The Gold Watch (2019) by Paul Halter

1901, London, and a woman is murdered in the street, dropping her gold watch, watching, as she dies, as it rolls just out of reach…

1991, and the playwright André Lévêque struggles to identify a film that he saw when he was ten, a film apparently including the aforementioned murder.

1911, and Victoria Sanders, an artist, is found dead in the snow, with only her own footprints leading to her corpse…

Right, now how to review this one? Because it would be very easy to stray into spoiler-territory, both with what I did and didn’t like about it.

First off, fans of locked room mysteries will delight in the dead body in the snow solution, which is stunning. Admittedly, the map helps, and one has to wonder what the villain would have done were it not for a certain weather condition, which would basically mess the entire plan. There is a second impossible mystery, a much more straightforward one, in the modern day strand, but it’s nowhere near as clever as the snowbound one.

On the other hand, the parallel narrative may not be to everyone’s taste. I’m not sure it was to mine, to be honest.

The 1911 strand was excellent, but I was less convinced by the 1991. It’s an exciting and twisty tale, but I found it less convincing that the past one. Halter does an excellent job at making the reader look past this as the pace of the tale accelerates and the reader tries to work out how the two tales are linked – if indeed they are.

Fans of very traditional mysteries may be disappointed in the long run with aspects of the tale – there is a distinct style of plotting here that is, so I understand, more akin to other French writers than his English-speaking counterparts, so don’t expect everything to be tied up in a perfect logical bow, although to be fair, enough of it is.

Forgive this fairly rambling review – I’m still not sure exactly how much I enjoyed it myself – but it’s definitely a book that I’m glad I’m read. Why not give it a try?

3 comments

  1. I just posted about this one at JJ’s blog. It feels like Halter wanted to write a variation of a trick he performed on a short story and built the rest around that impossibility in a rush.
    He couldn’t think of a complex, layered story, so he took the easy way out by copying the much looser, less tightly woven structure of A Picture From the Past.
    He couldn’t find good plot-driven threads, so he padded out by adding some cringey meta pseudo-psychological BS.
    He prepared a stew without meat, few vegetables and lots of potato.
    And don’t get me started on that other thing he does all the time … I was “he’s not going there again is he?” “oh, fudge this book!”
    I haven’t read the much despised Vampire Tree yet, Doc, but this is my least favorite Halter by a wide margin.

    But, yeah, I agree with you. People should try this one and see which side the coin lands. I mean, I loved 7 Wonders of Crime (murder by dehydration aside). So there’s that.

    Like

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