Saturday, November 27, 2021

Herbert Resnicow : The Gold Solution, 1983


Herbert Resnicow died in 1997, after living 77 years. He was born in 1920, but his rightful entry into the history of detective literature took place only in 1983 with The Gold Solution, an overbearing and winkly pimp work that made him win a surprise nomination for the 1984 Edgar Award.

It was his official debut: he renounced the contemporary American Crime Novel, made of Hard-boiled mixed with social themes to recover the more classic Detection Novel, winking at Van Dine and Rex Stout.

For many years he was a construction engineer, fighting in the Military Engineers during the Second World War, and pursuing his profession until the day he decided to write a detective novel. The opportunity, if you wanted to say so, gave him a painful event: hit by a heart attack, he decided to pass the time by writing first stories, then a novel in which he inserted his knowledge of construction techniques together with a classic detective plot (acting like Van Dine). Until his death, which also occurred from heart problems, he wrote several other novels, some of which achieved considerable success with the public.

Herbert Resnicow's debut feature is The Gold Solution, 1983.

In it we find biographical hints: in fact, Alexander Gold, builder, like its creator, Resnicow in fact, suffered a serious heart attack. During his convalescence, his friend and mentor Hanslick Burton, a very wealthy lawyer, is offered to take up a case that seems to have no way out: a young, novice architect, Jonathan Candell, was found with a blood-dripping knife in hand in front of the dying famous architect Roger Allen Talbott, of the homonymous studio, famous for its pyramid buildings. What's interesting? The fact that the study where the dying man was found, located in the attic of a futuristic building equipped with the most efficient alarm systems, can only be accessed via an elevator, which is unlocked by Talbott himself; that Candell was called by Talbott less than a minute before his stabbing, and after only the waitress had brought him some Danish cheese and milk; that there was no one else in the studio but Candell and Talbot himself; and that the only safety doors in existence were equipped with alarms and bells, such that no one could use them without being immediately identified; moreover, there are no secret passages or false walls. Well ... basically a locked room, with only one possible killer. But he professes himself innocent: he is a practicing Jew, opposed to violence, he would have had no motive to kill Talbott. Norma, Hanslick's wife, first took an interest in his case. Then she, a friend of Pearl, in turn the wife of Alexander Gold, thinks that only he, the amateur detective, can solve the case, avoid the death penalty in Candell, and help Hanslick win a desperate case.

Alexander accepts, but only in exchange for a large reward: he, unable to move for at least three months, will have to resolve the case from his home on the basis of the dossiers and circumstantial evidence and investigations carried out, in his place, by his wife. , Norma. Here is the link with Stout: like Nero Wolfe, Alexander Gold is heavy, and does not move, and carries out the investigations, and will solve this very intricate case, relying on the precious help of his wife Norma who, like Archie Goodwin, is the shoulder to the great investigator. Archie, not Watson: Watson witnesses Sherlock Holmes' investigations, he doesn't conduct them like Archie does, and Norma. Among other things, it could also be said that it is not the only case of a novel that has redone in conducting the investigation of Nero Wolfe. In fact, 2001 is The Bone Collector, by Jeffery Deaver, which wins The Nero Wolfe Award, imposing the couple Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, in which Lincolln is a disabled quadriplegic, and Amelia Sachs is the policewoman who is his longa manus.

The only possible suspects are Talbott's four partners (Bauer, Bishop, Dakin, Kirsh) who, however, were not there at the time of his death, his wife Irma (who, however, when her husband died was downstairs with the maid), and the father-in-law (Rufus C. Miller). But what motive would all six have had to kill the classic goose that lays the golden eggs, the most famous architect in America, who monetized any idea in rivers of money, with his famous pencil sketches, perfect, without erasures (yes he even said that in his youth he had emulated Giotto, drawing a perfect O freehand, and inscribing another perfect circle inside it), then developed by the team of architects who were around him in daring architectural solutions ?. It is up to Alexander to find him.

