Tuesday, August 6, 2013

F.J.Whaley : Challenge to Murder,1937 ( Sfida al Delitto - I Nuovi Gialli Alpe, N° 4, 1950)

I hope you will read Challenge to Murder and let us know what you think of it!
He said sometime ago Curtis Evans on her wonderful blog "The Passing Tramp", in response to my comment. In essence, in response to him who regretted not being able to track down some novels by this author, I had stated that one of the volumes cited by him, albeit in Italian translation, I possessed.
How do we start? Ah, yes .. Who was F.J. Whaley?
Curtis explains in his article: Whaley was born in 1897 and died in 1977; he was the son of Oswald Stanley Whaley, "an Anglican minister" born in 1856 in Kilburn, London; he fought in the 1st World War;  he handed to the press nine detective novels between 1936 and 1941:
Reduction of Staff (1936)
Trouble in College (1936)
Challenge to Murder (1937)
Southern Electric Murder (1938)
This Path Is Dangerous (1938)
Swift Solution (1939)
The Mystery of Number Five (1940)
Death at Datchets (1941)
Enter a Spy (1941)
I must admit that Curt added data with respect to Gadetection and to specialized sites. The only element of some interest, however, is that F (rancis) J (ohn) Whaley, like other British writers (Innes, Crispin Masterman, Kyd, etc. ..) environs two by his nine novels (Reduction of Staff and Trouble in College), both of 1936, in places academics.
Challenge to Murder is a strange novel, I could say also unusual for the subject covered in the plot: yes it speaks about a crime, and this is not interesting; what is very interesting however, is the motive that leads to crime. This motive is not by the murderer, but .. by the victim.
Come to order.
John Maltby is an entrepreneur, became rich thanks to the production of meat and canned peas, which has managed to build a fortune estimated at about three million dollars. John has three children, more prone to squander that to accumulate more capital. Alas, John does not enjoy the health of Uncle Scrooge. But he has the ability and intuition to build his virtual storage, to put away the assaults of 3 children: Roger, Carl and Eustache. Before he died, he draws up a will, according to his appointment as executor and sole director, his brother Mark, a person by simple tastes, for which the money has never been a concern, having always lived in a manner very spartan . Mark feels tasked to prevent the three human vacuum cleaners (so the three dissolute children idlers are defined in a passage from the novel), suck all of the assets, squandering it at vices, debauchery and unnecessary expenses. The three brothers who are half-brothers, being born from three different wives of John.
So Mark becomes heir of the fortune, with the task of administering it in order to deliver it to the three heirs in prosperous conditions, at his death, and ensuring the three heirs, for the duration of his life, a monthly allowance, which serves the three for a living .
The report of his uncle with their grandchildren is very problematic: he can not stand them because they are lazy, cowardly, treacherous, vicious, and the three of them can not stand him because he has been entrusted the assets that should have been theirs. Every Tuesday the three go to lunch by his uncle, and every week is renewed animosity and hatred among the four, which he watches helplessly as the valet Maltby, Potter, but did not lead to anything new: Maltby knows that the substantial assets will end one day squandered by the three slackers, and the three siblings, despite hating him, depend on him for every little whim or desire, as well as the annuity which he destines them monthly.
This "Cold War" However, one day, it explodes when Maltby, as a result of certain ailments, going by his doctor to get details about his health status, he realizes that he has got worse and he will not have to live longly: having witnessed the ordeal of his brother, who died after a long illness, and not wanting to suffer, has a thought that will determine the course of subsequent events: he decides to compile a very strange will. The will essentially provides that in the case of natural death of a drafting, heritage, deducted of annuities to three grandchildren Potter and the old waiter, it is divided among various charities; in the case in which instead Mark Maltby was assassinated, the assets would be equally divided between the three brothers, always deducted the annuity for Potter. It 's like the old uncle had challenged the grandchildren to kill him, hence the title of the novel Challenge to Murder.
It would be too easy, however, if the three kill him and that's it: No. The old man is still attached to life, and then by all means counteract the futile attempts to suppress it, surrendering only to the lethal threat by the more decisive of the three.
The three brothers think that their old uncle is crazy (he probably is it) but in the meantime they are faced with the problem: to choose to do nothing, and to be poor, and instead to act to kill the old man, and to become rich.
The three also have to choose whether to fight against each other, or choose a common path together and devise a plan to eliminate the old crazy uncle.
For a certain period of time, life continues to last without major upheavals: it is as if the three brothers, hoping for a reformation of his uncle, waiting for an opportunity to give a boost to their lives, but does not damage the life of the relative.
A first signal but the situation is not likely to change, is presented for the case when Roger makes sure your uncle is thrown and killed by his runaway horse: he expects the gratitude of his uncle, and instead he will be paid with a meager allowance.
So one fine day between the three brothers established the germ of financial need and so they understand that the only way to get rich, is to kill Carl Maltby.
I do not say who will do so, I just say that it is one of the three brothers, but which will be caught by the Inspector Stokes Metropolitan Police, thanks to a speck of dust will ruin the cunning plan and destroy the bomb-proof alibi of 'murderess.
I state that the copy I have, moreover, the only one in circulation in Italy, is the result of a translation not complete.
The novel, while also engaging in some places, it has a negative feature: ends with the capture of the culprit and without an ending worthy to clarify the various questions and explain which mainly end face heritage.
The novel does not say. The reader is always attentive to the course of events, it will be understood, however: the three brothers, one will remain to enjoy the heritage, while the other two will perish if not on the scaffold, in prison, unless it demonstrates the inactivity of the third before the criminal intentions of the other two, that is the killer and the accomplice, that is, to be precise, that the prosecution doesn’t prove aiding or reticence from the third, who did not appear the police to denounce the siblings.
The uncle was killed in a subway tunnel, by an individual protected by coat and hat that will explode against three gunshots fitted with a silencer, one in the forehead, the other two at point blank range in the neck.
The murderess is one of three brothers: I will not reveal treacherously, but it is said and flaunted in many different ways, from the novel. But then again the police knows from the outset, so that investigations are directed only against the three brothers. And there aren’t other possible attackers. It’s like if, after the duel between the grandchildren and uncle, the "Challenge to Crime" with the death of the old, now, might arise is a new challenge between the Inspector and the three possible killers.
In other words, we are witnessing the creation by two brothers of a carefully constructed alibi, resting on false detection but because hardly removable rock solid, built on evidence given in good faith by third parties, and police activity aimed at destroying the alibi, to find all the footings and the evidence to frame.
In this we can also understand the interest of Curtis for this author: could very well be a follower of Crofts, having perfectly assimilated the tendency to build an unassailable alibi who is then disassembled just as beautifully. The alibi is based on schedules built on coincidences of trains, metro and cars: to dismantle it will think an attendant and a pickpocket. I say no more.
Only if the assets will not go missing, one of the three will enjoy what the other two will lose.
We are in the presence of a procedural tight, which gives a nod to Freeman Wills Crofts, and  is based on an invention so strange as preposterous: a masochist, eager to die without too much violence, right away, that incited to kill the three grandchildren in exchange for wealth.
It 's the first time I read something like this: a wicked pact, I could say a Faustian pact, the victim and the killers wish to death, and in which to succumb, and do not receive anything, it should not be the villain, but the virtuous.
The novel reads well, but it's hardly a masterpiece: it deceives the time, but the biting action is taken by the fact that from the beginning the police suspects only the three siblings. There is nowhere else to be desired the death of the old man. And then the novel wearily proceeds until the inevitable end.

Pietro De Palma

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