Among the novels Charles Fulton Oursler alias Anthony Abbot
wrote, About the Murder or Geraldine
Foster, is the first.
It 's the first novel that imposed the characters by Anthony
Abbot, as a major novelist of the early thirties, not very prolific (a bit as
Charles Daly King) but developer of plots of the highest qualità, as one of the
first great novel, in which we can say 4
major subjects in all history: Thatcher Colt, the investigator, Dr. Maskell,
the prime suspect (but there are at least three other suspects); Geraldine
Foster the victim, X, the murderer.
This is the plot.
Betty Caldwell, December 27, complains to the police the
missing from the three days of her roommate, Geraldine Foster. Geraldine is the
secretary of Dr. Maskell, known internist in New York. Has anyone heard a
discussion for high voice between Maskell and her, before her missing.
Thatcher Colt, Police Commissioner of New York, is
interested in the story. He, at the home of Caldwell and Foster, rummaging in
the drawers, founds a fragment of the letter, in which Geraldine blackmails
someone for a sum of $ 4000: the handwriting is recognized by Betty. However
Colt realizes that the message is written in a different ink from that used in
the house. Why is that? In addition, in a jacket in the closet, is found a
large key that nobody knows what to open. Later we learn that Geraldine if she
needed money she would have been able to easily get from his father, the
well-off condition. The boyfriend is cut short because he and Geraldine would marry,
after a short fight.
Thatcher Colt goes to the doctor's house, which makes him a
revelation: at Christmas Eve, a mysterious woman, with the collar turned up,
went to look at his studio Geraldine Foster, then with an apology had been in
the store and then had run away by taxi. The thing is fishy to Colt who then
finds in a closet, fur and handbag that Gerardine Foster had in the day of her
missing. The doctor denies knowing that they were there as he denies knowing
more about Geraldine.
The days go by and Geraldine Foster is not. It is revealed
in the meantime by the family that the girl had, a year earlier, an association
with a so-called Ephraim (which turns out to be a woman in disguise) had
revealed the Geraldine’s noble origins.
Meanwhile, Betty, January 3rd, calls the police and
announces that she has found other fragments of the letter blackmail, in which
it speaks of a house in Peddler's Road. Thatcher instructs Abbot to go, but
Abbot instead of going there alone he carries the beautiful Betty of which he
has been infatuated: found the place, a small two-storey (thanks to the advice
of a boy who is penetrated and says to have seen a ghost of a naked woman
covered in blood), they notice how it looks abandoned; moreover, on the ground,
are seven pigeons dead, for quite some time, whose feathers on the front look
dirty with blood.
Seized with foreboding, Abbot realizes that the door is not
locked, and when he enters witnesses a terrible spectacle: there is blood
everywhere, on the ground, on walls, on furniture, on curtains, a puddle on the
floor, even blood in the fireplace, but the body .. no trace. He finds instead
Thatcher Colt and the police. Colt is furious because Abbot was put to flirt
instead of following the track: he has already found upstairs other traces of
blood, also in the bathroom, in which hangs a curious scent of pine, along with
dirty towels in red (blood and lipstick), found in the tub a ladies watch,
stopped at 5.10 P.M..
Thatcher says he found a broken window and there near a dead
pigeon, and fingerprints of a child.
An agent founds in a small clearing nearby, the newly turned
earth: in the light of torches, is found Geraldine Foster, literally to pieces
and mutilated. Were noticed three strange things: the body is naked, wet and on
is face was put a pillowcase. The body shows no signs of decomposition. The
coroner shall determine the death to 36 hours and not more than 48, even if the
pigeons seem dead for the longest time.
The same agent fills a bottle with a strange liquid that has
collected around the body but that is not blood; two bottles similar to one
found in the doctor's office Maskell are also found. Someone said they saw a
woman leave with Geraldine, the study of Maskell, in the afternoon of 24
December, carrying two bottles, of three that had been delivered, even if the
doctor has denied knowing about.
The key found at the home of Foster opens the door of the
house, which they will know be owned by Dr. Maskell, and then it will be
assumed that he was being blackmailed. In addition, the personal effects found
in his study induce the prosecutors, including the District Attorney Merle
Dougherty, to accuse the doctor of murder caused by a fit: the gun found in the
house, a double-bladed ax covered in blood, ill-suited to a murder
premeditated. However, this is the hypothesis is working Colt, but along
In fact, the doctor to the time of death has an airtight
alibi but it will crumble on the basis of a direct reconstruction made by
Colt, when the autopsy will reveal that the girl's death took place ten days
before. In addition, it is found that the mysterious liquid is tannic acid,
extracted from the bark of pine trees, which has the property of delaying the
Little by little we understand that Maskell does not want a
certain woman becomes involved in the investigation and for her he'll do
anything, even to risk his life. Who is she? But more it will be and you will
understand: because Geraldine was stripped after death; who was the woman that
was touted as an expert on family background and because she had used a false
name; who had purchased the tannic acid; what had happened to the other
pillowcase unpaired; who had bought those pillowcases; and finally who had the
motive, the opportunity and ability to commit the murder, woman or man that
he/she was. The final will be overwhelming and unexpected.
