Paul Halter is often referred to as the heir to John Dickson Carr. It’s an obvious title, given both his predilection for impossible crimes and also his (translated) writing style. His books have a genuine Golden Age feel for them – indeed, I’d challenge anyone who read one of his books “blind” to date it to 1988 or beyond.
The Lord of Misrule is the first book to feature Owen Burns and his sidekick, Achilles Stock. Burns has been asked to investigate the mysterious titular character. Three years ago, a masked figure killed Edwin Mansfield in his isolated tower chamber, leaving the snow around the tower unmarked, and with only the tinkling of bells to indicate his presence. Thereafter, the Lord of Misrule has appeared every Christmas and tragedy is never far behind. Achilles Stock is drafted in undercover to prevent repeat of the events but is powerless to prevent another death in undamaged snow. But who is the Lord of Misrule? How can he apparently fly across the snow without leaving a mark? And why aren’t there four cool teenagers and a talking Great Dane investigating this one?
This is a great read, but with one whopping reservation, that I’ll come to in a moment. Owen Burns is an odd detective. He’s an artist, you see, and sees crime as an art form. Whoever is behind the nonsense of the Lord of Misrule is clearly a similar artist and as such, it fascinates Burns. You know, when I come to write this down, that sounds utter nonsense, but it seemed to make sense when I read it in the book. Stock is another artist who Burns cajoles into posing as a friend of the family. The fact that he’s fallen madly in love with Sybil, one of the daughters of the house, makes him leap into action, although it’s not until Burns shows up – he steps back due to chasing a paramour around London – that the crime is sorted out.
It’s all very Carr-ian. Impossible crimes, spooky seances, unrequited love… and both impossibilities are done very well. One might point out one aspect of the first crime being glossed over that does make the culprit rather more obvious, but the solutions are reasonably straightforward – this is a gadget-free zone and if it wasn’t for one aspect of the solution… and unfortunately it’s the most important bit. The identity of the Lord of Misrule himself.
The reason why someone goes running around dressed as the Lord, tinkling as he goes, is weak. Unbelievable, even. It’s really, really poor. Obviously I can’t go into more detail without spoiling it. Fortunately, it doesn’t spoil the rest of the book. The mystery itself, and the identity of the Lord, are well clued and it is a good read, even if it does stumble somewhat over the conclusion – and possibly the aftermath as well. It’s not as good as The Fourth Door from the same author, but it certainly shows promise and I’m looking forward to future translation of Halter’s work.
Oh, a warning. The Kindle version currently doesn’t seem to display the maps in the book. I’ve alerted Amazon, but don’t hold your breath…
Double oh. This is set in the late nineteenth century, so I’m counting it as a historical. There’s not a lot of historical background though.