#434: Locked Room International is 30 – My Favourite 15 Books

LRI Thirty

Some months ago, in our podcast The Men Who Explain Miracles, first myself and then Dan chose our fifteen favourite locked room novels of all time.  In celebration of Locked Room International recently putting out their thirtieth fiction title, I have done essentially the same again, this time choosing solely from their catalogue: effectively, my personal picks for the ‘top half’ of their output to date.

Except, okay, not quite: I’m yet to read The Man Who Loved Clouds (1999) by Paul Halter, being that thirtieth title, and have excluded the multi-national short story collection The Realm of the Impossible (2017) since so many different hands in the same pot make it difficult to compare overall.  Maybe I should wait until they’ve published 30 novels, you say?  Hell, that would just make this even trickier than it already was.

Compiling that previous list, I cowarded out and failed to put a definitive order on my choices; well, not this time!  This time you’ll have my fifteenth-favourite all the way up to my first, though any previous ratings should be disregarded as this is very much an in-the-moment undertaking, and so something previously in receipt of a four-star rating could well place higher than something I’ve rated five stars.  I know, the scandal — good heavens, do I have no credibility?  Er, no, it would appear not.

Okay, enough preamble — onwards!

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15. The Decagon House Murders (1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji

Decagon House MurdersAn updating of Agatha Christie’s And The There Were None (1939), in which a group of university students — each bearing a sobriquet styled after famous detective fiction authors — visit a remote island where a series of mysterious and bloody deaths occurred the year before.  What could possibly go wrong?  I mean, you expect to be killed off one by one in that sort of situation, wouldn’t you?  Contains some beautifully baroque touches, such as signs appearing on the doors of the rooms in the titular house after the person sleeping therein is killed, and has one of the best-hidden killers I think I’ve ever encountered.

14. The Night of the Wolf [ss] (2006) by Paul Halter

The Night of the WolfHalter’s short fiction enables him to showcase his staggering imagination and economy of plotting and clewing over and over again.  Contains some of my favourite short impossibilities ever, including prophetic dream masterpiece ‘The Cleaver’ and the title story which manages to be both a brilliant impossible werewolf murder and a commentary on the nature of myths and legends.  Along the way, Halter casually provides proof of the existence of Santa Claus, sees someone murdered by a snowman, and explains how a man with everything to live for is lured to his death by a mythical siren call.

13. The Ginza Ghost [ss] (1932-47) by Keikichi Osaka

The Ginza GhostNot merely a collection of superb stories — including a kidnapper floating off into the sky, a missive disappearing from a watched letter-box, and a sea monster’s attack on a lighthouse — but also a compelling portrait of a culture on the brink of change.  Osaka’s fiction is rooted in the transition to technological innovation from the ‘old ways’, and mixes the expectations of both to beautiful and insightful effect.  Genre fiction as historical document, believe it or not, and a fascinating glimpse of the development of the honkaku plot that would come to be adopted so perfectly by Eastern culture a few decades later.

12. The Invisible Circle (1996) by Paul Halter

Invisible CircleHalter at his most unabashedly playful, isolating a disparate group in an old castle, killing someone impossibly at the top of a tower, and standing back to see what develops.  It sounds like I’m excusing unavoidable flaws if I say something like “try not to take it too seriously”, but, like, do you need reminding that such reading is meant to be fun?  Reading this felt to me like rediscovering my enjoyment mojo after too long being too serious about the books I picked up; it was my third or fourth Halter, and the one that made me a fan for life.

11. The Phantom Passage (2005) by Paul Halter

Phantom Passage, TheFor all the joy of locked room murders, vanishing murderers, or magically-appearing corpses, there’s a real excitement about an impossible crime novel that promises something more challenging.  Here that promise is both made and fulfilled perfectly: a vanishing alleyway in fog-shrouded London, pulled off with such rare élan that despite having read the book I’m still not entirely sure how Halter manages to make it work so brilliantly.  The motive is utterly barmy, and maybe not everyone will love the ‘prophetic visions’ solution, but the whole thing is a beautifully-wrangled game, as the final line proves.  Gloriously entertaining.

