Saturday, June 11, 2016

Patrick Laing (Amelia Reynolds Long) :The Shadow of Murder, 1947

Amelia Reynolds Long was born on November 25, 1904 in Columbia, Pennsylvania. When she was young, she moved with his family in the nearby town of Harrisburg where she lived for her entire life. After attending the University of Pennsylvania and graduating in 1931, she found work at a publishing house, the Stackpole Publishing Company, founded the earlier year, and she remained there until 1951, then she became curator of the William Penn Memorial Museum. In the 30's she wrote a series of non-fiction stories that were published in several magazines of the time, before turning his talent to detective novels. Admirer of Agatha Christie (she thought nobody better than the british writer had followed the footsteps of Poe) and instead detractor of atmospheres "fists and gangsters" of the hardboiled school, she began her literary career writing Behind the Evidence in 1936, with the pseudonym of Peter Reynolds, a mystery published in only 75 copies, whose basic idea was taken from the Lindbergh kidnapping. In 1939 she published under her real name, her first real mystery published in mass circulation, The Shakespeare Murders, which was a great success. This was followed by three other novels, all based on the character of Edward Trelawny. Then she wrote six novels based on the figure of the lawyer Carter who defends just who he is sure being  innocent: among these, Murder by Magic (1947) in which there is a Locked Room. Between 1947 and 1952, she wrote six novels, with pseudonym Patrick Laing, based on the exploits of the homonymous psychologist blind Patrick Laing. Amelia Reynolds for a long time has thought on herself burdened a curse or a great misfortune: the fact that when she wrote something, then something happened that had a relevance with that title.

I report her impressions, released during an interview in the early 70s

”It seemed that every time I used a place or a character as a basis for a story something happened. A woman that I had met in college asked me to write a story placed at her husband’s old home up in State College called Meadowside. I went up, and it was a picturesque old place. There was a place on the landing where there was a little door that led into a back attic, and every time either my friend or I would pass that door we’d get the cold shivers. We never heard that anything had happened in that room, we just had the feeling that something had. I wrote the book, the book came out in the summer, and late that fall her husband’s mother, in trying to smoke some ham in the smokehouse, let the place catch fire and burned the whole house down. Then I wrote MURDER GOES SOUTH placed in New Orleans at the time of the Mardi Gras. The book came out in the fall — next spring no Mardi Gras — we were at war. This sort of thing kept up; people that I would use for models in my stories would drop dead! It had me scared. The worst thing happened when I wrote MURDER BY SCRIPTURE at the request of my editor, since THE SHAKESPEARE MURDERS had been pretty successful. It was based on a series of murders in the Bible in which a reference to a passage in scripture would appear applying to someone, and within the next 24 hours that person would die. The book was doing okay, but shortly after it came out a child was kidnapped in Chicago, and what happened? The family started to get Bible references. I was scared silly. I thought, has my book given someone ideas? And I thought if that child were to be killed I’d quit writing. But it was found that the Bible references were a hoax and were not sent by the kidnapper at all, but it was some prankster who may or may not have read my book. Anyway, the child was found and all ended happily”.

Amelia Reynolds Long shared the same fate of Cecil Day-Lewis (aka Nicholas Blake), writing in addition to detective fiction also poetry: in fact, the last years of his life were devoted to composing poems inspired by the themes of the death, of the transcendence and of the country's history of Pennsylvania, which she picked up in the anthology Pennsylvania Poems, received with great enthusiasm.
The writer died at her home, in Harrisburg, in 1978.

The Shadow of Murder, 1947 is the fourth novel by the series signed with the pseudonym of Patrick Laing.

Thelma Joyce is poisoned and she dies. Who had motive and also materials opportunities to eliminate her? Her husband Stephen Joyce, who is acquitted from accusation of first-degree murder (for which there is the electric chair) because his defender Courtney Lane, manages to shed light in the jurors, the realization that a man's life can not be destroyed by a few clues gathered by the police that are not enough to declare him guilty in an incontestable manner. So he is acquitted, as we would say, "for lack of evidence." The fact is that Stephen Joyce, however is marked, at least in personal affections and in the context of certain knowledge, from the suspicion of being "the" probable murderer.

