The Thirteenth Bullet (1948/2020) by Marcel Lanteaume

A grey overcoat may not seem to be a perfect disguise, but it seems to work. Across France, a man in a grey coat approaches his victims, shakes them by the hand and then shoots them dead through the heart.

Twelve people are dead, none of whom seem to have any connection with each other, but finally a witness is found. When the witness is too scared to talk, he is placed for his own safety in what could possibly by the most locked room of all time – a concrete windowless bunker, guarded from the outside. And yet somehow the man in the grey overcoat shoots him dead before he can talk…

Marcel Lanteaume wrote three locked room mysteries before, due to a lack of success caused him to stop. The Thirteenth Bullet, La Trezième Balle was the third of the three books and Locked Room International have chosen this one to translate for us non-francophones.

This is an odd book. Too odd for me, I have to admit. The opening, pre-locked room, part goes on for a while as we work through the opening dozen victims, with a case of too many sleuths. Some journalists are introduced, and when they seem to be being set up as the sleuths, another potential sleuth appears in the form of the police. And then another potential sleuth appears…

It’s not until the locked room murder happens (which does take a while) that Lanteaume’s series sleuth Bob Slowman shows up and his Watson takes over the narrative.

And Watson is probably the right term as the problems I have with this book are the same I have with Sherlock Holmes novels. Information is introduced at the instant it is needed, rather than allowing the reader to ponder its importance. The motives of the murderer are obscure, to say the least, and while it’s often the case that you end up asking in a Golden Age book whether there would have been an easier way, I don’t think it’s ever been more true than here.

And you have to question the behaviour of the victim. As a witness to one of the murders, the reasons given for the victim not to give their information immediately – or not mention something else rather important – did not ring true to me, and the locked room method… well, to voice my criticisms of that would be to spoil it, but again, it is problematic.

I really wanted to enjoy this one. Locked Room International have done some amazing work translating foreign crime fiction that would otherwise be inaccessible. This one, however, didn’t work for me at all.

For a more positive review, do take a look at The Grandest Game In The World.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for the review, and interesting that we’ve been reading the same books recently – I picked up 13th Bullet the moment I purchased it on my Kindle, and your review of “Owner Lies Dead” prompted me to read it after I finished “13th Bullet”.

    I think I liked “Owner Lies Dead” slightly less than you did, and “13th Bullet” slightly more than you did. Having read a few “serial killer” Golden Age mysteries, one does get a sense as to what tricks might be played – but I was still stumped as to who exactly the culprit was, and what his/her/their motivations were. The puzzle was somewhat baroque, and staggered under its own ambitions.

    I caught on to the central conceit for “Owner Lies Dead” almost immediately when the full cast of characters had emerged – and so watching certain characters bark persistently up the wrong tree for much of the book made for an odd and not especially compelling experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also didn’t particularly like the book. Perhaps another recent release will work better for you: The Strange Case Of The Barrington Hills Vampire by James Scott Byrnside.

    Like

  3. I also didn’t particularly like the book. Perhaps another recent release will work better for you: The Strange Case Of The Barrington Hills vampire by james Scott Byrnside

    Like

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