domenica 26 ottobre 2014

The first works with Bencolin : The Shadow of the Goat (1926), The Fourth Suspect (1927), The Ends of Justice (1927), The Murder in Number Four (1928); and a short novel: Grand Guignol (1929) by John Dickson Carr

The stories in Carr have their part of great importance: very often serve as testing of forms, and it is not improper to say that if it is true that some novels are absolute masterpieces, for example. "The Three Coffins" or " The Crooked Hinge" or " He Who Whispers" or "The Bourning Court ", it is equally true that many of his stories and radio-plays are just masterpieces ( The Crime in Nobody's Room, in which a crime happens in a second floor apartment that should not exist, or the classic Radio play, Cabin B-13 with the two spouses Richard and Anne Brewster boarding the steamer Maurevania, for their Honeymoon, and then later in the story, vanishes a cabin, the B-13, and the bridegroom with it) .Very often the stories in Carr's novels are nothing more than (very often with locked rooms, impossible crimes, unexplained disappearances, sinister atmospheres) .. concentrates. That is because it is also important to examine them and try to find within them, elements that justify the existence and the enthusiastic judgment of critics and readers, thing not common. Carr collected together his stories in some series: in one of them, "The Door to Doom and Other Detections", there are 4 emblematic stories belonging to the first carrian production, starring Henri Bencolin. We talk about the period in which Carr is close to France: France and Paris in particular, are imaginary places, come down to us unchanged, with their load of mystery and fascination, as he had read in the novels of cloak and dagger of which he was nurtured still young. And is the Paris by Honoré de Balzac, Stendhal, Victor Hugo, not that by Zola, with its social contrasts, with its processes. The protagonist is Bencolin, the first of the carrian characters, interpreter of five novels. The stories in the order they are: The Shadow of the Goat (1926), The Fourth Suspect (1927,January), The Ends of Justice (1927, May), The Murder in Number Four (1928); and a short novel:  Grand Guignol (1929).  

About the short novel, T. J. Yoshi, at his essay John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study, says:
 “In 1928 Carr’s parent sent him to the Sorbonne in Paris for further study; but Carr spent all his time writing, and here produced the short novel Grand Guignol, an early version of his first novel, It Walks by Night (1930); it was published in The Haverfordian in the issues for March and April 1929. In 1929 he expanded Grand Guignol into it Walks by Night, and it was prompty bought by Harper & Brothers…When the novel was published, Harper unprecedentely advertised it in a full-page ad in the New York Times, and it ultimately sold 15.000 copies. Carr’s career as mystery novelist was launched… Grand Guignol, the early version of It Walks by Night, allows us to examine carefully the early growth of Carr the detective writer. Grand Guignol, at 25.000 words, is a substantial novelette or short novel…probably written in 1928, is set in 1927, as is It walks by Night; the mechanics of the principal crime – a “locked room” murder – do not differ appreciably, although events following this crime are elaborated at considerable length in the novel” (pages. 14-15, Yoshi’s essay).
If at It Walks by Night we find the Bencolin’s description: “Then you studied the face, turned partly sideways—the droop of the eyelids, at once quizzical and tolerant, under hooked eyebrows, and the dark veiled light of the eyes themselves. The nose was thin and aquiline, with deep lines running down past his mouth. A faint smile was lost in a small moustache and pointed black beard—the black hair, parted in the middle and twirled up like horns, had begun to turn grey. Over the white tie and white shirtfront, it was a head from the renaissance in the low light of the lamps. He rarely gestured when he spoke, except to shrug his shoulders, and he never raised his voice…The twirled hair, the pointed beard, the wrinkled eyes, and the inscrutable smile were known”, at the short novel, we find the definition more effective and withering of his character, a real photo:
He rose and began to pace about, hands clasped behind his back, head bent forward. Mephistopheles smoking a cigar, several of him reflected in the mirrors around the walls as he passed up and down; a queer and absurd little figure in motion, but Pari’s avenger of broken laws. “Mephistopheles smoking a cigar”: there is more to this soubriquet, we are given to understand, than merely a description of Bencolin’s moustache and goatee” (Yoshi’s Essay, page 10)
But why Mephistopheles?

