Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Paul Halter : Death Invites You (La mort vous invite, 1988)

"Reader Beware: SPOILERS"

Before 2003, I did not know the works by Paul Halter. But in that year I met Igor Longo,  consultant of  Giallo Mondadori”.  
It happened by chance: I asked the editor of those years, that could give me directions on how to find Mondadori novels who could contain Locked Rooms, because they were always my cue ball. He passed the word to Igor Longo, who answered me - I have to say enthusiastically - as he had found another type set about the Locked Rooms (Igor participated in the meeting a few years ago - directed by Roland Lacourbe which also participated John Pugmire - aims to choose the 99 best Locked Rooms in the history of the Mystery (novels of English-speaking and French-speaking novels). And so began a correspondence which became friendship correspondence: Igor among other authors, urged me to read Paul Halter (Igor Longo is his italian translator) which he said was the most important contemporary author of impossible crimes and locked rooms. I took him in word, and so .. I started to collect the Halter novels.
Death Invites You (La mort vous invite, 1988)  is a novel that has enjoyed until the beginning by a great success (especially in France) also on the basis of a television drama that was taken from it.
Harold Vickers is a successful writer of detective novels, but by bit of time the sales trend is declining, so he decides to write a novel with which plans to reverse the descent of likings: it will be a
phenomenal Locked Room.
He lives alone in a villa in St. Richard's Wood, with his wife Dane, with brother-in-law Roger Sharpe illusionist a with his daughters Valerie and Henrietta; Valerie is engaged to a police sergeant, Simon Cunningham.
One evening Simon comes to Vickers home: he was invited to dinner by the landlord, but no one knows anything of the occurrence. Another was invited to dinner: Fred Springer, critic of detective novels. For more Valerie who had to go to the theater with Simon was angry because she thought that Simon would have preferred another woman.
They are going to call the landlord, but he does not answer: he said to at that day not to disturb him for no reason. Knocking on the door, screaming, both don’t get any response. They turn around  the house: through taxes, they see the room illuminated. The butler gets a key from another port, since the locks of the house are all equal, Simon uses it to open, but it idles. It means that Harold put the bolt, so .. they decide to break the door down, which gives after a shoulder. The scene which presented itself to the eyes of those present is horrifying: on a laid table, is placed a pan with hot oil in which the flesh is sizzling: in this plan are immersed the face and hands of the writer, burned to the point of prevent a formal recognition. The death was due to a gunshot wound to the head. To witness the immediacy of death is the fact that two chickens still sizzl and smoke on the table, at the center of which towers a triumph of pheasants, near the pulses passed through with the shallot and bacon.
Near the window there’s a glass half full of water and two gloves. And of course no one is in the room: windows are closed and there’s no other passage to the outside, secret or not, and yet the chimney has a grating, small enough to allow the passage of only small animals. His wife fainted on the threshold, and immediately they call the police and so Archibald Hurst Inspector of Police, and Alan Twist criminologist, who are playing chess at home in the first, are thrown into another adventure absurd.
Right from the start you know that the death was not sudden, but it took some time before, at least 24 hours, and that the writer had a twin brother who lived in Australia. The question who begins to emerge little by little is that the burned face is intended to prevent the recognition: want to see that it is not Harold but Stephen Vickers, rich as much if not more than the brother writer?
The first thing to check is the teeth, but in this case it is useless: Vickers boasted of his healthy teeth and he never went to the dentist for this reason. At the morgue, before a show so painful, one of the daughters remembers something that happened the year before: his father was wounded in the leg and was left a little scar. She remembered because the wound initially had been slow to heal. So he is Harold..seems. 
Meanwhile, we learn about a curse: Harold's father had died by heart failure and its causes were to be found in the fact he did not appreciate the genre of fiction practiced by his son. One of the two daughters, Henrietta, who hated his father because, in turn, he didn’t appreciate her talent as a painter, evokes the presence of his grandfather. One night, Simon Cunningham sees a shadow in the cemetery: he says that seemed an old man, who wandered with on dirty rags in the direction of the old cemetery that is adjacent to the house: it is presence or hallucination?:
The fact is that just when you think that the identification has been well-founded, check out from autopsy that the deceased had two teeth implanted: then it is not Harold but Stephen? Where is Harold? Did he kill his brother?
Soon other unforeseen events occur. Twist realizes the pants of his friend are stained with the blood: where else may he to have soiled his pants?  Maybe when he kicked the rags in the street? When they find a piece of cloth stained with fresh blood, Twist has a premonition and they head home, where at her room they find Henriette slaughtered. At this point, they go to the cemetery, and they find the grave of his grandfather, although they can smell a strange odor, the smell of death. Hurst realizes that behind the tombstone, there is another corpse, old of few days: even if the features are distorted and he smells a lot,he  is undoubtedly the twin brother. They want to know why Vickers was so often to find Colin Hubbard, his neighbor? After the visit, and after having given a copy of the first detective novel by Gaston Leroux, they know about a crime took place fifty years ago, in which several of the details are the same as those found at the scene of Vickers: the cup half full of water and a pair of gloves on the ground, near the window, fact who had been witness Hubbard himself. 

