3/6/12

My Favorite Locked Room Mysteries I: The Novels (Updated: Jan 3, 2015)

"The detectives who explain miracles, even more than their colleagues who clarify more secular matters, play the Promethean role of asserting man's intellect and inventiveness even against the gods."
- Anthony Boucher (introduction to Hake Talbot's Rim of the Pit, 1944)



It's been almost three years since I posted the first version of this list and the first update stems from nearly two years ago, which made it about time for a thorough rewrite of the list. I've added some new titles, but omitted the links this time. You can find a good deal of my reviews, on a significant portion, of these titles on the page called "The Muniment Room," which is where every post on this blog is alphabetically listed.

I choose to drop the link to keep the post tidy after the next up, whenever that will be, because it became quite a mess after the previous update, but for now, lets take the list down from the top.

Een afgesloten huis (A Sealed House, 2013) by M.P.O. Books

A figurehead of the Dutch criminal underworld is brutally slaughtered in the comfort of his tightly secured, fortress-like home. The windows were covered with steel shutters and the grounds around the house are monitored with motion-and pressure sensors that trigger overhead lights, back and forth, and cameras – which only captured a man claiming to be innocent entering and leaving the premise at the time of murder. One of the best in this series!

The Case of the Solid Key (1948) by Anthony Boucher

The "Ellery Queen of the West Coast," Fergus O'Breen, is on an undercover assignment in a theater group when the unpleasant manager of the troupe is bumped off in his locked workshop. Boucher was known for his contribution to the impossible crime genre with novels such as Nine Times Nine (1940) and Rocket to the Morgue (1942), but I think Solid Key is the best – 'cause he kept it simple.

Death of Jezebel (1948) by Christianna Brand

A once rare, nearly impossible-to-find mystery novel, in which the reader is given a front row seat to a seemingly inexplicably murder at a medieval-like pageant. One of the actresses was struck down in full view of audience and Cockrill has to piece to puzzle together with such clues as shining armors, colored cloaks and coils of rope. You can accuse the solution of being overly complex, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant.

The Traces of Brillhart (1961) by Herbert Brean

This novel has a different take on the impossible problem: a famous song writer and biggest heel to hit New York City in four decades and suppose to be dead at the start of this story, but for a dead man he's very animated and enjoys the nightlife. A writer of magazine articles, Bill Deacon, looks into the apparently immortality of the composer.

Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce

Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey and Father Brown are mercilessly being parodied as their avatars try to solve one of those locked-door problems, which satirizes the personalities and the plotting technique of their creators. In the end, it's Sgt. Beef who explains the miracle away with a delightfully simple solution.

The Man With Bated Breath (1934) by Joseph B. Carr

Quality-wise, there are better locked room mysteries on this list, but this novel reads a John Dickson Carr mystery from an alternative reality, in which a megaverse version of Dr. Gideon Fell, Ocealo Archer, solves an impossible shooting incident at a Georgian plantation.

The Hollow Man (1935) by John Dickson Carr

A fabulous Chestertonian tale of the seemingly impossible murder of Professor Grimaud, shot in his locked and watched study, "and later the equally incredible crime in Cagliostro Street," where the murderer "killed his second victim in the middle of an empty street, with watchers at either end; yet not a soul saw him, and no footprints appeared in the snow." A genuine classic worthy of the name.

He Who Whispers (1946) by John Dickson Carr

Some would argue this is a better mystery novel that his much praised masterpiece, The Hollow Man. What's not to like about the slow building up of a dark, atmospheric persecution story of a young woman, Fey Seton, who may be a vampire and a deadly stabbing on top of a natural tower in France – under seemingly impossible circumstances. It has everything you'd hope to find when picking up one of Dr. Gideon Fell strange cases.

Captain Cut-Throat (1955) by John Dickson Carr

A strange and under appreciated hybrid sewing together elements from the historical novel, spy-and adventures yarns and wrapped in layers of mysterious events – set during the Napoleonic Wars. There's a murderer on the loose, referring to himself as Captain Cut-Throat, among the sentries and has apparently mastered the art of invisibility. The impossible crime elements are understated here, but the story as a whole deserves to be better known.

The Man from Tibet (1938) by Clyde B. Clason

An opulent collector of Tibetan artifacts, Adam Merriweather, succumbs in his locked Tibetan room of a heart attack, but the elderly and gentle Professor Theocritus Lucius Westborough believes there's more to the death of the collector than meets the eye. The locked room is not the most difficult to solve, but this book and Clason are at the top of the class of the Van Dine-Queen School of Detection.

Killed on the Rocks (1990) by William L. DeAndrea

A luxurious, snow-capped mountain retreat is the décor of negotiations between the Network and a billionaire, who wants to buy the TV station. However, the discovery of a mangled corpse in a field of unbroken field of snow unsettles the schedule. DeAndrea showed here that a classic never goes out of style and that there's always place on the printed page for the Great Detectives. 

