Reader, brace yourself for a shock: I — the man who curated an online celebration of Paul Halter’s 60th birthday last year — loved The Madman’s Room. Given the hue and stripe of originality Halter has brought to the impossible crime genre (The Demon of Dartmoor, The Lord of Misrule, and The Invisible Circle, among others, all contain what surely must be original resolutions to the inexplicable), it’s no surprise to find him resolving the mysteries herein as inventively as he does. What I especially enjoyed was the simplicity brought to the answers, particularly the way he occludes that simplicity so smartly so that you look back on come the end and go “Oh, hell, how did I miss that?”.
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…!