Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hillary Waugh - Sleep Long My Love, 1959

Recently came out in italian bookstores, signed by Hillary Waugh, "Dormi bene amore mio", Sleep Long My Love, 1959, in the series of Polillo Publisher.
Who was Hillary Waugh?  
Hillary Baldwin Waugh was called and he was born in 1920 in New Haven, Connecticut. He graduated in 1942 from Yale University, and then he enlisted in the Air Force USAF: just as he lent military service, he thought of writing a novel, his first, Madame Will Not Dine Tonight in 1947. After having published two more novels without much success, in 1949 he turned his attention from the Mystery enigma - genre that had raged in the thirties and early forties to the so-called "Procedural", a novel in which the survey is conducted by a police , following tracks, interviews, formulating hypotheses, abandoning them, etc. .. until you find the culprit. His first novel, the change was the dazzling Last Seen Wearing ... which was published in 1952, followed by many others.

Waugh, also named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, has died at age 88, in 2008

Sleep Long My Love is a black novel , but most black that you can not.
Even here the characteristic of Waugh emerges forcefully: a beginning of the novel absolutely surprising, as well as the final unsettling were the characteristic of Brown. But I'm not talking about the Prologue, but just the beginning of the novel.
In the Prologue there is a dialogue between a man and a woman, two lovers. He is tired of her, but she haunts him, begged him, and finally threatening him with the story that she is pregnant by him. A threat as old as the world, for a married man who lives an extramarital affair only as carnal fun without wanting to break up with his first wife, becomes the motive for murder.
So far nothing special. It’s the beginning of the novel instead that  is unsettling!  Mr. Watly, an employee of a real estate company that rents houses, finds broken the glasses of his office. He Suspects a theft but he can not find anything that was stolen, except ... of leases from the archives?
One steals money, shares, securities,  jewelry, but never you heard that someone has stolen rental contracts. Yet it is so.  But Fred Fellows, police chief at Stockfords, does not think so. It begins to dig, to analyze all the rents and eventually focuses on short-term contracts. Restlin, the owner of the estate agency speaks about a certain Campbell who had rented a nice big house for a month, and would be available soon; Watly only that you had taken the day before a buyer, Brunnell, but had found the house deserted and the door closed.

Fellows and his sergeant Sidney Wilks go with other agents, and immediately feel a strange odor that can not identify. The house is uninhabited, clean and put in order. Nothing strange, except two suitcases with two gold initials "JS" in the entrance, almost forgotten.
Bare rooms, clean bathrooms but one with the foam in the bottom of the tank, and a freezing cold inside the house. You die from the cold, and already it is in February, February 26. But for most of the heating is off. Restlin launches desperate in the basement where there’s the boiler and you can hear his cries: someone has left turn off the boiler, not shutting off the water meter and so the pipes have frozen and they have erupted.
Fellows enter into all the rooms and finds nothing, absolutely nothing. Then he goes down to the cellar. But why in the basement? Yes, because in the cellars of the abandoned houses are hidden secrets. I remember the good Carr (he intended about Gothic literature), in It Walks By Night, in a wall of the cellar it had been hiding a decomposing body. No, here. decomposing bodies hidden in walled niches there are none. But there is a trunk. Other topos of the novels blacks. When you find a chest, you can be sure that inside there is always something interesting: Agatha Christie reveals a rotting corpse in a trunk, in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe; Alfred Hitchcock conceals one inside a chest and then over there prepares the table for a cocktail party in Rope; Michael Gilbert hides a decomposing body in a trunk, in his masterpiece, Smallbone Deceased; even the French writer Pierre MacOrlan (one of the pseudonyms of the great Pierre Dumarchey, author of the ever remembered enough Quai des Brumes, the novel from which Marcel Carné drew the eponymous film masterpiece with Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan) in Le tueur numéro deux hides a corpse in a trunk; and even “The Jackal” at Forsyth's novel, when he kills the forger of passports that wants to extort more money by threatening to reveal to those who have provided them, he hides the body in a chest.
Do you want to see that in the chest, in the basement of the abandoned house, there is a corpse?
Initially clothes, shoes, but then find a trunk of a body who has been partially preserved from the cold by the decomposition, from which lack the upper and lower limbs and the head. Where will the killer have hidden them ever ? 

