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.






L’Intelligence here 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.”

How do people ever read Slavoj Zizek when there is such a thing as the crime and detection thriller?

May 2, 2008

The Times recently published a list of Top 50 Greatest Crime Writers. Great! A list! A chance to indulge in the sort of thought-free analysis only normally allowed down the pub! I will pause, leaning on this five-bar gate, and chew over it as my dog chews over a satisfying looking but in fact rather annoyingly shaped bone. Read the rest of this entry »

The Reader is Warned

January 22, 2008

The problem with attempting to widen your reading is that you force yourself to plough through an awful lot of rubbish. Rather like eating your greens, if you consulted your soul the sincerity of your distaste would not be in doubt, yet you struggle on, telling yourself that it is Doing You Good.

There is a cheerful aspect to this abnegation of will however: it is the feeling of freedom and joy you have when you cast aside acid drivel like Bruno Schulz’s Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hour Glass (more of which another day) and decide that you will read another locked room mystery by John Dickson Carr.

cheerful dickson carr
Calm yourselves, ladies

In fact, even after reading something completely and unexpectedly wonderful like Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight (more of which another day), you might find yourself rubbing your hands cheerfully and, perhaps with a slightly guilty twinge… reaching for the Dickson Carr.

One the writers from the golden era of detective stories, he has become for me a minor obsession. It got to the stage last year where I became horrified at the rapidity with which I was flying through his books; soon there would be none left, I exclaimed: I needed to ration myself. Yet, like a backsliding drug addict, there I would be the next day, pretending that I was amongst the Cs and Ds in the library because I fancied a stroll, a change of scene, a breath of fre… what’s this? The Case of the Constant Suicides? Interesting. Might as well get it out now, shame to put it back on the shelf  – that sort of thing. Then I’d take it home and put it (not very far) aside and tell myself sternly that I was currently reading Locke on perception and the chain of being or Ehrenpreis on Swift, hardly arduous in themslves, in fact perfectly enjoyable, and that I would never finish them if I could so easily be tempted to throw aside their profounder pleasures at the first come hither glimpse of a flighty, gaudily bedecked crime and detection novel…

Of course, all was lost the moment the second I had read one of the irresistable titles: The Hollow Man, The Ten Teacups, Murder in the Submarine Zone, The Blind Barber, The Burning Court, He Who Whispers, The Reader is Warned, Death in Five Boxes, Hags Nook, The Man Who Could Not Shudder…

Poetry, sheer irresistable poetry.

I would then tell myself that I would only read a chapter a night at most, in order to draw out the pleasure – like Charlie with his chocolate bar – before shamelessly devouring it whole at one sitting, cramped up uncomfortably on one elbow in bed, scorching the corners of the pages with hasty fingertips, only turning the last of them, its words barely registering, as the first birds began their petulantly early squawking.

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