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 Locked Room 101:

An Introduction to The Masters

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The Locked Room Mystery

The locked room mystery is a sub-genre of detective fiction where a crime has been committed in a location where no suspect could logically have committed the crime. The typical locked room mystery involves a scene where, for example, the victim is shot to death inside a totally sealed room and suicide is logically impossible. Cases of poison are usually excluded, as in the case of Christie’s ‘Mysterious Affair at Styles’, since the means of murder may have occurred prior to entering the chamber, or have been previously inserted into the room in the form of tainted drinks or food. The same rule generally applies to any obvious mechanical device or booby trap. In a true locked room case, the murder must appear to have been completely executed behind closed doors by an unknown suspect.

Impossible CrimesMany mystery buffs include ‘Impossible Crimes’ in the Locked Room sub-genre, though this is actually a separate sub-genre. Impossible crimes include all those cases, so common in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, where the murder, for example, is committed right in front of an entire room of witnesses, none of whom are able to understand how the deed was done. While this site concentrates on the locked room story, in many instances it is extremely difficult to draw a clear line between these two related plot lines, often written by the same authors, so we will therefore also include many ‘Impossible Crimes’ in these pages, especially when written by authors of Locked Room mysteries, and leave it to the reader to decide on the appropriate classification. 

The true locked room mystery, which remains our central focus, may be fairly clearly defined by three basic rules – which would hold, at a minimum, that:

1) The victim is apparently alone at the time of the murder, or the murderer impossibly disappears after committing the crime. At the very least, the victim must appear to be beyond the reach of any logical  method used by the suspect to commit the murder and then make good his escape.

2) No suspect could have logically committed the crime using the apparent method of murder.

3) There is no obvious manner in which poison, a booby trap, or a secret passage, could have been prearranged. Booby traps and secret passages are never found in the best examples of the Locked Room sub-genre!

In many instances, following the usual conventions of classic detective fiction, the reader is presented with this seemingly impossible situation, and all the clues, then provided with a ‘fair play’ challenge to solve the mystery before the solution is revealed in a dramatic climax.

In some ways, the Locked Room mystery is closely associated with all those classic gothic tales of the supernatural, as it often appears that only a ghostly presence could be responsible, though this conclusion is inevitably viewed as superstition, which the rational detective soon reveals to be pure illusion. The real mystery of a Locked Room story is therefore not usually the ‘whodunit’, as that is clearly secondary to the primary ‘howdunit’ explanation. It is the search for a logical solution, which drives the protagonist to ignore the distraction of the appearances and solve the puzzle.

Rue Morgue 2The mystery genre was not truly established until the late 19th century, though there are a number of earlier works which provide the origins of the modern murder puzzle. This history is more fully explored in our, ‘Origins of Mystery Fiction’ page. In the specific case of the Locked Room mystery, the deuterocanonical Old Testament story, Bel and the Dragon, is often viewed as one of the primary influences, as well as the 5th century BC tale from Herodotus, King Rhampsinitus and the thief, which tells of a thief whose headless body is found in a sealed stone chamber. Honoré de Balzac and Alexander Dumas are also given some credit, but the real originator of this sub-genre is Edgar Allan Poe, in his classic tale ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, published in 1841. Wilkie Collins 1868 work, ‘The Moonstone’, also employs many elements of the  locked room murder, as do several stories by Joseph Conrad and Sheridan Le Big BowFanu, who concentrated on secret passages and other similar devices. Still, it was not until Israel Zangwill’s 1892 story, ‘The Big Bow Mystery’, that the idea of ‘misdirection’, a purposely created illusion by the criminal, became the central device of most Locked Room mysteries. This was soon followed by several of the Sherlock Holmes stories, especially ‘The Adventure of The Speckled band’ (1892), which  clearly popularized this new sub-genre. The Locked Room mystery also proved extremely popular in France, following the publication of “The Mystery of The Yellow Room’ (1907) by Gaston Leroux, which led to several French authors writing popular Locked Room novels, many of which have never been translated into English.

mesopotamiaWith the arrival of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, locked room and impossible crime stories became a common part of the immensely popular mystery craze, with most of the great authors of this age, including G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Edgar Wallace, Michael Innes, Margery Allingham, Georgette Heyer, Ellery Queen, S.S. Van Dine, and many others, trying their hand at Locked Room plots. The Locked Room Mystery will try to sort out the best representatives from this massive list of potential titles. Most of these murders were solved by amateur sleuths, or Scotland Yard detectives, through a chain of brilliant deductive reasoning.

hollow manHowever, there were also a select group of authors who clearly specialized in this new sub-genre, with John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson), Christiana Brand,  Jacques Futrelle, Edmund Crispin, Clayton Rawson, Edward D. Hoch, and Hake Talbot leading the pack. Still, there really can be no doubt that the true ‘King of The Locked Room Mystery’ was John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson), who created an entire library of excellent Locked Room mysteries, many featuring either Dr. Gideon Fell, or Sir Henry Merrivale, in  a fascinating array of imaginative tales, that will likely never be equalled in a modern world that seldom finds the time to sit down and read a good murder.

Fourth DoorIn France, the Locked Room also flourished. This time the king was Pierre Boileau, with serious efforts by Thomas Narcejac, Gaston Boca, Marcel Lanteaume, and Noel Vindry. After the Second World War, the Locked Room mystery waned in the English market, but continued in France with Paul Halter leading the way, and was later adopted by several Japanese writers. The English genre made a bit of a comeback in the 1970’s with some of Bill Pronzini’s novels, and the masterful short story collections of Edward D. Hoch, especially those featuring Dr. Sam Hawthorne, a country physician and amateur detective.

In recent years this sub-genre has waxed and waned, but still continues to produce some of the best works in modern mystery fiction. Sit down and lock yourself into a really impossible mystery!

Locked Room Mystery at Wikipedia


Big lizard LR mysteriesRequired Reading:

Quite simply the best collection of ‘Locked Room’ Short Stories on the market today –  includes most of the great locked room authors!

 

The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries
Edited by Otto Penzler

Locked Room Review (1 0f 8)
*****

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68 great Locked Room Short Stories including:

The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
The Problem of Cell 13 by Jacques Futrelle
The Two Bottles of Relish by Lord Dunsany
The Invisible Man by G. K. Chesterton
The Doomoorf Mystery by Melville Davisson Post
The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Wrong Problem by John Dickson Carr
The Aluminium Dagger by R. Austin Freeman
The Glass Gravestone by Joseph Commings
Blind Man’s Hood by Carter Dickson
The Man From Nowhere by Edward D. Koch
The Laughing Butcher by Fredric Brown
The Sands of Time by Michael Innes
Beware of the Trains by Edmund Crispin
The Locked Bathroom by H. R. F. Keating
Mike, Alec, and Rufus by Dashiell Hammett
The Episode of the Torment IV by C. Daly King
Greaves’ Disappearance by Julian Hawthorne
The House of Haunts by Ellery Queen
The Ordinary Hairpins by E. C. Bentley
The Theft of the Bermuda Penny by Edward D. Hoch
The Problem of the Old Oak Tree by Edward D. Hoch
The Locked Room to End Locked Rooms by Stephen Barr
Nothing is Impossible by Clayton Dawson
Where Have You Gone, Sam Spade? by Bill Pronzini
The Dream by Agatha Christie
The Border Line Case by Margery Allingham
The Bradmoor Murder by Melville Davisson Post
The Little House at Croix-Rousse by Georges Simenon
The Bird in the Hand by Erle Stanley Gardener
The Episode of the Codex’ Curse by C. Daly King
The Poisoned Dow ’08 by Dorothy L. Sayers
Death at the Excelsior by P. G. Wodehouse

Plus 32 more great puzzles!

More on Otto Penzler


The Course: 24 Locked Room Novels


hollow manThe Hollow Man
John Dickson Carr
Also titled: ‘The Three Coffins’

Good Mystery Review
*****

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The Hollow Man, also published as ‘The Three Coffins’, has been voted the best locked room mystery ever by a group of mystery authors and critics organized by Edward D. Hoch. 

Professor Charles Grimaud and his friend are meeting at tavern when they are interrupted by a stranger who claims that men can arise from their graves and walk through walls. This odd character is illusionist Pierre Fley, who claims to have done these things himself, then adds that he has an even more dangerous brother who wants Grimaud’s life. Grimaud must choose which brothers he wants to call on him, and Grimaud angrily invites him to send his brother and be damned.

On the appointed night, Grimaud awaits his anticipated visitor. The visitor arrives, wearing a mask, and is escorted to the study. Two witness sees Grimaud let the stranger enter and close the door, and both continue to observe the door until shots are heard inside the room. The locked door is finally broken down, to reveal a dying Grimaud, but no stranger or weapon can be found, and the yard below the only window is covered with a pristine untrammelled blanket of snow.

That same night, two men and a police constable witness Pierre Fley walking alone down a deserted cul-de-sac, then hear a ghostly voice shout “The second bullet is for you!” – followed by a gunshot. Fley is found shot in the back at very close range, with the revolver that killed both victims at his side – and once again there are no tracks in the snow that surround his body. It is clearly a case for Dr. Fell!

More on ‘The Hollow Man’

Unfortunately, no eBook of the ‘Hollow Man’ is available at this time. However, it can be read online at Scribd!