10. Death in the House of Rain (2006) by Szu-Yen Lin

Death in the House of RainOf the three Eastern ‘mansion murders’ translations thus far published by LRI, this is easily the most complex and yet also the most simple — utilising a trick that would be perfectly at home in any GAD impossibility, yet hiding it with a legerdemain that betokens a serious talent.  A gloomy and oppressive atmosphere abounds, too, and there’s a real stab of darkness in the closing pages that shows how character can be just as important as plot and setting when trying to hide something in plain sight.  Not an optimistic book by any means, but a staggeringly clever one.

9. Death Invites You (1988) by Paul Halter

Death Invites YouThe locked room murder of an expert in locked room murders, this is enriched by some curiously off-kilter details in the setup and a far richer vein of characterisation than Halter typically gets credit for.  The solution to the impossibility might be the least original of those so far translated, but the story around it is constructed with real surety, and told at a blinding pace.  Also has a lot of fun at an early stage of Halter’s career in teasing you with one of the oldest, most eye-rolling gambits in the genre…but does he succumb to it?  Read and find out…

8. The Seventh Hypothesis (1991) by Paul Halter

Seventh HypothesisTrading far less on the impossibilities with which Halter has made his name and more on a switchback plot of dazzling and dizzying complexity, the middle section of this is one of the most delightful times I’ve had reading a puzzle plot.  Are an actor and a playwright engaged in a duel to the death?  Who is the mysterious doctor who made a body appear out of nowhere?  Is there plague in 1940s London?  A gleeful, rip-snorting humdinger of a book, you can almost hear Halter’s maniacal laughter emanating from the pages with each jack-knife twist and revelation.

7. The Double Alibi (1934) by Noel Vindry

Double Alibi, TheThe latest Vindry translation, and easily the most complex we’ve yet seen: a man accused of a crime, then another crime elsewhere at exactly the same time, and then another at the same time again.  Starts simply enough, and once that revelation hits you’re in for a wild ride as the plots spin you in several directions at once like a merry-go-round set to ‘Aaargh!’.  And shows what a light touch Vindry had with character and place, as it contains not just fine comic writing but also a tangible sense of the provincial settings that bear witness to this brilliance.  Mind-bendingly good.

6. The Tiger’s Head (1991) by Paul Halter

Tiger's HeadDismembered bodies turning up in suitcases, a man bludgeoned to death by a genie while locked in a room with every exit watched from outside, and enough suspicious activity to leave anyone scratching their head in bewilderment.  And yet, once Alan Twist draws it all together, what emerges makes sense, would work surprisingly well in the real world (the locked room trick is especially neat), and is full of the clever patterns and layering that make the best of these novels so much fun.  For a long time, this was my favourite Halter translation, but then, well, you’ve probably already scrolled ahead and seen what happened.

5. Whistle Up the Devil (1953) by Derek Smith

whistle-up-the-devilThe unavailability of this book was a source of great frustration for me for a long time, and although I obtained a copy before the LRI reprint there was always the risk that after so much anticipation it would prove disappointing.  It didn’t.  The ease with which you can buy this now means many people will get to take it for granted, but the two impossible murders in here are preternaturally brilliant and should not be overlooked.  Smith was a wonderful talent, and the paucity of his available writings is a real shame; if I could, I’d go back in time and encourage him to write another fifteen of these.

4. The Howling Beast (1934) by Noel Vindry

Howling BeastAs I have said before, anyone coming to this purely for the impossibility will have a wait on their hands as it transpires very late in the narrative.  As I have also said before, the story on the way to that impossibility — and how the impossible situation evolves from everything that goes before — more than makes it worth the journey.  For tone, for setting, for placing a small cast in a confined area and watching the madness unfold, and for the resulting fever-pitch of claustrophobia this is masterfully marshalled and arguably not too far off the pinnacle of the form.

3. Come to Paddington Fair (c. 1954) by Derek Smith

Paddington FairThe insanity of this book remaining unpublished in Derek Smith’s lifetime baffles me; the puzzle is grander, the cast more finely-realised, and the bizarre shooting at a theatre that opens it is simply the jumping off point for a plot that twist and jags and pirouettes puckishly all the way up to its ingeniously-resolved impossibility.  Has that lightness of touch that makes me dearly wish Smith had possessed the confidence to submit this to someone, and received the praise he was due and been heartened to go on to become one of the genre’s great puzzlers.  The realised potential here is simultaneously amazing and so frustrating.

