Saturday, December 29, 2018

John Dickson Carr : It Walks By Night, 1930. A profound analysis

It Walks By Night, was published in 1930. It was Carr's first work of a certain thickness, the first novel. Carr had previously written and published his stories, in which he had already experimented  some of the themes he would develop in all his later works. In particular, one of these four stories constituted the basis that Carr later would have expanded creating his first novel. In fact, T.J.Yoshi, reports in his "John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study", which Grand Guignol, was a short novel, written and completed by Carr in Paris; and that the same, once Carr returned to his homeland, was published in the same newspaper that  had published the other stories, "The Haverfordian", between March and April 1929. Grand Guignol was nothing but the first simplified version of  It Walks By Night. In the same 1929 Carr provided to develop his first novel with Bencolin (just using Grand Guignol), publishing it in 1930.

The plot is particularly complex, and it is a riot of macabre, impossible, and horrifying situations, almost as if Carr had put everything he loved inside, not imagining the success he would have: in short, a novel of excesses.
Alexandre Laurent is what we would now call a psychopath, one who kills to enjoy the sight of blood. To Dr. Grafenstein who examined him, after his arrest following his attempt to murder his young wife Louise, Laurent had said he felt the urge to kill his wife just because he loved her: he was suffering from hyperaesthesia, linked to an erotic need: he was abnormally excited by thinking about obscene situations. In short ... a sexual maniac. That's what Louise married, only she realized it too late. The fact is that Laurent is interned in a private psychiatric home, since he comes from a rich family, but he runs away from  there. He takes refuge from Dr. Rothswold, a doctor known among criminals, because he says he can change the characteristics of people with plastic surgery. The fact is that one day, at night, a policeman sees a man who comes whistling from the villa-surgery of the surgeon, carrying two suitcases, and greets him cheerfully. A few hours later, alerted by reports of neighbors talking about the noise of cats, the police break into the villa and there is neither Laurent nor the doctor, but only .. the head of Rothswold inside one of his basins, on a shelf: no trace of the body. Perhaps in those two suitcases that Laurent wore?

Now Laurent has disappeared, but one day he reappears when the Duke of Saligny, a member of the beautiful Parisian world, rich, famous and also tireless sportsman, and a great tennis player, decides to marry Louise. And he threatens the duke to step aside, to be not the victim of his revenge.

Saligny does not pay attention to it and marries Louise, Laurent's ex-wife. The fact is that at that point something happens that will have repercussions in the end of the story: the bride, in the presence of Bencolin, Judge Instructor and Chief of Police, and in the presence of his witnesses, including Jeff Marle, the narrator, and Dr. Grafenstein himself, reveals that Laurent appeared to her at the home of lawyer Kilard during a party in the bathroom, while she was holding a mason's trowel. In the other room were Saligny and his dear friend, Edouard Vautrelle, whom Bencolin later discovered to be a fake name, adopted to conceal his true identity: in fact he is an impostor, who poses as a Russian exile, escaped after the revolution Bolshevik, a major of the tenth Cossack cavalry of the imperial army of Tzar Nicholas II, without being so. How could Laurent disappear in a moment from a room, without anyone else seeing him, penetrating and leaving a house in an absolutely extraordinary way? The fact is this: Laurent has bragged about doing this in the past. Possible? Grafenstein thinks that the lady had a hallucination, but there is a proof, asserts Louise: a mason's trowel, which before the apparition, in that bathroom was not there. And why on earth would a trowel be found in a bathroom?

