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James Yaffe Locked Room Titles


James Yaffe (born 1927) is an American playwright and screenwriter best known in detective circles for a series of stories about the Department of Impossible Crimes, first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine during the 1940s. He also wrote the humorous “Mom” series, where a Jewish police detective in New York gives details of his cases to his widowed mother; her insight is always able to provide a solution. These began in the 1950s as short stories, eventually collected into book form in 1997 as My Mother, the Detective, but much later Yaffe produced several Mom novels. All his locked room stories are from the Paul Dawn Department of Impossible Crime series.

Edited from Gadetection: James Yaffe


LR lizard mysteriesDepartment of Impossible Crimes
Detective: Paul Dawn

Collection: EQMM, July 1943; Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries 

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Note: Written when Yaffe was only 16!

The most remarkable point concerning James Yaffe’s, ‘Department of Impossible Crimes’, is that it was written and published in the July 1943 issue of ‘The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’ – when the author was just 16! Paul Dawn lives a usually tranquil life in a small office at police headquarters, behind a door reading ‘Department of Impossible Crimes’, but today he must abandon his puzzles and help Inspector Fledge explain the disappearance of a rich old stockbroker. George Seabrooke got into an automatic elevator, unaccompanied, in front of three witnesses. The elevator then went down to the ground floor – without stopping – where those waiting below discovered his corpse with a knife planted squarely in the middle of his back. One of the best locked room stories, in this book or anywhere, though, by the end, the solution is actually quite obvious, simply because every other possibility has been carefully ruled out in true Sherlockian fashion.


EQMM4403Mr. Kiroshubi’s Ashes
Detective: Paul Dawn

Collection: EQMM, March 1944

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Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1944

Note: A moving locked room?

Paul Dawn, the only member of the Homicide Squad’s Department of Impossible Crimes, must explain how the victim was shot to death, while alone inside a locked and moving railway compartment!


EQMM194409The Seventh Drink 
Detective: Paul Dawn

Collection: EQMM, September 1944

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Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1944

Note: The seventh sip was a killer!

Paul Dawn, the only member of the Homicide Squad’s Department of Impossible Crimes, has a peculiar problem! The victim drank from the same glass of water six times, with no ill effects, but on the seventh occasion he was poisoned to death!


EQMM194503Cul de Sac
Detective: Paul Dawn

Collection: EQMM, March 1945

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Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1945

Note: It must be here!

Paul Dawn, the only member of the Homicide Squad’s Department of Impossible Crimes, is required to explain how a valuable document could have disappeared from a blind alley, while a man was under constant observation by the police.


All But ImpossibleThe Problem of The Emperor’s Mushrooms
Detective: Paul Dawn

Collection: All But Impossible, edited by Edward D. Hoch; EQMM, September 1945

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Note: An ancient Roman mystery!

Paul Dawn is the only member of the Homicide Squad’s Department of Impossible Crimes. When he hears Professor Bottle’s history of the murder of Roman Emperor Claudius he becomes intrigued with an impossible angle of  this classic crime. A poison was added to his favorite dish of mushrooms. It had no effect on his official food-taster, but threw poor Claudius into a violent convulsion.  


murder operaThe Comic Opera Murders
Detective: Paul Dawn

Collection:  Murder at the Opera, ed. by Thomas Godfrey, 1989; EQMM, February 1946

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Note: An odd disappearance!

Paul Dawn, the only member of the Homicide Squad’s Department of Impossible Crimes, is called into the investigation when an elderly man disappears from an opera dressing room which is under constant observation, leaving only a younger injured man inside the room.


James Yaffe Bibliography


Locked Room 101: The Masters


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