2. The Madman’s Room (1990) by Paul Halter

Madman's RoomThe brilliance of this book is how ridiculous it sounds — following each of a series of seemingly-unrelated events, a wet patch appears on the carpet in a particular room in a house — and how astonishingly tight the resulting puzzle turns out to be.  Without a doubt, this is one of the most joyfully inventive books I will ever read, and if you don’t own a copy then I honestly don’t even care what your excuse is.  More frolicsome than The Phantom Passage, more bonkers than The Seventh Hypothesis, hairy Aaron the idea that Halter may have written better books than this is very exciting.

1. The Moai Island Puzzle (1989) by Alice Arisugawa

Moai Island PuzzleAnother island, two murders, a treasure hunt — this book is perfectly paced and gorgeously imagined.  Gets fully-deserved plaudits for the expert piece of extended ratiocination that ties the threads at the end, but should also be commended for how well the events ‘away’ from the crimes never lag, never feel extraneous, and form a crystal-clear picture that will nevertheless thoroughly confound you until laid plain by the author.  The treasure hunt, too, while beyond the intellect of any human being alive, is almost involved enough for a book of its own, highlighting th skill of its inclusion herein without crowding out the other events around it.  A masterpiece.

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Whew, that was tricky!  And, yes, I’ve had to exclude at least one book I gave a five-star rating, more than a few four-starers, and one of my favourite impossibilities ever — testament, I think you’ll agree, to the quality in depth of LRI’s output to date.

Here’s to the next thirty!

65 thoughts on “#434: Locked Room International is 30 – My Favourite 15 Books

  1. Thanks for this JJ – I have I think only read MADMAN, which I liked less than you admittedly ( I preferred DEMON OF DARTMOOR, weirdly not on your list …) so much to look forward to 😀

    • Oh, hey, let’s ot pretend that the exlcusion of others was in any way indicative of their poorness — Dartmoor is easily one of my favourite impossibilities ever, and the dual narratives in Picture from the Past are marvellously resolved…this is the strength in depth of LRI’s output. Something that repeatedly knock them out the park so regularly is a cause for much delight 🙂

  2. I’ve just bought the Derek Smith omnibus and was excited about that, but your recommendations above only add to that. I will try Halter at some point, but the trouble is they all sound so good!

    • Not only are there two marvellous novels in that omnibus, there’s also this great Sexton Blake novella — it’s a real trove of wonderful writing and creative impossibilities, and we’re phenomenally lucky to have it available so easily.

      As for Halter, pretty much anything would be a great place to start, but given his plot-is-everything approach I’d recommend something like The Seventh Hypothesis, Death Invites You, or The Demon of Dartmoor as good starting points. At his most fearlessly creative he really takes some beating in my book.

      • Thanks for the Halter start-point recommendations. Not sure when I’ll get round to him though as I’ve also got Rupert Penny on my radar and just read some of your fulsome reviews of those as well.

        • I was recently reflecting that I haven’t raved about Rupert Penny for a while, and there’s She Had to Have Gas staring longingly at me from my shelves. The mere coincidence of this timing convinces me that I should dust that one off before too long, purely for the joy of being able to go on about how good he is for another 800 words.

          Watch this space!

          • Not sure how you’ve been able to resist what sounds to be one of the most macabre GAD scenarios (a torso with tennis racket covers attached to it) for so long.

            • Well, chronology for one thing, and all the other tempting stuff out there for another. However, expect this to be corrected in the coming weeks…

  3. Some nice choices, obviously given the subject. I reckon I would change the order between Arisugawa and Ayatsuji and replace Osaka with Abiko.
    Perhaps replace the Double Alibi with another of Halter’s opuses ( an alternative title for the post who be the curious case of the missing demon of the Dartmoor)

    Other than that, I seriously need to buy the Derek Smith Omnibus.

    • Dartmoor as an impossibility is a complete joy, but for me the headless horseman thing feels a little rushed and takes something away from the book (I have the same difficulty with how underdeveloped the “messages by painting” part of The Seven Wonders of Crime is).

