Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Locked-Room Lectures : John Dickson Carr Vs Clayton Rawson


John Dickson Carr Vs Clayton Rawson


(Two years ago I wrote the following article, then published at 2011, 29th July on Blog Giallo Mondadori, where it is. It is the Part One of three articles until today, of a History of the Locked-Room Lecture (but a fourth part it's in preparation). In this blog today I publish it, translated in English, for whom (americans and french friends, also) doesn't know italian language.)

The first writer who invented a Locked Room, The Big Bow Mystery, in 1896, was Israel Zangwill, but the first to have raised the issue and the sub-genre narrative, which it took its name, such a level of sophistication to rise to heights of unusually large, was John Dickson Carr.
John Dickson Carr, who despite American lived for many years in England, from the beginning of his activity, tried to melt in his works of fiction, most genres: the fantastic, the supernatural, the Gothic, the detective to enigma, creating virtuoso plots whose purpose was to undermine the reader, forcing him first to passively accept a statement of facts that seemed incredible if not supernatural, then dismissing it on the basis of a technically flawless, which provided all the logic holds, so that compose the puzzle and give final shape.
His novels, from the first of them, fled from plots are too simple, and focused instead on the classic themes of the "whodunnit", and especially those of the "impossible crime" (such as The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, in which is ideally linked, in the dedication to Ellery Queen, a radio drama of the latter, The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, broadcast on 14 or 16 January 1943), and even more so in a big way, those of "The Locked Room"; indeed, because of the systematic treatment of all possible variations of a Locked Room, Carr was felt by all, the greatest of all novelists who have dealt with this particular detective genre, in which the central element is not so much to find  who has committed the crime as how the crime was committed.
Invariably, in all the novels that have a Locked Room, the first impression of the investigators involved in the survey is that the criminal has vanished: it is needless to say how Carr loved this situation of the "impossible crime" and how vanishing into thin air become his obsession (he used to say, "faded into thin air").
It follows, of course, from this, the fact that the solution must be ascribed or supernatural event or instead that it must have a base strictly logic. But, once invented the paradoxical situation of a crime took place inside room locked from the inside, have been established gradually, not only by Carr, but by a large group of writers paid to the problem, all the possible variants: inside the locked room, room whose income is look towards subjects of trust, the room in which there are physical gadgets can create the situation of impossibility, unforeseen situations that trigger the condition of impossibility, "rooms spread" (extensively snow, sand, water), 'rooms' different (cars, telephone booths, roofs, stairs), etc. ..
Carr, moreover, to confirm the fame that he had been granted from the outside, he tried at one point, to give an exhaustive classification of the room as much as possible, basing it on multiple subcategories.
However, I believe that if Carr has included a such theoretical treatment, in a novel rather than in another, he must have meant something to him: Carr he must have given to the novel (The Hollow Man), the seal work better , or at least of the work most representative of the many designed by John Dickson Carr.
But it is necessary to point out that, in the literary production of Carr, that includes everything from the two sets of Henri Bencolin and Gideon Fell and several historical novels, the kind of " The Locked Room" is not the preferred one, because if it is true that some are exceptional and even remarkable novels (in addition to The Hollow Man, we like to remember He Who Whispers or The Case of the Constant Suicides or even The Witch of the Low Tide) is equally true that there are other novels that do not contain Locked Rooms also if they are just as outstanding invoice (i.e. Arabian Nights Murder); and therefore it seems significant that if he had devised a theoretical dissertation about the genre of  The Locked Room, and placing it in one of the few masterpieces novels signed with his name and surname, part of a series of novels in which many novels do not contain this particular situation, should have a special meaning: why not to insert the "Looked-Room Lecture" as part of the series that has like the main protagonist H.M. and signed Carter Dickson, just voted to Locked Room?
First of all, The Hollow Man goes back to 1935: before it, Carr had signed with his name, Hag's Nook and The Mad Hatter Mystery in 1933, Eight of Swords and The Blind Barber in 1934, and Death Watch in 1935, as well that three of the four novels with Bencolin; while with pseudonym Carter Dickson, he had signed The Plague Court Murders and The White Priory Murders in 1934, and The Red Widow Murders in 1935.
