Mini Reviews Pt. 1: Locked Room International

Over this summer, even if I wasn’t blogging, I was reading! Quite a lot of mystery and GAD actually, in large part thanks to me getting Kindle Unlimited and therefore having access to a plethora of titles from publishers all over. However, I can’t really give most of these titles a proper review because: a) it’s been a while since I’ve read many of them, so a thorough review wouldn’t be as detailed as I’d like, and b) writing reviews for fifteen or twenty novels in quick succession isn’t exactly what I want to be doing at the moment! So instead, I’ll be providing mini reviews of the books I’ve read and don’t want to dedicate a full blog post too, and we’ll be starting off with one of my favorite publishers –– Locked Room International.

I love all that LRI publishes, and I’ll gobble up any book they put out, wether it be the staple of Paul Halter, a honkaku, or obscure and long forgotten English language book. They’ve done a lot of marvelous work in the field, and have brought so much quality detective fiction onto the market in the past decade. I’ll always be anticipating the next release, wether it’s been teased for a few months or dropped with no warning. Anyways, I read five of these titles in the past few months, with three being Halter’s, and two some of their other offerings, so let’s get into it!

Death in the House of Rain (2006) by Szu-Yen Lin:

A group of college students are trapped in a elaborately designed mansion as someone slowly begins to pick them off with incredible impossible crimes.

This was a really quick read, and honestly, I feel like it’s more of a novella than a novel in terms of length/word count. I was able to finish it in one sitting, and I think reading it as one continuous narrative really boosted my enjoyment of the book. It’s very, if not entirely puzzle focused, with it basically being a plot skeleton/outline just barely dressed enough to reach book status.

There’s really no sense of character with anyone –– I can’t name a single character from the story, including the main detective, because they really are pieces on a chessboard, and I think thats clear from the start. However, I will say that the puzzle itself is brilliant. The impossible crimes are wonderfully poised and there are genuine moments of horrific atmosphere brought on by the killings, which made me shiver more than a few times. The solutions to the first batch of killings are also incredibly ingenious, and simple in a way that surprised me, since I’d think another author would have utilized this idea a long time ago. The last killing does have it’s flaws, mainly due to it being way too complex and one that I still don’t understand, but if judged by the solutions itself, this book is a success.

I would like to also note the use of coincidence however, because while the author tries to rationalize it at the end of the book, I feel as though it could have been written around and resulted in a much tighter ending. But, I still enjoyed it overall, and of the honkaku offerings I’ve read from LRI, this may be my second favorite after The Decagon House Murders.

Addendum: Well, I did describe the impossible crime solutions as ingenious and never-been-done-before, but as it turns out, it’s already been done in a previous work by a well respected author. I didn’t find out about this until I was reading that exact story and reached the end, and once I cross checked dates, I realized that most of it’s solution might have been copied here. But who knows, maybe it was just coincidence 😁!

The Seventh Hypothesis (1991) by Paul Halter:

A policeman comes across plague doctors in mid 1930’s London, leading to the impossible appearance of a dead body, and a deadly duel between two masters of detective fiction.

This is often heralded as one of Halter’s masterpieces, and I can see why. It’s a very twisty plot, and he deftly handles switching between perspectives and possible solutions to the main mystery. In fact, I think the start of this story and most of the first third are some of, if not his best writing, and I was so engrossed in the story from then on.

There’s really so much to love here, especially for me, because I’m a mega Halterphile. The entire story is based on a balancing act, and he manages to equally cast suspicion across two parties in a way that made me always be in a constant state of doubt as too wether or not my assumptions were correct. Even if the impossibilities are Halter’s trademark at this point, this story doesn’t really focus on them, and doesn’t need too. Instead, by putting the main focus on the proverbial duel , it allows for him to create something wholly unique in comparison to his other works.

The denouement is a wonderful affair, where we’re treated to another twenty or so pages of constant revelation and throwing back of the curtain, until we settle on one, incredible, and sickening conclusion. I think Halter was going for a last line reveal similar to those that characterized Brand’s work, and while it doesn’t carry the same emotional impact, it holds just as much intrigue. If I had one criticism for this story, I would say that it’s too short! I think with 20 or 30 more pages, Halter could have really fleshed the book out and made it flawless, since the short length does leaving you craving for more substance, but it’s minor in comparison to the books triumphs. One of my new favorite Halters!

The Realm of the Impossible (2017):

Collection of short stories and real life mysteries, focused on the impossible crime genre and from all over the world.

