Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bill Pronzini : Bones

Bill Pronzini : Bones, 1985 – Italian title : Ombre sul passato – translation Marcella Dallatorre - Il Giallo Mondadori No. 1966, 1986

Who does not know Bill Pronzini? And who does not know his famous detective, Nameless? A detective with a great humanity, that combines wisdom and action. However, his adventures differ from other detectives typical of the genre Hard-Boiled. Pronzini has always been sincere about it, rejecting the subsidiary of Chandler and instead recognizing as the only novelist to have played a key role in the creation of his character, was Dewey, with his "Mac". Pronzini, however, is not alone in this, unlike many authors Hard-Boiled. He also has solid foundations and cultural history of the genre: you known, from a mile away, as his readings have not only caught in the genre Pulp and Hard-Boiled, but also in that of the Mystery Classic. And his stories have an air of light, sparkling, with remarkable leaps and grand finals, and also possess a remarkable humorous vein, sometimes irreverent, even against his character, which is very rare.
Bones, who also has a nice Locked-Room, is a novel that also speaks about bones, but it is not a thriller by Kate Reichs. No. It’s a novel that sinks its own investigation into the past. And as happened before, the plot is intertwined with the traditional mystery.
Michael Kiskadon has recently discovered to be the son of the great writer of Mystery, Harmon Crane, who died thirty years before. A sad story: depression, alcohol and then suicide. So far nothing strange, especially since  had been found a farewell letter in the typewriter. And to validate the theory of suicide was the mode of discovery: the room was locked from the inside, was on the first floor, and it was not possible then exit from the windows: in short, a situation defined. The fact is that "Nameless" starts to investigate, but is faced what might be called a "conspiracy of silence". Before Crane's wife, Amanda, who talks about his lovely family life lived with Crane until the death of her husband, but does not really talks about suicide: that flaunts a glacial that "Nameless" initially misinterpretes, then understanding how the woman has suffered such a severe shock to be assisted by his granddaughter now for more than 35 years, the years since her husband's suicide.
Then the detectives went to interview the lawyer of Crane, such Yankowski, a bad guy, who along with teacher painting of the wife of Crane, Adam Potter, he broke down the door of the room, finding Harmon Crane died,: he seems that he had shot a few minutes after talking on the phone just with him, Yankowski. Ends thrown out of the house, when Nameless, accuses him of having paid his court to Amanda for a long time.
There is also the first wife of Crane, such Corneal Ellen, who was blackmailing him. He says it Russ Dancer, a writer of Pulp failed and chronic alcoholic. Russ Crane had known, and reveals himself to Nameless in the course of a drink (but how should this American detectives!) The most interesting things: Crane not had sex with his wife was being blackmailed by his first wife, drank a lot, but it was not all depressed. The investigations shows that the day of the suicide, he had been in his cottage that had been rented by a certain Bertolucci: the chalet now no longer exists in its place there was an oyster farm, then also went to the down the drain. Bertolucci makes the taxidermist (he stuffes with straw the animals) is strange and he evasively answers, so that Nameless suspects he has not said anything about behalf of Crane. One thing he understands: to Bertolucci, Crane was strongly disliked, even if the rent he had paid him forever. He will know that Bertolucci was married (at that time in which Crane had lived), with a beautiful redhead, who then disappeared, ran away they said.
And the brother of the artist Potter, tells him the depression of Crane was initiated the day after the earthquake of 35 years before, on arrival from his vacation in the chalet of his property.
One day a new earthquake devastates San Francisco and vicinity. The earthquake to Nameless is bearer of good feelings: his girlfriend, Kerry Wade, which makes sex so rewarding for both, feeling the shock, she hears a new irresistible urge to have sex, but it is only the desire to be protected , connected to someone. But then Nameless discovers the earthquake has also brought other news: when he goes to interview the new owner of the area where once stood the chalet, he locates by chance, an old unmarked grave, anonymous, that the earthquake has helped to discover: bones have surfaced and what looks like a purse, and a ring. You will find that she is the red dead, Bertolucci's wife, Kate.
Why her bones are located close to the chalet rented to Crane? And Crane killed himself or was he killed? And if he was killed, as was rigged so that the door seemed locked from the inside? And who closed the door rigging it, was the murderer or an accomplice? Nameless will understand after that Bertolucci is killed, especially when he discovers the lifeless body of Michael Kiskadon, who died the same way of his father, found dead just from Nameless, who broke down the door of the room, alerted by the wife of Kiskadon, Lynn . Suicide or murder?
In a novel enjoyable as ever, in the midst of breathtaking descriptions of San Francisco, interspersed by quarrels with his friend investigator Eberhardt, by hilarious
scuffles between Kerry and Wanda, the Eberhardt’s pupa, Nameless will find a disconcerting truth and the answer to many , too many questions left without no satisfaction by a hasty survey ended 35 years before. And the answer will own those bones, found by chance, buried in an old crevasse, opened after the earthquake 35 years ago and again revealed by the new one, and a carbon copy of a letter sent by Crane to his lawyer.
A vintage Pronzini, who does not forget the lessons of the greats of the past (Hake Talbot) and leads us, in a survey never dull, carefully constructed, with withering dialogues and well-aimed descriptions, to an ending that leaves you speechless. And knowing Pronzini, it takes also discouragement.
Because it isn’t said that all the guilties, in reality, pay the penalty for their actions. And seeking the truth takes, most of the time, sufferences. Luckily the epilogue save all, with a final reflection on the philosophy of life, which will riport attention to the things that save us every day: love, understanding, friendship.
A great Pronzini.
As always.