Under the Dane Vickers mattress are found the tools used for the staging of the death of her husband, and among these two his hairs. This is enough (in addition to her severe psychiatric conditions, to converge on her the Inspector’s allegations.
But it is not over, because Alan Twist with a quick about-face turns over the cards and he nails the authentic murderer.
First and foremost, this novel is that of smells: the scent of fried chicken, vegetables, stench of corpses, pungent smell of fresh paint , the smell of fresh paint in the color of which the murderer has anointed the lock after having unscrewed and tampered. Many perfumes, too many of them so as not to remember other.
At first when I started reading the Halter, I noticed right away (and I said to Igor) of that long string of citations present in the novels by the Alsatian writer: Igor justified it with the love of Paul Halter to Agatha Christie and especially to John Dickson Carr.
To date I would say even more: while accepting that version, I would incline for another that does not necessarily eliminate the first but integrate her: the volume of citations is too important because it is made only by quotations. 

Quotations may be unconscious and conscious: I would say that too many times, in hindsight, seem aware of it. It’s as if the writer, having to write a new novel, resorted to the inventions of other writers. The point is that to understand the scope of the quotes, you have to be too a great reader as he is, and then automatically, there are many people who don’t understand the mechanism.
Of course, this does not mean that elsewhere, ie in other novels, the scope of the citations could not be less important or even not be there. For example,
Red Mist (Le Brouillard Rouge 1988), which I still consider today if not the masterpiece by Halter, at least one of his masterpieces, reveals an evocative power of imagination and writing so addictive you do not need any gimmicks and quotes: if you will, in that novel, the least important thing is just the Locked Room, which then does not serve the novel, but it was just a gimmick!
In this novel, quotes abound citations: to his novels (Red Mist, in fact: it is spoken in the beginning, but there is another more direct reference at a certain point in the novel: in both novels the murderer has to do with the paint, each of a different substance.
03lamortvousinviteitalie.jpgA characteristic of novels Halter is that some novels contain parts already used in other novels, so far I have distinguished at least three pairs (but could be more): the paint into Death Invites You and Red Mist, the bags with pieces of dismembered women in the Tiger's Head (La Tete du Tigre 1991) and the Bloody Match (the L'Allumette Sanglante, 2001), the cup full of water, in The Madman's Room (La Chambre du Fou, 1990) and Death Invites You, etc. etc.
The staging of the crime so imaginative and culinary (exclusive, I would say, among all the novels read so far) calls Arabian Nights Murder by John Dickson Carr: there the dead is dressed in a cylinder, a coat, has a false beard and nearby is a recipe book kitchen.
But at the same time, the fact that invokes a crime took place fifty years ago (mind you, fifty years, not forty or sixty!) calls a radio play by Ellery Queen, The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, where an event happened fifty years first, occurs exactly fifty years later.
But there is also a reference to Gaston Leroux. 