Other superb John Dickson Carr Locked Room masterpieces, include:

Available in eBooks:
He Who Whispers
The Problem of the Green Capsule
The Burning Court

Only available in used paperback or hardcover editions:
The Case of the Constant Suicides
The Crooked Hinge
Till Death Do Us Part
The Judas Window

And many more! See our John Dickson Carr pages for more information. 

John Dickson Carr (1906 – 1977) was an American author of detective stories, often referred to as ‘The King of The Locked Room Mystery ‘. Carr published under his own name, most notably producing the Dr. Gideon Fell series, and also under the pen name of Carter Dickson, famous for the Sir Henry Merrivale series. John Dickson Carr is the undisputed master of the locked room genre. Any list of the 25 best locked room mystery novels should include a half dozen or more of Carr’s novels. In this course, this single classic must represent all the works of this talented author.

More on John Dickson Carr


chinese orangeThe Chinese Orange Mystery (1934)
Ellery Queen
Ellery Queen Mystery Series

Good Mystery Review
****

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A wealthy publisher and collector of precious stones and Chinese postage stamps lives in a luxurious hotel suite that doubles as his office for business that is not related to Mandarin Press. The hotel is also the centre for the comings and goings of Donald Kirk’s staff, his relatives, and his female friends. The mystery begins when an odd, anonymous man arrives and refuses to state his business to Kirk’s clerk, James Osborne. He is led into an anteroom with a bowl of fruit (including tangerines, also known as Chinese oranges) to await the publisher’s arrival.

However, when Kirk finally returns and is advised that the man is still waiting, the door connecting to the office is found to be locked, and a truly bizarre scene is displayed inside. The victim’s skull his broken, his clothing is reversed, back to front, all the furnishings of the room have been turned backwards — and two African spears have been inserted between the body and its clothing. The only other entrance to the room was more or less observed, and it seems quite impossible that anyone could have entered and had sufficient time to arrange this fantastic scene. The mystery is made more complex by some valuable jewelry and stamps, the publisher’s business affairs and romantic affaires, and an apparent connection with “backwardness” for every character. Ellery Queen must first sort through all the motives and discard the lies and misdirections, before he finally arrives at an amazing solution to this confounding puzzle.

More on ‘The Chinese Orange Mystery’

Ellery Queen is another great source of fantastic locked room novels!

A few more great Ellery Queen locked room titles:

eBooks

Cat of Many Tails
On The Eighth Day
The Door Between

Books
The King is Dead

Ellery Queen is not only a fictional detective, one of the greatest figures in American detective fiction, he is also a pseudonym originally used by two American cousins from Brooklyn, Daniel Nathan, alias Frederic Dannay (1905 – 1982) and Manford Emanuel Lepofsky, alias Manfred Bennington Lee (1905 – 1971), who wrote, edited, and anthologized detective fiction, most notably in the famous Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which was launched in 1941 and is still published today under the supervision of new ‘Ellery Queen’ editors. Even a brief review of the number of talented authors whose careers began with being published in this magazine is quite remarkable.

Watch for our upcoming Ellery Queen pages!

More on Ellery Queen


Yellow RoomThe Mystery of The Yellow Room (1907)
Gaston Leroux
Edwardian Detective Fiction

Locked Room Review
*****

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The young lady had just retired to her room when sounds of a struggle ensue, and cries of “Murder!” and revolver shots ring out. When her locked door is finally broken down by her father and a servant, they find the woman on the floor, badly hurt and bleeding. No one else is in the room. There is no other exit except through a barred window. How did the attacker escape?

First published in 1907, this intriguing and baffling tale is a classic of early 20th-century detective fiction. At the heart of the novel is a perplexing mystery: How could a crime take place in a locked room which shows no sign of being entered? Nearly a century after its initial publication, Leroux’s landmark tale of foul play, deception, and unbridled ambition remains a blueprint for the detective novel genre. 

“The finest locked room tale ever written.” — John Dickson Carr, author of The Hollow Man.

More on ‘The Mystery of The Yellow Room’

Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux (1868 – 1927) was a French journalist and author of detective fiction. In the English-speaking world, he is best known for writing the novel The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, 1911), which has been made into several film and stage productions of the same name, notably the 1925 film starring Lon Chaney, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical.

His novel The Mystery of the Yellow Room is one of the original Locked Room novels, contemporary with the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Israel Zangwill. Originally published in French in 1907,  it is truly a must read Locked Room classic! 