The Plague Court Murders (1934) by Carter Dickson (a.k.a John Dickson Carr)

This is the book that turned me in a disciple of the Grand Master of the Locked Room Mystery, in which a fraudulent medium is stabbed to death on the premises of a haunted house. However, even better is how perfectly Carr balanced on the fine tightrope towards the ending without falling. The murderer is neatly tugged away from the reader, but all the clues are there hidden in the dark, brooding atmosphere with comedic bits – without reducing the impact of either. But, as the late "Grobius Shortling" noted, you have to take the solution to the locked room with a pinch of salt.

The Poison Oracle (1974) by Peter Dickinson

Now here's a tale that would've bought Sheherazade another reprieve from the executioner's sword. A tale of the imaginary sultanate of Q'Kut. A strip of land in cloud-cuckoo land where the Arab rulers share a special bond with the native Marshmen, an isolated tribe with their own unique language, reaffirmed every year in a verbal treaty, "The Bond," which is an epic song telling their history. Dickinson builds a completely new civilization with a history, language, social structure, political system and used as a framework for a first-rate detective story – involving a pre-verbal chimpanzee, a skyjacked airliner and an impossible poisoning in the Sultan's private zoo.

The Judas Window (1938) by Carter Dickson

A book that seems to have become the classic locked room mystery for the locked room reader of this century and it's understandable why, because how can you not love Sir Henry Merrivale acting as a barrister and addressing the jury with: "Well, my dear fatheads." The solution to the locked room murder may also be one of Carr's best and most original trick.

Koude vrouw in Kralingen (Cold Woman in Kralingen, 1970) by Cor Docter

A topographical roman policier, situated in a neighborhood of Rotterdam, where the stabbing of a gardener, inspecting his greenhouses during a surging storm, leads Commissioner Vissering to a shadowy society known as Kostbaar Kralingen (Precious Kralingen). During one of their weekly gatherings, one of them dies under breathtaking circumstances in a sealed bedroom. The solution shows Docter was a pulp writer, but this is still one of the better Dutch-language locked room mystery I have read to date and it was the "weakest" in the Vissering-trilogy.

The Spies of Sobeck (2008) by Paul Doherty

Upon her return from victories in the North, Egypt's Pharaoh-Queen Hatusu has to suppress a Nubian uprising in her sultry kingdom, but a sect of professional assassins, known as the Arites, begin to wage a very personal war against their Egyptian overlords – and the impossible is kind of their trademark. A former chief scout of the spies, Imothep, is murdered in Mansion of Silence and the explanation is incredible cheeky, but absolutely acceptable in a historical setting. 

The Mysterium (2010) by Paul Doherty

One of my favorite Doherty novels to date, because the atmosphere, themes and types of crimes gave the story a delightfully Carrian touch. A hooded assassin, who disappeared twenty years previously from a watched and guarded church, returns to extract revenge on the ex-Chief Justice and the man is soon found murdered – with the door barred from the inside and only a wafer-thin slit for a window. 

Ättestupan (Deadly Reunion, 1975) by Jan Ekström 

I would say "the Swedish John Dickson Carr" was closer to Christianna Brand than to Carr, but the combination made for a darkly memorable, character-driven mystery of the impossible kind. The three warring branches of a family are brought to together and the reunion ends with a double murder/suicide (shooting and gassing in a locked bedroom), but things turn out to be slightly more complicated than that.

Too Many Ghosts (1961) by Paul Gallico

Alexander Hero has made name for himself by "de-haunting" houses, but his latest investigation at Paradine Hall may've him up against genuine, supernatural entities. Furniture moves around itself and invisible hands pluck at the strings of a harp in a locked music room, which has a clever and original solution. 

The Danger Within (1952) by Michael Gilbert

This is one of my all-time favorite mystery novel from the post-WWII era and of the best blends of the formal detective story, thriller elements and a semi-autobiographic at the same time. The setting is a POW camp in Italy and has a nifty impossible situation: a man has been found dead in a secret escape tunnel and the entrance was blocked with a furnace, which needed the combined strength of half a dozen men to budge as much as an inch.

What a Body! (1949) by Alan Green

A breezy, comically told story of a murdered health guru and was shot from this spinning globe by a bullet from an impossible angle and left the pajamas of the victim undamaged. You could say the solution was tailored to fit the situation of the crime. A one of a kind locked room mystery!

Fantoom in Foe-lai (The Chinese Gold Murders, 1959) by Robert van Gulik

Chronologically, this is the first book in the series (not the first to be published) and tells the story of Judge Dee's first post as magistrate of the district of Peng-lai, where the somber skies and mournful atmosphere makes a perfect backdrop for stories of the dead refusing to slumber in their graves – one of them being Dee's predecessor who died under mysterious circumstances in his locked library. One of the better impossible crime novels from my country.

