The Mask Of The Vampire (2022) by Paul Halter

1901, and the village of Cleverley is in the grip of terror. A dread monster seems to be stalking the village – two women were found dead with bite marks on their throats, only to be seen subsequently wandering the woods at night. When the coffins of the women were opened, they were found with wooden stakes driven through their hearts, and the body of one of the women, despite being dead for over a year, seems not to have decayed at all.

When the man who found the first victim is murdered inside a sealed room, with the killer vanishing in a puff of smoke, the village is certain who the vampire among them is. After all, he has no reflection when viewed in a mirror. But when Owen Burns arrives, drawn to the case by similarities with another locked room murder in London, he has suspicions that things are not exactly what they seem…

“Owen treated us to a lecture on locked rooms; I will spare the reader the tedious details.”

And we return to the modern-day master of the locked room, Paul Halter, who it seems from the above line is getting tired of the comparisons to Carr as well. His books, adeptly translated by John Pugmire, have always been a mixed bag for me, with some excellent, most full of clever ideas but tending to be overfull of such things, and only a couple that I didn’t particularly enjoy. This one… well, I certainly enjoyed it. A lot.

One thing about this one, especially as I felt there was a similarity with a certain John Dickson Carr title (not the vampire one) I really wasn’t sure where it was going. Was it going to be someone pretending to be a vampire for some reason? Was it a real vampire but a mystery as to who it was? Or was it going to have a real-world solution, only for a character to be left alone, only to turn into a bat or something. Now I’m not going to say which one it is, but I can confirm that this is a proper mystery. And yes, he’s thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this one again.

However, it didn’t feel overstuffed that some of his other titles, because all of the impossibilities have a common link, being centred around the “is person X a vampire?”, and the complex plot explaining what exactly is going on works really well. Those among you who like realistic plots might question the lengths some characters go to in the story, when a billiard ball in a sock might have worked more easily, although if you are in that camp, why do you read classic or classic-style mysteries? The big picture is clever and ties everything together when, until the final few chapters, it seems as if nothing would make sense of everything.

It’s not perfect. There are three (I think) technical impossibilities here all of which are far too complicated for my liking – and this is from someone who understood Jim Noy’s locked toilet door in the excellent The Red Death Murders – and I’m not sure how well-known Bram Stoker’s novel was in 1901. It had sold well, four years after publication, but given its importance to the plot…

My plan for this month was to find great books to read, after an indifferent March. So far, if you ignore the fact that this is only my second read of the month so far, it’s going well…

Paul Halter Reviews:

Dr Alan Twist:

Owen Burns:

Non-Series:

5 comments

  1. In theory, I should love Paul Halter because, like you’ve hinted in the review, he’s kind of anti-realist. In fact, he’s anti-realist, I believe, in the same way all of the shin-honkaku novels I love are: a preoccupation with the novelty of the concept above anything and everything else, including absolute credibility. It’s a shame I’ve apparently chosen the three worst ones to start with, because I’m still not on the Halter train…

    Thanks for posting this review, though, I’m glad to know the book’s at least decent! I’ll definitely pick it up at some point.

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  2. “… two women were found dead with bite marks on their throats, ..”
    This is wrong. They were not found with bite marks on their throats. One was found drowned in a pool, presumably having committed suicide. The other died of a heart attack.

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  3. Regarding the technical feasibility of the 3 impossible crimes, I believe they are more feasible than Jim Noy’s toilet murder. In fact, I attempted Jim Noy’s solution but failed.

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  4. I hate modern attempts at Classic Crime, from using the wrong syntax for the time, to wildly aberrant social mores for the social group written about. To anachronisms up to the oxters, to eergh ! I am sure that people who could not write, did attempt the feat, but they, in general did not get published.

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