by Arnold Goldman

Like The Mysterious Mickey Finn, Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre opens on Homer Evans at his ease on the terrasse of the Café du Dôme. The evening newspapers break the story of the disappearance of a famous painting from the Louvre, Watteau’s "The Pansy," supposed partner to "The Flirt" (which has been left behind). With discomfort Evans realises that in all of Paris only he is aware that "the object of this sinister performance is not theft" - else why leave the companion painting on the next wall. Miriam jumps for joy: "You’re going to solve it, aren’t you? We’re going to have another unforgettable time." Attempting to repress his interest, Evans renews the vow made at the close of his previous adventure: "I’m going to pursue the even tenor of my way. I’m going to revel in idleness.... A life of action and accomplishment is not for me.... [J]ust once was I trapped by circumstances into playing the detective. Never again."1

To Miriam, however, Evans "had not, just lately, been at his best." Believing that "a little excursion in quest of the missing Watteau" will restore the full exercise of "his latent capacities," she organises a personal appeal by Frémont, now Chief of Detectives, though ever fearing "[d]isgrace and exposure." (For instigating the appeal, Miriam suffers throughout the story: "The whole thing was a trap, she believed, and it was she who had deceitfully led Homer into it.") The Chief owes his reputation and his promotion to Evans, who had stipulated that Frémont take the credit for the solution of the "mysterious Mickey Finn" case. (Compare Sherlock Holmes and Lestrade.) He also owes to Evans the reappearance of his grand amour, "Hydrangea, the former Blackbird who... at Evans’ instigation had forsaken her beloved Harlem for the place de la Contrescarpe." Evans again cannot resist the appeal of "a friend in need." Again he is moved to action through a combination of sympathy for those who suffer from crime and his superior insight into it. Ironically though, much suffering results from the unforseen consequences of his own interventions, bringing on remorse and a renewed resolve to abandon the role of sleuth. This time there is no question of needing to arrange his credentials. The hapless Frémont is only too happy for Evans and Miriam - "Mademoiselle Montana" to the French - to be issued with automatic weapons, which she especially will use to pick off obstructions to her beloved Homer’s progress.2

Hugger-Mugger’s supporting cast of characters - "our merry throng" - is taken over from The Mysterious Mickey Finn, including Hjalmar Jansen the painter and boatman, Lvov Kvek the taxi-driver, Tom Jackson sometime Paris Herald reporter, Dr Hyacinthe Toudoux the city coroner, and the St Julien Rollers, now reorganized under a new gangster "chief," le Singe (the Monkey). le Singe, who inherited Vieuxchamp’s gang after Evans implicated him in Mickey Finn’s skullduggery, is Evans’s criminal semblable, with whom Evans importantly finds he can do business. There is similarly a close cousinship to Mickey Finn in the new story’s plotting - in the art-theft which again turns out to be a pretext for a deeper racket (the sale of Egyptian mummies to American museums), numerous kidnappings, the disappearance of a benevolent American businessman - a friend of Mickey Finn’s Hugo Weiss - who throughout the story diverts himself by reading from the copy of Joyce’s Ulysses he has purchased for his daughter, and

a boat journey to an insane asylum. There, at the Sanatorium Sens Unique in Luneville-sur-Seine, Evans assembles the entire company for "a little meeting in the doctor’s salon" to unpick the manifold plot tangles.3

In the body of the story, as circumstantial evidence mounts, others become convinced that the murderer of the Marquis de la Rose d’Antan, Minister of Beaux Arts, found mummified in a sarcophagus in the Louvre, is the poor taxidermist Lazare who lives in an attic room in the Hôtel du Caveau. Again seeing beneath the surface, however, Evans becomes "increasingly baffled." As diversions mount, the plot is increasingly symbolised in scenes of tumult and chaos. Only Evans can suspend judgement and remain open-minded enough to follow the intricacies. Sergeant Schlumberger glumly reckons that "You were fortunate in solving the Weiss case last year, Monsieur Evans, but the one before us now requires a lowlier brand of thinking than yours." At length Evans will "see a gleam of light," realise that "[t]he cases are all related," and finally solve them. Once he has worked out the sequence of criminal events, he grasps that the agent of many of them, the gangleader le Singe, will hand back surplus kidnap victims, including Inspector Frémont and the Watteau, in exchange for amnesty. Evans’s care for le Singe is his acknowledgement of the kinship of detective and criminal - at one point Evans unwittingly disguises himself in the clothes of a St Julien Roller - and of the author’s indebtedness to them both for the springs of his action. "[A] fine upstanding man," says Evans to Frémont of le Singe, "I like him, and in this case he’s not to be badgered."4

The perpretator of "that picturesque crime," the murder of the Marquis via a hatpin through the heart, is exposed as the much put-upon Marchioness, whom he had confined unfairly for five years in the sanatorium, even though "the lady was saner than seven-eighths of the clients of the Dôme." With her crime extenuated, and with the Watteau restored to the Louvre, Evans redeems his pledge to "retire forever from detective work... [and] devote myself to contemplation." His sleuthing tracks are again covered when Frémont becomes the toast of Paris (and Hydrangea) for solving the case, and Evans can - for the moment - return to the expatriate anonymity of the terrasse, free of the "pet obsession[s]" he has remarked in each of his associates: "Of all my acquaintances, I seem to be the only one who needs nothing at all." This expression of more-than-Olympian detachment anguishes Miriam Leonard, to whom he has made no romantic gesture, but he diplomatically amends it to "nothing more than I have." There are too many hostages to fortune, though; Miriam muses, "he thought he was going to retire, but other emergencies would arise." This touches the psychological dynamic: the contemplative and active lives are generally incompatible, and each only half-satisfactory, but they can be fused for short periods of time in episodes of "detection." Elliot Paul, torn in 1940 by sympathy for people again ravaged by disaster, by his own impotence to help, and by a desire to lay the burden of this consciousness aside, invents an exemplar to assuage his conflict. In doing so his character recapitulates the classical sleuthing practitioners, partly in homage, partly as parody in which despair - of only thinking, or of only acting - is suppressed.5


1 Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre (New York: Random House, 1940), 21, 22.
2 Ibid., 24, 14, 212, 80, 25, 26.
3 Ibid., 273, 290.
4 Ibid., 64; scenes of tumult and chaos: 53ff., 162-3, 295-6; 223, 210, 205.
5 Ibid., 297, 214, 209, 273, 229.

This analysis of Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre is taken from Arnold Goldman's biography-in-progress of Elliot Paul. ©Arnold Goldman 2001.

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