Friday, August 31, 2012


There is not much to go on m'sieur
- On the surface, no. But what lurks inside the subconcious? If the door can only be opened...
Are you serious m'sieur? I thought your interest in psychic detection was purely academic..
"Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars"

I usually just play the association game in my head when looking for opening quotes and posts titles, but I kinda forgot I had bought two books with the word door in the title. As if I can come up with that many mystery-related references to doors...

Paul Halter is a favorite in the mystery blogging world it seems, and I too enjoyed The Night of the Wolf immensely. Though I also have to admit that I actually remember very little of it. Only that it was awesome. Anyway, it was about time to read some more of Halter, so why not start at the beginning, with his first novel?

Welcome to post war England! Welcome to a small unnamed village, where we find the three befriended households of the Darnleys, the Whites and the Stevenses. The titular door of Halter's La Quatrième Porte (The Fourth Door) refers to the door to an attic room where Mrs. Darnley had supposed committed suicide (which was completely locked) some years ago and since then it has been said that she haunts the room. The rumors chase away tenants in the Darnley house at a regular pace, until the arrival of the Lattimers. Alice Lattimer claims to be a psychic and says that Mrs. Darnley was murdered. In an attempt to contact the ghost of Mrs. Darnley, Patrick Lattimer agrees to spend the night in the attic room, which is sealed with wax and the imprint of a rare coin. The next the door opens however, the corpse of a total stranger lies on the floor.

When in doubt, refer to Monty Python. So I guess I think this novel is ... splunge ("it's a great-idea-but-possibly-not-and-I'm-not-being-indecisive!"). I am not sure how to put my thoughts about this novel into words. But as this blog still hasn't implemented direct psychic transmission, I guess I will have to try. The main "problem" I have with this novel is... that I had already guessed the set-up and the solution of the locked room mystery, before I had even opened the book! (No, this is not an attempt at making it look like something impossible)

Seriously, the first idea that popped into my head when I first glanced at the cover, looking at the words The Fourth Door was the correct one! There is joy to be found when you read a detective novel and you slowly build your own theory as to what happened, but it is a bit boring to see that the first, the most simple and basic thoughts you have about the novel turn out to be correct. Like Takumi Shuu points out, there is something inherently contradictory to the detective novel, as readers want to get surprised by the writer, but they also want to solve the mystery themselves. In this case, I wasn't surprised by the solution, but I also didn't feel challenged by the mystery as I already had an idea by the time I opened the first page! I couldn't even feel smug about it, as it wasn't as like I had solved it based on the text. Most of the time while reading the book, I did try to find hints to disprove my gut feeling, but all in vain. This is probably a very personal experience and the trick might be fun if you haven't seen it before, so you probably want to check other reviews for somewhat more objective views on it.

I had already seen variations on the same trick several times before, which an sich is not that rare and that doesn't instantly mean that a trick will turn out to be disappointing in another novel but to be honest, I thought that the variations I had seen were implemented better in those cases too. Which ties in with another 'problem' of La Quatrième Porte. For someone hailed as the modern Carr, there is awfully little atmosphere in the novel. Everything was described in a drab, boring way and little is done with the supernatural angle of the story. Sure, they talk about ghosts and stuff, but it feels like it is quickly disposed as a solution to the impossible murder and the absence of pressure, of fear is really a loss for such an impossible murder.

Though, and here I go to what I liked about the book, there is a perfectly good reason for the sober way of narration of the novel. It is tied to the narrative structure of the book, which is really fun. Halter utilizes a really amusing method of introducing his series detective Dr. Twist and I would say that the narrative structure is definitely the most memorable part of this novel. Twist appears in a very surprising way and while Halter's method of having a meta discussion with The Great Old Giants is different from the method of authors in the New Orthodox movement, one can feel the same kind of education and meta-conciousness among all of these writers.

The problem here is that this narrative style does explain the sober narration, but that doesn't make the narration more compelling. Here we have another contradiction, because what Halter wants to achieve with his narrative style, does inherently not mesh well with what he should achieve with the plot. In the end it depends on what the reader deems more important, which is again quite personal. Like I said, I thought it a shame the narration didn't succeed in conveying the supernatural to me, but I can definitely see why that happened and I think that Halter at least succeeded in coming up with a very entertaining narration style for his story.

As both writers focusing on impossible crimes, both Paul Halter and Nikaidou Reito are often called modern Carrs (though the latter seems to prefer the moniker Japanese Halter) and they do have their share of similarities. Impossible crimes, stories set in post-war societies ('the good old days'), the supernatural, you'll find them in both authors' novels. Nikaidou, despite his focus on impossible crimes, is walking along the other side of the supernatural/grotesque side of things though, aiming more at Edogawa Rampo than Carr as a writer. And despite my reservations about the direction Nikaidou has been heading for the last few years, I do feel that Nikaidou knows what he is aiming for as a writer, the sort of story he wants to write. I am not sure whether Halter is really aiming to be an modern Carr and there is little I can say based on the on novel and one short story collection I've read by Halter, but La Quatrième Porte does fall a bit short of Carr because of its somewhat ambiguous goals, in my opinion.

So, yeah. I think La Quatrième Porte is splunge. Monty Python, saving people with a limited vocabulary since 1969.

1 comment :

  1. If you want read the book, truely, you must read before John Dickson Carr and particularly The Red Widow Murders by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr): You will find one quotation very evident to Dickson's book. But also the room does not exist is linked to Carr. All novels Halter own quotes that bind them to the novels of Carr, Rawson, Agatha Christie, even Abbot. Halter is a mannerist the highest degree.

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