It’s a Tuesday. It’s night time (in the UK at any rate), which means only one thing. It is time for the Tuesday Night Bloggers to come together to look at this month’s theme: Firsts. A theme which over the last few weeks has been wonderfully and widely interpreted and this week is no different. From first books by an author to our bloggers’ various first encounters with the crime fiction genre itself.
If you have happened to miss any of the previous weeks’ here are the links below:
And here are this week’s contributions:
Brad at ah sweet mystery blog: My First Detective
JJ at The Invisible Event: My First Five Impossible Crimes
Moira at Clothes in Books: The First Appearance of Maud Silver
For my own contribution this week I am looking at Augusto De Angelis’ first Inspector De Vincenzi novel, The Murdered Banker (1935). Vincenzi is faced with quite the challenge in his first fictional outing, being required to solve a murder in which an old school friend, Giannetto Aurigi is heavily implicated by the evidence. Not only does he have a strong motive for murdering the banker, Mario Garlini, owing him over half a million lire, but Garlini was killed and is found shot in his own apartment. Furthermore he doesn’t even have a good alibi, saying he walked aimlessly during the middle of the night.
Yet not all is lost for Aurigi, even if he has given up the fight already. Although there is a lot of evidence against him, there are also some anomalies: an anonymous phone call, a woman’s lipstick under the sofa, a dropped phial of prussic acid in the bathroom, conflicting witness statements and a suspiciously worried upper floor tenant. There is also Aurigi’s fiancée, Maria Giovanna and her father Count Marchionni, to contend with, the latter of whom is so keen to condemn his once son in law that he even hires a private detective. This story is high in drama and emotional outbursts, as respectable veneers are torn away. But for all that will Vincenzi be able to save his friend?
This is not my first experience with Augusto De Angelis’ work and I think this definitely affected how I encountered this read. Firstly I think we see a side to Vincenzi which we don’t see as much in his later cases. Early on in the book he is shown as having a more philosophical and poetical side, a side which he think pushed him into police work. In the later cases of his I have read we don’t see him around non-work friends/colleagues so this story gives a rare peak into how Vincenzi is in his personal life – in particular how he treats his friends. At times the policeman side of him can tend to dominate, as even before he knows of the pickle Aurigi is in, it is said that ‘De Vincenzi watched him, unable to say at that moment whether he felt greater apprehension about the fate of his friend or a more cold-hearted desire to see him up to his neck in it and discover his hidden secret.’ Though in fairness to him he does really care about his friend and want to prove his innocence. Not that this stops him setting Aurigi up, letting him walk into what he believes is his unoccupied apartment and find the corpse, in order to note his reactions (something he tends to do a lot with his suspects and witnesses).
However there were also some familiar aspects of Vincenzi which are found in the later books, such as the fact that he is not much of a team player, preferring to be the one giving the orders and playing a lone hand – not always by the book. The narrator goes as far as saying that Vincenzi ‘wanted to rely completely on himself. Anyone else’s help would do nothing but derail him. If he wanted to reach his goal, he’d have to follow his own instincts, his own mysterious intuition.’ This is not perhaps a very appealing trait, but it did remind me of the individualist streak that is found in a lot of other British and American fictional sleuths, written at the same time. Despite this case having quite a number of physical clues, Vincenzi prefers to work cases from their psychological angle and to use his intuition, reacting to the situations as they arise, such as when a suspects reveals something unexpected. For him it is all about the way you handle others.
The puzzle factor in this story is not as strong as it has been in other novels by De Angelis I have read. There is one clever central clue and lots of red herrings, but the mystery needed to be tightened. Vincenzi does tend to have lightening moments of inspiration near the end of the book before solving the case, a feature which usually means the reader is less clued in than they should be. Equally Vincenzi withholds from the reader the fact he removed two documents from the corpse’s body and even once this is revealed it takes a while for the nature of these documents to be shared with the reader. I’m not too upset about this due to issues of fair play but because it felt unnecessary and almost conspicuous. That is if creating a puzzle based mystery was De Angelis’ purpose and I am not too sure that it was. I’m not trying to decry the puzzle aspect as believe you me it could have been far more loose and wishy washy, but it’s just that I think the characters and the drama between them is more important and given greater narrative space. A lot of the book takes place in Aurigi’s apartment, with other characters arriving, adding to the tension and in a way it reminded me of a stage drama, almost Ibsen-like in its’ unmasking of outward respectability and family and personal secrets. Yet it is in these moments of high psychological tension that slips of the tongue are made and the truth begins to emerge. In a formal interview such suspects could probably keep their cool and not reveal anything, but in this more informal setting where suspects, who are all personally connected and invested, can watch each other and the truth is not so easy to conceal. Musing on this aspect of the book chimed in with something I read in the notes at the back of the book where it is argued that De Angelis ‘created a style of his own, with a detective who is more complex than the British “thinking machine” typified by Sherlock Holmes, but more sensitive than the tough-guy American private eye.’ Whilst I think the description of the Holmes type of detective is perhaps a little simplistic, I think this quote does hit the nail on the head with De Angelis’ in this book, as Vincenzi approach to this case does have a American private eye feel to it at times and fits in with his need for independence.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Briefcase
The Hotel of the Three Roses (1936)