“Suitcases with macabre contents, mysterious and seemingly pointless thefts, murderers who can vanish from locked rooms, tales about evil genies, fakirs who can make young boys disappear and cobras coil and uncoil at will – when they’re not climbing ropes in the air..”
Detective Archibald Hurst summarizes the plot of The Tiger’s Head much more concisely than I could probably manage. In that one sentence he provides a glimpse of the hail storm of craziness that author Paul Halter blasts you with throughout the novel. This is par for the course for Halter. The french author’s novels teeter with impossible crimes stacked every which way. There’s something simply gluttonous about Halter’s work if you’re a fan of the “how done it”.
Continue reading “The Tiger’s Head – Paul Halter (1991)”
That I’ve made it four months without devouring another Paul Halter novel is a display of herculean restraint. While by no means perfect, the previous three novels that I’ve read by the modern master of impossible crimes were the summer blockbuster equivalent of a locked room mystery. Well, scratch that analogy – I tend to loathe summer blockbusters as shallow facades that bore with their action rather than excite. Although many might deride Halter’s work as being equally shallow, I’ll guiltily admit that they give me exactly what I want.
Take the hooks, puzzles, and misdirection from five solid GAD impossible crime novels, compress it all down to 140 pages, thin out the writing a little (with excuse, perhaps, for being translated), and you’re dealing with a Halter novel. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you haven’t read one yet, I encourage you to give it a try. The puzzles are thick and the twists come flying at you.
Continue reading “The Seventh Hypothesis – Paul Halter (1991)”
The ultimate locked room mystery set up – where to start? Is it The Judas Window, with a room so perfectly sealed you couldn’t push a pin into it, much less the arrow lodged in the victim’s heart? Perhaps it’s Clayton Rawson’s From Another World, in which a corpse is found alongside the knife that killed him in a room with all doors and windows sealed from the inside with tape? Or is it The Plague Court Murders, with a man stabbed repeatedly in the back despite being locked in a secure stone hut surrounded by a field of untouched mud?
There’s almost a one-upmanship in some cases, with the author tasked with laying out a crime so thoroughly impossible that the reader is left with no avenue for an answer. In the best cases, that answer comes in the form of a simplicity that you never thought to consider. In the weaker ones, we get a solution so overly complex that it merely rings as a hollow justification for the puzzle.
Continue reading “The Invisible Circle – Paul Halter (1996)”
The idea that crimes of the distant past can haunt the present is easily my favorite plot device deployed by John Dickson Carr. The author introduced this technique in the first Dr Gideon Fell novel, Hag’s Nook, in which multiple generations of male heirs to a rotting castle have died by a broken neck after participating in a secret ritual. A year later, Carr introduced Henry Merrivale in The Plague Court Murders, and we’re treated to the ghost of an eighteenth century hangman’s assistant stabbing a man to death in a locked hut surrounded by a field of untouched mud.
Carr would return to these fertile grounds several times throughout his career. His most famous example may be The Burning Court (1937), where the ghost of a seventeenth century poisoner strikes in the modern era. The author even managed to inject intrigue into the meandering Dark of the Moon (1968) by introducing the mystery of how three men, centuries apart, were all bludgeoned to death despite being surrounded by expanses of untouched sand.
Continue reading “The Madman’s Room – Paul Halter (1990)”
On paper, Paul Halter seems to be custom tailored for me. Locked rooms – check. Vanishing footprints – check. Multiple impossible crimes in a single book – triple check. Regarded as a modern day John Dickson Carr, Halter follows in the master’s footsteps not just in the impossible crimes that he employs by the fistful, but in the dense atmosphere that permeated Carr’s earlier work. Rooms that kill, crimes of the past haunting the present, disappearing alleys – these are the hooks on top of the puzzle that have drawn me into Carr’s work. To have this all echoed by Halter in new and imaginative ways is almost too good to be true.
Of course, there are detractors. Halter’s books are said to be thin on character, sparse on the prose, and mere cardboard dressing for his puzzles and tricks. This is complicated by the fact that he writes only in French. His titles available in English are translations, and it seems inevitable that nuances of the author’s voice would be lost in the process.
Continue reading “Paul Halter – The Demon of Dartmoor (1993)”