Now, why did Carr think well to entrust to Fell instead to Bencolin and even more to H.M. the "Looked-Room Lecture"? Meanwhile the novels with Bencolin before 1935, although brilliant, are soaked to the marrow until the end by black and gothic atmosphere (
so as to be imbued with gothic macabre atmospheres - rotting corpses, crypts, walled bodies, etc. -  then, later in the literature Carr will disappear almost completely, leaving even the gothic atmosphere, but losing almost entirely the connotation macabre of works belonging to the period of Bencolin) that contrasts with that of the established rationality.
 If you really want to analyze well, it is not true Merrivale's Locked Rooms haven’t their dissertations: in fact, in two novels with H.M. of the series that comes at the outbreak of the Second World War, that are, The White Priory Murders at 1934 and The Peacock Feather Murders (or The Ten Teacups ) at 1937, there are two reflections, which, although smaller than the “Fell’s Conference”, in my opinion are by equal importance. For this reason, I consider it appropriate to compare them with the more famous, to accentuate the fact that Carr, when he puts in the mouth of H.M. the reflections, even if they are ignored or at least underestimated by critics, they have equal value, emphasizing an aspect that in the theoretical treatment at The Hollow Man is missing.
Let's start with the famous dissertation about  The Locked Rooms (of which I will mention the most important steps for me), found in The Hollow Man (1935):
“Most people, I am delighted to say, are fond of the locked room. But--here's the damned rub--even its friends are often dubious. I cheerfully admit that I frequently am. So, for the moment, we'll all side together on this score and see what we can discover… A man escapes from a locked room--well?... It's the escape from the room that bothers me. And, to see if we can't get a lead, I am going to outline roughly some of the various means of committing murders in locked rooms, under separate classifications.
"First! There is the crime committed in a hermetically sealed room which really is hermetically sealed, and from which no murderer has escaped because no murderer was actually in the room. Explanations:
"1. It is not murder, but a series of coincidences ending in an accident which looks like murder. At an earlier time, before the room was locked, there has been a robbery, an attack, a wound, or a breaking of furniture which suggests a murder struggle. Later the victim is either accidentally killed or stunned in a locked room, and all these incidents are assumed to have taken place at the same time…
"2. It is murder, but the victim is impelled to kill himself or crash into an accidental death. This may be the effect of a haunted room, by suggestion, or more usually by a gas introduced from outside the room. This gas or poison makes the victim go berserk, smash up the room as though there had been a struggle, and die of a knife-slash inflicted on himself. In other variations he drives the spike of the chandelier through his head, is hanged on a loop of wire, or even strangles himself with his own hands.
"3. It is murder, by a mechanical device already planted in the room, and hidden undetectably in some innocent-looking piece of furniture. ..
"4. It is suicide, which is intended to look like murder. A man stabs himself with an icicle; the icicle melts; and, no weapon being found in the locked room, murder is presumed. A man shoots himself with a gun fastened on the end of an elastic-the gun, as he releases it, being carried up out of sight into the chimney. Variations of this trick (not locked-room affairs) have been the pistol with a string attached to a weight, which is whisked over a parapet of a bridge into the water after the shot; and, in the same style, the pistol jerked out of a window into a snowdrift.
"5. It is a murder which derives its problem from illusion and impersonation. Thus: the victim, still thought to be alive, is already lying murdered inside a room, of which the door is under observation. The murderer, either dressed as his victim or mistaken from behind for the victim, hurries in at the door. He whirls round, gets rid of his disguise, and instantly comes out of the room as himself. The illusion is that he has merely passed the other man in coming out. In any event, he has an alibi; since, when the body is discovered later, the murder is presumed to have taken place some time after the impersonated 'victim' entered the room.
"6. It is a murder which, although committed by somebody outside the room at the time, nevertheless seems to have been committed by somebody who must have been inside.
"In explaining this," said Dr. Fell, breaking off, "I will classify this type of murder under the general name of the Long-Distance or Icicle Crime, since it is usually a variation of that principle. I've spoken of icicles; you understand what I mean. The door is locked, the window too small to admit a murderer; yet the victim has apparently been stabbed from inside the room and the weapon is missing. Well, the icicle has been fired as a bullet from outside—we will not discuss whether this is practical, any more than we have discussed the mysterious gases previously mentioned--and it melts without a trace
"7. This is a murder depending on an effect exactly the reverse of number 5. That is, the victim is presumed to be dead long before he actually is. The victim lies asleep (drugged but unharmed) in a locked room. Knockings on the door fail to rouse him. The murderer starts a foul-play scare; forces the door; gets in ahead and kills by stabbing or throat-cutting, while suggesting to other watchers that they have seen something they have not seen. --"
"Steady! Wait a minute!" interposed Hadley, pounding on the table for attention. Dr. Fell, the muscles of whose eloquence were oiling up in a satisfactory way, turned agreeably and beamed on him. Hadley went on: "This may be all very well. You've dealt with all the locked-room situations-"
"All of them?" snorted Dr. Fell, opening his eyes wide. "Of course I haven't. That doesn't even deal comprehensively with the methods under that particular classification; it's only a rough offhand outline; but I'll let it stand. I was going to speak of the other classification: the various means of hocussing doors and windows so that they can be locked on the inside. H'mf! Hah! So, gentlemen, I continue-  
There is the hollow chimney with the secret room behind; the back of the fireplace opening like a curtain; the fireplace that swings out; even the room under the hearthstone. Moreover, all kinds of things can be dropped down chimneys, chiefly poisonous things. But the murderer who makes his escape by climbing up is very rare. Besides being next to impossible, it is a much grimier business than monkeying with doors or windows. Of the two chief classifications, doors and windows, the door is by far the more popular, and we may list thus a few means of tampering with it so that it seems to be locked on the inside:
"1. Tampering with the key which is still in the lock. This was the favourite old-fashioned method, but its variations are too well known nowadays for anybody to use it seriously. The stem of the key can be gripped and turned with pliers from outside; we did this ourselves to open the door of Grimaud's study.
"2. Simply removing the hinges of the door without disturbing lock or bolt. This is a neat trick, known to most schoolboys when they want to burgle a locked cupboard; but of course the hinges must be on the outside of the door.
"3. Tampering with the bolt. String again: this time with a mechanism of pins and darning-needles, by which the bolt is shot from the outside by leverage of a pin stuck on the inside of the door, and the string is worked through the keyhole. Philo Vance, to whom my hat is lifted, has shown us this best application of the stunt…Ellery Queen has shown us still another method, entailing the use of the dead man himself--but a bald statement of this, taken out of its context, would sound so wild as to be unfair to that brilliant gentleman.
"4. Tampering with a falling bar or latch. This usually consists in propping something under the latch, which can be pulled away after the door is closed from the outside, and let the bar drop. The best method by far is by the use of the ever-helpful ice, a cube of which is propped under the latch; and, when it melts, the latch falls. There is one case in which the mere slam of the door suffices to drop the bar inside.
"5. An illusion, simple but effective. The murderer, after committing his crime, has locked the door from the outside and kept the key.
(Selections by  "The Locked-Room Lecture" by John Dickson Carr - The Hollow Man, Hamilton, London,1935)
As you can see, Carr indicates seven ways to perpetrate a crime in a locked room, creating a problem for any investigators: in reality, the sixth among the seven modes, is a variation of other more complicated, the fourth . All that Fell presents can be said a summary of the technical installation of a Locked Room; it’s missing in this discussion, however, the explanation of why, according to Fell, a possible murderer recourses to the preparation of an impossible situation: missing, i.e., the part who explains the psychology of intent. Here, Carr is in charge of this thing, in the cycle of H.M., signed Carter Dickson.
However, the first reflection of Merrivale precedes that by Fell, a year:
“That locked-room situation has got you bothered as hell, ain't it? Your sole and particular hobgoblin. Seems as though murderers take an especial pleasure in givin.