One of the four stories comes to help us, the second for the accuracy, The Fourth Suspect. Another Adventure of M.. Henri Bencolin.  When Bencolin is to the presence of Villon (in that time, he is the Chief of Police), Carr provides a framework for the figure:
The little detective came shambling in with his rather apologetic air. Bencolin’s eyes were kindly and squinting; Villon could picture the stooped figure, black beard, high nose, all redolent of cigar smoke, even with closed eyes: Bencolin had a top hat stuck rather rakishly on his head; his cloak sagged after him when he advanced to the desk”. In short, a man not nice, but a character, however, what we would call a "type". But Carr, before this description, he told us, as to prepare a description of a physical certainly not by Adonis, that in Bencolin: “..the innate sentimentality of the man worked against him; at odd moments he might be found dreaming at the opera, or buying wine for Bohemian friends on the left bank, or consorting with beggars whose obviously false tales drew large sums of money from him”.
His nickname of Mephistopheles, is definitely connected to his profession, as he can transform into a merciless judge; but also undoubtedly to his appearance. Interesting is what Gil Bethune says in Deadly Hall, the penultimate novel published by Carr: “Uncle Gil ..Momentarily Had Looked like less amiable, beardless like Mephistopheles than a Grand Inquisitor preparing to order torture”.

 To whom is he referring? T. J. Yoshi believes that the reference to Mephistopheles, is linked to the figure of Bencolin, and that the parallel is intentional as the story of the novel precedes by a few days the first big event of Bencolin remembered it It Walks by Night: in fact, the date that is framed at the beginning of Deadly Hall, is April 19, 1927, while the story of  It Walks by Night, begins April 23 1927, but Yoshi stops here. Instead I would say much more.
First, the appearance: we refer to Mephistophelean expression and even more so to Bencolin’s eyebrows. The expression refers aspect of Gilbert Bethune. Carr when describes his appearance, says that to Bethune hair blacks were streaked by grey: this expression is too similar to  the citation or to the reference contained in the famous description of the appearance of Bencolin contained in It Walks by Night, " the black hair, parted in the middle and twirled up like horns, had begun to turn grey ": it is as if Carr had wanted to pay tribute to his early years, to Bencolin, who was the symbol of his early successes. Both names of the two characters starting with "Be", both serve two substantially similar professions (Investigating Judge and the Chief of Police, Bencolin; District Attorney, Bethune); both smoke cigars; both have mephistophelean eyebrows  that is arched;  both novels are set at a distance of a few days in 1927; both have a young man who is as if he acted as an assistant (the situation of Watson): Jeff Marle in the case of Bencolin,  Caldwell said Jeffrey "Jeff" in the case of Bethune, and both names begin with “Je”. Too many coincidences to not be instead of wanted citations. Carr wanted say that Deadly Hall is like another novel with Bencolin (situations, times, and in different ways)?
And to Bencolin always we think, in the case of his last novel, Hungry Goblin: Carr in fact, just in The Lost Gallows, in the short span of a few pages – as Don D'Ammassa says quite rightly – had cited the terms that would later become the titles of his works: "... Carr mentions three terms that would later figure in the titles of novels - Punch and Judy, the Red Widow, and the Hungry Goblin." But how does change the representation and the figure of Bencolin, with the description that is given us at It Walks By Night, compared to the previous offer in "The Fourth Suspect" ? There we see him elegant (here, he is not), sliced​​, broken (here is not), a person of a certain standard even social: Bencolin is no longer one of the many 86 Prefects, but he is "Juge d'Instruction" : investigating judge, counselor of the Supreme Court and the chief of police. He is changed: he is no longer so "human", he has become harder, even ruthless, implacable judge with the transgressors: it’s the life which has made him such!

We can also see here a substantial difference with the other figures of investigators: Fell is a character that has nothing to do with the police, while Merrivale while belonging to military intelligence (he is even the head of counterintelligence), the figure is not comparable to a policeman, while Bencolin, he is. And if  It Walks by Night is the grand entrance of Carr, on the stage of the crime in the genre of the novel, with the virtuosity of staging and characterizations of Grand Guignol, typical of the early novels, especially of the bencolinian cycle, it is equally important to emphasize the extraordinary importance of the earliest stories, the ones with Bencolin young, as already contain all the characters and characterizations of the next Carr, of the great successes. In particular, we can safely say that many of the ideas that will be developed later in the great novels, are already here completed.
