Upon my first reading of Jorge Luis Borges ?Death and the Compass? I found myself reacting to the chain of events not unlike the bland but efficient Inspector Treviranus. The Hotel du Nord with its hateful whiteness, numbered divisibility, and general appearance of a bordello seemed a natural place for a crime of greed and betrayal to have gone sour on a luckless criminal. The lure of priceless sapphires and mistaken destination was more than enough to recreate the crime that had taken place. Inspector Lonnot, who believed himself a man of pure reason, chose to ignore all the reasonable signs and formulate his hypotheses based on a desire to uncover some devious unholy plot of murder and deception. Both of us had no idea of the chain of events that was about to follow.
Before discovering of the unfinished sentence, Lonnot believed that Doctor Yarmolinsky and his books were somehow part of the plot and also the of solution to this grisly murder. ?The first letter of the Name has been uttered? was the doorway that led Inspector Lonnot into the Labyrinth from which he never emerges. The skill and subtlety in which the entrance is disguised is a combination of chance and cunning. The discovery of the sentence in the typewriter gave Lonnot a feeling of validation and set him irreversibly on the path to his own demise.
Lonnot dedicated himself to studying the books and ?reasoned? that the Hasidim belief in the Absolute Name of God was at the root of the crime. At this point in the story one gets the feeling the Lonnot almost becomes seduced with the thought of having the immediate knowledge of all things that will be. Avoiding his ?unreasonable? thoughts by studying the names of God with the belief that this would lead him to the name of the murder. This is further evidenced by the encounter with the editor of the Yidische Zaitung in which the latter wanted to talk about the murder, and Lonnot was set on discussing the diverse names of God. It seems out of character that if the journalist had written a completely false column that the esteemed inspector would not have become indignant.
With the occurrence of the second murder Lonnot?s ability to detect and grasp patterns begins to take form. It occurs exactly one month after the first murder in the shadow of an old paint shop. Written on the wall across the yellow and red diamonds was ? The second letter of the name has been uttered?. Lonnot was now sure he was on the right track and with the third murder taking place exactly one month after the second this only strengthened his conviction.
It is ironic that the plot called for inspector Treviranus to receive the call and investigate the crime scene that was supposed to explain the sacrifices of Azevedo and Yarmolinsky. Treviranus found where the call had originated from and promptly headed for the Liverpool House. Upon speaking with the owner, Black Finnegan, Treviranus found that a lodger by the name of Gryphius had made the call and had just left with some friends. Questioning at the scene revealed the exchange of words in Yiddish with two harlequins that had come to visit Gryphius. Also a woman at the bar remembered seeing yellow, red, and green diamonds on one of their costumes. It was also reviled that as the three in question were entering the cab the last one in wrote on the ground ?The last of the letters of the name has been uttered?. After examining the room in which Gryphius had occupied, Treviranus sent for Lonnrot.
Inspector Lonnrot believes that there will be a fourth murder because the Tetragrammaton name for God consists of four letters. The implication that there will be no more murders makes him feel that he is close to solving the crimes and that the perpetrator is beginning to feel nervous. On the night of March first, the inspector Treviranus receives a sealed envelope from a Baruch Spinoza. The envelope contained a detailed map of the city and a letter that prophesied there would not be a fourth murder. The three murder sites were marked and connected by red lines on the map to form an equilateral triangle. Treviranus read the argument with resignation and sent the letter and map to Lonnrot. Of course he did not accept the argument that was presented to him.
Lonnot studied the letter and map and found that the three locations were indeed the same distance apart as well as equal time in between the murders. He believes he is about to solve the mystery, grabs a set of calipers and a compass and plots the point of the final murder. Two equilateral triangles placed side by side form a diamond with all of its sides of equal distance. It all made sense to Lonnot: four letters in the name, four points on the compass, four sides on the diamond, and four murders, all equidistant apart. The fourth and final murder site, the abandoned villa of Triste-le-Roy. Lonnot promptly phoned Treviranus and informed him that there was a planned fourth murder and he could rest assured that the criminals would be in jail by Friday. Lonnot headed out on a train within an hour to the abandoned villa of Triste-le-Roy. Going over the details of the crimes in his head, he feels embarrassed that it took him one hundred days to figure it all out. The fact that Azevedo had been an associate of Red Scharlach; Lonnot for a moment considered that the fourth victim could be Scharlach himself.
When Lonnot got off the train he began walking along the countryside with his eyes wide open and his senses sharp. He saw many sights and as the dusk approached he saw the villa of Triste-le-Roy and the tall black eucalypti that surrounded it.? Upon entering the wrought-iron fence he walked on confused generations of rigid broken leaves and viewed the villa of Triste-le-Roy abounded in pointless symmetries and in maniacal repetitions.? As he entered he immediately noticed the symmetry and repetition. Passing through galleries and duplicate patios the opposing mirrors made him feel as though the house was infinite and expanding.
Before he knew what had happened, Lonnot had been sized and handcuffed by two short stout men. ?You are very kind. You saved us a night and a day ? said Red Scharlach. Lonnot still not realizing that he had been had replied ?Scharlach, are you looking for the Secret Name?? Scharlach then started to recount the events that lead to hate and vow of revenge that he experienced three years ago. He told Lonnot of how the sequence of events started with the betrayal by Azevedo and how the secret name of God was woven into the plan. ?I knew that you would make the conjecture that the Hasidim had sacrificed the rabbi; I set myself the task of justifying that conjecture? said Scharlach. Lonnot had become the victim of his own obsession with logic and deduction.
As his last moments slipped away Lonnot pondered his deeds and convictions, not quite knowing how or why his wits had betrayed him. He had been lured into a Labyrinth from which he could not escape, doomed to die at the hands of his archenemy. All at once he felt a cold and distant impersonal sadness, for a man of reason had tried to explain fate and got lost in the process.