Wednesday, December 13, 2006

5-02 Nyloned Avenger (Nov 1953)

Whereas Silken Menace made some use of its Amsterdam location, there seems no compelling reason why Nyloned Avenger should have taken place in Bonn, Germany. There is only one descriptive reference to the city (on page 43) and the rather tired plot (murder in order to inherit) could have been set anywhere. In fact Frances's inability to move "tough guy" dialogue beyond Chicago works firmly to the novel's disadvantage. Names such as "Luke", "Chris" and "Jan" hardly conjure up an image of dyed-in-the-wool Germanic stock, while the issue from their lips of lines such as "You've got a way with dames, ain't you, Mister?" (p.85) almost evokes the gloriously inept dubbing employed on Sergio Leone's Dollar films. In mitigation, the book is full of the rich description that marked out the best Jansons and which was absent - for the most part - from Silken Menace. While the representation of Maria is characteristically over-cooked, the relationship between Janson and Klara is handled well, with her past insanity being introduced just at the point where her behaviour seems to be verging on the absurd.

The tale begins with Janson acquainting himself with Klara, who shares his train compartment. Having dined together, Janson is returning to his carriage when he hears a scream. Rushing back, he finds a man attempting to throw Klara from the train. She seems unwilling to pursue her attacker but, ascribing Janson's lack of hard currency to penury, offers him a job guarding her for three days. The conditions are that they should act as if married, and that he should defer to her every command. Out of inquisitiveness he agrees.

On reaching Bonn, Klara orders Janson to buy a car, and the pair set off to a farm she knows in a remote location. There they meet an unsavoury collection of individuals named Luke, Chris, and Jan, plus Anna and Maria, who are incensed when they believe Janson and Klara to be married. The pair only narrowly escape with their lives. Klara refuses to tell Janson the anything about them or the reason for their anger. Later that evening Janson notices a woman, Rosa Gottlieb, recognising Klara (although the latter refuses to acknowledge her), and invites her for a drink. Rosa tells that she knew Klara, but had not seen her for four years since the latter's father died. Her brother also died two years later, with Rosa adding that around that time Klara was declared insane and committed. Janson returns to his hotel, only to incur Klara's wrath when she detects Rosa's perfume.

The next day Janson meets Maria in the hotel lobby, and discovers not only that Luke is Klara's step-brother, but that he inherits if she dies. She entices him out to the cabin where he is once more nearly killed. Returning to the hotel he demands an explanation from Klara. It transpires that Luke, Chris and Jan are all step-brothers, and that they will indeed inherit her considerable wealth should she die, unless she is married. After the death of her brother she suffered a breakdown, at which point her step-brothers capitalised by making it appear as if she had mutilated herself with a razor, thereby ensuring her incarceration. Janson suggests they at least forget about events for the rest of the evening and prepare for dinner. Their preparations are however interrupted by the arrival of a parcel that subsequently explodes in Klara's room.

Janson returns once more to the farm and entices away Maria, building on an attraction she has developed for him. In his room she makes advances, but is suddenly terrified when seeing a replica of the parcel in his suitcase, which he explains as never having been opened. In terror she admits that Luke also killed Klara's full-brother, through inducing pneumonia, and sent a parcel bomb to Klara. She attempts to escape and runs into the arms of the police, who Janson had standing by to hear to confession.

The final chapter opens with Janson talking to a woman who, it transpires, is Klara. Being in the bathroom at the time of the blast, she missed the force of it and survived with only bruises. She once more incurs his ire through offering him a job but, reconciled, the tale ends with his agreeing to stay on with her in Bonn.

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