My Book Notes: El asesino vive en el 21, 1939 de Stanislas-André Steeman (Traducción de Susana Pietro Mori)

This post is bilingual. Scroll down for an English version

Ediciones Siruela, 2019. Formato: Versión Kindle. Tamaño de archivo: 1803 KB. Longitud de impresión: 193 páginas. ASIN: B07QDZ8JBK. ISBN: 978-84-17860-48-6.  Publicada originalmente en 1939 con el título de L’assasin habite au 21. La presente edición es una nueva traducción al español de Susana Pietro Mori. 

519dA3iSK5LSinopsis: En el neblinoso Londres de los años treinta, un asesino en serie tiene aterrorizada a la capital. Tras matar a sus víctimas de un golpe en la cabeza, les roba y deja junto a ellas una nota con la más anodina de las firmas: «Mr. Smith». Cuando, tras el último ataque, un testigo ve al criminal entrar en una pensión del número 21 de Russel Square, Scotland Yard —con el superintendente Strickland al frente del caso— pondrá bajo vigilancia a sus huéspedes: la viuda Hobson, dueña del establecimiento; el señor Collins, vendedor a domicilio de radios; el mayor Fairchild, retirado tras haber servido en las Colonias; la señorita Holland, amante de los gatos… Pero pese a haber estrechado tanto el cerco, descubrir entre todos la verdadera identidad de Mr. Smith no resultará sencillo en absoluto…

El asesino vive en el 21 —publicada originalmente en 1939 y llevada al cine tres años después por Henri-Georges Clouzot— es la obra maestra de su autor y una de las más brillantes aportaciones continentales a la novela detectivesca clásica.

Mi opinión: La historia tiene lugar en Londres. Entre los últimos meses de 1938 y enero de 1939, un asesino en serie aterroriza a la población y está haciendo pasar un mal rato a la policía. Escondido detrás de la niebla, se acerca a sus víctimas, las mata con un violento golpe en la cabeza, las roba y desaparece. Hasta el momento ha cometido siete asesinatos dejando cada vez una tarjeta de visita firmada “Mr Smith”. Una noche un joven es arrestado por insultar a un policía uniformado y, al llegar a la comisaría, asegura conocer dónde vive el asesino. El joven lo había visto matar a su última víctima y, escondido detrás de una espesa niebla, lo siguió hasta verlo entrar en el número 21 de Russell Square. Lo vio usar su propia llave para abrir la puerta y, por lo tanto, está convencido de que vive allí. La casa se mantiene bajo vigilancia para no alertar al asesino, cuya identidad aún se desconoce. El principal problema es que el edificio alberga una casa de huéspedes dirigida por la Sra. Valerie Hobson con diez inquilinos. Al enterarse de que la Sra. Hobson está esperando la llegada de un nuevo huésped, Scotland Yard, con el superintendente Strickland a cargo del caso, diseña un plan para mantener el interior del edificio también bajo estrecha vigilancia. El plan sale mal, el nuevo huésped es asesinado dentro de la casa y una tarjeta que dice “Mr Smith “se encuentra junto a él. Scotland Yard intenta evitar dar publicidad a este nuevo crimen, pero el propio asesino llama a la prensa para difundir la noticia. Uno a uno todos los inquilinos varones son arrestados, pero cada vez que uno está en la cárcel se comete un nuevo asesinato y el residente en cuestión debe ser puesto en libertad.

