My Book Notes: Whistle Up The Devil (1953) by Derek Smith

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Locked Room International, 2015. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 684 KB. Print Length: 198 pages. ASIN: B012AZRLQS. ISBN: N/A. First published in 1953 by John Gifford, Ltd.

Whistle-Up-the-Devil-210x300Synopsis: Roger Querrin died alone in a locked and guarded room, beyond the reach of human hands. Algy Lawrence could not explain the mystery of this “miracle” murder. And then, faced with a second crime which also could not possibly have been committed, he began to wonder, at last, if somebody had conjured up an invisible demon who could blast out locks and walk through solid walls… One of only two novels written by the very talented Derek Smith, and the only one published in his lifetime, this masterpiece of impossible crime fiction is also available as part of the Derek Smith Omnibus published by LRI, containing all his known writings.

My Take: For years the Querrins have lived in a small town called Bristley, not far from London. They have always kept Querrin House, though lately, they have not been able to live in it because of economic hardship. However, recently, Roger Querrin re-opened Querrin House. Roger, a shrewd businessman, had made enough money to do so. Like many ancient families, the Querrins have their own particular legends, traditions, or secrets. It was said that, a month before the Querrin heir was to get married, his father would pass on a family secret to him, always at midnight and always in the same room called the Room in the Passage. This ceremony took place for several years until one day, in the mid-nineteenth century, Thomas Querrin, at the time household head, while performing the  ceremony in accordance with established tradition, had a violent argument with his son Martin. The servants were awakened when listening to the cries but didn’t dare to enter the room. When they finally got the courage to break the door, they found young Martin dead lying on the floor with a knife between his shoulder blades, and his father lying in a corner totally unconsciously. The old man died without recovering his consciousness, the family secret died with him, and it was never known what was the reason of the fight. But then a rather nasty story began circulating among the people, whereby Thomas’ spirit remained in the room forever, waiting for the Querrins to keep their traditional appointment. Would they accept the challenge, everything would be just fine. But if they were not to do so, they would meet the same fate as young Martin.

Now, Roger, engaged to marry Aubrey Craig, wants to test the old family curse and win the respect and recognition of the villagers. In consequence he has decided to spend one night alone at the Room in the Passage. Peter Querrin, Roger’s young brother, wants to convince him not to do so, and even Chief Inspector Steve Castle, a family friend, has not been able to dissuade Roger, but there is nothing he can do since it is not a police issue. For this reason, Inspector Castle suggests Peter to try to convince Algy Lawrence to intervene. Lawrence, albeit with certain initial reticence, finally agrees to help him and with the unofficial assistance of Hardinge, the local police sergeant, they’ll keep an eye on the Room in the Passage, wherein Roger has locked himself in to spend the night. Nevertheless, despite all the precautions taken, Roger Querrin is found dead in a locked and guarded room, with a dagger pinned between his shoulder blades.

There are a number of reasons why I became interested in Whistle Up The Devil. First, because it usually shows up on almost every list of best impossible crimes or locked room mysteries. (See for example: A Locked Room Library by John Pugmire, My Favorite Locked Room Mysteries I: The Novels (Updated: Jan 3, 2015) by TomCat, Writing Down a List of Locked Rooms by Pietro De Palma, and Top 15 Favorite Impossible Crimes – Revision 0 by Isaac Stump). And secondly, because of the odd and somehow fascinating personality of his author, of whom hardly anything is known. Certainly with such background, it could not disappoint me. It is well possible that being a first novel, it may have some  shortfalls, I’m not going to dispute that, but the plot is superbly constructed, it plays fair with the reader, and I found it a highly solid and extremely satisfying read. Not to mention its own “locked room lecture”, with references to John Dickson Carr and Clayton Rawson. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the stories penned by Roger Smith published in The Derek Smith Omnibus by Locked Room International. Stay tuned. By the way, I must not forget to mention that the story contains not one, but two impossible murders, to challenge the reader. 

