The Madman’s Room by Paul Halter

Never open a sealed room. Not in a mystery novel, and especially not if the reason that it was sealed was that someone died mysteriously in that room in the past. And it’s not long before the room is exerting its influence once again – people are being scared to death by a mysterious something, a something whose only trace is a damp patch of carpet in front of the fireplace…

Hatton Manor (just round the corner from me, if it existed) soon is the location of all sorts of shenanigans. Apart from the suspicious deaths, it seems that one of the family is psychic. Oh, and one of the murder victims seems to be walking around again. And let’s not go into what’s in that coffin… Luckily Alan Twist is on the case.

Locked Room International and John Pugmire, the translator, have been doing a sterling job in providing us readers with translations of Paul Halter’s work. Paul has written forty or so mystery novels to date, but has inconveniently chosen to write them in his native French. His speciality is the locked room mystery – one of the only regular writers to be doing so these days. But this was an especially important book for me – it was something of a make-or-break book.

You see, I like what Halter does, but not necessarily always how he does it. Even his best books – The Demon Of Dartmoor, for example– have unnecessary extra mysteries and impossibilities thrown in, distracting from the main narrative. There’s often a strong central idea, but the extras can distract from it. Also, I find that his style of writing can be off-putting. Admittedly, that may be due to the translation being a fairly literal one to maintain the, for want of a better word, French-ness of the original text, or possibly the original was just a bit clunky in the first place, but it’s been niggling at me. And, to be honest, I wasn’t impressed with The Vampire Tree at all.

So I cautiously approached this one…

And it has got the odd writing style. The opening chapter, for example, between two long-term acquaintances contemplating each other for potential romance, is really odd. People just don’t speak like that at all, at least not in my experience.

And it has bonus impossibilities thrown in too – the psychicness of one family member, the contents of the coffin, on top of the various deaths.

But it works. It works magnificently.

There is a beautiful idea in the various deaths concerning the water on the floor that, for some reason, really impressed me but overall, the solution makes sense. Admittedly the murderer has to do some utterly ridiculous things – and, it has to be said, the murderer makes their bonkers plan up very quickly… And there’s a couple of unnecessary deaths… And what happens if one of the methods of murder didn’t work – as it’s a bit dodgy, really…

But somehow, this works perfectly. You have to take it all with a massive pinch of salt, but this is one of Halter’s best works to date, with everything fitting together. It’s worth pointing out that even Halter realises that it’s all a bit daft, with Twist giving a lecture on the coincidences involved in everything after the murderer has been brought to justice.

You could spend an age nitpicking the problems with this one, but if you’re willing to embrace the unreality of the whole thing, then this is something rather special. Highly Recommended.

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6 comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more, and I’m delighted you enjoyed this. It really is absokutely bonkers, both in how unlikely it is and how insanely clever the final explanation turns out to be — Halter really is one of the very few authors successfully replicating this sort of GAD game these days (okay, okay, he wrote this 27 years ago…). Long may he, John Pugmire, and LRI keep bringing thus sort of thing to we non-Francophones!

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  2. I honestly think I enjoyed it more than most of them because it’s less bonkers than, say, Picture From the Past and, because of that, I was more willing to cut Halter some slack on all the other flaws in his work that you listed so well, PD.

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  3. I paste my comment from the Paul Halter forum. Sorry for my english…

    Rather cool though I found it a little longuet, the rhythm is rather slow and the plot takes time to settle, even if the atmosphere is well-tied. The solution is not very credible because as Twist says himself “there are at least 30 easier ways to commit a murder” … but the suspense is present.

    The resolution of the enigma seemed fairly obvious to me, but I soon realized how things had unfolded (at least in general), and it reminded us of many things, such as the Diabolics or even some of the classic horror films of the sixties, (Like the adaptations of Poe by Corman) … it is difficult not to say more without spoiler but it is not really original, which does not mean that it’s not entertaining.

    By the way if you like the Demon of Dartmoor there is a french comic book adaptation. I have it, it’s rather good. It was supposed to be a serie (“tome 1”) but it was the only one made…

    https://www.amazon.fr/Docteur-Twist-1-Diable-Dartmoor/dp/2845653719/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1502263778&sr=8-2&keywords=le+diable+du+dartmoor

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