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Fourth DoorThe Fourth Door (1987)
Paul Halter 
Dr. Twist and Chief Inspector Hurst (#1)

Good Mystery Review
*****

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Someone has volunteered to spend the night in the haunted room at the Darnley House. The room is sealed by pressing a unique coin on the wax door seal, but when the door is re-opened, someone else’s body is lying there, the seals are unbroken, and the coin has not left the possession of the witness. Things are never what they seem in this classic Locked Room mystery, with a new twist in every chapter. A second impossible murder occurs inside a house surrounded by virgin snow. The detective in charge believes he is dealing with the re-incarnation of Houdini, but in the end there is a rational explanation to everything, and it is left to Dr. Alan Twist to provide it. 

More on ‘The Fourth Door’

Paul Halter has become a modern master of the Locked Room genre. For many years these novels were available only in French, but are now being released in a great series of translations by John Pugmire.

Links to the other great titles translations in this series:

The Seventh Hypothesis
The Seven Wonders of Crime
The Demon of Dartmoor
The Lord of Misrule
The Crimson Fog
The Invisible Circle
The Night Of The Wolf
The Picture from The Past

Paul Halter (born in 1956 in Haguenau, Bas-Rhin) is a writer of crime fiction known for his locked room mysteries. His first published novel, La Quatrieme Porte (“The Fourth Door”) was published in 1988 and won the Prix de Cognac, given for detective literature. The following year, his novel Le Brouillard Rouge (Red Mist) won “one of the highest accolades in French mystery literature”, the Prix du Roman d’Aventures.

More on Paul Halter


Big BowThe Big Bow Mystery (1892)
Israel Zangwill
Victorian Mystery Fiction

Locked Room Review
*****

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On a foggy day in the Big Bow District of London, Mrs. Drabdump becomes fearful for her lodger. She knocks several times at his door but no answer. She runs to Inspector Grodman and together they break down his door to find the pooor man lying in his bed with his throat cut. The door was locked from the inside. Thus begins Israel Zangwill’s classic mystery. Written in 1891, Big Bow Mystery still retains its power to amuse and entertain, both as a clever mystery and a satire of Victorian London.

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Israel Zangwill (1864 – 1926) was a British humorist, novelist, and social commentator. This is his only foray into detective fiction, yet it is the locked room mystery novel that virtually invented the genre. Along with Conan Doyle, Poe, and Leroux, Zangwill played a critical role in the development of this new form of detective fiction.

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Gilded FlyThe Case of The Gilded Fly (1946)
Edmund Crispin (AKA Bruce Montgomery)
Oxford Don Gervase Fen

Good Mystery Review
****

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Theater companies are notorious hotbeds of intrigue, and few are more intriguing than the company currently in residence at Oxford University. Center-stage is the beautiful, malicious Yseut, a mediocre actress with a stellar talent for destroying men. Rounding out the cast are more than a few of her past and present conquests, and the women who love them. And watching from the wings is Professor Gervase Fen, scholar, wit, and fop extraordinaire, who would rather solve crimes than expound on English literature. When Yseut is murdered, Fen finally gets his wish. Gilded Fly, originally published in 1944, was both Fen’s first outing and the debut of the pseudonymous Crispin (in reality, composer Bruce Montgomery).

More on ‘The Case of The Gilded Fly’

One of 11 great novels in these very literary, often witty, locked room classics. ‘The Moving Toyshop’  is another volume that is a very good Locked Room read. Try these links for more Edmund Crispin crimes:

The Moving Toyshop
Swan Song

Edmund Crispin was actually the pseudonym of Robert Bruce Montgomery (1921 – 1978), who is remembered for both his Gervase Fen mystery novels and his musical compositions. Born in Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, Montgomery graduated from St John’s College, Oxford, in 1943, with a BA in modern languages. He also spent two years as this school’s organ scholar and choirmaster – a position which plays a central role in ‘The Gilded Fly’. He first became known for his mysteries and was only later recognized as a composer of vocal and choral music, including ‘An Oxford Requiem’ (1951). He eventually turned to film work, writing the scores for many British comedies, including the famous ‘Carry On’ series. Montgomery also authored the screenplay and score of ‘Raising the Wind’ (1961).

The novels of Edmund Crispin continue the development of the sophisticated literary style of mystery that largely began with Dorothy Sayers, and also attempt to continue the device of a professorial detective investigating impossible locked room mysteries, in a nod to John Dickson Carr’s, Dr. Fell.

More on Edmund Crispin


Rim of PitRim of The Pit (1944)
Hake Talbot
Rogan Kincaid Series.

Locked Room Review
****

Book  eBook

A snowbound group of people in the north woods must deal with a supernatural killer unleashed by a seance.  Locked rooms and impossible murders seem to be explainable only by believing that the dead can come back to take revenge on the living. Footprints that begin and end in the middle of unbroken snowfields, the appearance of a Wendigo that can swoop down on its victims, someone killed by someone possessed by a dead man — these are some of the puzzles adventurer Rogan Kinkaid faces in the classic Locked Room novel. 

