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John Sladek Locked Room Mysteries

john-sladekJohn Thomas Sladek (1937 – 2000) was an American author primarily known for his science fiction, satire, and surreal novels.

Born in Waverly, Iowa in 1937, Sladek was in England in the 1960s for the New Wave movement and published his first story in New Worlds. His first science fiction novel, published in London by Gollancz as ‘The Reproductive System’ and in the United States as ‘Mechasm’, dealt with a project to build machines that build copies of themselves, a process that gets out of hand and threatens to destroy humanity. In ‘The Müller-Fokker Effect’, an attempt to preserve human personality on tape likewise goes awry, giving the author a chance to satirize big business, big religion, superpatriotism, and men’s magazines, among other things. Roderick and Roderick at Random offer the traditional satirical approach of looking at the world through the eyes of an innocent, in this case a robot. Sladek revisited robots from a darker point of view in the BSFA Award winning novel Tik-Tok, featuring a sociopathic robot who lacks any moral “asimov circuits”, and Bugs, a wide-ranging satire in which a hapless technical writer (a job Sladek held for many years) helps to create a robot who quickly goes insane.

Sladek was also known for his parodies of other science fiction writers, such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Cordwainer Smith. These were collected in ‘The Steam-Driven Boy and other Strangers’ (1973).

Sladek returned from England to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1986, where he lived until his death in 2000 from pulmonary fibrosis. He was married twice, to Pamela Sladek, which ended in divorce in 1986, and to Sandra Gunter who he married in 1994. He had a daughter from the first relationship.

Edited from Wikipedia

Note: Our primary interest in Sladek revolves around his 2 Thackeray Phin locked room mystery novels, and two short stories. To the best of my knowledge, these are his only ventures into the mystery genre.

John Sladek Locked Room Novels

black auraBlack Aura (1974)
Detective: Thackeray Phin


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Note: Too many odd occurrences?

Thackery Phin, the delightfully eccentric American University philosopher turned detective, is attracted to the headquarters of a spiritualistic group and the beginning of his second case.

When a rock star is killed after trying to levitate from a fourth story window, and another member disappears behind a locked door while demonstrating astral projection, Phin begins to suspect that the members of the society may be involved in something far blacker than seances.

The curse of an Egyptian amulet, a dark seance parlor, lurking death in an orgone box, psychic poison and live burial–Sladek’s brainteaser fairly creeps with fiendish happenings.

invisible greenInvisible Green (1977)
Detective: Thackeray Phin


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Note: Searching for Mr. Green

The Seven Unravellers, a long-disbanded club of mystery fans and amateur detectives, is about to meet for its twenty-year reunion when one of the members if found dead in his seedy London flat. Was it murder, or just the unhappy death of a senile old man?

Enter the dashing and flamboyant Thackeray Phin, private detective and the butt of many police jokes. Phin investigates the other club members only to find that each one is being harrassed, and each has been left a clue from the colors of the spectrum: an orange thrown through a window; a scrap from the Yellow pages; stolen violets. When two more membes of the Seven Unravellers are murdered, Phin begins his search for the missing link–the mysterious Mr. Green…

John Sladek Locked Room Short Stories

times anthologyBy An Unknown Hand
Detective: Thackeray Phin

Collection: The Times Anthology of Detective Stories (1972); Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek

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Note: An invitation to die?

Thackery Phin posts an ad in the newspaper requesting a challenge to his mental acumen. In response, the owner of an art gallery Anthony Moon hires him to act as a bodyguard to protect one of the gallery’s chief contributors Aaron Wallis. Somebody has been sending threatening letters to Aaron and the last one is very specific that he would die at 9 PM on that day. The same has been prophesized by Aaron’s brother – who is a soothsayer.

giraffe burningThe Locked Room 
Detective: Fenton Worth

Collection: New Worlds Quarterly No.4 1972; Keep The Giraffe Burning (1977)

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Note: Fenton reflects!

Features Fenton Worth, a lauded private investigator, and his valet, Bozo. Fenton locks himself up in his library to read a mystery novel ‘The Locked Room’, then begins to reflect on the miracles he has explained and the methods mentioned in Dr. Fell’s lecture – and has a good laugh at their expense.

John Sladek Partial Bibliography

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