Friday, 10 September 2010

The Adventure of the Paradol Chamber

For lighter Friday reading, another Sherlock Holmes spoof by John Dickson Carr. John Dickson Carr (1906-1977) was an American author of detective stories, who is largely forgotten today, most of his books being out of print. "The Hollow Man" (1935) is usually considered his masterpiece, but having read most of his stories, I'd go for "The Black Spectacles"(1939) where a murder is seen and filmed, and the witnesses cannot agree on their account of events, or with the film. As the reader may guess, I have around 30 of Carr's books! His essay on detective stories is probably the finest exposition of the classical story in print, and I think he is absolutely right about the key feature of a good story - not only is it a puzzle, and has good characters and an interesting plot, but the clues should not be tucked away in some remote sentence, and flashed passed quickly (a deficiency in the otherwise excellent Inspector Peach stories of J.M. Gregson), but should be taken out and virtually pushed in front of the reader's eyes - and done so well that they still cannot see the clues until later. Nowhere is this done more brilliantly than in Chesterton at his best, as, for instance, in the story "The Invisible Man":

As they threaded the steep side streets already powdered with silver, Angus finished his story; and by the time they reached the crescent with the towering flats, he had leisure to turn his attention to the four sentinels. The chestnut seller, both before and after receiving a sovereign, swore stubbornly that he had watched the door and seen no visitor enter. The policeman was even more emphatic. He said he had had experience of crooks of all kinds, in top hats and in rags; he wasn't so green as to expect suspicious characters to look suspicious; he looked out for anybody, and, so help him, there had been nobody. And when all three men gathered round the gilded commissionaire, who still stood smiling astride of the porch, the verdict was more final still. "I've got a right to ask any man, duke or dustman, what he wants in these flats," said the genial and gold-laced giant, "and I'll swear there's been nobody to ask since this gentleman went away." The unimportant Father Brown, who stood back, looking modestly at the pavement, here ventured to say meekly, "Has nobody been up and down stairs, then, since the snow began to fall? It began while we were all round at Flambeau's." "Nobody's been in here, sir, you can take it from me," said the official, with beaming authority. "Then I wonder what that is?" said the priest, and stared at the ground blankly like a fish. The others all looked down also; and Flambeau used a fierce exclamation and a French gesture. For it was unquestionably true that down the middle of the entrance guarded by the man in gold lace, actually between the arrogant, stretched legs of that colossus, ran a stringy pattern of grey footprints stamped upon the white snow.
"God!" cried Angus involuntarily, "the Invisible Man!"

In his time, John Dickson Carr wrote not only wonderfully clever locked room mysteries, but also a number of excellent radio plays for the series Suspense (USA) and Appointment with Fear (UK). He also wrote an extremely good biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and was a clear aficionado of what might be called the classical detective story, such as Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Chesterton's Father Brown. Despite being American, he was not one for the mean streets of Raymond Chandler, but for the streets of Old London Town, which comes across distinctly in "The Mad Hatter Mystery"(1933), in which various hats are being stolen and returned in unlikely locations across London.

He also wrote several historical novels, often based around real events. Long before "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher" appeared on the bestseller books of 2008, Carr had in fact already covered the same ground in "Scandal at High Chimneys".

So much for the preamble - here is "The Adventure of the Paradol Chamber":

The Adventure of the Paradol Chamber
By John Dickson Carr

NARRATOR (reading): "I find recorded in my notebook that it was after dark on a hot evening in August 1887. All day Sherlock Holmes had been moody and distraught. That evening he took up his violin. Leaning back in his armchair, he would close his eyes and scrape carelessly at the fiddle, which was thrown across his knee. Sometimes the chords were sonorous and melancholy. (In pitch blackness, a few unearthly chords from violin) Occasionally they were fantastic and cheerful. (Chords hop.) I might have rebelled had it not been that he usually terminated them by playing in quick succession a whole series of my favourite airs."

