My Book Notes: Rim of the Pit, 1944 (Rogan Kincaid #2) by Hake Talbot


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Ramble House, 2009. Book Format: Paperback Edition. ISBN: 978-1-60543-359-2. 184 pages. In addition, this book contains a short story by Talbot called “The Other Side” (1940). Rim of the Pit was originally published on hardcover by Simon and Schuster in 1944 and reprinted (probably in abridged form) in Thrilling Mystery Novel Magazine [v23 #3, Fall 1945] (Standard/Thrilling Publications, 15¢, 98pp, pulp), illustrated by Joseph Farren & Hake Talbot.

rimofthepit500_thumbOpening sentence: “I came up here to make a dead man change his mind”.

Book Description: Hake Talbot wrote only two mystery novels and Ramble House is proud to bring both of them back into print for modern readers. Rim of the Pit is his masterpiece of an “impossible crime” that takes place in the far north where snow surrounds a group of desperate people, one of whom is bent on murder. The mapback cover from the 1950’s Dell paperback is one of the best crime maps ever drawn and we reproduce it here for you.  You will not forget this book! (Ramble House publicity page) Jacket design by Gavin L. O’Keefe

My Take: During mid-winter, in a remote area of northern New England, Sherry Ogden has come to see Luke Latham where she finds him with Rogan Kincaid. She’s come to ask him whether he is sure her father is dead. Her real name is Seré Désanat, her mother died when she was born and her father married again. About ten years ago her father got lost at Hudson Bay and was not seen ever again. There was no question he’d died and Irene, her stepmother, got married again with a man named Frank Ogden. But now Sherry has doubts whether her father really could have been lost. He was a man who could find his path anywhere, even in places he’d never been before. At the time, it was taken for granted Désanat, her father, and another man named Querns, were caught in the middle of a bad storm at Hudson Bay, disappeared and were taken for dead. Even their guide might had not come out alive had it not been for a group of explorers who found him. At this point, Latham acknowledges he won’t be able to help her, unless she tells him what’s exactly what she wants.

Now her family, for the first time after the death of her father, has return to Cabrioum. Her stepmother’s husband, Frank Ogden, has invited Svetozr Vok, a refugee from Czechoslovakia, to a séance that is going to take place there. She can’t very well explain what exactly is going on, but this morning she didn’t have much to do. Frank Ogden had went out hunting with Cabrioum’s caretaker, Madore Troudeau, and together with professor Ambler, who is lodged at Latham’s place. Irene Ogden, as she’s been doing since they arrived, had locked herself in her room. And she went for a walk in the company of Mr Vok, even though he gives her the creeps. Upon returning to Cabrioum, she heard her father’s voice. There wasn’t`t a soul in the surroundings and Mr Vok claims to have heard nothing. It was an old Provençal song saying: ‘Pierre! Death comes for you; the toad digs your grave; the crows sound your knell …’ She hated that song, she’d even forgotten the tune until she heard it again today. Even so, Latham still senses there’s something more, until Sherry goes on telling him what it is that is driving her frantic.

Against this background, we come to know Latham buys most of the logs that come from the timber holdings that belong to the Ogdens, for his wood-processing plant. Simultaneously, he pays Frank Ogden a royalty for using his patent on the process. In short, they depend on one another. They had always figured there was enough pulp-timber to last for another twenty-five or thirty years, until  three months ago they’ve found they have almost finished logging Swamp River, which means they have to go into Onawa to obtain the timber. Désanat had left Onawa to his wife, therefore they weren’t expecting any trouble. But Désanat had make his wife promise him Onawa would not be cut down for another twenty years. Let the trees grow made economic sense at the time, but Ogden’s patent has changed this. Now small logs are worth as much as the big ones, and Désanat’s reasoning doesn’t hold any more.

At this juncture, what Irene is trying to do is to get in touch with Désanat in the other world to request him to let her log the timber. However, in Mr Kincaid’s experience, logic applied to fantasy meant danger for someone … and he won’t be wrong.

Even though it has been repeated ad nauseam, I believe it’s worth to remind here that, in a poll conducted by Edward D. Hoch among 17 detective story writers and reviewers for his 1981 anthology All But Impossible!: An Anthology of Locked Room & Impossible Crime Stories by Members of the Mystery Writers of America (Ticknor & Fields, 1981), Talbot’s Rim of the Pit stood second, behind John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man (1935), as the best locked room mystery.

IMO, the story has the conventional structure of an impossible crime or locked-room mystery. A group of people has gathered in an isolated setting and then a murder takes place. No one can find a logical explanation to what has happened and, in consequence, it is accepted it can only be explained by paranormal or supernatural causes. This will create additional problems when trying to explain what has happened to police authorities. After all, they have seen a dozen things with their own eyes that no one else will ever believe. What for my taste sets this novel apart from many others, is its perfect design and execution even if, at times, the dialogues may seem to go on eternally, what certainly serves to enhance the closed environment in which the story unfolds. Maybe its denouement fails to fully explain everything that’s been going on, or at least that’s what has seemed to me in a first reading. But even so, I have fully enjoyed this story. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly recommend it. Moreover, you will find, on the reviews enclosed, several highly interesting discussions with varying and conflicting viewpoints that I have encountered extremely enriching. In essence, you can count me among those who really praise this novel.

Certainly I can’t deny that a lot of its fame can derived from the enthusiastic judgment expressed by Carr when he stated:

“From the very first sentence, I came up here to make a dead man change his mind, we are into the realm of nightmare: Miracles gather and explode. A dead man returns – or does not return. A flying ghost, apparently, swoops down and attacks. No angels, but goblins and wizards seem to dance on the point of this needle. But gently: have patience! Everything is explained on natural grounds, on a marvel of ingenuity; and all the clues are there…Rim of the Pit is a beauty. Don’t argue with it; read it”.

Rim of the Pit has been reviewed, among others, at Gadetection, My Reader’s Block, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Mystery File, Classic Mysteries, Clothes In Books, Vintage Pop Fictions, The invisible Event (1), Death Can Read, Una Stanza per Morirci, The Green Capsule, Ah Sweet Mystery Blog, The Invisible Event (2), and Crime Fiction Lover

“The Other Side” has been reviewed, among others at Death Can Read.

3133

(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Simon and Schuster Inner Sanctum Mystery (USA), 1944)

Thrilling-Mystery-Novel-Fall-1945-600x803About the Author: Hake Talbot, whose real name was Henning Nelms, was born in Baltimore in 1900. After receiving a degree from George Washington University, he went on to study law at the University of Georgia and earned an MFA from Yale. He taught dramatic Literature and Theatre at Middlebury College and Pennsylvania State University, and conducted several theatres. He held several jobs, as lawyer, sailor, editor, accountant, and a director of an advertising agency. He began to write (under his real name) in 1931, works that essentially included several textbooks on theatrical art such as Lighting the Amateur Stage (1931), Building an Amateur Audience (1936), A Primer of Stagecraft (1941), Play Production (1950), and Scene Design (1975), a dramatic play, Only an Orphan Girl (1944), a book reflection on drawing, Thinking with a Pencil (1964), and a renowned work on the art of illusionism of which he was a fervent fan, Magic and Showmanship: a Handbook for Conjurers (1969). Under the penname of Hake Talbot, he signed two great classics of the mystery: The Hangman’s Handyman (Simon & Schuster, 1942) and Rim of the Pit (Simon & Schuster, 1944), the latter is considered a classic of the “locked room” mystery genre; as well as two short stories: “The Other Side” (1940) and “The High House” (Mystery Book Magazine Spring 1948). “The Other Side” was never sold during Talbot’s lifetime and remained unpublished until it was included in Murder Impossible: An Extravaganza of Miraculous Murders, Fantastic Felonies and Incredible Criminals (1990), but Jack Adrian frustratingly noted in the introduction Talbot wrote numerous short stories featuring his professional gambler and ex-convict, Rogan Kincaid – which also remained unsold and where either destroyed or lost! (Source: Beneath the Stains of Time). Henning Nelms died in 1986 in Arlington.

Ramble House publicity page

The Men Who Explain Miracles – Episode 4.3: The Edward D. Hoch ‘Best Impossible Crime Novels’ List of 1981 (Books 5 to 1)

Read the First Chapter

Mike Grost on Hake Talbot

Al borde del abismo, de Hake Talbot

descargaPrimera frase: “Vine aquí para hacer que un hombre muerto cambiara de opinión”.

