Aaaah, the debut novels of celebrated authors. Would anyone read It Walks by Night and predict The Problem of the Green Capsule or Till Death Do Us Part? Does The Mysterious Affair at Styles in any way prepare you for The Moving Finger, or for Crooked House? Often it’s a challenge to look back on the opening salvo of a career that would go on to become notable and find any vestige of that in those first few hundred pages, and it can be even harder when — as in the case of Noel Vindry’s The House That Kills — you’re waiting 80 years to read it in your native language and are told up front of the author’s own huge contribution to the genre. Frankly, it needs to be The Usual Suspects mixed with The Mystery of the Yellow Room (spoilers for that in this, incidentally) as rewritten by David Mamet…and even then it probably won’t match the hype.
After many years reading, talking about, reviewing, and now blogging on the subject of detective fiction I am presented with a real difficulty here: I honestly don’t know quite what to write about Noel Vindry’s classic The Howling Beast for fear of giving anything away. It is a balancing act of a book that, while probably not completely successful by today’s standards, is hugely enjoyable and absolutely something that those who count themselves as puzzle fans or lay claim to an interest in the emergence and development of detective fiction really should read. And I’m not just being vague here because I don’t want to criticise it — I really enjoyed it, and there’s one key thing it does absolutely brilliantly, and I’m especially keen to preserve that for those of you who should experience this pure. So, with that out of the way, here goes.