But the first crime happens. From Fenelli's, a restaurant with gaming tables, music, dance and so on, the duke is found killed, beheaded, in a game room: the duke has entered, and obviously since nobody has seen anything, the killer had to be already posted there. The problem is one: how did he get out? The exits were supervised in sight by Bencolin himself and one of his most trusted men, François. And the only window is more than ten meters from the road. Impossible. Nobody could have escaped, but he has vanished. How did he do?
His wife was not nearby and his friend Vautrelle, whose involvement was suspected for a moment, was practically exonerated by François, with whom he was probably chatting while the Duke was beheaded; moreover, he also testifies that no one has left the exit where the policeman was posted. The hour of death is bewildering: in fact, we have noticed the murder, because someone rang a bell in the smoke to call a waiter; who then, having discovered the murder, gave the alarm. Why, so was the bell ringed? And if it has been played, and it is certain, it may be that it was played not from within but from somewhere else? But a new character appears: just from Jeff Marle, a beautiful woman is discovered, completely naked, in the dark, in a room exactly above the one in which the murder took place: it is Sharon Gray, friend of Raoul, and of him secretly in love, but also officially a lover of Vautrelle: just her, confirms to Bencolin some of his clues: someone appeared in the dark, just before, telling her that Raoul would not come because he had "an appointment with worms": his hands were dirty of blood. She speaks about  the Laurent's ability to transform himself into a person she and Saligny might have known: in practice, she redirects the investigation to Vautrelle. But he too is killed. In the villa of Sharon Gray in Versailles. From Laurent? Or from someone else?

Meanwhile, someone came back in the night of the murder of Saligny in his house because the butler heard noises: documents were taken from the desk of the studio, but not the million francs in the safe. And from the bunch of keys, only the key of the wine cell is missing, in the cellar. Here, next to a wall free of wines, lime is discovered and a mason's trowel is found on the ground: with a few strokes of a pick, the wall is broken, and from there the vitreous eye of a man's face emerges. However, the body in the cellar is so decomposed that it could only have been killed at least three weeks before it was found: who is he?
Bencolin has figured out who he may be, and then soon after he knows how to nail the murderer, that killed Saligny and Vautrelle but not that other man. Three murders, two killers. A memorable ending.
First of all it is a gothic novel. And you know, all or almost the Bencolin cycle has gothic atmospheres. But here the macabre atmosphere is oppressive, and generates a palpable tension. If really it’s unbearable, then it turns out to be somewhat false in the end: as the adage says "too much of a good thing ". Carr uses all the tricks of the trade, as if he were a long-time writer: the various events usually occur in the evening, the crimes take place in the glow of candles or the moon; dead hidden behind walls, disappearances and macabre at will. Who does he calls us? Poe. Which is mentioned in the novel. And then emulated in one of his most famous stories, The cask of Amontillado.
Poe master of atmospheres, of terror, of tension; Carr master of atmospheres, of terror, of tension, but also of originality, wise blender of gothic, with the fantastic and the ratiocination to its maximum splendor. Even though here, the atmospheres are too horrifying.
Already the first chapter introduces us to these atmospheres: it is called "The patron of gravediggers". It begins with the description of a fantastic creature in which anyone, woman or man, could be transformed in medieval Paris: a werewolf. The text is contained in a book owned by Alexandre Laurent, a madman whom Bencolin must stop before the Duke of Saligny is killed. But it is useful to point out that Carr introduces a werewolf, to speak instead of Laurent. And it is in a Paris illuminated by street lamps, so similar to the London of Jack the Ripper, that an infernal creature, of the night, strikes, and identifies himself with Laurent. The horrible descriptions abound, but I counter-current, instead of citing the ones that all cite, I indicate two that have particularly struck me. Because not only are they an expression of the Gothic, but also of another of Carr's characteristics: knowing how to mix the elements in such a way as to generate tension and to increase it without ever overdoing it.

In the first, Jeff Marle and Sharon Gray are together in her villa.

At first they converse: "Lewis Carroll.."—fancy! I'd never read Alice! Raoul"—she hesitated, but rushed on—"a friend of mine was going to bring me a copy, but he put it off; and I got one. Don't you love the Mad Hatter's tea party? And the way they carried around flamingoes, and said, 'Off with his head’ .

They sit on a rustic bench, near the back wall: “ the rustic bench she hesitated, and, as I touched her arm, she sat down. Through pale rifts in the shadowing cy­press I could see the dead white of her face staring up at the moon. It was like a dead face, except for the eyes; and she was like one dead”.

