Monday, April 15, 2024

William Willoughby Sharp : Murder of the Honest Broker, 1934 (Italian Edition: Morte di un broker onesto - translator: Marilena Caselli - Publishing House Polillo, 2024)



Willoughby Sharp... who could he be? one could say paraphrasing Alessandro Manzoni.
The great tomes of detective literature, dictionaries like the Maspléde do not report it, in GAD there is not a page that concerns it, in Mike Grost's analytical work on the internet, ditto. Yet he is an author of the golden age of the Golden Age of Detection, of the full Thirties.
What we know about the author we learn from the notes on the cover flap: William Willoughby Sharp born in 1900 and died in 1956, he was a New Yorker. Son of high society, he found work on the Wall Street Stock Exchange. After the crisis of 1929, and a much talked about marriage, he left W all Street and, together with his wife, moved to Bermuda, where he wrote his first novel, Murder in Bermuda, in 1933, followed by the second a year later, Murder of the Honest Broker. A third, The Mystery of the Multiplaying, 1935, should have followed after the founding of the company between Sharp and the New York publisher Kendall, but the project did not materialize, and the company soon dissolved. It is not known what the writer did from 1935 to his death. 

Warning: Spoilers !

The novel published by Polillo presents a double crime, which took place in the Stock Exchange Building on Wall Street. In essence, two brokers, Philip Torrent and Sandy Harrison, are killed by curere, absorbed in the case of the first through a cut on the right ear, while in the case of the second by scratches given to him on the left cheek by a woman, Torrent's former lover . It is not clear how the two could have been killed, and above all what motive they had in common, because it seems they have no connection. It would also seem that Philip Torrent was loved by everyone. Of course someone didn't love him if he killed him, but then, under the respectable hypocritical veil, we learn that Torrent had plenty of people who wanted him dead! Not only Jack McDonald, also a broker, lover of Torrent's wife, Mary; but also obviously his wife, Mary; Torrent's abandoned lover, Lucy Laverne; Chipo Martinelli and wife, owners of a clandestine bar set up with 70,000 Torrent dollars, not intending to return it to him; broker associate Temple Hastings, who defrauded him of approximately $300,000; his nephew Howard Torrent, debauched and without ever a dollar who leads an expensive life.



With a meticulous investigation, and with some ideas of genius, Bullock will be able to understand how the two victims were killed and why, and by whom, taking into account that at least Torrent was injured by someone using an improvised weapon, consisting of a pencil in which it was not inserted a graphite lead, but a tip of a phonograph blackened by the fire of a lighter, near its location at the New York Stock Exchange, and then killed in an ingenious way using Curare.

The End of Spoilers

The novel is stylistically a procedural, a precursor procedural if we want, seen under the guise of the activity of an inspector who is essentially an amateur detective: there is no usual basic police activity, such as for example. in Hillary Waugh's procedurals, which are real procedurals, but the investigative activity only of Inspector Bullock who, if anything, imitates his boss. In the novel, Inspector Bullock, who moves in the same New York in which Philo Vance, Drury Lane, and Thatcher Colt, deeply detested by him, move, if at first glance he differs from them, in reality he shares them. If anything, it is an attempt to increase visibility and general curiosity about one's hero.
Other details that indicate Bullock to us as a Vandinian hero could be: first of all, the Inspector Bullock (detective) / Mackay (Chief of Police) relationship seems to reiterate that of Philo Vance (detective) / Markham (District Attorney); and then, when Bullock goes to visit Torrent's wife, he appreciates two small Corots hanging near the fireplace, just as the embroidery of the Queen Anne style chairs (late Baroque: 1702-1714) arouses admiration in him: so it is certainly of an inspector with a medium-high cultural level, different from the masses. Furthermore, the weapon with which the murderer kills Philip Torrent reminds us of others from the Vandinian period: the mouthpiece of De Puyster - Rufus King's first detective, who seems to have even influenced Van Dine's Philo Vance - which in The Weapon That Didn't Exist he uses a Curare dart. In turn, the pencil on which, instead of a lead, was inserted the needle of a phonograph - metal - blackened with carbon black, reminds me of the cork on which the pins dipped in nicotine are inserted, from The Tragedy of  X  by Ellery Queen, all those fancy weapons, which are typical of the period. You should read Sharp's first to get a precise idea of the stylistic derivation, that is, whether he is a writer in his own right or whether he can be attributed to a stylistic current of fiction of the period. Mike doesn't mention it at all in his encyclopedic history of online detection, and after all the two novels were released in 2013, ignored or almost ignored.
I also notice in the novel the tendency, already noted in other witers, to humanize the characters of Abbot, Ellery Queen and Van Dine, that is, to decontextualize them and instead talk about them as if they were truly historical characters, not invented in the pages of a book. In this way the author in turn decontextualizes his character and gives him his own characterization. 

Pietro De Palma

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