My Book Notes: The Red Right Hand (1945) by Joel Townsley Rogers


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280 Steps, 2014. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 329 KB. Print Length: 191 pages. eISBN: 978-82-93326-19-9. ASIN: B00IA3S94S. With a new introduction by award-winning British crime novelist Martin Edwards, 2013. Written in 1945, The Red Right Hand is considered to be a classic of the American mystery genre. Originally published by Simon and Schuster, New York in 1945.

21414526Synopsis: There was a Little Man – Who Got Away
But how? He killed St. Erme. But what did he do with St. Erme’s right hand? St. Erme had a right hand, that much is indisputable. And it must be found. These are the two most essential questions in the sinister problem that confronts me – the problem I must find an answer to before the killer strikes me down too. With the answer to either or both of those questions the police would have the ugly red-eyed killer stopped. Meanwhile the problem had both the police and Dr. Riddle stopped…

From the Introduction: The novel, first published in 1945, was a revised and expanded version of a novella which first appeared in the New Detective magazine in March of that year. The book enjoyed a particular vogue in France, and won the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere. French critics compared it not only to the work of Poe, inventor of the “locked room” detective story, and John Dickson Carr, who developed “impossible crime” stories into a fine art, but also to the twisty, atmospheric mysteries of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, the duo responsible for the novels filmed as Vertigo and Les Diaboliques. How sad that neither Hitchcock nor Cluzot adapted The Red Right Hand into a movie. Filming such an elaborate story-line would be a challenge worthy of those masters of suspense. (Martin Edwards)

My Take: For a brief summary of this story I would like to direct you to Publishers Weekly here. However, if you haven’t read this book yet, maybe it would be better to start reading it, without further ado. It might be of interest however to know beforehand that it has no chapters and, accordingly, it would be convenient to count with enough time ahead to read it in one sitting. Even so I’m pretty sure that once you start reading it you won’t be able to put it down. I was fortunate to read it between Christmas and Boxing Day without distraction. The reading is quite demanding and requires the closer possible attention, given that the story-line does not follow a linear pattern and contains some leaps in the timeframe.

The author sets the tone of what is in store from the opening lines:

There is one thing that is most important, in all the dark mystery of tonight, and that is how that ugly little auburn-haired red-eyed man, with his torn ear and his sharp dog-pointed teeth, with his twisted corkscrew legs and his truncated height, and all the other extraordinary details about him, could have got away and vanished so completely from the face of the country side after killing Inis St. Erme.

The story, narrated in the first person by Dr Henry N. Riddle, Jr., of St. John’s Medical and New York S. & P., begins when he was trying to get his own stalled car started at a crossroad on Swamp Road. Despite  that there were numerous witnesses that ensured to have seen a car passing by, Dr Riddle was claiming he had seen no one going through. Although, to tell the truth, it makes no actual difference whether he saw the murderer car go by. Others had seen it, and to them it was not invisible or a phantom.

In conclusion, I would like to quote here the words of Brian Ransom at The Paris Review:  ‘By the time the final pages swing by, snapping out of the expository slackness to deliver a series of revelations that completely upend the story, the reader is liable to feel as though they’ve been taken for a ride in that Cadillac themselves. But it’s well worth the bewilderment; the desperate calculations and dogged attention I paid The Red Right Hand culminated in the most enjoyable reading experience of my year.’

Undoubtedly one of the best books, if not the best, I’ve read this year. The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers is included in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

141831The Red Right Hand has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File, Tipping My Fedora,‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ Christine Poulson, In Search of the Classic Mystery Book, Col’s Criminal Library, Past OffencesPattinase, Ruination Street, Mysteries Ahoy! Crime Reads, James Scott Byrnside, the crime segments, The Green Capsule, and Countdown John’s Christie Journal.