And again, continuing: How cold your hand is—on my shoulder!"... the words sank into my mind … It grew on me, horribly, that my hands were clenched together, before me. . .The words clanged in my mind with sudden terrible sus­picion. "Get up!" I said, hardly hearing my own voice—it sounded strained and soft and ghastly. "Please get up—from there—a second". The thin song of the fountain shrilled mockingly..You look". "Get up from there!". She started to rise. I swept her to her feet, out from the bench and behind me, and whirled towards the empty bench again. A chatter of repulsion went over me. . .The moonlight, sifting down through the cy­press, showed a man's hand protruding motionless from the back supports of the bench. I ripped out the bench, flung it over in a thud, and from a little screen of bushes a man's body pitched out into the clear­ing. It gave an almost lifelike twitch as it landed, Something wet splashed against my ankle....Nausea! Steady, now, steady! …The fountain shrilled steadily; as though it laughed. …His head's been nearly severed from his body. Damn that fountain! Now the face, white and streaked with dirt, was turned full up to the moon. It was Edouard Vautrelle. His lips were drawn back from his teeth, derisively, and his monocle was still gripped in one sightless eye.”(cap. XII - A Hand is Motionless Beneath the Cypress).

I notice the succession of the various moments, which always follow each other with greater tension towards the catartic finding of Vautrelle: first of all the reference to the beheading in "Alice in Wonderland". Then the reference to the candles that go out

The Chinese lanterns, orange and red, were hidden among the trees, and through the darker branches above the sky was tinged in pearl. We walked into the secrecy of the garden through a low door, over thick soft grass to a space closed in by a wall of hedge, where no sounds came. On the cloth of a table set for two the flames of two thin candles rose unwinking in the still air....

Then the walk in the park of the villa, alone, in the moonlight, without other lights. The reference to cypress trees (cemetery trees) introduces a new element of tension. But the fountain with its crystalline noise dampens the tension, at least ... it would seem to dampen it. Then ... the pallor in her face, which looks like a dead woman. Still a macabre reference. Then they sit on the bench, and once again it would seem that the tension would evaporate, when ... a new element of even sharper tension appears: the icy hand. Which leads to the horror of seeing their hands folded. So who does that other hand belong to? His voice is inaudible, in fear. The light of the moon that crosses the cypresses (still them!) reveals a human hand resting on the bench's back. Now the noise of the water from the fountain is no longer relaxing but it resembles the sound of a laugh. I would add ... naughty. And then ... a body with a head almost detached from the body. And finally the revelation that it is Vautrelle. Vautrelle? But if you were almost led to suspect him of murder?

I point out two things:
first of all:  the same objects, depending on the emotional state in which the subjects find themselves, can change their meaning diametrically. For example. the fountain of the Villa of Versailles, before has a crystalline sound, after it is as if it laughed (but it is not a happy laugh but mocking, sardonic, accompanying the discovery of murder. The second: how the same things can have a different meaning depending on how you use them:  the Villa of Versailles, which is kept in the dark and lit by candles, has a romantic aura but full of portents of death; after death, illuminated by electric light, it loses its own spectral aura obtaining a colder one.
Still to note is how the procedure used by Carr to generate tension is that I define “augmentative”, used with extreme caution, very similar to the system used by the composers of the nineteenth century to increase the dramatic tension in music: if you had focused on a single line, proceeding from the minimum tension to the maximum tension, it would not have been possible to go on for a long time; and after a while the tension would be exhausted. Instead here, to increase a dramatic tension and bring it to unsustainable levels, Carr stops every now and then, almost following stages, and from each stage starts with a force majeure and with elements that are similar to the original ones, leading to more disruptive situations .