The first in order of time of the tales is The Shadow of the Goat: it was written in November-December 1926 We find for the first time represented, not one but three of the most recurring characters of better identification of Carr: a man disappears from a hermetically sealed room – we would say "vanished into thin air"; a murder at a Locked Room, an attempted impossible murder, with another disappearance can not be explained except by supernatural events. There's the bet,  which is a prelude to the disappearance impossible, that it will be resumed in The Three Coffins (between Grimaud and Pierre Fley), but there is also the first disappearance: a man, Cyril Merton, locked in a room with stone walls, in which the only exit is the door , guarded at sight, vanishes in thin air without leave traces, at the expected hour; the murder of another in a home, as the witnesses tell, in which has not joined anyone, and there are two people of the servants who swear that is exactly what happened (and who does not swear falsely): the only person who would been there, Garrick, the nephew of the victim, could not be there because he was committed to guard the door of the room, from which there was the disappearance of Merton: two facts undeniably linked, but unexplained. The important thing is that Jules Fragneau has been killed. Finally, the grandson of Fragneau is attacked by someone who hurts him, and who hurts him, by assertion of Bencolin, is a dead man. Three inexplicable facts, resolved with iron logic: the result is a solution absolutely spectacular.
Another feature of this first and surprising story with Bencolin, whom many consider a masterpiece (and it is easy to confirm it, reading it), is the supernatural atmosphere that you breathe, another characteristic of the carrian works (ghosts, demons, impossible disappearances , gloomy atmospheres), who could remember us an English specialized in ghost literature, Montague Rhodes James, but that, according to Douglas G. Greene, it is characteristic of certain works by Anne Katherine Green for example: he claimed to be even similarities of the plot at the carrian story The Gentleman from Paris and the story by Green, The Leavenworth Case (1878), as well as between the radio play Cabin B-13 and Room 3 of 1909 by Green. It will not be difficult to recall the atmosphere of The Three Coffins when before Grimaud and his friends converse in front the fire, and then in the eerie and sinister tale, the unknown Pierre Fley fits, who threatens Grimaud to intervene in his place, his brother. So much so that some critic says that this story “contains the seeds of two of his best later novels, The Three Coffins  and The Nine Wrong Answers” .
And we notice another detail, which also occurs in the other 3 short stories: Bencolin is not alone. With him there is another protagonist in the novels that disappears, and is replaced in the first four novels by Jeff Marle: namely Sir John Landevorne. Yes, that Sir John Landervorne that will appear again for the last time, in that masterpiece of the first production of bencolinian cycle romance that’s The Lost Gallows.

If there was not Watson or another “shoulder”, Holmes certainly would not have had the worldwide success: Watson is the soul of Holmes, his conscience, humanity gruff of a doctor, as opposed to the superlative intelligence, aseptic and sometimes irritating the detective who knows everything. It’s'from this moment that the pairs of investigators will be remembered with greater kindness than the lone investigator: John Dickson Carr also conforms to this trend (such as the CID Inspectors opposed to Fell or Merrivale) but not so much with the pair Henri Bencolin / John Landevorne, as with that Bencolin / Marle: already from It Walks by Night, Landevorne (which appears in all of the first 4 stories with Bencolin) disappears, giving way to Jeff Marle, the narrator , a disciple of Bencolin: a character then places in a different location from the first, more subaltern.
John Landevorne appears for the last time in The Lost Gallows (not to appear anymore). The fact that Carr, from the first of the novels published with Bencolin, decides to take him out, testifies to me the new professional and social status achieved by Bencolin, “Juge d'Instruction” while Landevorne, is in essence, now, an ex-police officer of Scotland Yard:  “Sir John Landevorne had once come from that vague section of London known as Whitehall, and he had been possibly the only man in the city who might have given police orders to Scotland Yard. If M. Henri Bencolin was only one of France’s eighty-six prefects of police, he was not the least important of them”.
If you see well, Jeff Marle, who plays the part of Watson's situation, it is not in a position of parity, which is essentially what is observed in the case of Landevorne in the first four stories (even if the true deus ex machina is always Bencolin) and the Lost Gallows, but despite being an acquaintance of Bencolin (Bencolin and his brother Jeff were friends) is still in a more secluded location, however, and does not share the center stage. And 'he, the famous French policeman at the center of the lights, it is he who dictates the action detective, there is no one who can try to steal the limelight. It is as if Bencolin destroying the image of her mate once, destroyed part of his past, a part of consciousness that no longer wants to be considered. It’s to say, however, that, despite apparently after The Corpse in the Waxworks (1931), Jeff Marle disappears (in fact, the last novel with Bencolin, The Four False Weapons (1937), he is not one of the characters), in reality Carr gave him the chance of dying in beauty, having the spotlight all to himself, without recurring character in a novel, Poison in Jest, a novel of 1932, which is a bencolinian novel without Bencolin.
