Saturday, December 28, 2013

In Whose Dim Shadow: A misunderstood Locked Room

Connington was an author who began writing detective novels , such as a recreation : there was a voice saying that in the 30s, several professors were reading mysteries for leisure  .. but it is also true that many illustrious minds wrote them: Dorothy Sayers , Nicholas Blake , Edmund Crispin , Thomas Kyd , and in fact J.J. Connington , whose name was in reality A.W.Stewart, who was a famous scientist and professor of chemistry .
In Whose Dim Shadow, is a novel of 1935 . That is the main feature by Connington , ie the atmosphere ( the full moon , dark, mysterious secret passages, for example . ) does not exist here . The novel in fact looks like a Whodunnit, characteristic of the mid-30s , a novel puzzle to as many of those years, though always fascinating and very well built (although, once again, the murderer is, for the expert reader, very easy to find : I found him at least 150 pages before the end ).
The fact is that Connington is always too respectful vs the reader, and often says too much about the suspects , flaunting the features , so ... at some point , who has an analytical memory of what he  read , and who knows that 2 +2 is always 4 , must understanding who is the murderer , also if  improbable ) .
In this case we have a police officer, William Danbury, who is eager to shine , but to do it, he would need something really interesting, that by sheer coincidence , it happens under his nose: while he is on patrol at night , Mr. Geddington who lives on the street Grove No. 5, begs him to intervene in a stable, because you heard a gunshot . Danbury who is not looking for it , finds a nice hot hot body in a vacant apartment , where is in progress a work to painting the walls : in the middle of a room is the body of a man , his face disfigured from a gunshot fired in face, in the midst of a can of paint spilled, blood stains on the floor and a handkerchief that was soaked by it , and into a can of paint , a gold cross in the shape of Tau. In addition, the corpse wearing gloves, rubber shoes and has a truncheon in his pocket, by very effective craft. The investigations have suffered very difficult .
There is apparently no real clue , so that even the clothes are free of riconoscitive plates , and none of the tenants of the building , at first sight recognize him. There is a free-lance journalist , intrusive and perpetual hunt for the scoop, Barbican , which was the first to rush and the first to help the agent Danbury and his colleague to isolate the crime scene ; there is the architect Barnard ; George Mitford 's former office clerk who lives very modestly with a small income , and who dreams of fairy-tale places of Japan; there is a couple who always invites people into their apartment , extraction of high social or at least wants to believe it; there is the lady Sternhall , of French origin that gives lessons of his original language in his house, and his brother , a kind but decided from the dodgy : the woman is alone, because her husband , is always away on business , and at the time of the discovery of the corpse, is far away. In short, a varied fauna . To these are added two other types , which together with some tenants, usually go home Sternhall to learn or improve French : Bracknell 's Ambrose , a young and handsome preacher of a Christian sect , and Miss Huntingdon , a girl who fells in love with him . The fact is that the body , reassembled , and especially his face, clean from the blood and made presentable , make sure that the body is recognized and associated with Mr. Sternhall that at the time of death should have be far away, and that instead he was very close to his home. You will find that he led a double life , because he had two wives, so he was a bigamist : he had fired a poor clerk and had haunted him , and he himself was persecuted in turn by a blackmailer who knew his secrets. You will find that  Bracknell was what had lost in the scuffle with the Sternhall the pendant in the shape of Tau , but he was not the murderer: to remove himself from the suspicions of the police he did not hesitate to put in the middle Miss Huntingdon who was infatuated : in short, a great villain ! The same  lady Sternhall didn’t tell many things to Sir Clinton Driffield, Chief of Police and the protagonist of the many novels of Connington .
The corpse will not be alone in the rest of the novel , but will be accompanied by a second , that of the employee ( he was the one who happened to be fired from Sternhall ) than eager to earn thousand dollars placed as pets for people for who would reveal to the police the details useful to catch the murderess , recklessly flaunting them by referring to a letter that he intends to send to attention of the Chief of Police : precisely this recklessness will cost him his death. The killer , that if someone had not already identified , we understand  now who he might be, kills him simulating a suicide in a Locked Room . The death will be recognized instead as murder when around the corpse will recognize two different types of blood. Sir Clinton in the last pages , with the help of his friend Wendover (a kind of Dr. Watson , but much more acute than the companion of Sherlock Holmes) , will nail the murderer ( in case you had not yet figured out who he could be ) and explain the obscure points of the drama: the last pages before the final revelation have only a summary of the summary , since the murderer comes already turned before that is twenty pages before he is stopped.
If the novel , in the succession of titles by Connington , it loses a lot in the atmosphere and buys in the creation of the riddle and its solution, a character is very recognizable , as it is a real brand of production by Connington : as we said J.J.Connington really was a great scientist , and in all his novels , Stewart introduced a few electronic devilry , or some invention or some gimmick that had contacts with physics or chemistry . In this novel , particularly interesting is the analysis of the blood vessels and organs of the body , and the comparison with the blood found on the floor , on the significant assumption that if it was the blood gushed from the wound , it would have coagulated all at the same time . And instead the fact that there is clotted blood and fresh blood reinforces the hypothesis of a tampering of the crime scene. Also there is the characteristic data of the absence of fingerprints , obtained using lycopodium powder .