Now he is going to get married and he would like to be recognized morally innocent: for this some people, who were involved, as relatives or friends, in the story of  the earlier fifteen months, ask the famous Professor Patrick Laing, professor of Psychology and skilled detective, albeit blind , to investigate on the basis of that data and testimonys that he will collect, and to establish, with only private investigation, if indeed Stephen Joyce is innocent or if he is not. There is also at stake the life of another person, his future wife, Virginia Thorne, who at that time she was involved in the investigations also. And the convictions by other people: from Waldo Mercer, brother of the deceased and journalist to Kimball Kent, publisher; from Courtney Lane, Joyce defender and guardian of Virginia and Thelma to Rosemary Sullivan close friend of Virginia, to the younger sister of the latter, Doris.

Laing must operate only on the basis of the evidence, and can not even personally examine the places where the murder was committed, because he’s blind, and he should only rely on the reconstruction made by others and he should base his interpretations on the clues he could collect from them. We understand that, on the basis of this thing, his judgment to exclude any liability by Joyce in the death of his wife, will be very difficult. He knows, however, that, at least, it will be equal to that of judges and jurors who, like him, had to judge only on the basis of what was explained to them, not having had anything instead part of the collection of evidences materials and in the collection of statements by those who had taken part in the tragedy as spectators.

What does  Patrick Laing learn? Thelma Joyce was killed in August of the previous year by a powerful dose of mercury dichloride dissolved in the lemonade that she had drunk, and that had been dished up in a period that ranged from eight o’clock p.m. to half past eight p.m.  However, beyond the evidence, the problems begin here: first of all, who did slip her it? The husband, who had gone on appointment to her house to discuss the divorce between them, had been alone waiting for her, after she had gone out for a moment . When she returned, and had picked up her glass of lemonade that was left on the windowsill where she had left it, she had informed her husband she would not intend to discuss the divorce and she would make life of him difficult.

He was gone away, slamming the door, but shortly afterwards, became suspicious from non-responses of his sister, her stepbrother Waldo, had managed to get in and found her in agony on the floor, with her knees bent at chin level. He had called the doctor, but then, in front of the evidence of poisoning, had been called the police. Now, it is obvious that the investigators, learning there a short time before had been the husband to which his wife had denied the divorce, and so he had had the opportunity and had the most valid reason ever to suppress her, they decided to indict him. But here it was arrived the knockout blow: how did someone  slip the poison and from where did the mercury dichloride come from?

No one, least of all the police, was able to figure from where it came from the poison, and then, above all, how it was slipped to the victim, because into the glass no trace was found, least of all had been found trace in the full pitcher of lemonade . Yet on the window sill, around the footprint of the glass, tiny drops of poison had been observed. Here ends the evidence, and begin the doubts. The lawyer Lane, guardian of Virginia and Thelma, after his parents had died tragically, had bothered to bring out during the process these doubts, noting as Thelma, many years before, she had tried the suicide by ingesting calomel.

Laing, questions the six people who signed the letter and each of them gives own reconstruction of the facts, which substantially coincides with that by others. Patrick knows, however, also only for the fact that the six persons concerned are those who participated in the tragic events, with the exclusion of Doris, who was a child and had no reason to want to kill Thelma, among them is also hidden the real murderer, since it is possible that it may have been a man but also a a woman, and that the poison is notoriously a feminine weapon.
From the six stories, emerges:

