Saturday, February 9, 2013

The homage of Edward D. Hoch to Mary Shelley and Agatha Christie

Edward Dentiger Hoch : The Frankenstein Factory, 1975

Edward Dentiger Hoch (writer well versed in classic whodunit, who wrote nearly a thousand stories, including many Locked Rooms), who had previously written four other novels, two mystery (The Shattered Raven, 1969, The Blue Movie Murders, 1972 with the name of Ellery Queen) and two science fiction disguised (The Transvection Machine, 1971; The Fellowship of the Hand, 1972), wrote The Frankenstein Factory, 1975, which would seem to derive directly from Mary Shelley's masterpiece, Frankenstein.
The novel tells about an island where capsules of hibernation are stored, where many people have ordered that their bodies are kept waiting for breakthroughs in medicine make it possible to treat with surgical techniques and drugs still unknown. Dr. Frankenstein of the situation, here called Lawrence Hobbes, tries an unprecedented surgical intervention: in a man’s body about thirty, died of a brain tumor), he will try to implant the brain, heart, the kidneys and liver of other human beings. The operation is somewhat secret, because the scientist "use" some bodies just to pick up bodies, bodies thus unusable or almost .
The novel is in some ways quite similar to one of Steeman which has also been discussed in this blog space: there is also a doctor who tries a never attempted thing before, that to revive a body  no longer alive through electricity , after having inserted into the skull another brain. In both cases, surgical intervention is on a criminal: criminal for love, at novel by Hoch (before he killed himself jumping under a train, he had killed his wife, who had cancer) but in this case the brain of a murderer is placed in a body of a boy who died of a brain tumor; at Steeman’s novel, the killer is criminal rather pure state: into him, the brain of a normal person should be transplanted into the skull of a murderer.

Both have obvious points of contact with Shelley's novel, but even more Hoch inserts a quote that clears any doubt, in the second chapter of his novel : he refers to the Factory of Frankenstein, as does Dr. Armstrong to tell he and his colleagues are the equivalent of Dr. Frankenstein, because as was Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's novel, he and his colleagues would put the brain and organ in the body and would create a new individual.
If it’s a detective story, there must be a detective. And in fact a detective there is: Earl Jazine, the same detective at "The Transvection Machine" and at "The Fellowship of the Hand." It is an agent by Computer Investigation Bureau, a secret section that reports directly to the President of the United States.
What is Earl doing here? He works undercover: he apparently is a video engineer in charge to take back the audio and video phase of a revolutionary to be held in secret island, but in fact he should investigate cryogenics research and its funding, not all under the light of the sun . Exits coverage when Vera Morgan, a chemical researcher, reveals the true identity of Earl. And this happens when disappears Emily Watson, a philanthropist who lives in the center and that subsidizes with his money and when is killed Dr. MacKenzie, one of the surgeons of the team, strangled. Also disappears "the Creature", and then it is expected he is the murderer. Then are killed all except Vera Morgan, Dr. Armstrong and Earl: Tony Cooper (lover of Vera), Freddy O'Connor, Lawrence Hobbes, Philip Whalen, Emily Watson.
There is a battle in the halls of the capsules between Earl and the Creature (called Freddy from them), and then again there is an ambush on the beach: the surgical intervention failed  and so the brain had a trauma. The creature does not speak, has his left arm is not working but the other, as a whole being, has superhuman strength. Yet succumb opposed to the three survivors: Jazine, Armstrong and Vera.
Was he who killed the scientists? Or he has nothing to do, and the choice is between Armstrong and Morgan? Jazine will select and will provide the solution, after drinking a cup of coffee, which could be poisoned if his trainer was indeed the murderer.
The fact that the location chosen for the operation and then .. for the murders in the novel is an island, and that several people agreed there for the completion of surgery all die, calls to mind the novel by Agatha Christie , And Then There Were None: an island turned into a trap. A similarity blatant, so brazen, you have here the person believed dead, who she is not; and what's more, a character present among those of the christian novel, which is also present here among scientists on the island. There is also a person with a double identity, and a voltage not indifferent, that Hoch established with wisdom, misrepresenting readers with red herrings: the first, that of the missing person, and the second, that of the Creature, and the third, that of the true murderer.
"This situation reminded me of a novel by British writer Agatha Christie, a work of seventy years ago. He spoke of ten people who have to stay on an island are killed one by one, just like here ... In the end it turns out that one of the alleged victims is still alive "(Edward D. Hoch, chapter 14).
Needless to say, the culprit here, as in Christie's novel, is one of these, but if in the original work of Christie was one previously considered dead, here he is not so: the novel by Hoch has an identity and a change, interesting. There is who is supposed to be dead by virtue of blood found in his bed but she is not, but that really she dies, then.
Even in the solution Agatha Christie enters by force, because it learns that the killer was inspired by her novel. However, the similarities end there: in fact, the ending is not cathartic, do not die all at the deserted island; and while at Christie’s novel we ask: "Who is the murderer?" tick here one of those who was thought to be dead, who was not dead and had killed the other.
The ending of the novel Hoch, is reminiscent of the final of René Clair's "Ten Little Indians": two of the defendants (but one is here the investigator) are able to escape and take out the murderer.

Pietro De Palma

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