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Welcome to ‘Locked Room Canada’! After several long months of adding informative content, most of our pages are finally ready for Locked Room fans. While our goal of providing links to all known locked room mystery novels, short stories, and radio plays, as well as film and TV shows, will never be completed, 50 pages of valuable information seems like a good start!
Enjoy! Launched June 1, 2015.
Update, June 12: Joseph Commings page now published!
The first 2 of 4 Edward D. Hoch pages are now published!
Watch for the next 2 Hoch pages, then Arthur Porges
Locked Room Links: 719 and growing!
The Locked Room Mystery Genre
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 while alone inside a totally sealed room and suicide is logically impossible. Cases of poison are often excluded, as in the case of Christie’s famous ‘Mysterious Affair at Styles’, for example, since the actual act of murder (by ingesting a slow poison) 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 within a controlled environment where no suspect could logically have committed the act.
Many mystery buffs include ‘Impossible Crimes’ in the Locked Room sub-genre, with good reason. 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 audience of witnesses, none of whom are able to understand how the deed was done. As it is extremely difficult to draw a clear line between these two closely related plot devices, often written by the same authors, we will therefore also include most ‘Impossible Crimes’ stories in these pages, especially when written by authors of classic Locked Room mysteries.
The true locked room mystery, which remains our central focus, may be fairly clearly defined by three interconnected 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 a suspect to commit the murder!
2) No suspect could have logically committed the crime given the apparent method of the murder.
3) There is no poison, booby trap, or secret passage buried in the plot, that can be used to solve the crime. Such devices are never found in the best examples of Locked Room mysteries.
In some ways, the Locked Room mystery is closely associated with all those classic gothic tales of ghosts and the supernatural, as it often appears that only a ghostly entity could be responsible, though this conclusion is almost inevitably viewed as superstition, which the rational detective soon reveals to be pure illusion. There is also a very strong link between this genre and the performances of the stage magician or illusionist. Both the author and the magician are dedicated to convincing their audiences that they have just encountered the impossible! The major difference is that the illusionist is allowed to keep his secrets, while the locked room story teller is required to provide a full explanation after each trick! It is therefore hardly surprising that magicians appear in, and have written, so many of the best works in this genre. It must always be kept in mind, that the real mystery of a Locked Room story is not usually the ‘whodunit’, as that is generally secondary to the ‘howdunit’ explanation. It is the search for this logical solution, which drives the protagonist to ignore the distraction of the appearances and solve the apparently impossible puzzle.
The mystery genre was not truly established until the late 19th century, though there are a number of earlier works which provide the foundations of the modern murder puzzle. This history is more fully explored on 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 by Herodotus, King Rhampsinitus and The Thief, which tells of a robber whose headless body is found inside 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 employed some elements of the locked room mystery, as did many of the stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, and other Victorian authors, who often concentrated on secret passages and other similar devices. In the end, it was not until Israel Zangwill’s 1892 novel, ‘The Big Bow Mystery’, that the idea of ‘misdirection’, or a purposely created illusion, became the central device of most Locked Room mysteries. This was soon followed by several Sherlock Holmes stories, especially ‘The Adventure of The Speckled band’ (1892), which popularized this new sub-genre, and soon made it a staple of ‘The Penny Dreadful’ pulp market. 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 popular French Locked Room novels, many of which have still never been translated into English.
With the arrival of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, between the two world wars, locked room and impossible crime stories became a quite common part of the immensely popular mystery craze which swept through every corner of the world. 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, Dashiell Hammett, and many others, tryied their hand at Locked Room plots – often with very impressive results!
However, there were also a select group of authors who specialized in this new sub-genre, with John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson), ‘The King of The Locked Room Mystery’, clearly leading the pack. Carr created a vast library of excellent Locked Room puzzles, many featuring either Dr. Gideon Fell or Sir Henry Merrivale, which set a standard that may never be equalled in a modern world that too often lacks the time to sit down and enjoy a good murder! Still, Carr had plenty of competition from such talented mystery authors as Christiana Brand, Edmund Crispin, Helen McCloy, Leo Bruce, Clayton Rawson, C. Daly King, Virgil Markham, and Hake Talbot, who all made significant contributions to our modern Locked Room library. In more recent years, the popularity of the locked room mystery has slightly waned, though the tradition has constantly been maintained by such illustrious authors as Joseph Commings, Arthur Porges, Edward. D. Hoch, Anthony Boucher, Bill Pronzini, and Christopher Fowler, to name only a few.
In France, the Locked Room mystery has continuously flourished. In this case, the early 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 genre continued to be extremely popular in France, largely due to the incredible Locked Room plots of Paul Halter, many now available in great English translations. Locked Room stories also became, and still remain, extremely popular in Japan, Korea, India, and other Asian markets, largely due to the efforts of several excellent Japanese mystery writers.
A whole world of fascinating Locked Room titles is waiting to be discovered, including many free titles! Like all genres, overall popularity will wax and wane, but many very talented authors still continue to produce some of the best works in modern mystery fiction – so sit down and lock yourself into a really impossible mystery!
For more information on the Locked Room Genre – try our short course!
Locked Room Resources:
The Wikipedia article provides a great basic introduction to the Locked Room genre:
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 authority on locked room mysteries.
Pugmire is also the one behind Locked Room International.
Other Websites of interest:
Wikipedia: Golden Age of Detection
Wikipedia: John Dickson Carr
Paul Halter’s Official Website
Locked Room Mysteries – Part I
Locked Room Mysteries – Part II
Mike Grost: Early Impossible Crime Fiction
Mike Grost: Later Impossible Crime Fiction
Mike Grost: A Guide To Classic Mystery and Detection
More anthologies are available on our Locked Room Anthologies Page
The Four Classic Statements that have largely defined the Locked Room Mystery genre are actually drawn from lectures given by the detectives in four popular Locked Room novels. These books are an essential part of Locked Room lore and true Locked Room classics that provide the reader with a great introduction to the genre!
The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, Chapter 17 Book
Death from a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson, Chapter 13 Book
Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher, Chapter 14 Book
Whistle up The Devil by Derek Smith, Chapter 5 Book
The Locked Room Mystery is a fascinating study
But be warned: These stories are highly addictive!
Enjoy an impossible murder today!
Find an impossible murder!
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