- Such as marriage between Stephen and Thelma was born for a Thelma scam and then had become a ball to foot for Stephen;
- Kimball Kent that had been touched by the murder of Thelma, because he would have wanted marry her if she had not married Stephen, and anyway it was always related to her as a friend, and he always had to provide proof that a marriage unilaterally canceled Mexico had no legal effect in America (he wanted to avail Stephen), in that span of time in which she had moved away from the room where he was talking to Stephen.
- That no one was in the house or had escaped in that span of fifteen minutes since she had moved away, that Stephen had always remained in the room, and he ruled out that others had approached;
- A mysterious man with a revolver, of which nobody knows anything and that is quoted only by the small Doris, had approached the window, without being seen;
- That strange to say, throughout the sequence of events that had had the fatal evening, someone had even dared to steal the small Doris games.
From the depositions comes to light a succession of various significant moments, such that individual minutes acquire an extraordinary importance: something must have happened even without the other they did not notice!
At half past seven p.m. Kimball Kent gets Joyce’s home Joyce, where there is Thelma but also Virginia and Lane; at a quarter to eight  p.m. Lane and Virginia come out on the terrace (while the small Doris plays in the meadow); at ten to eight p.m. Virginia reachs the little girl and at five minutes to eight p.m. both are reached by the Virginia’s friend, Rosemary Sullivan; at eight o’clock p.m. Stephen comes into home Thelma to talk about the divorce; at a quarter past eight p.m. Thelma remains alone with Kent; five minutes later Kent goes away and he leaves the home at twenty-two minutes past eight p.m.; at twenty-three minutes past eight p.m. Virginia who had returned home three minutes before, goes into the bathroom to take the mercury tablets and dissolves them in the water (in fact the small Doris has hurt her knee and the doctor has recommended her daily dressing using the dissolved mercury water); at twenty-four minutes past eight p.m. the phone rings: it's Thelma who wants talk to Virginia. The lawyer Lane answers from ground floor while Virginia takes communication from the first floor. The phone call lasts five minutes; Lane at twentyfive minutes past eight p.m. returns from his home to the terrace; Thelma returns into the living room to talk to Stephen at half past eight p.m.; finally, four minutes later, Stephen, upset, goes away from home.

here is the element that was missing: Laing understand to kill Thelma has been the mercury of those tablets dissolved in water, containing mercury bichloride: but as the water of the solution is going to end in lemonade is a mystery. However, from the depositions he had had previously, he has managed to know that probably in the glass something was up, but Virginia and Rosemary had rinsed and cleaned the glass because of it they had maked use to attempt an urgent remedy to save the life of Thelma: had mixed mustard with water and had then tried to Thelma swallow to induce vomiting. Then, they had cleaned up the glass and had filled it by lemonade, thereby altering the scene of the crime, but did not they know (or rather yes?) in that glass had been mercury?

Inside the riverbed of the testimony, more than one are the suspects, though Laing knows that at least Virginia like Stephen would be a suspected sure if Stephen and some others had mentioned it, something that has not been.
Who did kill Thelma? Was one almost six? Or the mysterious man with the pistol?
Or was it suicide?
Thelma was not a person to kill herself, and about this everyone agrees. But it is also true that the tare of madness lurked in her home: in fact the mother had been treated at home from the husband, doctor, until he had not realized that his wife had become socially dangerous and as such he had decided to suppress her with a dose of poison, a sort of euthanasia that had not avoided him the electric chair. Possible that the germ of madness is reborn in Thelma and it has expressed itself in self-defeating form?

Laing will provide the proof of the innocence of Stephen, elaborating two theories, the second excluding the first, in which before he will accuse Thelma to kill herself unintentionally having drunk alcohol before and calomel after, with which she would attempt a fake suicide to concentrate the attention to herself: then when the others were hurried to find help, she'd really been poisoned as a result of the combination of lemonade with the calomel that would produce mercury bicloridio, causing her death. In the second theory, not revealed publicly, but extorted from his wife Deirdre, who has not believed to the tall tale of her husband, he will indicate the real murderer and how has been possible slipping the poison without anyone noticed it.

Beautiful novel, proposes, it beyond the blind detective protagonist of Baynard Kendrick’s stories (ie Duncan Maclain), a new blind detective, Patrick Laing, professor of psychology, that only with the strength of his mind can reconstruct crimes and nail guilty. Laing uses psychology to explore six depositions ( note as 6 is that the number who appears in several detective novels, as well as in the present: Six hommes morts, of Steeman; Six Were to Die, James Ronald; Six crimes sans assassin, of Pierre Boileau; etc ..): 666 is the number of Satan in  the Apocalypse. The detective in question will appear in the other five novels, all signed by Reynolds under the pseudonym Patrick Laing: If I Should Murder, Stone Dead, Murder from the Mind, a Brief Case of Murder, The Lady Is Dead.

