Last winter I was blown away by Noel Vindry’s The House that Kills. It was jam packed with impossible crimes and read at a breakneck pace, and so as I stocked my larder for an end of year glut of “can’t fail me” mystery reads, another Noel Vindry novel came to mind immediately. I went with The Howling Beast, in part because, well, there are only three available books to choose from, but also because it seems to be the better regarded of his novels that have been translated to English. Better than The House that Kills? Sign me up.
While The House that Kills is a breathless sprint of impossible insanity, The Howling Beast is more of a traditional and drawn out detective story. In fact, although there are some minor mysteries throughout the story, we don’t encounter the marquee crime until the final few chapters. It’s a fine one though, with two people shot in a locked down castle, under circumstances that fall into the “impossible if we believe the accounts of several additional witnesses” category. Not quite an impossible crime in my book, but you know that you’re going to get a solution that fits the bill from a novel published by Locked Room International.
The Howling Beast unfolds in an interesting format – a story recounted to detective M. Allou by a man on the run from police. Rather than throwing the fugitive behind bars, the detective spends a day listening to a tale of events that unfolded over several years. A series of strange occurrences have taken place at a castle outside of Paris. An unidentifiable howling is heard at night, in spite of no nearby animals that could be causing it. Despite the castle being thoroughly locked down and access limited by a noisy portcullis that can only be opened from the inside, the inhabitants of the castle are attacked one night and one of their members disappear.
Now, this is a story that would have really benefited from a map, as the castle is somewhat of a maze, and although we’re assured that detailed searches are carried out numerous times, it’s difficult to get your bearings. That’s unfortunate, as the core crime that comes towards the very end of the book involves a bit of “who was where” as the events unfold. Since the crime comes so late in the story, I won’t get into what exactly happens, but it’s intriguing enough to pull along a full novel length plot had it come at the very start of the book.
In true armchair detective form, M. Allou explains all based merely on the same details that we’ve read, and it’s one of those solutions where every puzzle piece fits together in a neat way that you could have never imagined. Not a classic, but this is the type of solution that we’re all looking for when we read these books. The solution is the strong point where The Howling Beast beats out The House that Kills. While the latter featured a number of impossibilities, the scheme behind it all was pretty easy to see through, resulting in transparent illusions. The Howling Beast on the other hand includes a complex scheme that I doubt many will see through, so it wins on that account.
With that said, The House that Kills is a much more fun book to read, with nearly the entire story being a spiraling blur of puzzles and action. The Howling Beast takes its time getting to the destination, and while it never drags, this is much more of the traditional mystery where you wait until the denouement for the satisfaction. On that account I think that I’m going to say The House that Kills is the book I’d recommend.
Who cares who wins though? These are both great books, and you should seek them out. I have two more Vindry novels on my shelf and I’m hoping that Locked Room International releases more before my well goes dry.