When we are talking about hardboiled, we talk about America. But ... have
you ever heard English Hardboiled? It makes no sense, given the image of
England given us by many Mystery authors. And yet ...
A novel, I would say one of the few novels that have interpreted and applied
the atmosphere of American cities to those Londoners, it is what I present here
today: Death by Proxy, by E.B. Ronald. A totally unknown name to most
people, but so was the undersigned.
A first indication on the alias (if they are not news, it must be for strength
pseudonym), I found it in A Dictionary of Literary Pseudonyms in the English
Language of T.J. Carty: E.B.Ronald (Death by Proxy, Cat and
Fiddle Murders), was the pseudonym with which signed some of his
novels Ronald Ernest Barker, British publisher, novelist, who was born in 1920
and died in 1976.
And other fundamental news were taken from the American blog of my friend John
Norris. In fact, only in the folds or in the appendix to the novels in their
original language, you can find biographical information, not mentioned
Reviewing another novel by the same author, he was described as a Scottish
man who lived in England. At the time of publication of the only mystery which
he wrote, he was the head of the Association of British publishers. Under the
pseudonym E.B. Ronald, signed some hardboiled novels of atmospheres,
transferring the American cliché to British ones, including precisely Death
Other details can be found elsewhere. For example that in the mid-50s, he
wrote a book about the industry of book, commissioned by UNESCO: A Study of International Book Trade. Others on the publication "Who Was Who".
Rupert Bradley, a London detective, is contacted by Veronica Hedley, to
track down her husband Philip, missing for a few days. She didn’t call the
police because she suspected that the absence may be due not to clean grounds, since her husband recently
brought to home large sums of money, incompatible with his professional duties
like commercial adviser. Veronica is the sister of William Carmichael,
industrial of cordage who has his
warehouses at the port on the Thames.
His offices occupy the first floor of the building where he has his studio
Philip. The only that might be able to know something more, is Miss White, the
private secretary of Philip, which is not his lover, but she is just a
secretary, who ignores what happened to his principal. However, Rupert does not
give up and therefore asked the office key toVeronica Hadley, at night, he
enters the offices to try proofs, only to find in a room, tied to a chair, a
man, shot in the neck, thing that has deformed his facial features, and with
the tips of his fingers burned by the flame of a candle (tortured?).
The wife, who had previously withdrawn the job to Rupert saying that her
husband had put in contact with her (but the detective thought he was lying),
recognizes her husband into the morgue.
From here begins the tightened investigation by Rupert, who relying on the
friendship of Marshall, an Inspector of Police, is unable to carry out an
investigation in contact with the police, which will take him first to know
those whose names had been found among the notes of Philip (people who feared for external
things to their business relationships, or only knew him professionally), then
Peggy Hedley, the beautiful sister of Philip who falls in love with him
(reciprocated ... a bit), then he transits through the Belvedere Arms, night
clubs, where a waiter "John" will direct him, through a false
telephone box, which has a secret door in her background that pops open, a wing
of the building, destined to the brothel, and where there are rooms in which
microphones and cameras, filming the revelations and intimate attitudes of
wealthy clients who are then blackmailed. On the third floor of the building,
will access to a bedroom with women's and men clothings, which will identify in
that of Carmichael, industrial-law of Philip and brother of Veronica. The double life of Carmichael: industrial cordage and owner of a brothel , where
probably they smoke hashish and
cannabis, of which Rupert has felt the smell going up in the brothel.
Investigating about the life of Carmichael, even going at his home and
interrogating his wife Carole, he will come to the warehouse, discovering a cannabis
trafficking and being saved from certain death by an insurance agent, such
Radcliffe, which operates on the basis of a policy life turned on a short time
of the disappearance and death of Philip. However Rupert thinks that Philip is
not dead, and will witness it the body fished out in the river, this time
really by Philip. In a frantic finale in which the pretended architect of
everything will die apparently committing suicide, but actually forced to kill
himself from the real killer, having substituted a harmless pill for gastritis
with one containing cyanide, will prefer to kill himself not before it was
revealed the true identity of the corpse without name.
A strange hardboiled, which mixes consolidated cliché (penniless detective,
tough but sensitive to women, involved in fist fights and beatings, a diet only
of Whisky and fried eggs and potatoes, frequenting sordid environments) to some
less (setting in streets notes the London center,
brothels with acquaintances in high places, hashish international traffic based
on contacts inherited by British soldiers stationed in North Africa), in a set
not at all obvious, that maybe sometimes makes us smile, but by no means
If the rhythm is smooth, the dialogues give us a detective, who despite
consolidated borrowing clichés from areas already historicized, by brand
Hammettian and Chandlerian provenance (in Death
by Proxy, there are traffic in drugs and blackmail by complacent
prostitutes, and in Chandler’s novels there are blackmails, traffics, prostitutes
and brothels), speaks like an English man and not like the classical Philip
Rupert hastens to declare a few times that he lived in America and a some
American accent of Alabama has remained, as a false Yankee connotation that he
uses for his investigations.
The final is not at all obvious and indeed gives us an evil murderess, with
no inhibitions, totally amoral, which recalled to me another novel by Chandler,
Farewell, My Lovely, even for the end
that makes the murderess. This type of murderer, is very present in Chandler's
novels: just you read over that Farewell, My Lovely, even The Lady in the Lake and The Long Good-bye to figure out what I
want to say.
Pietro De Palma