William is shocked, naturally, and enlists the aid of his girlfriend Shirley to find the house described by the clairvoyant, and to find out whether there really are two corpses hidden there. They even manage to gain the approval of Inspector Briggs, a man who’s seen his fair share of the impossible. After all, he used to work with Inspector Archibald Hurst, a man who attracted locked-room murders and impossible crimes of all shapes and sizes. But will he be able to solve the mystery, or will Dr. Alan Twist have to step in to save the day?
The answer is a bit of both, and it can be found in Paul Halter’s La Tombe indienne (The Indian Tomb). It’s a Paul Halter novel published last year; unusually, it was not released by Le Masque like so many of his previous works. [Halter’s personal website announces a book for 2014 called Le Masque du vampire (The Mask of the Vampire) – but again, not published by Le Masque.] It’s a funny story about this book. I started reading it a year ago, only to inexplicably lose it after a few chapters. It resurfaced a couple of weeks ago when I sold one of my old textbooks, and found this book inside that box.
That being said, I’m glad I ended up reading it. La Tombe indienne is a pretty good read and does a few unusual things. The heroes consult the police, for one thing, instead of playing detective on their own; and the police officer they consult (presumably remembering all those other mysterious, apparently-impossible murder he’s helped investigate) doesn’t laugh them out of the office. The characters are pretty decently developed, too, and that made reading this book even better.
Sylvain et Sylvette, a famous French comics series – the comparison is made several times, and the series even factors into the solution to some extent. Anyone familiar with this series will pick this up very quickly – Halter even dedicates the book to them!
What about the plot? Well, for most of the book, we do not have any locked-room murder. One takes place late in the book, but the how aspect is cleared up a few pages later. The main impossibility is how the Chinese clairvoyant was able to see what she saw, and so accurately at that. In everyone’s estimation, she’s being perfectly sincere – she genuinely believes she had this disturbing vision, and she doesn’t know where it came from. The way Halter explains this is very ingenious, and made for a satisfying conclusion.
If only the identity of the murderer were as satisfying! The killer seems random, drawn out of a hat, and is unmasked in a scene that would not have been out of place in a typical episode of Murder, She Wrote. Don’t get me wrong: I love Murder, She Wrote, but it isn’t exactly the best show at producing mystery plots. It’s really the only major downside to the book; you make the call.