He manages to remove the mask from all four (envious to the extreme and eager to succeed him in society, at least three out of four): all four hated him, each reproaching him for the fame he acquired at their expense, without having even a small part of his fame and his money, when there was no other valid, more secret reason. Norma gives her husband the clue that he Gold, turns into another motive: the morbid love of Talbott, who like some film producers of the 1920s, sexually took advantage of all the "small, blonde and chubby" collaborators, for a only once, in her office, after having ensnared them, and always or almost leading them to a nervous breakdown, or to severe suicide syndromes (the secretary who the very rich executive falls in love with, who then abandons her).




He will be able to identify the only killer, among the six suspects, destroying an unassailable alibi. Based on the most classic detective maxim, that is, when the possible has no place, one must attach to the impossible to explain the unexplainable, Gold bases his accusation, relying on a series of clues provided by his wife, former archivist, and mainly focusing the investigation on who could benefit from it: Cui Prodest?

If at first it seemed that all six would only have to lose from Talbott's death, digging deep, asking questions, even the least sensible, building possible relationships between seemingly strangers, Gold and his wife manage to highlight a plan carefully premeditated, for which it was only necessary to have a scapegoat within reach, Candell in fact, who had no possible relationship of hate / love with the murderer, so that no type of bond could be found with him. Any scapegoat: if Candell had not been there, probably some other poor Christ would have been chosen to be immolated on the altar of the perfect crime. But the construction has some invisible cracks, which Gold manages to make visible.

The Locked Room is explained not on the basis of strange mechanical devices or devilry, but on the contemporaneity of actions of which originally nothing was known and which he supposes, then looking for a series of proofs that can support it; and above all on a death pact.

An interesting novel, it is not distinguished by its narrative or stylistic quality, but by the wise and manneristic use of references, drawing on all the literature that developed before him: from Carr, Rex Stout, and even Ellery Queen. In fact, what else would be the innocent sketches that Talbott threw down on his latest project, which he was working on while the killer surprised him, made someone arrive there on the top floor, and walk silently on the thick and soft carpet, if not “the dying message” by Queen memory? Ignored by cops too real to have a shred of that fantasy that allows Gold to solve the case, and too ignorant not to have read even a novel of Ellery Queen's great creative season, they fail to see in the "turnip and salami" , for example, one of the only possible clues that the dying Talbott could have conveyed without his killer next to him being in any way suspecting that they were charges against him.

The only regret and even the only reproach I can give him is that he did not manage to maintain the tension for the murderer's accusation until the end, betraying himself a few pages before, and maintaining the tension only for the discovery of the accomplice, the 'creator of the staging.

What is the basis of everything? But obviously the vil money! And sex too! Two of the favorite causes that have always been the basis for real crimes and above all for those of paper.

Pietro De Palma

Monday, November 22, 2021

John Russell Fearn : Black Maria, M.A. (1944)



John (Francis) Russell Fearn was born in 1908 in Worsley in Lancashire (U.K.). He published many novels, especially western and science fiction. In this area he excelled, conquering masses of readers, under the pseudonym of Vargo Statten. With other pseudonyms, he signed novels of different genres: Thornton Ayre, Polton Cross, Geoffrey Armstrong, John Cotton, Dennis Clive, Ephriam Winiki, Astron Del Martia, etc Fearn also published 26 detective novels under multiple signatures, of different genres: among these, several contained Locked Rooms and impossible crimes. Fearn died in 1960.

Black Maria is one of his novels with impossible crimes and more precisely it is a locked room which is also quite nice. At the time he achieved good success, so much so that Fearn, heartened, followed it up with six other novels: Black Maria, M.A. (1944); Maria Marches On (1945); One Remained Seated (1946); Thy Arm Alone (1947); Framed in Guilt (1948); Death in Silhouette (1950).




Black Maria is the director of a British girls' college. One fine day she receives a letter from which she learns that his brother Ralph Black has committed suicide: in fact they found him, in his study, with the radio at high volume, killed by a gunshot, however, found on the ground, next to some wine. poured, and all in a locked room from the inside. Suicide is the only viable hypothesis, according to the police. The only one who does not believe it is his son Richard (aka Dick) who expresses the suspicions to his aunt when she, after a long journey from England, arrives in America.

The family is made up of his wife Alice (sincerely in love with her husband, but also intent on saving the children from any accusation that she could harm them) and her children: Dick, Janet and Patricia. Dick runs a theater and cabaret shows, although he intends to stage a work of his, which he is writing with his fiancée Jane Conway, a sound engineer; Janet instead is an opera singer, in love with Peter Wade an actor; and Pat finally, a dancer, is also in love with Arthur Salter, an accountant. Who could possibly have killed Ralph and why?

