The Demon of Dartmoor by Paul Halter

The Demon of DartmoorIn the village of Stapleford, the lady of the manor falls to her death down a flight of stairs. Witnesses said that she didn’t fall but was pushed by an invisible assailant. Fifty years later, history repeats itself, as, over the period of a few years, local girls from the village are witnessed walking to the top of Wish Tor, deep in conversation with an invisible creature… who promptly shoves them from the top of the cliff.

More years pass, and the newly-married actor Nigel Manson buys the manor house. Yup, this is going to end well, isn’t it… especially when the invisible killer strikes in plain view of several witnesses, pushing its victim to their death from a second floor window. Enter Alan Twist – but how do you find an invisible murderer?

The fourth book by French author Paul Halter to be translated into English, this is actually the seventh book to feature Alan Twist. No idea about how the books to be translated are chosen – the next, The Seventh Hypothesis, is actually the book that precedes this one – but, like Agatha Christie, the order really isn’t important.

Way back in the mists of time, the point of this blog was to find books that were being written now that were genuine mysteries in the vein of the Golden Age. Properly constructed with a real puzzle-plot that challenged the reader, rather than a game of spot-the-usually-obvious-loony that was played as a mild diversion to a long observation of the protagonist’s problems with drink/drugs/the opposite sex/ childhood trauma/all of the above with a possible side order of “insight” into the mind of the loony. Of course, I realise that this is an extreme counter-type and even then, there are great examples of these books – Birthdays for the Dead springs to mind. But at the end of the day, the mystery has always been important to me.

And this is an absolute cracker. Halter has been often cited as the heir to Carr and as yet, I hadn’t been convinced. The Fourth Door and The Seven Wonders of Crime were excellent, but were… atypical examples of the genre. In the same way that The ABC Murders or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd are atypical – great books, but the writer is trying something different. The true mark of a great crime writer is what they can do with a “straightforward” linear whodunnit. The Lord of Misrule is the only such book by Halter that I’ve encountered so far, but that was, I thought, rather lacking – too many sillinesses.

This, however, is outstanding. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if this was written by Carr, it would sit up there with his finest work. The mystery is clever and very well clued, although I’d be impressed if the reader could put it all together, and the impossibility, especially the main murder, is devilishly clever in its simplicity. Yes, there are moments, especially on the Tor, where the murder methods are a little artificial – the headless horseman is a bit of overkill really – but regardless of this, this is a very rewarding mystery that had me completely fooled and, simultaneously, kicking myself for not spotting the “obvious” solution.

Oh, and a word to the ever-underappreciated translator. John Pugmire does such an outstanding job that you don’t realise that it’s a translation. Which is the point, really.

A fine book to finish this year of reviews – an outstanding homage to the Golden Age and highly recommnended.

Where can I get this?

Currently available as a pricy paperback (11+ quid) or cheaper (£6.65) ebook, this isn’t a bargain, but worth checking out regardless.


      • Golly. They really aren’t cheap. I wonder if that’s a sensible pricing move or not. I guess they’re never going to shift a huge volume, and fans are likely to pay more. But that’s too steep for me at the moment. Which is a shame, because this one sounds really good.

        If they were about half the price I think I’d have already bought all of them…


  1. Yeah, the Halter translations can be a little pricey, but they are self-published so almost all the money will go to John Pugmire and Paul Halter. Apart from THE LORD OF MISRULE, which is fairly flawed as Halter’s stories go (although I liked it for that reason), I think all the translated books are worth the price tag. THE DEMON OF DARTMOOR is a personal favourite of mine but THE SEVENTH HYPOTHESIS comes pretty close!

    I’m glad you liked this one, though. I consider the main impossibility — the death-via-window — to be one of the neatest impossible crime tricks ever pulled to which I’ve been a (fictional) witness.


  2. Again, I am intrigued with an author you have suggested. I may have to put this on the wishlist for 2014 because I am so over-committed for 2013. They are quite expensive, unfortunately. But I like what you said about the translation being so good… and I like the idea of supporting the self-published books.


  3. I am new to your blog and this is the first book I have read based on your recommendations. This is a superb book, a masterpiece. It is a page-turner, gripping the reader from the beginning. The solution is a real surprise.
    After reading the book, I reread it and found that it is very well clued. There is an obvious clue in the second chapter which will be missed by most because of the way the sentence is constructed.
    The supernatural atmosphere is very well conveyed just like John Dickson Carr’s “He who whispers”.
    I could not find any flaw in the book.
    I am now eager to read the other books of Paul Halter, the English translations only since I have no knowledge of French.


    • Excellent – the more readers of Halter’s work, the better. Although be a little wary of The Lord of Misrule as, of the translations, it’s the weakest by quite some distance. Still a lot better than most so-called mysteries out there though. And funny you should mention “He Who Whispers” – coming soon to the blog.


  4. I’m 40% of the way through The Demon of Dartmoor, and right now Paul Halter has his work cut out for him, particularly in light of Spiral which I’ve recently finished. I can’t say anything about the deaths that take place at Wish Tor, but if the solution to the central murder is as obvious as I think it is, I think this book is overrated. However, I will reserve judgement until the book is finished.


    • I think, if you’re right, then you’re the only person who worked out something that I think is an impossible crime work of art. It’s by far Halter’s finest translated work so far


      • I’m a few chapters away from the end, I think I may be wrong—big time. Anyway, I’ll withhold judgement, but in advance I would like to apologise, both to you and to Paul Halter.


      • I think, if you’re right, then you’re the only person who worked out something that I think is an impossible crime work of art.

        My initial solution—the one I thought was ridiculously easy and obvious—was wrong. However, I am proud to say that before I read it in the book, I did work out whodunit and while I sent an e-mail to the Puzzle Doctor I also figured out the howdunit too—at least as far as the main murder goes.

        The best “impossible crime” mysteries are the ones with fundamentally simple solutions. Paul Halter understands this. Mystery fans should be grateful that he’s writing these books and English speakers grateful that John Pugmire is translating them.


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