Chief Inspector Humphrey Masters the fits-and-gibbers by refusin' to keep to the rules of cricket. Only this time it's a little bit worse. If you had only the locked-room situation, you could carry on with a cheerful heart. Everybody knows several trick ways of locking a door from the outside. Bolts can be shot with a little mechanism of pins and thread. Key-stems can be turned with a pair of pliers. Hinges can be taken off the door and replaced so that you don't disturb the lock at all. But when your locked-room consists of the simple, plain, insane problem of half-an-inch of unmarked snow for a hundred feet round ... well, never mind. There's worse than that, Masters.”
“I was thinkin' about something to do with John Bohun's attempt to kill Lord Canifest, when he didn't succede but thought he had...”
In the gloom beside him, Bennett felt the girl stiffen. She stared up at him uncomprehendingly; but he gestured her fiercely to be silent. They were eavesdroppers, but he was afraid to speak up-afraid to move now. He regretted coming down here, when something in Katharine's restless brain seemed impelling her to talk. He pressed her arm. .
“But we'll skip all that for a minute,” continued H. M. drowsily, “and look at this impossible situation. The first thing is to determine the murderer's motive. I don't mean his motive for murder, but for creating an impossible situation.
That's very important, son, because it's the best kind of clue to the motive for murder. Why'd he do it? Nobody but a loony is goin' to indulge in a lot of unreasonable hocus-pocus just to have some fun with the police. And there are enough motives for Tait's murder flyin' about already without our needin' to explain the mess by simply saying that the murderer is crazy. Well, then, what reasons could there have been?”
“First, there's the motive of a fake suicide. That's fair enough. I go to your house, shoot you through the head, and shove the gun into your hand. Say it's a house like this one, with little panes in the windows. Uh-huh. I lock and bolt the door of the room on the inside. I've got with me a bag containing a piece of glass cut just right, I've got tools and putty. I remove one of the panes of glass in the window nearest the catch. Then I climb out the window, reach through, and lock it on the inside. Afterwards I replace the old pane with my new little one; I putty it round, smear it with dust so nothing shows, and walk away. And so the room's all locked up, and they'll think you shot yourself.”
Masters peered at him uncertainly.
“It strikes me, sir,” he said, “that you know every dodge”
“Sure I know every dodge” H. M. grunted sourly. He stared at the fire. “I've seen so many things, son, that I don't like to think of 'em at Christmas. I'd like to be home at my place drinkin' hot punch and trimmin' a Christmas tree.
But let's sorta poke and prod at this thing. If it's a new wrinkle in the art of homicide, I want to know all about it”.
“First, the suicidefake is barred. Nobody tries to stage a fake suicide by beatin' a woman's head.”
“Second, there's the ghost-fake, where somebody tries to make it look like a supernatural killing. That happens seldom; it's a tricky business at best, and. entails a long careful build-up of atmosphere and circumstances. And obviously that's out of the question in this murder too, since nobody's ever tried to foist any suggestion of the kind or  so much as intimated that the pavilion's haunted by a murderous spook.”
“Finally, there's accident. There's the murderer who creates an impossible situation in spite of himself, without wantin' to. Say you and Inspector Potter are sleepin' in connectin' rooms, and the only outside door, which is to his room, is barred on the inside. I want to kill you and throw suspicion on him. I come in during the night, workin' my pane-and-putty trick on the window; I stab you in the dark, and get out after replacin' the pane. Yes. What I forget or don't observe is that the door connecting your room with his is also locked on your side - and I've got an impossible
situation again. Ayagh!”
In essence, Carr, in this first mention of a discussion about the Locked Room, distinguishes three distinct motives can push the offender to use a locked room in his machination: to believe in a suicide; faking supernatural situation;to believe in a suicide forgetting something instead can push in the direction of an impossible situation; or imponderable something, who getting out of the same will by murderer, creates a condition of impossibility.
