The Adroit Alien

A Nick Williams Mystery #18

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Monday, January 2, 1956

Nick and Carter have arrived safely in Paris and were even greeted at the airport by a minor government official and a small detachment of the famous Republican Guard.

After taking a week to recover from their Christmas adventures in Vermont, they're ready to move into their new house over in the 4th Arrondissement.

It takes three cabs to get the whole gang over there from their hotel and, as they stand on the sidewalk outside, none of them can quite believe what they find: a crumbling building, a trash-filled courtyard, several broken windows, and, as Nick tentatively pushes the front door open, the stench of a rotting corpse.

The police know that none of them could possibly have committed the crime but what about the mysterious Madame Marika, who has suddenly disappeared? Is she back behind the Iron Curtain? Or has she too been murdered?

The entire household gets involved in solving the mystery, dashing around the city that is their new home, and discovering, in the end, the bonds of love and friendship they have brought with them from San Francisco, across the Atlantic Ocean, and to La Ville-Lumière—Paris: The City of Light.

And that's only the beginning...

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Historical Notes

The use of addresses in this book follows the French standard of the time. The street number was offset by a comma and street-type words such as rue, avenue, boulevard, are not capitalized as Street, Avenue, and Boulevard would be in English. I am not, however, following that format in these notes.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that I didn't use French indicators for the time and date. For example, "Five in the afternoon" is not shown as "17.00" or "17h." Nor is "January 1, 1956" shown as "1 January 1956" or "1 Janvier 1956." After experimenting, I decided to follow the format I of previous books set in Hong Kong and Sydney (as well as Paris) and use the local language and usage for street names and leave the rest in Nick's vernacular at the time.

Of the five hotels cited by name in this book, only the Crillon is real.

Hôtel de Crillon was built as a palace in 1758 and originally commissioned by King Louis XV and is a twin to Hôtel de la Marine, which is also on the Place de la Concorde. The Crillon opened as a hotel in the English sense of the word in 1909 and is still open today.

The other four hotels are utterly fictional.

Hôtel Philippe le Long ("The Phillip") in Paris. I couldn't make up an address on a main street (which is my usual habit) since all the numbers are already assigned, Parisian efficiency being what it is. So, I decided to set it at 21 Boulevard du Montparnesse, on the southeast corner of the intersection of Rue du Cherche-Midi. My apologies to the restaurant, school, and upholsterer currently (2018) at that location.

Hôtel Vallée de Chamonix in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. If such a place still existed, it would be right at the foot of the Téléphérique de La Flégère (the red trams that Nick describes moving up and down the side of the mountain) and at the west end of what is now the Golf Club de Chamonix.

The Hôtel Beau Rivage ("The Beau") in Nice. Its address is the same as the Hôtel Negresco and some of its layout and history is borrowed from the Negresco but The Beau is utterly fictional.

As far as I can tell, there never was a hotel in Nice called The Ritz. In this story, it is located to the east of Jardin Albert 1er, which is the park where Nick and Carter go for a stroll. The hotel steps would face the spot where Avenue Gustave V ends at Promenade des Anglais.

The Republican Guard (Garde républicaine) is an elite unit of the French Gendarmarie. Among other duties, it is tasked with guarding important public buildings in Paris and protecting persons of national interest to the French Republic. It is the heir of numerous similar elite units that pre-date the French Revolution. Its name comes from the Municipal Guard of Paris, which was formed in 1802 by Napoleon. Its current form dates to 1848 when it was called the Republican Guard of Paris. The official name of the Guard in 1956 was Legion of the Republican Guard of Paris. It was given that name in 1952 when it participated in the Indochina War. In 1978, the name was changed to simply Republican Guard. In 1956, the Guard was headed by a colonel (whose name I could not identify), so a lieutenant colonel is not an insignificant person. At present (2018), the head of the Republican Guard is a major general (general de division).

