lunedì 8 aprile 2019


A look at the serial killer in The Hatter’s Phantoms 

Un aperçu sur le tueur en série dans Les Fantômes du chapelier 
Qualche particolare sull'assassino seriale  de "I Fantasmi del cappellaio"

Simenon presents a lot of madmen in his works, both in the Maigrets and romans durs. The protagonist in The Hatter’s Phantoms / The Hatters Ghosts strikes me as the craziest one I’ve met in the 269 works read so far. It’s a complex story in which the author intermingles past and present as the whys and wherefores behind Labbé’s behavior come out bit by bit in the course of the novel. Thus, some may appreciate this exposé before reading and others, only after doing so. Do not be deceived: Labbé may be mad as a hatter, but he is not afflicted with “Mad Hatter’s Disease” although he is a hatter.
The crafty author eventually reveals that the 60-year-old Léon Labbé strangled his wife Mathilde for “overstepping the limits six weeks before the novel opens. Having married her just to make his mother happy, the already unhappy man became a full-time servant when the already demanding woman developed complete paralysis. In facthe “lived for 15 years in their bedroom with a paralyzed woman who could not take any care of herself.” Indeed, she never left that room, did not allow her household help in, and even refused to see a doctor or a priest. What’s more, she would not let her husband open a window, eat what he wanted, read a book, or breath.” In short, “he was hers.” 
Now, with her body lying under a heap of coal in the cellarLabbé concocts and lives a giant lie, pretending she still lives in the bedroomHis cover-up is clever and complete. Comporting himself in a calm and orderly fashion remarkable for a madman, he fools everybody (hired help, acquaintances, and passer-bys) in elaborate ways. For example, he continues an easily audible running monologue whenever in the empty room. He is also crazily talking to her ghost because, when she was alive, “she would never allow him to express any observations. He permits no one but himself in the bedroom, locking it up whenever outsideDuring the day, he rolls his wife’s wheelchair with a propped up wooden hat form near the window in “a good position” that creates a deceptive silhouette (like Norman’s mother at the window in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho). Downstairs in the house, which doubles as his hat making shop, Labbé periodically jerks a hidden cord “activating a mechanism that strikes the floor” in the bedroom upstairs “exactly the way Mathilde struck the floor to summon him” with her otherwise useless cane. He regularly brings meals up to her, either eating them himself or dumping them into the toiletThis careful “fun” ruse brings him “malicious delight. 
And his “diabolical pleasure” increases incrementally. In order to keep his wife’s murder secret, Mad Hatter Labbé embarks on a wild scheme to eliminate seven of her long-term friends. The reason? All of these old women traditionally visit her every Christmas eve—the only time she ever allows outsiders into her room—and that gathering looms a few weeks away. We hear about three protective strangulations and get to overhear the fourth. Still, the strangler is “patient” because he wants all the murders to have “symmetry” or, in any case, have “the same character.” Thus, he garrotes each one, always at night and within the village, using a cello string between wooden handles. He stuffs this weapon inside another head-like hat form in his shop while his head fills with increasingly crazy thoughts. 
Ultimately, a simple slip-up by the “meticulous” man puts a suspecting neighbor on his tail. The pursued enjoys the ensuing cat-and-mouse “game” and treats his pursuer with “ironic goodwill until his final victim evades his assassination attempt. “It mattered little if that was by prudence or for another reason,” for Labbé projects further attempts will be “in vain.” Given this failure, “feeling more and more depressed, he becomes “unhinged and switches gears, shifting from his homicidal attention from his symmetry pattern to much younger women and to his hands alone as murder weapons. First is his current 20-year-old live-in maid. He views her as a splinter under his skin” and contemplates killing her. After all, among other things he hated about her, “she liked cabbage!” Suddenly, surprising him at his open bedroom door, she sees his wife is missing, so her strangulation becomes “necessary.” 
Next comes his current 35-year-old sexual outlet. With “everything deranged,” he becomes paranoid. Sensing conspiracy against him,” feeling run out of his house with “no bed” for a refuge, he turns to this particularly easy woman. Unluckily for her, since she looks like the 35-year-old sexually abusive woman who marred Labbé’s early life, she dies under his hands as well. “The poor fellow” who has strangled eight women, then, goes to sleep. When the police arrive to arrest him, he murmurs, It was me, pronounced “with relief” and “a shy smile,” as he puts his hands out for the cuffs. 

David P Simmons 

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