By Paul Halter
First published: France, Masque, 1998
Moretonbury est un paisible village des Cornouailles… Paisible ? Enfin, si l’on veut. Alan Twist, détective spécialisé en sciences occultes, serait bien placé pour démentir cette affirmation. Le châtelain de l’endroit a requis ses services pour une chasse au fantôme.
Mais en fait d’ectoplasme, Twist réalise bien vite que le village est hanté par une Banshee – une sinistre créature marine dont les cris déchirants annoncent une mort prochaine –, et que d’étranges jeux d’ombre viennent troubler les rapports humains.
Tandis que Moretonbury est le théâtre de morts violentes, Alan Twist a un peu l’impression d’assister à une partie d’échecs diabolique, où il serait impossible de savoir qui manie les pièces noires et qui manipule les blanches…
Le maître français du crime en chambre close dans une machination complexe mêlée de surnaturel…
Le Cri de la Sirène was my second encounter with Paul Halter, and one I very much enjoyed (more so than Le Brouillard Rouge, which had an astounding solution but the transition from detective story to serial killer manhunt was both jarring and gory).
This is chronologically the first appearance of Dr Alan Twist and Inspector Hurst. It was slower-moving and the plot was looser than I’d expected from the heir to Carr, but the slow pace gave Halter opportunity to fully flesh out the six principal characters and to create an atmosphere of fear. The two main impossible crimes – a spectacular one in which a young man fell to his death from the top of a locked tower and another Gadarene death, this time from the top of a cliff with nobody else around – echoed similar impossible deaths a couple of decades before. The solutions to the impossible crimes were plausible but somehow disappointing, relying more on chance and improvisation than on technical brilliance. That said, the rest of the solution was excellent. As Mike Grost remarked à propos Carr’s Crooked Hinge, the solution was more complex and frightening than the mystery, which is always great when done properly. The revelation of Malleson’s crime was as horribly ingenious and ingeniously horrible as the Father Brown stories (influenced by “The Perishing of the Pendragons”, perhaps?). I completely failed to spot the murderer. I had two possible solutions in mind: either a repetition of what took place at Corinth many centuries ago, or the possibility that a certain character’s tent-like cloak may have been mistaken for wings. Excellent twist at the end, which I guessed a page before it was announced.