There is no doubt in fact that the Leroux of Le parfum de la dame en noir more than Le Mystère de la chambre jaune must have exercised a decisive influence on Carr, at least on three of his novels: the crime in The Unicorn Murders is clearly marked to that in Leroux, in the beginning of The Problem of the Green Capsule but also in Chap. IV, The Black Spectacles, you find something that refers to Leroux:

“All witnesses, metaphorically, wear black spectacles. They can neither see clearly, nor interpret what

they see in the proper colours. They do not know what goes on, on the stage, still less what, goes on

in the audience.. Show them a black-and-white record of it afterwards, and they will believe you; but

even then they will be unable to interpret what they see”.

This period - as Igor Longo used to tell me some time ago - would be a pale reference to what happens at the lunch of Le Fort d’Hercule, in chap.10 of Le parfum de la Dame en noir  “La journée du 11”: Et les autres, les autres, pourquoi restaient-ils muets derrière leurs vitres noires ?... Tout à coup, je tournai la tête et je regardai derrière moi. Alors, je compris, à ce geste instinctif, que j’étais la proie d’un phénomène tout naturel... Quelqu’un me regardait... Deux yeux étaient fixés sur moi, pesaient sur moi. Je ne vis point ces yeux et je ne sus d’où me venait ce regard... Mais il était là...Je le sentais... Et c’était son regard à lui... Et cependant, il n’y avait personne derrière moi... ni à droite, ni à gauche, ni en face... personne autour de moi que les gens qui étaient assis à cette table, immobiles derrière leurs binocles noirs... Alors...alors, j’eus la certitude que les yeux de Larsan me regardaient derrière l’un de ces binocles-là !... Ah ! les vitres noires ! les vitres noires derrière lesquelles se cachait Larsan !

The Black spectacles  allow us to hide and hide our thoughts; and finally, Larsan / Ballmeier's transformational ability to take on the appearance of other characters is the ability of characters in It Walks By Night to assume the identities of other characters.

And it is inferred, as Nick Fuller rightly points out, from the treatment that Bencolin makes at the end of the eleventh chapter: there is confronted the American investigation practice, made of third degree and informants, and of brutal investigations, with the French one in which a body police has the task of investigating using reason. But at the same time, Bencolin warns against the belief that anyone, only gifted with sagacity, and therefore without experience or study, can improvise himself as an investigator: in a France of the 1920s, what other comparison is possible with the Rouletabille of Leroux? Not only. The fact is that Bencolin quotes Leroux! :

"One of the popular fallacies of the day," Bencolin con­tinued, thoughtfully, "is that the detection of crime is not a science, and that its investigators do not achieve almost magi­cal results. I do not know why this error should be so prev­alent, unless it is because extraordinary analyses occur so often in fiction; therefore, the careful public reasons, they cannot possibly occur in life.... Still, it is difficult to under­stand why the man on the street is prone to be so suspicious of what he is pleased to call 'book stuff’ in this business. Tell him that a doctor—preferably a German with a sonorous name—has discovered a cure for cancer, and he will be very apt to believe you; but tell him the simple truth that by a single trace of mud-stain on a coat the identity of a murderer may be established, and he will probably sneer, 'Pah! you've been reading Gaston Leroux!'

And in Leroux it also brings us the absolutely transformative way to create and recreate the reality at will: Frédéric Larsan, the famous policeman of Leroux, is actually also the criminal Ballmeyer, and in the same way, Alexandre Laurent becomes Saligny. Ballmeyer's transformational ability to impersonate the character Larsan and lead the game according to his perspective is the same as the murderer here and his accomplice, who orchestrate the crime as a concert. Like Igor Longo, I think that Carr thought of the second Leroux, Le parfum de la dame en noir, as a model for his novel, as in that novel by Leroux, in this of Carr the madness and the ability to make a mockery of reality the reader is constantly diverted.

