mercoledì 21 novembre 2012

The Claude Aveline Case



Claude Aveline


Claude Aveline: La doppia morte dell’Ispettore Belot (La Double Mort de Frédéric Belot, 1932) – Translation: Cesare Giardini – Preface: Alberto Tedeschi – in appendix: Doppia nota sul romanzo poliziesco in generale e su questa “Suite” in particolare (Double note sur le roman policier  en général et sur ​​cette “Suite”en particulier) – Oscar Mondadori N. 1556 – August  1982

More the time passes, more I find references to a question that springs to mind every time, and so I can not answer: why in 1932 were born many masterpieces of crime fiction?
Why at that year? I do not know.

In 1932, they went out countless masterpieces: Peril at End House by Agatha Christie; Poison in Jest, by John Dickson Carr, The Greek Coffin Mystery, by Ellery Queen; Obelists at Sea, by Charles Daly King, Murder on the Yacht, by Rufus King, Sudden Death, by Freeman Wills Crofts, La Maison interdite, by Michel Herbert & Eugen Wyl, The Devil Drives, by Virgil Markham, The Wailing Rock Murders, by Clifford Orr, La Maison qui tue, by Noel Windry, etc etc etc.

Among others, the extraordinary La Double Mort de Frédéric Belot by Claude Aveline.
Born in 1901 and died in 1992, Claude Aveline was a great French intellectual, famous poet and critic, activist and partisan during the Petain government, a friend of Anatole France and Jean Vigo, character always on top until the last years of life.


In 1932 he wrote his masterpiece, as part of crime fiction, La Double Mort de Frédéric Belot, but until then, he had not written anything about detective fiction. One can therefore say without any fear of being wrong, that this coincided with his debut genre literature.

Extraordinary novel, it is said, but also a huge success for its time. The French public went wild for mystery novels, and you can tell a good reason that, in France, you want to parochialism, either by the tendency of the French to not recognize less than anyone else, soon many authors still speaking French or had tried to write stories of mystery, and had proven to be on par if not better than other Anglo-Saxon writers.

The novel had undergone many editions in France and was translated in a short time in thirteen different countries, including Italy, where the novel with a title quite faithful "The Double Death of the Inspector Belot," was translated by Cesare Giardini and published in “I Libri Gialli Mondadori”, with the number 77, in 1933.

Why this novel was so successful at home? To various factors.
The first is due to the publisher:
Bernard Grasset, founded in 1907, "Les Nouvelles Editions" and from that moment, his publishing house was distinguished in the publication of works by major French writers and intellectuals, including for example Lourdines des Monsieur Alphonse de Chateaubriand, Filles de la pluie André Savignon, and also Du côté de chez Swan of Marcel Proust. But he had also published Diderot, Voltaire, Gide, Valéry. So, in 1932, editions of Bernard Grasset, who as then, they are still in the Rue des Saints Peres, 61 in Paris, were the spearhead of the French publishing and presenting works extremely serious.
The second factor is certainly due to the novelist:
Aveline was a big name in France, already at that time. He published several works of literary criticism, with its eponymous publishing house, and had already distinguished friendships, including especially that of Anatole France, who had become the most faithful follower; and the friendship of Jean Vigo, the director of "L'Atalante," one of the most important movies of the last century

In short, the fact that the most important French publisher at the time and one of the leading French intellectuals of the time, together, they decided to focus on the launch of a work of detective fiction, had its immediate echo in the society of the time and contributed to the spread of the novel. Intention was intentional or unintentional? Aveline makes it clear when, in his " Double note sur le roman policier" (as Mercurie edition at 1963), states that if “The Double Death" had belonged to a specialized collection, it would have gone unnoticed by critics, who insist to ignore crime fiction. A famous editor’s name on the cover of publisher, editor that had nothing to do, too, with this literature, caught their attention. Reading my preface, forced them all to take sides for or against .. I've had good allies and opponents rough. But I had reached my goal”.
You can say, however, Aveline, put much of his own, spending many weeks at the Prefecture of Paris, to take possession of a world that he gave in a wonderful way. The success was so resounding that Aveline, who in 1936 published his “The Prisoner”, he thought to write another. Unfortunately he had to die Belot the first time and even two times and thus introduced the adventures that had taken place before he could die. In fact, as he had this to say about his first novel ... “The ennui que c'est mon j'avais Killed policier du premier coup, et même deux fois, je n'avais pas qu'il aurait prévu du service à reprendre . Heureusement, je ne fait pas mourir avais the trop jeune”. And so in 1937, he published his second work, “Voiture 15, place 7”, followed by Le Abonné de la ligne U and finally Le Jet d'eau. Since then, long before he regained writing detective stories in the last years of his life he wrote the last chapter of the Suite, L'Œil-de-chat.

