“Death Signs Indecipherable” (“Moartea semnează indescifrabil”)
by Rodica Ojog-Brașoveanu
The review is based on a bought copy of the book
Mystery, noir and crime fiction have a permanent place within my heart and the reason for this fact cannot be owned exclusively on the value of the writers, but also on the more intimate and personal experience of my childhood and teenage years. Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Maurice Leblanc, Dashiell Hammett or Rodica Ojog-Brașoveanu offered countless of adventurous hours spent in the company of detectives, investigators or, why not, gentlemen thieves. The aura of the mystery was sometimes augmented by the clandestine reading by hiding the books underneath physics or chemistry school-books while I was supposed to do my homework. I believe I love Rodica Ojog-Brașoveanu just a bit more because her novels have ended more often under the homework book than those of other writers. And “Death Signs Indecipherable” (“Moartea semnează indescifrabil”) was the first such investigation that left the formulas and equations forgotten.
I was delighted when Nemira Publishing House decided to re-print Rodica Ojog-Brașoveanu’s novels and even more thrilled when the collection of hardback editions of these books started with “Death Signs Indecipherable” (“Moartea semnează indescifrabil”). With a feeling of nostalgia and not only, I followed once again the police officer Ştefan Anghel on his long awaited holiday. In hope of finding the most needed rest Ştefan Anghel goes to an isolated mountain chalet, “Dor de munte”, but soon after he receives an unsigned letter proclaiming a soon to happen crime and when a murder and suicide take place his holiday is quickly forgotten. And Ştefan Anghel returns to what he does best, solving mysteries.
Rodica Ojog-Brașoveanu is named the Romanian Agatha Christie, but in “Death Signs Indecipherable” (“Moartea semnează indescifrabil”) she twists one of Christie’s hallmarks into her own particular way. If in plenty of Agatha Christie’s novels the detective gathered the suspects into one room, explaining the course of the investigation and the guilty, Rodica Ojog-Brașoveanu goes into reverse, she gathers the cast of characters of “Death Signs Indecipherable” (“Moartea semnează indescifrabil”) into one place at the beginning of the novel, isolating them further when the mountain chalet’s phone lines are cut off and a storm makes all the access roads impracticable. This approach sets into motion the wheels of a very interesting mechanism, a claustrophobic atmosphere, the presence of constant threat and the challenge thrown in the path of the detective. It catches the characters and readers alike in a web of tangled threads. If you like, it is a situation similar to the board game “Cluedo”, or the old Romanian version “Enigma”, if you prefer, three cards are placed face down in the middle of the table, the killer, the murder weapon and the location of the crime, remaining for the players to discover the identity of those cards through deductive reasoning. The difference is that in “Death Signs Indecipherable” the weapon and location are known, the murderer is discovered halfway through the novel by Ştefan Anghel, without accusing him or revealing his identity to the reader, only the motive of the crime remaining to be established.
If the first half of the novel is full of tension, with plenty of suspenseful and perilous moments, the second is an expression of a full scale police investigation, with inquiries into the victims’ past, discussions both inquisitive and misleading for the killer and a permanent surveillance of the murderer so he cannot slip through police’s fingers before his motives are discovered. This second part is perfectly described by Ştefan Anghel’s superior, colonel Tunsu:
“Try to remember from crime fiction the detective’s reasoning and not the rooftop chases”. (“Încercaţi să reţineţi din literatura poliţistă raţionamentele detectivului și nu goana pe acoperișuri.”)
Still, after witnessing the entire deduction process the readers are awarded with a heart-pounding action finale. It is a very nice way for Rodica Ojog-Brașoveanu to draw the curtain over the story.
Ştefan Anghel might not be the charismatic and memorable detective in the style of Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe but he gets the job done. And his story “Death Signs Indecipherable” is a testimony of Rodica Ojog-Brașoveanu’s unique place within crime fiction and not in the least as a comparison with other such writers.