Suitcases have been cropping up, full of the dismembered arms and legs of young ladies, all over London – although one was found in the village of Leadenham. An odd kind of place, Leadenham. There have also been some bizarre thefts – a church candle, a selection of hats, a lamp post… And Major McGregor, a leading light of the community, decides to demonstrate the mystical powers of his souvenir from his time in India. The bronze tiger’s head on the end of his cane has the power to summon a genie – one who has the ability to murder people within locked rooms… Enter Dr Alan Twist, renowned expert on this sort of thing. But can even he make sense of the multitude of baffling occurrences.
A quick reminder – Paul Halter is a French novelist who has produced about thirty locked room novels, in the style of John Dickson Carr. Indeed, he is often cited as the heir to Carr’s throne. This is the sixth novel to be translated into English by John Pugmire – so far they have ranged from the outstanding – The Demon of Dartmoor to the rather iffy – The Lord of Misrule. So where does this one fit on the scale?
It’s another difficult one to review due to a number of key events – such as the genie murder – happening far enough into the book that I’d hate to spoil it. The opening is a clever structure – alternating between Twist and Detective Inspector Hurst investigating the body parts and setting up events in Leadenham, set a week before the other section. Once the central murder occurs, the narratives merge, and things begin to settle down into a more standard narrative structure. Still, it’s nice while lasts.
Dum de dum. I really can’t decide what to think of this one. First of all, the translation is excellent as ever, and it’s a cracking read – a real page turner. The whole thing is rather clever, although I spotted the way things were heading after a bit. It had an echo of a certain Ellery Queen novel – just an echo, but enough to make me spot a lot of the patterns.
But… there is at least one bit of bizarre behaviour from a character that only serves to prolong the investigation – it made no sense that the character would do that. One of the locked room escapes is utter rubbish (although the others are better). The apparent genie is dismissed as not being supernatural once the witness has a bit of a think about it. And the motive for the dismembered girls is… rather over the top, to be honest.
It must be fascinating to be inside Paul Halter’s head – so many ideas for impossible crimes buzzing around. I wonder – would it be too controversial to say that there are too many? What would one of his books be like if he took a single impossibility and constructed the entire novel around that? For once, however, there is a reason that so much has to be happening, and I did like the reason for the thefts – especially the hats – and as I said, it was a great read. Just don’t think about the minutiae of the plot too much afterwards. Recommended.