Monday, 4 May 2015

La Maison qui Tue (The House that Kills, 1932) - Nöel Vindry

The House that Kills is the first novel written by Noel Vindry, one of the greatest French Golden Age writers, originally published in France in 1932 as La Maison qui Tue. This novel, that has never been reprinted in France since its first edition, is now available in English thanks to John Pugmire, who has translated and published it by Locked Room International. I read only the English version, and I think that the translation by Pugmire fits perfectly Vindry’s style of writing: very simple, with a great flow and enjoyable. 
Noel Vindry, almost forgotten outside France, is actually one of the best mystery writers in Europe during the Golden Age period: he wrote twelve locked room novels between 1932 and 1937, and he was called the “poète du roman-problèm” by Thomas Narcejac, “the French John Dickson Carr” by Roland Lacourbe and “the French Ellery Queen” by Igor Longo. Moreover, as John Pugmire says in the introduction of the book, Boileau and Narcejac spoke of his “unequalled virtuosity” and “stupefying puzzles”, at the expense of the coldness of his prose. 
Starting from such a premise, it’s apparent which was the talent of Vindry: the creation of clever and brilliant plots, grounded on strange and impossible events, at last explained by means of the power of deductive reasoning.
Vindry, who was born in Lyon in 1896, after 1915 became an examining magistrate (juge d’instruction) and was appointed to serve in Aix-en-Provence, a beautiful place in the south of France. The detective of Vindry, Monsieur Allou, who made his debut in La Maison qui Tue, is a juge d’instruction as well. He is a pure thinking machine, a figure about whom the readers learn almost nothing. 
This novel, a very good example of locked room mystery, contains three impossible situations. At first, in a remote villa, despite police presence in the house, two people die in impossible circumstances. The first is killed in a locked and watched room; the second is murdered in the presence of many witnesses. Subsequently M. Allou is shot inside his locked apartment. The witnesses outside the door hear something but they don’t see nothing. But the apartment is empty with the exception of M. Allou. 
With Vindry we understand which was the typical French approach to the detective novel during the Golden Age period. There were many differences with the Anglo-Saxon writers: the focus is not on whodunit but rather on howdunit. Indeed, as I noticed, in many French Golden Age mysteries is easy to identify the murder: it happens in La Maison qui Tue, but also in other novels such as Six Hommes Morts by Steeman and Six Crimes Sans Assassin by Boileau. The real focus inside the French mysteries is on the plot, and this feature is led by Vindry to the highest level of complexity and ingenuity. Although the second murder has a very complicated explanation, with some coincidences, the first crime is well orchestrated and solved with cleverness. Vindry reveals to know Zangwill and Leroux very well, mostly because the first impossible crime is a good variation of those contained in The Big Bow Mystery and The Mystery of the Yellow Room. 
Surprisingly for the Anglo-Saxon standards, M. Allou solves the case by the midpoint of the novel (after 70 pages) and then is himself attacked. Although it’s apparent that the first part is the best of the book (it contains a creepy atmosphere, nice sense of the rhythm, bizarre events and a lot of clues), I have also appreciated the second part, so I don’t agree with Soupart, Bourgeois and Fooz which said: “le rythme est soutenu jusq’à l’attentat contre le juge Allou qui rompt malencontreusement le charme”. 
At the end, we can conclude that La Maison qui Tue is a very good novel and it is a must-read now that it is finally available in English. I really hope that other Vindry’s books will be published in English in the future, at least his two masterpieces, La Bête Hurlante (1934) and À Travers le Murailles (1936). 

The cover design by Joseph Gérard, by the way, is beautiful.


  1. I'm glad you like it Stefano. I plan to publish at least the two you mention and Le Double Alibi, if I can.
    John P.

  2. Thanks to you and Locked Room International we can finally read the novels of great writers such as Vindry, Derek Smith and Paul Halter (in Italy we have another great translator of Halter, Igor Longo).
    It's fantastic to know that you will try to publish also Le Double Alibi, another masterpiece. Vindry deserves this, and the English readers deserve to read the French Golden Age writers.
    Thank you again!