About the Author: Joel Townsley Rogers (1896–1984) was an American writer who wrote science fiction, air-adventure, and mystery stories and a handful of mystery novels. Born in 1896 in Sedalia, Missouri, he studied at Harvard University. He joined the navy air corps and became one of its first few hundred flyers. He went through training in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Great War seemed an adventure to the young men of that generation. Rogers was aching to go overseas, and in fact he managed to get himself in a position to do so, had the armistice not intervened. He was sent to Pensacola as a flight instructor instead. According to one of his letters, the planes he flew and taught others to fly were tiny pontooned biplanes made of spruce and linen. After the war he made use of his experiences and vivid imagination to sell short stories to the many pulp magazines that sold in the 1920s and 1930s for fifteen or twenty cents. His most famous novel is The Red Right Hand which was first published in 1945 and was adapted from a story published in New Detective. The book sold fairly well and was reissued several times in paperback format. Besides that book, Rogers published hundreds of short stories and three other novels which were not as successful: Once in a Red Moon (1923), Lady With the Dice (1946), and The Stopped Clock (1958, reissued as Never Leave My Bed in 1963). Each of his last three books was an expanded version of a shorter story. Late in his life, he was working on another novel, but so far this has not seen the light of day. Joel Townsley Rogers died in Washington, D.C. in 1984. The Red Right Hand is considered Rogers’ masterpiece, and deservedly so. It’s a classic scary story told from the first-person and has been reprinted several times. Anyone interested in reliving some of the suspense and terror that the grand masters of crime fiction, like Cornell Woolrich, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and John Dickson Carr wrote, must read The Red Right Hand. It’s fairly easy to find. The Red Right Hand has been re-published this year by American Mystery Classics both in hardcover and paperback as well as in e-book format. (Source: Compilation based on Wikipedia and other sources)

The Joel Townsley Rogers Project

Other articles about Joel Townsley Rogers: The Passing Tramp and Death Can Read.

La Mano Derecha Roja, de Joel Townsley Rogers

Sinopsis: Había un hombre pequeño, que se escapó
¿Pero cómo? Mató a St. Erme. Pero, ¿qué hizo con la mano derecha de St. Erme? St. Erme tenía mano derecha, eso es indiscutible. Y hay que encontrarlo. Estas son las dos preguntas más esenciales en el siniestro problema al que me enfrento: el problema al que debo encontrar una respuesta antes de que el asesino me golpee también. Con la respuesta a una o ambas preguntas, la policía hubiera detenido al feo asesino de ojos rojos. Mientras tanto, el problema tiene paralizados tanto a la policía como al Dr. Riddle …

De la Introducción: La novela, publicada por primera vez en 1945, es una versión revisada y ampliada de una novela corta que apareció por primera vez en la revista New Detective en marzo de ese año. El libro se puso de moda en Francia y ganó el Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere. Los críticos franceses lo compararon no solo con el trabajo de Poe, inventor de la historia de detectives del “cuarto cerrado”, y de John Dickson Carr, quien convirtió las historias de “crímenes imposibles” en un arte, sino también con los misterios atmosféricos y retorcidos de Pierre Boileau. y Thomas Narcejac, el dúo responsable de las novelas filmadas como Vértigo y Les Diaboliques. Qué triste que ni Hitchcock ni Cluzot hayan podido llevar al cine La mano derecha roja. Filmar una historia tan elaborada sería un desafío digno de esos maestros del suspense. (Martin Edwards)

Mi opinión: Para obtener un breve resumen de esta historia, me gustaría dirigirlo a Publishers Weekly aquí. Sin embargo, si aún no ha leído este libro, tal vez sea mejor comenzar a leerlo, sin más preámbulos. No obstante, puede ser interesante saber de antemano que no tiene capítulos y, por tanto, sería conveniente contar con tiempo suficiente para leerlo de una sentada. Aun así, estoy bastante seguro de que una vez que empiece a leerlo no podrá dejarlo. Tuve la suerte de leerlo entre Navidad y San Esteban sin distraerme. La lectura es bastante exigente y requiere la mayor atención posible, dado que la trama no sigue un patrón lineal y contiene algunos saltos en el tiempo.

El autor marca el tono de lo que nos espera desde las primeras líneas:

Hay una cosa de lo más importante, en todo el oscuro misterio de esta noche, y es cómo ese hombre feo, pequeño, de cabello castaño rojizo, ojos rojos, con la oreja desgarrada y con afilados dientes puntiagudos, con sus piernas retorcidas y su reducida estatura, y con todos los otros detalles extraordinarios sobre él, pudo haberse escapado y desaparecido completamente de la faz de la tierra después de matar a Inis St. Erme.

