¿El asesino es o no el mayordomo?

Tras haber leído concienzudamente a los clásicos y/o precursores Edgar Allan Poe, Conan Doyle, Gaston Leroux y Wilkie Collins, y a los también clásicos británicos Chesterton, Michael Innes, Agatha Christie y Dorothy Sayers, y los tambien clásicos Carter Dickson, Ross Macdonald, Dashiel Hammet, Chandler, S.S. Van Dime, Ellery Queen o Israel Zangwill y hasta H. Bustos Domecq, creo poder afirmar sin excesivo temor a equivocarme mucho que solo en una novela de la lista de autores hay un asesino que sea el mayordomo; y encima, resulta que era un señor disfrazado de mayordomo, no un mayordomo de verdad, y no digo quién para no destripar el final a quien no lo haya leído. Se trata, naturalmente, de una novela de Agatha Christie, “Tragedia en tres actos”. Es verdad que en uno de los cuentos de Sherlock Holmes, “El ritual de Musgrave“, el mayordomo es desleal, pero ni llega a la categoría de delincuente en sentido estricto y encima es él el asesinado; de ahí no puede venir el típico tópico.

Y si ni en las más antiguas/clásicas novelas de misterio, al menos en las más conocidas e incluso remontándonos hasta las de los precursores , el asesino es el mayordomo, de dónde sale entonces el tópico típico? Habrá que buscar más datos.

Así que se impone una búsqueda por internet. Y buscando, buscando, encuentro esto, nada menos que en The Guardian.

“Why do we think the butler did it?

The concept of “the butler did it” is commonly attributed to Mary Roberts Rinehart. Her otherwise forgettable 1930 novel, The Door, is notable for (spoiler alert) the ending, in which the butler actually is the villain. (The actual phrase “the butler did it,” however, never appears in the text.)

While suspicion had fallen on butlers with some regularity in earlier mystery fiction, only one previous author placed the knife (or in this case the pistol) directly in the butler’s hand: “The Strange Case of Mr Challoner” by Herbert Jenkins, published as part of the collection Malcolm Sage: Detective in 1921. It was The Door, however, that locked the cliché into the imagination of the reading public.”

Y más información en

Why Do We Say “The Butler Did It”?

Two of the earliest examples of felonious butlers I can find are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Musgrave Ritual” from 1893 and Herbert Jenkins’ “The Strange Case of Mr. Challoner” from 1921. Conan Doyle’s butler isn’t the primary villain of the story, but does attempt to rob his employers and winds up dead for it. Jenkins made his butler the main bad guy and the murderer in the story. As far as I can tell, he was the first to do so, but it was another author, Mary Roberts Rinehart, who made it a detective story trope.

Rinehart was a successful and prolific author and playwright, sometimes regarded as the “American Agatha Christie.” One of her plays, The Bat, focused on a group of people being murdered one by one by the titular costumed killer, a character that helped inspired Bob Kane’s Batman.

<In Rinehart’s 1930 novel The Door, the butler is the murderer, and while the novel is sometimes cited as the first appearance of the phrase “the butler did it,” it doesn’t appear in that book or any of her other works. While The Door was a hit for Rinehart and her sons, who released it through a publishing house they’d just started up, her pinning the crime on the butler has gone down in history as a serious misstep. Just two years earlier, critic and detective novelist SS Van Dine laid down a set of rules for crime and mystery writers in an essay fittingly titled “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.” Among his advice was, “A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person—one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion.”

That The Door was a commercial success while flaunting a hallmark of what some considered lousy mystery writing made it an easy target for jokes. Stories and books like “What, No Butler?” and The Butler Did It soon turned murderous manservants into shorthand for a cheap ending.

Ni Rinehart suena de nada (o, mejor dicho, perdone, personalmente no me suena de nada) ni se trata de autora británica que escriba en un contexto donde los mayordomos pudieran ser habituales; aunque, claro, ya lo sé, también hay mayordomos en Estados Unidos hasta en las novelas de misterio de Ellery Queen e incluso en las de humor de Wodehouse. Y el tal Jenkins tampoco sé quién es. Fantástico. Estupendo. Maravilloso.

Hala, adiós, que me voy corriendo a intentar hacerme con esas novelas. Ahí es nada encontrar de repente dos nuevos novelistas de misterio por lo visto clásicos…

Verónica del Carpio Fiestas

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