Ralph made his fortune with canned broccoli, setting up a series of factories and founding a small empire. However, he is a ruthless man, who does not look favorably on his children marrying people who are not rich; and so both Dick's girlfriend (whose brother was ruined by Ralph) and Janet's boyfriend and Patricia's are isolated. However, since he can't get over little Pat's boyfriend right, he even plots a false accusation of embezzlement against her, conspiring with a big piece of the underworld, Onzi, and ending up the poor accountant in jail. Who nevertheless escapes, with Pat's help, on the same day Ralph dies. Ralph, however, fearing that someone around him might want to plot against him, wrote a letter to his sister, entrusting her with the task, if he died an unnatural death, to investigate his death, receiving, if he could prove guilty. of the murderer, his share of the inheritance. So Black Maria begins to investigate.

She will know Arthur and Patricia, before he was wrongly accused of fraud, had secretly married; Jane is a sound engineer and that together with her boyfriend they are writing a play based on the remote murder caused by sound; Janet often goes to visit her boyfriend, who lives in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts, very different from the rich one in which she usually lives; Arthur is hiding in the same neighborhood, after having escaped, and that Patricia visits him every day and brings him food. Not only. Black Maria will be able, with the help of Pulp Martin, a small element of the underworld, who has become her bodyguard, to recover the documentation according to which Arthur will be exonerated; and he will discover a series of crucial clues to understand how Ralph was killed, why and by whom: the spring of a typewriter, a steel wire, some wine spilled on the ground, two broken glasses and the cage with a parrot, a loud radio, a record left halfway on the plate of the gramophone, and an order to the butler to bring some wine which clashes with a first reconstruction of the crime.

So many had the chance and the motive to kill Ralph: could it have been Jane, the sound engineer? Or Dick who works and loves Jane? Or Janet throwing a sharp C from the chest in Mozart's Allelujah in F Major? Or even Peter who hated Ralph Blach because he had no intention of consenting to his love of him with Jane? Or Mary, Jane's maid, also harboring hatred of Ralph, due to the death of her parents, whose financial disaster was caused by Ralph's business?




It almost seems like a conspiracy like Murder on the Orient Express: everyone had a reason to hate Ralph and want his death. But which of them had he been? The final revelation, at the end of a reconstruction that the unusual investigator will hold in her brother's home, will surprise everyone, even the reader.

Fearn's great novel, with an impeccable solution, reminded me of those locked rooms with deadly mechanisms, already seen in novels by John Rhode, J.J.Connington, Eden Phillpotts; but above all it reminded me of another famous Locked Room, in Death Has Many Doors by Fredric Brown, in which the murder is caused by a deadly mechanism, moreover at the base of which there is a devilry connected to a physical law: while, however, the source is understood, in Brown's novel it is possible to infer if not what at least the principle on the basis of which the death took place, and therefore the culprit, in that of Fearn, also understood the underlying principle, heralded in all sauces (i.e. that a certain note, being played at a certain height, determines a sonic wave not perceived by the human ear but capable of breaking even the glass, in practice an ultrasound), it is not possible to understand how the victim, without waiting for the final solution, a true pinnacle of intelligence.

Beyond this, the novel can be read in one breath: 150 easy easy pages, carried forward by a certain rhythm (to which a story somewhere between action and gangsterism contributes) that combines classic Mystery with a certain fake. hard-boiled, almost as if here Fearn had copied the trend of the hybrid yellow of Jonathan Latimer or Craig Rice, in his own way of course, creating a speckled figure of a college director lent to detective fiction (probably also looking at the young lady and teacher Stuart Palmer's detective, Hildegarde Withers), who by going to get bodyguards among jail scraps, manages to save himself from assassination attempts and to frame a plot that lurks in his own family. The detail of the wine and the broken glasses on the floor are curious: they remind me in a certain sense of Paul Halter's La Mort vous invite, which presents a similar situation in his Locked Room. And the disc left in the middle reminds that in The Canary Murder Case by S.S.Van Dine



Pietro De Palma