The Fourth Door by Paul Halter

Paul Halter is considered by some to be the heir of John Dickson Carr’s crown of Master of the Locked Room. He has written over thirty novels, mostly concerning locked room mysteries. The only problem, for this reader at least, is that the books are all written in French. Until now…

John Pugmire has translated La Quatrieme Porte as The Fourth Door, available from Amazon.co.uk as an ebook, but as a genuine papery thing from Amazon.com. The story involves a typical Golden Age set-up – a mysterious murder in the past, a small collection of people, all of whose lives interlink, a seance, and a murder inside a room sealed from the outside. More impossibilities follow, and it’s up to Alan Twist, Halter’s main series detective to sort it out. Well it would be if he was anywhere to be seen…

So, does it live up to the billing? Is Halter the new Carr?

Well, he certainly makes a good case for it – the plotting of the primary locked room is clever – possibly a little too tricksy for my personal tastes. I’ve said before that I prefer the simpler Carr’s, such as Til Death Do Us Part, as opposed to the grander set-ups, such as The Hollow Man, and the main crime certainly falls into the second category. The characters are fine, although some of the less-central ones seem a little flat at times, and the book frankly zips by at only 150-odd pages. While I normally prefer a short book to a long one, perhaps this could have stayed around a little longer. But I think there’s a very good reason for that.

Now, this probably won’t make sense unless you read the book – and I do urge you to do so – but the first two-thirds feels odd. It rattles through events, skipping days, weeks and months between chapters and while I was reading it, it felt wrong. Dare I say it… it felt badly written. Now I often get this feeling when reading translated fiction but there was something almost otherworldly about it. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but when it hit the out-of-nowhere twist (not Twist, but it involves him), suddenly it seemed to fall into place. Then it seemed that the next stage made no sense and then it did again. Wonderfully so. If anything, it sort of reminded me of The Burning Court, only for a completely different reason. Here the writer is trying (and succeeding) with something very clever indeed.

Right, just re-read that last paragraph and it probably made no sense. But I really can’t say more without violating the ethos of my blog. So, how can I summarise it?

Well, the translation seems a bit iffy at times, but it’s generally fine, once you get to the end of the book. There is one twist – a relationship between two characters – that really seems to come out of nowhere, that I found a bit irksome. But other than that, this is a cracking mystery. It seems that the best books I read at the moment are obscure and expensive – see the Bloodstone review – but if you like Carr and are looking for something new – try this one.

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14 comments

  1. This is my second book by Paul Halter. I enjoyed it immensely, though I would not put it in the same class as “ The Demon of Dartmoor”.
    I found the main locked room mystery quite ingenious and well clued.
    The style of writing seems strange, one impossibility after another occurs, and one wonders how it will turn out. Then suddenly, one comes to the Interlude, where an obvious explanation is given for the seeming absurdities, and one feels cheated. Then further there is a twist and everything seems to fall in place. Finally, there is a further twist in the last paragraph of the book.
    I was wondering that even if we exclude Part 3 (Interlude) and Part 5 (Epilogue) completely and also the last paragraph of Part 4, it would still make a good story.

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  2. To my regret, I did a search in the book to find out when Alan Twist would show up—and I discovered the twist. Fortunately I still don’t know howdunit (although I suspect who), but in hindsight I wish that I had been more patient…

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