However, to explain what is happening in The Lost Gallows, Carr says that Landevorne was changed having lost a son tragically (hung himself): since in none of the four stories of the youth of Bencolin, it hints at possible dates which they connect, ie not is specified the period of time, from what Carr says in The Lost Gallows, one could argue that they have been placed in a time that comes before the outbreak of the First World War. This would also explain how from the end of the fourth short story to the first novel, when in the actual time pass a few months, in the imaginary and literary, more than ten years spend, at which Bencolin passes from office of Prefect, one of many, that of Chief of Police, to Advisor to the Supreme Court and the Investigating Judge, ousting that Villon who appears in two among the four stories: in the second and in the fourth.
Bencolin, unlike Merrivale and Fell, works better when he has an opponent who is opposed:  betrays his romantic originates. It's like a knight who reacts to affront suffered immediately, and reacts much  more vehemently than who opposes is big and smart as he is. In The Fourth Suspect, is Count Villon, his superior, who asks for his help while contesting the fact that Bencolin can find the key to the problem (he hates, for the extraordinary ability to Bencolin have everything under control and to solve the most complex skeins): the spy LaGarde was killed in front of the eyes of the same Villon and the agent of the secret service Riordan, who heard the shot: they broke down the door, without having seen anyone leave a hermetically sealed room, and they were in front of the only exit. LaGarde is still dressed in the style of the masquerade ball held in his house, and on his face is a mask. On his face, there are three holes: two for the eyes (in the mask), and the third in the forehead, from which comes out a trickle of blood, before their eyes. Once again a locked room absolutely extraordinary, once again resolved with skill.

Also this second story sowings the seeds that will be developed elsewhere: the victim is dressed in a bizarre manner (Hogenauer, in The Magic Lantern Murders, is found dead, with a smile twisted into a sneer for strychnine poisoning, and a turkish fez on head; Penderel with the cylinder, a long coat, an ancient evening dress, a fake black beard  already on the chin come off , a Persian dagger planted in his chest and the "manual of homemade recipes of Mrs. Eltridge" , in The Arabian Nights Murder; Dwight Stanhope wearing a gold mask, in The Gilded Man, with the white wig, limbs askew, a mask on your face and a smoking cigarette in his hand; there is still a murderer "vanished into thin air", and a murder very similar to the second of The Hollow Man : also there, a man is murdered, and three witnesses (two passers-by and a policeman) swear that no one has approached the victim: conclusion? Crime impossible.
The murder takes place before their eyes, but both swear that no one was there except of course the victim, as in the novel of 1937, Peacock Feather Murders (also The Ten Teacups), where Vance Keating that "she is wearing a hat that is obviously not his size" is entered in a penthouse apartment, closing the door behind him, while both the window and the door only, are guarded outside by the police is murdered with two bullets, and the gun, an old revolver, is found on the floor, and no trace of the killer .For more, The Four Suspect, is the first of his writings in which he elaborates the theme of the object (the weapon, but also other), which disappears after a crime, from a Locked Room and the seeds sown here, will bear fruit elsewhere: first, the weapon that disappears in Till Death Do Us Part; many wads of cash, vanished in a room, Hot Money (short story included in the collection The Department of Queer Complaints); the testament that disappears from a locked room, which has heavily barred the window while the door is guarded, in The Gentleman from Paris (story taken from the collection "The Third Bullet and Other Stories").
The third story is even more remarkable. The End of Justice once again the theme of the challenge that Bencolin accepts: this time, there’s  a man whom Bencolin respects, Follewes, who has spent all his money to charity, to be sentenced to death for the murder of his cousin Darworth. The murder is still a Locked Room: Fellowes was seen entering at the victim's home, knock on the door, announce himself, be let in, and lock the door. Then, was found killed the brother, known spiritualist, shackled at the hands and feet to a chair with a knife in his heart: there is no one in the room of course! Fellowes seems to have disappeared, evaporated, especially as the only window is open, yes, but on the edge of the sill and on the lawn below is a white expanse of snow without a single footprint, immaculate and perfect. How did the alleged murderer to escape, more that he didn’t  move from his house? Who was the real murderer? Bencolin succeed even in this case to solve the mystery, but he  will not save his friend, who will be hanged unjustly, a few minutes before be instead discovered the real culprit.
This story provides, along with the first examined, several ideas for The Three Coffins. In addition, the theme of the snow-covered expanse in which you do not see footprints or you see them but they do not belong to the victim, will be repeated with endless variations from the same Carr (and others, his posterity): The Footprints in the Sky(1940), story in which Carr as usually will not save himself and he will invent a kind of broader Locked Room, the snow-covered lawn, with a solution to truly leave you speechless; the expanse of snow  at The White Priory Murders; the snow coming down and the absence of footprints by the killer of Grimaud at The Hollow Man; also at The Gilded Man.

