if they had emptied the magazines against each other.
This alone could mean another question (hidden): how , a cop and a killer, a short distance from each other, firing wildly against each other, would have caused so few injuries ( even fatal) to one another? A shot in front of the dead, the other one to the body and another to the head. Mah.
At this point, another event which gives even less certainty to the matter: the false Belot has the card of the police officer with the fingerprint impression of his thumb. Why to do a false card when he could steal the real one? Even the real Belot has one with the photo dissimilar in a particular hair with the other but for the rest completely equal, and with a fingerprint different. Only when you want to compare the two to the archive, it turns out that it disappeared. Why?
A lot of questions, too many.
Belot is hospitalized in desperate conditions. Despite the injuries is still alive, and groaning phrases insane or at least seem so. Meanwhile, Riviere makes a discovery of the utmost importance: Belot's apartment is split over two floors. The tragedy took place on the first floor, now he goes to see to find clues and raides also the second and he is confronted with something he did not know: the plan is divided into two parts according to the length, forming two apartments . In the back of the wall of the house of Belot, it is a panel with a safety lock, and behind the void: a secret door of communication between the two apartments? And why?
Who is the mysterious Belot’s tenant? The concierge, Madame Morin, who had previously told to police the photos of the dead could being familiar but she could not say who he was, has an epiphany: he is the mysterious tenant. At this point it is clear that the two knew each other. And why is it then that the latter had taken the shape of the first, who he knew? Thanks to the keys found in the pockets of the wounded, he is unable to open the panel and he goes in a small apartment anonymous though elegant, where there is nothing but an identity card, in a suit, which refers to the Jean Martin inhabitant 43ter of the Rue Arthur-Rozier, which is basically behind Rue de Crimée: a house with a floor divided into two, with a separate entrance from the main post office in a different way. Why? And why it is above the cabinets of the two houses contain exactly the same clothes of the same sizes and o colors?
Simon Riviére at this point makes a discovery of paramount importance to the succession of events, supported by another, made ​​in the archives of the police: first, you turn that Jean Martin was never born, and the man in the picture he is not unknown. Simon learns from invalid mother of Belot  the man in the picture is his son. This achieves an absurdum: we believed impostor the real Belot, while the impostor is the other.
But at this point an absurdity more absurd comes forward: why Belot would have to shave his mustache and darkening of the skin to resemble a look-alike, who previously looked like him before? Why all this mess?
Picard, a friend of Belot and head of Riviere explains that was the same Belot to impose this solution, the day he met his counterpart, such Ferroux, wrongly accused of embezzlement, who looked like him as a drop of 'water. At that moment he realized that doing impersonate Belot to his double what he would have done from that moment onwards, the head of a division that required him to office work, he, the true Belot, could play in disguise of delicate police investigations.
This explains the false Belot, thus explaining the disappearance of documents, and the creation of a false identity to police: it was all part of a plan. But why the false Belot killed the real one?
And why the false Belot, in the moments before death (because he died in the hospital) shouted: "Do not kill him! Do not kill him! "And not" Do not kill me! "?
And who has delivered a letter by the prefecture to Mrs Déguisé, who had an affair with Belot? At the Prefecture people deny. So there's a third person who does everything to appear on the scene: an accomplice, a witness, or .. the murderer?
Because at this point, Riviére putting eye to this fact happened at the time of the discovery of the division of the second floor, and  thinking and thinking and especially returning to the scene of the crime and collecting shells and making them compare, he realizes they come from a single weapon, and especially to understand why there was "pitch dark" in the victim's home when he found the two bodies: if indeed one of them had shot and killed the other while he was mortally wounded and more the head, how he could go and turn off the lamp and close the door, and why? If he really had all these forces, he have spent them trying to ask for help. But .. none of this.
The reason for all this, leads to a third person, “X”, who would have killed the two Belot, the true and the false, and then would have put the gun next to the fake Belot. But here a question arises naturally: how could the killer shoot with a gun order of the police? The gun was in the possession of the killer or he had come into possession of it?
