#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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#885: Death Among the Undead (2017) by Masahiro Imamura [trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2021]

Death Among the Undead

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Fourteen years and two disappointing sequels after the fact, it might be difficult to believe just how wild people went for the Matt Reeves-directed monster movie Cloverfield (2008) when it was first released. And I was reminded of that film when reading Death Among the Undead (2017, tr. 2021) by Masahiro Imamura for two reasons: firstly because of the time taken in both to ground the upcoming fantastical elements in enjoyably relatable worlds, and secondly because I cannot help but feel, now as then, that the praise heaped on both might be slightly overdone.

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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 NapolĂ©on 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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#786: Lending the Key to the Locked Room (2002) by Tokuya Higashigawa [trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2020]

Lending the Key to the Locked Room

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The sixth translation of (shin) honkaku by Ho-Ling Wong under the auspices of Locked Room International, Lending the Key to the Locked Room (2002) is a paean to the glory days of the complex puzzle plots of the 1930s while oddly frugal in its own plotting and characterisation. Delightfully self-aware at times in a manner that (to my taste) never succumbs to the danger of outstaying its welcome, the savvy elements of this debut are undercut by issues elsewhere: a reliance on concidence, a tiny cast with very little to misdirect into, and the sheer amount of irrelevant information that carries you through.

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#735: Reprint of the Year – The Red Locked Room [ss] (2020) by Tetsuya Ayukawa [ed. Taku Ashibe & Ho-Ling Wong; trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2020]

So, the obvious question in light of this entry into the Reprint of the Year Awards 2020 as organised by Kate at CrossExaminingCrime is: can these stories originally published between 1954 and 1961 be considered a reprint if they’ve never been published in English before? To which I ask: if they couldn’t, would they be in the running for the Reprint of the Year Awards?

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