Another issue present here, that of ventriloquism, will be promptly revived with rest of his career as a writer of Carr, in 1935, in the series with HM with which Carr is signed for editorial reasons under the pseudonym Carter Dickson, will see the light novel The Red Widow Murders, which sees The Grand Old Man in the throes of one of his best and most intricate exploits, where one among the characters is ventriloquist. The story seems to me somewhat unbalanced as a solution: imagine that Darworth found handcuffed to the chair, while accustomed to seances biased, having had the strength, even after he has chained ankles to stab to the heart, and after he has handcuffed himself, seems to me a colossal bluster. This young Carr is much more extreme bully and Carr's more mature, more thoughtful, balanced and perfect in his reconstructions: in his desire to impress with a sham really the limit, he climbs on the mirrors in order to refute what would seem the only possible solution, as in turn impossible. It almost seems like the very first Paul Halter de The Curse of Barbarossa. I could understand if he had inflicted stab in the stomach and then he bled to death, but imagine to hit the heart (and the death is almost instantaneous) and then have the strength to handcuff himself, would reveal in the victim not a man but a demigod. One thing a bit difficult to digest .At last there’s  the last story, The Murder in Number Four.
It’s a locked room very suggestive: this time it's in a compartment of a train. Mercier, diamond smuggler, was found strangled in a compartment, closed with deadbolt from the inside, and a opened window has a space across which would not pass even a dwarf. The solution is again suggestive, and indeed the only one possible, if you do not want to admit the fact that Mercier has been strangled by a ghost. The vital clue that leads Bencolin to identify the murderess is a ticket.
However, the story, even though it offers a spectacular solution, is the least original of the four: it has a direct subsidiary in The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill. It’s, however, to be noted how in this story, Carr explores for the first time the technique of solving a problem, discussing not so much about the technique of the locked room, but how the detective can and should work to solve happily a case of detection . Here is the first part of the dissertation, between Sir John Landevorne  and Bencolin who in the course of the story, fiercely, says: “…I am Bencolin, Prefect of Police in Paris”. I omit the second part because it refers clearly to the resolution of the case in question:
"A pretty enough chessboard, isn't it?" he remarked after a while. "A chess game can be a terrible and enthralling thing, when you play it backwards and blindfolded. Your adversary starts out with his king in check, and tries to move his pieces back to where they were at first; that's why you can't apply rules or mathematical laws to crime. The great chess player is the one who can visualize the board as it will be after his move. The great detective is the one who can visualize the board as it has been when he finds the pieces jumbled. He must have the imagination to see the opportunities that the criminal saw, and act as the criminal would act. It's a great, ugly, terrific play of opposite imaginations. Nobody is more apt than a detective to say a lot of windy, fancy things about reasoning and deduction, and logic. He too frequently says 'reason' when he means `imagination.' I object to having a cheap, strait-laced pedantry like reason confused with a far greater thing."
 "But look here," said Sir John, "suppose you take this business tonight. You gave a reconstruction of that crime, all right, and perhaps that was imagination. But you didn't tell us how you knew that was the way it happened. Reason told you that. Didn't it? How did you get on to the murder, anyhow?'
"It's an example of what I was trying to say. There is so much elaborate hocus-pocus around the whole matter of criminal detection that it makes a detective wonder why people think he acts that way. The fiction writers want to call it a science, and attach blood pressure instruments to people's arms, and give them Freud tests—they forget that your innocent man is always nervous, and acts more like a guilty one than the criminal himself, even his insides. They forget that these machines are operated by the most cantankerous one of all, the human machine. And your psychological detective wants to pick out the kind of man who committed a crime; after which he hunts around till he finds one and says, 'Behold the murderer,' whether the evidence supports him or not. I hope you'll permit me to say damned nonsense_ There is no man who is incapable of a crime under any circumstances; to say that a daring crime was necessarily committed by a daring person is to argue that a drunken author can write on the subject of nothing but liquor, or that an atheistical artist could not paint the Crucifixion. It is frequently the tippler who writes the best temperance eassay, and the atheist who finds the most convincing arguments for religion.
 A script that defines once for all the importance of these stories, a true summa of Bencolin, a mine of situations and ploys that Carr will then use in his career as a writer: among other things, I like mention here, that in The Lost Gallows, the novel he sees for the last time together Landevorne and Bencolin, which in some ways is one of the most romantic novels by Carr, a very dark romance, is evident throughout the Mephistophelean nature of Bencolin , more than perhaps happens in It Walks by Night, ruthless, sardonic, which in the four stories perhaps reveals itself almost never. 