Also in this case we have the situation that the paper detective corresponds to the actual writer in turn pseudonym (as Ellery Queen), situation we see also realized in the case of Abbot and Van Dine with the particularity that here is the identity between the writer and the assistant of the detective, all cases that still seem to me tending  to frame a fiction situation "made in USA".
That the american writer liked Agatha Christie and the British crime writers, it is confirmed by the theme of the devised plot: poisoning, treated very well and played with interesting implications. Even the same detective work of the psychologist follows the approach of Poirot: listens everyone, asks questions, notes, deduced, he takes notes. He doesn’t disdain anyone, not even the little Doris, who however, not being touched by partisan interests, provides the testimony truer and at the same time the most decisive for the resolution of the case. Then, at the appropriate time, he brings together all the suspects in a closed place and here closes the case providing his truth and his guilty. And besides the same attention to the times of the situations which lead to crime, remind us that particularity, by  a lot of novels of the Golden Age, especially by British authors, to favor the dismantling of unassailable alibi (eg. Croffts, Agatha Christie, Wheeler, etc ..)

Interesting murder with mercury dichloride, HgCl2, very toxic and corrosive poison (it is the first time that I see it used) and ingenious is its medical uses (true) which explains his availability. Again more ingenious it is how it’s used and the manner in which it is administered: by a toy. At the double solution, the real (by the toy) and the false (with the mixture of calomel and alcohol), the ability by Amelia Reynolds writer not only of mystery but also of science fiction manifests itself to be able to invent situations that leave amazed. I must say that probably she understood about chemistry or at least she was prepared: infact, if she demonstrates the possibilities in the first explanation, the false that calomel, mercury protochloride (Hg2Cl2) or mercurous chloride, could be transformed into mercury dichloride thanks to combination with an acid reagent (true), it could have been achieved only by combination with concentrated hydrochloric acid, HCl, boiling.

Now, this at the stomach can not take place, because the presence of hydrochloric acid is minimal, and the rest as recognizes Laing, if this could have happened, it would have occurred many times before (and instead of this the medical literature does not take tracks). But meanwhile the hypothesis, as it has mixed truth with falsehood, has left incredulous the reader, before to reassure him and to proceed to the real solution. And also this seems to me a bond that unites her to her model, that is, Agatha Christie, queen of poisonings (with Anthony Berkeley, Belton Cobb, etc.). And at the same time she manifests herself race writer, because she knows the incredible mix with credible, hatred with love, madness with compassion.
And after having convinced us with the impossible, leaves us speechless with the reality, and proposes once again, at a memorable, and pathetic final, the repetition of the crime, only narrated, which had brought the father of Thelma to the electric chair: as her mother, had been killed for pity  so that her madness didn’t provoke successive tragedies, for the same reason has been killed the daughter.

Pietro De Palma

A tribute to Amelia Long Reynolds is on:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Ngaio Marsh : False Scent, 1959

Released in 1959 for the first time, the New York Times in his column of book reviews, called the novel by Ngaio Marsh False Scent a "delightfully witty and vivid novel of the London theater".
It’s the twenty-fourth novel starring Sir Roderick Alleyn, by noble birth, the first inspector and now superintendent of Scotland Yard. And once again, as in other past, he has to do with a crime matured into a community theater.
Mary Bellamy is a well-known theater actress, who plays with an exclusive contract for the Society of Marchant. Her husband, Sir Charles Templeton is major shareholder of the company Marchant: he,  in a moment of difficulty of the Company immediately after the second world war, came to meet Marchant holding up the possibilities and allowing his company to react and succeed . And Mary Bellamy only recites for them.
The day of the birthday of Bellamy, is organized a lavish party at her home, and in addition to many important guests of finance and the aristocracy, there are close friends: the director Timon Gantry; costume designer Bertie Saracen; the youngest actress and partner of  Bellamy on scenes, Pinky Cavendish; the godson of Bellamy and Charles, Richard Dakers, playwright; his girlfriend Anelida nephew of Octavius ​​Brown, antiquarian and bookseller, and the Colonel Warrender, a close friend of Templeton spouses. However the fate knocks at the door, because at that day when everything should be fine ... before Bellamy argues with Bertie and Pinky in the greenhouse, after she gave her the expensive "Helpless" perfume, for reasons of jealousy (Bellamy wants to be the first woman of the company and does not allow other might undermine his position of prestige and dominance in the Society and at the same time pretend that all even the costume should dress well just her), then fights with Timon, Richard and Anelida, when it comes to knowing that the last play written by Richard was not like the other dedicated to her, but to his girlfriend and is she who should recite it, while director and impresario would try to make her play on scenes, even these passages are intended as a betrayal and a conspiracy, so soon atmosphere becomes red-hot and Anelida and uncle are shown the door: Richard goes away, accompanying the girl and her uncle, and all other people manifest signs of impatience towards Mary.