But beyond this, there are also other influences, in this very first Carr. Above all Freeman and Crofts. In this novel, for example, there is an excessive attention to the times. At the end of the fifth chapter, Bencolin summarizes the situation of the testimonies and depositions, consulting his notebook in which he ordered the various times related to the criminal situation: now, this is a note that brings us closer to the novels of Crofts, whose main characteristic is to exhibit bomb-proof alibis that are then dismantled just as wisely."Now, messieurs, here is a resume of our knowledge. To fix the time element, I will go over it" He read from his notebook:

"10:15 p.m. Saligny, his wife, Vautrelle, M. and Mme. Kilard arrive at house. (Witnesses: Fenelli and G. H. Buisson, leader of orchestra.)

"10:20. M. and Mme. Kilard leave house. (Witness­es: Fenelli, Buisson, Vautrelle.)

"10:25 to 10:55. Vautrelle and Saligny in smoking-room. (Witnesses: bar steward, waiter.)

"10:30. Madame de Saligny has interview with Fenel­li upstairs. (Witness: Fenelli.)

"10:50 to 11:25. Fenelli remains alone upstairs. (Wit­ness: the same.)

"10:55. Saligny leaves smoking-room. (Witnesses: bar steward, Vautrelle.)

"10:55 to 11:30. Vautrelle remains in smoking-room. (Witness: Vautrelle. Note: waiter remembers bringing him a drink—about—11:15.)

"11:18. Madame joins our party in main salon. (Wit­nesses: ourselves.)

"11:30. Saligny enters card-room. (Witnesses: our­selves, madame.)

"11:30. Vautrelle is talking to detective, enquires time. (Witness: Frangois Dillsart) Detective has just gone on duty.

"11:30 to 11:36. Vautrelle talks to detective before door of card-room. (Witness: the same.)

"11:37. Vautrelle joins us in alcove. (Witnesses: our­selves.)

"11:40. Murder is discovered by steward and Fran­cois.

"Remarks: Nobody can be found who remembers seeing any of these people in the hallway from 10:20 to 11:30, the lapse of over an hour.

"Nobody remembers seeing Saligny from 10:55, when he left Vautrelle in smoking-room, until 11:30, when he entered card-room.

Instead of Dr. Thorndyke's R. Austin Freeman, Carr takes a tendency to treat material cues as a basis for investigative inquiry: e.g. in chapter six, " In the Black Parlours ", we are witnessing a type of scientific investigation, regarding the detection of material evidence: the diffusion of dust for fingerprints, the photographs of the scene of the crime, the sign of the outline of the corpse with chalk. And then Bencolin who surpasses his own men and finds a piece of thread under the victim's fingernails, which only he could see, and which is then identified, in a type of yarn:

When we entered the card-room again, there were more men studying the position of the body. They gathered at some little distance to avoid the nauseating welter of blood. With a detached and impersonal air, a fat man with whiskers —this must be the medical examiner—was taking notes and cocking his head at the body like an artist squinting for per­spective. He made his last note with a flourish of the pen. Then he beckoned to two of the men.

One of them set up a camera, fiddled with it awhile, and the other prepared some powder in a fiat pan. Presently there was a blinding flare of light; then the smoke and reek of flashlight powder drifting across the dull lamp-glow. While they were preparing for more pictures, I tried to get the scene firmly photographed in my mind.

There was the headless trunk, limbs frozen in that weird kneeling position. It was toppled forward so that the neck stump touched the floor, the back partly humped. One leg

was doubled under, the other sprawled at a side angle. Both arms were doubled flat from the elbows, arms forward like the arms of the Sphinx, fingers dug with claw-like tension into the carpet Altogether, it gave the impression that this headless beast was about to spring forward. The back of the dress-coat was soaked, the entire shirt front crimson, and both arms were splattered so that thin red splashes daubed the backs of the hands. Bencolin had replaced the head where it had been, some three feet away.... Again the flashlight powder glared over motionless men; blinding, like an instant of terrifying death.

One of the men stepped forward, and with an enormous lump of chalk, such as tailors use for suit markings, he drew a line around the edges of the body. Afterwards the medical examiner jerked a thumb over his shoulder, and in a tired voice said, "All right boys."