And then .. the scar in his leg: what do we think? The strawberry-shaped birthmark on Brad’s thigh, in The Egyptian Cross Mystery by Ellery Queen: could also refer to the fact that the corpse as that of Brad Vickers and his brothers can not otherwise be identified: here the features are burned, as if he had no face, there just the head misses.
But there may be another meaning of citations, in addition to the one connected with the memory of the great writers of the past: it could also be a game, a challenge, whom the author throws to his readers . Ellery Queen did not behave in the same way in his first novels?
Ellery Queen left clues to the reader and they were ordered in the right way to come to rival the author: may Halter disseminate quotes, who properly interpreted can reveal the identity of the killer? The most direct quotes here are to Red Mist and to
Le Mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux. But there is also another significant quote: the cup full of water, is related to another novel Halter, The Madman's Room at which is just a glass full of water. This is another characteristic of the novels of Halter: being coupled two by two on the basis of specific clues.
Halter proposes two solutions: the first is given by Hurst who accuse a false killer, the second by Twist who instead identifies the murderer. But it should be said at once, Hurst identifies already half solution: he understands how the door could have been made ​​up to look like closed, but it was not entirely. In this case, the link is to The Hangman's Handyman by Hake Talbot: it is evident that he must have had considerable influence on Halter as many ideas of the original novel can be found not only in the novel that I'm analyzing but also in others, such as The Madman's Room. The difference between the two solutions is given by the name of killer, substantially; in addition to the solution given by Hurst, Twist will explain other things, including, for example, where the corpse of his brother might have been concealed without the stench of decomposition was felt by anyone.
However, the thing that I like most of Halter is its tendency to describe situations or descriptions macabre: the "macabre" which is one of the peculiar characteristics of the French writer, is taken to the extreme in some novels: for example in which there is a lot of “macabre”, The Madman's Room or 139 Steps from Death.
Connected to this trend macabre Halterian narratives, is the last quote I found: the rotting corpse of his twin brother, reminds us again The Hangman's Handyman by Hake Talbot. Not only. There is another quote I do not know whether conscious or unconscious: the corpse hidden and then revealed, here is designed to make impossible the recognition of the corpse. In fact if the corpse is decomposing it will be problematic. In the first novel by Abbott, About the Murder of Geraldine Foster, the corpse is hidden, then later revealed, intact, so that the time of death may be delayed. The effect is the opposite, the medium is the same: the body is concealed, and in both cases the odors are doing their part: in the case of Abbott,  the smell of pine shall turn to the identification of the substance in which it was immersed body, ie the tannic acid; in the case of Halter,  the pungent smell of the paint he has sniffed at certain point in the novel, Twist will understand how and where the body may have been concealed. In both cases the smell of the substance leads to locate the murderer. 
In conclusion, Death Invites You is a good novel, replete with quotations, who has a great atmosphere (Halter is a master of atmosphere, as Carr), and grips the novel from beginning to end.  