      And, yeah, the Abiko was also a close-run thing, as was The Picture from the Past, etc, etc. I’m delighted simply to have set out to pick fifteen books and succeeded in picking only fifteen books. And by all accounts The Man Who Loved Clouds is rather fabulous, so that would only have complicated maters even further…!

  4. Mostly completely agree with you here, on the ones that I’ve read – apart from number one, obviously (due to my general awkwardness). Really found that one flat and a sub-Ellery Queen pastiche. Hey ho.

    • As someone who is yet to be convinced that the Ellery Queen novels were anything more than mostly dull and only occasionally very good, I found the ratiocination at the heart of Moai Island really quite thrilling — but, sure, I can see the issues fans of the EQverse would have with it.

      • The only book by LRI that I have read is Whistle up the Devil, which I liked very much , so I can hardly comment on this post but I am interested to know why you make such a sacrilegious remark on Ellery Queen ! I like his books very very much and he is my second favourite author !

        • It’s because our host has a screw loose. It’s no coincidence that his handle rhymes with cray-cray!

          Or possibly it’s just down to differing tastes. Hard to say with him, really.

        • I fenced around Queen for a bit in my early GAD reading, partly through difficulty in obtaining the books, and as I tracked down more and more and decided to read their novels chronologically I was astounded at how bad The Roman Hat Mystery proved to be, and then how dull and forced and stilted French Powder was. I’ve tried the short story approach, and that started poorly and then got worse, so all my recent EQ experiences can be judged from the foregoing.

          I meaan, it hasn’t all been terrible and I’m determined to keep going — there’s another novel due later this month, then potentially a novella next month and a forthcoming spoiler-heavy look at Halfway House. I’m not writing EQ off completely, far from it, but given the tendency to praise those early books I was surprised at how unreadable they were and how little I enjoyed them.

          I have hope that, in time, some of the Queen books will achieve the standard that Queen is broadly credited with — I do want,/i> them to be good, it’s not like I’m proving some thesis or making any money out of trashing them. But, at present, I file Queen under Promising But Problematic.

            • Frecnh Powder is clever, but (appropriately) exceptionally dry. Chinese Orange has seen a definite loosening up — it’s to be hoped this continues through Spanish Cape and The Lamp of God. I shall persevere nonetheless…!

            • PD, every time we bring up Siamese Twin, he ignores us. Perhaps there was a troubling forest fire in his youth. Perhaps, he himself is conjoined – which could explain his typing. Perhaps he was traumatized watching The Lady and the Tramp or The King and I. Oh, well . . . given how much I disliked Spanish Cape, it’ll probably reverse JJ’s antipathy for Queen.

            • I’m not ignoring you, you’re ignoring me: I’ve said before that as it comes before The Chinese Orange Mystery, and since I’m trying to do these in order, it will be the last one I come to once I loop around. Not my fault. Blame modular arithmetic.

            • Think of it like starting a new job at 3pm and being told “Oh my god, that best thing happens here every day at 2pm!” — fine, you want to go back to 2pm and find out what it is, but you just have to cycle through the hours until 2pm comes around again.

              Man, you can tell I’m a teacher, hey?

          • Since your problem with Queen is his dullness, you could hardly have chosen a worse one to read next than Spanish cape 😦 ……… but hopefully things will get better with Lamp of God and Halfway House. 🙂

            • Hahaha, well it was largely informed by having to read Chinese Orange for the Hoch list episodes of the podcast several months back. It’s okay, I’m in this for the long haul — like Brad and Paul Halter, I’m not going to pack it in, the fans will just have to hold their breath every time I announce a review and wait to see if the penny had dropped for me yet 🙂

  5. Damn you, JJ! I was playing with the idea of compiling a LRI best-of list after reading Hard Cheese, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

    Anyway, you put together an interesting list, but personally would have moved some titles up or down the list or replaced them with other titles. Whistle Up the Devil would definitely trump Come to Paddington Fair on my list and not entirely sure if The Madman’s Room is really better than The Phantom Passage.

    However, I think we’re in the minority when it comes to The Invisible Circle, but don’t worry, everyone else is wrong on that one. You know what? I would probably open my list with that weird, uneven Death in the Dark by Stacey Bishop. I see it as one of those alternative locked room classics like W. Shepard Pleasants’ The Stingaree Murders and Joseph B. Carr’s The Man With Bated Breath.