At the end of Paragraph 5 of The Ends of Justice, Bencolin asks the bishop Wolfe to delay as much as possible the execution of Fellowes, because he and Landevorne can save him, but the bishop refuses to cooperate: “You’re insane!”, the bishop said. “I refuse to be party”. They stood up, opposite each other, clergyman and detective, each vaguely visible, but the hatred that sprang between them lit each face like fire.“Bishop Wolfe” Bencolin said quietly, “Pilate was more merciful than you”.
Here it is useful to comment on how Bencolin appears much more human than the bishop and much less ruthless and hard, and even less cynical as it will appear in later novels: the Church (Anglican because the action takes place in London), named heir, would gain a lot of money by the death of Fellowes, and the bishop Wolfe helped solve the case. I note only as once again the use of the names is characteristic: the bishop is called Wolf(e) as the beast. I do not think a random choice for a cleric who despite not having spotted the crime, seeing that through the arrest of Fellowes would have earned much money, he offered himself to help the police to arrest Fellowes.
Bencolin is human with the honest and meek​​, cynical with profiteers, terrible with the killers.
In the final pages of The Lost Gallows, Bencolin reminds to El Moulk that he is saving him from death by hanging, to which had been intended by ****, just because he want to see him climb the scaffold at dawn and wants to see how The Red Widow caresses the neck.
And in the epilogue of the story, when everyone are speechless from horror, Bencolin..sings a cheerful ditty: Bencolin, implacable judge, he would see guillotined El Moulk who had been the cause of a tragic event, but he accepts the fate : God struck the wicked, and he did justice.
And everything can end well.
Pietro De Palma

mercoledì 22 ottobre 2014

Paul Halter : The Demon of Dartmoor, 1993

You can say, without fail, the first production of Paul Halter has been the best. This does not mean that the novels of the 90s and the first decade of the twenty-first century have been a small thing (indeed, in some cases, the finished product was qualitatively very interesting!), but it is equally indubitable that the first 7-8 novels (except for La malediction de Barberousse, opera in my opinion still immature) were the best of his production: all, in a case or in another, have, without exception, great atmosphere and superb deductive problems.  Moreover, with the exception of the very first novel already mentioned, set in France, all the others (at least the ones in the series with Dr. Twist) have locations in England.
Is no exception, Le demon de Dartmoor of 1993.
An evil presence is said to haunt the vicinity of the village of Stapleford in the wilderness of Dartmoor in Devon: someone thinks to have seen a headless horseman, riding a beheaded horse, gallop near the rock in the form of animal overlooking the river which flows through the village. The fact is that three girls, Eliza Gold, Constance Kent, and Annie Crook make a bad end: they climb the Wish Tor granite promontory, laughing as if they were dialoguing with someone (you can not see though!) and then they fall down in raging torrent as if they had been thrown: their bodies will be found (the first two, not the third, which is supposed to have done the same end) further downstream, trapped between the rocks, in the creek, massacred by the force of the current, that  slammed the bodies several times causing multiple fractures and wounds.
For the period of 6 years, nothing happens, and you think nothing will happen; and life goes quiet on in the sleepy village. But one fine day, Nigel Manson, actor in sight, buys the Trentice castle, a  manor in ruin restructuring completely, except for the left wing of the castle, where in the past there was a mysterious death.
Nigel's wife, Helen, doesn’t want to go, because she suspects actress and colleague of her husband in the  successful theatrical piece "The Invisible Man", Nathalie Marvel, be her husband’s lover, and that  her presence in their dwelling could coincide with the betrayal of Nigel.
If everything starts badly, ends worse then: in fact, Nigel, photography enthusiast and owner of various camera bodies, vain and lover of the poses more strange, would like to lay on the windowsill, in a pose very dangerous. The sill of the window is on the second floor, in the hall of the castle, overlooking the surrounding lawn: in the living room with him, are the wife Helen, close the fireplace, and Dr. Thomas Grant, doctor at Stapleford, sitting in armchair behind him. No one else. Too far away, or unable to have a part in what happens on the sill, at least to hear Franch Holloway, theatrical agent of Nathalie and her lover in the past, which enters in the hall a moment after Nigel falls from the window sill, his hands in forward, as if he had been pushed down, while Nathalie picks him up downstairs with the camera.
