The Seven Wonders of Crime by Paul Halter

A lighthouse keeper is found burned to death inside his locked lighthouse. A man is shot dead from a crossbow bolt, fired apparently from the sky. Each time, the police receive a cryptic warning, unfortunately too cryptic to be understood until after the body is found… Enter Owen Burns, artist and detective, alongside his sidekick, Achilles Stock. Is there a link between the crimes – hint, look at the title and the cover to the book – and will they continue – hint: yes, there are potentially seven of them. And can the author possibly bring a rational explanation to an apparent serial killer theming their crimes on such a bizarre concept?

The serial killer in a classic crime setting is a difficult concept to pull off. In the classic crime novel, you need a motive beyond “it’s a nutter” and such a motive is hard to hide. And hence I was a little daunted by this one – (up to) seven different impossible murders with a rational explanation for each murder and the overall picture? Surely that’s too much to ask…

Paul Halter, who we’ve encountered before with The Fourth Door – excellent – and The Lord of Misrule – good but with reservations – is a French writer of over thirty crime novels, all, I think, impossible mysteries. Thankfully for shameful people like me who don’t speak French, John Pugmire has started translating them into English. There are more on the way, but in the meantime, let’s have a look at this one. It promises much, but does it deliver?

In almost every sense, yes it does.

The style is consciously golden-age, as with the other books in the series that I’ve read, and despite this, the ambitious concept works, while not using the same idea as the only similar book that I can think of, namely The ABC Murders. Despite a small cast of suspects, Halter still had me fooled by the end, despite the solution and the motive making sense – obviously you have to factor in a little insanity into the mix, but only a dash.

On top of that, the impossible crimes (with one exception) are well done and original, with some of them having the potential to be the entire focus of a book. Indeed, the brevity of the narrative is a mild weakness, as some of the crimes really should have been solved earlier by the reader, if a little more information was given. The one exception is the crime involving the carafe of water – I won’t give the problem as that would give the solution, but it really wouldn’t have worked at all. I see where the author’s going with it, but it’s ludicrous.

Despite that, this is a great read and a great homage to the classic era of the locked room mystery. I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers, but this is highly recommended. Halter’s best so far.


  1. This sounds very interesting and I will be on the lookout for his books. Your review tells just enough to get me interested but not so much to ruin it for me. I appreciate that.


  2. Well, that just sounds too good. And here I was making an early New Year’s Resolution not to add to my TBR pile until I get through a large chunk of the stacks sitting around my back room. Guess I’ll have to throw that resolution out….. Great review (as always)!


  3. I have just finished reading this book and I am disappointed. I found it ridiculous.
    Some of the murder methods are truly ingenious and some downright silly. But what is shocking is the gullibility of some of the victims.
    Take the fourth murder (murder by dehydration). The victim has to be an utter imbecile to fall in the trap. One mentions about the gullibility of the victim in John Dickson Carr’s The Problem of the Wire Cage, but this is much, much worse.
    Some of the other victims and other persons also come under the manipulative influence of the murderer to an unbelievable extent.
    After reading this book, I have come to detest the character of Owen Burns. A person is burnt alive—a horrible crime; yet Owen Burns applauds the crime, calling it beautiful!
    A basic idea in the book is copied from a well-known book by Agatha Christie.


    • While I agree with you concerning The Lord Of Misrule, I don’t here, I’m afraid. The basic set-up already casts realism out of the window and as such, the bizarre murders fitted for me with the tone of the book. Again, it’s not Halter’s best, but it worked for me.


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