Pietro De Palma         

Thursday, March 7, 2013

E. & M.A. Radford : It's Murder To Live! , 1947

E. & M.A. Radford, were a husband and wife writing duo, who edited  Encyclopaedia of Superstitionsthey were the spouses (E) dwin Isaac and (M) angan (A) ugusta Radford, of which the first was a journalist and the second was a writer. The two gave the prints thirty novels, all published in England (none in the U.S.).
The couple by spouses writers should not be surprising: in those days there were established pairs of authors who have had success, especially in the U.S.: the Cole, Kelley Roos, the Lockridge, Bristow & Manning. I wanted to try it too the Radford. Their series, best known, was with Dr. Manson and the CID Inspector Holroyd.
 It's Murder To Live! is the fifth novel in their production.
Hannah Hardcastle, owner of Dombey Hall, a house dating back to the seventeenth century, fears that someone in his house is poisoning her, and therefore, before she eats or drinks, she waits her kitten to lick everything, using it as "a taster " : she suspects a poisoning, because, she  warned severe pain after eating. Only then, she consumes meals and breakfast. However it does not explain to Sir Edward Allen, deputy superintendent, who she suspects to be her poisonerAllen and Dr. Manson, Head of the Science section of Scotland Yard, although they classified the woman almost as paranoid, to be in peace with their conscience, they decide to send someone in the palce. Is sent Inspector Kenway. He takes informations from the Pub about the  gossip of the neighborhood, then he goes to Dr. Williams, personal physician to the lady, who points out that his client has absolutely nothing, and that his rants relate more to indigestion that alleged poisoning. So the investigation is suspended.
Mrs. Hardcastle has many servants on his estate, and among them, a married couple, William and Harriet Bain: he factor, her housekeeper. Taken fairly recently, by the same Hannah Hardcastle. The couple adopted a girl, because they had no children.
William Bain, drinks heavily. One day he starts feeling severe pain in the stomach. The doctors speak about duodenal ulcer, but, the man, in spite of treatment, and although doctors underestimate his condition, dies in a short time.
A short time after her husband’s death, Harriet begins to experience severe abdominal pain. Dr. Williams can not to go, but he ensures he someone will send the next day:  he diagnoses acute gastritis, but has suspicions about the absence of vomiting. The fact is despite the care given to her by the doctor, she also dies with excruciating pain. At this time, the substitute doctor, fresh out of college, with more and more conscious of his responsibility, refuses to sign the death certificate and refers the case to Scotland Yard for an autopsy, which also validates the fears of the young doctor, confirming the poisoning of Harriet Brain for intake of antimony.
Now Scotland Yard remembers the accusations of Mrs. Hardcastle and decides to reopen the practice, sending at the place the Deputy Superintendent and the Chief of Police Science.
The two are sent on the spot, that is, Dombey Hall, and soon realize that everyone lived in that house have something to hide. First of all, the lady of the house, which proves to be more secretive and sometimes reluctant to explain the real reasons led her sometime before to Scotland Yard, and she refuses to say who she thought was the poisoner / her; then the waitress, Hester that reveals things in contradiction to what previously established, and finally Bessie Johnson, the cook, the one who more than others could add something to the food. Even Dr. Williams, doesn’t tell the whole truth. Also he is under investigation for having been able to have access more easily than others, to tartar emetic, a concoction containing small amounts of antimony, which we turn to have been used by Harriet Bain to her husband: the local women gave it to their husbands in secret, dissolving it in whiskey, to induce them to have nausea when they guzzled alcohol:  was a way to get them to stop drinking. So even Harriet could poison her husband. Was just the tartar emetic, taken in high concentrations, to have caused the death of both spouses?
However, it remains a basic question: if it is possible that it had been given to William Bain, why the wife should it take?
Moreover Sergeant Barrett founds Bessie, going away from the house with the excuse to go in the garden, at a water course, she chucked bags of white powder : what was it?
Initially it was thought to be antimony, but then you finds it is
platitudinous common soda: why so much reluctance to admit she had gone to download it? And why would she do this?
The weapon used seems interesting because normally it should serve other purposes: a pitcher. What's Hot? That the poisoning was not served up by pouring the wine of antimony content in the jug, but rather it has been altered by antimony restrained in this league pitcher. Very clever!
Who ever knew the properties of pocula? And was the same person, to have premeditated the murder of the couple? And why is that?
Know why, and not so much the identity of the murderer, will be the most gruesome of the whole affair, in the last lines of the novel.
Linear plot but interesting, offers history of the novel without preamble. There are not even sub-plot, but only the original plot, carried out in its variations, depending on the various characters implicative.
It 's interesting, because here there is not the death of the owner, or the death of an invitee, as often happens, but the death of two servants. This calls up a mystery novel by Georgette Heyer, in which to die is the butler: Why Shoot a Butler? (1933).
But what I want to emphasize is the extreme cleanliness of the story, which is running smoothly, although proposed various tracks alternative, but only to divert suspicion from the only possible person suspected, to whom the suspicions are addressed and diverted several times .
The presence, as possible killer, by three older women, we recall the atmosphere of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), by Frank Capra.
The plot, in the alternation of twists, sometimes grotesque and paradoxical, leads to a logical conclusion, without the read will be affected, even rushing and a high voltage. The reason for this is the narrative style, which seem fluid, which also uses a british humor, so dissolving the dramatic events.
In short, a delightful read.