More on ‘The Rim of The Pit’

Hake Talbot is a pseudonym for Henning Nelms (1900 – 1986), an American stage magician.  A famous 1981 poll of ‘locked room’ experts placed this novel in second place, right behind Carr’s ‘The Hollow Man’. His second novel, ‘The Hangman’s Handyman’ is a good read, but never gained the acclaim of this earlier work.

Hangman’s Handyman

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top hatDeath from a Top Hat (1938)
Clayton Rawson
The Great Merlini Series

Good Mystery Review
*****

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When a necromancer is found dead inside his locked and sealed apartment, the police call in Merlini to help explain the impossible. However, the suspects are quite accustomed to producing the impossible. They include a professional medium, an escape artist, a couple of magicians, a ventriloquist, and two people who claim to demonstrate mental telepathy in their nightclub act.

More on ‘Death from a Top Hat’

Another American author, writer and stage magician! A founding member of The Mystery Writers of America, and managing editor of The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine from 1963 to 1971. There are three more volumes in this series, all well worth the read!

More on Clayton Rawson


LR Nine times NineNine Times Nine (1940)
Anthony Boucher (aka H.H. Holmes)
Sister Ursula Series

Locked Room Review
*****

Book  eBook

#9 on Hoch’s famous list of best locked room mysteries!

The man in the yellow robe had put a curse on Wolfe Harrigan – the ancient curse called the Nine Times Nine. And when Matt Duncan looked up from the croquet lawn that afternoon, he saw the man in the yellow robe in Wolfe Harrigan’s study.

Later the police discovered that at the time of the murder the man in the yellow robe was lecturing to a group of his followers miles away! How can a man be in two places at once? A miracle, perhaps?

Then who better to explain miracles than Sister Ursula, a nun, whose childhood ambition was to become a policewoman.

More on ‘Nine Times Nine’

Born William Anthony Parker White (1911-1968), Boucher is best known for his work as an editor, critic, and radio writer/producer. He wrote only seven novels with ‘Nine Times Nine”, and ‘Rocket to The Morgue’, which has a Sci-Fi twist, being the best Locked Room titles.

Rocket to The Morgue

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Glass DarklyThrough a Glass, Darkly (1950)
Helen McCloy
Dr. Basil Willings

Good Mystery Review
****

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Gisela von Hohenems joins the teaching staff of an exclusive girls’ school in upstate New York, where she befriends fellow newcomer Faustina Coyle. But a climate of fear surrounds Faustina, and after several strange incidents that defy rational explanation, she is forced to resign. Gisela asks her fiance, detective-psychologist Dr Basil Willing, to investigate in this highly acclaimed horror-mystery with shades of M. R. James.

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Helen McCloy was a pseudonym for Helen Clarkson, a prolific American mystery writer, with 31 novels to her credit. (1904-1994)  ‘Through A Glass, Darkly’ and ‘Mr. Splitfoot’ (1968) have both made all the lists of best Locked Room mysteries. It is also a great movie starring Ingrid Bergman!

Mr. Splitfoot

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jezebelDeath of Jezebel (1948)
Christianna Brand
Inspector Cockrill Series

Good Mystery Review
****

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Johnny Wise died seven years ago, but emotions still run high. The past finally comes back to claim revenge at a medieval pageant with eleven knights hidden behind their armour and Jezebel perched high above in a sealed room – where she is strangled, before she crashes onto the stage. Inspector Cockrill is in the audience, but still unable to account for this impossible murder!

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Born Mary Christianna Milne in Malaya in 1907, Christianna went on to write ‘The Nurse Matilda’ books for children, as well as three mystery series and ten other novels. Her best known locked room mystery titles are from the Inspector Cockrill Series. ‘Suddenly at His Residence’ (US title: The Crooked Wreath) is perhaps the better known, but very difficult to find these days. Both these novels have repeatedly made it on most best locked room lists.

Suddenly at His Residence

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3 detectivesCase for Three Detectives (1938)
Leo Bruce
Sargeant Beef Series

Locked Room Review
****

Book  eBook

Possibly the most unusual mystery ever written. A murder is committed, behind closed doors, in bizarre circumstances. Three amateur detectives take the case: Lord Simon Plimsoll, Monsieur Amer Picon, and Monsignor Smith (in whom discerning readers will note likeness to some familiar literary figures). Each arrives at his own brilliant solution, startling in its originality, ironclad in its logic. Meanwhile Sergean Beef sits contemptuously in the background. “But, ” says Sergean Beef, “I know who done it!”