The idea of Madame Marika's "troops" arose from an email I received from Melvyn Clarke in response to a query. I wanted to find something that would sound more Czech than describing her as a "mother hen." It turns out that idiom is the same in Czech as in English. He told me, however, that another Czech-English translator had already devised a way to do what I was hoping to do. To quote Mr. Clarke: "Václav Mlčoch came up with a neat idea. He suggested Mother of the Regiment (Matka pluku), part of the title of a well-known opera written by Josef Kajetán Tyl, who also wrote the Czech National Anthem. The name is well known here [in the Czech Republic], and crops up elsewhere in Czech popular culture... The protegés might then be referred to as troops..."

Auntie Mame, starring Rosalind Russell, opened at The Broadhurst Theatre at 235 West 44th Street on Wednesday, October 31, 1956. The original novel was written by Edward Everett Tanner III under the name Patrick Dennis. The book was an immediate New York Times bestseller on publication in early 1955 and stayed on that list for two years. Tanner later told Roz that he wrote it with her in mind. And, long before they met, she read the novel and realized how right a part it would be for her.

The tale from publication to opening night is a long and twisted one and worth reading if you have the desire to do so. But Darling, I'm Your Auntie Mame is out of print but is available to buy second-hand. I highly recommend doing so.

The reaction of the audience on the night when Nick and Carter see the play is borrowed from that book. During the final two previews, the audience offered little to no response. This was after a long series of previews in Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Washington where the audiences were wildly enthusiastic and responsive to the play. This was reported in all the reviews of the out-of-town shows. As recounted by Jerry Lawrence (who, with Robert E. Lee, adapted the novel for the stage), this is what happened during the penultimate preview performance at The Broadhurst after the audience offered no response to the show:

"Rosalind was furious," recalls Jerome Lawrence. "During intermission that night she called for the leader of one of the theatre parties that purchased tickets. 'Bring her backstage!' Russell demanded. When the woman arrived, Rosalind turned on her and screamed, 'You bitch! How dare you! How dare you just sit out there—we know this is a funny play. How dare you give us an audience that doesn't have the brains to laugh! Are you afraid your false teeth will fall out!?'"

I take this description of Roz's reaction and language with half a grain of salt because, for many reasons, Jerry Lawrence had an ax to grind when it came to Roz. That being said, I decided to add it in (along with the fanciful idea that the same thing might have happened during previews for Wonderful Town).

In the same book, Peggy Cass (Agnes Gooch in the play) is quoted as saying:

"You'd think we were doing a passion play during Holy Week for all the laughs we got."

In any event, the show opened on October 31st to rave reviews. Ticket pre-sales exceeded a million dollars (the most expensive seat was $5.75 on weeknights and $6.90 on weekend nights). It did so well, in fact, that Roz was able to amend her Run-of-the-Play contract to cover their New York living expenses (Roz and Freddie lived at The Pierre for the duration) and take July and August of 1957 off. That's how they were able (in the Nick and Carter universe) to be in Nice for Bastille Day of that year.

Roz continued to play Mame Dennis-Burnside at The Broadhurst until January of 1958, when she returned to Hollywood to begin shooting the Warner Brothers film of the play, but that is a tale for another time.

Ephemera

Samples of French Erotic Postcards

Currency Notes

Note: In 1956, Fr.350 = $1 (ref)

500 Francs ($1.42 in 1956 USD)

1,000 Francs ($2.85 in 1956 USD)

5,000 Francs ($14.28 in 1956 USD)

10,000 Francs ($28.57 in 1956 USD)

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The Unexpected Heiress
The Amorous Attorney
The Sartorial Senator
The Laconic Lumberjack
The Perplexed Pumpkin
The Savage Son
The Mangled Mobster
The Iniquitous Investigator
The Voluptuos Vixen
The Timid Traitor
The Sodden Sailor
The Excluded Exile
The Paradoxical Parent
The Pitiful Player
The Childish Churl
The Rotten Rancher
A Happy Holiday
The Adroit Alien
The Leaping Lord
The Constant Caprese
The Shameless Sodomite
The Harried Husband
The Stymied Star
The Roving Refugee
An Echanted Beginning
The One He Waited For
Their Own Hidden Island
This Morning, Over Here