La quatrième porte (The Fourth Door, 1987) by Paul Halter

A staggering complex detective story, in which a haunted attic room becomes the scene of murder all over again when a spiritualistic experiment goes horribly wrong. One of the suspects appears to have been in two different places at the same time. A second murder is committed in a house completely surrounded by a field of untouched snow. Halter has its fair share of faults, but it's hard to care about such things as a sense of time or characterization when these intricate plot patterns begin to appear.

La septième hypothèse (The Seventh Hypothesis, 1991)

A story enwrapped in a thick, Baghdad-on-the-Thames atmosphere of the long-gone London of John Dickson Carr and Christopher Fowler. Plague doctors from the 17th century are seen prowling the streets, a corpse is whisked away from under the nose of a police constable and a man dematerializes halfway down a corridor, but the main attraction is the battle-of-wits between a famous playwright and an actor. One of Halter's best performances.   

Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room, 1907) by Gaston Leroux

One of the earliest and perhaps most important of all locked room novels, whose problem of the brutal attack on Mrs. Stangerson in a locked room inspired future grandmasters of the grandest game in the world – like John Dickson Carr and G.K. Chesterton. 

Bloodhounds (1996) by Peter Lovesey

The locked room mystery novel for the locked room reader and detective fans in general, because the characters in this book are fans and collectors of all kind of mysteries. They constantly being discussed and Inspector Diamond has to figure out how one of them gets himself murdered, while being in a locked houseboat.

Killer's Wedge (1959) by Ed McBain

The squad room of the 87th Precinct becomes the scene of a tense hostage situation, but the cop the hostage taker is after, Steve Carella, is looking into the supposed suicide of a business tycoon. It's snappy police-thriller with a tradition locked room mystery and it was just fun to have Carella playing detective, while his colleagues were in mortal danger.

Mr. Splitfoot (1968) by Helen McCloy

Two unruly, but likeable, teenagers pull a malicious prank on the neglectful adults by invoking a local legend, however, they seem to have gotten a response and reawakened the inhospitable guest room in the home – which has unsavory reputation of snuffing the life out of its lonely occupants. I really, really enjoyed this one.

The Blushing Monkey (1953) by Roman McDougald

A very unusual take on the problem of the locked room: the question here's not how someone managed to escape from a hermitically sealed environment, but why a mortally wounded man refused to escape from unlocked room and his attacker. A second murder gives a more traditional scenario for the locked room, when a man gets his throat cut in a sealed bathroom. 

The Tree of Death (1983) by Marcia Muller

The unlikable director and fundraiser for the Museum of Mexican Arts in Santa Barbara is crushed by garish, ceramic tree. The locks and alarm-system weren't tempered with and the solution puts this novel in the same league as the best from the hands of her late contemporary, Herbert Resnicow, who debuted in the same year with The Gold Solution (1983).

The Stingaree Murders (1932) by W. Shepard Pleasants

Agatha Christie meets John Dickson Carr when an invisible killer strikes again, and again, among the well heeled guests aboard of the Terrapin, scudding across the Louisiana marsh land during a fishing trip, which added no less than three new and very original scenarios to the locked room story: 1) a man is stabbed to death while fishing alone in a skiff 2) a knife that was hammered into the woodwork of the deck, like Excalibur, was effortlessly retrieved with apparent supernatural strength 3) a force unseen pulls a man into the water and drowns him. 

Dead Man's Gift (1941) by Zelda Popkin

A stock-in-trade galore of tropes, from a family gathering to a changed will, brilliantly tossed about by a freak flood forcing them slowly to the roof, but the finishing touch was revealing a clever, original impossible murder in the solution. You've to wait to end to even know what the impossibility was, but the ride towards its is more than worth it!

Hoodwink (1981) & Scattershot (1982) by Bill Pronzini

These novels really form one story and contain together no less than five (!) locked room mysteries, which begins at a pulp convention where an old friend becomes the main suspect in a shooting. A second body turns up with an ex wound to the head in a locked shed. The second novel deals with one of the worst weeks in the life of the Nameless Detective and were (originally) three separate short stories stitched together with bridging material. Nameless has to figure out how a man he was shadowing vanished from his locked car, a woman he served a subpoena to ends up dead in bolted cabin and an expensive wedding ring he was supposed to guard disappears from a secured room.  

The Bughouse Affair (2013) by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller

The first in a new series of full-length historical mysteries about Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services, and they've quite a workload piled up on their desks before the halfway mark of the book. Sabina has to roam the Cocktail Route to snuff out a pickpocket, while Quincannon is setting up a trap for a burglar and trying to shake off a character known as the bughouse Holmes. Naturally, someone ends up dead between the confines of four walls and a couple of locked doors and windows in what amount to a great new start to a series that was already well established as a series of short stories.