Escrito en forma de farsa, El asesino vive en el 21 es un placer de lectura. Contiene muchos tópicos de la Edad de Oro de las historias de detectives: el escenario londinense, la niebla, el asesino en serie, el desafío a la policía (y al lector) e incluso la pensión ubicada en Russell Square. Los personajes resultan estereotipados, pero la lectura es ágil y muy entretenida. Nada de esto debe verse en términos negativos, dado el tono general de la novela. Es, sin dudarlo, una diversión, un divertimento, muy bien pensado y magistralmente elaborado que he disfrutado mucho. Muy recomendable. Las reseñas adjuntas (en inglés) lo explican mucho mejor que yo. No sin razón, se considera la obra maestra de Stanislas-André Steeman.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Sobre el autor: Stanislas-André Steeman (Lieja 23 de enero de 1908 / Menton 15 de diciembre de 1970) fue un ilustrador belga y autor en lengua francesa. Su familia, originariamente de extracción flamenca, se había establecido desde hacía mucho tiempo en Lieja. Escribió muchas novelas de misterio, algunas de las cuales fueron adaptadas a la pantalla, como El asesino vive en el 21 ó Mystère à Shanghai. Quai des Orfèvres de Henri-Georges Clouzot está basada en su novela Légitime Défense. (Fuente: Wikipedia en Inglés)

Para una breve descripción de la bibliografía de Stanislas-André Steeman, visite At the Scene of the Crime.

Sobre la traducción: Susana Pietro Mori es traductora literaria (inglés – español y francés – español). 

L’Assassin habite au 21 (The Murderer Lives at No. 21), 1939 by Stanislas-André Steeman

descargaSynopsis: The fog-ridden London of the 1930s, is terrified by a serial killer who, after killing his victims with a blow to the head, robs them and leaves his card behind with the most anodyne signature: “Mr. Smith”. When, after his last blow, a witness claims to have seen him entering  a boarding house at number 21 Russel Square, Scotland Yard —with Superintendent Strickland in charge of the case— will put all guests under surveillance: the widow Hobson, owner of the establishment; Mr. Collins, door-to-door salesman of radio sets; Major Fairchild, retired after serving in the Colonies; Miss Holland, a cat lover … But despite having tightened that much the fence, it won’t be easy task to discover among them the true identity of Mr. Smith …

The Murderer Lives at No 21 —originally published in 1939 and made into a film three years later directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot— is regarded its author’s masterpiece and one of the most brilliant continental contributions to classic detective story. 

My take: The story takes place in London. Between the last months of 1938 and January 1939, a serial killer is terrorising the population and is giving the police force a hard time. Hidden behind the fog, he approaches his victims, kills them with a violent blow to the head, robs them and disappears. So far he has committed seven murders leaving a business card signed “Mr Smith” each time. One night a young man is arrested for insulting a policeman in uniform and, upon arriving at the police station, he claims to know where the murderer lives. The young man had seen him killing his last victim and, hidden behind a thick fog, he followed him until seeing him getting into number 21 Russell Square. He saw him using his own key to open the door and, therefore, he is convinced he lives there. The house is kept under surveillance not to alert the murderer, whose identity is still unknown. The main problem is that the building houses a guest house run by Mrs Valerie Hobson with ten lodgers. Upon learning that Mrs Hobson is expecting the arrival of a new tenant, Scotland Yard, with Superintendent Strickland in charge of the case, draw up a plan to keep the inside of the building also under close watch. The plan goes awry, the new guest is murdered inside the house, and a card that reads “Mr Smith” is found next to him. Scotland Yard tries to avoid publicising this new crime, but the murderer himself calls the press to spread the news. One by one all the male lodgers are arrested, but each time one is in jail a new murder is committed and the resident in question must be set free. 

Written in the form of a farce, The Murderer Lives at No. 21 is a joy to read. It contains many clichés from the Golden Age of detective stories: the London setting, the fog, the serial killer, the challenge to the police (and to the reader), and even the boarding house located at Russell Square. The characters turn out being stereotyped, but the reading is nimble and very entertaining. None of this must be viewed in negative terms, given the general tone of the novel. It is, without hesitation, an amusement, a divertimento, very-well thought out and masterly crafted I’ve really enjoyed. Highly recommended. The reviews attached explain it much better than me. Not without reason, it is regarded Stanislas-André Steeman’s masterpiece.

The Murderer Lives at No. 21 has been reviewed, among others, at Death Can Read and At the Scene of the Crime.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

About the author: Stanislas-André Steeman (Liège on 23 January 1908 – Menton on 15 December 1970) was a Belgian illustrator and French-language author. His family, originally of Flemish extraction, had long been settled in Liège. He wrote many mystery novels, some of which were adapted to the screen, such as The Murderer Lives at Number 21 or Mystère à Shanghai. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Quai des Orfèvres is based on his novel Légitime Défense.

For a short overview of Stanislas-André Steeman’s bibliography visit At the Scene of the Crime.

Lost in Translation: Stanislas-André Steeman

Mike Nevins on French mystery writer Stanislas-André Steeman

Stanislas-André Steeman (1908 – 1970)

steeman_bioStanislas-André Steeman, who was born in Liège on 23 January 1908, was a French-speaking Belgian writer and illustrator. Few crime novel authors can pride themselves on seeing a dozen of their books turned into films. Henri-Georges Clouzot was the person who most successfully adapted his books, with “Le dernier des six (The Last One of the Six)” (adapted from Six hommes morts, (Six Dead Men) (1931), L’assassin habite au 21, (The Murderer Lives at Number 21) (1939) and Quai des orfèvres (Quay of the Goldsmiths) (based on the book Légitime défense, (Legitimate Defense) (1942).

Between 1928 and 1933, Steeman worked as a journalist for the daily newspaper La Nation Belge. Together with Sintair, a pseudonym for Herman Sartini, a colleague from the newspaper, he wrote a pastiche of a crime novel, Le Mystère du zoo d’Anvers (The Antwerp Zoo Mystery) (1928). They went on to write four more novels together, after which Sintair stopped writing while Steeman continued writing alone. In 1931, he was awarded the Prix du Roman d’Aventures (Adventure Novel Award) for Six Dead Men. This was the first novel to feature his hero, Wenceslas Vorobeïtchik, alias Monsieur Wens. The height of his career came in 1939 with the publication of The Murderer Lives at Number 21. It tells the story of a London serial killer whom the police cannot identify, although they suspect he is one of the lodgers at a family boarding house located at 21 Russell Square; unfortunately, each time a suspect is arrested a new crime is committed, sending the investigators back to square one. In the cinematic adaptation, the intrigue takes place in Paris, the boarding house is called Les Mimosas and located at 21 Avenue Junot in Montmartre and the protagonists have French names. In 1994, this novel was also turned into a cartoon, with a script by André-Paul Duchâteau and drawings by Xavier Musquera.

Adaptations of other works were released at the cinema in the 1950s and early 1960s, including Brelan d’as (Full House) by Henri Verneuil in 1952, which adapts part of the novel Six Dead Men, Dortoir des grandes (Inside a Girls’ Dormitory) by Henri Decoin, adapted from Dix-huit fantômes (Eighteen Ghosts) in 1953 and Que personne ne sorte (Nobody Leave) by Yvan Govar, adapted from Six Hommes à tuer (Six Men to Kill) in 1962. Three of the Liège novelist’s works have also been adapted for television: L’Ennemi sans Visage (The Faceless Enemy) by Teff Erhat, adapted from the novel of the same name, in 1970, Les Grands Détectives (The Great Detectives) by Jacques Nahum, adapted from Six Men to Kill, in 1975 and Le Charme brumeux du Crime (The Hazy Charm of the Crime) by Jacques Bourton, adapted from Le Trajet de la foudre (The Path of the Lightning), in 1994.

Incidentally, we should mention the fact that French critics nicknamed him the “Belgian Simenon”, forgetting that both authors came from the Fervent City – Liège.

Stanislas-André Steeman, who died in Menton on 15 December 1970 at the age of 62, was chosen as one of the One Hundred Walloons of the century by the Institut Jules Destrée in 1995. Furthermore, a centre in Chaudfontaine specialising in paraliterature has been named after him. (Source: Focus on Belgium)

Selected bibliography: Six hommes morts (1931), La Nuit du 12 au 13 (1931), Le Mannequin assassiné (1932), Les Atouts de Monsieur Wens (1932), L’Ennemi sans visage (1934), L’assassin habite au 21 (1939), Légitime Défense (1942), Crimes à vendre (1951), 18 Fantômes (1952), Six hommes à tuer (1956).

