May 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?
ATTENTION! STEP AWAY FROM THE BLURB! ATTENTION! DO NOT READ THE BLURB! ATTENTION! EVEN THE COVER GIVES A HINT! ATTENTION! GO INTO THIS BOOK KNOWING AS LITTLE ABOUT IT AS POSSIBLE! ATTENTION!
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!