Descripción del libro: Hake Talbot escribió solo dos novelas de misterio y Ramble House se enorgullece de volver a publicarlas para los lectores actuales. Rim of the Pit, es su obra maestra y trata de un “crimen imposible” que tiene lugar en el extremo norte, donde la nieve rodea a un grupo de personas desesperadas, una de ellas está empeñada en asesinar. La contraportada del mapa de la edición en rústica de Dell de la década de 1950 es uno de los mejores mapas jamás dibujados acerca de un crimen y lo reproducimos aquí para usted. Además, este libro contiene un cuento de Talbot titulado “The Other Side” ¡No olvidará este libro! (Página de publicidad de Ramble House).

Mi opinión: A mediados del invierno, en una zona remota del norte de Nueva Inglaterra, Sherry Ogden ha ido a ver a Luke Latham donde lo encuentra con Rogan Kincaid. Ha venido a preguntarle si está seguro de que su padre está muerto. Su verdadero nombre es Seré Désanat, su madre murió cuando ella nació y su padre volvió a casarse. Hace unos diez años, su padre se perdió en la bahía de Hudson y nunca más se lo volvió a ver. No hubo duda de que había muerto e Irene, su madrastra, se volvió a casar con un hombre llamado Frank Ogden. Pero ahora Sherry tiene dudas de si su padre realmente podría haberse perdido. Era un hombre que podía encontrar su camino en cualquier lugar, incluso en lugares en los que nunca había estado antes. En ese momento, se dio por sentado que Désanat, su padre y otro hombre llamado Querns quedaron atrapados en medio de una fuerte tormenta en la bahía de Hudson, desaparecieron y fueron dados por muertos. Incluso su guía podría no haber salido con vida si no hubiera sido por un grupo de exploradores que lo encontraron. En este punto, Latham reconoce que no podrá ayudarla, a menos que ella le diga qué es exactamente lo que quiere.

Ahora su familia, por primera vez después de la muerte de su padre, ha regresado a Cabrioum. El marido de su madrastra, Frank Ogden, ha invitado a Svetozr Vok, un refugiado de Checoslovaquia, a una sesión de espiritismo que tendrá lugar allí. No puede explicar muy bien qué está pasando exactamente, pero esta mañana no tenía mucho que hacer. Frank Ogden había salido a cazar con el cuidador de Cabrioum, Madore Troudeau, y junto con el profesor Ambler, que está alojado en la casa de Latham. Irene Ogden, como ha estado haciendo desde que llegaron, se había encerrado en su habitación. Y, por lo tanto, salió a caminar en compañía del Sr. Vok, aunque él le da escalofríos. Al regresar a Cabrioum, escuchó la voz de su padre. No había ni un alma en los alrededores y el Sr. Vok afirma no haber escuchado nada. Era una vieja canción provenzal que decía: ‘¡Pierre! La muerte viene por ti; el sapo cava tu tumba; los cuervos anuncian tu fin … Odiaba esa canción, incluso se había olvidado de la melodía hasta que la volvió a escuchar hoy. Aun así, Latham todavía siente que hay algo más, hasta que Sherry continúa diciéndole qué es lo que la está volviendo loca.

En este contexto, llegamos a saber que Latham compra la mayoría de los troncos que provienen de las explotaciones madereras que pertenecen a los Ogdens, para su planta de procesamiento de madera. Al mismo tiempo, le paga a Frank Ogden un canon por usar su patente en el proceso. En resumen, dependen unos de otros. Siempre habían pensado que había suficiente madera para pulpa para otros veinticinco o treinta años, hasta que hace tres meses descubrieron que casi habían terminado de talar Swamp River, lo que significa que tenían que ir a Onawa para obtener la madera. Désanat había dejado Onawa a su mujer, por lo que no esperaban ningún problema. Pero Désanat había hecho que su mujer le prometiera que Onawa no sería talado hasta dentro de veinte años. Dejar crecer los árboles tenía sentido económico en ese momento, pero la patente de Ogden ha cambiado esto. Ahora los troncos pequeños valen tanto como los grandes, y el razonamiento de Désanat ya no se sostiene.

En esta coyuntura, lo que Irene está intentando hacer es ponerse en contacto con Désanat en el otro mundo para pedirle que la deje cortar la madera. Sin embargo, según la experiencia del Sr. Kincaid, la lógica aplicada a la imaginación era signo de peligro para alguien … y no se equivocará.

A pesar de que se ha repetido hasta la saciedad, creo que vale la pena recordar aquí que, en una encuesta realizada por Edward D. Hoch entre 17 escritores y críticos de historias de detectives para su antología de 1981 All But Impossible!: An Anthology of Locked Room & Impossible Crime Stories by Members of the Mystery Writers of America (Ticknor & Fields, 1981), Rim of the Pit de Talbot ocupó el segundo lugar, detrás de The Hollow Man (1935) de John Dickson Carr, como el mejor misterio de cuarto cerrado.

