Monday, May 29, 2017

Hake Talbot : The Other Side, 1990 (published posthumous)

This is an analysis about the tricks of the Locked Room at The Other Side by Hake Talbot. Who didn't read the short story, postpones the reading of this article after the reading of the short story

Some Anglo-Saxon critics overlook Hake Talbot, in my opinion. The reason is that they are based on Carr's critical judgment, which he passionately lauded Rim of the Pit. But Carr praised above all the scenic invention and the atmosphere. You should then analyze the plot properly and how it has been done and resolved if you want to give the masterpiece palm to that novel. Mike Grost, whom I really admire for his divulgatory work and for his omnivorous knowledge, said: "Talbot is the only Carr imitator whose work could actually be preferred to that of Carr himself ... I hope it is clear .. .that while Talbot was influenced by Carr's approach, he in all cases showed plenty of personal creativity. "
I do not quite agree with that opinion. I was extinct it years  ago when I analyzed Rim of the Pit. I'm not gonna repeat myself. Who wants to know my judgment can compare it with his reading my old article in italian (soon it will be published in english) :
I still think Talbot's best work is not Rim of the Pit but The Hangman's Handyman:
The limits of Hake Talbot in making a perfect plot can also be highlighted in The Other Side. It’s one of two short stories by Hake Halbot. Really Halbot wrote a  lot of short stories, now lost, unless someone finds them in some loft of Arlington, as wrote Bob Adey in the notes relating to the short story, included into the anthology “Murder Impossible”. Indeed the short story was published posthumous in that anthology. The other short story is The High House, yet to be published in Italy. The Other Side has been published together Rim of the Pit, by Ramble House, a few years ago.

The characters are those already seen in Rim of the Pit, that is, the player Roger Kinkaid, and the illusionist Svetozar Vok.
This time, they are committed to expose the head of a sect, the Hungarian Ergon, who has gained considerable power on Imogen Lathrop, guardian of the age of sixteen, and therefore still underage, Daphne Lathrop, daughter of a brother of Imogen who died prematurely and thanks to this influence, is trying to acquire protection for the girl in order to be able to administer the great fortune. However, his plan is opposed by the two brothers of Imogen, Colonel Boyd Lathrop, and Major Clifford Lathrop. The older between two brothers, Boyd, has casually encountered Kincaid, who has already known in the past, and asks for help in eradicating Ergon. So he leads him to his home, and here Kincaid also does Ergon's knowledge, as he lives in the apartment adjacent to that of the two brothers and girl. Just before Kincaid, there is another clash between Ergon and the two brothers: Ergon wants to stay alone with the two, then there is a continuation of  clash between them, followed by the pronouncement of an obscure threat, which in essence is a Mortal curse, against Boyd reo of challenging the one who is protected by the powers of the Last Man.
While the atmosphere is overheated, and Boyd is disturbed by the threat of death addressed by Ergon, the irreparable thing happens: with the excuse to go into the living room, where there is the fireplace and a collection of shooting weapons, of which the two are fanatical, trying a gun, it happens that Boyd seems to have turned against himself one pistol, since a second after he left the room where his brother and Kincaid are, they  feel the gunshot and Rogan just walked through the door of the room, sees Boyd Lathrop falling dead, mortally wounded by a bullet, over his right eye.
There is no one in the room, the windows are closed from the inside, and there is no opening other than the one through which Kincaid was attracted by the shot; and the fact that he just arrived in time to see Boyd's lifeless body sink on the ground means that no one else had the chance to kill the colonel and get out of there, “vanishing into thin air” by force.
The gun is found under a couch. It is left there waiting for the science police and Lieutenant Nichols, who is acquainted with Kinkaid, to arrive. When it is examined, only the footprints of the colonel are found, and it turns out that it is exactly the weapon used to kill.
At this point it would seem that only the hypothesis of suicide stands: the gun has only handled he, it is the gun that fired, there was no other in the room, the door was just the one through which it had passed He and Kincaid, and the windows were barred.
In conclusion…
But the brother of the victim does not look back: there was no reason for his brother to commit suicide; end then why? Rather ... he may have been induced to kill himself. And how? Through the singing that everyone heard speak by Ergon, just minutes before the tragedy. Then someone thinks that induction to killing himself was possible through another form of instigation to murder: hypnotism.
In short Kincaid calls on his friend Svetozar Vok to help him find out how Ergon has killed the colonel without leaving any trace of himself.
Vok arrives and elaborates a plan to surprise the Hungarian. He is Czech but the Hungarian idiom knows him: he will try to force him to betray himself. What's happening. The next attempt to kill Vok will prove his guilt.

Let's say immediately that the Locked Room is really like this: there is not someone who helps Ergon like it happens other times and nor there are tricks about time, and it could not be because Kincaid when he comes to the momentum In the room from where he heard the shotgun, he does not see the steaming gun (in that case various might be the tricks to make that happens it) but the body that falls lighted up: so there is no time to put a trick; if anything it’s (and there’s), it has already been put into practice. Rather there was a staging before the killing, which is not directly related to killing but instead has a different task: to suggest that there has been a suicide or in any case that Ergon through a curse or hypnotic intimation launched from the adjacent apartment Lerd Ferbeh maghaad, "you're gonna blow your brains," he managed to make the colonnel kill himself.

