There’s a moment early on in The Footprints of Satan when I knew I was in for a good time. It was after the initial reveal of the mysterious tracks in the snow, but before the, shall we say, diabolical conclusion of where they are headed. The main character and two other townsfolk run into the constable who, for no reason whatsoever, calls the head inspector to investigate. It was then I realized that we would be following the hoofsteps little by little. It’s a lengthy sequence, one that builds beautifully with suspense, one tiny impossibility at a time.
I’m glad I read this book now. So far, I have written two impossible crime novels without offering much in the way of investigating the crime scenes. I aim to change that with my next book. TFOS takes you on a guided tour of a long (and quite detailed) crime scene, allowing you to explore it with the detective. Berrow knows what he’s doing.
The supernatural theories are front and center (making perfect sense at the right times), the allotment of information is wonderful (including the all-important moments when the detective breaks away from the reader, ceasing to share his thoughts), and the characterizations of the residents are geared completely toward the presentation and resolution of the crime. It’s one of those efficient machines I have come to admire more and more, and it’s a blast to read.
Yes, you can probably guess the killer and most of the method (about the same time as the detective), but I’d say you’ll be stumped for a good portion of the book, and you won’t guess everything about how it was done. More than anything, it’s great fun piecing everything together.
I’ve been thinking of the tagline for my next book. An early one is Snow Never Lies. In detective fiction, it’s always the opposite.
3 thoughts on “The Footprints of Satan”
I do so love that extended sequence of following the footprints — I think it’s one of the best pieces of “examining the scene” in the genre. So pleased you enjoyed this one as much as you did; I’m sure it’s very solvable, but at the time of reading it I was so swept up in the events of the book that I singularly failed to look ahead in any sensible way. And, in particular, the was the footprints being in the middle of the snow-bound street struck as a piece of quite infernal brilliance…though I know just about everyone else rolls their eyes when I say that because of how obvious it was to them 🙂
It would be interesting to tweak the scene when Smith checks out the donkey. A few changes in dialogue may have hidden the solution better. On the other hand, it plays so fair with the reader, revealing everything in real time and following the detective’s thoughts accurately.
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“It would be interesting to tweak the scene when Smith checks out the donkey” is not a critique one gets to offer very often, hey? Gotta love these weird plots…