On "dying messages" and "The Laughing Policeman"
Joined: 05 Dec 2010
Topic: On "dying messages" and "The Laughing Policeman"
Posted: 24 May 2012 at 7:42am
On “dying messages” and “The Laughing Policeman”
In his comments, posted May 11, 2012, Akira Naoi wonders how the Italian translator of LADY KILLER succeeded in keeping the hidden message intact.
There are phrases in crime novels -- such as dying gasp messages uttered by victims just before death -- which are extremely difficult to translate into foreign languages. A dying message, cleverly devised by the writer, is supposed to contain a clue, vital for the identifying of the murderer and at the same time meant not to be understood straightforward neither by the police nor the reader.
In LADY, LADY, I DID IT [warning: stop reading here if you havn’t read the novel yet!] the victims’s last words -- uttered in broken, Yiddish-influenced English -- are described by Hal Willis for Lieutenant Byrnes as “Carpenter. He kept saying it, maybe four, five times before he died, Carpenter!” McBain -- playing fair with his readers – drops a clue already in chapter six of the novel by putting the words “car painter” and “carpenter” on the same page, two hundred words between them.
How is this dying message translated into Swedish? “ Han upprepade det flera ganger, men det var svart att uppfatta. Det lat som ’nm’l’ren”. [He kept saying it many times, it was hard to understand. It sounded like ’nm’l’ren]. The police deciphers the word as “anmalaren” [he who reports] and starts looking for someone who may have reported the victim to the police. Eventually they understand that ’nm’l’ren means “malaren” [“the painter” in Swedish]
The Swedish mystery writing husband-and-wife team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, creators of the ten-volume Martin Beck police procedural series, won an Edgar Award in 1971 with THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN. A victim, an immigrate from USA, is shot on a public transport bus in Stockholm and in reply to the questions “who shot” and “what did he look like” his last words are “Drnk” and “Samalson”. His words are eventually interpreted by the police as “Didn’t recognize him” and “som Olsson” [“as Olsson” , a workmate of the victim].
The novel’s title directly refers to a gramophone record which Martin Beck has received as a Christmas gift -- an English music-hall song sung by by Charles Jolly while laughing hysterically. My personal believe is that Sjowall/Wahloo, who translated nine of the the 87th Precinct novels to Swedish, unconsciously got inspired when they in chapter nine of LADY KILLER read about the two Bloom brothers who sold a pair of binoculars to a supermarket clerk by name of Samalson! “...the brothers burst out laughing together. Carella and Meyer waited. The laughter showed no signs of subsiding. It was reaching height of hysteria, unprecendented hurricanes of hilarity, fits of festivity. Still the detectives waited... ”.
Edited by Ted - 27 May 2012 at 4:11pm
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