Stella Deverell is a fantastic creature. A young woman who can disappear into thin air. A young woman who can turn base metal into gold. A young woman who can predict the future – in particular when people are going to die.
Several of the villagers of Pickering have indeed died, but not by a human hand. Following Stella’s predictions, they have been hurled from the cliffs onto the rocks below by the wind itself…
Does Stella have supernatural powers? Why does old Mr Usher live like a hermit in the manor where Stella once lived? When Mark Reeder, a journalist who spends too much time staring at clouds, falls in love with Stella, he enlists Alan Twist and Inspector Archibald Hurst to find the truth behind the mysterious deaths. But who can catch the wind?
I thought I’d do something a little different with this review. I’m about three quarters of the way through the book and thought I’d set my thoughts out at the moment and then come back for the conclusion. The reason for that is that I can’t see any way that there can be a satisfactory conclusion – one reliable characters actually witnesses the wind carrying a character away. Now Halter has done fatal falls before (such as in The Demon Of Dartmoor, but the method there can’t work here) and there are other impossible crime mysteries with a basically similar problem. Paul Doherty has done the character throwing themselves to their death (or not) a couple of times, most notably in A Murder In Thebes, but again, that method can’t apply here, clever though it is.
As the book starts – the fifteenth Alan Twist mystery – we see Twist and Hurst feeling a little bored, with the only thing interesting Twist being a recent conversation with Reeder, which he hints at to Hurst (and Hurst makes a very weird leap from King Midas to fairies) and then we cut back to Reeder first visiting Pickering and becoming fascinated with Stella.
All the talk of fairies brings to mind The House In Goblin Wood, the single finest short story ever written – sorry, but that’s a fact – and that similarity went on for a good while for me. As the story goes on, I’m getting more and more engrossed, which isn’t always the case with Halter, and despite the vanishing, alchemy, predictions and death by evil wind, it doesn’t feel over-stuffed with ideas like some of his books. It’s all building up nicely – I think – to the conclusion, but I’ll admit, I’m baffled as to what is going on. Let’s see it makes sense when I finish it. Back soon…
And we’re back. I went into the final section of the book convinced that Halter couldn’t possibly make the story make sense. And I was completely wrong. That was damn clever. Really, really clever. Possibly the final act was a little overly-complicated, but that was a really well constructed puzzle.
If there was a niggle, the bit about clouds didn’t really work for me which kind of undermines the title, but that is very easy to ignore. This is a really impressive piece of work from Halter (and translator John Pugmire), possibly the best that I’ve read to date. Highly Recommended – obviously.
For my other Paul Halter reviews, see my dedicated page.