La historia, narrada en primera persona por el Dr. Henry N. Riddle, Jr., del St. John’s Medical y New York S. & P., comienza cuando intentaba poner en marcha su propio automóvil parado en un cruce en Swamp Road. A pesar de que hubo numerosos testigos que aseguraron haber visto pasar un automóvil, el Dr. Riddle aseguraba que no había visto pasar a nadie. Aunque, a decir verdad, no importa si vio pasar el coche del asesino. Otros lo habían visto, y para ellos no era invisible ni un fantasma.

En conclusión, me gustaría citar aquí las palabras de Brian Ransom en The Paris Review:  “Para cuando se completan las últimas páginas, abandonando de golpe la dejadez expositiva para ofrecer una serie de revelaciones que cambian completamente la historia, el lector es probable que se sienta como si hubieran sido llevados a dar un paseo (juego de palabras con tomar el pelo) en ese Cadillac. Pero vale la pena el desconcierto; los cálculos desesperados y la atención tenaz que presté a The Red Right Hand culminaron en la experiencia de lectura más agradable de mi año.”

Sin duda uno de los mejores libros, si no el mejor, que he leído este año. The Red Right Hand de Joel Townsley Rogers forma parte de The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, de Martin Edwards.

Sobre el autor: Joel Townsley Rogers (1896-1984) fue un escritor estadounidense que escribió ciencia ficción, aventuras aéreas, relatos de misterio y un puñado de novelas de misterio. Nacido en 1896 en Sedalia, Missouri, estudió en la Universidad de Harvard. Se unió al cuerpo aéreo de la marina y se convirtió en uno de sus primeros cientos de aviadores. Pasó por un entrenamiento en Hampton Roads, Virginia. La Gran Guerra parecía una aventura para los jóvenes de esa generación. Rogers estaba ansioso por ir al extranjero y, de hecho, se las arregló para estar en condiciones de hacerlo si no lo hubiera impedido el armisticio. En cambio, fue enviado a Pensacola como instructor de vuelo. Según una de sus cartas, los aviones en los que voló y enseñó a otros a volar eran pequeños biplanos con plataformas hechos de abeto y lino. Después de la guerra, hizo uso de sus experiencias y su víva imaginación para vender cuentos a las muchas revistas pulp que se vendían en las décadas de 1920 y 1930 por quince o veinte centavos. Su novela más famosa es The Red Right Hand, que se publicó por primera vez en 1945 y fue adaptada de una novela corta publicada en New Detective. El libro se vendió bastante bien y fue reeditado varias veces en formato de bolsillo. Además de ese libro, Rogers publicó cientos de cuentos y otras tres novelas que no tuvieron tanto éxito: Once in a Red Moon (1923), Lady With the Dice (1946) y The Stopped Clock (1958, reeditada como Never Leave My Bed en 1963). Cada uno de sus últimos tres libros fue una versión ampliada de un relato breve. Al final de su vida, estaba trabajando en otra novela, pero hasta ahora no ha visto la luz del día. Joel Townsley Rogers murió en Washington, DC en 1984. The Red Right Hand está considerada la obra maestra de Rogers, y con razón. Es una clásica historia de terror contada en primera persona y ha sido reimpresa varias veces. Cualquiera que esté interesado en revivir algo del suspense y el terror que escribieron los grandes maestros de la ficción criminal, como Cornell Woolrich, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler y John Dickson Carr, debe leer The Red Right Hand. Es bastante fácil de encontrar. The Red Right Hand ha sido reeditada este año por American Mystery Classics tanto en tapa dura y rústica como en formato de libro electrónico. (Fuente: compilación basada en Wikipedia y otras fuentes)

La obra maestra del policial “noir”

9 thoughts on “My Book Notes: The Red Right Hand (1945) by Joel Townsley Rogers”

  1. Glad to see that you enjoyed this one so much – it is a really entertaining story that I agree is best experienced in a single sitting!

  2. I cannot say I rate it quite that highly, but it’s a very enjoyable read, and very unlike most mysteries. I see what the reviewer means by narrative slackness, but I think the repetition and circling back over and over is effective in creating the mood. I don’t want to say anything spoilerish, but the hallucinatory effect is important to the narrative.

    It was my vote for reprinted of the year.

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