by Arnold Goldman

Taking Homer Evans back to France after eleven years, Paul sets him in a sombre post-War Paris, in Spring of 1949. For all the harum-scarum of previous Evans-in-Paris stories, it is as if the whodunit released gloom which Paul repressed in his memoir Springtime in Paris (1950). Devoid of Miriam Leonard - as though she never existed - Evans sets out reflectively to solve a sombre double mystery.

Saddened by the death that winter, in Paris, of their soldier son, Fred, from a ruptured heart, Luke and Edith Mallory of Boston sail to France with their seventeen year old daughter Megan. While Luke hopes to take his family’s minds off their grief, Edith Tarr Mallory of Rockport hopes to establish better the cause of her son’s death and the oddity of his oral will, the first "offered for probate in Massachusetts since 1863," in which he altered a lifelong tenancy for his aged former nurse, Susie Lowe, to an outright gift of his Rockport cottage in Loblolly Cove.1

Unknown to her parents, Megan Mallory had received a letter from a friend of Fred’s, Lieutenant Kitchel, a witness to the oral will, importing that he has news which he will communicate her in Paris. Strangely, at the time of the letter, no one but Megan’s father and his travel agent know about the projected trip. Kitchel phones Megan on the Ile de France to say he can’t meet the boat at the dock, but will see her at her hotel. (She had not told him she is on the boat, nor does she know what hotel the family is to stay at.) The oddities increase when, on the train to Paris, a total stranger with a beard like Ulysses S. Grant’s addresses Megan "in faultless American" as Miss Mallory."2

Lieutenant Kitchel, however, makes no contact in Paris. After waiting in vain for his call, Megan goes to the Left Bank Café de Flore, where "the cream of the Existentialists" gather. A little lightness now creeps in to what has been up to now a sad family story:

Practically every young man was wearing a beard of some sort. There were several like General Grant, others like Sherman, Sheridan, Early, James F. Garfield, John Alexander Dowie, the late Congressman George Holden Tinkham, Chief Justice Hughes, James Russell Lowell, Hailie Selassie, George V, and all the twelve Apostles. If any style of face decoration prevailed, it was the orang-utan fringe without mustaches.3

Where this tone is the heart of earlier Evanses, pushing even murders to the margin, all such touches are here tangential and quickly fade. One of the strangers with "spinach" on his face is the man on the train, and Megan, startled, drops her purse, which is retrieved by someone "whom she had trusted on sight." He introduces himself:

"That’s like the name of the detective..." She knew before she uttered the words that she was in the presence of Homer Evans, the detective.
  "The former amateur," he corrected her. "My days of detecting are over." He looked at her and she seemed to hear him add, although he had not said an audible word. "The war gave me enough of that."

Chief of Detectives Frémont identifies the bearded stranger as one Ulysses Grant Havemeyer, "‘a regular in this quarter. Doing post-graduate work and research at the Sorbonne. Amazingly sharp mind!’" When he mentions Havemeyer’s "brother who was a captain in the American Army," now a doctor in Rouen, Megan is startled. Dr Leo Havemeyer was Fred’s unit commander and another witness of the oral will. So far it is a story of multiple unexplained coincidences and peculiarities - including "‘[a]n American, practicing medicing in Rouen? That doesn’t make sense.’" The oddities are compounded further when Megan, going to make a phone call, sees a pencil sketch on the café wall: it depicts the legatee of her brother’s cottage, Susie Lowe of Rockport. Next she learns that Susie has died.4

Luke Mallory hires a private eye met in the Ritz Bar, Finke Maguire of Boston, "to dig up all there was about the men, and the women, who had been on the scene when Lieutenant Fred Mallory had died.... ‘If you can cheer up my wife, I’ll give you $500 more.’" (Maguire becomes a tryout sidekick for Evans.) Kitchel is "hot," missing at work, and he is shortly discovered dead in suspicious circumstances, the time of death being before Megan took "his" phone call. Evans takes a keen interest in the oral will and its witnesses; in Kitchel’s room he finds the Annual History of the Town of Rockport for 1863 and selected other years. Reading, he discovers Havemeyers in Rockport and he finds the

photo of Susie Lowe which was the basis of the café-wall pencil sketch. To lull the murderer into thinking he is safe, Evans gets the coroner Toudoux to issue a false certificate of accidental death, at the same time suggesting poison by injection.5

When Megan tells her mother about Captain Havemeyer in Rouen, Mrs Mallory sets off to find him, as (separately) does Maguire. Neither is reassured. Mrs Mallory "had to admit that... her misgivings and doubts were more inflamed than before she hae talked with the doctor." The story finds its most characteristic mis-en-scène - so different from the earlier Evans stories - when Maguire, waiting for the train back to Paris,

found himself on the edge of a dump where some old barbed wire, G.I. cans, elephant iron, twisted rails and girders, iron wheels and maybe a hundred abandoned railroad cars were standing on a rusted side track.... It was a dead scene on what looked like a dead land.

