A Query for Mystery Buffs: Come Into Our Parlor

"Data! Data! Data! I can't make bricks without clay!" 
- Sherlock Holmes.
The morose and sulky visage of the clock has not been too liberally, as of late, with providing me with the amount of minutes needed to arrive at the final chapter of Darwin Teilhet's The Ticking Terror Murders (1935) and write about it with a feigned air of intelligence. So I decided to exorcise a ghost that has been haunting my thoughts for the better part of a month now and hastily scribble these lines to prevent this place from reaching a standstill, however, the enquiry below isn't just an accumulation of throwaway lines to get things moving again – since I think it's an genuinely interesting question that we can have some fun with.

Detective stories have always been one of the most popular and engaging personalities in the class room of genre fiction, alongside its buddies science-fiction and horror, which almost naturally attracted an array of individuals from outside the field – who wanted to participate in what we affectionately refer to as the Grandest Game in the World. The Queen of Burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee, indited two comical mystery novels, The G-String Murders (1941) and Mother Finds a Body (1942), and novelist Isreal Zangwill penned the novella "The Big Bow Mystery" (1891), which was aptly dubbed as the flagship of the modern locked room story, but the most successful visitor was perhaps science-fiction legend, Isaac Asimov. The Caves of Steel (1953) is the exempli gratia of the hybrid mystery novel done right. And let us not forget that the detective story was created by someone who qualifies as a visitor, Edgar Allan Poe, who's still primarily known for his tales of terror and hauntingly beautiful poems.

But as I ramble on here, you are probably starting to wonder where I want to go with this. It's really simple and I could've limited this to a simple, one-paragraph post: if you could send in an invite to someone outside of the field to write a detective story, who would it be and why?

If you'd ask me to whom I would dispatch a note of invitation, I would not have to think for even a second and promptly blurt out the names of the Las Vegas magicians, Penn & Teller

Penn & Teller
This idea began to take shape when I was listening to a very funny interview with Penn, in which he told how Teller has one of the best minds in magic today and can look at a complex stage illusion and tell how it was pulled off – which sort of became the premise of their television show, Fool Us.

Look, no strings!
I don't think it will come as a surprise to most of you when I say that I saw opportunities for at least one stunning impossible crime novel, but preferably a series, in which Teller provides a clever, multi-layered plot while Penn comes up with the lines to dress up the story – exactly like in their on-stage act and television shows. Plot-wise, these two stage magicians possess the knowledge and experience needed to possibly outdo a masterpiece such as John Sladek's Black Aura (1974), in which a member of a spiritualist circle is murdered while apparently levitating in mid-air, or even teach the master himself, John Dickson Carr, a trick or two on how to create a locked room or new ways to make stuff disappear. The only thing I am iffy about is whether they would understand the concept and necessity of fair-play clueing.

For these same reasons, I would also love to see James Randi try his hands at a locked room mystery. James Randi is a magician who dedicated his life to explaining miracles and seems therefore almost a shoo-in to pick up the plot threads that were left behind by John Dickson Carr, Hake Talbot, Joseph Commings, Edward Hoch and Clayton Rawson. After all, this is the man who was confronted with someone who could apparently leaf through the pages of a phone book with the power of his mind and was not in the least impressed. Naturally, this warlock was exposed as the fraud he really was by this real-life counterpart of Sir Henry Merrivale and Dr. Sam Hawthorne.

So... let me know whom you would like to see firing up his or her computer and write a detective story. Oh, and they don't have to be necessarily alive. You could, for example, say how great it would've been if Michael Ende had written a mystery. Drop a comment here or compose a blog post of your own. I'm looking forward to hear from you!


  1. Well, there are many candidates, but if I am to chose only one, it would be...

    Vladimir Nabokov.

    He had imagination, he had intelligence, he had wit and cleverness; also he loathed realism! In short he had all it takes to be a first-rate mystery writer. Too bad he despised the genre...

  2. M R James: A lot of his ghost stories have an edge of mystery solving (THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS revolves around a bit of code breaking, and a treasure hunt), and you always get the feeling that he could have stretched quite easily to producing a full-blown detective story. John Dickson Carr's short story BLIND MAN'S HOOD from THE DEPARTMENT OF QUEER COMPLAINTS, is an excellent fusion of ghost story and detective story, where both work and actually strengthen each other, so you can see what James might have produced. DETECTIVE STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY might have been a fascinating work.

  3. I'd have to say myself as I hav long dreamed of writing a novel and have at least four plots worked out - all involving impossibl crimes and three of which have simplesolutions that, as far as I can tell, hav no been used before. Perhaps I'll try them as short stories! Otherwise, my answer would be Jose Luige Borges.

  4. Adolf Hitler. For the scene where the funny little foreigner with the moustache and the overweening ego ("Me, I am on the side of the big battalions!" & "There are two who know: le bon Dieu...and me!") gathers all the suspects in the library, and announces that the murder was committed by a gang of international Zionist Communist conspirators, & uses this as an excuse to seize power.

  5. @Xavier

    Did he had anything in particular against the genre? I guess he probably perceived it as too mechanical, since he couldn't have hold a lack of realism against it.

    @Sexton Blake

    I really should read and reread some of his ghost stories, but funny that you should also drag John Dickson Carr into this. Even though we'll never know what James would've been like had he written detective stories, we do know what the result would've been if Carr had dedicated himself to supernatural fiction. There are a few of his ghost stories collected in The Door to Doom and Other Detections.

    @Tony Medawar

    What's keeping you from writing them? I'm sure the EQMM is interested in short locked room stories and in this day and age you can self publish your novels – which is a route that Paul Halter (and his translator John Pugmire) took to publish his stories in English. Of course, it's harder to attract a sizable audience that will make them bestsellers, but rest assured you will find in us, at least, an appreciative circle of readers.


    I honestly didn’t see that one coming, but I can already imagine a running gag in which constantly denies his Austrian heritage, "ich bin kein Österreichischer besserwisser," as a spoof on Poirot when he points out that he isn't French.

  6. I would personally want to see Polish author (and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature) Henryk Sienkiewicz take a crack at the mystery. He wrote some of my favourite non-English novels of all time, including the greatest romantic novel ever written, "Quo Vadis". It has romance, action, suspense, forbidden love-- and heck, it's worth every page just for the scene where the heroine is strapped to a bull and a strong man must wrestle it without killing her. "W Pustyni i w Puszczy" is a remarkably fun adventure novel. Both of these, incidentally, have recently had some solid Polish film adaptations. (I'm also fond of his "Potop".)

    He had a great sense of adventure, and as readers of this blog will soon discover, the Polish imagination has been criminally underappreciated in mysteries.

    Plus, since he won the Nobel Prize for the entire body of his work, Julian Symons and P. D. James wouldn't be able to accuse him of not being literary. :)

  7. Just imagine the hissy fit some critics would have, behind closed doors, after praising a Nobel Prize winner who proudly continued the tradition of Carr and Christie!

  8. A bit out of left field, but I'd go with Woody Allen. If you know him only as a director you owe to yourself to check out some of his prose humor, which ranks on the "spray beverages through your nose" level of funny. A good bit of it was devoted to satirizing great works and genres of literature but I don't recall that he tackled mysteries.