by Arnold Goldman

Mayhem in B-Flat shows no slackening in Paul’s comic ingenuity and gusto. In many ways it is the most carefully plotted and paced of the first three Homer Evanses. Like its predecessors, Mayhem begins on a trademark terrasse, but in Rouen not Montparnasse, "watching the barges and freighters come and go" on the Seine. It is a year since "the spectacular conclusion of the Louvre murder case, those unforgettable few days when Miriam had been shaken with terror because she had maneuvered Homer into the case." Accompanied by her, Evans is musing about a French ancestor, previously "never mentioned... even to his intimates." He explains that his surname Evansis not, it transpires, Welsh but Norman, from "the Baron de Vans, known as Claude l’Original, ...William the Conqueror’s boon and bottle companion."1

Homer and Miriam witness a scuffle among the stevedores, an apparently short-lived challenge by one "Godo the Whack" to the authority of his gangleader, le Singe of Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre:

Miriam could find nothing criminal in [the Singe’s] face, no marks of the beast, no coarseness. More and more she saw how alike were the Singe and Evans, with the same blue eyes, broad forehead, open smile, strong hand and... poise..... Her mind harked back to Homer’s absent-minded reference to the "Baron," and the Baron’s numerous progeny, all related to him [Homer]. What could it mean? Did the man she worshipped above all others, and the most relentless outlaw in France have a common ancestor? Were the promptings of their blood essentially the same? Had their separate cultures... a common denominator?

When Miriam mentions the resemblance to Evans, and that le Singe "acts the way you act sometimes, when you’re not enveloped in your celebrated calm," Evans starts, but only because she has confirmed his own suspicion.2

Le Singe sees Evans and Miriam off on the train for Paris and as it pulls out is observed making an inexplicable gesture. As they approach the gare St Lazare, one of their compartment companions, the American violinist Anton Diluvio, reaches for his violin and the Boxer dog of another American passenger, the Bostonian Leffingwell Baxter, springs at Diluvio. Only Evans’s "incredible swiftness" saves the priceless instrument, and the owner restrains his dog. Evans broods about the strangeness of the sequence of events: "I can’t explain why I’m so curious."3

As previously, intuiting incipient crime, Evans invites Inspector Frémont to accompany him to Diluvio’s recital at the Salle Gaveau: "It may well be that more glory will be thrust upon you." Frémont characteristically anticipates, "I can see that I’m in for something frightful." After beginning the recital, Diluvio suddenly announces aloud that the violin he is holding is not his precious Guarnerius, "The Sinner Without Malice" ("companion piece to Paganini’s famous ‘Devil’ now kept under glass at Genoa"). Frémont learns that Baxter, seen earlier that day entering the shop of a violin-seller and repairer, has now been found dead in his hotel room, apparently poisoned. While Evans and the police are at the hotel, the hotel manager expires under their noses.4

Amidst all this, Homer is still mulling over the earlier scuffle in Rouen - "a row about a fiddle," le Singe had called it - and he concludes that the previous Roller chief Barnabé Vieuxchamp must be behind it. When fingerprint clues in the Baxter murder point to le Singe, Evans becomes convinced that both events are part of the same plot against his look-alike. Trailing Godo the Whack, Miriam discovers Diluvio’s Guarnerius and sends Baxter’s dog, now adopted by them, for Evans.5

With this added "clue," Frémont, unaware of Evans’s suspicions that the crime boss is being framed, arrests le Singe. Miriam mistakenly fears that "the struggle she had dreaded, between Homer and the stalwart Norman gang leader, [was] about to take place." Despite le Singe’s incarceration in the Prefecture, however, more murders follow on the same pattern. Evans’s intuition seems confirmed, but he goes into "a phase of intense concentration.

