On the Trail of Robinson

July 20, 2011

It is in the nature of shadowy and apparently peripheral figures to appear when you aren’t expecting them and in contexts where your guard is down. I read the narrative of the man Robinson some time ago, and had squirreled it away into one of those mental places that are inaccessible on request, but open up suddenly with the right key. So despite a post-work lassitude, I sat bolt upright when I came across the following passage in the narrative of a sensational and apparently impossible murder in Paris in 1948. It is difficult to be certain of course, but the facts – place and date etc – seem right. But it’s the descriptions of the character that finally convince me although other readers will be more sceptical, a trait the man thrives on of course. I have edited the several pages down to that which I consider pertinent:

“I still think you had better read this,” insisted De Lautrec, and slapped the paper down on the counter.
Bencolin bent over a remarkable first-page splash.

OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT SOLVES

THE MYSTERY OF THE VILLA MARBRE!

THE BRILLIANT EXPOSITION OF

AUGUSTE DUPIN!

MM. THE POLICE, TAKE NOTICE!

L’Intelligence┬áhere has the honour to present the first despatch, from the actual scene of the ferocious crime at the Villa Marbre, written by our famous correspondant M. Auguste Dupin. The name of ‘Auguste Dupoin’, as all Paris knows, conceals the identity of a celebrated criminologist –

“His name is Robinson,” said Bencolin out of the side of his mouth, “although he is French. He is actually a briefless lawyer who hangs about the courts. The devil of it is that the fellow who is as shallow as a spectacle lens, takes a jump at the truth and is often right. He really did put Durrand on the track about that strangler in the Bois de Vincennes. Also, for sheer persistence in bothering the police, I know of no-body who can match him.

“We don’t give a curse what he reflects,” snapped Bencolin. “But the housewives like this philosophising and the men feel that it ought to be even if it isn’t. How did he get his facts?”

I need not trouble to report in detail the facts as I found them; these facts the reader will have studied in other journals. But my conclusions? That is another matter! For fully an hour, I confess that I was completely baffled —

“Modest sort of chap, isn’t he?” observed Curtis.

— and then suddenly, I saw! I saw what was, mathematically speaking, the only possible solution, I had got hold of the right end of my judgment…

“Dupin, however misguided, is a stimulating fellow…”
Bencolin did not seem pleased. He rapped his knuckles on the counter; he picked up the paper and flung it down again.

“Yes, he uses his head, confound him! But I should hate to think I was indebted for ideas to that – that petit morceau. Jean-Baptiste Robinson. Basically he is wrong; he must be wrong. But there are times, I imagine, when he almost burns his fingers on the truth.”