scan0002Whistle Up The Devil has been reviewed, among others, by Patrick at At the Scene of the Crime, Pietro De Palma at Death Can Read, TomCat at Beneath the Stain of Time, Rishi Arora at Classic Mystery Hunt, Christine Poulson at A Reading Life, Moira Redmond at Clothes in Books, Steve Barge at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Mike at Only Detect, John at Countdown John’s Christie Journal, thegreenacapsule at The Green Capsule, Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, and Aidan Brack at Mysteries Ahoy!. To all this should be added what Jim Noy at The Invisible Event wrote about this book: “The unavailability of this book was a source of great frustration for me for a long time, and although I obtained a copy before the LRI reprint there was always the risk that after so much anticipation it would prove disappointing.  It didn’t.  The ease with which you can buy this now means many people will get to take it for granted, but the two impossible murders in here are preternaturally brilliant and should not be overlooked.  Smith was a wonderful talent, and the paucity of his available writings is a real shame; if I could, I’d go back in time and encourage him to write another fifteen of these.”

About the Author: Little is known of the life of Derek Howe Smith. (1926-2002) Smith is reported to have lived a reclusive life, with his mother, on the outskirts of London, in a house so filled with books it was imminent danger of collapse. Whistle Up The Devil was long considered to be his only literary effort and one of the greatest locked room mysteries. Since his death it has been discovered that he published another work in an obscure Japanese mystery magazine, now published as Come to Paddington Fair, and an unpublished manuscript Model for Murder, now both included in The Derek Smith Omnibus published by Locked Room International.

Locked Room International publicity page

Derek Smith at Golden Age of Detection Wiki

Whistle Up the Devil de Derek Smith

Sinopsis: Roger Querrin murió solo en una habitación cerrada y vigilada, lejos del alcance de manos humanas. Algy Lawrence no podía explicarse el misterio de este asesinato “prodigiosos”. Y luego, enfrentado a un segundo crimen que tampoco pudo haber sido cometido, comenzó a pensar,si finalmente alguien había evocado un demonio invisible que pudiera hacer volar cerraduras y atravesar paredes macizas… Una de las dos únicas novelas escritas. por el muy talentoso Derek Smith, y la única publicada en vida, esta obra maestra del género del crimen imposible también está disponible como parte de las obras completas de Derek Smith  publicadas por LRI, que contiene todos sus escritos conocidos.

Mi opinión: Durante años, los Querrin han vivido en un pequeño pueblo llamado Bristley, no lejos de Londres. Siempre han conservado Querrin House, aunque últimamente no han podido vivir en ella por dificultades económicas. Sin embargo, recientemente, Roger Querrin reabrió Querrin House. Roger, un astuto hombre de negocios, había ganado suficiente dinero para hacerlo. Como muchas familias antiguas, los Querrin tienen sus propias leyendas, tradiciones o secretos particulares. Se decía que, un mes antes de que el heredero Querrin se casara, su padre le transmitía un secreto de familia, siempre a medianoche y siempre en la misma habitación llamada la Habitación del Pasaje. Esta ceremonia se llevó a cabo durante varios años hasta que un día, a mediados del siglo XIX, Thomas Querrin, entonces el cabeza de la familia, mientras realizaba la ceremonia según la tradición establecida, tuvo una violenta discusión con su hijo Martín. Los sirvientes se despertaron al escuchar los gritos. pero no se atrevieron a entrar a la habitación. Cuando finalmente tuvieron el coraje de romper la puerta, encontraron al joven Martin muerto tirado en el suelo con un cuchillo entre los omóplatos, y a su padre tirado en un rincón totalmente inconsciente. El anciano murió sin recobrar la conciencia, el secreto familiar murió con él, y nunca se supo cuál fue el motivo de la pelea. Pero luego comenzó a circular una historia bastante desagradable entre la gente, según la cual el espíritu de Thomas se quedó en la habitación para siempre, esperando que los Querrin acudieran a su tradicional cita. Si aceptaran el desafío, todo estaría bien. Pero si no lo hicieran, correrían la misma suerte que el joven Martin.