The reason you will find it in a love story ended in error, and understanding of the dead will be only the result of non-screening by a false murderess in favor of a real one. The ending will be tragic and sad, and the final explanation, imaginative will rebuild the great puzzle by placing each piece to its rightful place..
First, we say that the Italian edition, in 1933,  made ​​a colossal error of perspective in the title, naming the novel “The Double Death of the Inspector Belot,” attributed to him a degree that Belot no longer had. Belot in fact in this novel, which is the first, but also the least because he appears to be dead, is no longer Inspector but …Commissioner. And the rest is just his promotion to cause his death, you might say.
Claude Aveline, that Michel Lebrune called “véritable novateur du roman de Mystère, a humanistic et un grand humorist” and Pierre Boileau would have said that he had given the genre of the novel Crime “ses lettres de noblesse”, tried on several occasions salvage the detective story, taking the defenses:
“Il n'y pas de romans nobles appartenant aux Belles-Lettres (qui en décide?) et de romans moins nobles parmi lesquels on range selon l'arbitraire habituel romans populaires, d'aventure, romans policiers”.
He, however, despite being a man of learning, critical, he realized that would not be enough work only criticism of this kind of groped to salvage it, but it was necessary that he give a good example, writing a novel. It must be also proof that even a man of letters could write a detective novel, with taste, humor and inventing a problem so abstruse that only with an explanation beyond human comprehension it could be explained.
The learned scholar, a critic, the poet, the inventor of ironic aphorisms, such as La mort d’autrui soumet le vivant, résigné, aux lois inévitables. La sienne, il la considère comme un assassinat” (= the death of others is an inevitable thing, their death is a murder), he invented a novel exciting, tense and vibrant, devious and machiavellian, but also deeply human, renewing the same way as other teachers (Very, Steeman, Boileau, Vindry, Lanteaume, Letailleur) declared the detective fiction. It unravels the veil of mystery with a rare virtuosity, resulting in a constant game of mirrors, where the investigation takes on the tone of almost psychoanalytic analysis and disconcerting but extremely vibrant psychological insight.
Aveline, even, also to involve more the reader in history, he humanizes the drama telling about the Inspector Riviére, the real detective story, Belot’s godchild, who learns that the man to whom he was very close in human terms, because a great friend of father and protector in Police, was brutally murdered in his home. It 's a well known fact (and accepted) that if the protagonist is himself embroiled in an investigation, the reader will follow with more passion for the evolution of the story.
Not only. To involve even more the reader, Aveline imagines himself involved in the action, since the writer is also the narrator of the story. In this Aveline comes very close to Van Dine: in fact S.S. Van Dine was the narrator of  Philo Vance plots.
Aveline, writing a detective story, with the best writing possible, evoking a history in the balance between the absurd and the improbable, and resolving it in a way that the solution is the only one capable of bringing the absurd and the unlikely to a possible dimension, and putting into, also a love story poignant and significant psychological implications, then creates a new type of novel, a “serious”detective story.
This seriousness of novel, puts him at odds with the serious crime literature of his time, which normally (without touching the vertices) gives maximum emphasis to the plot at the expense of the rest. Here, however, everything has got an own role, all figures need: All figures represented here have a soul.
Notice for example how he can make us extremely close, with fine psychology, the envy of the concierge sloppy and dirty, against Mrs. Lesueur, who with her, with a caretaker, doesn’t unburden herself her because she is superb, “as if do half service itwas not like being a servant”.
Furthermore, here, like a Greek tragedy, the story has not solution , hasn’t an ending that brings the calm after the storm. No. Here the calm will not reappear. Indeed ..
In fact, the solution is bitter beyond measure: a suicide attempt has turned into something else, and who had to be suicidal, he becomes, not wanting to, killer. Then, there is someone else who intervenes and changes the nature of the events. Just that .. he/she doesn’t understand the importance of light.