    • It’s nice when we’re right and everyone else is wrong, hey? And, sure, I’ll come back to this list in a wek and be scandlaised by my own ordering and omissions, but I stand by the contents of it for the next 15 minutes.

      I have a copy of The Stingaree Murder now, borrowed from The Puzzle Doctor Lending Library, and am woring my way round to it slowly. Been intrigued by that one ever since seeing it on your Favourite Impossible Crime Novels list.

  6. An excellent list – if there are still so many great ones not mentioned, why did you choose to stop at fifteen, eh? ;D

    I have read exactly two, but I would definitely agree with rating Moai Island highly. At first, I agreed with some of the other comments that it was rather flat, but as the story continued, I found some of the characters began to build up a little more, the mystery became more compelling, and I even got a little bit emotional at the end.

    Actually, hate to admit it, but the charge of being “flat” I would lay at Death Invites You, the other LRI I’ve read. I remember almost nothing about the book, but I never recalled the characters at any point being compelling.
    And I found the ending “joke” eyeroll-worthy. It reminded me of the anime Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple, where the incongruous figure of Miss Marple’s great-niece accompanies them both on their investigations, with her even-more incongruous pet duck in tow…

    Despite this, I’m interested to read Phantom Passage. My only experience with disappearing streets is Norman Berrow, and I’d like to see what someone who by all accounts is very good at impossibilities does with the puzzle.

    • Oh, I stopped at 15 because the previous lists Dan and I made — inspired by the Hoch list from 1981 — were fifteen books long. There just seemed a nice duality in that. There are at least three books not on this list that have 4-star reviews elsewhere on this site, and at least on 5-star review not featured, plus others I read back in the dark days preceding this blog…so it’s by no means a lack of quality 🙂

      The characters in Death Invites You are pretty varied and interesting for my money, far more so than Halter gets credit for, but I appreciate we all see different things in the same arrangement of words. I agree the final line is a bit…weird, but then weird final lines seem to be a specialisty of M. Halter’s!

      Phantom Passage is great. I’m yet to read that Berrow, but I’m very interested to see how he dealt with the problem — Berrow is very much the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead where his impossibilities are concerned: typically either very, very good or simply horrid, and I understand that one to be quite highly regarded.

      • I wasn’t implying a lack of quality – I was implying a longer list :p
        If there are at least 5 of the rest that are also quality, and not counting the anthology or the new one, that’s at least 2/3 of the output that’s good stuff! I like that hit rate!

        I’m not sure I would hold my breath for top-level Carr-style solutions from Berrow, but the explainations themselves are so fun it didn’t matter to me. Berrow could make even the most prosaic events sound like a rollercoaster ride.

        • Berrow stumbles into some alarmingly hoary nonsense at times — godammit, that man loved a hidden staircase or secret passage — but I love him because when he hits his stride as in the likes of The Bishop’s Sword or The Footprints of Satan he comes up with wonderful characters interacting beautifully in clean settings…and with real ingenuity evinced in his solutions. One must pay Russian roulette with Berrow’s impossibilities — and with a higher number of bullets in the gun — but when he pulls it off it’s glorious and absolutely worth the tension of not knowing.

      • Well, I just finished Phantom Passage – put my thoughts on it in response to the review. I would rank it quite highly, definitely above Death Invites You. I think it’s sold me on the prospect of more Halter!

        • I’ve responded there so as to keep these threads as focused on the foregoing post as possible. However, I’m delighted that you’re tempted deeper into Halter’s world. A step in the right direction!

  7. An interesting list. A few here that I disagree with (Phantom Passage infuriates me with an issue of motivation while I would have Hard Cheese and The 8 Mansion Murders in my fifteen) and a few more that I haven’t read yet though I am now looking forward to doing so.

    The Decagon House Murder surprised me more than any impossible crime novel I have read with its solution so I was happy to see it made the list.

    • The motive for Phantom Passage is easily the weakest part of it, no doubt, but the idea and the execution are among the most original I’ve encountered and so they get it in there for me.

