a) spots the silhouette of a plague doctor – complete with a beaked mask – not worn for centuries;
b) bumps into Dr Marcus, Doctor of Crime – wearing old-fashioned clothes – who promptly makes a plague-ridden corpse appear inside a dustbin that was empty seconds before;
c) comes across the boarding house where the victim stayed, only to discover that Dr Marcus and the plague doctors came to collect the victim – only for the victim to vanish into thin air in the middle of a corridor.
And that’s basically just the prologue…
This is the fifth of Paul Halter’s many mysteries to be translated by John Pugmire. I suppose I need to mention the oft-stated “heir to John Dickson Carr” quote about Halter but this is something quite different from Carr’s work. It seems to me that Halter is more willing to experiment with the locked room genre than Carr was. True, Carr did some genre-bending work – The Burning Court is the obvious example, but there others, such as The Black Spectacles aka The Problem Of The Green Capsule that are rarely, if ever, imitated, but of the five translated books to date from Halter, only The Demon of Dartmoor and The Lord of Misrule are what could be called “typical” locked room mysteries. The others have all had something rather special about them.
This book features Dr Alan Twist, Halter’s most frequently occurring sleuth and is a rollercoaster of a read. Once the introductory sequence is out of the way, we are introduced to a duel between a writer and an actor – the notion of the duel is, apparently, to successfully frame the other for murder. But are things as “simple” as that? How are these two characters related to
Basically, think an over-the-top version of Sleuth, with an impossible disappearance and appearance thrown in for good measure. If I was being picky, I think it’s a bit lacking as a fair-play mystery, feeling at times a little like an intellectual game of tennis, but that to criticise it for that would be missing the point of the book. As I said, Halter is trying something a little different within the genre and it works a treat.
And I should mention again the translating skills of John Pugmire. When you can’t tell that a book has been translated, then the translator has done their job perfectly, as is the case here.
So, this makes the ideal review for my 400th post – a modern day novel emulating the classic mystery novel with a new spin. Exactly what I was looking for when I started this blog. So, obviously, this is Highly Recommended.