- By Paul Halter
- First published: Locked Room International, 2020
The White Lady (neither a cocktail nor Boieldieu’s 1825 opera) haunts Sir Matthew Richards’s family; she manifests in and disappears from locked rooms, frightens elderly gentlemen, and appears as an omen of death for a small boy.
This is well below average for Halter. It’s tedious and underwhelming – particularly compared to, say, the Rococo Septième hypothèse or the breathtakingly simple Diable de Dartmoor – both nearly 30 years old.
The murder takes place very late in the book – almost three-quarters through – so we’re left impatient. Delaying the murder necessarily weakens the investigation; there’s little for Owen Burns to do other than make cryptic remarks. Nor is there much character interest; the initial viewpoint character fades out, while the suspects are cardboard or types familiar from earlier Halter novels (the enigmatic young lady who tells fortunes; the scarred soldier returned from the past).
Halter’s customary cleverness is at low ebb. The principal murder method is lifted from John Dickson Carr’s He Who Whispers, while the structure of the ending is modelled on The Burning Court. The explanation for one impossibility is particularly fatuous: it was all a dream. This was mildly original in 1907 (Gaston Leroux’s Mystère de la chambre jaune); today, it’s merely disappointing. Let’s not forget, though, that Halter began his career with a novel in which he devised a dozen intriguing impossible murders – only to brazenly declare that they never happened, so he need not offer any solution.