Day: June 9, 2020

Kenneth Fearing (1902 – 1961)

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The son of a Chicago attorney, Kenneth Flexner Fearing was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, and he attended public schools. He then studied at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a BA in 1924. Although he worked for a Chicago newspaper for a time, after 1924 he lived mostly in New York City, where he associated with other poets in Greenwich Village. His poetry collections include Stranger at Coney Island and Other Poems (1948), Collected Poems of Kenneth Fearing (1940), Dead Reckoning (1938), and Angel Arms (1929). He won a Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing in 1936, and it was renewed in 1939.

A well-known proletarian poet of the 1930s, a pulp magazine writer with several pseudonyms, and a Chicago and New York City publicity and editorial writer, Fearing turned to writing “psycho-thrillers” in the 1940s and 1950s. His fourth novel The Big Clock (1946) achieved much popularity and was released as a film by Paramount in 1947. Although some scholars now consider Fearing’s main contribution to be in the genre of poetry, the 1980 paperback republication of The Big Clock represents mystery buffs’ recognition of the novel as a classic. Some contemporary critics found that Fearing’s multiple first-person narrators detracted from the plots of his novels, but this technique allowed Fearing to probe the minds of both the pursued and the pursuers. His depiction of the atmosphere and vernacular of the city, which he first captured in his poetry, is in the style of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction, which Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, among others, had developed in the 1920s and 1930s.

The title of The Big Clock refers to its main character’s philosophy of life. The big clock, more powerful than man’s watches and calendars, is the clock “to which one automatically adjusts his entire life.” Man runs like a mouse into all “its false exits and dangerous blind alleys and steep runways, natural traps and artificial baits,” looking for the “real prize” in life. That prize is an illusion, for the big clock “has never changed, it will never change, or be changed.” This lack of control pervades George Stroud’s life; he is one step ahead of his lies to his wife and, by the end of the novel, one step from death. The suspense comes not from whether George will beat the big clock or fate (for no one can), but whether it is time for George or another to lose the race. (Source: Poetry Foundation, continue reading the full text here)

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Harcourt, Brace and Company (USA), 1946)

From Wikipedia: The Big Clock is a 1946 novel by Kenneth Fearing. Published by Harcourt Brace, the thriller was his fourth novel, following three for Random House (The Hospital, Dagger of the Mind, Clark Gifford’s Body) and five collections of his poetry. The story first appeared in abridged form in The American Magazine (October 1946), as “The Judas Picture”. The story was adapted for three films: The Big Clock (1948) starring Ray Milland, Police Python 357 (1976) starring Yves Montand and No Way Out (1987) starring Kevin Costner.

Synopsis: George Stroud is a hard-drinking, tough-talking, unscrupulous journalist working for tyrannical Earl Janoth’s media empire. And he’s involved with the wrong woman – his boss’s mistress, Pauline Delos. One day, as Stroud escorts Pauline home, he spies his boss returning from a trip. The next day, Pauline is found dead in her apartment. Janoth knows someone saw him enter Pauline’s apartment on the night of the murder; he knows it must have been the man Pauline was seeing on the side; but he doesn’t know his identity. To get his hands on the man and pin the crime on him, Janoth assigns his best investigative reporter and most trusted employee to track him down: George Stroud… (Source: The Orion Group Publishing Group)

The Big Clock has been reviewed, among others, at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ Golden Age of Detection Wiki, The Complete Review, and Tipping My Fedora.

Noël Vindry (1896 – 1954)

Noël Vindry was a French crime writer born on 13 July 1896 in Lugrin, Haute-Savoie. He came from an old Lyon family from whom he inherited his passion for culture and gourmet cuisine. Shortly after acquiring a bachelor’s degree he enlisted in the army, where he fought with distinction, earning a Croix de Guerre, but was released from active service in 1915 due to  severe lung damage. During his long convalescence he studied and mastered law sufficiently to become a deputy juge d’instruction (examining magistrate)—a position unique to countries practising the Napoleonic Code, whereby a single jurist is given total authority over a case, from investigating crime scenes to questioning witnesses; from ordering the arrest of suspects, to preparing the prosecution’s case, if any. He was appointed to serve in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France which, at the time, boasted the second largest Appeals Court outside of Paris, and which he chose because of its climate. He drew on his personal experience to create his recurring hero, Justice Allou. (Several sources)

Noël Vindry is unknown outside France yet he wrote thirteen novels, most of which were impossible crimes. He prided himself on his strict adherence to Golden Age rules and was in that sense the antithesis of Simenon, whose work he detested.  His detective is Monsieur Allou, an examining magistrate – a feature of the French criminal justice system whereby a single individual is given total authority over a case, from investigating crime scenes to questioning witnesses to ordering the arrest of suspects to preparing the prosecution’s case.  Allou is a deliberately dry figure about whom we learn almost nothing; his cases provide all the colourful interest. (John Pugmire)

According to Boileau-Narcejac, Noël Vindry ‘invented astounding puzzles and displayed unequalled virtuosity.’ For crime novelist Roland Lacourbe, Vindry is the French-speaking equivalent of John Dickson Carr, and for Igor Longo ‘the French Ellery Queen’. From 1948, under the pseudonym of Rochebrune, he published sentimental novels. In 1953, he returned in parallel to the detective story to create a new character, the private detective Igor Alex, hero of a trilogy of a different tone, published under his own name in Le Masque collection. Vindry died on 3 May 1954 in Paris. (Several sources)

Monsieur Allou bibliography: La Maison qui tue, 1931 (English title: The House That Kills, 2015); Le Loup du Grand-Aboy, 1932; La Fuite des morts, 1933(Spanish title: La Huida de los Muertos, Ed. Hymsa. 1.935); Le Piège aux diamants, 1933; Le Fantôme de midi, 1934 (Spanish title: El fantasma del mediodía, Ed. Hymsa. 1.935); La Bête hurlante, 1934 (Spanish title: La bestia que aúlla, Ed. Hymsa. 1.935) (English title: The Howling Beast, 2016); L’Armoire aux poisons, 1934 (Spanish title: El armario de los venenos, Ed. Hymsa. 1.935); Le Collier de sang, 1934 (Spanish title: El collar de sangre, Ed. Hymsa. 1.936); Le Cri des mouettes, 1934; Le Double Alibi, 1934 (English title: The Double Alibi, 2018); Masques noirs, 1935; À travers les murailles, 1937; and Les Verres noirs, 1938.

Further reading:

metadata-image-24292665Synopsis: Gustave Allevaire is on the run, guilty of a number of petty crimes. He is spotted in Lyon, and that night he steals his aunt’s silverware. On the very same night, five hundred kilometres away in Bordeaux, he is identified during a break-in. Meanwhile he is murdered in Marseille, seven hundred kilometres away. All in the same night, and all at exactly the same time, in three cities hundreds of kilometers apart. How is this possible? Monsieur Allou, the examining magistrate in Lyon, is so intrigued he decides to take a vacation and work undercover. During the course of the investigation, which includes a disappearance of the elusive Allevaire from a locked and guarded building, his theories keep changing like a kaleidoscope until the final totally unexpected solution. (Source: Locked Room International)

The Double Alibi has been reviewed, among others, at The Invisible Event, Mysteries Ahoy!, Beneath the Stains of Time, and The Grandest Game in the World.