Saturday 24 October 2009


The ‘impossible crime’ story is capable of infinite variations, and although some people think it’s a played-out sub-genre, confined to traditional Golden Age mysteries by the likes of John Dickson Carr, I disagree. The continuing popularity of ‘Jonathan Creek’ shows the potential for intelligently written impossible crime stories on television, while successful novelists as diverse as Stieg Larsson, Christopher Fowler and Jim Kelly have nodded in the direction of the impossible crime in recent times.

In the 90s, I watched quite a few episodes of ‘The X Files’, and I’ve just seen, for the first time, the third episode in series one, which is a very effective version of the impossible crime story. ‘Squeeze’ concerns a number of murders in Baltimore, where the victims were savagely murdered in rooms without an apparently viable means of entry – and their livers were ripped out. When Fox Mulder and Dana Scully come on to the scene, it emerges that the murders have eerie parallels with similar crimes that have occurred at 30-year intervals. But surely the invisible culprit cannot be over one hundred years old?

The solution to the mystery involves paranormal devices that would not be acceptable in a conventional Golden Age whodunit. But in the context of a sci-fi series, the plot is perfectly acceptable, and I enjoyed ‘Squeeze’. It was evidently a great success when first screened, as the initial ‘Monster of the Week’ episode in the long-running series.

‘Squeeze’ features a memorable character called Eugene Victor Tooms (needless to say, with a monicker like that, he is unlikely to be one of the good guys.) – so memorable that he returned for a future episode in the series. ‘Squeeze’ was entertaining enough to remind me why ‘The X Files’ enjoyed such excellent ratings, especially for the early series. I haven’t seen the film based on the series, and believe it met with a mixed reaction, but I’m tempted to give it a try.


Paul Beech said...

Hi Martin,

Let’s not forget the impossible mysteries posed by Sophie Hannah in her brilliant novels of psychological suspense featuring DC Simon Waterhouse and DS Charlie Zailer.

I attended ‘An Afternoon with Sophie Hannah’ at Leicester Warren Hall, Knutsford, on Sunday 11th October, one of the events in the Knutsford Literature Festival, and thoroughly enjoyed it. She was so relaxed, natural and humorous, she put the audience at ease straight away. Nice to see her husband and two young children on the front row too. She was extremely interesting and entertaining on all aspects of her work as a poet, children’s writer and crime writer.

She believed that novels with mystery in them were superior to those without. She’d discovered this in childhood, reading Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series. As a crime writer now, she always started with a mystery, something you couldn’t get your head around as it defied all reason. Why would anyone swap one baby for another (‘Little Face’) or admit to a murder where the victim is still very much alive (‘The Other Half Lives’)?

She wouldn’t know the solution at the beginning; she would have to find this out. Solving the mystery was what kept her going. Sometimes it would come in a moment of inspiration - it did with ‘Little Face,’ when presenting her courgettes at a supermarket checkout!

When put on the spot by her editor, who wanted to know what her second crime novel would be about, she made up some fantastical situation without having an idea how to resolve it. Afterwards, having specified various elements to be included in the novel, all she had to do was link them up! Henceforth she’d always known that no matter how irreconcilable the plot elements seemed, all would come right in the end.

I queried how her dark imaginings impacted on her own psyche. Sophie smiled. She had a cheerful disposition, she said. The work was just work; she didn’t get hung up about it. Any negativity she felt about human nature she channelled into her character Proust, the loathsome inspector of her series!

I was pleased to hear that her crime novels are being adapted for the small screen.



Dorte H said...

Here you touch upon the reason why I rarely read books with elements of the paranormal. Quite often it is crime where the writer ´cheats´ the reader.
I liked Johan Theorin´s The Darkest Room, however, because he uses ghosts but gives us a proper (i.e. normal) solution to the crimes.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I was a fan of the X-files, too. :) I'd forgotten about 'Squeeze' but now I have some foggy memories of the episode that you've outlined.

I think, as long as the reader is happy to suspend disbelief, that these types of stories are a lot of fun to read and watch.

Mystery Writing is Murder

seana graham said...

I loved the Jonathan Creek series, and was disappointed that it was relatively short-lived. It had a pretty sizable following here, and when some fans asked why it had ended, they were told it was too expensive to produce. Which really seems a shame.

Martin Edwards said...

Paul - very interesting. I like Sophie's clever opening situations very much.

Martin Edwards said...

Dorte, I agree. I like my mysteries to be rational, though I do like sci-fi also, and there are some crossover stories like Squeeze that work well.

Martin Edwards said...

Seana, there were quite a lot of JC episodes overall. And I believe there is to be at least one more next April.

seana graham said...

It would be good news if there turned out to be a few more I haven't seen, whether new or not.

Martin Edwards said...

Seana, if you haven't seen the one shown on New Year's Day, which I reviewed on this blog, you have a real treat in store. It was great fun.

seana graham said...

If it was shown at all recently, I haven't seen it. Will have to see what my viewing options are...