Paul Halter

This page is meant to act as a bibliography of novels by French author Paul Halter, arguably the current master of the impossible crime. This will also serve as a directory for my reviews of Halter’s books, and will be updated whenever a new review appears. (I am still looking for titles in blue.)

There isn't much about Halter online in English, and so I've taken the initiative and translated an interview between him and French academic Roland Lacourbe. (This translation was carried out with M. Lacourbe's permission.) In this two-part interview, Halter discusses his literary influences, how he got started in his career, and his approach to writing mysteries (among other things). There are plenty of interesting moments and the interview as a whole is most informative. Here are the links to read it:

Interview with Paul Halter: Part I

Interview with Paul Halter: Part II
Some time after this translation appeared, I got the chance to actually get into contact with M. Halter, which was a tremendous honour! When I asked him, he graciously agreed to participate in an interview in French, which I then translated into English. In this interview, I asked him many questions that Roland Lacourbe could not have asked, because many books were not written yet! And so, in the interview below, you will find out many things, such as how Owen Burns came to be or how Halter wrote Le Tigre borgne (The One-Eyed Tiger):

Meeting a Master of Mystery: An Interview with Paul Halter

Dr. Alan Twist and Inspector Archibald Hurst, as they appear in a comic book adaptation of Le Diable de Dartmoor (The Demon of Dartmoor).

Dr. Alan Twist and Inspector Archibald Hurst novels:
La Malédiction de Barberousse (Barbarossa's Curse) 1995 (Prix de la Société des écrivains d'Alsace-Lorraine 1986)
All those who mock the emperor Barbarossa or insult his favourite city of Haguenau meet with an unpleasant death! At least, that's what Étienne Martin was told as a child, as he became part of a series of events that led to the horrific murder of a German girl named Eva Muller inside an isolated shack. An artist and his model stood outside the shack the entire time and they swear that nobody approached it. It seems the ghost of Barbarossa has struck again! 16 years later, Étienne must revisit these awful events, assisted by Dr. Twist, in a narrative that takes place in England and France.
  • Although published by Le Masque in 1995, this was actually the first book Paul Halter wrote, which is why I’ve placed it as first in this series. 
  • Inspector Hurst is conspicuously absent in this novel and never referred to. 
  • Was originally written with the hope of reviving the literary career of Dr. Gideon Fell, but Halter was not given permission to use the character. So with a bit of tweaking, Dr. Fell turned into Dr. Alan Twist, but both have very much the same mannerisms.

La Quatrième porte (The Fourth Door) 1987 (Prix du Roman Policier, Festival de Cognac 1987)
Dr. Alan Twist is introduced in style! In his first published effort, Twist must resolve a complex web of  intrigue, involving reincarnation, bilocation, resurrection, fake mediums, and two locked room murders! In the first, a man goes inside a room and it is sealed with wax and a rare coin chosen moments before, which afterward never leaves a witness' eyes... but when the door is opened, a stranger lies there with a knife in his back! The second impossible crime takes place in a house surrounded by virgin snow.

La Mort vous invite (Death Invites You) 1988
Harold Vickers is well-known to mystery lovers as the master of the impossible crime, coming up with variation after variation on it in his novels. This next one's he's writing is a doozy: two men are invited to somebody's house for dinner, but when they arrive, nobody knows anything about it. The man who invited them is found dead in his locked study, with windows shut and locked on the inside as well. He's seated at a table set for three, face down in his food, face and hands severely burnt from boiling-hot oil. And strangest of all, a pair of gloves and a half-filled goblet of water are found at the crime scene! It's a puzzle worthy of a master... which makes it all the stranger when Vickers himself is found dead under the exact same circumstances! 

La Mort derrière les rideaux (Death Behind the Curtains) 1989 

La Chambre du fou (The Madman's Room) 1990

La Septième hypothèse (The Seventh Hypothesis) 1991
One of Paul Halter's most complex plots, this is a book that truly has everything. Plague doctors from the seventeenth century are wandering the streets of 1938 London. A man infected with the bubonic plague disappears from a hallway in impossible circumstances, only to reappear very much dead in a trash can under equally impossible circumstances! And then, as though Dr. Twist and Inspector Hurst didn't have enough to worry about, a man named Peter Moore comes to see Dr. Twist and tells an extraordinary tale about two men, bitter rivals, who have challenged each other to the most deadly game: murder...

La Tête du tigre (The Tiger's Head) 1991
According to Major McGregor, when you rub the titular Tiger's Head (a bronze tiger's head on a stick), a Djinn will appear. But this Djinn has a nasty habit of attacking those who doubt its existence. On a wager, the Major locks himself inside a room with a witness and the room is under constant observation. When the door is opened, the Major is found dead, bashed in with the Tiger’s Head, and the fellow with him can only stammer that the Djinn is the culprit! Dr. Twist and Inspector Hurst get involved when it appears this case may have something to do with a serial killer who has been dismembering his victims' corpses and leaving them in suitcases...

Le Diable de Dartmoor (The Demon of Dartmoor) 1993
In the small village of Stapleford in Dartmoor, three young girls are murdered in three years. Witnesses are only able to establish one thing: each one of the girls seems to have been murdered by an invisible man! A few years pass silently, until promising actor Nigel Manson moves into Trerice Manor and makes the mistake of inviting his wife, mistress, and a fellow colleague for the weekend. Things take a turn for the worst when Nigel is pushed out of a window while witnesses are stationed outside and in the room behind him. They all swear to one thing: nobody approached Nigel at all! If he was murdered, the invisible man has struck again!

À 139 pas de la mort (139 Steps from Death) 1994
Halter takes a page from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle playbook, as Dr. Twist and Inspector Hurst are drawn into an apparently absurd case, involving everything from international intrigue to a stolen drainpipe! Things culminate when the corpse of Louis Fiddymont is discovered in his house, which has been vacant for five years and has an unbroken coat of dust everywhere... and yet, the man's body (recently unearthed) is in a chair in his house, with no footprints leading to it, a locked front door, and inaccessible windows! Another odd riddle is the dead man's obsession with shoes late in his life-- his house contained 139 pairs of used shoes. 

L'Image trouble (The Picture from the Past) 1995

L'Arbre aux doigts tordus (The Tree with the Twisted Fingers) 1996 

Le Cri de la sirène (The Siren's Shriek) 1998

Meurtre dans un manoir anglais (Murder in an English Manor) 1998  

L'Homme qui aimait les nuages (The Man Who Loved Clouds) 1999 

L'Allumette sanglante (The Bloody Match) 2001 

Le Toile de Pénélope (Penelope's Web) 2001 

Les Larmes de Sibyl (Sibyl's Tears) 2005 (Le Masque de l'Année 2005) 

Les Meurtres de la salamandre (The Salamander Murders) 2009 

La Corde d'argent (The Silver Rope) 2010 

Le Voyageur du passé (The Traveller from the Past) 2012
It's 1955, and spectators leaving the Adelphi Theatre in London are surprised to see a young man in his 30s roaming the streets with a lost expression on his face, as though he were seeing everything for the first time... and to top it all off, he's wearing clothes long out of date, from the turn of the century! But when the man gets killed by a subway car, Inspector Hurst gets involved. That's when he discovers that the man has been identified as Victor Stephenson, who went for a walk in 1905 and never returned... and yet despite the 50-year time gap, he has not aged a day! But that was only the beginning, as Inspector Hurst and Dr. Alan Twist investigate the time traveller-- and discover that he's been terrorizing the Stephenson family, engineering several apparently-impossible scenarios!

La Tombe indienne (The Indian Tomb) 2013
William Rigg has a problem: it has been nine years since his young cousins, Sylvain and Lisette, disappeared. So he goes off to the Red Dragon, a bar in Soho, to consult the clairvoyant Miss Ylang Li. During their session, she describes the scene of a gruesome murder, in which the corpses of two young children are bricked up in a cellar. Thus begins William's search for the truth, as he enlists the aid of his girlfriend Shirley. Together, they manage to locate the house described by the clairvoyant. Was there indeed a murder committed there nine years ago? And if so, can the two discover the murderer's identity and bring him to justice?

Owen Burns and Achilles Stock novels:
Le Roi du désordre (The Lord of Misrule) 1994
The first Owen Burns/Achilles Stock novel, it introduces the series characters nicely, as Stock goes undercover to a holiday gathering of the Mansfield family, who are supposedly cursed by the ghost of Peter Joke, a young man who was killed centuries ago when he fell through thin ice due to the drunken carelessness of some of the Mansfield clan. His ghost has been silent for a long time, but it's picked up its activities in recent years, having murdered Edwin Mansfield in his locked room! The gathering is not a particularly jolly one, and soon enough, Samuel Piggot is murdered with no footprints leading to his corpse in the snow... despite having been followed by two witnesses and disappearing out of sight only for a few moments! 

Les Sept merveilles du crime (The Seven Wonders of Crime) 1997 
Owen Burns and Achilles Stock are back in action when a serial killer begins to strike, modelling his killings after the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A lighthouse keeper is burned to death while the lighthouse is cut off from the outside world... A major is found dead in his house, surrounded by earth that has no footprints in it-- he is dead of dehydration, yet a carafe full of water is right beside him... Meanwhile, the killer pre-announces his crimes to the police by sending anonymous messages in the form of paintings! In short, the killer is creating art-- which makes him the perfect opponent for aesthete extraordinaire Owen Burns! 

Les Douze crimes d’Hercule (The Twelve Crimes of Hercules) 2001 

La Ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage) 2005 

La Chambre d'Horus (The Chamber of Horus) 2007

Le Masque du Vampire (The Mask of the Vampire) 2014
The village of Cleverley is gripped with panic. It started with children telling wildly improbable stories, but when a girl narrowly escapes a vicious assault near the cemetery, the villagers make a shocking discovery. One of the family crypts has been vandalized: two corpses have been impaled through the heart with a wooden stake… and although both have been dead for many years, one of the bodies looks like it has been dead for only a few weeks. The two vandalized corpses are the two deceased wives of a Russian count. It is said that his wives, before their deaths, developed a taste for human blood... As for wife number 3, she is looking quite pale lately, and has taken to wearing a scarf around her neck... Owen Burns arrives on scene when a locked room murder takes place, making the connection to the murder of a Catholic priest and another unsolved locked-room murder.

Novels set in the Ancient World: 
Le Crime de Dédale (The Crime of Daedalus) 1997
It’s 1937 and an archaeological expedition has managed to discover a piece of parchment that has apparently been written by King Minos himself! Minos chronicles an extraordinary crime that Daedalus committed: he killed the Minotaur in a locked room while he himself was in a locked room under observation! A second impossibility takes place when Daedalus and his son Icarus take flight on their wings prior to a death sentence being carried out. But back in 1937, it seems the legendary giant Talos has been reawakened, stalking the streets of London and murdering the archaeological group member by member, stoning his victims and then burning them! This inspires a group of people to go to Crete and search for Minos' infamous labyrinth... 

Le Géant de pierre (The Stone Giant) 1998

Le Chemin de la lumière (The Path of Light) 2000

Other novels:
Le Brouillard rouge (The Crimson Fog) 1988 (Prix du Roman d'Aventures 1988) 

Le Cercle invisible (The Invisible Circle) 1996

Les Fleurs de Satan (Satan's Flowers) 2002

Le Tigre borgne (The One-Eyed Tiger) 2004
Young spy Patrick Mallory investigates a most mysterious murder in India, where a Maharajah is killed by apparently supernatural means at the hands of a vengeful fakir. Threatened in advance, the Maharajah isolates himself in a veritable fortress: he is in his palace on an island in the middle of a crocodile-infested lake, with troops patrolling the lake. Not only that, ten handpicked royal guards keep watch on the small island, assisted by an excellently trained baby elephant. As if that weren’t enough, the Maharajah locks himself in a tower, with three doors separating him from the outside world, and no other way of entering his room. To top things off, the final door has an intricately constructed lock, and only one key exists— it always hangs around the Maharajah’s neck. But all those precautions were not enough to save the Maharajah's life... 

Lunes assassines (Killer Moons) 2006

Young Adult novels:

Spiral (Spiral) 2012
Quentin Leroux's girlfriend, Mélanie Rivière, is sent to the region of France known as Brittany to spend her vacation with her uncle Jerry, a man with a warped sense of humour who owns an abandoned hotel with a reputation of being haunted. A serial killer is on the loose somewhere in the region, and naturally, that makes it a perfect opportunity for a get-together in this remote part of the country, where cell phone reception is poor and there's no access to the Internet. A strange group of guests come together to uncle Jerry's hotel, including Mlle. Rose Lestrange, a medium of some repute. She claims that a two hour session in a reputedly-haunted room will give her the serial killer's name... and wouldn't you know it, several guests are connected with the deaths! So she's locked in and the door is sealed with several wax imprints. But two hours laters, when there's no reply from the medium, the door is forced open and Mlle. Lestrange is lying on the ground, dead... strangled.

Non-impossible crime mystery novels
La Lettre qui tue (The Letter That Kills) 1997

Le Mystère de l'Allée aux Anges (The Mystery of Angel Lane) 1999

La Nuit du Minotaure (The Night of the Minotaur) 2008

Short story collections:
La Nuit du loup (The Night of the Wolf) 2000
A business mogul is shot on an escalator while surrounded by police… A man is found drowned in a pond with only his footsteps in the snow leading to the body… A poor girl is apparently visited by Santa Claus, whose sleigh leaves tracks in the snow that start and stop out of nowhere… A man isolates himself in a tower and is found poisoned… What do these things have in common? They’re variations on the impossible crime, which largely make up this wonderful short story collection! Halter includes all sorts of stories, including ones starting his main detectives, Owen Burns and Dr. Alan Twist.  
  • This review covers the differences between the original French version of the book and the English translation. Two stories that appeared in the translation did not appear in the French book and are thus not covered here. However, to see what I think of these two stories (The Abominable Snowman and The Golden Ghost) see my seperate review of those stories.

La Balle de Nausicaa (Nausicaa's Ball) 2011
The setting is the Island of Corfu, and a beautiful actress named Rachel Syms is staying at a hotel there along with her husband, George Portman. Her co-star and lover is present along with his current young lady. Passions flare up and before long, George Portman is found dead, as the result of an apparent accident. But Dr. Alan Twist believes that a child's ball found near the body indicates murder... This and six other stories are collected here, and oddly for Halter, only three of them have anything to do with an impossbile crime. The stories included imagine how a snowman can suddenly turn into a murderer, why a golden ghost is chasing a young match girl, and whether God is leaving a sign of the executed David Jones' innocence by forbidding grass to grow on the site of his grave...