However, his masterpiece is the first of his writings, so that later, during the re-publication of his complete works, in the form of  Suite policière (Mercurie, 1967), he wrote a Double note sur le roman policier and a Confession policière .
How Aveline wrote, the novel “is a story that begins at the end. If there is a book that lends itself to be re-read, this, contrary to general opinion, it  is the detective fiction. The reader has followed an investigation, putting himself in the shoes of the investigator. Well, now he can take it, not with the eyes of the author, but with those of the criminal. With the eyes, the heart, the guts of the criminal. The moves of the future conqueror, replacing the anguish of being hunted by the police, or by their remorse. In literary fiction 'usual', the reader can only dream during his first contact with the work ... Here, however, he is able to evoke a new drama. Here he  can create.”
Aveline imagines that Simon Riviere, a police inspector and son, in turn, an inspector of police, the recount the most sensational, but also the ultimate, adventure of Frederic Belot, Head of the Special Brigade and his godfather. The fact that Belot, man always active, has accepted a position behind a desk, he did mention several of his acquaintances, the more so that he gave the green light to Picard, to become Director of the Judicial Police. But the surprises do not end here: in fact Belot, bachelor, announces the decision to marry Mrs. Déguisé. Then it happens that one evening Belot is expected by Picard, Belot did not turn up. Riviere was sent to look for him. It’s 4 November .

He goes home in which he dwells, in Rue de Crimée 26, and asks the doorkeeper of Belot, feeling to answer that his godfather did not come out. The front door is closed, and not having the keys, he need some tools that cops like him on their back and force. When he enters into the house “it’is pitch dark.”
Turns on the light in the hall, and he sees hung the coat and the hat, of Belot. Finding closed the office door, he opens it, and the study also illuminates the darkness. At the center of the room he sees Belot on the ground, gasping .. Turn on the chandelier and it is that is wounded in the head and also your body, and next to him it is his gun, a Browning. Is excited to call his superiors and ask for help and an ambulance when .. seen coming from under a heavy curtain that divides the living room from the studio, a clenched hand. Draws aside the curtain and he founds the body of another man, lying with his face to the ground, he dressed in gray and he with a Browning. He revolts him and .. “I saw that this man was Frederic Belot. But a Frederic Belot dead”.

From this discovery, starts off a story that is unbelievable, in which the “double” is the predominant element in which these truths are until you find something that will completely overturn, in which the events can be said to be one leading to another, as many Chinese boxes.

First you have who is the real Belot and who is the impostor. Because it is obvious (or seems so) that one killed the other. I emphasize “seems” because in this novel, more than any other, must be taken with the tongs and wary of everything that is taken for granted, because sooner or later take on a meaning different ways.

The bodies look the same, two copies, but then you turn out, the autopsy of the dead Belot wears a mustache hairpieces and the color of the face is given with a foundation. So he is the impostor. At this point, it turns out, however, the comparison of the weapon (gun Belot has the charger with two deep scars etched File) that the gun who shot and killed at the first it is that by Belot: why would he shoot at the first? This is the first question, which it is placed. But it will be one of many, when you know the rest. For example., near the fake Belot,it is found a box full of bullets open: what does it mean? What was reloading his weapon? And why not? If he really were introduced in the apartment, you would have to assume that he was armed ie with gun equipped with a full magazine, ie able to kill the true Belot. But his gun is unloaded. But it is also true that there are shells everywhere. But, coincidentally, also the weapon of Belot is low as if they had emptied the magazines against each other.

This alone could mean another question (hidden): how , a cop and a killer, a short distance from each other, firing wildly against each other, would have caused so few injuries ( even fatal) to one another? A shot in front of the dead, the other one to the body and another to the head. Mah.
At this point, another event which gives even less certainty to the matter: the false Belot has the card of the police officer with the fingerprint impression of his thumb. Why to do a false card when he could steal the real one? Even the real Belot has one with the photo dissimilar in a particular hair with the other but for the rest completely equal, and with a fingerprint different. Only when you want to compare the two to the archive, it turns out that it disappeared. Why?

A lot of questions, too many.


