A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

NORMAN BERROW – The Footprints of Satan. Ward Lock, UK, hardcover, 1950. Ramble House, US, softcover, April 2005.

   One morning the inhabitants of the English village of Winchingham awaken to find a single line of hoofprints that begin in the middle of the road, in a carpeting of virgin snow, and then lead through gardens, over walls and hedges, through a locked summerhouse and pavilion, across a steep roof inaccessible to humans, to finally end by an old tree from which a man is hanging by the neck.

   Superstitious terror grips the village: Many believe the devil is responsible. (There is actual historical precedent for such a belief: On the night of February 8, 1855, a similar trail of cloven hoofprints appeared in and around a number of towns in the south of Devon, and no earthly explanation for them was ever discovered.)

   The trail and the dead man are not the work of Satan, of course, but that of a very clever murderer. Berrow’s development and unraveling of the apparently inexplicable is likewise ingenious, and he builds considerable suspense before his series sleuth, Detective Inspector Lancelot Carolus Smith, finally solves the mystery.

   Only one of Berrow’s twenty novels — a revised and updated version of the 1940 book The Ghost House (1979) — was published in the United States, perhaps because of their numerous flaws: talkiness and overwriting, colorless characters, and some dubious use of English slang (Berrow was a New Zealander). The Footprints of Satan, however, his best and most baffling novel, deserves to have been reprinted here — and still should be for the amusement of contemporary readers.

   Other of his books worth reading include The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) and The Bishop’s Sword (1948), each of which contains no fewer than three neatly worked out “impossible crimes”; and It Howls at Night (1937), a non-series book set in Spain, which has a werewolf theme.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

UPDATE:   Here is some good news, at least for fans of “impossible crime” mysteries. All twenty of Berrow’s mysteries have been reprinted by Ramble House, including this one.