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20. Dezember 2001
The crimes of Santa Claus by Fredric Brown
(Murder can be fun)

A crime story has to be like this one: thrilling, exciting, fluent, fast and - what is most important - witty and intelligent. Most people forget that this sort of literature can only work if it is witty and intelligently written, if there is a depth behind the light façade. Fredric Brown's book contains all of this.

A murder case is developed like a chess puzzle, not only because of an unfinished game which becomes important, as it helps to establish the exact time of one of the crimes, but because of the chess-like solution. Then there is a very interesting and highly instructive dialogue about chess. Quite an uncommon thing for a crime story, although chess is not unknown in this genre. The dialogue takes place between Bill Tracy, the main suspect and main figure of the action, and Frank Hrdlcka, one of the later victims. The latter explains an exceedingly original view of forces, lines and noises - yes, noises - in chess. He declines a game because "It's too noisy … Can't you hear the crash of the forces? An infernal noise". Frank confesses that during a game he perceives lines of power, which permanently collide with other pieces, "a sort of hum, like a dynamo or a motor", and later: "A very strange noise, a concave noise. And the pawns, didn't you ever hear, how a pawn cries, when it is captured?"

Finally, this unusual conversation will be part of the solution, but more interesting seems to be the protagonist's synaesthetical perception. What is a concave noise? And what can we know about the others' perception and therefore about themselves? Tracy reaches a quasi existentialistic view which did find its paradigmatic expression in Sartre's "Hell is the others".

Surely, one can visualize the powerlines, and chess literature knows some comparable examples, but there are probably very few people who can feel and understand the auditory experience. To bring it more into line, one has probably to abandon the rather precise world of chess and enter the field of black and white magic. Frank's is a case of very advanced synaesthesia which was found in supernatural areas, by people with unusual extrasensory perception (witches and wizards for example). But, all in all, this strange view includes a hint about the artistic aspect of chess. The word "composition" is significant in chess as well as in music and the plastic arts. And the other way round: what would be the outcome if we were able to make a game audible? What sort of music would that be? Or could we make its dynamic visible? What would it be like as a synthesis of art? Why not recreate a work of art in a game of chess? We would have to be ready to hear the totally unknown.


Copyright © 2002 by Christian Hörr