(Violin plays a few bars of Mendelssohn's "Spring Song," then fades. Lights slowly come up. HOLMES and WATSON are sitting on opposite sides of stage, facing audience; table at HOLMES' side. HOLMES has violin across knee, bow in right hand; lighted pipe in mouth; eyes fixed glassily ahead. WATSON wears expression of ecstasy, hand in air as though it has been keeping time to music; copy of Daily Telegraph in his lap.)

WATSON. My dear Holmes, your virtuosity is unrivalled. Pray continue!
HOLMES (grim; on edge): I am in no mood for it, Watson. (He puts down violin and bow on table; gets up.) My mind is tortured, obsessed!
WATSON (amused): Surely not-again!-by Professor Moriarty?
HOLMES: He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson! You will find his spider trace, I dare wager, in that very newspaper. What is the first item on which your eye falls?
WATSON (scanning paper): By Jove, Holmes, this is curious!
HOLMES: Quick, Watson, the item!
WATSON (reading): "Lord Matchlock, the Foreign Minister, collapsed in a faint as he was walking up Constitution Hill after leaving Buckingham Palace."
WATSON: "We are happy to report, however, that Lord Matchlock's condition is not serious."
HOLMES: I wonder!
WATSON: "Messrs. Lestrade, Gregson and Athelney Jones, all of Scotland Yard, pronounce it a heat stroke. Lord Matchlock, on a hot day, was wearing a heavy frock coat, bombazine waistcoat, wing collar and Ascot tie, long flannel underwear, woollen socks, and Hessian boots. He therefore-" (Violent reaction from HOLMES: WATSON starts.) My dear Holmes! What can be wrong with you?
HOLMES: There's villainy here/
WATSON (taken aback): You jest, my dear fellow!
HOLMES: He was wearing no trousers, Watson! Lord Matchlock was wearing no trousers!
WATSON (pause; stunned): Holmes, this is marvellous!
HOLMES (waving it away): Elementary! But not uninstructive. Scotland Yard, of course, observed nothing.
WATSON: But why should Lord Matchlock, the Foreign Minister, have been walking up Constitution Hill without his britches? HOLMES (sombre): There lies our problem. If only ...
(Sharp knocking is heard off.)
WATSON: A client, Holmes!
HOLMES: Perhaps even the answer to our problem. Come in!
(Enter LADY IMOGENE FERRERS, in a state of restrained terror. She carries a paper parcel. In violent agitation, she looks from HOLMES to WATSON: finally chooses HOLMES.)
IMOGENE: You are Mr. Sherlock Holmes! Every fibre of my woman's instinct tells me so! (She rushes to seize HOLMES by the shoulders.) Help me, Mr. Holmes!
HOLMES (austerely): Pray compose yourself, madam. I shall do my best. A chair, Watson! (He leads her to WATSON'S chair, and goes to his own.) A cup of hot coffee, too, might be not unwelcome. I perceive that you are shivering.
IMOGENE: Alas, sir, it is not the cold which makes me shiver!
HOLMES: Not the cold? What then?
IMOGENE: It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror! I am Lady Imogene Ferrers. My father is Lord Matchlock, the Foreign Minister.
WATSON (bursting out): They have stolen your papa's britches! IMOGENE: I think you must be wizards, both of you! For I came here, Mr. Holmes, to show you ... there! (Rising dramatically, she opens the paper parcel and holds up in majesty a pair of trousers.)
WATSON (amazed): Merciful heaven! Britches!
HOLMES (exalted): It is for these dramatic moments that my soul lives! Tell me, Lady Imogene: are they your father's trousers?
IMOGENE: No, Mr. Holmes! No! I had not thought, until this moment, that dear Papa was trouserless.
HOLMES: Ha! Then how came the trousers into your possession?
IMOGENE: This morning, Mr. Holmes, they were thrown from an upper window at Buckingham Palace. I saw them fall.
WATSON: Holmes, some fiend is snatching the britches from half London!
HOLMES: Good, Watson! But not, I think, quite good enough. May I see the evidence? (She hands over the trousers. HOL.MES scrutinizes them through a magnifying glass. Then to LADY IMOGENE) Buckingham Palace, I think you said?