The invisible being who killed the three girls, did he kill also him? The fact is that other unexplainable things happen after: a red shadow that walks across the streets of the village, who manages to scare even Basil Hawkins, gardener, friend of Victor Sitwell, a professor of philosophy at the Lyceum of Tavistock; a photo that disappears from the inn where Frank Victor and other people go to get drunk one night, photo in which would be represented someone who would frighten Nigel, the night before he was killed (because Twist imagines there isn’t a spirit behind his death, but a wily murderer); the attempt to kill Victor, who owns another duplication of this photo. Someone even tells to have recognized in Nigel, one of two beautiful young people who years earlier had gone to bit interleaved parity in the inn, where they had drawn the interest of their three girls, then disappeared: possible that he was the lover of the girls, and someone thinks they were in love with him, and that for some obscure reason did he kill them? If he was their killer, the Nigel’s death could be not  murder but almost capital justice: an executioner came from beyond? Or we are faced with a far-fetched hypothesis and Nigel was killed for other facts, maybe for what he would see in the disappear picture?
Alan Twist will be to put a face to the mysterious killer and to explain the impossible deaths of the three girls and of Nigel, all four occurred under the gaze of reliable witnesses, without anyone could see their murderer.
Once again Paul, in this novel, demonstrates his own love toward Carr: there are indeed many references to his favorite author.
First, the impossible crime in front of witnesses: Nigel who dies  falling from the window of the hall of the castle, immediately brings to mind a famous novel by Carr, the shortest of his: The Case of the Constant Suicides, of 1941, in which a man falls from the window of a tower, whose door was bolted from the inside. According to me, the novel by Paul, it is a very fascinating variation; then, it brings to Carr when at the 16th chapter, he talks about "The man who explained miracles" so appealing Inspector Hurst (but The Man Who Explained Miracles is not only the other title of the story All In A Maze, of the 1956 signed by Carter Dickson, the latest adventure of Merrivale, but also the famous biography written by Douglas Greene about Carr. And finally, there are other little things that, in my opinion, that approach this novel to Carr.
First, a quote from Carr could be the final step of the 19th chapter: “The light in the window, which it watched for a moment, created yellow reflections in eyes which were clearly not those of a balanced and stable individual.”(Paul Halter : The Demon of Dartmoor – translation: John Pugmire). To me, this step has drawn immediately for mental association, the look of the killer, hidden among the rooftops, at Death-Watch (1935).
But this might just be my obsession. Instead, I believe that there is another quote more important from Carr, indeed by Carter Dickson, which immediately brings to mind, the fall from the promontory of the girls: in fact, it remembered to me “She Died A Lady”, of 1943 in which two lovers fall from a cliff in the underlying ocean (but despite the tracks are only their, it is a murder: one of the most beautiful locked rooms by Carr and one of his masterpieces). And yet .. "The Invisible Man": the title of the comedy starring on stage by Nigel and Nathalie, recall as well as the science fiction novel of 1881 by Herbert George Wells, also a collection of short stories by Carr entitled The New invisible Man (with Colonel March).
However it would be wrong to say that Paul has created his novel starting from Carr:
Instead, I believe Paul has somehow tapped something by Carr (perhaps even subconsciously), creating an original work, I would say one of his most fascinating.
First, the two novelists have a different idea of their stories: while Carr creates intense and dramatic stories, Halter creates fairy "black"tales, that have a great atmosphere, with false supernatural elements: the atmosphere is magical, because magical are the descriptions of the places (a similar process can be seen in L'arbre aux doigts tordus or La malediction de Barberousse), and there are supernatural references (an invisible man, a headless horseman, a deck of diabolical cards, a flying horse). Moreover Carr creates stories suited to adults, in which lack drastically almost very young subjects, because the story is told through the eyes of an adult, unlike Halter where instead these subjects are often present (La malédiction de Barberousse, Le diable de Dartmoor, Spiral) because the story is told through the eyes of a boy. I quote an important step of interview done by me to Paul, 1 year ago, and that had an echo quite significant, even abroad:
Le gros problème, pour un roman policier, est que la magie du mystère cesse d’opérer à la fin, lorsque tout est expliqué par le menu. Il faut donc trouver un truc pour que le charme opère toujours. Le meilleur exemple reste à mes yeux la fin de La Chambre ardente de Carr. Autrement dit, trouver un truc pour accréditer le fantastique après les explications finales. Comme définition du roman policier, Pierre Véry parlait de “conte de fées pour adultes” et je sourscris à cette affirmation sans la moindre réserve. Pour les petits enfants que nous étions, ces histoires de sorcières, de fées et de dragons étaient une véritable école de préparation au roman policier ! Et inconsciemment, je crois que j’essaye de retrouver ces premièrs frissons en écrivant mes histoires. Le thème du conte de fées est toujours au moins sous-jacent. Dand “L’homme qui aimait les nuages”, c’est même manifeste. L’héroine semble être une fée, tandis que le coupable est le “vent”. Pour ce qui est de l’atmosphère, je ne sais pas si c’est inné, en tout cas, ce me semble indispensable pour écrire une bonne histoire. Et tant que je ne la “sens” pas, pas question pour moi de commencer mon récit.    
