Locked Room Mysteries

As it is quite possible that we need to get through a period of some degree of isolation to curb the expansion of coronavirus in Spain, nothing has seemed to me more adequate than to organise my forthcoming readings around locked room mysteries.

According to Wikipedia the “locked-room” or “impossible crime” mystery is a subgenre of detective fiction in which a crime (almost always murder) is committed in circumstances under which it was seemingly impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime or evade detection in the course of getting in and out of the crime scene. The crime in question typically involves a crime scene with no indication as to how the intruder could have entered or left, for example: a locked room. Following other conventions of classic detective fiction, the reader is normally presented with the puzzle and all of the clues, and is encouraged to solve the mystery before the solution is revealed in a dramatic climax.

To carry out this project, I’m going to follow the suggestions of one of the leading experts on the subject, John Pugmire.  (Source: A Locked Room Library by John Pugmire)

John Dickson Carr The Three Coffins (1935)

Hake Talbot Rim of the Pit (1944)

Gaston Leroux The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907)

John Dickson Carr The Crooked Hinge (1938)

Carter Dickson The Judas Window (1938)

Israel Zangwill The Big Bow Mystery (1892)

Clayton Rawson Death from a Top Hat (1938)

Ellery Queen The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934)

Anthony Boucher Nine Times Nine (1940)

Carter Dickson The Peacock Feather Murders (1937)

Ellery Queen The King is Dead (1952)

Helen McCloy Through a Glass Darkly (1950)

Carter Dickson He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944)

Randall Garrett Too Many Magicians (1967)

John Sladek Invisible Green (1977)

11-Pugmire_John2John Pugmire has been an avid reader of impossible crimes since a tender age. In addition to having founded Locked Room International (LRI) in 2010, he is an acknowledged expert in the sub-genre.  In 2006 he completely rewrote the Wikipedia article Locked Room Mystery; in 2007 he was invited to join an international panel to name the top 100 locked room mysteries of all time; in 2010, he and Brian Skupin, co-publisher of Mystery Scene, were invited to review the contemporary locked room scene for Book and Magazine Collector Magazine; and in March 2012 he was contacted by the BBC to help create a 30-minute radio feature on the subject, in which he also made an appearance.

As well as helping several foreign authors get their work published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, John’s efforts in bringing foreign language novels to an English-speaking audience have not gone unrecognised.  His translation of Paul Halter’s The Crimson Fog was named one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Top Mysteries of 2013, Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders followed in 2015, and Paul’s The Vampire Tree in 2016.  The Derek Smith Omnibus was included in the Washington Post’s ‘Top 50 Fiction Books of 2014’, and The Moai Island Puzzle in its ‘Summer Reads: 11 Hidden Gems 2016’.  Hard Cheese was named in the Top Nordic Novels 2016.

Learning about Paul Halter in 1991, and having learned French in school and spent many years working in France, John bought a bunch of Halter’s books and whiled away long-distance business flights translating them for his own amusement. His was frequently the only light on in the darkened cabin as he and his companion Jack Daniels toiled through the night. He spent several fruitless years trying to interest mainstream and specialist publishing houses, to no avail. The mainstream press didn’t, and still doesn’t, believe there was a market — despite average sales of 5,000 in France and 12,000 in Japan — and the specialist press were only interested in authors who were deceased, a condition which M.Halter was strangely reluctant to satisfy.  In 2006, Wildside Press courageously decided to take a risk with the short story collection The Night of the Wolf because they liked the stories so much. Critical acclaim followed, but not enough sales, for Wildside was not known as a publisher of mysteries.  The opportunity finally came when Amazon made it possible for small publishers to produce high-quality trade paperbacks, and its Kindle division did the same for e-books. LRI’s early publications were all by French authors but, starting mid-2014 have expanded to include work from other countries, including English- and Japanese-speaking ones.  A full list of the current LRI stable can be found by clicking this link.

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