The Double Alibi (Vindry)

  • By Noël Vindry
  • First published: France, Gallimard, 1934. Translated into English as The Double Alibi, Locked Room International, 2018

A murder and two burglaries take part at exactly the same hour in towns hundreds of kilometres apart. Gustave Allevaire is spotted burgling an office in Bordeaux; his fingerprints are found at another burgled home near Lyon; and his dead body is found in a stable near Marseille. All crimes happened at 1am. Voilà un joli casse-tête!

Soupart, Fooz & Bourgeois (the Francophone impossible crime bible) give this three and a half out of four stars; “Admit that in the genre of miracles, one could hardly do better!” J.J. at The Invisible Event praises Vindry’s twisty ingenuity, his ability to spin a web of ever-increasing complexity.

Like several readers (TomCat, Aidan, Santosh Iyer), however, I was disappointed. The alibi problem at once suggests Freeman Wills Crofts. I’ve complained of Crofts’s stodginess and mania for mathematics, but the best Inspector French stories steadily unfold; in The Starvel Tragedy or Sir John Magill’s Last Journey, the good policeman discovers new information on almost every page.

Vindry, by contrast, gives us very little to work on. The middle of the book is filler: police work, watching houses, chasing the suspect, etc. There are characters peripherally involved with the crime, but only one suspect; and the attacks and burglaries don’t produce much in the way of clues. We have incidents rather than developments or mystification.

The solution is logical, plausible, but underwhelming. Interest is diffuse, and whodunit seems almost an afterthought. The solution relies too much on coincidence and chance, despite juge d’instruction Allou’s protestations. Gur guerr zlfgrevrf ner gur jbex bs qvssrerag cnegvrf, nygubhtu cebqhprq ol gur bar rirag (Nyyrinver’f qrpvfvba gb yrnir Senapr). V jnagrq gurz gb or bar nyy cneg bs oevyyvnag, oynmvat qrfvta.

I have a couple of Vindry’s later works: Un mort abusif (1953) and La cinquième cartouche (1956), but they seem to be private eye stories.

7 thoughts on “The Double Alibi (Vindry)

  1. Very minor: Casse-tête is masculine. More importantly, is Soupart, Fooz & Bourgeois good enough to receive your recommendation? I presume it is not easy to find, and am wondering how hard I should try.

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  2. Depending on the book of his that you read, Vindry can either be extremely clever or extremely dry and fussy. He is also extremely French, which means that his approach to the trade is different from “Anglo-saxon” writers, most notably on the issue of whodunit that always take a backseat to the how and the why. I myself don’t always know where I stand with regard to his work: I’ve read five of his books so far, with three being admirable and two being duds. Interestingly, only one of those I loved (“The Howling Beast” which I strongly recommend you read next) has found its way to translation.

    The two later books you mention are usually regarded as being lesser works but the writing is much more lively than the Allou series.

    PS.: Do you own a Kindle or some other electronic reading device? If so, the nearly complete Allou catalogue is available for purchase – in French of course. That’s the way I read “Le Cri des Mouettes” which despite Lacourbe’s poor rating is the closest thing Vindry ever wrote to an “Anglo-saxon” detective novel, complete with some humour and a genuinely surprise murderer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with Xavier regarding The Howling Beast. I highly recommend it and rate it as 5 stars.
    I haven’t read Le Cri des Mouettes but I can see that Xavier has rated it 5 stars at Goodreads !

    Liked by 1 person

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