Two of them lifted it up—it was becoming stiff, like a big plaster image in clothes—and started to bear it from the room. It passed by us, and Bencolin, coming out of his reverie, stopped for a moment the two who were carrying the burden. Pulling at his moustache, he looked down at it for a time. He unclasped one of the hands and bent close. What he ex­tracted from under one finger nail I could not a$ first see; it was a tiny bit of thread, colourless and nearly invisible. Ben­colin put it into an envelope, and motioned the bearers to go. (Chapter VI:

Then you see men examining the carpet, removing the sofa cover, taking photos and recording impressions: I turned back to see Bencolin directing the group of men. They were looking for fingerprints now, with their lenses and their brushes and the little tins of powder like flour sifters. But there were few surfaces capable of holding prints, though they even went over the card tables folded against the wall. The photographing continued, and the room reeked terribly now. Two of them, at Bencolin's order, took off the cover of the divan, folded it together like a bag, and carried it out along with the pillows.

Another type of scientific investigation is in chapter XIII, " Death at Versailles" where Bencolin implements with his men in the Villa of Versailles where lies the corpse of Vautrelle: the blood, the stabs at the back, the bloody traces that leave from the gate back of the villa, indicate that the killer followed Vautrelle who was dragging himself to the bench, and when he collapsed, he began to take his head off the bust. The failure to sever the head indicating how a sword was not used but rather a knife, a job as a novice, a big knife, perhaps an American knife. All traces that appropriately interpreted by Bencolin will allow him to get a precise idea of ​​what may have happened. And it will not be wrong on this occasion either! :

—"I swear to you that before tomorrow night we shall have our killer. Come with me."

"Did you find anything?"

"Yes. First tell me everything that happened this evening." Trying to collect my thoughts in a drumming head, I slowly recounted every event of the evening. Several times he nodded. "It fits," he said, finally. "Let me show you...." We went to the cypress and bent under it. He flashed the light down on the motionless figure lying with face twisted up.

"Don't track into it, now, but look carefully. No sword was used this time. He was first stabbed twice; once directly through the back, and once under the lowest rib on the left side. Then the murderer set to work to dismember his head— look! cutting through the cartilage of the vertebrae from the back. It isn't an easy thing to do for one unskilled in surgery, and the murderer desisted. I don't see any weapon. It was apparently a knife about an inch wide, and rather heavy; something, I should say, on the pattern of an American bowie."

The light flashed into the space behind the bench's original position, where was a thin sumach hedge, and beyond it a path a foot wide, following the garden wall under the drinking fountain. The beam played over this for a second, then swung to the left a few feet towards the rear gate.

"It's bloody," the detective said, shrugging. "There is the gate, you see. Vautrelle was standing near it when you saw him from the window. The murderer entered by that gate, be­hind him, and stabbed him in the back. He was then ap­parently dragged over here and thrown into the sumach hedge against the bench while the murderer attempted to cut off his head."

And finally, Hashish and opium are of great importance in this novel. And who remind us opium and hashish? De Quincey, Balzac, Baudelaire, Gautier. I note how in certain passages of the novel there are references to opium and hashish, very significant: first of all the Laurent favorite writers are De Quincey and Baudelaire. Laurent and other characters take drugs. In one step, before the assassination of Saligny, the one who kills him exclaims:

Once again, something changes meaning, emphasizing an emotional change of characters: first the jazz orchestra produced a simple noise; now the music of the orchestra, we know that it is perceived as obsessive. Also because the subject who inveighs, we sense that he is drugged.
"That music" she snapped; "damn that music! I can't stand it! I won't stand it! Why must they play the same thing for half an hour—the same thing                !” (Chapter II: It Walks By Night)

