Originally published in France as ‘Le Crime de la maison Grün’, this elaborate murder mystery was the earliest book by the team of Yves Jacquemard (1943-1980) and Jean-Michel Sénécal to be translated into English. Although the prose is a little bit heavy on the adjectives, this is a fairly amusing hommage to the Golden Age tradition with a humdinger of an ending. The setting is Strasbourg and the eponymous corpse belongs to Dyana Pasquier, the long-time live-in girlfriend of Denis Grün. His father Wotan is an alleged alchemist and the most powerful man in town.
I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘in translation’ category.
“It doesn’t make sense!” Inspector Holz protested to his superior officer. “A body that turns up, disappears and then turns up again! I hope it’s not going to disappear again …”
Dyana’s body is found in the local river and the police called. By the time the authorities arrive – in the shape of Superintendent Dullac and Inspector Holz – the body has disappeared, only to then turn up again inside Wotan’s office, which has been ransacked. Later Wotan is shot at by an unseen gunman, but survives the ordeal. Does someone have it in for the family? Why bother to move the body in the first place? The authors had already collaborated on over a dozen stage plays before embarking on a second career as novelists, so it is no great surprise that the emphasis is largely on dialogue. This is especially noticeable in the opening chapters, which see Dullac (whose first name – according to John Norris – is Lancelot, though I missed this joke in my reading I’m afraid …) and Holz interrogate the various members of the Grün family and the members of the discussion group they had all been attending the night of the crime. It doesn’t get them very far, leading to this amusing exchange:
“Someone’s making monkeys of us, Holz!”
“Yes, but who? Damnit, who?”
“Abigail Andros,” Dullac said promptly.
“Abigail Andros? Why on earth?”
“I don’t know. Because she’s the least likely suspect.”
“Now you’re laughing at me, Chief!”
In a book that is only 170 pages long (in my Collins Crime Club hardback edition, pictured above), this questioning takes up nearly one-hundred pages, and at one point in the middle of this comes a protracted single forty-page chapter dealing with Wotan, his very young wife and the two children from his previous marriage. In other words, for this reader at least, it became a bit of a chore, especially given that the tone is somewhat arch and artificial (this is clearly intentional and Gordon Latta’s translation into British English seems perfectly adequate and unproblematic). At least with Ngaio Marsh you had the more interesting character set up before the murder – but this book starts with the discovery of the stiff!
“…there’s no such thing as a perfect crime; otherwise, where would we be?”
However, there is some droll humour and events certainly do pick up in the final thirty pages with another death, leading to a surprise ending that reminded me a lot of late Ellery Queen. It cannot be discussed, in fairness, though it is pretty satisfying in its complication, though I dare say many may feel is is not really fairly clued. The notorious John F. Norris reviewed this book over at his blog, Pretty Sinister Books and you really should head there right now to get a much more sensible overview of its merits.
Incidentally, the novel was adapted for the screen in 1984 but I’m afraid I know very little about it except that it was directed by Renaud Saint-Pierre and starred Jean-Michel Sénécal himself – here is the listing at IMDb.
I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘in translation’ category: