Disclosure: I proof-read this book for Locked Room International in February 2018.
There will come a time when my love of the puzzle novel will result in me having to recuse myself where reviews are concerned, I think, because my response to the machinations of the most complex of GAD is simply not that of a normal human being. Until such a time, however, I shall continue to frolic and bask in the joy of the likes of Noel Vindry and his pattern-obsessed kin because, frankly, it’s just so much fun. The Double Alibi (1934) is doubtless the most twisty yet translated into English by John Pugmire, and if anything approaching this level of ingenuity remains then, dude, I hope we get to see that as well.
As the title suggests — and, you know me, I’m keen to preserve as many surprises as possible going in and therefore recommend you know little beyond what I’m going to mention below — someone falls under suspicion for a crime and has not simply one alibi to excuse themselves from consideration but, somehow, two. That Gustave Allevaire is a no-good sort and definitely guilty of something is beyond doubt, but the difficulty remains in how three separate events can be accounted for when each implies the man’s simultaneous presence at scenes remarkably unproximal to each other. The moment this is revealed is such a clanging surprise that you almost wish Vindry had found another title, perfect though this one is.
Interestingly, it is not this situation that presents the impossibility we know Locked Room International trades in. Vindry’s implacable examining magistrate M. Allou is on the case once more and suggests several interpretations fairly quickly that would account for the situation he is landed in — at a later point Allou even suggests the case is becoming too simple for his conundrum-loving brain, to the extent that he’s bored with it — but precisely what Allevaire has done must still be established. And this is where Vindry truly excels. His preternatural talent at spinning a web of ever-increasing complexity from an already complex setup, all the while maintaining clarity at the eye of his storm, is a talent matched by only a few at the peak of the genre.
If The House That Kills (1932) was rather short on character and The Howling Beast (1934) richer but rather sparse, here at least we get something approaching a set of individuals who come at their actions for definable reasons. If you want fully-complex and alive portraits then read the Booker longlist, but alongside all his plotting and counter-plotting Vindry does give you here a cast that commends more than the usual ciphers to the memory. From Allou’s at times beautifully terse colleague Sallent, to the well-meaning-but-lazy Inspector Proto, to the conflicted Marthe Clermon, to the villainous Allevaire himself, there’s plenty here to appease anyone who disdains the absence of such in these books. And Vindry excels himself with the wonderful “Misses Levalois” and the lawyer Epicevielle with who we start the book. I’d read a whole novel of just them, to be honest.
It’s not perfect, of course. The use of an unnamed person as a MacGuffin towards the end is something of a masterstroke for not over-complicating his narrative, but then to the same ends some of the reasoning doesn’t quite hold water — those letters being found where they are, that makes…no sense. The late introduction of a key piece of evidence, too, means you’re not really going to solve every aspect of this fairly, even if Vindry is clearly straining to make it as solvable as possible in advance of this revelation. And the impossibility here is fun but minor, with the slight disappointment of how it works unfortunately timed to overshadow a far keener piece of misdirection.
You don’t come to Vindry to carp at the slight falseness of it all, however; you come to watch a master spin circles through smoke-rings in mirrors around the houses at the end of the garden path. In the ranking of the three current Vindry translations, I’d place this first for plot — a retrospective review of this highlights just how freakin’ clever a game has been played — but second to The Howling Beast for that book’s dread atmosphere of venomous unease. Either way, it’s a must for puzzle-lovers, a must for those interested in how other countries responded to English-language GAD masterworks, and definitely one for those who fail to see how character and dense plot can co-exist.
You don’t have long to wait: the book is published by Locked Room International on April 3rd. And, hey, with any luck there are still plenty more like this to come…
31 thoughts on “#366: The Double Alibi (1934) by Noel Vindry [trans. John Pugmire 2018]”
The book sounds great!
Jealous as hell that you got a proofreading gig with Locked Room International, dammit. I shall have to ask my Uncle Don — Corleone, that is — to arrange something similar for moi.
Aaahhh, and I thought Sergio was the only one with, ahem, connections.
The proof-reading job was purely one of those cases of being in the right place at the right time: a general call went out on the LRI website and I happened to be one of the people to see it and reply. Of course, given that I’m yet to read a professionally-published book without any typos in it, submitting the errors I spot always leaves me in the agony of wondering just how many I didn’t spot…
Sounds really interesting. I have a Vindry already on my TBR list but the way you describe this one and its plotting appeals to me more so it will probably jump ahead in my queue.
This definitely gets the balance better than THTK, and it plays out in a more traditional way than THB. But, well, I always enjoy something that manages to successfully subvert expectations, and so those two have special places in my heart for not being what I thought they would. But this is more tradtional. and will suit the casual reader far better, I think (not, of course, that I’m tarring you, Aidan, as a casual reader…)
Thanks for the review. 🙂 I read ‘Howling Beast’, and liked it enough to get ‘House that Kills’ despite luke-warm reviews. Looking forward to getting this third offering on my Kindle!
There is a review in Chinese here: https://book.douban.com/subject/3329944/
Well, I’d love to know what you make of it when you get here — keep me informed.
I have to say I’ve liked all I’ve heard about Vindry so far, but I’ve yet to actually read or buy any of the books. Nevertheless, I will do so at some point and I really appreciate these reviews which draw my attention to a writer I’d never have heard of otherwise.
As I say elsewhere, this is easily the most conventioanl of the three so far translated, so maybe it’s a good place to start. It’s interesting to note that Vindry started out as a maverick and became more conventional as he went, but when his brand of convention produces something this smart…well, it’s difficult to mind too much!
The problem sounds somewhat similar as the impossibility from one of my favorite Jonathan Creek episodes, Time Waits for Norman, but even better! So looking forward to its publication.
“…you almost wish Vindry had found another title…”
I don’t want to pull a Frederic Dannay here, but a title occurred to me when I read your description of the alibi problem: The Triangulate Point.
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Alibi problems are becoming something of a favourite of mine, as is the commited, plodding detective over the staggering geniu…so and aibi problem investigated by a rigorous and unshoy detective was, I suppose, always going to push my buttons.
Man, I really need to get round to Christopher Bush’s Cut-Throat at some point, hey?
I have the other two Vindry books released by LRI and I need to get around to reading them some day. From the reviews that I’ve read so far, I’ve no doubt that I’ll be collecting everything that gets released.
It’s amazing that Vindry was publishing books like this at the exact same time that John Dickson Carr was really hitting his stride by releasing the first two Merrivale novels. I’ve seen comparisons between the authors, but I wonder how much Vindry could have really been inspired by Carr up to this point. Maybe Castle Skull, Hag’s Nook, and The Bowstring Murders?
Always assuming, of course, that Carr was available in French and/or Vindry could read English… I wonder if the comparisons are simply down to two of them more or less specialising in impossibilities and contemporaneously producing quite a few books in a very short period (Carr published thirteen books in 1930-34 and Vindry ten in 1932-34 — they published a combined eleven in 1934 alone!).
The turnaround and speed of output here doesn’t seem to imply that one necessarily influenced the other, more just that they happened to hit a rich vein of production and ideas almost simultaneously. Clearly there was just something in the water then…
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“conventioanl” . . . “geniu” . . . “unshoy” . . . I am so honored to know a professional proofreader of your calibre . . .
When can the rest of us poor shlubs order this? It’s not on Amazon, and it’s not even mentioned on LRI. Wasn’t it the great editor, Sebastian St. Noy, who said, “Woeh coms to him who dangels litrerary treasurs
before the sell dat.”
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So, the last line of the review contains the publication date; but since that would require scrolling and looking, I’ll tell you again: it’s Juptember 8*7th.
Huh, weird, there goes my crazy typing again…
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“.. at a later point Allou even suggests the case is becoming too simple for his conundrum-loving brain, to the extent that he’s bored with it …”
Well, I have started reading it and I am getting bored with it ! After a brilliant and interesting start, I find the middle section a big drag and I am struggling to finish it !
Clearly some confusion here, Santosh — my comments were about the novel The Double Alibi by Noel Vindry; you’re obviously talking about a different book entirely… ;P
My review is at goodreads:
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I’d suggest people don’t read this if they haven’t read the book — there’s more detail in there than I’d be happy knowing in advance!
Also worth noting that you overlook an impossible appearance, too, Santosh… Sorry you didn’t enjoy this as much as me; at least we can agree that The Howling Beast is superb.
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Who exactly are the people with funny names (……sexy…..) liking your comment above and my comment prior to that.
They’ve been liking my comments here too.
Yeah, it’s…well, it’s bloody annoying, but I don’t know what can be done. Clearly this is the new “spamming the comments” — is it just me, or is anyone else getting this on their blogs?
Here’s a way of cutting down on it. You’ll need to go into WPAdmin in a couple of tabs.
In Tab A, navigate to your Spam queue. In Tab B, go to Settings (near the bottom) and then, on the Settings Jump List, go to Discussion.
In your Spam queue you’ll likely notice that the same IP addresses crop up quite frequently. Copy each of the culprits into the Comment Blacklist section on the Discussion page.
Once done, use Ctrl-C (I assume you’re using a PC) top save the Comments Blacklist list you’ve compiled. (For reason see below.)
Go down to the bottom of the Discussion page and hit Save Changes.
Quite often, WordPress will sweetly tell you that it can’t save the changes because it’s All Your Fault, and ask you to try again. When you do so, you’ll discover that WP has lost the list you compiled. This is why you Ctrl-Ced it a moment ago . . .
Thanks, John, but the issue isn’t that comments are getting through — the WordpPress spam filters are actually pretty superb at catcing those — it’s that these straw man blogs are filling up my notifications with “likes” on commments and posts…and you can’t stop someone clicking “like” (indeed, the vainglorious amongst us put the buttons there to encourage it!).
I might just have to disable “likes” and hope my ego copes…
Wait a minute!! Does this mean that costefficientplasticwaterfilters doesn’t like all my posts??? 😦
No, you’re fine there, that’s legit — it’s costefficientsexywaterfilters that’s just doing it for the attention.
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Silly me — I was in a rush, and thus not thinking straight.
the WordpPress spam filters are actually pretty superb at catcing those
Which is why you might want to investigate The Method anyway. You may recall that a few months ago one of your comments on Noirish was judged by them WordPress filters to be spam, and that I accidentally deleted it. I did so because it was the last of about 60 (IIRC) spam comments that I was checking; by the time I got to it I was so glazed that I simply zapped it along with the rest. Nowadays, thanks to The Method, over the same period I typically have four or six comments to check rather than ~60, and am thus far less likely to make the mistake of zapping something genuine.
I still don’t for certain remember what that comment of yours was about — I saw it for about 14 nanoseconds before it vanished — but I think it was something to do with my having won EUR140,000,000 in a Nigerian lottery. Should you ever locate that cheque I’d be, y’know, ever so . . .
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