Pietro De Palma

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Christianna Brand : The Gemminy Cricket Case (1968)

To talk about the Locked Room, today analyze one of the best Locked Room short stories ever: The Gemminy Cricket Case (1968) by Christianna Brand.
Thomas Gemminy is a well-known criminal lawyer based in London, assured himself a great personal wealth from his law practice, he has dedicated himself to philanthropic activities in favor of children from highly disadvantaged family situations: in essence children relatives of known criminals who, remaining in the same bad environment family of origin, they could develop the same germs delinquent of their relatives. These children were from him and his wife, as long as it is lived, bred, educated and protected, starting them to be sure; sometimes he also made sure that those in possession of hereditary defects, migrated, so they lose the basic references and thus be freer to create a life without knowing anything of his past. We distinguish these individuals from having two surnames together: their surname associated to surname of their stepfather.
A three boys Gemminy was most fond of: Giles Gemminy Carberry, Rupert Gemminy Gemminy Chester and Helen Crane, the two males are both in love with Helen and work in the law firm of his stepfather. However there is one inconvenience: a third "cricket" (as they were called his boys by Thomas Gemminy), that the two men do not know, it seems too in love with Helen.
The story begins with Giles going to find, at a nursing home, an acquaintance of his, old age, particularly paid to the resolution of puzzles and give a very daunting subjects one: Thomas Gemminy was found strangled, bound and stabbed in the shoulder in his study, almost unadorned, with the desk on which it is collapsed, engulfed in flames and a broken window in the middle. The door was locked and bolted from the inside, through the broken window to the sidewalk below were no more than fifteen feet overhang, and the weapon with which he was stabbed (and still comes out of the blood when the cops burst), a letter opener , has disappeared from the desktop. The police, whose Central is located right in front of the house of the lawyer, were alerted by a phone call, came from the study of Gemminy, in which the lawyer in a desperate voice had spoken of "something that disappears into thin air." "Of" something strange to the window, "and" two long arms. " Arriving at the door of the studio after less than two minutes, found that Rupert is trying to kick down a locked door; manage to break two panels of the door, one of them put an arm and slide the 2 bolts horizontally and vertically, then everybody can to open the door and find yourself in front of the horrible sight: the dead lawyer, the corpse in the process of burning, the broken window that still vibrates, fragments of it on the sill and, of course, no one in the room, and the desk burned by the flames. In the smoke that chokes and burns the eyes, Rupert finds a message that speaks of Helen and runs away, a policeman comes running out to go and call the fire department, but all the others are there to look for evidence, non-existent.
An hour later he was found dead a policeman on patrol, Dinkum Cross, in the same way lawyer: bound, strangled and stabbed. He, too, before he was killed and later found in the old cistern on a farm near there, had spoken from a phone booth where he had taken refuge, about "Long arms" and about “something that had vanished into thin air.”
The old man is the investigator, here.
Based on its own acumen and his own deduction, he reconstructs the stages of the murder, working for three types of crime, each for each of the three young men, who had been the murderer. Then draw a fourth hypothesis, borne by the fourth subject, assuming that he could be a policeman killed and in that case then he was killed by one of the three for some reason related to revenge for the death of the old criminal lawyer, who essentially was opposed that one of the protected males marry Helen:  could be to the detriment of hereditary taint of Rupert Giles or Dinkum, or be borne by the girl. The fact is that this is the motive, the love between Helen and one of the three males, since the track linked to the heritage is discarded immediately because it was entirely devoted to the Foundation for the benefit of underprivileged children. However alibis seem to exclude the three friends: Giles that he had an appointment with the lawyer has seen at 14.30, arriving at the house where he is living together with Rupert, he had watched his friend who was going away in advance (having him the appointment at 16 with Gemminy) his great-coat to the arm: in those moments the reconstruction of the police showed that the lawyer was dying, then the two young people are protected by alibi of being away from the scene of the murder; Helen would remain, but Giles says that there was a verbal misunderstanding with her, not having gone she to a place called Bell but Dell. Basically would be to examine the position of policeman.