‘I have blundered again,’ he said, after a pause." Soon "the pressure inside his skull became unbearable, [and] he would press his hands hard against his forehead, then try to relax again." In this anguished state, Evans solves both the murders and the mystery of why they occurred. As to the former, a spider-bite is common to all the corpses; the problem is that the offending tarantula is - despite its reputation - not poisonous. The solution which comes to Evans is that the tarantula’s diet, crickets which have been fed on the mushroom Amantia verna, has created the poison that Vieuxchamp, seeking to regain his criminal empire, had employed.6

Evans now confronts le Singe:

  "Good morning," said the Singe, in a level emotionless voice. "What now? Has the Chief sent you around to pump me, or is this just a friendly call?"
  "I shall not ask questions’" Evans said. "As your agent and, I suspect, your distant relative, I wish to make my report."
  "My relative! Quit your kidding," the Singe said. "And I have no agents. I work alone."
  For answer, Homer pulled some papers from his pocket.
  "First, I want to show you the fingerprints your were supposed to have left all over the room in which Leffingwell Baxter was killed.... I made a set of my own, just for luck. Would you care to have a look at them?"...
  "Strange," he said. "Almost alike That same whirligig near the center, one large loop, another small one."
  "And now for the prize exhibit," said Homer.... "I have the thumb mark of one Claude l’Original, the Baron de Vans...."

The Norman is, however, unimpressed - "if you’re trying to get around me with this family appeal, save your breath." Evans, "with the utmost good nature," gives a bravura review of events from le Singe’s point-of-view, showing that he had vicariously inhabited the mind of the intended victim, becoming his criminal relative’s alter ego. Thus Evans solved the mystery which le Singe himself had not penetrated - Vieuxchamp’s master plan involving priceless violins, a fingerprint-reproducing substance (useful for villainy), and much else besides the leadership of the St Julien Rollers. Vieuxchamp is apprehended; Evans explains all.7

Even as Evans becomes more like le Singe, he offers le Singe the opportunity to become more like him,

"Should you care for my friendship... drop around at the Dôme or at my apartment in the rue Campagne Première. And I will try to teach you the secret of good living and modify your passion for pointless exertion. If you find crime amusing, and what intelligent man would not, had he courage, just possibly I can persuade you to indulge your hobby in an amateur way.... You have all the money you need, you are loved by the woman of your choice. You have brains, good health; everything, in short, except friends and leisure and the knack of passing your time pleasantly. Good morning, coz, and... think over what I have said."

Psychological secret-sharing isn’t the end of it, however. As previously, Evans feels his responsibility for the carnage. In the heat of pursuit, Miriam as in earlier cases had picked off a few gangsters with her automatic - but "what is your slight sally into manslaughter compared with mine," says Evans. Because Evans had divined that villainy was afoot, Baxter, the hotel-keeper, and others had died. Vieuxchamp became "convinced his colleagues had tried to doublecross him" and had lashed out. Evans, Evans is the cause! The mystery solved, he must once again claim he will "retire from detective work for the span of my natural life." The claim is a psychological necessity, born in part of a reaction against his predicament. For if Homer Evans is a Guarnerius among detectives, a Sinner Without Malice, he is a sinner nonetheless, and his attempted redemption, in the next Evans story, will be by way of embracing the destructive element.8


1 Mayhem in B-flat (New York: Collier Books, 1962), 13, 14, 13.
2 Ibid., 20, 22.
3 Ibid., 30.
4 Ibid., 35, 125.
5 Ibid., 20.
6 Ibid., 156, 200, 204.
7 Ibid., 156, 200, 204. Paul comically doubles the Evans-Singe relationship in that of the forensic pathologist Toudoux and the gangster Barnabé Vieuxchamp. The story’s closing words are the funeral oration which Toudoux pronounces over the guillotined Vieuxchamp at the Montparnasse cemetery: "Science mourns not only her distinguished sons but also her most wayward children.... Who knows whether or not, some day, Amanitalycosine may not be put to exalted use in the service of humanity? Already, by dissolving it in snake oil, I have hit upon a salve that works wonders with hives. I shall call it Barnabasol.... Farewell! My tears flow freely, mon semblable, mon frère!" (254).
8 Ibid., 224, 242, 250, 224.

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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