Stanislas-André Steeman was like Georges Simenon a French speaking Belgian born in Liège, who left school young and displayed a precocious talent for writing, working as a journalist before becoming renowned as a crime writer. However the similarities end there. Steeman’s novels place less emphasis on character and setting, and are more notable for their ingenuity. The puzzles are cleaver, and Steeman’s work displays a commitment to fair play, plotting in the Golden Age manner, and a willingness to experiment mirroring that of his contemporaries in the Detection Club. (Source: Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, 2017).

Steeman, while not a household name like Simenon and often berated by fans of the latter, is a capital name in the history of French-speaking mystery fiction. He was one of the earliest writers to take the form seriously, both formally (he was a notorious perfectionist, and entirely re-wrote some of his early books as they didn’t please him anymore) and conceptually. He was also one of the few pre-war mystery writers to try and come to terms with the new paradigms that emerged after WWII, and managed to stay relevant without abdicating any of its individuality and principles. Finally, he was one of the greatest and most inventive plotters of all times, ranking with Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr for the period before the war and Margaret Millar or Fredric Brown for the period that followed. It is a shame that he remains so little-known in English-speaking countries where only two of his books were translated. (Xavier Lechard, At The Villa Rose)

Further reading:

Regrettably, the oeuvre of Stanislas-André Steeman is almost unknown to English speaking readers. Only a couple of his books had been translated into English, if my information is correct, and both are hard to find. I was fortunate to get hold today at a pretty decent price of the Spanish translation of one of his best books,  L’assassin habite au 21 (1939) translated by Susana Prieto Mori and published by Siruela, 2019 under the title El asesino vive en el 21.

9782253011026-001-TFrom Wikipedia: L’assassin habite au 21 (The Murderer Lives at Number 21) is a detective story by Stanislas-André Steeman, published in 1939. Three years after its publication it was turned into a film under the same title directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. The novel evokes a mysterious serial killer who terrorizes London and signs his crimes leaving a business card in the name of “Mr. Smith”. Commissioner Strickland, in charge of the case, conducts the investigation that quickly leads him to a boarding house at 21 Russell Square, where the culprit is believed to be hiding. He will not cease to unmask him among the residents, but each time one of the residents is arrested, a new murder is committed, thus returning the investigation back to square one.

Synopsis:
Seven victims in two and a half months, seven shattered skulls. And the assassin signed all of his murders by leaving a card on the spot: his name is Smith … Smith … The London police are on the teeth, and the thousands of Smiths in the capital are going through difficult times. Until the day when a fortuitous track leads the Yard near Russel Square. This is where the assassin would live, on the 21st. But which of all the weirdos – stranger and more picturesque than each other – who populate the Victoria pension could well be Mr. Smith? A true police masterpiece, The assassin lives at 21 will inspire Henri-Georges Clouzot, whose film remains in all memories. (Source: Livre de Poche)

The Murderer Lives at Number 21 has been reviewed by Pietro De Palma at Death Can Read. El-asesino-vive-en-el-21-i1n18009346

Sinopsis: En el neblinoso Londres de los años treinta, un asesino en serie tiene aterrorizada a la capital. Tras matar a sus víctimas de un golpe en la cabeza, les roba y deja junto a ellas una nota con la más anodina de las firmas: «Mr. Smith». Cuando, tras el último ataque, un testigo ve al criminal entrar en una pensión del número 21 de Russel Square, Scotland Yard ;con el superintendente Strickland al frente del caso; pondrá bajo vigilancia a sus huéspedes: la viuda Hobson, dueña del establecimiento; el señor Collins, vendedor a domicilio de radios; el mayor Fairchild, retirado tras haber servido en las Colonias; la señorita Holland, amante de los gatos… Pero pese a haber estrechado tanto el cerco, descubrir entre todos la verdadera identidad de Mr. Smith no resultará sencillo en absoluto… El asesino vive en el 21; publicada originalmente en 1939 y llevada al cine tres años después por Henri-Georges Clouzot; es la obra maestra de su autor y una de las más brillantes aportaciones continentales a la novela detectivesca clásica.

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