Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Red Right Hand, 1945 - Joel Townsley Rogers

Joel Townsley Rogers, from Sedalia (Missouri), was a very prolific American writer: he wrote hundreds of short-stories and novellas for the pulps over several decades (science fiction, air-adventure, western, mystery etc). The majority of his corpus is now almost forgotten, but he wrote at least two or three great novels that should not be ignored. We have to thank Ramble House Books, which has made available many of Rogers' rarest novels.
Alongside The Hanging Rope (1946), an exciting locked-room novella praised by such scholars as Robert Adey and Jack Adrian, the best-known novel of Rogers is The Red Right Hand (1945), which won the Gran Prix de Littérature Policièr in 1950.
According to the French scholar Roland Lacourbe, The Red Right Hand is “un roman d’un brio éblouissant et l’un des deux ou trois grand chefs-d’œvre incontestables et incontestés de toute la littérature policièr”.
The narrator is Henry N. Riddle Jr., a brain surgeon from New York, who tells the creepy story of a two lovers close to getting married who decide to help an hitchhiker. And they suddenly disappear. Who is “corkscrew”, an evil-looking tramp with short legs and two terrible red eyes? Where is the right hand of Inis St. Erme, the young guy who was supposed to get married with Elinor Darrie? And who really is Henry N. Riddle Jr.?
From the beginning, this novel is an attack to the nerves of the readers, a breath-taking tour de force in which Rogers shows his talent as storyteller, creating a bizarre and hallucinatory universe where everything seems possible.
Rogers combines William Faulkner with John Franklin Bardin and Frederic Brown so as to create a baroque and surreal mix of stream-of-consciousness, torrential prose and flashes of pure terror. 
The Red Right Hand is not a pure detective story, because there are neither the classic element of detection nor a sleuth, but the complex construction of the plot, full of clues and red herrings, is that of the greatest Golden Age novels. It is not an hard-boiled novel, but the mixture of action, violence and rhythm is powerful. It is not  a noir, but it is alike disturbing and shocking. It is not a novel of suspense, but throughout the story there is an incessant tension and a blur of unforeseen developments that lurk behind a thick veneer of horror.
In brief, The Red Right Hand is an exciting and clever “game of mirrors”, as well as a great lesson of misdirection.

Influenced by Carr (the impossible situation, the creepy atmosphere) and Christie (the perfidy of the narrator, the ambiguous conclusion), Rogers adds a sense of death and terror which will take your breath away. A masterpiece.

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