Pietro De Palma

Sunday, March 3, 2013

J.J.Connington: Tragedy at Raventhorpe, 1927

J.J. Connington was better known by the pseudonym which Alfred Walter Stewart, born in 1880 and Professor of Chemistry and Radioactivity, first in Belfast and then in Glasgow, wrote several novels, publishing since the early '20s until his death in 1947.
Tragedy at Raventhorpe, tells about the tragedy that occurred in the Castle.
Sir Clinton Driffield, County Superintendent of Police, has been invited to the Castle of Raventhorpe, to visit the art collections there contained, among which 3 medallions attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Owner of the castle and the estate is Maurice Chacewater. He opposed the brothers Attilio and Johanna intends to sell the medallions. For this reason, the castle is also an American mediator, JBFoss (with butler and chauffeur), in addition to Johanna's boyfriend, Michael Clifton, a cousin of Chancewater, Ida in Rainhill, and a friend of theirs, Faustus Polegate. One day, Maurice organizes a party at his castle in the mask, during which the most valuable pieces of the collection will be exhibited to the public of those present. Sir Clinton tries in every way to convince him of the extreme danger of this event, as anyone could enter the castle, protected by a mask. But Maurice is adamant. And so, on the evening of the festival, the unthinkable happens: the medallions are stolen. But not the originals but the three copies that were made since the original. It is quite strange because the thief, admitting that he did not know what were the originals and copies them, did not steal all six pieces and not just three, the copies? But the most striking thing, and that Driffield has to discover, is where the thief is over, given that in the confusion after the coup, was chased in the moonlit night, but arrived on the terrace which is overlooking the lake, between the benches and statues the pursuers do not find the thief in another way: he has vanished.

It’s possible the thud they have heard, corresponded to the thief who dived into the lake? Sir Clinton does not believe. The lake is full of sharp rocks: why risk crashing?
Meanwhile, it transpires that the theft was actually committed by Attilio and Faustus Polegate, opposed the sale of the piece of art. What a surprise when one sees that the fake theft has superimposed a real steal! In practice, the thief, disguised as Pierrot, has come a little before two, stole the three copies, leaving the originals, which were then attached below the bottom of the case, the conspirators, to simulate the disappearance.
It’s a coincidence that the two thefts are occurring simultaneously? The fact is that if the thief is not found, it is also true that the landlord comes found holed up in one of the many houses of Fate, salient feature of the estate, and would return if you do not find their homes, a curse would fall on belonging to the head of the family that owned the castle. And so the fairy houses, still exist, scattered in the woods around the castle. Why was Maurice in one of them, with a haggard expression?
Sir Clinton wants to see clearly, the hostility of his hosts: because, even though by now knows the fake theft, wants to continue to investigate? The reason is that the Superintendent of Police suspects that someone else, quite rightly, is interested in three pieces. It’s dredged the lake and it’s found the costume of Pierrot.
Foss offers Chancewater to duplicate parts, with technology that is with him, but he is assassinated shortly thereafter, with a Japanese sword, stored in another showcase of the museum. He was with Maurice: witness Thomas Marden, butler of Foss, who says Maurice is the murderer. It just says that those two were together, then he came, he saw his master in the blood, breaking a window and slid his hand seriously injured, but said he did not see Maurice go away: another disappearance.
Now there's a murder, on which Sir Clinton
has to have its say.