Has a small, insignificant detail all this matter? Perhaps even more, it also has a metaphorical: light of the apartment brings light on the case; without the light there was really a “pitch dark”.
In this novel all the characters in this absurd story ends up being the alter ego of the Homeric heroes prisoners of fate and prisoners of whims of the gods, forced to recite the parties and to live a tragedy that can not be avoided because they have unknowingly put their own the gears in motion. In a certain sense, the murderer is not really.
In the novels of the period, no one stops to contemplate death. It is only functional in the story, but in no way its tragedy is analyzed. But here it happens.
The story then loses the characteristics of game intelligence, to take those of analysis of the soul. In a sense, this makes the reading not easy, and the pace quite heavy.
Moreover, as evoked by the same title, here everything is double, one could say this is  the Aveline “triumph of the double” in crime fiction: real Belot is a double (what appears and what it is); Belot is double as an individual (the Belot true and false); the Picard truth is double: the untold truth and revealed truth; the house is a double: two floors, two separate entrances, and a plan is divided into two; the murderer is double: the true and the false; the gun is double; the collection of clothes is double; the same identity card is double; false Belot is double: his true identity hidden and the false assumed and demonstrated to other as true; the story of Mrs. Diguise is double because she believes to love Belot and instead she fells in love with Ferreux, false Belot.
The murderer is double, also: a false killer who pretends to be true, and then the true murderer. The same Mrs. Diguise is double because in real life has different surnames, and she is doubly double since last lines of the story it is clear that she is a friend in common (double friend) as the narrator (Aveline) as the detective ( Riviere) among their, friends.
I end with a think of Aveline, taken from the Double note on crime fiction in general and on this suite in particular:
“As for the novel, it raised - after a unanimous praise of writing that moved me and which I have not kept any account (this edition offers the reader a text completely redone) - the most contradictory comments. Realized and betrayed the promise of the preface. It broke with the old formulas and it didn’t bring the slightest news. It was "super-police", algebraic, and sacrificed the interweaving to psychology. On two points, as I expected, he had to find "against" the majority of jury.

1° Despite my prior statement, I wanted to write a detective novel;
2° The theme of the double ... it was incredible”.

Pietro De Palma

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stanislas-André Steeman : L’Assassin habite au 21, 1939

L’Assassin habite au 21 is the best-known and most famous novel by Stanislas-André Steeman, from which was made into a famous film (albeit with several distortions of the original story).
Steeman instead of setting the story in France, inserted it in a typically London. Why? The change in perspective, it was necessary because he probably wanted to set the novel in foggy nights. A typically British, and English characters, would have been preferable. Here is the Superintendent Strickland, here is a series of Inspectors, here is a series of tenants, including the "big" small Crabtree and then the mysterious Mr. Smith , the murderer elusive. But when Henri Clouzot shot the film based on this novel, changed several details of the original story, adapting to the Parisian reality. The transformation was probably induced by the purposes for which those realized Clouzot film (produced by a company financed by German capital during the Petain government and then during the occupation of France in the Second World War): to create quality films that did not regret American productions (of enemies). The setting of the film in 1942, L’Assassin habite au 21, based on the novel of the same name in Paris instead of London, then had the function to deny validity to a setting in an enemy city, transforming other characters in french: for example, Superintendent Strickland was replaced by Mr. Wens, and the address was turned from "Russell Square 21" to "21 Avenue Junot" (in the 18th arrondissement of Paris).
Were also made other changes to the original plot: for example was created a love story that is not in the original novel, introducing Mila Malou, singer friend of Commissioner Wens, and the name of the murderer, curiously by Mr. Smith, was changed in Mr. Brown. For all these reasons, during the filming, the relationship between Steeman and Clouzot were not idyllic.
I believe that in the end, however, Steeman was "also" fascinated by the stories of Sherlock Holmes, and those of Jack the Ripper, and that he wanted to build a story, different from other originals that had already created: a story based on the serial killers.
In fact, a plot that reveals a similar psychopathological articulation, he had already been highlighted in his previous novel, one of the first of his production, Le demon de Saint-Croix, which Steeman had approached by Simenon, borrowing a more singular, getting a first shock from the audience, and focusing the actions of the police on the exploits of a serial killer. However, if by Le demon de Saint-Croix inaugurated the genre talking about a series of murders seemingly disconnected and then it turned out to be joined by a special truly amazing, but in which the search for the culprit was kind of already experienced in other novels, now Steeman spoke for the first time offenses (because also connected to a particular), in which not only the motives but also the alibi played a leading part, crossing and postulating a tripling of the murderer, one and three.
Mr. Smith is a killer who kills his victims, when the salt fog in London. Kills his victims by hitting them with a bag of sand, and fracturing their skulls. Kills three so. The police, then, is organized and takes a series of measures to replenish the ranks and patrol the streets better, even more so when the salt fog. So for 34 days, the killer does not show up. Until one day, in fact, one night, killing a woman. Close by is a police informer, Toby Marsh, who understand that it would be unwise to go to Scotland Yard and report the murderess because then, the newspapers reported the news, he would now "a walking corpse," is arrested by a policeman for insults and injuries to a public official, and so is free to be able to deal with a representative of Scotland Yard. What? Want some serious money in exchange for a story that addresses the investigation as promised by the police. Cornered, reveals that the killer has collected his keys from the floor, and headed to the # 21, in a boarding house in Russell Square: if the murderess has the key, it follows that he is one of several boarders.
Investigating officer is the Superintendent Strickland, a phlegmatic character, but so phlegmatic that even the birth of the twins triple of his wife, he did deviate from its very slow conduct of life. His coolness, which some might mistake for reflection very very thoughtful, not really will have effects worth mentioning. So that the solution will come not so much to the merits of the police and its officials most qualified, but by the insight of a modest, shy, little man, Ernest Crabtree, who like his wife, Enid, is one of the tenants of a pension family in Russell Square 21. He will discover that there is not a murderer, but several murderers who kill in the same manner, defending each other's backs, with cross alibi.
In essence, the unique solution Steeman is remade to that anticipated by Agatha Christie in her Murder on The Orient Express, 1934. As well as And Then There Were None by Christie, was rebuilt on the novel by Steeman, 1931, Six Hommes Morts.
However, while Agatha Christie, had created a plot in which the death of a certain person was the background to the story, and then the crime was premeditated extensively and in which the main part, the investigator, had been entrusted to the great Poirot , Steeman entrusted strangely not the main actor Inspector Wenceslas Vorobechik (called Wens, for short), his main character, who starred in many of his novels lucky, but apparently the Superintendent Strickland, while essentially elected hero and solver the mystery, Mr. Ernest Crabtree, a little man, shy, reserved, tenant of the same board with his wife.
Steeman he enjoyed a lot writing this novel: it is a creeping satirical anti-English, French chauvinism opposite British pride, for example when making fun of the British police, who, though not the best in the world, is nevertheless the most tenacious and yet fails to catch the murderess (assassins) until a very modest character, at the cost of his life, does not indicate who stop.
But mind you: it was not "just" a mockery of the British police, but it was a mockery of the Anglo-Saxon thriller.
First extolling the French language: Monsieur Julie, just come to the board, was killed, the police manning the board, because they are able, as a Frenchman, indicate the murderess with a message, consisting of a series of scratches. The message was apparently left by Monsieur Julie, the sacrificial victim, and then with the message history, Steeman teases Ellery Queen, which had led to the so-called formal perfection “Dying Message”, the clue key on which to direct the investigation, which leaves the victim before he died. In fact, the message is false: it was done on purpose to mislead the investigation.
And the joke of Ellery Queen does not end here. It continues with The Challenge to Reader,  which Ellery Queen had given in the novels of his first cycle, characterized by the formula “The + a national adjective + mystery + noun” (for example, The Greek Coffin Mystery).
