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.
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.
It’s undeniable that I have a slightly unusual relationship with some accepted classic GAD authors and do not necessarily always line up with the accepted wisdom where, say, Ngaio Marsh, Gladys Mitchell, Ellery Queen, and Dorothy L. Sayers are concerned.
The recent, very exciting publication of the brand new Paul Halter novel The Gold Watch (2019, tr. 2019) served to remind me that I still hadn’t read Locked Room International’s previous publication, a translation of Les Invités de Minuit (1935) by Gaston Boca. This is by my reckoning the sixteenth title from the Roland Lacourbe-curated list of 99 excellent impossible crime stories that John Pugmire has brought into English, and his tireless promotion of these books across the language barrier is a continued source of joy for those of us who lament the dearth of great impossible crime fiction being written these days. Pugmire always has something up his sleeve.