And he must to find out if the murderer is really Maurice, and where he is going to end. At the same time spreads the rumor that a mysterious Black Man has appeared in the wood on the evening of the theft. In short, things people can lose his mind. Meanwhile the gamekeeper warning them that he heard a gunshot near the ruins of the ancient tower, in the woods, a bit 'after the assassination of Foss. But he has found and seen none.
Sir Raventhorpe Clinton knows that there are secret passageways: one that can be opened in its own room in the museum? It caters to Attilio, but that is outside. It must therefore be expected to arrive by train, the next day, to gain access to the secret passage, which actually opens in a niche in the museum. From the gut, in the dungeons of the castle, arriving to a cell, where they find a blood stain. Attilio said to be arrived a little earlier, but the Inspector Armadale who knows but that did not take any train, accuses him of lying. It’s Attilio involved?
Here is the second corpse! Maurice is found in the woods behind the old tower, with his head crushed by a gunshot fired at point blank range. The absence of blood stains and hypostatic, give rise to the suspicion that the body has stiffened elsewhere.
Meanwhile we learn knowing from Marden he was appointed by the owner to send a mysterious package, which then turns out to contain a clock entirely new; also on the box are not fingerprints. And also that Foss was about to leave the castle without anyone knowing, including him: he had seen the driver stopped the car waiting.
But then someone puts into question the words of Marden. Driffield and the Inspector Armadale, his contender in this case, are discovering a mysterious device, called "Otofono Marconi": what it was? Turns out to be an amplifier of sound.
And they are discovering also that Foss was not a mediator but a magician and trickster.
Sir Clinton tends a trap the killer, and after a further drain on the terrace, will be able to catch him, to be chosen, after they have once again tried to fade between the benches and statues of the lakeside terrace.
Let's say that the novel is one of those who Connington longer remains fixed in memory: the reason lies in the great atmosphere. Connington it was an unrivaled master. And the tension is such that two hundred pages are read with a pleasure and a rare tenacity. Then, from this point of view, nothing to say. Furthermore, the novel is one of those in which the author sees at once the tendency to use all the newfangled inventions and that in those years, science and technology could generate: it will be seen for example in the description and use of 'Otofono Marconi. The same gimmick, combined scientific acumen in the investigation, very close Connington to Conan Doyle and at the same Freeman, so that Sir Clinton Driffield in some way can be also compared to Dr. Thorndyke: the see for example in the investigation on the drops of blood found, and the explanation that they can make, whether they are round or elongated, whether they are abundant and they are sprayed, and the explanation of the hypostatic stains. Details as in other novels by other authors, were explained by members of the Scientific Police, or by Medical Examiners. And here the investigator concludes everything. Like .. Sherlock Holmes.
The main thing that I feel to say about its gothic atmospheres, is that in addition to secret passages in the novel I jumped in the eyes the chase scene at night, by moonlight: these night scenes are a bit peculiar to Connington and they are found in some of his novels: for example if there is another in The Case with Nine Solutions (car ride with the fog, at night). Because I believe the case to put them out? Because Carr, in The Grandest Game in the World, essay of 1946, admitted that he was greatly tax and admirer of Connington.
Do you remember the scene in It Walks By Night, in which, after a walk in the park, on a night lit by the glow of the moon, is it discovered Vautrelle murdered? Well, the scene for me is very, very similar to Connington: Carr surely must have been influenced by him, in his first novel. And if it seems like this scene, there are other, always at night, by moonlight, in other atmospheric Carr’s novels, such as Death-Watch or The Crooked Hinge. And the statues on the terrace? To me that scene is reminiscent of Carr’s The Corpse in the Waxworks.
So many awards, but also flawed.
First, the novel is akin to that series in the twenties and before that, he spoke in crime, gangs of criminals, burglaries, where offenders are not members of the aristocracy or upper middle class (which will happen in the '30s) but criminals, or just organized. So, the modus agendi identified, and the explanation of "Quis, quid, ubi, quibus Auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando" it will be easier than expected to identify the culprit, because, to those who were not able to locate it, are given to understand who he is before the conclusion of the novel.
However, the main and fundamental flaw of this novel, is the relief of the figure of Maurice Chacewater and death: Maurice was assassinated, but not suicidal. Because he has murdered Foss? No, because he was seized with neuralgia, by an illness, or an attack of agoraphobia!
The paradoxical thing is that this crisis that originated in his suicide, is in the hall of the museum, just as it is in the company of Foss which showed the three original jellyfish, and even more ironic is that he feels the need to enter secret passage in just a moment before, but just a moment before, that Foss is killed. And the secret passage, rather than wait until the crisis is over as other times (he knows nothing of what goes on behind the museum room), incidentally, decides to end it, killing himself. So are put in place mechanisms that only in a novel appendage could be realized. And then take away spontaneity and "truth" to the action. Moreover, the characterization of the character is significantly incomplete: this agoraphobia, could have been better faceted.
The predilection of Connington for psychosis, it is indeed a fact: sleepwalking, agoraphobia, kleptomania. Who else of great, manifest preference for psychosis? Ellery Queen. Possible that in addition to Carr, Connington had come to affect Ellery Queen?
Can say, indeed .. quite possible.
Kleptomania that appears in a Queen’s novel is incontrovertible evidence. Like the rest of left-handedness, present before in Connington and then in Queen.

Pietro De Palma