A note to all French authors who want to use or imply wolves: I only have so many jokes I can make with this title. This applies if you’re dead. Or if a publisher puts a picture of a wolf on the cover of your book after you died.
Noel Vindry, known to some as the French John Dickson Carr, first came to the attention of the English-speaking world with Locked Room International’s translation of The House That Kills, and frankly he needed a better introduction. Not the worst book of whatever year it came out, and with some good ideas, but all in all it felt thin. This is much better.
The Howling Beast starts with M. Allou, magistrate, on vacation, ignorant of the recent happenings. This allows him to provide some assistance to the desperate and disheveled man he meets who says, “I have not eaten in three days monsieur.” Said man is Herry Pierre, who is currently on the run for a brutal double murder. M. Allou is willing to hear out his bizarre story, under the logic that a liar will surely trip themselves up…
JJ of The Invisible Event has stated that this is a book best left unspoiled, as the blurb gives too much away, which I suppose is fair (then again, those who read the back of The Crimson Fog or even The Seventh Hypothesis know better than to trust whoever does the blurbs at LRI.), but I don’t feel that it gives away anything else that anyone who’s read a mystery before can see coming. Still, in the interest of generosity, I shall stick to vague descriptions. The book is split into two narratives, one concerning events at the home of Comte de Saint-Luce, four years ago, and one concerning the events of three days ago and Allou’s unraveling of everything. Herry gives us information is perfect and exact detail, which is acceptable to make the plot work. The former narrative involves Herry more or less crashing at the fancy and creepy castle of a man he hasn’t seen in years. The result brings with it a Buddha statue, a love triangle, a pair of brutal assaults in the night, and the disappearance of one of of the guests, as well as a note implying murder.
Also, there’s the slight matter of those mysterious, barely audible howls in the night, that sound like no animal in France….
The second part is where the real meat is, but all I’ll say about it is that it involves a sudden double shooting, as well as attempted murder, with all shots fired by an apparently invisible murder inside a literal locked fortress.
All in all, a much better book than The House That Kills, though the two are similar, what with a group of people isolated in a fortress-like environment under siege from a seemingly unstoppable foe. Carr would have played it up for more horror, but Vindry does a decent job of showing the paranoia and isolation of the main cast, even as they go on and on about how brave they are. All the time. Herry brings it up to the point of nausea.
Still better characterization than The House That Kills.
The main gripe is that the shooting comes so late in the book, that there’s really not a chance to solve it, it’s more watching Allou piece the crime together, which he does without issue. The solution is a simple one, but because of how quickly it’s introduced and solved I don’t have an issue with it. The few elements of horror, such as the nature of the beast, are well done, though the reader doesn’t have much in the way of cluing for it.
All in all, I enjoyed it. It may not be the best thing to come from LRI, but it’s a very competent mystery/suspense story. Recommended.