Death Invites You by Paul Halter, translated by John Pugmire

Death Invites You
Paul Halter
Originally Published 1988
Dr Twist #2
Preceded by The Fourth Door
Followed by La mort derrière les rideaux

Death Invites You is my first encounter with the works of Paul Halter and I have to admit that I came to it with a certain nervousness. Halter seems to engender very strong and often quite divisive opinions in many of the bloggers whose reviews I follow with the some reviews loving some of his work while hating other stories. I just didn’t know what I was going to get.

I recently learned that a certain book subscription service had many of Halter’s novels available and I decided I’d give him a try. It turns out that my selection, Death Invites You, seems to be about as safe a choice for a first Halter as it’s possible to find. In fact, JJ recommends it as a first choice for new Halter readers while Brad entitled his review ‘Eureka! Found a Halter I Like’ which seems to say it all. All I can say is that I didn’t plan to play it safe when I made my selection…

Death Invites You is a locked room mystery in which a famous author is discovered in a locked room, bolted from the inside, sitting in front of a freshly prepared meal with his face and hands down on a hot pan that has badly burned them. There is also a bowl of water under a window. And, if that is not enough, it turns out that the body is not fresh but has been dead for over twenty-four hours while the tableau happens to mimic the setup for the murder in the author’s forthcoming book.

That already would seem like a lot of elements for a single case and do keep in mind that my summary doesn’t include any of the details that are revealed once the investigation really gets underway. This is a complicated crime with a number of developments that cause the detectives to reconsider their theories, keeping the reader guessing in spite of the book’s limited cast of suspects.

The investigation unfolds at a sharp pace with small revelations spread out throughout the novel and I was surprised when I realized that at the end of a sitting I was already two-thirds of the way through. I found that the book possessed a natural momentum that kept me going and that created a very effective sense of atmosphere. When I returned to pick it up the next day a little of the spell had been broken but I remain impressed and certainly think that few would guess that this was a work in translation.

As with many locked room stories the reader is required to accept the artificiality of the crime as well as a number of coincidences and unlikely events yet I felt that the solution was fair and logical. There were a few aspects of the killer’s plan and their actions later in the story that struck me at the time as being convoluted choices yet I felt that they made sense when considered from the murderer’s perspective and once you learn what they were intending to do.

Halter’s strong focus on developing the novel’s puzzles arguably comes at the expense of complex characterization but while it would be impossible to call Death Invites You a character-driven book, I do think that the characters work well within the context of the novel. In particular, I found the character of Henrietta, who is an artist, to be an interesting figure and I was entertained by Halter’s conceit of making the victim a mystery novelist whose work has fallen out of vogue. For the record, I failed to guess the identity of the murderer and was left kicking myself when they were revealed.

Contrary to my fears, I rather enjoyed my first taste of Paul Halter’s work although I am a little concerned that this may just mean that the novel is far from typical of his output. This story may not be the most outlandish or ingeniously plotted story ever written (in spite of beating me) but it was atmospheric and the scenario created is certainly imaginative and intriguing. I will definitely be trying out some more of his work soon.

10 thoughts on “Death Invites You by Paul Halter, translated by John Pugmire

  1. As said in my own review of Death Invites You, I disagree with JJ to serve this one to Halter neophytes, but glad to read you actually liked it. Personally, I would recommend starting with The Demon of Dartmoor or The Fourth Door, if you want a grand-old locked room mystery. And from there you can fawn out to the other available Halter titles in English. However, I strongly urge you to avoid The Lord of Misrule or tackle it with the lowest amount of expectations possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks TomCat for the suggestions. I will keep your comments in mind about Lord of Misrule and will push Demon of Dartmoor and The Fourth Door up my to read list as it is the locked room that principally appeals to me.


  2. Yay, welcome to the fold!

    It’s not so much that this is atypical of Halter’s work, it’s more that — in order to provide a lot of originality to an already overstuffed genre — Halter has to play the game a little differently sometimes. As a result, he misses the mark a little sometimes (The Seven Wonders of Crime, The Vampire Tree) and even his best works jump in some weird directions (The Demon of Dartmoor, The Invisible Circle, The Fourth Door all contain amazing impossibilities but also plot contortions that some don’t go for).

    I for one love his playfulness, but not everyone sees it that way! If your looking for your next Halter, I’d recommend probably The Tiger’s Head or The Phantom Passage next, and if you enjoy them try The Seventh Hypothesis (which is minor for impossibilities but a tour de force of crazy back and forth plot and counter plot). Also, The Madman’s Room is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant…but maybe save that so you appreciate it more fully.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the suggestions! I enjoyed my first step into Halter and appreciate the help narrowing down my choices. The Phantom Passage was the Halter that originally caught my eye so even though it isn’t one of the free selections I think I may try that one next.


  4. Perhaps because I love Christie, I liked this one because, although Halter is certainly not interested in characterization, this book had a better sense of a “household” with a bunch of people in close proximity wanting the victim dead. You get this in The TIger’s Head as well, although the ending . . . come to think of it, I’ve forgotten whodunit! And it’s there in The Madman’s Room as well. I do think Demon of Dartmoor might be his best, in terms of puzzle AND atmosphere. Yes, I know, I always end up grumbling when I read Halter. And I’m even more curmudgeonly at the moment because the one I’ve saved for last is . . . The Lord of Misrule. Thanks, TomCat! I won’t expect much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do feel I can see some signs of the Halter tendencies you find frustrating even here so I certainly can see why you might grumble. I appreciate the recommendation for Demon of Dartmoor and will look forward to checking it out!


    2. One of these days I need to write a post about how The Lord of Misrule is simply the best fan fiction ever employed with regards to Carr’s The Hollow Man…and then finally it will get the respect ir deserves.

      The outdoor murder is sublime! What’s wrong with everyone?!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciated it as a first taste of Halter and would be curious to see what you make of it. The imaginative setup for the crime is one of my favorite aspects of the novel. Hope you enjoy!


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