This, my 200th post on this blog, will also be the 100th to be tagged with the subject ‘Impossible Crimes‘ and — since my very first was a review of Paul Halter’s The Phantom Passage — I thought I’d hold this milestone to look at the most recent Halter translation from John Pugmire’s Locked Room International, which goes by the English title The Vampire Tree. I will probably do this at some length, though without mentioning specifics past the 25% mark, and with a brief mention of only one slight spoiler, signposted in advance. So, let’s get into it…
In what might actually be the first time I’ve contributed to a full month of TNB posts — woo! Mr. Commitment! — I thought I’d finish off with my first Five to Try in a little while on the subject of Crime in Costume. But, this being a blog about detective fiction, I thought I’d leave it up to you to deduce the theme inside of this framing which links all these books together.
The first person to correctly work it out gets…a prize of some sort. Tell you what, they’ll win a pre-publication copy of Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums, personally emailed to them by me. So as, y’know, to save them waiting an extra three or four days and having to click on a link to download it themselves. I know, I know, I’m too kind. Tell you what — to make it nice and unique, I’ll even add a bit to the introduction about how this was won in a competition on the blog. That makes it a bit more special, eh?
Well, following the discovery of Matt Ingwalson’s Owl and Raccoon novellas I pledged to give more self-published works a go because — hey! — some of it is evidently very good indeed. Sure, an overwhelming majority is awful, but it’s worth the relatively slight cost to potentially find something surprising. Which brings us to The Third Gunman by Raymond Knight Read.
First up, and with thanks for his not taking legal action over me stealing his Crimes of the Century round-up idea for this post, Rich at Past Offencestackled The Demon of Dartmoor, his first toe into the Halter Pool (see what I did there?), and liked what he found:
Declaring that the detective novel was the only form of literature that put the reader to work, [S.S. van Dine] argued that “a deduction game emphasising fair play within a limited setting” would be the story structure with the best potential to result in masterpiece mystery stories […] But when the elements of the game are too severely limited and the building materials are all the same, only the first few builders will get all the glory and there will be an over-abundance of similar novels…
If I ran one of those clickbait-style websites, I would have been teasing this for at least a week now as the tautology of a ‘world exclusive never-before-seen Paul Halter translation’. I mean, it is exactly that, but that’s not the point.
In order to help with the acknowledgement of Paul Halter’s 60th birthday, John Pugmire — perhaps better known under his stage name of Locked Room International — has, with M. Halter’s blessing, sent me a copy of the letter he received from Halter when mutual friend Roland Lacourbe first showed Halter the English translation John had done of his debut novel, The Fourth Door. Lacourbe is, of course, the acknowledged overlord of the French impossible crime scene and compiler of the encyclopaedic reference 1001 Chambres Closes, the French equivalent of Robert Adey’s English language rundown of all things fictional and impossible, Locked Room Murders.
I have absolutely no doubt that Kate, Rich, Puzzle Doctor, and many others will do jobs far superior to anything I ever could in summarising yesterday’s hugely enjoyable Bodies from the Library and so I’ll leave that to them.
Instead, I’d like to remind anyone still considering it that next Sunday will be Paul Halter’s 60th birthday and so Paul Halter Day will come into effect. If you’re posting anything Paul Halter-related on that day, put the link in the comments of this post and I’ll do a wrap-up later in the evening.
My thanks in advance to anyone getting involved, really looking forward to what people come up with…!
So here’s a starting point that doesn’t belong on a blog about crime fiction between 1920 and 1959 with frequent diversions into apparent impossibilities: I freakin’ love Batman. The whole Bruce Wayne/Batman duality in almost any form is an absolute joy to me – I’m not going to geek out here over the many, many years I’ve spent reading the comics nor the sundry disappointments of the various cinematic fusterclucks (I’m looking daggers at you, Schumacher…Burton, you’re borderline), and shall instead make the following observation: the second I heard Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was announced, I’d practically bought my ticket on the fact of it being a new Batman incarnation.
One dark and snowy night, a mysterious figure who is observed entering the home of an upright citizen commits a murder in an inaccessible room and vanishes without leaving so much as a footprint to tell of their presence, only for a second murder to then be committed outside in the snow but leaving only the victim’s footprints in evidence…you can’t tell me the similarities between Paul Halter’s The Lord of Misrule and John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man (a.k.a. The Three Coffins) are anything less than an absolute fanboying homage to the master. And Halter would know the risk he was running, but having established himself as an artisan of the impossible crime by this stage in his career (this was, by my estimation, his tenth published novel – though the first to be translated into English by John Pugmire) it was clearly a task he was happy to take on.
It may seem like a facile basis for such comparison but, upon re-reading The Lord of Misrule for this post, I was struck by the sheer number of similarities – enough, in fact, to possibly warrant a future post dedicated to solely that topic – the most obvious of which is the use of enumerated maps to highlight the finer points of the murder scenes, disarranged furniture, slashed painting and all; click below to see for yourself. Continue reading →