Sunday, May 29, 2016

Charles Daly King : The Episode of the Vanishing Harp, 1935 (from "The Curious Mr Tarrant")

Tarrant, who is a special investigator, who remembers very much  Philo Vance (not surprisingly Daly King is a vandinian writer of the the first hour), and in fact is into archeology, psychoanalysis (coincidentally the same as Daly King who was an accomplished scholar ), painting, physics, and other intellectual pleasures, and living annuity, lends his services for free to those who can tickle the curiosity of those enigmas by sending it so abstruse and so crazy no one could solve. Provided, however, that he, the investigator, is free to do whatever he wants to get to the solution. Moreover, the fact of not being paid is a “conditio sine qua non” that Tarrant is considered free from any contract and from any taxation. Works according to its own methods, which are not those of the police, whom he can not stand, despite often ends to facilitate with his collaborations (Philo Vance also criticizes police methods: eg. In The Benson Murder Case).
Here the narrator, who speaks in the first person and presents Tarrant in the third, remaining in the shadows (as in the novels by Van Dine, looks a bit '...) introduces Daben Donatelli, his biggest partner of two years of college, fabulously wealthy, and married to Molla, a beautiful and rich woman, Irish descent. Daben possesses an ancient harp, quite similar to Egyptian harps "nanga", whose history dates almost legendary and which is linked to the vicissitudes of the clan of which he is a descendant Daben. At which point someone in the twelfth century had thrown down a prophecy linked to the fate of the harp, whereby again, when the wedding that was held at the time between an ancestor of Darben and his bride will be repeated, and the 'harp had disappeared and then appear and disappear again, the house of Daben being extinguished forever.
Now the salient fact is that the harp has disappeared. By a reinforced concrete bunker, where there is the home library, built inside the villa where Daben and his wife (descendant of the ancestor's wife Daben) live, which is accessed by means of a secret panel , the location of which the opening mechanism is known only to Darben same, and in which there are no windows, but only present a system for air conditioning, whose openings are such that it could not pass even a mouse.
Tarrant agrees to come to the villa of Daben, but when it comes, no time to become aware of the places, and ... the harp is found, in the joy of everyone, including the landlord. At his villa not only he and his wife stay, but the Secretary Stuart (when there is a rich man or a rich woman, there is always the secretary) too; Brinkerstall, a financier guardian of Daben wife; Dr. Turpington and his wife; and the service staff. By pure chance, while going to come down to dinner, Tarrant picks up on his plan a conversation between Molla and Stuart, and he  understands between the two there is an affair.
The presence of Turpington and his wife is legitimized by the fact that Molla is prone to nervous breakdowns: the harp disappearance connected with the curse expressed by the prophecy, for her , very attached to family traditions, has become another form of psychological frustration and emotional, and for this Turpington, who is a family friend, invited her to accompany him and his wife on a cruise, to "disconnect" from the atmosphere that she lives in that house.
Beyond that ... anything that would explain the reappearance of the harp, unexplained, as such as had been the disappearance. Who would be able to make disappear a harp, that is a massive object,  by wood, similar to a kind of zither, but by the shape of a drop, from an impenetrable room?
Tarrant comes in the room together Daben and examines it thoroughly, but does not find anything: only books, and models of boats, in the frame at the top, above the shelves of the library. He examines the walls, the carpet looks, examines the shelves, but can not find anything.
Meanwhile, life goes on in the villa including dinners and games of bridge. But one evening while there was a bridge play and Tarrant saw the panel in front of him open and close and then open and close when Daben had passed bringing under the arms a boat model that needs fixing, at the climax, when Molla wants to see once again the harp in its place ... the harp is gone. Needless to look everywhere and re-examine the shelves and everything else: the harp appears. Tarrant even come to see if there are fingerprints on the glass case which should contain it, not finding any.
After a trip to New York, and after being barricaded himself one night in the library, fearing that someone would attempt to his life, the impossible happens: after midnight Tarrant faints and who enters silently ascertains that Tarrant is dead. But when Daben comes in the morning realizing Tarrant is lifeless, he runs over to call the doctor; but when they return precipitously,  they find Tarrant alive and well holding a gun: he requires two men collect the present, and their presence identifies the culprit, reveals how the harp has disappeared and reappeared, and finally gives a name to culprit way, giving him as an alternative to arrest, the suicide by poison.
Remarkable story, makes an immediate impression for the narrative structure that is not "story by" classical: when we think about a short story of 30s, we think about something that inevitably must give up a introduction,  a detailed description of the characters and their aversions which would introduce a crime, but it must introduce immediately, without extensive preambles, to the crime. Well, that's in the Tarrant story there is, because it is a miniature novel has an introduction in which the narrator (we said at first) introduces the principal character, Mr. Tarrant, describing him:  describes the one who does the investigator, his milieu and practical reason for which he it does, that the harp; It describes the harp and the historical moment to which it refers, which in turn must then justify the prophecy upon which the curse; Finally passes to description of the characters and the places where the action takes place, and the action itself.
The action assimilates the story to the genre of Locked Room. But is not the Locked Room that we find in most of the production, that is, where in a locked room or in a designated area (American purists oppose this second chance talking about the Impossible Crime: snow, sand, dust, island in the sea open) it occurs a crime, but it is only the disappearance of something that is technically impossible that disappears (and reappears in this case to disappear again) from a closed space without someone noticing. Carr resorted in the last works with Merrivale (The Cavalier's Cup, for example.) And in some stories or radio plays: eg. one in which a person is stabbed to death in a pool, using a dagger that vanishes, like invisible seems that it was the murderer (The Dragon in the Pool, 1944). Other authors have examined this possibility too: eg. the impossible disappearance of a sword, at The Bishop's Sword by Norman Berrow. In some ways, the disappearance of the harp, the resurgence and the new disappearance, are very similar to the dagger that has missed from a room without a trace: it is clear that it is not out, to be there. But where? The King’s skill is there, rather than in discovering of the culprit that is simpler. Moreover, there is a recognizable figure that likens the story to his own creator: the motive is to be found in a distorted personality, whose affection is explained as a psychiatric condition. In this figure, we find further closeness of the copy as its archetype, which is Van Dine: beyond the obvious characterization of private investigator who knows everything (Mr Tarrant is very close to Philo Vance), and the presence of the narrator friend who narrates in first person but always remains in the shadows, further evidence that Daly King was a vandinian writer, in this story, is given by the killer's personality (because they did not hesitate to kill Tarrant) of which the investigator finds a clue by reading a book, just like at The Greene Murder Case: there reading Handbuch für Untersuchungsrichter Gross, here Emotions of Normal People, by A.M. Marston.
And as in that case Philo Vance gives the killer a chance to kill himself, as Tarrant here gives the killer the chance to kill himself by poison .

P. De Palma

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