#909: The Mask of the Vampire (2014) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2022]

Mask of the Vampire

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For someone who wishes there was more ambition displayed in the modern impossible crime novel, I prove hard to please when Gallic maestro of the impossible Paul Halter stretches his wings into his more enterprising undertakings. I can’t shake the feeling that I rated The Man Who Loved Clouds (1999, tr. 2018) a little too harshly, and maybe in a couple of years I’ll feel that The Mask of the Vampire (2014, tr. 2022) deserves more than the three stars I’m giving it. Because, see, there is a lot of ambition here, and I want to celebrate the complexity of Halter’s intentions and achievements…but, I dunno, something just holds me back.

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#850: Penelope’s Web (2001) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2021]

Penelope's Web

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In my recent conversation with Nick about Jonathan Creek, I reflected on how a chance encounter with that television programme ended up having a profound effect upon my interests. No less profound an effect was brought about by my purchasing of John Pugmire’s translation of The Fourth Door (1987, tr. 1999) by Paul Halter back in 2013. The annual Halter translations Pugmire publishes through Locked Room International are a highlight of my year, having provided a window on the French mystery in the Golden Age and beyond (thanks almost entirely to Pugmire’s translations of many other classics), and being a riotously fun time along the way.

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#812: The Forbidden House (1932) by Michel Herbert & Eugene Wyl [trans. John Pugmire 2021]

Forbidden House

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Nouveau-riche Napoléon Verdinage acquires Marchenoire Manor despite mysterious missives warning him against purchasing this “forbiddin [sic] house” and promising his untimely demise. Learning that the previous owners either died or took the letter writer’s warnings to heart and left, Verdinage becomes only more determined to stay. He only has himself to blame, then, when at the two month deadline given for his departure he is shot dead by a man who apparently vanished from the house…an outcome all the more baffling because the only exit was watched the entire time and multiple searches fail to discover the killer anywhere inside.

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#797: The Tiger’s Head (1991) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2013]

Tiger's Head

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I had intended to reread The Tiger’s Head (1991) by Paul Halter for my 800th post next Thursday, as it is a permanent toss-up between this and The Madman’s Room (1990) for my favourite of the French maestro’s work thus far translated by John Pugmire. But then everything — everything — I tried to read this week struck me as turgid, tedious, and unbearable, and Ben at The Green Capsule had a wonderful time reading Halter’s The Phantom Passage (2005), and I thought “Why not bring it forward a week and actually enjoy myself for a change?”. So here we are, and I don’t regret it, not even for a moment.

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#671: “At this point, everything seems too far-fetched to be taken seriously…” – The Invisible Circle (1996) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2014]

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A triptych of needs are being met here: firstly a last-minute replacement for the Modern Locked Room Mystery for TomCat I’d intended to write about, secondly the addressing of a Paul Halter book not yet reviewed on this blog, and thirdly some tangential research for next Saturday’s In GAD We Trust episode.

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#638: Death Out of Nowhere (1945) by Alexis Gensoul & Charles Grenier [trans. John Pugmire 2019]

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Seventeen. John Pugmire has now, through Locked Room International, published 17 previously-non-Anglophone books from the Roland Lacourbe-curated Locked Room Library list, all but one being his own translations.  This brings LRI’s roster up to 38 books, a frankly incredible achievement (and hopefully a long way from finished yet), comprising among others Paul Halter, a shin honkaku renaissance, and a reprint of Locked Room Murders by Robert Adey and a completely new follow-up.  And still the great titles keep on coming, including this unheralded little gem from Alexis Gensoul and Charles Grenier — one of three books Gensoul wrote in 1945.

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#611: The Seventh Hypothesis (1991) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2012]

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Aaah, Christmas; time to drop into the comforting arms of the ones we know and love.  I tried to mix things up a bit this year, starting two Christmas mysteries to review this week…but neither really worked for me, and so I’m following my own advice and adding another pre-blogging Paul Halter title to my archives.  I distinctly remembered The Seventh Hypothesis (1991, tr. 2012) to be a doozy, with less of a focus on the impossibilities — though we get two in quick succession — and more attention drawn to a complex switchback of mellifluous plotting…so how’d it stand up to a second look?  Rather well, as it turns out.

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#575: The Gold Watch (2019) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2019]

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Similar to how Alfred Hitchcock’s two version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934/1956) use the same core ideas but differ in details, the motifs Paul Halter returns to in The Gold Watch (2019, tr. 2019) — the dual time period narratives of The Picture from the Past (1995, tr. 2014), a baffling no footprints murder at an isolated house a la The Lord of Misrule (1994, tr. 2006), the invocation of The King in Yellow from ‘The Yellow Book’ (2017, tr. 2017) — there’s no doubt this is a very different style of story simply using familiar ideas to very new ends.  Strange to say this of a Frenchman, but this is perhaps the outright Frenchest work of his yet translated.

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