Quincey is remembered for Murder Considered As One of the Fine Arts. But he is also remembered for a much more famous writing at the time, Confessions of an English Opium-eater. J.D. Carr in the 1920s had lived in Paris, and had soaked up French literature: and therefore could not have also read Thomas de Quincey, Théofile Gautier, devoted to opium and hashisc, like Balzac himself?
Among many marvels, the only thing that seems out of tune is for me, the murderer: he is not a great murderer, he is not a great person, a genius like most of Carr's novels. He is not even a coward, a fetid. Rather, it is a weak, drug-addicted creature that killed not because wanted to kill Saligny, but because someone asked it, he was persuaded to do so. But then the second murder and the attempted third are the fruit of madness. And the obstinacy with which Bencolin accuses this person, destroys him/her psychologically, is almost a pain:

Madame may spill ashes, if she desires, on this rug," said Bencolin..He said it with just the faintest deprecation. Her hand jerked. It was the most devilish kind of baiting; but she only opened her eyes a trifle wider, and suggested…..

Now, madame, as we were saying, you have been victimized by everybody. Even, I may add, by Fenelli; it must not have been pleasant to have to suffer his attentions for such a physically modest person as yourself—on this divan, was it not?"

This inhuman stroke nearly smashed her (Chapter XVIII: The Last Battle)

Bencolin has nothing of Fell or Merrivale; it is rather a hard, ruthless being with those who make mistakes. Because he is not only a policeman but also a judge. And therefore it is implacable. His task is not only to catch the guilty but also to bring him, as he says here, to the guillotine (pag.193):

"In there"—he pointed to his brief-case—"I have records of all the purely court evidence which will send …to the guillotine. (Chapter XVIII).
This way of presenting Bencolin, with his left and mephistophelic air, is almost able to reverse the roles: the poor killer on one side, the cold cop on the other. Besides, the killer has eliminated the waste of society: a psychopath, a cheat, and was about to kill a blackmailer and hascisc dealer.
Bencolin does not rage against the murderer because he has killed, but rather how he prevented him, Bencolin, who had given his word to Saligny to protect him, could fulfill his promise. And moreover, because the one who killed has made a mockery of the established order, using him and one of his men, François, to have an alibi. This is why, in my opinion, the justice of Bencolin assumes, here, the contours of a personal vendetta; and this alone explains the policeman's obstinacy towards the weaker being in front of him, which can be deduced by reading the final pages of the last chapter. Fury also because he must understand if his reasoning was right, if things really went the way he thought. That is to say, because justice can have its course, and perhaps also, as he suggests to the murderer (victim of a whole series of wrongs that he suffered), because the jury can take it into account and not apply the death penalty. There is only one moment, at the end of the story, in which the killer stands in all his form. It is when he claims the joy he felt when he killed Vautrelle, when he was soaked with his blood: if the soul can be satisfied, behold, he, the murderer, has satiated afterwards. This identification with the soul, causes the murderer to justify the death of Vautrelle with a need for justice. A justice that can not only be earthly. It would therefore not have been a murder but an execution. And so it is as if he said that he should be judged not for the second death as for the first (according to him, of course):

"... I had a knife there in the house—a big one. Raoul had given it to me as a souvenir of a hunting-trip. I didn't care who saw me. All I wanted to do was repay Edouard for what he'd done. I smoked, you see—here's one of the ciga­rettes—and when I smoke one of those—I don't know why— I am capable of anything. I took a taxi I came up to the villa by the back gate, and when I came in by the back gate, he was standing there." Her arm flashed up and over. "I struck him. I hacked him—I was bathed in his blood; I liked that!"

….stood there in triumph, ecstatic with head thrown back, while the sound of the orchestra floated through the skylight; and Bencolin sat motionless on the divan, staring at the lamp. She had kept her appointments with three men; she would have murdered them all. (Chapter XIX: The Hour of Triumph).

In short ... a youthful work by Carr, still not perfectly oiled, but already able to win and wonder: the plot and the solution are wonderful, and already recall certain other Locked Room mechanisms that will be invented later.

Pietro De Palma


Who wants deepening the news about this novel and about Grand Guignol, the work from which Carr drew the plot for his first novel, sees the biography of Carr by Doug Greene: John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles (pages 67-73)