The party goes on, and among the flash of the official photographers and cocktails prepared by the barmans, the tragedy is consumed: shortly before the opening of gifts, Florence, the personal maid to Mary, cries her mistress is very ill and she asks a doctor : Florence found her on the floor in agony, but still alive. Waiting for a doctor and the tragedy is over: Mary Bellamy turns up dead, his face twisted into an ugly grimace, near the can of Slaypest, a highly effective insecticide, but also extremely dangerous. On the face, on the dress, everywhere, trails and streams of insecticide, as if the dead had sprayed it  for inattention. But it is clear that this never could have happened because Mary was in love with herself, she would rather splashed on him to others. Inspector Fox, suspecting something, immediately calls his supervisor and friend, the superintendent Alleyn, which begins with begins knowing the environment and continues questioning the present, while Fox deals instead of servitude. It appears that a few moments before the housekeeper Old Ninn and  the maid Florence have heard, before a hiss and then a thud, Richard visibly shaken had run away from the room of his adoptive mother and from home.
it is inevitable the suspects pinn on him, although nobody understands because he would kill the adoptive mother; and especially how, since after he has gone, the mother had been poisoned, and not before. However soon Alleyn should begin to extricate himself from a forest of lies, of missed admissions and strange behaviors: first, though before they were very intimate, after the gala and before the death of Mary, Warrender and Richard on one side and the other Templeton refuse to see each other; Old Ninn suspects about Florence and Florence suspects about Old Ninn; Florence also suspects especially about  Richard; Gantry, Cavendish and Saracen would be excluded because they were first down and moreover had no knowledge of the environments of the house; Charles Templeton, the Mary’s husband after her death has collapsed and the doctor who had taken over the death of Mary, Dr. Harkness, who is the doctor of Templeton, assists him so that he doesn’t have other, more dangerous heart attacks.