But it isn’t the only word by Merrivale about the motive that may have encouraged a murderesr to use a locked room. The final word about this interesting aspect, in fact, Merrivale deliveries to reader, four years later (even if the time of Merrivale is less):

"Once, a couple of years ago (I think it was in that White Priory case) I made a generalization. I said there were only three motives for a murderer to create a locked-room situation. I said there was first, the suicide-fake; second, the ghost-fake; third, a series of accidents which the murderer couldn't help. Well, I was wrong. When I was gradually tumblin' to the way in which this little sleight-o'-hand trick was worked, I saw a fourth motive, the neatest and most intelligent of all. A super-cunning criminal has at last realized the legal value of impossibility; and he's realized that, if he can really create an impossible situation, he can never be convicted for murder no matter if all the other evidence is strong enough to hang a bench of bishops. He is not tryin' to evade the detecting power of the law so much as to evade the punishing power. He's realized that, set beside impossibility, all other methods of coverin' his tracks are clumsy and uncertain.
Look here! An ordinary criminal sets out to commit a murder and cover his tracks - how? Usually with an alibi. He tampers with clocks. He gets on and off bicycles or trains; he fools about with time-tables or steeplejack stunts; he winds himself up in shroud of red tape, doin' the most dangerous thing of all because every point must depend on somebody else, every point brings complication after complication, every point puts him into fresh danger of bein' caught in a lie.
But, suppose, on the other hand, he can kill his victim in such a way that the police can't tell how it was done?- a locked room, a body alone in snow, whatever you like? The police may be certain he did it. He may be found with blood on his hands and blood-money in his pocket. If they dare to bring him to court, judge and jury may be certain he did it. Yet if the Crown can't show how he did it, he must be acquitted. A court of law ain't a court of probability; it's a court of certainty. He's pinnin' his faith to the whole crux of criminal law-the reasonable doubt."
(Carter Dickson – The Ten Teacups, 1937 – Heinemann, Chapter 19: H.M.'s Way - )

Interesting this comparison, is not it? Fell speaks about technique, Merrivale about psychology: here because Carr breaks down the two aspects: he wants to be treated separately by two of his major characters, giving importance to both. Still, the judgment by Merrivale, wrongly, over the years, was underestimated :even more so in the novel of 1937 compared to 1934, Carr reveals the real reason underlying the need to create a locked room: it is the only way the murderess has to put the gag to the police. Who in fact, while arresting him, will not convince the judge, exposing a theory that explains exactly how the murder was perpetrated, will be forced to release him. Because doesn’t serve as clues albeit very safe, as absolute certainty.Then Carr is definitely the best. But in this case, “best” is not absolute concept, as relevant: in fact, if it is true that the Locked-Room Lecture by Gideon Fell, and the two interesting reflections by Henry Merrivale constitute a monument to all those who recognize the primacy, it is also true that they can be regarded as a counterbalance each the other extraordinary Locked-Room Lecture, by Clayton Rawson, a great friend of Carr.
Clayton Rawson inserted his “Looked-room lectureas part of his extraordinary novel “Death from a Top Hat” (1938), in which there are two extraordinary locked rooms. He, of course, talking about Carr, only this time the dialog by Merlini, with the inspector and other characters, is not limited to a mere reflection or repetition, but to a critical analysis that significantly expands the horizons of discussion of Carr. It should also be said, that in a very original manner, Rawson presents the comparison of Merlini with Carr: Carr makes him say that he was not an original author because he would have moved, romanticizing, the exploits of a true English detective, Gideon Fell.
Next, here are some important passages of his Locked-Room Lecture:
“…” Then, with sudden seriousness, he asked, “Ever hear of Dr. Fell, Inspector?”
Gavigan’s grunt was negative.
“I’m way ahead of you. You’re thinking of his ‘Locked Room Lecture’ in The Three Coffins. Right?”
Merlini nodded, his eyes twinkling. “Yes. Dr. Fell, Inspector, is an English detective of considerable ability, whose cases have been recorded by John Dickson Carr. Locked rooms are a specialty of his. And, in the book Harte mentions, he outlined a fairly comprehensive classification of the possible methods of committing murder and contriving to have the body found in a sealed room-minus murderer.
“He mentions two major classes: (A) The crime committed in a hermetically sealed room which really is hermetically sealed, and from which no murderer has escaped, because no murderer was actually in the room, and (B) the crime committed in a room which only appears to be hermetically sealed, and from which there is some more or less subtle means of escape.”
Gavigan puffed at his pipe and I listened carefully.
“The first class includes such devices as,” he ticked them off on his fingers:
“1.   Accident that looks like murder.
“2.   Suicide that does the same.
“3. Murder by remote control, in which the victim meets death violently, and apparently by someone’s hands, but in reality through poison, gas, or at his own hands, being forced to it by outside suggestion.
“4. Murder by a long list of mechanical lethal devices, some of which, as they occur in detective fiction, are pretty silly.
“5. Murder by means of an animai, usually a snake, insect, or monkey.
“6.   Murder by someone outside the room, but which looks as if the murderer must have been inside; dagger fired through windows from air guns-that sort of thing.
“7. Murder by illusion, or the Cockeyed Time Sequence. The room is sealed, not with locks and bolts, but because it is watched. The murderer kills his victim and walks out; then, when the observer has taken up his place before the only door, he makes it appear that the victim, is still alive. Later, when he is discovered foully done in, it appears impossible.
“8. The reverse of 7. The victim is made to appear dead while he is stili alive, and the murderer enters the room just in advance of the others, and accomplishes his dirty work then.
“And, finally, No. 9 is perhaps the neatest trick of them all, because essentially it is the simplest. The victim receives his mortal wound elsewhere, in the conservatory or the music room; and then, still traveling under his own power, enters the room in question, preferably a library, and manages to lock himself securely in before popping off.”
“They don’t do that when they’ve been strangled,” Gavigan protested.
“No,” Merlini agreed. “Sabbat’s murder doesn’t seem to fall in Class A, unless you can conceive of some mechanical contraption that will strangle a man and then evaporate. Icicle daggers or bullets that vanish by melting may be practical, but offhand l’d say a man couldn’t be strangled very efficiently with a piece of ice.”
“You forgot method No. 10,” Gavigan added quietly. “Mur­der by the supernatural, which includes such damn foolishness as homicidal pixies who can dematerialize and Watrous’s theory of strangulation by etheric vibrations. Proceed, professor. Get the rest of it out of your system.”
“You’ve got the patter down very well, Inspector.” Merlini grinned. “It begins to get interesting now. Class B, the hermeti­cally sealed room that only looks that way because the murderer has tampered with the doors, transoms, windows, or chimneys; or because he has been thoughtfully provided with a sliding panel or secret passageway. The last contingency is so whiskered a device that we’ll pass it without comment. Doors and windows, however, can be hocused by :
“1.  Turning the key which is on the inside from the outside with pliers or string. The same goes for bolts and catchcs on windows.
“2. Leaving at the hinge side of the door, without disturbing either lock or bolt, and replacing the screws.
“3. Removing a pane of glass and reaching through from outside to lock the window, and replacing the glass from the outside.
“4. Accomplishing some acrobatic maneuver that overcomes the seeming inaccessibility of a window-hanging by one’s teeth from the eaves or walking a tightrope.
“5. Locking the door on the outside, and then replacing the key or throwing the bolt on the inside, after breaking in with the others to discover the body.
“Hey!” the Inspector yelled. “Stop it! Just consider I didn’t mention the subject.”
Merlini spluttered a bit, then calmed down. “There is,” he announced unexpectedly, “one more class of locked-room flim-,flam. Class C.”…
…. “What is ClassC?” »
“It’s something Dr. Fell didn’t mention, as I remember. Superintendent Hadley was always interrupting him in the most interesting places.”
“If this Fell person always had to work up a lather of sus­pense on his listeners before he carne out with it, I don’t blame the Superintendent. Get on with it!”
“Class C includes those murders which are committed in a hermetically sealed room which really is hermetically sealed and from which no murderer escapes, not because he wasn’t 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!”
