Virgil Markham

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Virgil Markham Locked Room Titles

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Virgil Markhan (1899-1973) was the son of the poet, Edwin Markham, and long remained in his shadow. Information on his life and work is hard to uncover. 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.

Markham travelled in Europe in 1925, then published a picaresque historical novel, ‘The Scamp’, in 1926. He would use European settings in six of the eight mystery novels he published between 1928 and 1936.

Virgil Markham received a B.A. from Columbia University and an an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, writing his 1923 thesis on ‘The Satirical Method of Addison and Steele’. In the 1920s he taught at UC Berkeley’s, Cora L. Williams Institute for Creative Education, and the University of California Extension Division. In 1929, Markham launched the first known university class on mystery literature, ‘The Development and Technique of the Mystery Story.’

Markham had only one recurring character in his mystery novels, Myles Rusby, though he was not always the central character. Unfortunately, Markham left us only a few locked room puzzles – and little information is available on these titles, but “The Devil Drives’  is clearly one of the all time best! 

(Edited from the biography at Gadetection)

More on Virgil Markham

Virgil Markham Locked Room Novels

Death DuskDeath in The Dusk (1928)
Superintendent Salt & Paula Lebetwood



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Available only in used hardcover edition.


Note: Parson Lolly is back!

Subtitle: The Journal of Alfred Bannerlee was to be published only after his death, and only if another participant agreed to write a corroborating introduction. He vehemently refuses.

“Parson Lolly, The Arch-Lord of Disorder, has been making himself known at the old house, located near the spot where in ancient times he fought a magical duel with a rivaling necromancer, but, oddly enough, he leaves behind tangible evidence of his presence by dropping notes that bear dire warnings – which isn’t the usual visiting card of otherworldly beings. Nevertheless, this sets tongues wagging with localized legends and superstitions, regarding the wind-born Parson, who, at times, can still be seen streaking through the sky with his ink-black cape bellowing behind him and the deathless arm of his antagonist, both of whom continue to plague the region, and consequently turn what began as a benevolent fable into a grim fairy-tale with a body count.” (quoted from: Beneath the Stains of Time – see Best Review) The locked room mystery involves two deaths by blunt instrument that occur under impossible circumstances. (Adey: Locked Room Bibliography)

IMG_0137Shock! (1930)
AKA: The Black Door 
Inspector French & Toni Stapleton



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Unrated. Available only in used hardcover edition


Note: The Mystery at Kestrel’s Eyrie Castle

Little information is available. Subtitled “The mystery of the fate of Sir Anthony Veryan’s heirs in Kestrel’s Eyrie Castle near the coast of Wales, now set down from information supplied by the principal surviving actors and witnesses.” The novel contains a ‘Table of descendants of Horace Veryan, of Coniston Park, Westmorland’ and involves the disappearance of a suspect who is under constant observation. (Adey: Locked Room Bibliography)

Devil drivesThe Devil Drives (1932)
George Peters, Prison Warden



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Note: Death by drowning in a locked cabin!

“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. This 1932 novel will grab you from the first page and keep you gasping for breath. The Devil Drives is the first of several Virgil Markham mysteries to be republished by Ramble house.” 

The impossible death is by drowning inside a locked cabin.

Note: The title is taken from All’s Well That Ends Well:  He must needs go that the devil drives. (I,iii)

More on ‘The Devil Drives’ (Mike Grost)  … and more!

Rusby FinaleInspector Rusby’s Finale (1933)
Inspector Myles Rusby

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Note: Guests disappear from a country house party

The locked room mystery involves the disappearance of a party of guests from an isolated country house, and the discovery of a body in a closet.  Much ado about Rusby’s identity – he shaves off his moustache and quits the police force. Characters: Myles Rusby – a policeman, Georgina Cade-Jack – a lady of charm, Claude Brush – a tragedy, A. Laxton – an estate agent, Judy Merle – a maiden, Lord Hilary Silversele – a lover, Sir William Rockley – a man of substance. Opening passage: “Is it not delightful to look into a drawing-room whose powder-blue is delicately adorned with silver and gold, and to find a little knot of ladies, most of them lovely, none of them forgettable, chatting gaily with voices like flutes and violins in tender polyphony?”  Quote: “From the facts so far known, if properly assembled, it might be possible to run truth into a corner. Analysis! It came to him suddenly that that was the word. Analysis. He had heard of it doing wonders.”

dead prowlThe Dead are Prowling (1934)
Ed Bond: Newspaperman



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Note: No additional information available

All that can be discovered is from Adey’s Locked Room bibliography, this locked room mystery involves: “Appearance and disappearance of ghostly figures in guarded area.”

Deadly JestThe Deadly Jest (1935)
Ex-Inspector Miles Rusby



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Note: Review from Hobart Mercury, January 4th, 1936

“Readers who like to be kept on the tiptoe of expectation and fearful wonder will find all the requirements in this book, which moves from one desperate situation to another, with a complete bundle of thrills. Granted the opening, in which two Americans thrust themselves as unwanted guests on the Earl and Countess of Silversele, the remainder more than makes up for this rather difficult acceptance. Murder and mystery alternate with surprise, and the book is a mystery thriller of more than the approved type.”

The locked room mystery involves a death by shooting by an invisible killer, and the disappearance of a person with no means of exit. (Adey: Locked Room Bibliography)

Other Titles
Song of Doom (1932) aka Red Warning – Best Review
Snatch (1936)
The scamp: the fortunes of Francis Talbot and his friends During the reign of His Majesty George the First. 1926 – Best Review
The Rogues’ Road: Seven turbulent days in the lives of Francis Talbot, his wife Dorothy, and the scamp – risks and rescues Which befell in the summer of 1726

Virgil Markham Bibliography

Locked Room 101: The Masters

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