In one of the cars, he discovers a distracted American woman, "a walking nervous breakdown," the discharged nurse Agnes Welsh, who knows Kitchel (who told her to see Havemeyer) and Fred Mallory, whose girlfriend she had been ("‘what we did didn’t mean anything permanent. We both were leveling’"). Agnes eludes Maguire and takes the train back to Paris.6

Evans now knows enough to reassure Mrs Mallory that her son’s death wasn’t foul play, though Kitchel’s was: "there is a link between that cowardly deed and the Tarr cottage in which Susie Lowe lies dead today. Fastastic! Unbelievable! Incomprehensible as it seems!" He tells Mrs Mallory about Fred and Agnes, but as he is questioning Agnes she slumps to the floor dead. Evans berates himself (as so often), and suspects the same method as killed Kitchel - an injection not of poison but of air, "devised by the Nazis to slaughter Jews at a nominal cost."7

Evans is told about the secret work of Fred Mallory’s unit, which searched for counterfeit U.S. money made by the Nazis and laundered for legitimate notes. (Internal U.S. security checked up on the relatives of unit members visiting Europe, which is how Kitchel knew about Luke Mallory’s intended journey to Paris.) Dr Lou Havemeyer, another unit "operator", had quit the service in 1946. Hearing this, Evans characteristically in this story says, "with as near to bitterness as he ever permitted himself to go," "[a] man, or a woman, for that matter, ought to be listed as a casualty the day he or she gets into a uniform". To add to his confusion, Megan is kidnapped. Having alerted the police, he withdraws to think: "the whole pattern and importance of the case, which previously had offered him an intriguing puzzle on which to exercise his ingenuity, had faded into the background." When he has worked it out, he again berates himself - "What a fool! What a damned unforgivable jackass I’ve been." He finds Megan unhurt and visits Dr Havemeyer: between them they piece together family history: Havemeyer is Susie Lowe’s heir. In the course of his anti-counterfeit duties, Dr Havemeyer had discovered a million US dollars. An accomplished ventriloquist, Havemeyer made it appear that the dying Fred Mallory was stipulating a new will. Once Susie Lowe had died he intended to establish title to "her" cottage and then sail across the Atlantic with the million. But he made the mistake of telling his half-brother, Ulysses Grant Havemeyer, the real villain, about whose murderousness he remains unaware, to Evans’s discomfort. Apprehended on a plane to New York, the murderer evades French justice by suicide, turning his own method on himself.8

If Evans solves the cases, his real roles are to agonise and to explain the younger generation to the older:

"If it should transpire that Fred and an army nurse had found in each other’s company, in war and its aftermath, what would not be recommendable to Megan, you would not be impelled to bellow or climb shade trees, or think hard thoughts about the young woman?" Homer asked.

By the story’s end, Megan, her naked self having been minutely inspected by Evans (for the tell-tale fatal hypodermic puncture), has become a replacement Miriam Leonard, a new and more youthful inamorata-to-be for the mellowing Evans ("I shall be counting the days until you reach the age of consent"). But in truth, Murder on the Left Bank is a depleted shadow of previous Paris-based stories and Paul wouldn’t take Evans there again. (Nor refer again to Megan Mallory.)9


1 Elliot Paul, Murder on the Left Bank (New York: Random House, 1951), 102. The site is that of the Paul family summer cottages.
2 Ibid., 26.
3 Ibid., 36, 38.
4 Ibid., 40, 41, 43, 44, 45. Havemeyer’s home town is Mount Washington, Massachusetts, site of Paul's then wife Flora's family summer camp.
5 Ibid., 51, 57.
6 Ibid., 112, 132-33, 139, 138.
7 Ibid., 197, 309.
8 Ibid., 235, 254, 275.
9 Ibid., 200, 303.

This analysis of Murden on the Left Bank is taken from Arnold Goldman's biography-in-progress of Elliot Paul. ©Arnold Goldman 2001.

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