" Ellery Queen, Hugh Austin and several other American crime writers used to engage the reader with a kind of intellectual duel ... inviting him to discover for himself the solution of the issues raised in the novel. Exceptionally, it seemed to me fun to use this idea in my own way, and that is why I open a brief parenthesis to tell you: You are now in possession of all the necessary elements for the discovery of truth ... "
The teasing turned to Ellery Queen, the prince of classic detection of the '30s, in the practice of what he considered his opponent overseas,  Steeman added those to Agatha Christie and Van Dine, condensed into a memorable (and very sharp) paragraph, the paragraph of the Bridge: Crabtree comes to the identification of Mr. Smith (as in The Canary Murder Case, Philo Vance had identified the killer after a poker game) through a bridge game. Yet the same bridge game, and the insistence on this game, it is an implicit taken for a ride by Agatha Christie, who had, at 1936, baked Cards on the Table,  a novel at which a game bridge is functional to the crime.
The acuteness of the assumption of Steeman, is introduced by a second "Challenge to the Reader", titled: THE READER THAT KNEW NOT GUILTY AGAIN, at which is summarized clearly thinking not only by  Steeman but by anyone including (then) and include (today) so much useless for a story was (then) and is (now) a paragraph that discusses the techniques of a game, which should not necessarily be known the bridge by the reader who is about to read the novel:
"It is not necessary to know the bridge to draw conclusions from the previous chapter".
The acuteness of the assumption of Steeman, which is mine and by anyone else who has ever read a novel, putting themselves in a position strictly impartial, lies in having in place a true accusation to the novel-style Anglo-Saxon that was too open to upper classes. Who ever in fact, extraction petty bourgeois or working would never know (and probably still do not know) to play Bridge?
The novel by Steeman, turned instead to a more diverse audience, using the game of bridge with a purpose that only appears to be functional to the story, but from which, however, keeps his distance.
An anecdote about to end.
The number 21 (assigned to the board in Russell Square), was also the authentic house number by Steeman.

Pietro De Palma

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The first novel by Charlotte Armstrong

Charlotte Armstrong : Un cadavere al giorno(Lay On, Mac Duff!, 1942) – translation: Simonetta Cattozzo - I Classici del Giallo N. 1308, Mondadori, 2012, October

Charlotte Armstrong, born in Vulcan, Michigan, he was thirty-seven years old when she published her first crime novel, Lay on, Mac Duff!, 1942, who began the cycle of the same name. However, it ended in 1945, after only three novels. Was enough, however, to open the doors of success, and to make her appreciate how one of the writers finer and even more ingenious of the panorama detective U.S..
In fact, Lay on, Mac Duff!, followed by The Case of the Weird Sisters, 1943 and The Innocent Flower,1945, consecrated her definitely as a writer of the first magnitude.
Lay on, Mac Duff!, 1942, is an excellent novel, which I would define as experimentation was well received by the public, without being exceptional. In fact, there are already several ideas that Charlotte Armstrong inserted in later novels.
A poor orphan, Bessie Gibbon, is welcomed in the home of a rich uncle, Charles Cathcart, who is also known as a bird of prey of high finance, and which has three partners, with which he often plays. When Bessie is introduced in his house, she find  his uncle who plays "Royal Table" along with Guy Maxon, Bertram Gaskell and Hudson Winberry. There is also secretary of Winberry, Hugh Miller. In the room, the air is not kind: Bessie clearly perceives an aura of evil, hatred repressed.
That deepens, when his uncle lost (an anomaly, since always wins) and won the shareholders: for anger, Uncle Charles throws, unseen, three red men, some of the pieces with which he plays this game, the window . Bessie observes it. That very night, when the guests are all gone, Winberry is killed in his house with a gun, and the corpse is found at one of the three red checkers, similar to those that Charles had thrown out the window.
The police immediately directs the crime matured in its environment. Only three people, so they could commit and take advantage of: the three partners. The clues would become four if you add the three the only other man present that evening at home Cathcart: Hugh Miller, assistant Winberry. Hugh Miller just before the crime is consumed said he lost his apartment key to Winberry: will be found somewhere else later.
But soon the investigation looming difficult. All have their say, and it is not possible at the moment scratching the alibi: All three, in fact all four, could have committed the murder. But why Miller would kill his own employer? There would have received nothing. The others may get something.
The problem is that the victim is said to have exclaimed that he had never seen before his murderer: it was rescued when he was still alive. What does this mean? If true at all, he could not be one of the other three, even four, the murderer, because the victim would not have whispered, more to the point of death, not to recognize it.
The more we go forward with the investigation, the more you know other details: the home, which has helped the owner, said that there were two entrances into the house, one after the other, and after a while he heard, for the second time, the door open, he heard the shot. Old as the servant, when he rescued the master, the murderer was already far away.
However, what really you can not understand is because the victim has not removed his coat, if it was there first. This coat is one of the peculiar characteristics of this novel: it can be said that Armstrong plays with sensations. I will say further, the appearance of the amateur Mac Duff, a former professor of History, the sensations, perceptions, moods are often the most interesting clues. Here the feelings are those inherent in the heat and cold. Return several times in the course of the novel. On that occasion, this insistence on the opposition between hot and cold is evident twice, not only in reasoning on the coat (and there will be another even more important at the end of the novel, on the other the head of another person, from which emerge undoubtedly the guilt of the murderer), but also on what you appointment on the glasses. Yeah, because someone (Mac Duff, after being hired by Bessie and her boyfriend, journalist Jones) reflecting on the famous coat, suggests that the host may not have been the first to arrive, but the second fact, the what could be related to the fact that he had his glasses, and that, as everyone knows, when you switch from a colder to a warmer, glasses fog up. But why he had never seen? Bessie at this point reveals something that MacDuff did not know: during the famous game, Winberry, a bad person as sin, he exclaimed several times the word "never", but not giving it his absolute meaning. It means that in our case, could mean, that he "could not see him." What is in accord with the hypothesis of glasses fogged.
So the murderer was the first to come in, waited for the landlord and when they appeared on the threshold of the room, he immediately fired: the other because of the glasses fogged did not see it. It puts everything into question: would anyone, guest house Cathcart, killing him. Because, despite this, and the subsequent murder of Gaskell, occur in the homes of the victims, everything is built into the atmosphere of home Cathcart. Ultimately, everything that happens in this house has repercussions elsewhere.
Then there is the second murder: Gaskell was stabbed. Here, too, all of them are responsible, only that the number decreases. We shall see what significance it may have, stylistically speaking, this event.
Main suspect is just Cathcart, on the basis of the testimony of Hugh Miller, who says he tried to warn him by phone late at night, in the assassination of Winberry, and have not found it in the room (twice, at a distance of ten minutes apart). Based on this, and the fact that Bessie then see him that night, on the stairs, with shoes, not slippers, to show that it was resting, and Bessie Miller, on the night of the assassination of Gaskell, put the cords at the gates of the palace, so we know if indeed the master of the house comes out of stealth or not. Furthermore, when they do, Bessie realizes that one of the three coats disappeared from coat hook. Reappear, and a cord will fall. The reappearance of this coat, and the new hot-cold contrast, it will bind the final deduction that will nail the murderer to his/her responsibilities.
However, this second crime, not only in this case we have a new thermal contrast: in fact, it is mainly the problem of the clock thermostat of the heating system of the house to keep the counter. It 'was found broken, the glass and the hands broken, crooked, so you can not know with certainty whether the displayed time actually is that of death, related to the breaking of the watch, or if the murderess has deliberately moved manually hands to believe that the crime was committed at two a.m. in the morning and instead took place at midnight, at which time the motives of the suspects are no longer unassailable. As you can see, however, a new duel cold-hot.
This continual opposition between two opposing thermal stages however, is not just a story of feelings and perceptions, it is mainly the key that will lead to the final solution.
