French mystery writer Paul HalterA few weeks ago I eagerly purchased a copy of the new book Night of the Wolf, a collection of stories by the French writer Paul Halter. Halter writes mystery novels and short stories, and he follows in the grand tradition of John Dickson Carr, creating thorny "impossible crime" puzzles in modern settings fraught with surrealistic events and gothic-style tension.

What makes Halter popular in France and in translation in several other countries is what has probably held him back from achieving popularity in the United States thus far: his thorough and unapologetic devotion to plot-driven fiction.

This tradition of fiction writing—which animated authors as brilliant as Charles Dickens and the other great Victorian-era novelists, before the advent of Modernism placed character (and in particular amateur psychology, nearly always ineptly executed) above all other considerations — is my own preference in fiction, as it was for both G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, two of the most brilliant literary critics of the past century.

The publisher’s description aptly expresses why I am looking forward to reading Halter’s stories:

Coffins dancing in a hermetically sealed crypt, a tunnel that murders people, a werewolf killer who leaves no trace on the snow, a victim killed by an invisible hand at the top of a guarded tower, a homicidal snowman that kills in front of witnesses. . . . There cannot be a rational explanation for these and other hideous crimes; and yet there is. Each story is a glittering example of the brilliant plotting and atmosphere of foreboding that characterized the Golden Age of detective fiction.

Halter writes in his native French, and none of his novels has been released in an English translation yet. I have read a couple of his stories, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine a year or so ago, and they are gems. I’m greatly looking forward to reading Night of the Wolf, but the press of business makes it unlikely that I’ll be able to do so soon.

However, a friend of ours, Bob Schneider, has written a review of Night of the Wolf and has kindly given us permission to use it. Here, with our sincere thanks to Bob Schneider, is his review of Paul Halter’s mystery story collection Night of the Wolf:

Cover image, Night of the Wolf

Night of the Wolf, by Paul Halter, reviewed by Bob Schneider

This is the first English Translation of Paul Halter’s short mystery fiction. The book consists of ten "Impossible Crime" stories written mostly in the 1990’s. Mr. Halter has received both popular
and critical acclaim in his native France for his atmospheric, plot driven stories written in the tradition of John Dickson Carr’s best work. Carr (1906-1977) was a prolific American mystery writer who lived for several years in England. He is considered the greatest practitioner of the "Locked Room" or "Impossible Crime" murder mystery. He specialized in stories that featured a crime (usually a murder) that occurred in a locked or watched room into which there was no apparent access. An "Impossible Crime" story would run along similar lines in that a murder would be committed without any apparent means by any of the possible suspects.

Halter deploys at least three different detectives to solve his crimes. Owen Burns (a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Oscar Wilde combination) for stories set at the turn of the 19th Century, Irving Farrell (an elderly man who has a knack of encountering unusual crimes in 1920’s England) and Dr. Alan Twist (a criminologist often called upon by the police to solve unusual crimes in mid to late 20th Century Europe).

Several of these stories take place during or just after a snowfall, which allows Halter to work his literary trickery with footprints (or the lack thereof) in the snow. Architecture plays an important role in his stories either by setting a mood or by playing a key role in the mystery itself. Though the stories often have supernatural overtones, most of the solutions to the crimes are logically explained and a careful reader might, by correctly interpreting Halter’s clues, be able to solve the mysteries before the detectives offer their explanations.

Whether Halter is describing a murderous snowman, a dancing corpse, a modern "Lorelei", an avenging ghost or a werewolf as seen from both the lupine and human perspectives he often evokes the best of not only John Dickson Carr but the mastery of Agatha Christie and the artistry of G. K. Chesterton.

By Bob Schneider, used with permission.


Additional Info:

For an excellent article on Paul Halter, by the astute mystery fiction expert John Pugmire (who co-translated Night of the Wolf with the justly acclaimed and admired impossible-crime-mystery expert Robert Adey), click here.