The criticism commonly tells that Abbot was a vandinian
writer: what evidence would show it?
Abbot as Van Dine (or Ellery Queen) is a fictional character
and at the same time a writer of fiction; Abbot as well as being a character of
the story, is (as in Philo Vance Van Dine is the) the loyal assistant of
Thatcher Colt, Commissioner Police; in the novel there must be an amateur
detective and in this novel the investigator is just Colt whose role should not
mislead: in America, the Commissioner has not operational functions that
instead are purely administrative and he is the connection between the Mayor
and the Chief of Police. So Thatcher Colt, being a Commissioner should not have
investigative functions of fact: the fact that he has them, marks him as a
person who carries out operational functions improperly: he can be treated as
an amateur detective.
Finally, if Abbot was vandinian, his investigator should, as
Philo Vance have encyclopedic knowledge, and the Thatcher Colt has it, in
several areas: scientific and technical (he recognizes at first glance what
type it is an ink, and he knows bleaching a human hair; he applies various
techniques of scientific investigation: as the examination of two different
types of lipstick and the examination of the substances found under the
victim's fingernails; the examination of different types of hair; the
application of experimental techniques to possible suspects, as the polygraph,
which records blood pressure and heart rate based on the emotional state of the
subject ;or the truth serum based on scopolamine, which attenuates all of one's
senses except the hearing), he is a student Literature and he writes poetry.
Beyond this, the Abbot of propensity to use often in his
novels, scientific wizardry is the daughter of his time and is derived from the
use which had made such authors as Cleveland L. Moffett, Crofts, Freeman or
Connington; in several of his novels, the victims are women, but he is not a
writer of the old school, which tends to eliminate "the fairer sex"
as a suspect; his novels are typical Procedurals, where investigations are not
carried out by a detective, but by the police.
What is peculiar, however, to the highest degree, in this
novel, is that of a single crime is based around the castle for clues and
evidence: he has no need of another crime to revitalize the attention and the
voltage of the reader. Abbot does not hide nor even silent certain truths, then
turned out be important: the solution
agrees with all the questions in the course of the novel. Abbot, in a way
anticipates Carr and Rawson, diverting the reader's attention from the right
direction and turning it in the wrong direction.
It is also to say the same quality as the investigation is
of a type vandinian: Colt combines quality survey acutely psychological to
techniques of examination purely circumstantial, type sherlockian: so for
example explains why the body of Geraldine was completely naked after the child
claims to have seen a ghost in the house of a woman covered in blood and naked
and after finding fibers woven into the wounds.
The novel also lends itself to another kind of criticism,
vandinian detectives are inherently leaders
dell'intelleghentia Haute Bourgeoisie, and all the stories in which they are
engaged, concerning crimes that accrue only in the most exclusive of the great
metropolis, as if the murder more convoluted and more complex could not reside
in degraded environment and low class, but instead in a very high.
In this novel, there is a number of examples of this: the
High Commissioner is responsible for a crime that involves one of the most
well-known professionals in the city, whose brother and sister in law are also
among the most brilliant lawyers New York hole. One would expect, therefore,
that Abbot parses the most peculiar aspects of this social area. Instead, he
shows great disenchantment with the daily life and expectations of small and
medium bourgeoisie, dreams shattered by the Great Depression of 1929 and the
illusions of social redemption through unexpected inheritance or noble origins.
The size of the fiction writer, in my opinion, is better represented than anything
else, from the description of a detail of the corpse: "the diamond in an
engagement ring around a little finger”. At the horror of the mutilated and
buried human remains, what does the ring mean ? At least two things: the
wickedness of someone who has denied a dream come true to a girl; the
indifference of murderer for that object.
The indifference of the ring with a diamond could mean that
social extraction by the murderer or murderess was greater than that of
Geraldine Foster, and it means for that a small diamond ring of the type
engagement represented a little thing. For this reason, it may have been
scorned and left in the bare earth. Instead, if the murderer had been at the
same or lower class than the girl , perhaps the value of the diamond would have
taken on his/her greed.
The novel, as we see, is a real beauty: an unforgettable
novel in its dramatic force, the fine texture of the plot, in the evocative
power of writing, in the versatility of the situations, in the multiplicity of
false trails that lead the reader to follow of the prerequisites whereas
investigative action is directed towards another.
In this way, the ending is fantastic, by rare beauty: it is
expected that the murderer is X and instead is Y.
Pietro De Palma