The house was named, prosaically enough, Cypress Villa. Located in the French city of Aix-en-Provence, it was home to members of the Louret family. But there was little reason to think that the house would become the scene of terrible - and impossible - crimes: murders before witnesses, or when the house itself was filled with police officers, even inside rooms securely locked and bolted. The story is told in The House That Kills, by Noel Vindry, first published in France in 1932. It is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
The book comes to us courtesy of John Pugmire's Locked Room International publishing house. Noel Vindry was very popular in France, but his books have never before been translated into English. It is available now in Pugmire's translation, and it is a fascinating example of the locked room/impossible crime school.
At the heart of the book is a series of murders which take place in that villa owned by the Louret family. The first murder happens despite the residents of the house being locked into their own rooms, behind bolted doors and despite the presence of a deputy magistrate, who serves as our narrator, and other police representatives. The second killing happens when the house is literally filled with policemen, yet the victim is murdered in front of witnesses – but the killer apparently disappears. And there will be more deaths and a daring attack on Monsieur Allou, the investigating judge who is Vindry's detective and who actually solves the mystery.
The House that Kills has been praised by readers and by critics – this new edition received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Noel Vindry’s name is often linked with some of the great Golden Age authors who wrote of impossible crimes and locked rooms – writers such as John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen. I do wish that the characters had been better defined, and that the "how-dunit" portion of the story didn’t seem to outweigh everything else. The impossible mysteries are solved little more than halfway into the book, but then there are additional complications and twists which take us off in new directions.
On the other hand, there really is more than enough happening in the puzzle plot to sustain reader interest. And, for those of us who really enjoy reading about seemingly impossible crimes taking place inside bolted and locked rooms, it’s good to come across these French Golden Age mysteries. If you enjoy the impossible crime genre, you ought to try Noel Vindry’s The House that Kills.