cover image Penelope’s Web

Penelope’s Web

Paul Halter, trans. from the French by John Pugmire. Locked Room International, $19.99 trade paper (152p) ASIN B095GS1CBW

In 1933, entomologist Frederick Foster, the central character in this superb locked-room mystery from Halter (The Man Who Loved Clouds), traveled to Brazil to study spiders, but he never returned; his body reportedly turned up on a riverbank, the apparent victim of an attack. Three years later, Foster’s widow intends to remarry, but she holds off after getting word that he somehow survived. When Foster returns to Black House, his home in England’s West Country, the members of his household suspect he may be an imposter, a colleague who served as his guide and who closely resembles him. The matter’s set to be resolved by a fingerprint comparison when the file containing the genuine Foster’s prints disappears, followed by a gunshot murder in Black House. The evidence rules out suicide, but the door’s locked, and an intact spider’s web covers the only other exit, a partially opened window. The plot is a neat homage to a classic case featuring John Dickson Carr’s detective Gideon Fell. Halter’s ingenuity continues to place him head and shoulders above any other contemporary puzzle mystery author. (Aug.)