Since at the boiler they find are a strange ash, not charcoal, it is assumed now that it is the missing part of the body. As you can never identify the body?
First, the investigations aim to identify who sent the trunk, because you know it is the trunk of a dead woman, but you can not find out anything important. Then just out of curiosity by Fellows who finds on a notebook  strange signs as products from a torn piece of paper above, he fails with an empirical method, to know a name "Jane Sherman" and her address. He convinces himself that are the true data of the killed woman. But when he went to the woman's house, he finds in front of her, alive and well. And then from the dialog that follows, almost questioning, he realizes that the Sherman is a dissatisfied woman, never looked at by men, that one day he met a man in a train, in respect of which she felt a strong physical attraction, so much to go with him to a house and spend the night with him. She reveals that all the rooms were open except one, and only after that Fellows tells her about the murder, she understands she has been one step away from discovering a dead body in it and ending up in the same way. Oh my God! A murderess kills a woman and then goes in search of another, he seduces her, leads her  in the same house with the corpse still warm in a room, and he makes love with her !
Fellows understood to be looking for a monster, which is a common man, so common as to be impregnable because John Campbell is an invented name.
 Everything is probed but in vain: we look for someone who may has come from some neighboring country, maybe he has a double life. A neighbor said that this guy was living with a reserved woman, arrived in the afternoon and then went away in the evening. Fellows is convinced that the murderer is a traveling salesman, but in spite of all searches, he is only able to arrest an innocent man, a salesman of vacuum cleaners with the hobby of carnal adventures with unsatisfied housewives. Only when Fellows ask the help of dentists and ask them if they have patients with the initials "JS", he takes the right path and he can figure who is the victim.
And after a patient and meticulous investigative work ... he does not call for any result worthy of note. So, he restarts from zero: from the theft of contracts; by the visit of Watly and Brunnell to the empty house; from the attempt to burn the body, which were subtracted awkwardly and by untrained bodies, fearing the woman's pregnancy, before at the boiler and then when it had gone through negligence, in the chimney of the house: to it was due the l strange and disturbing smel, since from having tried to burn the body in the fireplace. Fellows by the fact that the trunk had not been made ​​to disappear, he realizes that someone must have disturbed the murderer at the performance of the perfect crime.
He will be able to nail down the murderer only with an idea, extreme in its conception, just making a subtle reasoning and conceiving a solution to the limit of the imagination, in a dazzling finale.
Truly extraordinary novel, Sleep Long My Love is a Procedural tight, engrossing, with a tension increasing, which finds its main points in a plot just perfect: a murderer who is not, a shadow in the night; a victim unrecognizable; the weapons: a carving knife and a butcher knife found burned in the fireplace; the absence of fingerprints, signatures of tracks. Only the meticulous investigation of the police, that does not leave out anything, that does not shrink at nothing, that taking false leads, false stops murders, fails to stop the true killer; and when it is in doubt whether you can prove premeditated murder, how  thinks Fellows about, instead of manslaughter as supposed Wilk about, just a mistake of the murderer, who claims to have bought the weapons only after the woman's death had happened at a day that Fellows discovers  to have been not working but festive , will deliver the truth, and the novel ends as it began: with an attribution to the murder, of premeditated murder.
The technique followed by Waugh, an author whose magnitude is still far from being accepted and recognized in Italy, and whose many distant traces remain, but few recent ones, is to present all the clues together, not giving emphasis to them, much less to that specific, so that despite being very fair with the reader, at the same time he submits the clue, he hides the most poisonous effects resulting from it. Only at the end, he will refer, drawing the question on which rotates the whole affair: why did the murderer stop the destruction of the corpse, if anyone in the neighborhood had experienced anything strange, or if anyone had smelled the stench that radiated around?
Only by giving answer to this question you will be able to give a twist to the story and to catch the murderer.

I have been able to develop the same reasoning of Fellows and to nail the same murderer before he be revealed by Waugh.
The murderer is the most unexpected of the story and at the same time the most plausible.
he recalls a famous novel by Agatha Christie as the murderer is presented to the readers.
More than that, it needless to say.
The psychology of the novel is taken to its best, the portraits of the people involved are in the round; and there is a certain sensitivity and a certain sadness to tell the mournful events, that takes away the mystery from the certainties of the puzzles aseptic thirties, instead of sinking it in the mist and the blood of Crime Story. In some ways, also here, the victim is at the bottom an executioner and the executioner a victim: if the victim did not not threatened the murderer to reveal his relationship to wife of him, she would still be alive and he would not have become a murderer.
And to dominate the story, it is the Fate, the only winner, inscrutable: it causes the murder.  It causes the Simpson to lead to extreme her threat; it takes Campbell to premeditate the death of the woman, or rather her missing. But the Fate leads to occupe about the case  is not just a cop, but an heir to the great tradition of the 30s, a Poirot, a Fell or even better, a Appleby, the only one who can (except the ultra-shrewd reader) making some reasoning and unmasking the murderer. Detector is also the theft of contracts, which, however, could not be consumed.
Moreover, the murderer is a mile away from those wicked cool or smart by Ellery Queen or by Carr or by Agatha Christie: here is a man who only under the aura of mimesis of which he is equipped, he is unable to believe be rescued; but then demonstrates his fragility, in his sobs and in his tears, at the end.
And there is an exquisite sensitivity in analyzing the American province, and the ill-concealed tendencies of depressed men who are victims of social degradation and the lack of any value in which to believe, in the face of another society dominated by the myth of the "Self Made Man ", and the ill-concealed tendencies of depressed women in their lack of hope for a better life, crushed by the absence of leadership roles reserved for them only in promoting social and refugees at being married or however loved, even if only for one night. So the twoJ.S.” of the story, the Jean Sherman, small-town girl, devoted to her father ill, who by virtue of his condition she can not enjoy the close proximity of men, in short, a virtuous maiden, and Joan Simpson who has given, or believed to have given a twist to her own life, finding a young love, which will lead instead to the death, if they are united by the initials, instead run through two paths parallel but very different: they both made sex with the murderer, but while the first saves herself of the because she is content of the love’s night not having or having a few doubts that the man will never see again from her, because she will continue to live everyday life with his father sick (an example all positive), the second ends up murdered and mutilated by her will to try to stretch to infinity in opposite a story that it is already over, in his desire not to settle for what is offered, looking with her feminine wiles to rape a husband and wife situation of others, replacing it with her own (a negative example in her lack of virtue).
Maybe that old proverb "He who is content, enjoys" is still valid?
Waugh flaunts the murderer under the nose more than once and meanwhile leads the can for air.
And the question he makes, "A challenge to the reader" implicit, that it is why the murderer knew he would be disturbed, it is a blow: it is as if it was the only chance that he offers to the reader to figure out the enigma before the final solution.
Truly a magnificent novel !

Pietro De Palma

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