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Leo Bruce is a pseudonym for Rupert Croft-Cooke, an English screenplay writer, biographer, and mystery novelist. His two main series are the Sergeant Beef series, about a British police officer, and the Carolus Deene Series, which feature a history master at the fictitious Queen’s School of Newminster. ‘A Case for Three Detectives’ is high on the list of Best Locked Room mysteries.

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Devil drivesThe Devil Drives
Virgil Markham
Not part of any series

Locked Room Review
****

Book  eBook
(Book only available on amazon.com)

Warden George Peters is almost too young to be warden of Franklin Penitentiary but he’s been around the block a time or two. But when convict Frank Holburn asks a favor of him right before he is to be executed, the warden gets involved in a terrifying ordeal that will take him far away from the prison and into the mean streets where a badge means nothing. He’s after a young woman who wrote love notes to the master criminal and holds the key to a secret that may blow the lid off of some serious careers, not to mention a treasure buried near a “doll-house” built for the girl. 

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Virgil Markhan (1899-1973) was the son of poet, Edwin Markham, and long remained in his shadow. His novels are tough and gritty. ‘The Devil Drives’ offers a new twist on the locked room puzzle that has kept it on top of most locked room lists.

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kennelThe Kennel Murder Case
S.S. Van Dine
The Philo Vance Mystery Series

Good Mystery Review
****

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Archer Coe’s death looked like a suicide – since it happened inside a room whose only door was bolted on the inside. But Philo Vance is able to prove it’s murder, even though he isn’t quite certain about how the murderer could have escaped the locked room. Perhaps it has something to do with the presence of a small Scottish Terrier at the scene of the crime?

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S.S. Van Dine was a pseudonym used by American art critic Wilford Huntington Wright. (1888-1939) Wright created the immensely popular American detective Philo Vance, who featured in 12 novels, various radio broadcasts, and several movie adaptations.  Unfortunately, Wright died at age 51, due to a heart condition, which was exasperated by heavy drinking. Wright described Vance as “a man of unusual culture and brilliance. An aristocrat by birth and instinct, he held himself aloof  from the common world of man.” Vance was a flippant cynic, but nothing like the typical ‘hard boiled’ American detective which would become so familiar. ‘The Canary Murder Case’ is another excellent locked room novel!

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Red PavillionThe Red Pavilion (1961)
Robert van Gulik
Judge Dee Mystery Series

Locked Room Review
****

Book  eBook

A chance encounter with Autumn Moon, the most powerful courtesan on Paradise Island, leads Judge Dee to investigate three deaths. Although he finally teases the true story from a tangled history of passion and betrayal, Dee is saddened by the perversion, corruption, and waste of the world “of flowers and willows” that thrives on prostitution.

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Robert Hans van Gulik, was the son of a Dutch military medical officer stationed in the East Indies. (Now Indonesia) Gulik became a respected Orientalist, diplomat, musician, and the author of the intriguing Judge Dee historical mystery series, set in 7th century China. Many of the 18 books in this series are locked room cases, though the most acclaimed are ‘The Red Pavilion’ and ‘The Chinese Gold Murders’

The Chinese Gold Murders

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derek smithWhistle Up The Devil (1953)
Derek Smith
Collected Works

Locked Room Review
*****

Book  eBook

‘Whistle Up The Devil’ is one of the most famous locked room masterpieces of all time. It introduces Algy Lawrence, a brilliant young man who has already worked with the police as an amateur sleuth prior to this appearance.

The plot hinges on a “family secret”, passed from father to son, a month before the son’s wedding, within the Querrin family. This secret concerns a room within the family residence, called “The Room of Passage“, which has been the scene of an old tragedy.

On this occasion, the secret is passed from Peter Querrin to his son, Roger, who is engaged to Audrey. Roger decides to revive, and finally discredit, this old family tradition. He will “blow the whistle to the Devil” by spending a night in the haunted room. Four men stand on vigilant guard, making it quite impossible for anyone to enter – but at midnight Roger is still stabbed with the same dagger that was used in the family legend – and a second locked room mystery soon follows.

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Little is known of the life of Derek Howe Smith. Smith is reported to have lived a reclusive life, with his mother, on the outskirts of London, in a house so filled with books it was in imminent danger of collapse. ‘Whistle up The Devil’ was long considered to be his only literary effort and one of the great locked room mysteries, until unpublished manuscripts (except in Japan) of another Algy Lawrence title, ‘Come to Paddington Fair’ (1997), and ‘Model for Murder’, an addition to the Sexton Blake canon, as well as another short story, were discovered and eventually added to this omnibus edition. The best bio of Derek Smith is Robert Adey’s intro to the Omnibus, which can be read on the Amazon.com ‘look inside’ feature.