Not much to say about this, except that it’s a fine collection of short stories. The decision to explore the genre all across the world was brilliant on LRI’s part and bought about a truly unique collection filled with some of the best impossible crime shorts I’ve read. The real life crimes are just as fascinating, especially one that details a mass murder in a basement. It’s crazy to see how these usually fictional crimes can actually occur in believable circumstances in our very real world.

If I had to pick favorites, I’d say Jacob’s Ladder, Cyanide in the Sun, The Miracle on Christmas Eve, The Lure of the Green Door, and The ‘Impossible’ Impossible Crime are the stories I enjoyed most, with Cyanide and Green Door topping that list. Cyanide is a wonderful short story by my Queen of Crime, Christianna Brand, with a killer ending, and Green Door has one of the best solutions to a impossible crime I’ve ever read.

Death Invites You (1988) by Paul Halter:

A man invites two others to dinner, only to be found dead in his locked study, with a fully prepared and still steaming feast in front of him, alongside a glass of water at the window sill.

In terms of actual writing, I think this might be the most readable Halter I’ve encountered. It’s a short tale, and it does a great job of hooking you in and holding interest throughout. Probably the closest to a straight mystery Halter has written and had translated into English, though I’d say La toile de Penelope is even more straight than this.

While the situation sounds exquisite, the execution and eventual solution is much less so. While everything before is a really enjoyable romp, the end resolutions to the murder and impossible crime are either disappointing, obvious, or workmanlike. I figured into the killer by the time the first murder was discovered, and nothing I read changed my suspicions. The locked room itself has a pretty “eh” resolution for what is a delicious situation, and I actually preferred one of the false solutions. All this bemoaning isn’t to say this is a bad book, in fact, I agree with people who say it should be one’s introduction to Halter, because I do think it’ll do the job well enough.

The White Lady (2020) by Paul Halter:

The apparition of the White Lady is haunting the village of Buckworth, disappearing in impossible ways and soon taking the lives of several people in inexplicable circumstances.

This was a disappointment. Following the wonderful Gold Watch from Halter last year, I expected more of the same, but sadly, this isn’t comparable. While the core mystery is interesting, it’s mismanaged and any interest it does have is destroyed by the tedium that most of this book’s page length is consumed by. The book cycles through some interesting pages about the central mystery before going back to boring interviews and little to no development of, well, anything.

Constant interviews can be made interesting in a book, look at several of Christie’s efforts, but here, you’re just turning the pages waiting to get to the solution, because there must be some interest or genuinely good thing there.

And there is! There are several good bits to the solution, but most of it just doesn’t inspire much because the story before it was so … bland, and even the best parts are ripped straight out of much better books by much more acclaimed writers. The epilogue also doesn’t do much except make me question wether or not a certain character should even be given a detective role in this series. What was interesting to me was seeing how divided reception was around this story. I saw lots of laudatory reviews praising it, and many others saying it was just plain bad, and well, I obviously agree with the latter parties. Ah well, at least I have several more well received Halter’s left!

3 thoughts on “Mini Reviews Pt. 1: Locked Room International

  1. …I realized that most of it’s solution might have been copied here. But who knows, maybe it was just coincidence

    So you noticed it too! I’m in two minds about it. On the one hand, it’s not uncommon for people to hit on the same idea, especially when they’re working in the same field, but even the central clue is identical. However, it’s the kind of clue that fits the locked room-trick. So, whatever the case is, Szu-Yen Lin elaborated quite a bit on the idea and turned it into a grand-style locked room mystery that fully exploited its setting. And would love to read a translation of The Nile Phantom Mystery.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting, was the story (put in rot13) Gur ceboyrz bs gur cunagbz cneybe ol Rqjneq ubpu? I think in both cases, the solution and how it was used was superb, and I think it especially worked well in this book, mainly thanks to the crazy architecture theme it has running throughout. I still hold it in high regard, because even if he jipped the solution, he added a ton of ingenuity to it and made it his own.

      The Nile Phantom Mystery sounds superb, like an impossible crime version of Christie’s classic book!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that’s the story. I’m tempted to say that story inspired this novel and added, as you said, a ton of ingenuity to make it stand on its own, but it could also be a coincidence. I’ve seem some weird cases of parallel thinking. Akimitsu Takagi’s The Tattoo Murder Case and John Russel Fearn’s The Tattoo Murders were written and published around the same time (1948/49) with the same core idea: a father tattooing his own daughters. A very specific idea that occurred to two different men, on two different continents divided by a language barrier, around the same time and they wrote a detective story around. Two very different stories with very different cultural attitudes to tattoos, but it’s amazing they hit on the same idea at roughly the same time. I’ve even looked if there was something in the newspapers of the time, but came up empty handen.

        Liked by 2 people

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