The club moss ( Lycopodium ) is a genus of vascular plants belonging to the family Lycopodiaceae, fairly widespread throughout the world. Its spores , being highly flammable , are used for fireworks and even at the circus . However, in this novel, A.W.Stewart took advantage of the intrinsic property of lycopodium powder , to be refractory to the water , as it has large absorption properties , and because of this property , specifically used in the pharmaceutical industry : because the sweat is a percentage composed of a certain amount of water , covered the fingertips with lycopodium , they would not leave fingerprints. Another salient feature of the novel, is that it begins without an introduction (in use of other British novelists of the time: Christie , Marsh, Heyer ) at which it is  the early genesis of the crime: in this , the novel is very similar to the American novel .
Essentially , in fact, one of the differences in structure between American crime fiction and the Anglo-Saxon par excellence, is the absence of an introduction : the novel begins with the murder , and only then begin the investigation of which the reader participate: in other words the reader is treated to the detective. From this, the tendency will be originated , for example in Queen , to organize a duel between writer and reader, with the challenge to the reader. But in the British detective novel , before the murder , there is an introduction that introduces the reader to the environment in which the crime takes place , ie in other words, the reader is treated to the narrator . It seems to me a substantial difference,  because if at the British novel, the player has an advantage over the detective because he has witnessed the events whose the detective knows nothing , and so the final solution will be even more a defeat of the reader, because the detective knew nothing and instead managed to finish first,  in the U.S. , the reader is really on the same level of the detective , and then the duel took place with equal intensity by both parties and there is a real chance that the reader draws the detective's ability to solve the problem. In its essence, the novel would seem  an archetype of a procedural , in which, as in all Connington’s novels , investigations are carried out by the police:  to act is the Chief of Police, which behaves like a real investigator , however, supported from other law enforcement agencies . It is not a unique case : in fact, more or less in the same year, was born on the other side of the globe , from the pen of Anthony Abbot, another similar investigator: The Chief of Police, Commissioner Thatcher Colt.
The curiosity is that in this novel there is a Locked Room , not known to most. Written in the same year of The Hollow Man by Carr, in 1935 , it presents several individual characters that connect itself to this novel by Carr , and to another novel by Carr, The Gilded Man (published as Carter Dickson) with Sir Henry Merrivale , in 1942: for example, the owner of the house, found that comes in disguise, with rubber gloves and with rubber shoes , and a truncheon in his pocket; in The Gilded Man there is the master of the house who plays the role of a thief in his house , complete with gloves and shoes rubber and he is attacked : the only difference is that in that case he was seriously injured , but here he is killed. Even there (The Hollow Man) , as here , there is a Locked Room , but what interests me is to point out that once again , it would seem to me that was Carr to model Connington , and not the opposite. The dates of publication are in fact symbolic, but in its essence, the novel is very different from other most classic novels. Here the staging of the crime novel approaches to the very most celebrated Carr ( had already appeared several novels Carr, with their characteristics, before 1935 ) : there’s the typical tendency to act out a situation in which several elements appear bizarre and each of they in turn suggests that a sub-mystery must be explained. Interesting also appears to be the dual assertion of Sir Clinton about Locked Rooms : before he says to have thought at least six ways to use a trick to close a door from the inside,  as an intellectual exercise; after he recomes on the six ways to close a door from outside. Not only. He also explains that connecting the barrel of the gun to the barrel of the key and then the trigger on a string, you would be able to shoot the gun inside, pressing the string from the outside; or gripping and turning the stern of key and then using pliers from outside.
This is another example of “Conference of Fell” as that  in The Hollow Man by J.D.Carr. . For more, the trick used by Connington can be ascribed to the first group of examples cited by Carr for closing a door from the outside: a rod is inserted into the ring of the key so as to constitute a guide for two wires made ​​to pass under the door. In fact in The Hollow Man, we read : “…Chimneys, I regret to say," Dr. Fell pursued, his gusto returning as his abstraction left him, "chimneys, I regret to say, are not favoured as a means of escape in detective fiction--except, of course, for secret passages. There they are supreme. 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. One practical little mechanism consists of a thin metal bar about two inches long, towhich is attached a length of stout string. Before leaving the room, this bar is thrust into the hole at the head of the key, one end under and one end over, so that it acts as a lever; the string is dropped down and run under the door to the outside. The door is closed from outside. You have only to pull on the string, and the lever turns the lock; you then shake or pull out the loose bar by means of the string, and, when it drops, draw it under the door to you. There are various applications of this sameprinciple, all entailing the use of string (John Dickson Carr: The Hollow Man, London, Hamilton, 1935, Chapter XVII: The Locked-Room Lecture ) .
It would be interesting to see the dates of publication of Carr's novel, and the novel of Connington, both of 1935, to determine which of the two had been published before the other.
To the trick used by Connington to open a door from the inside, using a slash inserted into the ring of the key, will refer, however, Anthony Boucher, in his novel The Case of The Solid Key, 1941, without making the name of Connington: in this Boucher’s novel is introduced  a locked room, closed from inside by a Yale lock .

Pietro De Palma


To compare other methods used in contemporary Locked Rooms or before of "The Hollow Man" by Carr, I point out the wonderful article by John Pugmire dedicated to "Locked Room Lecture" of Dr. Fell, to be read on his website LRI:

However, the trick of Connington, then reported by Boucher, to me does not seem appear.