For the last nine months, I’ve been on a mission to get you all to read the great French mystery novelist Paul Halter (posts here and here) and today I’m back with another of his books. As I pointed out in that first post, his books are translated and published by a tiny house called Locked Room International and I had hoped to have a review of one of their non-Halter books, specifically The Killing Needle by Henry Cauvin. Translator John Pugmire makes the case that The Killing Needle‘s detective Maximillien Heller is the “French Sherlock Holmes” which is of particular note since it was originally published 16 years before the first Holmes story. Pugmire makes a strong case that Arthur Conan Doyle may have read The Killing Needle and taken ideas for Holmes from it. I didn’t find myself quite convinced–I didn’t see anything that couldn’t have been found in various other detective stories of the period, particularly Poe’s Dupin stories. But just because I wasn’t convinced doesn’t mean I’m right. In the end I didn’t find quite enough teen appeal in that book to review here, but if you or your teens are intrigued by the Holmes angle, or just interested in more locked room mysteries, definitely take a look at The Killing Needle.
Meanwhile, today’s review is another Halter book, this one, as I say in my review, seemingly based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Just as in Christie’s novel, the characters are trapped on a small island as a mysterious killer goes to work, leaving only themselves as suspects. Another great mystery from Halter, perfect for fans of Christie looking to branch out.
HALTER, Paul. The Invisible Circle. tr. from French by John Pugmire. 152p. Create Space/Lockedroominternational.com. Jun. 2014. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781497336834.
Halter, the French master of the locked-room mystery, tries his hand at a remake of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with a bit of Arthurian legend thrown in for good measure. Madge Pearson is summoned by her creepy uncle Gerry to a deserted island-castle in Cornwall where she finds several other seemingly unrelated guests. Her uncle declares the castle to be standing on the ground of the “real” Camelot, gives each guest an Arthurian nickname, and then proceeds to predict that one of them will kill him in an impossible fashion. Sure enough, Gerry is murdered and the guests are trapped on the island, convinced that one of them must be the killer. Perhaps because of the very small cast, Halter’s characterization this time out is much more nuanced, although as always the real treat is the seemingly impossible twists and turns of the mystery as it is solved, unsolved, and solved again. Originally published in 1996, and set 60 years before in 1936, the novel has an air of timelessness while still nicely capturing the milieu of Christie’s and Dorothy Sayers’s great novels of the 1930s, and teen fans of those authors, or Halter’s other locked-room works, should love this one.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA