In the village of Stapleford, the lady of the manor falls to her death down a flight of stairs. Witnesses said that she didn’t fall but was pushed by an invisible assailant. Fifty years later, history repeats itself, as, over the period of a few years, local girls from the village are witnessed walking to the top of Wish Tor, deep in conversation with an invisible creature… who promptly shoves them from the top of the cliff.
More years pass, and the newly-married actor Nigel Manson buys the manor house. Yup, this is going to end well, isn’t it… especially when the invisible killer strikes in plain view of several witnesses, pushing its victim to their death from a second floor window. Enter Alan Twist – but how do you find an invisible murderer?
The fourth book by French author Paul Halter to be translated into English, this is actually the seventh book to feature Alan Twist. No idea about how the books to be translated are chosen – the next, The Seventh Hypothesis, is actually the book that precedes this one – but, like Agatha Christie, the order really isn’t important.
Way back in the mists of time, the point of this blog was to find books that were being written now that were genuine mysteries in the vein of the Golden Age. Properly constructed with a real puzzle-plot that challenged the reader, rather than a game of spot-the-usually-obvious-loony that was played as a mild diversion to a long observation of the protagonist’s problems with drink/drugs/the opposite sex/ childhood trauma/all of the above with a possible side order of “insight” into the mind of the loony. Of course, I realise that this is an extreme counter-type and even then, there are great examples of these books – Birthdays for the Dead springs to mind. But at the end of the day, the mystery has always been important to me.
And this is an absolute cracker. Halter has been often cited as the heir to Carr and as yet, I hadn’t been convinced. The Fourth Door and The Seven Wonders of Crime were excellent, but were… atypical examples of the genre. In the same way that The ABC Murders or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd are atypical – great books, but the writer is trying something different. The true mark of a great crime writer is what they can do with a “straightforward” linear whodunnit. The Lord of Misrule is the only such book by Halter that I’ve encountered so far, but that was, I thought, rather lacking – too many sillinesses.
This, however, is outstanding. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if this was written by Carr, it would sit up there with his finest work. The mystery is clever and very well clued, although I’d be impressed if the reader could put it all together, and the impossibility, especially the main murder, is devilishly clever in its simplicity. Yes, there are moments, especially on the Tor, where the murder methods are a little artificial – the headless horseman is a bit of overkill really – but regardless of this, this is a very rewarding mystery that had me completely fooled and, simultaneously, kicking myself for not spotting the “obvious” solution.
Oh, and a word to the ever-underappreciated translator. John Pugmire does such an outstanding job that you don’t realise that it’s a translation. Which is the point, really.
A fine book to finish this year of reviews – an outstanding homage to the Golden Age and highly recommnended.
Where can I get this?
Currently available as a pricy paperback (11+ quid) or cheaper (£6.65) ebook, this isn’t a bargain, but worth checking out regardless.