      Decagon House contains one of the great reveals of my reading, and I’ll always remember the shock of that moment. Up there with the middle of Till Death Do Us Part and the eventual solution of Death of Jezebel, sublime.

  8. Thanks for this interesting post, as I’m always curious about how different books stack up against each other – apart from my constant need to re-jig my ‘best-for-last’ list. 😁 I must admit, though, your comment that “something previously in receipt of a four-star rating could well place higher than something I’ve rated five stars” made my pseudo-precise mind go 😵. At least the caveat was made in the post itself; I fear I might have gone 😵😵 with confusion otherwise – especially in the absence of photos of apricot pomeranians with perched paws. 🐶

    Thanks for the recommendation of ‘Double Alibi’, ‘Madman’s Room’ and ‘Paddington Fair’. 🤩 That you rated all of them above ‘Seventh Hypothesis’, which is one of my all-time favourite mystery novels, makes me anticipate that they will all make me go 🤯.

    • Lists are sometimes a nice way to clarify one’s thinking, especially as a book when judged in isolation is typically about how well it does what it srts out to do, and something with a grander scope which achieves it less auccessfully may actually be better on account of that thwarted ambition. Man, it makes the head spin.

      Anyway, I apologise for potentially ruining your carefully-curated lists and perspectives. It’s easy to forget, sat typing away at my computer in a room on my own, that I’m meddling in the lives of others!

        • Yeah, so much of one’s response to a book is based on expectations, context, etc, that at times a star rating can be slightly unhelpful, I agree. I’ve justifyied it to myself along the lines of the star rating giving an approximate idea of where I stand, and then the ensuing 800+ words explaining it in more detail. This is in part why I moved the star ratings to the top of my reviews: the rating is explained and reasoned through by the review, rather than the review being reduced down to the stars come the end.

          An excessively fine and philosphical point, I don’t deny, but you’ve met me and so have some idea of how weird I am in real life… 😀

  9. I wasn’t a big fan of your top pick. It’s odd you shouldn’t like EQ if you liked this. It is explicitly and overtly a Queen pastiche. Have you read Greek Coffin?

    • I have read Greek Coffin, it was my very first EQ novel — it’s as ingenious as it gets and about as dry as anything ever put on the page.

      My responses to Queen this far are in a comment further up, so I’ll not repeat myself here, but I don find it interesting how there seems to be a perception that “later Christie is terrible” or “these Carrs are guff and should be wiped out” and yet the notion of there being any weak EQ novels seems to be greeted with frank surprise by most enthusiasts. This is in no way a swipe at you, Ken — please don’t get that impression, I’m just thinking out, er, loud — but in my criticism of Queen to date there seems to always be an element of relief in the replies that “thankfully, someone has finally come out and said it”.

      Some of the Queen stuff is good, some of it is awful, some of it is excellent, and in spite of spreading themselves over a variety of media, and providing a springboard for a lot of authors to get themselves started and heard in the genre, I’m really not convinced that they did all that much which is so wonderfully magnificent. The reputation seems inflated to me. Is it because they were working in a very British GAD tradition while surrounded by more American School contemporaries (Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner, Hammett, Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Ross Thomas, etc)? Because if you put them up against the British GAD school of the same time, I think a lot of Queen stuff sinks without a trace.

      Cue the hurricane of pre-programmed disagreement in 3…2…1…

      • Now you know how it feels, buddy, to possess the only correct opinion in a roomful of men with their heads in the clouds!

        Did I say clouds? Alas, back to this new book I’m reading . . .

      • Well, my reactions now are not too far from yours. I loved EQ 40 years ago — the early stuff, the late 40s stuff just got weird — but rereading Greek was a bit of a penance. I am reluctant now to risk rereading any more.

        Agreeing with you is particularly worrying in fact since you seem to be turning into a Humdrum fan! I expect you to abjure JDC and all his works by Christmas… 😉

        My favourite was the Chinese Orange. PD criticizes that because the trick the murderer plays is a bit weak. True, but the real trick is the one the author plays on the reader, and it’s excellent.

        But do read the better van Dines!

    • I’m tempted to rib JJ for including The Invisible Circle on the list. It was an absolute joy to read, but you know elements of that finale are a bit difficult to choke down. With that said… I would read the equivalent of The Invisible Circle every day for the rest of my life rather than being cursed with reading one The Greek Coffin Mystery a month in perpetuity.