En mi opinión, la historia tiene la estructura convencional de un crimen imposible o un misterio de cuarto cerrado. Un grupo de personas se ha reunido en un lugar aislado y luego se produce un asesinato. Nadie puede encontrar una explicación lógica a lo sucedido y, en consecuencia, se acepta que solo se pueda explicar por causas paranormales o sobrenaturales. Esto creará problemas adicionales al intentar explicar lo sucedido a las autoridades policiales. Después de todo, han visto una docena de cosas con sus propios ojos que nadie creerá jamás. Lo que para mi gusto distingue a esta novela de muchas otras, es su perfecto diseño y ejecución, incluso si, a veces, los diálogos pueden parecer interminables, lo que ciertamente sirve para realzar el ambiente cerrado en el que se desarrolla la historia. Tal vez su desenlace no explique completamente todo lo que ha estado sucediendo, o al menos eso me ha parecido en una primera lectura. Pero aun así, disfruté plenamente de esta historia. Si aún no lo ha leído, lo recomiendo encarecidamente. Además, encontrará, en las reseñas  adjuntas, varias discusiones muy interesantes con puntos de vista variados y contradictorios que me han resultado sumamente enriquecedores. En esencia, puede contarme entre los que realmente elogian esta novela.

Ciertamente no puedo negar que gran parte de su fama puede derivarse del juicio entusiasta expresado por Carr cuando afirmó:

“Desde la primera frase, vine aquí para hacer que un hombre muerto cambiara de opinión, nos encontramos en el ámbito de la pesadilla: prodigios que se acumulan y revientan. Un hombre muerto regresa o no regresa. Un fantasma que vuela, aparentemente, desciende y ataca. No son ángeles, sino duendes y hechiceros que parecen bailar en la punta de esta aguja. Pero con suavidad: ¡tenga paciencia! Todo se acaba explicando de forma natural, por una maravilla de ingenio; y todas las pistas están ahí … Rim of the Pit es una belleza. No la discuta; léala”.

Acerca del autor: Hake Talbot, cuyo nombre real era Henning Nelms, nació en Baltimore en 1900. Después de graduarse en la Universidad George Washington, estudió derecho en la Universidad de Georgia y obtuvo un Master en Bellas Artes en Yale. Enseñó literatura dramática y teatro en el Middlebury College y en la Pennsylvania State University, y dirigió varios teatros. Tuvo varios trabajos,como abogado, marinero, editor, contable y director de una agencia de publicidad. Comenzó a escribir (bajo su nombre real) en 1931, obras que incluían esencialmente varios libros de texto sobre arte teatral como Lighting the Amateur Stage (1931), Building an Amateur Audience (1936), A Primer of Stagecraft (1941), Play Production (1950) y Scene Design (1975), una obra de teatro, Only an Orphan Girl (1944), un libro de comentarios sobre dibujo, Thinking with a Pencil (1964), y una famosa obra sobre el arte del ilusionismo del que era un ferviente admirador, Magic and Showmanship: a Handbook for Conjurers (1969). Bajo el seudónimo de Hake Talbot, firmó dos grandes clásicos de misterio: The Hangman’s Handyman (1942) y Rim of the Pit (1944), este último es considerado un clásico del género de misterio de “cuarto cerrado”; así como dos relatos: “The Other Side” (1940) and “The High House” (Mystery Book Magazine primavera de 1948). “The Other Side” nunca se publicó en vida de Talbot y permaneció inédito hasta que se incluyó en Murder Impossible: An Extravaganza of Miraculous Murders, Fantastic Felonies and Incredible Criminals (1990), pero Jack Adrian señaló de manera frustrante en la introducción que Talbot escribió numerosos relatos breves protagonizados por su jugador profesional y ex convicto, Rogan Kincaid, que tampoco se vendiieron y bien se destruyeron o se perdieron. (Fuente: Beneath the Stains of Time). Henning Nelms murió en 1986 en Arlington.

4 thoughts on “My Book Notes: Rim of the Pit, 1944 (Rogan Kincaid #2) by Hake Talbot”

      1. I first came across it in that Hoch survey and bought my copy of the book in San Francisco in the late 1980s – I still remember the thrill of finally reading it and the great pleasure of not being disappointed!

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