Sunday, October 18, 2015

Seven Wonders of Crime by Paul Halter

Image result for 7 wonders of crime paul halter

"Beauty following the sun's example, prevents us from seeing what's around it whenever it appears." - Philon.

A Serial Killer is on the loose, he is committing one miraculous murder after another. An old man is burnt on top of a lighthouse, he is locked inside alone with no one there for miles, the police are perplexed on how was the man set on fire? It reminds the Edwardian dilettante and amateur sleuth, Owen Burns, of the lighthouse of Alexandria. The killer has a peculiar idiosyncrasy, he sends a painting of the murder and clues to the name of the victim to the police before perpetrating a wonder of crime. The killer wants to emulate the seven wonders of the ancient world in his own twisted way. His next victim, is shot on the nape by an arrow that seems to be shot from heaven, the police and the detective are baffled on how can some make this impossible shot at the back of the neck. This reminds them of the temple of Artemis.

The murderer continues to kill with impunity and each murder is more impossible, more incredulous and more baffling than the last. The murderer not only kills by sending clues before hand to the police, he also murders in a fashion which leaves the police befuddled, on top of that each murder reminds one of the seven wonders of the world. Thus, our detective in the piece calls them the Seven Wonder of Crime.

Paul Halter, who has often been claimed as the next big thing after the grand master spins a tale of one impossibility after another. Halter of course writes his books in French, and they are translated in English by John Pugmire. Below is the link to his wonderful website:


I think the author wanted to do something radical with this book, he wanted to create a myriad of complex and convoluted impossible mysteries one on top of another, which I think he thought  would perhaps elevate him from the status of Carr's heir. The story fails to grab the reader, concentrating too much on the impossibilities and taking the reader through seven murders in < 180 pages, leaves wide gaping holes not just in characterization but also in creation of ambiance for the supernatural and impossible. In contrast, Carr was superlative with the latter, he could create an atmosphere of dread in two pages. It was an effort less exercise for him.

The ridiculousness of the female lead is also a turn off from the story, her whims and fancies are quite annoying. The identity of the murderer is quite apparent, weakly hidden from dilettante's of GAD. Perhaps a couple of more interesting suspects could have helped with the mystery. Alas, the author really screwed up on this.

The explanation of the seven crimes is the pivot of the entire book, on this Halter does an excellent job with some of the mysteries and a very poor one with others. It's like the TV show Lost where the makers put in some many mysteries that they jumbled up everything and ruined the closing act because they got overwhelmed with their own complex creations. An impossible locked room mystery has to tie everything together neatly, like a box from tiffany. Had the author not tried to be over ambitious and had stuck to only 2-3 murders and worked on some of his characters and atmosphere, he could have succeeded to emulate something like a 'The Case of the Constant Suicides'

On top of everything the motive of the murders is just plain stupid, the author does not give a good reason for 7 murders. 

Image result for 7 wonders of crime paul halter

Read it for the impossibilities and some fun in the middle about the linking of each murder with the ancient wonders of the world. 

Image result for 3.5 stars

4 comments:

  1. Halter does try to over-reach himself a bit with this, I agree, but I do love some of the explanations and you're right that the linking of each crime with the "wonders" is very entertaining. Thankfully I'd say this is the weakest of the books published in English, and anything else by him from Locked Room International is a distinct improvement - especially The Pahntom Passage, The Tiger's Head and The Invisible Circle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi JJ,

      No doubt Paul is a great author, I loved all his other books, this is definitely a weak link in his series but still very enjoyable.

      I have both the Tiger's head and the Phantom passage in ebook format. I'm yet to read those. I also want to read the Invisible circle, I would like the paper back though and not the ebook.

      Delete
    2. Purely out of interest, is there any reason you particularly want TIC in paperback while you're happy to have others in ebook? None of my business, just curious...!

      And, yeah, he is great, isn't he? I feel very lucky that he's been translated, because I would have really missed out otherwise.

      Delete
    3. I got the ebooks as a gift from Mr. John Pugmire, from LRI, for helping him(I was of no help really) with some research on Byomkesh Bakshi.

      I prefer hard copy over soft ones any day.

      Delete