The Crimson Fog by Paul Halter

Crimson FogMay 1887, the village of Blackfield. An old resident of the village has returned after an absence, determined to finish his novel. Years ago, a murder took place, an impossible murder, and the narrator is determined to bring the truth of the matter to light… or is that simply what he is telling himself? Is there an ulterior motive behind his investigation? And who knows where the investigation may lead him and the people around him?


Is that subtle enough? So, on with the review…

Right – spoiler-free review, right? How the blinking heck am I going to review this one?

Quick recap – Paul Halter is a French writer who has been writing locked room mysteries since the late eighties. Nearly 40 books in total, but John Pugmire has been translating them one by one for a while now – this is the seventh novel so far, and you can find reviews of the rest – The Fourth Door, The Lord of Misrule, The Seven Wonders of Crime, The Demon of Dartmoor, The Seventh Hypothesis and The Tiger’s Head – elsewhere on the blog. There’s a great ambition behind the stories and they are never less than entertaining reads.

So this one… I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book like this that assumes the reader has read a lot of crime fiction. Or does it? I think that the path that Halter leads the author down for a section of the book only truly works if you’re thinking a certain way. Despite a couple of pages before one of the reveals, I think you only get the weight of what the author is playing at if you’ve read… something. Spoilers and all that. But if you have read… that, would you actually fall into the author’s trap? I was fooled for a while, I’ll admit, but after a while… I felt that I was being pushed too hard in a certain direction to fall for it. And then at the finale, things became a little inevitable.

But that’s selling it all a little short. There are plenty of clever ideas here and he uses the first person narrative well. The primary impossibility is a bit too technical for my tastes, but the central mystery works well. I did prefer the opening two-thirds to the final segment but it all fits together well.

So yes, I’ve said very little about the plot and I ask that people making comments do so as well. I know it’s in the blurb, but we only get to that aspect of the plot about three quarters of the way into the book. Overall, this is a clever, ambitious book. While I figured out bits of the plot, there were some real surprises. Halter plays a clever game and I’m pretty sure a lot of readers will play along exactly how he wants them to. One of the cleverest of Halter’s translated works so far – not without flaws, but it’s still Highly Recommended.

I bought this copy myself as an ebook – paperback copies are available, but they’re not cheap!


  1. I shall not comment much since you seem to be extra careful regarding spoilers for this book. However, I have submitted a review at in which I am much more forthcoming than you . In fact I have revealed what is that something when you mention “if you’ve read….something”.


  2. Thanks Steve for this non-review review – why the heck are the print copies so darn expensive? Really feeling let out at the mo with so many things only on e-formats – curses …


    • I’m guessing limited print runs to match sales. Unfortunately the ebook is going to make this more common…

      To be honest, the ebook isn’t cheap either though.

      Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2


  3. In defense of the POD publishers (now that I’m part of this burgeoning indie press world) I have to tell you the prices must be inflated if anyone involved in the making of the book expects to make a profit. They ought to earn some money for all their hard work. It costs about $5 to print a book up to 200 pages using the CreateSpace platform owned by which is how these Paul Halter books are brought to you. And when a publisher has no idea how many copies he’ll sell he has to figure in a decent profit for all the work and time invested. It’s a laborious job bringing out of print books back into print. In the case of Halter’s books you also should consider the arduous task of translating the books. POD press men and women deserve some sort of pay for all their hard work in bringing you these books. You’re not getting a shoddy product here unlike some of the POD junk being peddled elsewhere on the internet. I don’t think $17.95 is very high at all — especially since Halter’s books have a limited audience and are not going to sell tens of thousands of copies.


    • It’s such a shame that fantastic authors such as Paul Halter struggle to sell and others seem to fly off the shelves, quality be damned. I’m more than happy to pay a little more for quality – I’ve never even thought twice about buying the latest translations of Paul’s work…


  4. I find it hard to see why anybody wouldn’t like impossible crime stories, so it’s a shame they’re regarded as ‘niche’ by Halter’s publishers. I want to read one of his but I too find the prices high. I can’t even request his work from the library as they haven’t got him on catalogue. Now if his stuff was in the supermarkets instead of just the bestseller’s a bit he’d gone down a storm.


  5. The translations include, in addition to the 7 novels, a book of ten short stories titled The Night Of The Wolf. This book was delivered to me yesterday and I will be reading it soon. I bought a used copy since a new copy is quite exorbitantly priced.


  6. Dear Puzzle Doctor:

    I just finished The Crimson Fog, and it is an outstanding book, but I do have a nitpick. I think this time you’ve overdone it with the spoilers. Apparently, you think that a certain change in scenery and direction which takes place two-thirds of the way through the book counts as spoilers. I don’t. You also seem to think that whatever takes place before the change of scenery also counts as a spoiler since you don’t mention it in your review. Now there are surprises, but nothing along the lines of the first half-hour of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In a word, you could have written more about what happens in the book.

    It’s not quite as good as The Seventh Hypothesis, but Halter still does a good job here. I like the fact that the solution behind the impossible crimes is actually very, very simple. At the very end, I correctly figured out who the killer was, but earlier in the book Halter did a good job of throwing me off the scent before I got back on again. There’s also a good love story woven into the whodunit narrative that I think female readers would appreciate. I really ought to write a detailed review of this book and T7H on Amazon so that maybe an American publisher will wise up and get the rest of Halter’s books translated into English.


    • True, but I always err on the side of caution and when the structure of the story is critical to the solution, too much info could see the potential reader making a guess at the general solution before even reading the book. Hence the vagueness. Glad you enjoyed the book regardless of the review.


  7. One more thing—many readers have said that John Pugmire’s translations are so good, they almost don’t seem like translations. They are good, but I have a few nitpicks. For example, in the 2003 French movie The Swimming Pool, there’s a scene where a character uses the word “bizarre”, but it’s translated in the subtitles as “weird.” Where am I going with this? The adjective “bizarre” comes up frequently in the two Halter books I’ve read, and I think it’s because the original French text says “bizarre”, and I don’t think the French use the word the same way English or Americans do. When we say “bizarre”, it’s not just for something out of the ordinary, but extremely so. A room where everything has been turned backward including the furniture and the clothes on a corpse would be considered bizarre by most Americans, but not a dog that doesn’t bark in the nighttime when his master is murdered. I think both of these cases might be “bizarre” in French, and if so, Pugmire might want to use “strange” or “odd” instead.

    Second, I noticed that the level above the ground floor is referred to as the “first floor” in The Crimson Flood. If that is how the British also refer to that floor, then nothing needs to be changed, but if like Americans the British call that the second floor, that should have been translated as such into English. Also, I don’t think English addresses put a comma after the number in street addresses, like “13, Miller’s Court.” This, I believe, is cleaving too much to the original French.

    That being said, the translation doesn’t get in the way or trip me up when I’m reading Halter’s book and once I start reading one of his books, it’s very difficult to stop. That’s not something I can say about many native Anglophone writers, and it’s a credit to Pugmire that Halter’s strenghts shine forth in his translations. I think it’s also clear that while Halter may not be able to write his novels in English, he seems to have a genuine love for English culture from which many of his favorite mystery books sprung from. I wish Pugmire will be able to quickly translate Halter’s other books before I have to buy the French version and use “Google translate” (and common sense) to decipher them. I don’t think I will be able to do nearly as good a job as he has done.


  8. According to Locked Room International website, the next scheduled translation of Paul Halter is only in June 2014 (The Phantom Passage).


    • The good news is that hopefully by then it will not be too long after I finish reading his other works translated into English. Speaking of which, does anybody know if The Riddle of Monte Verita is really written by another French locked-room mystery writer named Jean-Paul Torok, or is it written by Paul Halter underneath a pseudonym? The blurb for the book claims the author also wrote Paul Halter’s books…

      P.S. I am tempted to buy Spiral by Paul Halter and translate it slowly. I should however work on the Belladonne graphic novels first, though…


      • I have read the book by Jean Paul Torok. Though it is good, it is simply not in the same class as Paul Halter. In fact, the main plot idea has similarity with a novel by Carr (which the Puzzle Doctor includes in Gideon Fell Top Five) and the final twist ending has similarity with another Carr’s novel (which the Puzzle Doctor includes in Non-series Top Five).


    • Just want to mention that although it took awhile for me to receive this book a little than I hoped—I ordered it Christmas Eve, and thanks to inclement weather did not receive it until mid-January—I’ve actively set about to translate this book since nobody else is going to do it for me. (Heck, on both Amazon’s French and Canadian web sites, nobody has even bothered to post a review.) It’s taking a while, but I’m a third of the way through the book. I’m looking forward to getting to the halfway mark where (from peeking ahead) I see the murder and impossible crime actually takes place.

      I know what you’re thinking—how the hell can someone translate a French book if he doesn’t know French?

      The answer is that I do know English. Typing the French text into Google Translate is surprisingly effective, even though a small portion of that is gibberish. Then it’s up to me to take a careful look to see why it’s gibberish and correct Google’s mistakes. It’s not perfect, and I’m damn sure that John Pugmire can do a better job than me, but I’m pretty sure any Anglophone mystery fan can understand what I’ve written without scratching their heads and I think I’m 95% close to what Halter’s original meaning.

      I’ve been warned by others that this isn’t worth my time, but how am I going to know that unless I try? Besides, it may be easier to translate a BAD French book than a masterpiece. I won’t be eligible to work at the UN when I’m finished with this, but for better or worse I find the act of doing this is forcing me to learn French whether I like it or not.

      Once I get done with this, I’ll probably stick my nose into The Demon of Dartmoor, which everyone assures me is one of Halter’s best translated books to date. After that, if John Pugmire has no plans (or can’t because of legal issues) to translate Le Tigre Boigne. That will be harder because it’s set in British India, which means using British English. I know that many American authors (or at least their editors) have no problem writing period stories or novels set in England using American English. I am not one of them, and it will be a challenge to get my spelling right.

      Anyway, I’ve said enough. Chapter 11 (of the book, not the bankruptcy code!) is only two pages long, so I’d better get back to work now…


  9. Till date, Paul Halter has written 39 novels (as per the list in Wikipedia) of which only 7 have been translated. He will be writing more novels. At the current translation rate of 2 novels per year, it will be a very, very long time before all the novels are translated. Hence, if one is over-eager to read Paul Halter, I suggest that he learn the French language!


  10. I’ve just noticed that I’ve received a fair amount of Kindle promotional credit from Amazon. Since it feels like “free” money, I thought I’d treat myself to one of the Paul Halter books, which would usually be out of my Kindle price range. But I’m having difficulty deciding, even after going back over your reviews. If you had to pick a favourite, which would it be?


  11. Hope the Puzzle Doctor does not mind me bumping this entry, but I just discovered that the Paul Halter short story anthology Night of the Wolf is now available in English on Kindle. John Pugmire previously translated this book before, but that book is out of print. I assume the Kindle version is the same as the previous book.

    One thing I should note. The original French anthology contained nine stories, but this contains ten. One of the stories in the original anthology “Un Rendez-vous aussi saugrenu” was not translated because the story hinges on a French pun. Puns can be explained, but they can’t really be translated unless you know both languages. I disagree with John Pugmire and At-The-Scene-Of-The-Crime’s Patrick that this means the entire story is untranslatable, and if I had my hands on it, I would do it myself by deciphering Google translate. Anyway, in place of that story, “The Abonimable Snowman” and “The Golden Ghost” were included which are not in the original anthology. For francophone readers, those two extra stories have been included in a new anthology, La Balle de Nausicaa. Enjoy!


  12. Just finished this. What a funny old book. I can see what he’s going for, but I really didn’t enjoy it at all. It’s the first Halter where I think I’ve worked out every aspect of the mystery, but (perhaps paradoxically) it’s also the one with the least satisfying solutions. And that’s quite something, because I’ve read The Invisible Circle!


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