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grey roomThe Grey Room (1921)
Eden Philpotts
Not part of a series

Locked Room Review
****

Book  eBook

At a 1920’s house party at the ancestral estate of Sir Walter Lennox, the sordid reputation of the unused Grey Room is a topic of discussion. An ancestor of Sir Walter’s died in the room under mysterious circumstances — although she was in her 80’s so how mysterious is that? Years later a robust young woman meets a similar fate, being found in the morning looking peacefully from bed with dead eyes. To debunk the myth one of the house party connives to sleep in the room, and a repetition of the previous death occurs. Sir Walter’s nephew talks him into hiring a detective to uncover the truth. But before the truth comes to light a number of other deaths occur.

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An extremely prolific English author, poet and dramatist. (1862-1960) Philpotts was a close friend of Agatha Christie and often set his books on his beloved Dartmoor. ‘The Grey Room’ is a sleeping chamber with a haunted reputation, until an Italian nobleman uncovers an old Borgia secret!

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single staircaseThe Single Staircase (2013)
Matt Ingwalson
Owl And Racoon Series

Good Mystery Review
****

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A baby vanishes from a carefully watched third-floor nursery. Did her parents kill their only child and hide the body? What other solution could there be? This is a modern police procedural. And a classical locked-room mystery that will keep you guessing right up until the end. All after-tax profits from the sale of this novella will be donated to charities that help find missing children.

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Ingwalson is a bright young mystery author with a distinctive style, part ‘hardboiled’ police procedural, part innovative locked room mystery. This is the first of a series, featuring the Owl and The Racoon, followed by “wdyg’. ‘Sin Walks into The Desert’ and his latest novel ‘Regret Things’ are not part of this locked room series.

wdyg – Good Mystery Review

Matt Ingwalson introduces himself at the link below.

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More Locked Room mysteries by some of the greatest mystery authors of all times!


mesopotamiaMurder in Mesopotamia (1936)
Agatha Christie
Hercule Poirot Series

Good Mystery Review
****

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Mrs Leidner is murdered in a locked room at an archeological dig in Iraq. The room has only one locked door and a closed and barred window, yet no murder weapon is found near the body. Poirot must discover how this is possible and which member of the team is responsible. One of the better Agatha Christie Poirot tales.

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The publication of ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ in 1920, launched a 56 year long active literary career that has had few rivals. At last count, Christie had sold around two billion novels, making her the best selling single author of all times, well ahead of Chairman Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ at only 800 million, and close to half The Bible’s estimated 5 billion copies printed worldwide. Agatha Christie is more than just another mystery author, she has been a cultural phenomenon for the better part of a century.

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Busmans HoneymoonBusman’s Honeymoon (1937)
Dorothy L. Sayers
Lord Peter Wimsey Series

Good Mystery Review
*****

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Lord Peter and Harriet Vane have finally married and are spending their honeymoon at Talboys, an old farmhouse Lord Peter has bought for his new bride. They arrive to find a locked house that was not made ready for their arrival, and the body of the former owner dead in the cellar. An excellent locked room mystery with all the usual Sayers charm.

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The daughter of an English clergyman, Dorothy Sayers was born at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford in 1893 and grew up in the rather pleasant rural parish of Bluntisham-cum-Earith in Huntingdonshire. In 1912 she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, and later became one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford. She worked for a time in advertising, lectured and wrote poetry, wrote several popular works on the Christian faith, and considered her translation of Dante to be her greatest acheivement. As part of ‘The Socrates Club’ at Oxford, she was close friends with C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, while as a founding member of The Detection Club, she associated with most of the great authors of the Golden Age of British mystery fiction.

Sayer’s first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, ‘Whose Body?, was released in 1921, and proved to be immensely popular. The Lord Peter stories, complete with his love of rare books, his struggle with shell shocked nerves, the ever dependable Bunter, his ambiguous feelings about the consequences of amateur sleuthing, and the long tangled history of his relationship with Harriet Vane,  are all brought to a final conclusion in this amazing locked room story. 

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Valley of FearThe Valley of Fear (1914)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes Series

Good Mystery Review
****

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A man has been brutally murdered by an intruder inside the locked and moated manor house of Birlstone, and only Sherlock Holmes can read the clues to this seemingly impossible locked room mystery.

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The role played by Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the developments of the mystery genre should never be underrated. Sherlock still remains the most popular and iconic detective of all times. It is a canon of fiction that not only enthralled several generations of fans, but has even made real contributions to modern criminology.

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Flowers JudgeFlowers for The Judge (1936)
Margery Allingham
Albert Campion Series

Good Mystery Review
****

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Paul Brand is found dead in the locked ‘vault’ of Golden Quill Publishing House after quarrelling with his family partners. Campion must first discover a cause of death, before he can even begin to solve the murder.