“Harte!” Gavigan turned on me. “What about it?” “Not a chance,” I said, and then, almost before my words had traveled a foot, I saw it. I grimaced; it was so ridiculously simple. Our attention had been so occupied with the triplicate sealing of the doors, the locking, boiting, and keyhole stuffing, that we had overlooked the obvious.”
(Clayton Rawson, Death From a Top Hat, Dell, N. 69/1945, pag.107-113,Chapter 13, “Designs for escape”)
Summarizing the all reported before, Rawson, through Merlini, distinguishes between two different classes of Rooms: Class A which includes those rooms actually closed but from which no murderer has escaped because there was no murderess really into it, and the class B is to which belong the rooms that apparently seem to have been effectively locked from the inside. At the first class (A) belong: incident that seems to murder, murder seems suicide or murder by poison or gas, and inducing the victim to kill; murder caused by lethal gadgets and mechanical; murder by animals, including monkeys, snakes, insects; murder committed out of a room, using an air gun to shoot through the window to make it appear that the murderer was inside; murder using of illusion: there are no doors or windows boarded up, because the outputs are look at sight, and the killer who has already murdered the victim, shows on the outside, calling attention to the fact that the victim is actually still alive and well, so that when the victim dies, it seems impossible; the inverse the previous one: the victim is alive and well and maybe just sleeping, but the murderess doubt creeps instead is dead, and so, rushing for first to place of the false death, kills, creating an impossible situation; finally, the victim is mortally wounded in another room, but perhaps not realizing all or underestimating the wound, he closes himself in his room, and then causes the impossible situation.
Clayton Rawson expands so therefore the dissertation by Carr.
Moreover, he is the only one to have expanded in an original way, the Conference of Dr. Fell and so he is the only one who can rightly be called the anti-Carr: reasons of deep friendship and professional rivalry, brought Rawson who was one of the greatest illusionists and magicians of America, to confront and look for an alternative or an extension about the Fell’s theory . But the surprises do not end there. In fact, later in the dissertation, Merlini notes that the second class (B), to which belong all those methods that allow you to commit a crime in a closed chamber and then out of it, altering locks, latches, windows, fireplaces, or using secret panels or secret entrances; turning the key from the outside using pliers; removing the door from its hinges, without disturbing the lock and replacing the screws; removing a glass panel window and then putting it back in place from the outside; using acrobatic maneuvers to overcome the height of high windows; or walking on the rope or using gutters; closing the door from the outside with a key, and then replacing it causing those present to break down the door with him (and perhaps I might add, before leaving the room , inserting a key of the other lock in the door, convinced that it is the real key, and then, breaking down the door thereafter, replacing the false key with the actual key with which the room was closed from the outside).
But Merlini also adds that there is also a third class (C), of which Fell didn’t speak because interrupted by Hadley: the class in which the murder was committed in a locked room,  sealed also, from which the murderer didn’t come out. At a time when there is breaking into the room, he, hidden inside somewhere, readily merges with the others present, appearing as one of those who, by breaking down the door, entered the room first lock.
This is the output of blatant Merlini, the obvious thing that nobody had thought.
That's because Rawson is really the anti-Carr.

Pietro De Palma


  1. Great article!
    Now, i'm anxious to read Carr's novels. Do you know where can i find the ebook version of his novel?

  2. Isn't Poe usually considered the inventor of the locked room mystery in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"?

  3. I think Poe is not the inventor of the Locked room, for the simple fact that the basis of the crime of the Locked Room has to be a murderer who turned the crime and then managed to escape without a trace, leaving the room locked from inside. Now, this is what happens in the novel you quote. Only that, andit is not a forgivable thing ... indeed !, the murderer is an orangutan, who did not want to kill, and that did not engineer a crime, because it is an animal, nor even devised a way to escape without a trace , because it is an animal. He only found a way out and escaped. But in the novel Zangwill the crime is committed by a human being, and indeed for the first time is subverted one of the canons of the detective novel, which sets the conditions because the crime could be thought as "a Locked Room".

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