Belot is hospitalized in desperate conditions. Despite the injuries is still alive, and groaning phrases insane or at least seem so. Meanwhile, Riviere makes a discovery of the utmost importance: Belot's apartment is split over two floors. The tragedy took place on the first floor, now he goes to see to find clues and raides also the second and he is confronted with something he did not know: the plan is divided into two parts according to the length, forming two apartments . In the back of the wall of the house of Belot, it is a panel with a safety lock, and behind the void: a secret door of communication between the two apartments? And why?

Who is the mysterious Belot’s tenant? The concierge, Madame Morin, who had previously told to police the photos of the dead could being familiar but she could not say who he was, has an epiphany: he is the mysterious tenant. At this point it is clear that the two knew each other. And why is it then that the latter had taken the shape of the first, who he knew? Thanks to the keys found in the pockets of the wounded, he is unable to open the panel and he goes in a small apartment anonymous though elegant, where there is nothing but an identity card, in a suit, which refers to the Jean Martin inhabitant 43ter of the Rue Arthur-Rozier, which is basically behind Rue de Crimée: a house with a floor divided into two, with a separate entrance from the main post office in a different way. Why? And why it is above the cabinets of the two houses contain exactly the same clothes of the same sizes and o colors?
Simon Riviére at this point makes a discovery of paramount importance to the succession of events, supported by another, made ​​in the archives of the police: first, you turn that Jean Martin was never born, and the man in the picture he is not unknown. Simon learns from invalid mother of Belot  the man in the picture is his son. This achieves an absurdum: we believed impostor the real Belot, while the impostor is the other.
But at this point an absurdity more absurd comes forward: why Belot would have to shave his mustache and darkening of the skin to resemble a look-alike, who previously looked like him before? Why all this mess?

Picard, a friend of Belot and head of Riviere explains that was the same Belot to impose this solution, the day he met his counterpart, such Ferroux, wrongly accused of embezzlement, who looked like him as a drop of 'water. At that moment he realized that doing impersonate Belot to his double what he would have done from that moment onwards, the head of a division that required him to office work, he, the true Belot, could play in disguise of delicate police investigations.

This explains the false Belot, thus explaining the disappearance of documents, and the creation of a false identity to police: it was all part of a plan. But why the false Belot killed the real one?

And why the false Belot, in the moments before death (because he died in the hospital) shouted: "Do not kill him! Do not kill him! "And not" Do not kill me! "?

And who has delivered a letter by the prefecture to Mrs Déguisé, who had an affair with Belot? At the Prefecture people deny. So there's a third person who does everything to appear on the scene: an accomplice, a witness, or .. the murderer?
Because at this point, Riviére putting eye to this fact happened at the time of the discovery of the division of the second floor, and  thinking and thinking and especially returning to the scene of the crime and collecting shells and making them compare, he realizes they come from a single weapon, and especially to understand why there was "pitch dark" in the victim's home when he found the two bodies: if indeed one of them had shot and killed the other while he was mortally wounded and more the head, how he could go and turn off the lamp and close the door, and why? If he really had all these forces, he have spent them trying to ask for help. But .. none of this.

The reason for all this, leads to a third person, “X”, who would have killed the two Belot, the true and the false, and then would have put the gun next to the fake Belot. But here a question arises naturally: how could the killer shoot with a gun order of the police? The gun was in the possession of the killer or he had come into possession of it?

The reason you will find it in a love story ended in error, and understanding of the dead will be only the result of non-screening by a false murderess in favor of a real one. The ending will be tragic and sad, and the final explanation, imaginative will rebuild the great puzzle by placing each piece to its rightful place..
First, we say that the Italian edition, in 1933,  made ​​a colossal error of perspective in the title, naming the novel “The Double Death of the Inspector Belot,” attributed to him a degree that Belot no longer had. Belot in fact in this novel, which is the first, but also the least because he appears to be dead, is no longer Inspector but …Commissioner. And the rest is just his promotion to cause his death, you might say.
Claude Aveline, that Michel Lebrune called “véritable novateur du roman de Mystère, a humanistic et un grand humorist” and Pierre Boileau would have said that he had given the genre of the novel Crime “ses lettres de noblesse”, tried on several occasions salvage the detective story, taking the defenses:
“Il n'y pas de romans nobles appartenant aux Belles-Lettres (qui en décide?) et de romans moins nobles parmi lesquels on range selon l'arbitraire habituel romans populaires, d'aventure, romans policiers”.

