Friday, 20 June 2008

Locked Room Mysteries

Locked room mysteries may be artificial, but they have an enduring appeal. The very first detective story, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, was an example and many of the best mystery writers have tried their hand at a story of apparently impossible crime. In recent years, the massive success of the ‘Jonathan Creek’ television series is a reminder that this type of mystery story is not necessarily as played-out as critics might suggest. My Victorian mystery event, ‘Who Killed George Hargrave?’ is an example of the locked room story – it’s based on one of four or five locked room short stories that I’ve turned out over the years.

One of my all-time favourite reference books is Locked Room Murders by Robert Adey. The second edition, which was published in 1991, was a revised and expanded version of the original ground-breaking work, in which Bob Adey – a very knowledgeable crime fan indeed – listed all the locked room and impossible crime stories he could find, setting out the basic puzzle and, separately, the solution.

There is more to the book than this – such as an informative introduction and an analysis of the ‘twenty different ways in which that locked room can be breached.’ But the solutions are at the heart of the book and some of them are so weird and wonderful that they are great fun to read even if one does not know the puzzle.

Here are just a few examples:

146. The killer, a midget, was still in the room hidden in a leather hatbox….

156. The victim was strangled by a trained chimpanzee who entered and exited via a dumb waiter serving hatch.

202. Murder by a disembodied extraterrestrial being.

258. A ventilator above the corpse was removed, leaving a small hole through which an armadillo, rolled into a ball, was lowered….

More examples another day.


Xavier said...

Locked room mysteries may be artificial, but they have an enduring appeal.

As far as I'm concerned, the appeal of locked room mysteries lies precisely in their unabashed artificiality. Besides, I think the whole crime/mystery genre is artificial by definition, no matter how naturalistic it claims to be.

Kerrie said...

Hello Martin

There was a Charles Paris (Simon Brett) one wasn't there where the person was actually killed by the gas heater.
I had a post last week (13 June) that I called Locked-Off Murders where I look at murders that take place in isolation - a little different but they are variants of the locked room

Kerrie said...

I like that Xavier - the artificiality of the crime/mystery genre! I love watching Midsomer Murders TV series- I know of no other place on earth where the odds of being a witness to, involved in, or even a victim of a murder are quite so high. My motto when next in England- never visit Midsomer during a festival!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Kerrie, I have never seen this show, but I have seen it said that one should be very careful in Oxford (Morse), Edinburgh (Rebus) and many other UK towns, each of which seems to have the murder rate of about 100 years of the whole country!

Xavier said...

The US too have their own deadly places: Wrightsville (aptly nicknamed "Calamity Town") Cabot Cove, Northmont (the world's capital of impossible crimes, now deserted because of its creator's untimely death)

As to UK murderous towns, let us not forget St. Mary Mead and Flaxborough.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for all these comments. Among larger places that have an unhealthy murder rate, how about Oxford?
Kerrie, I've belatedly caught up with your post on Locked-Off Murders; excellent!