However, before this happens, there will be a third murder. And then there will be a duel-comparison between the only two possible be suspected. But at that moment will be a third wheel road: Herbert Graves.
In this mysterious third character is tied to a particular of which we have spoken at the time of the murder of each of the three members of Cathcart, close to the victim, was found a red man. And three red men were thrown out the window, to anger, to Charles after the loss of the game. These red men, we learn later, are strangely very similar to the candy Peppinger, now withdrawn from the market because they contained traces of drugs: their formula was invented by the Herbert Graves, who had sold it to Guy Maxon, Bertram Gaskell, Hudson Winberry and Charles Cathcart, who had to turn on the market with the characteristic shape of a little man.
After being paid, however Herbert Graves, in retrospect, having a sick wife and he felt that he was being paid too little in comparison with the fortune that the four had accumulated, had tried to get something else that he would need to pay the care of his wife, but she got nothing. And all the while his wife was dead. Of the four that had better luck later was Cathcart, the only one who had promised to give him some help, only had he provided too late, so the anger of Graves had been seeking above all to her. As you can see, an excellent motive to kill: the revenge.
And Lina what part had? Tried in turn to take Mac Duff to save her husband from a desperate situation: she is really foreign to crimes or she helped him? Or took the investigator to remove from himself the suspicion that he wanted to conspire against her husband, who has won only with the promise that he would not send to jail the father of Lina?
The conclusion will be surprising, because the final test, the challenged will supply Bessie. It will once again be based on the contrast between warm and cold.
What do we see in this first work by Charlotte Armstrong?
The first, we have two figures of investigation: Bessie, who, despite being initially despised or at least little regarded by the inhabitants and visitors of Casa Cathcart, has an important place in the affair; MacDuff that the allegations in the final frantic processes and leads to the definition of logical reasoning allows you to trap the murderer. However, who provides him with the keys to understand the situation is Bessie. Therefore, together with MacDuff, she forms the ideal couple Holmes-Watson of the story.
The two figures are reference points in a novel that is not of pure suspense (characteristic of Armstrong), but in which there are moments of great tension, which takes advantage of the reading, which goes smoothly and without a hitch, like a train fast. However, this first novel is basically a novel of character, a classic mystery.
We have said that in this novel, the emotions have their own importance. Mac Duff says: ".. Man's actions depend on his emotions .. The murder of Winberry rooted in the emotions of someone .."
What does it mean in the novels of Armstrong, perceptions and feelings are more important clues? Charlotte Armstrong, starting from 1942, there is much akin to the English classical detection by the evidence as a means of absolute survey (Doyle and Freeman especially), but rather to the American of the past decade: in other words, it inherits the vandinian detection. As repeatedly stated Philo Vance in his works, the evidence would be nothing if not follow the psychology of the characters: if this does not appear, you might not understand the intellectual game, the puzzle as a means to affirm the mind, deductive reasoning, who had triumphed in the period immediately preceding the entrance of Charlotte Armstrong. Moreover, the investigation of Sherlock Holmes is opposite to that of Philo Vance, as a concept, because while the first is expressly based on purely scientific methodology, the second re-evaluates the expression of humanistic inquiry, which is based on examination of the human soul, feelings. So, Charlotte Armstrong inherits Van Dine. Yes But Rufus King, wise use to build the tension in the story. And even Agatha Christie, when you have the revelation that a character in the story, it really is not what it appears, but it is another person under a false name, who you thought it was, and that he had all the motive for kill
Now, what is the salient feature of the novel? It 's a mystery with a strong tension, a tension that in certain moments become spasmodic. At this point, add frame which is the voltage which serves Charlotte Armstrong, because it serves to frame the importance of his work, not only in the case of this novel, but also of others.
The suspense writers in her past is directly related to the atmosphere. The atmosphere, the set of those elements that impact on the minds of individuals (terror, fear, joy, emotion, etc. ..) is most often linked to descriptions of the environment: a dark night, the presence of the moon , noise, etc. .. This atmosphere, leads to a voltage descriptive, which is typical of the authors of the '20s (Connington in the head).