In addition, while in the case of Carr's novels the culprit almost never is a victim of fate and almost always he is a being who killed maybe pushed by necessity, or for cold and calculated skill, but not for madness, in the novels of Halter (and also in Le diable de Dartmoor) peeps insistent the theme of madness:
Oui, j’aime le thème de la folie. Cela permet de présenter des mobiles variés et surprenants. Les problèmes psychologiques liés à l’enfance (en évitant le sacro-saint viol de l’oncle si possible !) sont également intéressants. Je dirais que mes criminels sont souvent “obsédés”, par une passion, une phobie, etc. Pour être plus précis, il faudrait que je détaille chacune des mes histoires, mais je laisserais au lecteur le soin de les découvrir par lui-même
Another difference between Carr and Halter concerns the construction of the plot: while Carr reserves importance both to the “How” and “Who”, Halter is mainly concerned to explain how an event took place: not at random, except  La quatriéme porte and Le brouillard rouge , and some other novel among the first issued, such as La mort vous invite or La lettre qui tue, it is not so difficult to frame the guilty, which instead doesn’t happen in the case of Carr. This because Halter inherits the tradition of the French enigma novel in which the enigma has prevalence respect to the identification of the culprit.
Other difference between the two relates to the details of the story: while in Carr, and generally in the case of Anglo-Saxon novelists of the 30s (E.Queen, Van Dine, CDKing, etc. ..), the details, the particular have a significant and are extremely complex in their explanation, and each contributes to the final solution, in Halter this is not always the case, as the microstructure of the novel does not care him far as the macrostructure: interests him the problem and not its outward expressions instead. If the difficulty in La Quatrième Porte has a very high level of complexity, almost pure virtuosity, in many of his novels, the difficulty is only apparent.
Not surprisingly, in a history of Halter, if you understand how he thinks, and what is his “modus agendi et procedendi” (which are often repeated in the novels), it is not difficult to spot the culprit, unlike in Carr. Carr, has the ability to explain in the minutest details the solution of a certain fact, even after you have stretched the plot of the novel. And in this it differs from other contemporary novelist:  for example Talbot, that in Rim of the Pit creates a sum of impossible situations insomuch  to fatigue then, in the final solution, to explain realistically them, climbing often on the mirrors. Hi because Halter, in my opinion, very intelligently, knowing he isn’t on the same level of Carr, does not try to emulate him failing in the attempt, but instead  he creates very attractive narrative  buildings, but easy to explain, because they have no real complexity  (except in some of the early work): it is also reflected in the length of his novels, which often stands on 200 pages or less, unlike the carrian novels.
In the novel, however, there are also other interesting things, that relate to the quotes submitted. For example, the beginning of Chapter 8, presents us Frank, in a dingy hotel room, who caters to his lover Nathalie and says:
“Couvrez ce sein que je ne saurais voir”
The complete period would be: “Couvrez ce sein que je ne voir saurais voir. Par de pareils objets les âmes sont blessées,
et cela fait venir de coupables pensées.”(Molière: Tartuffe, Act III, Scene II, verses 860-862). Nathalie and Frank are lovers and her nakedness, is the prologue to an embrace. However, he turns to her, mentioning a step away from Molière's Tartuffe: Tartuffe wants to seduce Elmira, with his moralizing maxims, expressed in a manner that, not too subtly, she understands how he wants to possess her. In essence, the advances of Truffle / Frank is the soul of hypocrisy, duplicity, the dichotomy between being and appearance: in fact even Frank, like Tartuffe, is a hypocrite, which manifests ihimelf in a certain way to win the next , i.e. starlets and showgirls in search of success (as Nathalie).
Yet the pace, in my opinion, could be the soul of the whole novel, and it would not be entirely accidental that Paul had entered it: a novel about the duplicity and falsehood. In fact, if we analyze the behavior of the various characters in the novel, you will see that several of them, it is as if they recited a part, and so in essence they are the hypocrites: Nathalie is false, false is Frank, Nigel is false, false is Helen, Victor is false, false is Annie, and could also be false Basil also.
In conclusion, another very beautiful novel by Paul Halter.

Pietro De Palma