He, however, despite being a man of learning, critical, he realized that would not be enough work only criticism of this kind of groped to salvage it, but it was necessary that he give a good example, writing a novel. It must be also proof that even a man of letters could write a detective novel, with taste, humor and inventing a problem so abstruse that only with an explanation beyond human comprehension it could be explained.
The learned scholar, a critic, the poet, the inventor of ironic aphorisms, such as La mort d’autrui soumet le vivant, résigné, aux lois inévitables. La sienne, il la considère comme un assassinat” (= the death of others is an inevitable thing, their death is a murder), he invented a novel exciting, tense and vibrant, devious and machiavellian, but also deeply human, renewing the same way as other teachers (Very, Steeman, Boileau, Vindry, Lanteaume, Letailleur) declared the detective fiction. It unravels the veil of mystery with a rare virtuosity, resulting in a constant game of mirrors, where the investigation takes on the tone of almost psychoanalytic analysis and disconcerting but extremely vibrant psychological insight.

Aveline, even, also to involve more the reader in history, he humanizes the drama telling about the Inspector Riviére, the real detective story, Belot’s godchild, who learns that the man to whom he was very close in human terms, because a great friend of father and protector in Police, was brutally murdered in his home. It 's a well known fact (and accepted) that if the protagonist is himself embroiled in an investigation, the reader will follow with more passion for the evolution of the story.

Not only. To involve even more the reader, Aveline imagines himself involved in the action, since the writer is also the narrator of the story. In this Aveline comes very close to Van Dine: in fact S.S. Van Dine was the narrator of  Philo Vance plots.
Aveline, writing a detective story, with the best writing possible, evoking a history in the balance between the absurd and the improbable, and resolving it in a way that the solution is the only one capable of bringing the absurd and the unlikely to a possible dimension, and putting into, also a love story poignant and significant psychological implications, then creates a new type of novel, a “serious”detective story.

This seriousness of novel, puts him at odds with the serious crime literature of his time, which normally (without touching the vertices) gives maximum emphasis to the plot at the expense of the rest. Here, however, everything has got an own role, all figures need: All figures represented here have a soul.

Notice for example how he can make us extremely close, with fine psychology, the envy of the concierge sloppy and dirty, against Mrs. Lesueur, who with her, with a caretaker, doesn’t unburden herself her because she is superb, “as if do half service itwas not like being a servant”.

Furthermore, here, like a Greek tragedy, the story has not solution , hasn’t an ending that brings the calm after the storm. No. Here the calm will not reappear. Indeed ..

In fact, the solution is bitter beyond measure: a suicide attempt has turned into something else, and who had to be suicidal, he becomes, not wanting to, killer. Then, there is someone else who intervenes and changes the nature of the events. Just that .. he/she doesn’t understand the importance of light.
Has a small, insignificant detail all this matter? Perhaps even more, it also has a metaphorical: light of the apartment brings light on the case; without the light there was really a “pitch dark”.

In this novel all the characters in this absurd story ends up being the alter ego of the Homeric heroes prisoners of fate and prisoners of whims of the gods, forced to recite the parties and to live a tragedy that can not be avoided because they have unknowingly put their own the gears in motion. In a certain sense, the murderer is not really.

In the novels of the period, no one stops to contemplate death. It is only functional in the story, but in no way its tragedy is analyzed. But here it happens.

The story then loses the characteristics of game intelligence, to take those of analysis of the soul. In a sense, this makes the reading not easy, and the pace quite heavy.

Moreover, as evoked by the same title, here everything is double, one could say this is  the Aveline “triumph of the double” in crime fiction: real Belot is a double (what appears and what it is); Belot is double as an individual (the Belot true and false); the Picard truth is double: the untold truth and revealed truth; the house is a double: two floors, two separate entrances, and a plan is divided into two; the murderer is double: the true and the false; the gun is double; the collection of clothes is double; the same identity card is double; false Belot is double: his true identity hidden and the false assumed and demonstrated to other as true; the story of Mrs. Diguise is double because she believes to love Belot and instead she fells in love with Ferreux, false Belot.
The murderer is double, also: a false killer who pretends to be true, and then the true murderer. The same Mrs. Diguise is double because in real life has different surnames, and she is doubly double since last lines of the story it is clear that she is a friend in common (double friend) as the narrator (Aveline) as the detective ( Riviere) among their, friends.
I end with a think of Aveline, taken from the Double note on crime fiction in general and on this suite in particular:


“As for the novel, it raised - after a unanimous praise of writing that moved me and which I have not kept any account (this edition offers the reader a text completely redone) - the most contradictory comments. Realized and betrayed the promise of the preface. It broke with the old formulas and it didn’t bring the slightest news. It was "super-police", algebraic, and sacrificed the interweaving to psychology. On two points, as I expected, he had to find "against" the majority of jury.

