The English village of Buckworth has long been haunted by the spectre of a White Lady, a phantom whose appearance is always an omen of doom. When it appears to Sir Matthew Richards, vanishing into thin air after being pursued into a room with no exits, it seems that doom is coming his way.
As the White Lady claims a victim in the village, killing merely by a touch, Owen Burns finds himself enlisted to find the truth about the apparitions that seem to be increasing in frequency. As Sir Matthew grows closer to death, can Burns get to the bottom of the mystery and bring the apparition to justice?
The sixteenth translation of one of Paul Halter’s works, this, like The Gold Watch, being published ahead of the French version, is an interesting book. Interesting in the sense that it has some very clever ideas in it, and at least one very, very annoying one. To paraphrase Longfellow: when it is good, it is very good indeed, but when it is bad, it is horrid.
Let me explain – the central method involved in the second death in the book, which I won’t go into, is clever. There is something of an issue with the practicalities that involve the speed of sound, but it’s a clever murder method that would work exceptionally well as a short story. Unfortunately, it’s not a short story…
So, the horrid. Perhaps that word is overstating it for the first major issue I have with the book – the first impossibility. While I understand completely what Halter is going for, as it is a crucial event for the plot as a whole, but in terms of an explanation for what seems to be billed as the primary impossibility, it is disappointing in the extreme.
And the second problem, I found very disturbing. The final chapter, concerning the fate of one of the characters… It’s very hard for me to explain the issue I have with this without spoiling things, but I’ll give it a go. There are many classic detective mysteries where, for whatever reason, the sleuth takes matters into their own hands and decides the ultimate fate of the killer. I’ve never read a book where I so vehemently disagreed with the choice made as this one. I’ll say no more, but I found the conclusion… just wrong.
So, there are some very good ideas here, and certain aspects of the plot are cleverly done, but at the end of the day, this one has too many problems for me. As usual, Paul Halter is to be praised for his ambition – if it wasn’t for the final chapter, perhaps I would be more forgiving for the other disappointment – but ultimately, this did feel like a padded short story with a clever idea at its heart.