Alleyn suspected it can not be anything other than a murder, supposition that Fox has already told him: it may have been an alternative an accident, but not suicide. In fact it is missing any letter of farewell, and the rest why would she do in the midst of an organized party by her for her triumph? Remain standing the two hypotheses of the crime and accident: the second assumption as far as possible, does not collect the sympathy of the two police officers. In fact, the insecticide that caused the actress' death was not simply sprayed but was sprayed closely, almost repeating with a continuous spray action. So we would fall in suicide, we eliminated with other reasoning. It follows that the only viable hypothesis is murder: only is missing the murderer. In fact the presence of the two women on the landing, unless you consider one between two the actual murderer, makes it impractical and impossible.
Roderick is therefore at an impasse.
Then there are things he doesn’t understand: on the vanity table was found a bunch of violets, flowers that the woman hated, and none of the invited states having brought, because everyone knew Bellamy did not like them; before death came, the phrase "That shows how much wrong you are. You can go away when you like, and the sooner you do it the better” pronounced aloud by actress so that everyone could hear, was heard in all the house: but which was it addressed to?
It was found in the study a paper copy of a letter  by Richard that he is determined to deny to have written and Roderick Alleyn rebuilds with his acumen; in the study of the house was found a book about the poisons, in which is marked the information  about  the Slaypest; Mary Bellamy, before to descend and to go to the guests, she had wanted Warrender  sprayed  the perfume Pinky had given her, in large quantity: why Warrender and not her husband? In addition, why on the dressing table was found the scent almost completely finished, when in occasion of the episode just mentioned, there was still a long way into the bottle?
And above all, how was perpetrated the murder, if murder it was?
What was the motive of the murder? Money? Would inherit her husband, who nevertheless is fabulously rich in his.  Jealousy? Her husband doted about his wife and to meet all her whims. Evil? Yes indeed. But wicked had become she, the victim. Again we are in fact faced with a victim who is more wicked than the killer, because the motive here is the rage, the pure hatred. However, resulted from a demonstration of the victim: if she had not behaved in a certain way, if she had not spilled a truth  for long time held within, the murderer would not suppressed her.
However, the greatest quid because you can get to identify the murderer is the weapo as well as the motive: what was the means used to kill the woman?
When Alleyn understands what it is, send it to forensics, which will ensure substantial traces of the insecticide. Obviously, at this point the investigation will go more smoothly forward, because the weapon acquisition will eliminate from the suspect’s list some people and more will be added. Until in a final twist, after it has been given to readers another red herring meal, Alleyn will reveal the name of the murderer.
Wonderful novel.
I am still amazed about the craftsmanship by Marsh  to be able to treat in a manner so wise many characters, giving each one its relief and its function: here, even those for the same action of the tragedy, and the stakes imposed by the script, not take an active part in the action criminal indeed,  and are driven out from the beginning, that’s Gantry, Cavendish and Saracen, have their own very specific part in defining the personality of Mary and her peculiarities as company executive: in fact, the shares Charles held at the beginning, these were, for his poor heart condition, transferred to his wife, fearing he to die and to leave, Mary without money. So is she to influence the company's decisions, and what looked like the tantrums and the sockets of Prima Donna position, at the end, for the attitude of Gantry, Cavendish and Saracen, and for the belated intervention of Montague Marchant, they are defined in the right light. And they have their importance in making lighten the contours of the drama also.
It 'a classic novel, always with a view of the novels of the Marsh: there is an introduction in which are presented the various characters of the drama, then the real action which details the action guidelines criminal; and here ends the first part. The second begins with the entrance of Alleyn and begins the investigation: is overshadowed a first offender and presented a first false herring, then  it focuses the attention on two other people, to get so to suggest that the killer might be another, before arriving to the identification of the real culprit. However the catharsis, like at any tragedy, here is not, or rather there is not a second final calmer: the second final here (the first has coincided with the killer's identification) coincides with the ceremony of the funeral, that unites husband and wife. And the novel ends with a sad note but of efficacy also.
Mike Grost, one of the largest American critics, calls it the Marsh masterpiece: "It combines a well constructed, intricate plot with a delightful look at theater people". I do not know if it's the best, but it certainly is one of the best. It has a very intricate plot, in which clues are by psicogical nature rather than real, and interestingly, it has a structure reminiscent of another novel based on a theatrical setting, but by Crispin: The Gilded Fly.  Even there, the victim who is the first woman, is a monster that can engulf and destroy all, until one of the many, a straw dog, that he would never do what he does if the monster had not caused him to anger, catches fire and defeat the monster. And the action until the crime is very similar, but with all the caveats: the murderer is different (his job), and therefore the investigation.
The feature, however, that seems to me most interesting is the heir's return, a feature that is typical of the classic British novels from Heyer to Christie, from Tey to Marsh, always peeping the element of the dual personality that therefore comes at the right time in the scene, influencing the resolution. Here the distinction lies in the fact that there is not the return of the heir, because the son is already acquired, but rather the return of the parents, the two Dakers, who believed dead, they were not at all. The beauty is that neither is the murderer, but just the appearance of the actual parents will unleash the anger and the killer’s hatred.
The murderess is basically a very human character: it’s as Ngaio Marsh apologized him, because, as in a lot of other novels by other authors, perhaps the murderer  is less guilty of his victim, and his own reprehensible actions (death with a poison like the tetraphosphate of esaetile is quick but extremely painful) at the bottom it is seen as a necessary action and derived from the Bellamy disturbed personality.  And never as in this novel, the murderer is the character less present and whose personality is the less pronounced among the whole park of the characters. It’s as a straw dog that catches fire but consumes himself, so the murderer as well as determining the other's destruction will complete his, wasting away.
A last note concerns the wickedness and caustic irony of Marsh in the fact of having chosen the Slaypest which weapon of death:  as Slaypest is used in the novel to eliminate the insects that could infest the azaleas, so Mary Bellamy is killed so that she doesn’t  infest the environment of those are around her: in substance Mary Bellamy is likened to an insect pest to eliminate. 

Pietro De Palma