IMOGENE: Yes. Mr. Holmes. My father had gone there for a conference with the new French Ambassador, M. de Paradol, and Her Majesty the Queen. (Faltering) It-it concerned, I think, a secret treaty between France and Great Britain. Can you picture my dread -nay, my terror!-when I saw the trousers take wing from Her Majesty's window?
HOL.MES: These are deep waters, my lady. Were you followed here?
IMOGENE: I hope not, Mr. Holmes! All day I have been riding in four-wheelers! And yet ... (Oft, heavy and elaborate knocking)
HOLMES: Quick, Watson! Make haste and hide the evidence!
(HOLMES hands the trousers to WATSON, who thrusts them inside his frock coat. WATSON turns and moves towards door.)
WATSON: Holmes, this is no ordinary client! This is ..
HOLMES: Speak out, man!
WATSON (stepping back to one side like a court chamberlain): His Excellency the French Ambassador!
(Enter M. DE MARQUIS DE PARADOL: top hat, frock coat, imperial beard. He swoops forward, centre, removing hat, and adopts posture of immense dignity.)
PARADOL (drawn up): Messieurs! (To IMOGENE, different tone) Mademoiselle!
IMOGENE (crying out): You have come here, sir, about the hideous enigma at Buckingham Palace?
PARADOL (fierce dignity): Pave come'ere, mademoiselle, to get my pants/
HOLMES: Are we to understand that Your Excellency's trousers have disappeared too?
PARADOL: No, no, no! Not deesappear. At Buckingham Palace, in de presence of Her Majesty de Queen, I 'ave remove my pants and throw dem out of de window!
PARADOL: But yes! All of a sudden I see-in a mirror!-six men in de masks and de false whiskers, which are creeping up on me to attack me. I cry: Vive la France/ and do my duty. No pants.
IMOGENE: You performed this in the presence of Her Majesty?
PARADOL: I regret! She pushes a great cry and faints-boum!-on a gold sofa. And to you, mademoiselle, I weesh also to apologize.
IMOGENE: You owe me no apology.
PARADOL: I regret! It is I who have pinch the pants of your papa! I conk him on de onion wit a blackjack-voila/-because I must'ave pants to follow you.
WATSON: The diplomatic service is sadly changed. But why should these wretches wish to purloin your britches?
PARADOL: You'ave'eard, perhaps, of the Paradol-Matchlock Treaty between England and France?
IMOGENE: The secret treaty! Yes!
HOLMES (to Paradol): And the secret treaty, I think, is in Your Excellency's trousers?
PARADOL (staggered): Quel homme! Quel homme magnifique!
(As he speaks, HOLMES takes the trousers from under Watson's coat.)
HOLMES: A secret chamber-two thin plates of copper-hides the secret treaty. May I return these valuables to Your Excellency?
PARADOL (receiving trousers): Monsieur! In de name of my government, in de name of all France, I ... (He breaks of, staring; and begins to examine the trousers feverishly.)
IMOGENE: You are agitated, M. de Paradol. Is the copper chamber not there?
PARADOL: The copper chamber, yes! But de treaty ... is gone!
HOLMES: Have no fear, my dear sir. The secret treaty is still in this room. It has merely been abstracted by a thief and a traitor!
WATSON: Not Professor Moriarty?
HOLMES: Not Professor Moriarty, no. But his chief lieutenant-and the second most dangerous man in London-stands-here! (He whips the false moustache of WATSON, who stands snarling.)
IMOGENE: But that's Dr. Watson!
HOLMES: No, Lady Imogene. The real Watson lies bound and gagged in some den of infamy. May I introduce you to Colonel Sebastian Moran.
WATSON (shouting): Curse you, Holmes! May you die of a bullet from my air gun!
PARADOL: But how-why did you suspect de wretch?
HOLMES: A very simply matter, I assure you. When he recognized a new French Ambassador, whose appointment has not yet been announced, I knew him for the villain he is. I gave him an opportunity to steal the treaty (reaches into WATSON'S inside pocket and produces impressive-looking document) and he has done so.
PARADOL (exultantly): The Adventure of de Paradol Chamber!
WATSON (snarling): No, curse you! The Adventure of the Copper Britches!

The Unicorn Mystery Book Club News, 1949

No comments: