The Lord of Misrule by Paul Halter

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.


  1. Well, as a card carrying Carrian I donlt see how I can pass this one up even with a few misgivings, thanks Steve. it’s good to know that some of these books are at least turning up in English translation – I have yet to read Halter and may get the Italian versions (on the logic that linguistically they are similar, though of course it’s the translator that is the crucial bit). Is this only available as an eBook?


    • There are paperback versions available on Amazon, but I’d go for The Fourth Door first, as I think its significantly better – the explanation of the Scooby Doo-esque bit of the plot really belongs in a book from decades ago, but not in a good way… You’ll see when you read it.


  2. I thought it very strange that this was the first English language edition of a Paul Halter novel to be published by John Pugmire, the translator. It’s rather weak compared to the others he translated. THE FOURTH DOOR is much better than this one. Why release the weakest one first? Shouldn’t it have been one of the best in order to get people craving more? I reluctantly purchased THE FOURTH DOOR not expecting much and was glad that it was a major improvement over this one. On the other hand, Halter’s short stories are really rather good which is why I very eagerly bought a copy of THE LORD OF MISRULE. Try to find a copy of THE NIGHT OF THE WOLF, the short story collection. It only exists as a trade paperback from Wildside Press. No UK edition that I know of.


    • I’ve got Night of the Wolf – bought it pre-blog and hence the lack of review.

      I think I was lucky that I read The Fourth Door before The Lord of Misrule, as it might have put me off the author – the explanation for who the Lord is in particular is errant nonsense. Still, looking forward to The Seven Wonders of Crime…


  3. This is my third book by Paul Halter and I was highly disappointed by it. You had warned against this book but ultimately you rated it as good; hence I took the chance, especially since I enjoyed immensely my first two books (The Demon of Dartmoor and The Fourth Door).
    I purchased the kindle edition from Amazon. The maps are still missing. I complained to Amazon and obtained a refund. Amazon advised me that they would take up the matter with the publisher.
    I agree that the explanation for the identity of the Lord is nonsense. This is not the only nonsense. There are others. Some examples below (I shall avoid spoilers):
    The actions of a person who is stabbed in the stomach are unbelievable, even though he does these for a specific purpose. The extent is too much. Also unbelievable is that another person regards the stabbing incident as a dream.
    A person sees an assailant through the window. The explanation for this is a clear cheat.
    In one of the murders, there is improbably good luck for the murderer that the murder takes place during a specific period of time. Also, knowing fully well the plan of others, would the murderer take the risk? There are other flaws here.
    It is fortunate that this was not my first book by Paul Halter. Otherwise, I would not have read any of his other books.


  4. Pardon me if I seriously beg to differ with the Puzzle Doctor and Santosh Iyer. Is this book as good as John Dickson Carr’s The Three Coffins? No, but that book certainly inspired it. It may not be quite as good as The Demon of Dartmoor, but it is MUCH better than The Fourth Door.

    The sticking point for both the Puzzle Doctor and Santosh Iyer seems to be the motive for the person impersonating The Lord of Misrule—who may or may not be the murderer. Both of them find the motive implausible, but I can believe that a character traumatized as depicted in this book would do just that. On the other hand, at the end of The Fourth Door there is a character who gives a cogent, logical argument and then goes suddenly nuts because…huh? I’m sorry—mental illness doesn’t work like that. I’m not saying that’s a bad book, but to me it strains credulity and takes it down a notch.

    If I have two nitpicks with The Lord of Misrule, it’s this. I need to keep in mind that this book and the character of Owen Burns was created in the 90’s when the gay-rights movement wasn’t nearly as accepted today by mainstream America and I assume bourgeois France as it is today. I think it’s a little late for Halter to put the genie back in the bottle, but considering how Oscar Wilde died, I don’t think that today most writers could get away with creating a character clearly based upon him but straight. Second, Halter seems to be implying that the psychic character in this book is legitimate and would NEVER use parlor tricks himself in séances. Yeah, right. That being said, I can overlook all of that and I highly recommend the book.

    One last thing, and it concerns the presentation of the final revelation. Paul Halter must have read translations of Ellery Queen because he reproduces one famous trick that EQ did in one of his famous “nationality” mysteries of the 30’s.Those who have the book and don’t see what I’m talking about can e-mail me and I’ll explain it privately.


    • Eddiejc1, which Ellery Queen book are you referring to ?
      And, by the way, have you completed the translation of Le Tigre Borgne ?


      • I am specifically referring to The French Powder Mystery. I had set aside LYN but now I’m going back to it. I’ve translated the first 5 or 6 chapters. Last one I translated introduced Scottish sniper Jack Burton.


      • One more thing. I’m on Chapter 5, but it’s going to take some time. I think the reason that John Pugmire has not decided to translate this book isn’t because it’s good but because this is LONG. Most of the Halter books translated have been fairly short—under 200 pages. This book is 317 pages long and has 40 chapters. That’s not an indictment of it, but if you don’t know French it’s going to take a while to type the text into Google or Reverso and then figure out what is going on.


      • Gents, could you take this conversation to email please? This isn’t a message board. I’ve said before that I don’t approve of unofficial translations and this is off topic for The Lord Of Misrule.


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