      • Exactly!! TIC needs more love for how damn readabel it is, and how fully it embraces the crazy at the heart of its scheme. Sometimes you need to go a little crazy in order to embrace creativity, and I’d rather have that delightfully creative, fun, loony plot extant in the world than have had Halter decide it wasn’t “serious” enough and so not write it.

        Hell, “Books I’d Re-Read Less Readily Than The Invisible Circle” could be quite a list… 😀

  10. Fascinating list with an order very similar to what mine is shaping into.The only inclusion that surprises me is Come to Paddington Fair which I remember as being a slog to read through. The beginning is great but the middle just feels overlong and unnecessary in its entirety, but the book itself is saved by the gorgeous impossibility reveal at the end. Maybe I’m just a bit prejudiced, I did read it during an incredibly hot day while trapped in a extremely boring series of classes and it was just after Whistle Up the Devil, which was stunning in every possible way.
    Will have to get to The Madman’s Room soon, but the allure of TMWLC is too great for my poor soul 😞

    • Equally, my response to Paddington Fair could be coloured by the absolute certainty with which I accepted never getting the chance to read it — when it then turned up, very unexpectedly, having read and loved Whistle Up the Devil some month prior, I was excited beyond words and might well be over-remembering its qualities.

      I remember the cast being much larger and more carefully handled, and the various revelations being well-spaced througout the narrative, coming about by necessity and good detection rather than simply because it was time for another plot development — but that’s a loose series of recollections that are serveral years old now. Maybe we’ll each switch positions when we come to reread it, and will then spend several years trying to convince the other back around to the opinion they used to hold… 😀

      And, yeah, TMWLC does sound exquisite, doesn’t it? Especially following Nick and Puzzle Doctor’s reviews. If only there were some way to get three halters a year and all the other shin honkaku and other brilliance LRI trade in. Hell, I still want more Szu-Yen Lin…

      • My opinions have been known to wildly change after a reread for no apparent reason at all (I actually like Elephants Can Remember now!), so we shall see.
        TMWLC sounds more than exquisite for me. Originally, I was instilled with doubt about it due to the opinions of the people on halters French forum, but every review so far seems positive and gives even more juicy details about the book itself. That gorgeous cover also helps 😉

  11. My heretical opinion on Ellery Queen is that the books only started being good books (as distinct from pretty good puzzles) – highly readable prose, less overall dryness, etc – when they got other people to write them. EQ books ghosted by Theodore Sturgeon, Avram Davidson, etc, are delightful, weird, and compelling. The original [nationality] [noun] series, eh.

    • That…is not an opinion I’ve encoutnered before, Alan, I’ll be honest — bold stuff! I don’t deny there’s been dryness evident throughout everything of theirs (Dannay and Lee’s, I mean) I’ve read, so it would be interesteing to see how someone else handles the essential plot concepts. I shall look forward to making the comparison myself in, like, fifteen years or so…!

  12. I was stuck reading this on a phone while traveling which made for somewhat of an interesting read due to the form factor – you can’t quite cheat and see which book is next. I was close to the bottom of the list thinking “is he leaving out The Madman’s Room?!?!?” Thankfully it was in a well deserved spot.

    However… as I reached the bottom of the list I was certain that The Demon of Dartmoor was going to be number one. It was somewhat of a twist that it wasn’t. With that said, as beautiful as the solution to DoD is, I can appreciate that there’s something lacking in the writing on that one. The plot is stellar, but the way that it hits the page doesn’t quite live up to some of Halter’s other works.

    How awesome is it that I’ve only read three of these books? That means that I have 12 jaw dropping experiences ahead of me.

    Oh, by the way – you’re not allowed to mix short story collections with novels when making lists. It’s just not permitted.

    • Oh, by the way – you’re not allowed to mix short story collections with novels when making lists. It’s just not permitted.

      Huh. There you go. My apologies 🙂 Though, by implication, it’s therefore not possible to compare the Father Brown stories to, say, the work of John Dickson Carr, nor most of the Holmes output to Poirot’s cases — does form matter that much when function is far more important?

      Any thoughts, anyone?

      • Well, I was partially joking, but now you’ve made it interesting… You can of course compare individual short stories to each other, and you can compare overall bodies of work. It does seem strange though to make a direct comparison between a novel and a short story collection in terms of a ranked list.

        For example, is The Third Bullet (the collection, not the novella) better than She Died a Lady? To me the question doesn’t make sense. The Third Bullet includes The House in Goblin Wood, which is undeniably John Dickson Carr’s finest tale in any form. So does that make it better? The Third Bullet contains seven short stories, meaning that you get at least seven moments of revelation – surely that outweighs the two moments of revelation (how and who) you get across the similar page count of She Died a Lady.

        Of course, you could phrase the question as “did you enjoy the time that you spent reading She Died a Lady more than the time that you spent reading The Third Bullet?” That’s fair, but at the same time doesn’t quite click for me.

        • We have different expectations for the component parts of a novel than we do a short story, though, right? So the shorter form may neglect character, or history, or setting, or whatever, and where we would penalise a novel for doing that we would be more understanding if every entry in a collection did the same thing. But, can not each story in a collection still contribute to the overall experience in place of these expectatons and flavours we’d look for in a full novel?

          I dunno, it’s been a long day and I’m mainly just thinking out, er, loud. I don’t disagree that the comparison of novels and anthologies is flawed, but the comparison of collection to collection is flawed, and novel-to-novel comparisons arguably depend hugely on what each novel sets out to do in the same way that we accept limitations in short stories. Witness Philip MacDonald’s books: the ones I’ve read are nowhere near the best of the genre’s strongest writers, but I’d put the invention and deliberate narrowness of The Rynox Mystery against all Carr’s complexity any day of the week.

          Man, have I ever opened a can. Worms everywhere…

  13. No love for THE FOURTH DOOR or THE CRIMSON FOG? I think those are two of the better Halter translations so far, even if FOG does have that weird two-part structure. I’d definitely put them behind SEVENTH HYPOTHESIS but ahead of TIGER’S HEAD, INVISIBLE CIRCLE, and many of the stories in NIGHT OF THE WOLF. (I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read the other three Halters on this list yet!)

    Ayatsuji’s THE DECAGON HOUSE MURDERS would duke it out with SEVENTH HYPOTHESIS for my #1 spot. Like just about everyone else in the comment section, I think it’s one of the most jaw-dropping twists I’ve ever encountered in a mystery story. I also share TomCat’s love for the gloriously bizarre DEATH IN THE DARK…how can you not love a story where the detective writes an 8-page poem listing all of the clues revealed so far?

    • I am a Crimson Fog apologist — to be honest, I’ve never really understood the stick that book gets — and it was a close-run thing as to whether it would make it or not (along with, like, eight other books, of course). I think the two-part structure is great, I love the impossible murder of the magician, and I think the ending is brilliantly powerful. It’s a book, much like The Invisible Circle, that need more love.

      Fourth Door is also very good, but as it was an early one for me I’ll confess that I’m vague on some of the details. The body swap is brilliant, but I actually can’t remember the “no footprints” solution any more, and so didn’t feel I could realistically place it on here — a victim of my dodgy memory, alas. But, I agree: both very strong entries, with a lot to commend them.

      But the, this is the great thing about LRI’s stable: it’s possible to say this about almost everything in there (I’ll not be drawn on my least favourites — that seems unjust in the light of all the excellent work John and his support network are doing).

      • You really think the ending of “The Crimson Fog” is “brilliantly powerful”? Now, you can’t be referring to the reveal itself, because that’s a hoary old chestnut that’s been used by other writers since the beginning of time and which all readers should guess at from the second page or so, so I suppose you like the writing or the ambiance or something? 😉

        My entire feeling throughout the final part of the book was “I’m sure Halter won’t go there. Come on now, he can’t go there, can he? Oh, please don’t go there. Oh, he did… Well, that’s a shame.” There may have been expletives somewhere in that final sentence.

        • I really enjoyed how the ending brings you back around to the opening lines — in fairness, it’s not so much that I didn’t see it coming as that I was very swept up and not really looking. I wasn’t surprised as much as I just enjoyed it. Does that make sense?

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