1° Despite my prior statement, I wanted to write a detective novel;
2° The theme of the double ... it was incredible”.


Pietro De Palma

8 commenti:

  1. Today I publish my long article about "La Double Mort de Frédéric Belot", already posted on my Italian blog in January, at the express request of John Norris, a friend of mine

    RispondiElimina
  2. Very in depth study here, Pietro, but you name the culprit! How could you? I like that we both saw many of the same things in this surprisingly dense novel. You go a bit further than I would in some of your analogies, and I think your admiration for the writer and this work even exceeds mine. Well done. Your passion for the genre is always present in everything you write.

    I have found Aveline's next book translated into English as Carriage 7, seat 15 (Voiture 7, Place 15) which at only 119 pages is more of a novella. Review will be coming soon to my blog.

    RispondiElimina
  3. You're wrong, I will not name the culprit. And then, it is not easy to spot. I am detective novels that I've read plenty, and I can 95% to detect a murderer at least fifty pages before appointed, when I read the novel I had a shock knowing who he was, because the construction of Aveline was perfect. Too bad that few know about it! Deserves to be near Ellery Queen, just for writing this novel. What do you think?

    RispondiElimina
  4. John, but you're sure that the translation of Aveline's "Voiture 7, Place 15", in your possession, is unabridged? I remembered more pages

    RispondiElimina
  5. Yes, the English translation of the novel is only 119 pages. It's not noted as an abridged edition. It's an English translation of the 1963 French reissue which could have been abridged for all I know.

    RispondiElimina
  6. I own all the work of police Aveline. I recommend, particularly "The Œil de chat" in 1970,very intriguing. Sure, "The Double Death of Frederic Belot" is a masterpiece, but ... something else Eveline is worthy of being known. Do you think that the Abonné de la ligne U is very long. In the 70s it was published in Italy by Mondadori, when the publishing house Mondadori still belonged to the historic publisher. Today, no one would do it, because it is uneconomic to produce something that has a high cost and that you already know that will be bought by relatively few readers.

    RispondiElimina
  7. In the US mystery novels, crime fiction and thrillers of all types are routinely 400+ pages. I don't buy that it's "uneconomic" to produce lengthy genre fiction. Everyone publishes it and thousands of people are buying it up. It's the new "standard" and I dislike it intensely. Too much contemporary crime fiction is heavily padded with extraneous detail and unnecessary subplots and backstory. Very few writers these days can write a real tightly plotted story with one single plot line without resorting to all this boring padding. It has become almost a requirement in popular fiction to give long descriptions of the clothes each character is wearing and update it each time they change clothes, devote entire chapters to where they were born, their previous marriages, all their behavioral eccentricities and psychological hang-ups, etc. etc. It all amounts to one big snoozefest for me.

    I noticed that the Passenger on the U was of epic length and passed on it. I'll get to it eventually, though. Luckily, our library has all but one of Claude Aveline's books translated into English. I own the only one they don't have (The Fountain at Marlieux).

    RispondiElimina
    Risposte
    1. I'm totally agree with you. I also hate that kind of characterization, with tedious descriptions. The descriptions must be because they are functional to the story and create the atmosphere. But the descriptions have not to be too heavy, because usually bore.
      This speech I did on the blog of the Mondadori publishing house (the largest in Italy at the crime fiction and synonymous of it since 1929), where I publish essays and mind usually the discussion. The speech was divided on the abbreviated and full translations. I did your speech, saying among other things that if it is good that the translations are so full because we respect the author and at the same time you decide what to read and what not, (when there are descriptions unnecessary and annoying), in case of shortened translation, it's the translator who decides what to translate and what no, and for the reader, this is not good.
      But I also said that if at the times the translations integral are articulated well, most often found instead that translations can not frame in the best way the original language. To these I much prefer, many translations more antiquated and shortened, but failed to make the translated material much more accessible to the reader, with an appropriate choice of words. Of course, for this, you should always rely on the best and most successful publishing houses, because they are who can afford translators, critics and best consultants.

      L'abonné de la ligne U, I have, as well as "Le Jet d'Eau".
      The second is nice, a lot. The first one is very long, I have not read it yet: I have a lot of courage for me to come read it.

      Elimina