Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Chamber of Horus

As you'd expect, most of the books I write about here are Japanese; but as I need to brush up my French at the moment, I thought I'd try one of the books by Paul Halter (born 1956), who is often mentioned as the modern master of locked room detective stories. La Chambre d'Horus (The Chamber of Horus, 2007) is a historical locked room mystery, set in 1911 and featuring one of Halter's series detectives, Owen Burns.

The story features mysteries in three different periods. In ancient Egypt a judge investigates the murder of a local preacher in his hut, whose only exit faced the town square. When he is found beaten to death, no-one had been seen leaving the hut with a weapon capable of inflicting the wounds. In 1811 an Italian adventurer opens the tomb of a pharaoh. The pharaoh is in fact the judge, who had later in life risen to be regent and so buried with pharaonic honours. To the adventurer's astonishment, although the tomb was still sealed when he found it, the mummy is not in its sarcophagus. Instead a pile of discarded bandages lie on the floor beside it. In 1911 archeologists find the adventurer's diary. He had resealed and hidden the entrance to the tomb meaning to return to it later. When they open the tomb, they find that everything is as he had described, except that the mummy is lying properly in its sarcopagus, wrapped in its bandages. One by one the discoverers die from strange causes. When the mummy is sold to a rich London collector, his family fear that he is bringing a danger into the house and consult Burns, who sends his friend Achille Stock to observe on the evening when the mummy arrives. Despite the precautions a new death occurs, a murder in a room bolted from inside with no other exit; and the weapon is found in a different sealed room, in which the mummy had been placed.

The different puzzles in the book are all at least acceptable. One was a pleasing idea, but rather obvious. All of them felt like they would do better as short stories (discarding the puzzle of the tomb). In style and mood the book feels like an early Hammer horror film. The characters have less life than John Dickson Carr's, and in conforming too well to a dull horror film format the situation lacked the originality that Carr's own inventions had. I don't feel any urgency to try another book by Halter. But it it all reads very easily; and isn't long enough to get tedious.

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