Ahora, Roger, comprometido para casarse con Aubrey Craig, quiere poner a prueba la vieja maldición familiar y ganarse el respeto y el reconocimiento de los aldeanos. En consecuencia, ha decidido pasar una noche solo en la Habitación del Pasaje. Peter Querrin, el hermano menor de Roger, quiere convencerlo de que no lo haga, e incluso el inspector jefe Steve Castle, un amigo de la familia, no ha podido disuadir a Roger, pero no hay nada que pueda hacer ya que no es un problema policial. Por esta razón, el inspector Castle le sugiere a Peter que intente convencer a Algy Lawrence para que intervenga. Lawrence, aunque con cierta reticencia inicial, finalmente accede a ayudarlo y con la ayuda no oficial de Hardinge, el sargento de policía local, vigilarán la Habitación del Pasaje, en la que Roger se ha encerrado para pasar la noche. Sin embargo, a pesar de todas las precauciones tomadas, Roger Querrin es encontrado muerto en una habitación cerrada y vigilada, con una daga clavada entre los omoplatos.

Hay varias razones por las que me interesé por Whistle Up The Devil. Primero, porque generalmente aparece en casi todas las listas de los mejores crímenes imposibles o misterios de cuarto cerrado. (Consulte, por ejemplo: A Locked Room Library by John Pugmire, My Favorite Locked Room Mysteries I: The Novels (Updated: Jan 3, 2015) by TomCat, Writing Down a List of Locked Rooms by Pietro De Palma, and Top 15 Favorite Impossible Crimes – Revision 0 by Isaac Stump). Y en segundo lugar, por la curiosa y un tanto fascinante personalidad de su autor, del que apenas se sabe nada. Ciertamente con tal trasfondo, no podía decepcionarme. Es muy posible que, al ser una primera novela, pueda tener algunas deficiencias, no voy a discutir eso, pero la trama está magníficamente construida, juega limpio con el lector y me pareció una lectura muy sólida y extremadamente satisfactoria. Sin mencionar su propia “conferencia sobre cuarto cerrado”, con referencias a John Dickson Carr y Clayton Rawson. Tengo muchas ganas de leer el resto de las historias escritas por Roger Smith publicadas en The Derek Smith Omnibus por Locked Room International. Manténganse al tanto. Por cierto, no debo olvidar mencionar que la historia contiene no uno, sino dos asesinatos imposibles, para desafiar al lector.

Sobre el autor: Poco sabemos sobre la vida de Derek Howe Smith (1926-2002) Se dice que Smith vivió una vida solitaria, con su madre, en las afueras de Londres, en una casa tan llena de libros que estaba en peligro inminente de derrumbarse. Whistle Up The Devil estuvo mucho tiempo considerada como su único trabajo literario y uno de los mas grandes misterios de cuarto cerrado. Depués de morir se ha descubierto que publicó otro trabajo en una oscura revista de misterio japonesa, ahora publicado como Come to Paddington Fair, y un manuscrito inédito Model for Murder, ambos incluidos ahora en las Obras Completas de Derek Smith publicadas por Locked Room International.

3 thoughts on “My Book Notes: Whistle Up The Devil (1953) by Derek Smith”

  1. It’s worth noting, I think, that if it weren’t for the alibi problem in the police station I would’ve likely replaced this novel with COME TO PADDINGTON FAIR. I thought the principle locked-room was just pretty good, relying on a convoluted arrangement of twists and tricks we’ve seen a dozen times before. It’s the police station murder that’s a real delightfully, deliciously, devilishly simple piece of inspired trickery!

    Also, good review, and thoughts for the shout-out! I always appreciate it.

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