In reality, the trick was another and in this is the touch of Talbot's genius: since the two apartments, the one occupied by the Lathrop brothers and the other by the Hungarian magician, are identical and adjacent and also have the same accessories, that is, a fireplace per side , With the common side and the chimney in common, could be hidden a secret door in the interior masonry of the chimney (as in Indiana Jones and the last crusade) . Instead, the fireplace has nothing to do, and furthermore, having been fire and ashes, if anyone had passed, since there was no material time to clean up - shot, death, staging Kincaid - would remain the trace of dust on the floor. No. The trick is another, more brilliant: on the side of the fireplace, in both apartments, there are lampholders fixed at the same point: leaving a hole in the wall to the side, basically, being the dividing walls, slender, between the two apartments, so that Ergon's curse is heard, it was enough to break through that little masonry, to have a connecting hole: through this the gun barrel was introduced, and when the high colonel bent to practice with a gun contained In the cassette next to the fireplace, was centered at the front by a shotgun shot almost as burning.
Told so, the story would be a must. But, it does not seem to me. I mean.
When I analyzed Rim of the Pit, I said, "Talbot  does not seem to be able to give a clear and acceptable explanation of the crimes, which remain cumbersome and unresolved, to testify that not always, climbing on the mirrors, you can climb them up".  So what in a much more specialized environment than mine, others say: "The actual impossible murders (there are two) are well set up but less convincingly resolved, though they're certainly original. In my opinion it's very good, but not great. "
I said it on that occasion, I repeat it now: Talbot is great in the mis-en-scene, creates a great trick and is also capable of attempting a diversified action by believing suicide, and in this case can also create an atmosphere tangible such that until very shortly before the end, one really thinks of the clash between two psychically strong entities: Vok and Ergon. When Vok, with Kincaid and some policemen including Nichols, comes into Ergon's apartment, and there, psychically, the two, the Czech and the Hungarian, face it, the scene is highly characterizing and the reader keeps the breath suspended and until lastly, he thinks that Ergon was in turn hypnotized by Vok and forced to self-test. But the story is weak in the face of the resolution of the problem: in other words, Talbot, when he created the plot and created a spectacular trick that explains the arcane, then he can not take all the advantage he would want because it is somewhat disadvantaged . I locate the plot flaws in:
Gun replacement: I told  a gun was found beneath the edge of the couch. As it turns out, it will be exemplified in the final explanation: Ergon took possession of two guns, and when he appeared for the first time in front of Kincaid and asked to stay alone, leading to the large sleeve of the wig wearing a gun , he managed to drop her near the couch. Now, dropping something standing, it can also be done hoping that no noise will be produced drawing attention or even produce a noise equal to distracting the noise. But then it was necessary - by force - to replace this gun, used already and with the imprints of the two brothers, with the other, the one that fired. And how did Ergon do it?  Of this second entry, no exemplification is given.

Major Boyd's ignorance: is it possible that after the death of his brother, the Major did not control the weapons he and his brother used to and did not notice that another gun was missing from the box?  Unlikely
But above all the hole in the wall: because death was possible, it was necessary not only that Ergon removed the support of the lamp holder from his apartment, but also that of the adjacent apartment, otherwise the gun shot would blow up the lamp holder of the 'Two brothers' apartment and not Boyd Lathrop's brain. But then, you should automatically assume that the support from the room of the two had been previously removed to execute the assassination. In this case, one should ask why the two brothers have not noticed the bulb removed from the wall of their apartment. But also if the support of the lamp holder was in place in the wall, masking the hole, and only a moment before Ergon's murder, he pushed it across the board, dropping it and releasing the hole, how could he ever get rid of the hole after shot? That's the point. Because after the death of Boyd Lathrop, while recognizing Kincaid's subtle deductive psychology in the other part of the book - by it he can see and explain what others do not see or don’texplain - when he entered the room and saw the poor Lathrop falling down, did not see any hole in the wall; And after a moment, Clifford entered the room, and he did not even notice a hole in the wall and the absence of a lamp holder? Moreover, there is also a direct consequence of this in the final clash between Vok and Ergon: what was the end of a clash between Vok and Ergon if the method of killing without entering the apartment was already clear before?
Finally there is the above-mentioned psychic confrontation between Vok and Ergon:
That thing I don’t  understand is what this psychic confrontation is and which purpose it has, if the purpose is not hypnotizing. Theoretically, Vok psychically clashes with Ergon for obtain some proof, that would otherwise be futile: but what evidence is it, if talks Vok and not Ergon, if Vok explains what Ergon did? Moreover Vok says Kincaid had already understood everything, but it needed a representation to induce such a strong personality, capable of subjugating, to be subjugated. However, this statement is also defective: how  Kincaid did understand everything, if they entered Ergon's apartment immediately before the psychic confrontation, and only then they realize that the two apartments are mirrored and furnished with the same accessories, except for the Furniture that there is not but a rough mat on the floor?
That's because I say that, like Rim of the Pit, this story does not solve all that is included: this is Talbot's big limit, which can not take into account all that he thinks. It's like writing his own works without taking into account the expectations that everything he had written would have generated. He Does not waste - in other words - of too much imagination not being mitigated by rationality: how does he ignore the hole in the wall? And how can not you think that Kincaid is spitting for a fine brain, just in the event of the discovery of the corpse, does not he notice it, and the missing brother does not realize it neither? It is quite unlikely.
Although I have to admit that the trick to shoot through a hole in the wall, masked by two appliques,it is brilliant: however, it is in a way a variation of the solution of a famous Carr Locked Room, The Judas Window, in turn varied many years after by Randal Garrett in Too Many Magicians. Talbot is clearly a debtor to Carr: he creates great atmospheres, and here the atmosphere is frankly the best; And he creates “great” locked rooms, and in it he is Carr's debtor securely. But while Carr explains everything, and everything has a rational explanation, Talbot can not explain everything that he puts in his works. There are not many suspects as well as in Carr's stories: only that there really are necessary the flames and counterfeits to explain the arcane there.

Pietro De Palma

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