Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Locked Room Mysteries

Detective fiction began with a "locked room" murder mystery. Most people agree, I think, that Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" marked the start of the genre as we know it, though some make claims for earlier stories - and even these include a story by the estimable Sheridan Le Fanu that has a "locked room" element. Ever since, detective fans have enjoyed locked room and impossible crime mysteries. Yes, they are often outlandish and sometimes highly artificial, but when done well, they supply very good entertainment. Look at the success on recent years of TV series like Jonathan Creek which often play games that the likes of John Dickson Carr, supreme master of the locked room mystery, would have relished.

All this is by way of preamble to news that I've just received my contributor copy of The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries, edited by the legendary Otto Penzler, and sub-titled "The most complete collection of impossible-crime stories ever assembled." There are no fewer than 68 stories here, starting with Poe's story, and suffice to say that I find myself in very illustrious company - fellow contributors incldue Chesterton, Carr, Lord Dunsany, Conan Doye, Wilkie Collins, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Margery Allingham, Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), Dorothy L. Sayers and even P.G. Wodehouse.

Otto Penzler contributes a snappy intro and biographical notes about all the contributors, and divides the book into nine sections. The final section has just one story in it - "Some stories simply can't be categorised", he says - and this is my "Waiting for Godstow". Otto has been quoted recently saying nice things about it; very gratifying. I wrote the story originally for another impossible crime anthology, edited by Mike Ashley, more than a decade ago, and reader reaction to it has delighted me over the years. It's a tricky story, an example of the game-playing that, for me, works more effectively in the short form than in a novel. Another example is "Acknowledgments", which I mentioned the other day; the new ebook also includes my very first published short story, another game-playing piece called "Are You Sitting Comfortably?"

I've written three short stories in all that fall into the "impossible crime" sub-genre, and although I've no plans to write a locked room novel, it's likely that I'll write another short story of this type before long. Meanwhile, if you're a locked room fan, I can strongly recommend a wonderful and definitive book on the topic, Locked Room Murders by Robert Adey. Bob is a great expert, and when I had the pleasure of visiting his home the summer before last, I found his massive collection of rare books absolutely stunning. His magnum opus is hard to find either the first or second edition, but if you manage to track down a copy, I'm sure you'll love it as much as I do. Great fun, just like locked room stories themselves.


Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Congratulations! I've got that one on my 'must read' list, and I'm very keen to start it. I'm sure it'll be great.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

My copy of the second edition of Adey's book is very much a prized possession - read your story in the Ashley Mammoth book and very good it was too as I recall - must go and re-read it in fact!

Graham Powell said...

I had read 24 of the stories in this anthology before, and it was STILL worth it. "Godstow" is one of those 24; I must have read it, as I read the anthology it appeared in.

But reading it again for the first time, I found it to be very enjoyable.

Despite the fact that many of the stories here have been anthologized before, the book is STILL worth it.

Les Blatt said...

I bought the book just before Bouchercon this year, Martin, and haven't had a chance to get beyond the table of contents - nearly a thousand pages of my favorite type of mysteries. I'm going to have to go out of order to read yours, and I'm looking forward to it.

Clarissa Draper said...

I've read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and I believe it's a classic must-read. Also, I've enjoyed every episode of the series Jonathan Creek.

I will definitely check out The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries. Some big names are listed there.

I'm currently working on a locked-room mystery and I love the challenge of writing it. I'm keen to read your short story.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much for these comments, and I hope that when you read "Godstow" you enjoy it - at least it's different!

Martin Edwards said...

Clarissa, good to hear from you again and I look forward to hearing more about your own locked room story.