Then there is a voltage of psychological-descriptive that I think the Armstrong may have borrowed from Rufus King.
King - taking a step of my essay published on the blog Mondadori two years ago - "was very important to the description of the characters and the atmosphere, and concentrate its efforts in enclosed spaces”.. Sometimes, Rufus King works with the technique of hint: adding or removing a few details to the picture, in an absolutely brilliant manner , that picture is constantly changed and this creates an emotional tension.
Charlotte Armstrong to this kind of psychological-emotional approach to descriptive, adds something of his own, in terms of pure style, which leads to even more pronounced results: when the number of people involved in the plot, which can also be indicted (as in this case), is maximum, the emotional tension is minimal; as, instead, the number progressively thins, the voltage increases. This reaches the maximum when it comes to a climax, with the elimination of the innocent and identifying the guilty party. In other words, a max. number of stakeholders to a some event is inversely proportional to the voltage generated: max number of subjects = minimum voltage, minimum number of subjects = maximum voltage.
An atmosphere like that, artificially constructed on the basis of a process purely literary style, is enhanced here by a component of pure atmosphere: claustrophobia, together with another: evil. In practice, everything that happens, happens because something lingers in the house, a feeling of repressed hatred that feeds on itself: as long as the characters of the story, are locked up in various rooms of the house, the perceptions of hate Bessie (character alien to the house, which is on the outside, and is therefore more receptive to those who already live in that environment), perceives, are always very strong, when in fact the characters leave the room, that's the voltage drops . This decrease was most certainly down also highlighted by the comparison of the situations in which governs the repressed feelings of hatred expressed by the assassin, who attends that environment for some time, and the brightness and light of Lina Cathcart, young wife of Charles Cathcart, which dissipate the atmosphere of hatred.
The claustrophobia is a mode accentuates the voltage, which is not only found here. In fact, here it is in a sense proven, but its highest expression is in the staging of the three sisters (almost three Fates) a blind, a deaf, a truncated, which are locked in the old house in The Case of the Weird Sisters , the second novel cycle Mac Duff.
Normally, in the dark, at night, is connected a feeling of insecurity in the novels, and in reality, murder, robbery, rape are almost always in the evening, at night, in the dark, in places not frequented, not light, the light are connected instead of the states related to the safety and well. In the case of our novel, these two original states and visible, is also linked to the opposition of perceptions related to temperature, cold or warm. These meet the need of creating an additional, suggesting that some things happen when there is a temperature other when there is another. More precisely, since the first two murders happen at night, and the nights are cold, the bad syllogism is associated with the cold, because it takes place outside the house, where, instead, everything is under control, where there is the warmth of the hearth.
When heat reacts the bitter cold, here fogging and the first murder, when in the second case is changed the timer on the thermostat inside the house, it is because there was the second murder. The third will subtract this logical sequence, because the second will not premeditation but according to the occasion that needs to be taken on the fly, “carpe diem” that defies every law intended.
But Charlotte Armstrong finds in this novel, in contrast cold hot, the emotional root of the novel, because, I believe, is the source of perceptual sensation of cold-hot: cold not only because it is connected to the death of the night, but because as you get closer to death, becomes less hot, because death is cold. So where there is cold, regardless of whether it is day or night, you end up dying, if you are not properly repaired.
Bessie will be conclusive evidence of the identity of the murderer, and the exoneration of the innocent, right in the cold-warm contrast: the coat if it had been used at night, it would have been cold, but instead what she cherished was warm, ie had remained in the house, had not been brought out into the night. And even more consequently, it could not be that coat was used by the murderer.
Not surprisingly, will remember this particular prior to the murderess is recognized that, when associate the warmth of the coat and the warmth that she had tried clutching journalist Jones, feeling the warmth of his coat, when he repaired properly between the his arms.
In other words, it is as if Charlotte Armstrong had said that "only love can conquer hate."

Pietro De Palma