But then the old man retraces his steps, taking into consideration Rupert with another hypothesis, and here the story ends. Indeed it would end, if it were not the real end, with two twists ending, one more overwhelming than the other, that indicates the true murderer and the identity of the old "detective".
The quality of the plot is very high. The voltage and intelligence in creating the situations is miraculous. By creating the plot, Christianna Brand elaborates the ideas of other writers to her earlier: thus, in essence, she is a mannerist, but a very high quality mannerist and very smart, since when she uses her ideas, creates completely new situations, which in some way to make them the new model to be imitated: I mean the reason why the policeman is killed. When I read the story years ago, venturing in solving the riddle (because essentially there is also this in this novel, a sort of challenge relates to Ellery Queen: the race that pits the reader to the writer to explain the performance of facts), I realized several things which were then covered later. And one of the solutions that I wanted to give, in part, coincided with the final solution by Brand: I realized I had figured out the trick. But if you see well, even the "great find" by Christianna Brand, despite being "original", is at the same time a variation of a "great revolutionary idea for the era in which it was conceived" by another author, French, of which I will not name, then widely exploited: who guesses the name of this great French author? The idea of ​​Brand and the idea of ​​this great author are essentially two sides of the same coin: the original author was based on the use of a distorted identity, Brand using the same procedure uses an object, which in a sense is its symbol. Found a really brilliant idea!
"Detective" lent to the story, the old man whom Giles goes to see , in what I call "a challenge with the reader", discards the various solutions one at a time, and in that Brand has historical references: The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Berkeley, where each of the participants in the meeting elaborates his own theory into something different from the previous ones, and The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen, in which there aren’t several explanations associated with different subjects, but only one, Ellery, which processes
4 different solutions, and discarding three arrives at the final one: a little 'what happens here.
The story is called "warm white mist" in Italian, referring to mental confusion of the murderer: when will escape the hot white fog that invades his mind, he will able to remember how the facts are. This “warm white mist” reminded me "Red Mist" by Paul Halter who has close ties with our title: the murderer is insane, the beginning of the end finds its explanation in ours in the end, almost in the end in that by Halter, and Red Mist dims the mind of Jack The Ripper when he is taken from the murder rampage. In this case, of course, Halter could have taken something from the story of the Brand!
I would add that the story of Christianna Brand is linked to The Finishing Stroke by Queen. The writer, in a sense, the reference ranges, clobbing it. Who read the novel '58 by Ellery Queen understood me (but of course after reading this story), who is not, obtains the book and read it.
One last observation seems relevant: the modus operandi of the murderer seems to me akin to that of the murderer in Death From a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson. In fact, in both works, the succession of events, the two murders, is not that effective, what appears at first sight. 
In addition, the Locked Room proposed by Christianna Brand seems to have been designed after reading the crucial addition by Clayton Rawson, in the Locked-Room Lecture of his main character "The Great Merlini" turn in Death from a Top Hat.
 Merlini said that Fell at The Hollow Man mentions basically two classes of Locked Rooms:
 .. He mentions two major classes: (A) The crime committed in a hermetically sealed room Which really is hermetically sealed, and no murderer has escaped from Which, Because no murderer was actually in the room, and (B) the crime committed Which in a room only Appears to be hermetically sealed, and from Which there is some more or less subtle means of escape ...
And then unexpectedly he adds  there is also a third not covered by Fell:
 “...There is, "he unexpectedly announced basis," one more class of locked-room flim-flam. Class C. "...
"What is Class C?"
"It's something Dr. Fell did not mention, as I remember. Superintendent Hadley was always interrupting him in the most interesting places. "
"If this person Fell always had to work up a lather of sus ¬ pense On His listeners before he flesh out with it, I do not blame the Superintendent. Get on with it! "
"Class C includes Which Those murders are committed in a hermetically sealed room Which really is hermetically sealed and no murderer escapes from Which, not Because He was not there, but Because He stays there, hidden-"
"But-" Gavigan and I both started to protest.
"Stays there hidden until after the room Has Been broken into, and leaves before it is searched.”
In essence, the Locked Room used by Christianna Brand.

Pietro De Palma