La toile de Pénélope (Paul Halter)

  • By Paul Halter
  • First published: France: Masque, 2001. Translated into English as Penelope’s Web, Locked Room International, 2021.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

An entomologist is presumed dead in the Amazon.  His wife is about to marry again – and then he returns.  But his family thinks he’s an impostor.  100 pages pass before he’s killed; at first, it seems a suicide – but it’s really murder.  How, though, could the killer have left the room without breaking the spider’s web over the window?

Reviewing this is tricky, because I agree with Xavier Lechard’s write-up of a few years ago.

It’s a minor Halter: a straightforward locked room mystery.  It reads well; it’s brisk, rather light, but it lacks subplots and complexity.  It doesn’t have his flaws (no psychologically improbable explanations, no poorly motivated situations, no likeable young men who are really Jack the Ripper), but it’s not as creative as his best works, either.  Halter, unlike the tarantulas in this book, doesn’t weave a complex web of mystery.

There aren’t any great surprises – X will probably rank high on your list of suspects – but Halter’s clueing is more fair than usual.  (SPOILER The title should get you thinking in the right direction)

The solution to the locked room is sound.  I’d compare it to one of John Rhode’s, rather than J. Dickson Carr’s: it’s not dazzlingly brilliant, but it’s a workmanlike job of mystery carpentry.


Halter - Toile de Pénélope.jpg

“Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage.”  Tel pourrait être le crédo du professeur Foster, de retour d’Amazonie au terme d’un périple de trois ans.

Las!  Son épouse, le croyant mort, s’apprête à convoler une seconde fois, et sa famille l’accuse d’imposture.

De surcroît, “ses souvenirs” de la jungle brésilienne sèment la terreur: difficile de cohabiter avec des mygales, même si l’une d’entre elles, Pénélope, d’une nature forte paisible, tisse inlassablement la même toile.

Alors, quand l’un des habitants de la maisonnée passe de vie à trépas, l’inspecteur Hurst doute fort que la victime se soit donné la mort.  Mais s’il s’agit d’un assassinat, comment le meurtrier a-t-il quitté la pièce?  Il ne peut avoir traversé la toile de Pénélope…

Paul Halter repousse les limites du crime impossible, mais aucun défi n’effraye le célèbre duo Twist et Hurst!

11 thoughts on “La toile de Pénélope (Paul Halter)

  1. As my country’s representative in the Paul Halter Fanboy Olympics it’s always great to hear about the titles not yet carried across the language barrier, so thanks for this. My French is improving slowly with the intent of eventually being able to tackle those Halters we don’t get for whatever reason, and the lack of excess ornamentation here sounds like it might make a good place to start. Thanks, Nick, hugely appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Penelope’s Web has been stuck at the top of my wish list ever since I read Xavier’s review, but your take on the plot forces me to somewhat scale back my expectations! Nevertheless, I still hope Pugmire will consider it for a future translation, because the idea of a room locked (or blocked) by a uniquely woven spider’s web is an intriguing premise.

    By the way, have you read The Twelve Crimes of Hercules and is it any good? That is another that has always intrigued me, but is hardly discussed at all on the web and only know that the plot is comparable to The Seven Wonders of Crime.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Out of all of the untranslated Halter books, I’ve been really curious about this title. It sounds like it’s less than amazing, but I still hope it makes its way into translated form soon. I’m curious to see which Halter book is done for 2018!


  4. I have started reading the book. I found a discrepancy here.
    On the back cover of the book, the quote from the classic poem is given as: “Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage”
    But in the main text, the quote is “Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un long voyage”
    Can you clarify ?


    1. “Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage” is the correct quote; it’s from 16-th century poem by Joachim du Bellay.


  5. Il y a une chose que je n’ai pas compris. Quand Waddell a appris l’identité de la jeune femme avec laquelle le professeur Foster a eu une liaison, pourquoi n’a-t-il pas informé Hurst par un message écrit envoyé via Sullivan au lieu de l’appeler à la station de police ?


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