Meanwhile, Dr. Alan Twist and Inspector Archibald Hurst are hunting a serial killer known as the Acid Bath Murderer, and before long the two plot threads collide, along with a third thread taking place in Victorian London. There are even two impossibilities at work: first, a clairvoyant sends his own death prediction to himself, only to be found murdered in a locked room. Second, a man disappears without trace from a room that is under observation from all sides.
This complex web of plot forms the basis of Paul Halter’s L’Image trouble (translated as The Picture from the Past), and it is exceptionally difficult to describe without spoilers. Halter is one of my favourite current mystery writers – his books often have fantastic plots, and even on the rare occasion where the solution is disappointing, I love his imaginative touch at creating these scenarios. The Picture from the Past is no exception: the plot effortlessly carried my interest throughout. Where the writing itself is concerned, I thought Halter did a very good job of capturing my imagination, but there were one or two odd moments. For example, the first-person narration that opens the book is a little odd, given the direction the story eventually takes, and it is unceremoniously dropped at a certain point. These are so different in style that they got me to wonder whether this book was heavily edited, or whether Halter attempted a narrative experiment and then called it off, or if he revised his intended ending and correspondingly changed his approach to a large chunk of the narrative. No matter what the explanation here is, the stylistic quirks are not too distracting, and in fact, one of the stylistic quirks ends up being a pretty significant part of the narrative.