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Margery Louise Allingham (1904 – 1966) was an English writer of detective fiction, best remembered for her “golden age” stories featuring gentleman sleuth Albert Campion.

Allingham’s breakthrough came in 1929 with the publication of ‘The Crime at Black Dudley’. This introduced Albert Campion, though only as a minor character. He next appeared in Mystery Mile, at the instigation of her American publishers. Allingham’s skills continued to improve, and with Campion’s popularity growing, she began to produce a 17 novel series, while continuing to write short stories and non-fiction for The Strand Magazine and other publications.

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twisted candleThe Clue of The Twisted Candle (1917)
Edgar Wallace
T. X. Meredith

Locked Room Review
****

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Remington Cara, an extremely wealthy Greek, is afraid of being murdered in his bed, so he builds a burglar proof bedroom, yet still ends up dead. Assistant Commissioner, T. X. Meredith, is given the job of figuring out how this impossible crime was committed. One of the better Edgar Wallace novels, a little over dramatic with some awkward dialogue, but still a good read.

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Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1875 – 1932) was an English writer. Wallace was born ‘illegitimate’ and raised in extreme poverty London. His schooling ended at age 12, and he later joined the army, before becoming a war correspondent during the Second Boer War. Badly in debt, he began to write penny dreadfuls as an easy way to quickly raise funds. Wallace used his experiences as a reporter in South Africa and the Congo, covering the Belgian atrocities, as the foundation for several of his early works. Wallace serialized short stories in several magazines, before finally signing with Hodder and Stoughton in 1921, where he became an internationally recognized author.

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envious cascaEnvious Casca (1941)
Georgette Heyer
Inspector Hemingway Series

Locked Room Review
****

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Nathaniel Herriard never wanted a Christmas family reunion, but was soon killed inside his well locked study. Inspector Hemingway must unravel all the events of the murderous holiday season!

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Georgette Heyer (1902 – 1974) was an English historical romance and detective fiction novelist. Her writing career began in 1921, when she turned a story for her younger brother into the novel ‘The Black Moth’. In 1925 Heyer married George Ronald Rougier, a mining engineer, and spent several years living in Tanganyika Territory and Macedonia before returning to England in 1929. After her novel ‘These Old Shades’ became immensely popular despite its release during the General Strike, Heyer determined that publicity was not necessary for good sales and continued to refuse all requests for interviews.

Heyer essentially invented the historical romance genre and its subgenre Regency romance. Beginning in 1932, Heyer released one romance novel and one thriller each year. Although many critics describe Heyer’s detective novels as unoriginal, others such as Nancy Wingate praise them “for their wit and comedy as well as for their well-woven plots”.

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A final assignment?…

A humorous approach to The Locked Room genre, by one of the best modern mystery writers!

elvisThe Burglar Who Dropped In on Elvis (1990)
Lawrence Block and Lynne Wood Block
Bernie Rhodenbarr Series

Locked Room Mini-Review
****

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Bernie Rhodenbarr, the light fingered burglar, gets himself mixed up in another locked room mystery. This is one of four short stories in which he stars. He’s on the job in Memphis, enlisted by a supermarket tabloid to obtain photos of Elvis’s off-limits bedroom on the second floor of Graceland. Included in Enough Rope by Lawrence Block.

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Lawrence Block (born June 24, 1938) is an American crime writer best known for two long-running New York–set series about the recovering alcoholic P.I. Matthew Scudder and the gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. Block was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1994.

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Primary Resources:

The Wikipedia article provides a great basic introduction to the Locked Room genre:

Locked Room Mystery at Wikipedia

Two other great references on the locked room genre are ‘The Locked Room Library’ and ‘More Locked Rooms And Impossible Crimes’ both websites hosted by John Pugmire, who is a a recognized author, translator and authority on locked room mysteries.

Locked Room Library

More Locked Rooms and Impossible Crimes

Pugmire is also the one behind Locked Room International.

Locked Room International

I also recommend the discussion at:

JOT 101: Locked Room Murders – 20 Solutions

Other Websites of interest:

Wikipedia: Golden Age of Detection
The John Dickson Carr Collector
Paul Halter’s Official Website
Hal White: The Mysteries of Reverend Dean

Further Reading:

The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries By Otto Penzler – available in ebook or paperback editions.

John Scroggs. Crime Fiction. Routledge, 2005.

Michael Cook. Narratives of Enclosure in Detective Fiction: The Locked Room Mystery. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 210 pages.

Four Classic Statements of the Locked Room Mystery genre drawn from popular Locked Room novels:

The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, Chapter 17

Death from a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson, Chapter 13

Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher, Chapter 14

Whistle up The Devil by Derek Smith (Several conversations)


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