A gong impossibly rings as a man dies alone in a locked room. A man dies after falling from a great height, despite there being nowhere to fall from. A man is killed by a scarecrow wearing the clothes of his dead rival. And several murderers walk through undisturbed snow to commit their dastardly deeds.
Paul Halter has crafted ten tales of impossible murder (one of which, admittedly, is the murder of a patch of grass) featuring his series sleuths Alan Twist and Owen Burns. All of these first appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine over the past ten years and are now available in a single collection.
Halter’s recent book, The Gold Watch, was a bit of a mixed bag – a beautiful death in the snow situation, but the rest didn’t really work so well for me. But the impossible-crime short story is something that I enjoy a lot, so when this title appeared, I snapped it up.
And this is a strong collection of mysteries. Some of the situations may seem a little contrived, especially the ones that mirror mythical stories like The Wolf Of Fenrir or the titular The Helm Of Hades, but the puzzles are strong. Most of the solutions are also strong, although there are a couple that fell a little flat, such as The Gong Of Doom or the aforementioned Wolf Of Fenrir.
All of the stories are told with imagination and flair, and most of them are satisfyingly clever mysteries, with a lot of plot crammed into the page count. As the tales are short, I won’t go into any more details here, but I can strongly recommend this collection, a much more satisfying read than The Gold Watch, and definitely well worth your time.
I’ve unfortunately generally been pretty indifferent on Halter’s short stories, and this collection didn’t really change my view of them. They’re perfectly fine from a solution standpoint, but their writing never really gripped me, and most of the problems themselves didn’t seem interesting enough to try and figure out for myself. The only exception would’ve maybe been the Yellow Book and The Helm of Hades. The former I liked all around, although, a bit similarly to the Golden Watch, I wish Halter had dug a little deeper into the creepy lore and establish a stronger atmosphere. The latter ended up catching me a bit off-guard, especially when I thought I had most of it figured out.
Another funny thing is that I personally had a much better time with the Golden Watch.
“A man dies after falling from a great height, despite there being nowhere to fall from.”
This story is exactly the same as one of the dozen crimes in Les Douze Crimes d’Hercule (not yet translated)
Might be the same set up but that’s an Owen Burns novel – this is an Alan Twist story.
Yes, that is an Owen Burns novel, but he has to solve 12 distinct crimes just as he solves 7 distinct crimes in The Seven Wonders of Crime.. And one of the 12 crimes is the same as this story with minor alterations like change of detective !
[…] The Helm Of Hades (2019) by Paul Halter […]