About two years ago I picked up The House That Kills and The Howling Beast by Noel Vindry, and this year I padded out my collection with The Double Alibi and the somewhat recently released Through the Walls. So maybe I should actually get around to reading one, right? I ended up picking The House That Kills due to my love of murderous rooms (see The Madman’s Room, Mr Splitfoot, The Red Widow Murders, etc), despite the fact that I seem to recall some people being critical of the book.
To be clear, this is not really a “room that kills” (err… house that kills) book, despite its name. There’s no haunted house consuming it’s victims under a shroud of horrors from the past; rather it’s a gang of mysterious strangers terrorizing a family. But man, it’s an absolutely crazy ride, and I’m so happy that I went with it.
The Louret family has been living a life of solitude on the outskirts of a small town, with few of the townsfolk having ever laid eyes on the house or its inhabitants. The family starts to receive some threatening notes, leading the local police to stake out both the inside and outside of the home. Late at night, a series of three gunshots rings out in one of the bedrooms, and when the investigators finally break down the strongly bolted door, they find the Louret daughter dead on the floor. To add to the mystery, only two bullet holes can be found in the sealed room.
The death is swiftly followed by another threat – the Louret father will be killed on the next night, followed by the son on the following evening. What follows is pure madness and a gripping read as the police try anything they can think of to try to stop the murders… and yet fail. It’s an absolute whirlwind, and I was shocked when the whole case ended up being solved midway through the book.
What was to come next? Did Locked Room International have another novelette to pad out the remaining pages? No, the story actually keeps going, things get even crazier, and the impossible crimes continue to stack up.
When I think about a book published in 1932, I don’t expect anything this wild. I mean, at this time, John Dickson Carr – the master of the impossible crime – had only published four novels, and it’s really only It Walks By Night that features an impossibility. And It Walks By Night only features one (albeit very strong) impossibility. Yet here we have Noel Vindry pulling a Paul Halter and going guns blazing, building a toppling tower of locked room murder madness. Who else during that time period had such bravado? It’s not just the number of impossible crimes, it’s the breathless pace and imagination that envelopes them. I mean, people (lazily) tag Paul Halter as the french John Dickson Carr, but could it be that Paul Halter is really the french Noel Vindry?!?!? Err… I guess Noel Vindry was french as well, but you know what I mean, right? …right??
The funny thing is, I saw right through all three impossible crimes, and yet I loved the hell out of this book. The solution to the first locked room murder surely had cobwebs on it by the time Vindry wrote this book, and I have to think that any reader with much experience in the genre will understand what is happening while it is unfolding. And of course, if you see through the first one, you’ll have some inclination of what is happening during the second one. The third impossible crime is probably more clever; I may have just been lucky that the solution popped into my mind.
So three somewhat weak impossible crimes, and yet I loved the book? Yeah, it sounds a bit bizarre on paper, but even when I was seeing through the curtain, I was loving watching Vindry work. This is a really quick read, and it’s stuffed to the point of bursting with puzzles and surprises. None of that “interview the suspects” crap. By the time one crime has happened, we get a quick passage of the investigators reeling from the impossibility of it all, and then it’s on to the next bizarre set of happenings.
I’m hoping that I’ve found my new Paul Halter with Vindry: an author where I can pick up any book and be guaranteed a bizarre ride. Yeah, it might not be firing on all cylinders, but I know it’s going to be fun. I’m really looking forward to the next few Vindry reads.