Murdercon (1982) by Richard Purtill

A bizarre murder of a penal member at a Science-Fiction convention, presaged by an appearance of Darth Vader with a sparkle gun, but the second impossibility is even better presented – even though they aren't terribly difficult to solve. It was still a nice find!

Death from a Top Hat (1938) by Clayton Rawson

A magician gone mad would've been a good subtite. I remember Rawson pulling one impossibility trick after another from his top hat, but the effect is nothing to sneeze at for locked room enthusiasts.

The Gold Solution (1984) by Herbert Resnicow

Alexander and Norma Gold are invited by an influential billionaire to discuss business, under the cover of social engagement, during a performance of the Boguslav Ballet, but halfway through the show someone is murdered and only the billionaire's son could've done – who gives the Gold's three days to exonerate him in exchange for the biggest paycheck of their life. The solution is really intricate and it's perhaps stretches credulity, but Resnicow supplied a convincing motive/situation why anyone would go through such insane length to murder someone.

The Dead Room (1987) by Herbert Resnicow

The anechoic chamber at Hamilcar HI-FI reverberates with murder after someone managed to sneak in unseen and stabbed the inventor of a new sound speaker to death, which happened on the second, netted floor of the room. The solution is as original to the locked room as the scene of the crime.

The Case of the Little Green Men (1951) by Mack Reynolds

A comedic private-eye novel set against the backdrop of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy community of the mid-20th century, in which a group of SF fans ask a hapless private-eye to investigate if extraterrestrials are interfering in the affairs of Earth. Apparently, they are, because they're zap these fans with laser guns or tossed them out of a flying saucer. This is a fun read and the alien threat was a nice change from the family curses, haunted rooms and glowing dogs on the moor.

Murder on the Way! (1935) by Theodore Roscoe

Perhaps one of the wildest, fastest and most unapologetic flights of fancy in this sub genre, in which a dead patriarch turned a decaying mansion, situated in Haiti, into a savage playground for a bizarre cast of gargoyles to vie over his earthly possessions. This story has everything: a locked room murder, an impossible disappearance, zombies, voodoo rituals and more!

The Sleeping Bacchus (1951) by Hilary St. George Saunders

This story plucks the gentleman thief, represented here in a person who calls himself "Zeb," from its familiar environment of the Rogue School and shoves him on the playing field of the Grandest Game in the World – which results in a whole slew of miracle crimes.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) by Soji Shimada

A textbook example of how you can merge the contemporary thriller with the traditional detective, with a touch of the horror story, in which a gruesome, 40-year-old unsolved mystery is pried open, but also includes a locked room murder, a corpse-puzzle and two challenges to the reader. A bloody tour-de-force!

Black Aura (1974) by John Sladek

One of my favorite titles on this list! The plot centers on a fraudulent medium and an ill-assorted collection of live-in clients, but pretty soon things begin to happen to seem genuinely supernatural. A man disappears from a locked and watched lavatory, while another member of the household is impaled on a fence after being watched walking in mid-air! A masterpiece, plain and simple.

Whistle Up the Devil! (1954) by Derek Smith

A locked room mystery written by one of its biggest admirer, in which a vigil in a haunted, sealed and guarded room ends with the death of its sole occupant, but a second murder in a guarded prison cell poses an equal challenge to Algy Lawrence. The story is littered with references to other mystery writers of impossible crime tales and there's even a locked room lecture!  

Death Traps (1930) by Kay Cleaver Strahan

A story of a long, ongoing conversation between two elderly men about the respective incidents that took place in their home, which includes a dubious shooting in a sun room and two people being gassed in a completely sealed house – that wasn't piped for gas. It's not the best or strongest title on the list, but I liked it and the solution to sealed house was actually pretty good.

Shisei satsujin jiken (The Tattoo Murder Case, 1949) by Akimitsu Takagi

This is another story that may not sport the strongest locked room mystery on this list, but the plot is intriguing as it draws on mythology, tattoo lore and dumping a pile of body parts in a locked bathroom. Japanese mystery writers love to play around with severed body parts!

The Hangman's Handyman (1942) by Hake Talbot

The first of two Rogan Kincaid mysteries and takes place on an isolated island, called "The Kraken," where Kincaid finds a body decomposing at a supernatural speed and is attacked in a locked room. You have no idea how much I wished Talbot had written more detective fiction!

Rim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot

Atmosphere-wise, this may be one of few Golden Age mysteries rivaling John Dickson Carr in conjuring up a demon haunted world, which comes here with a galore of seemingly supernatural manifestations. A bodily apparition is seen in the opening chapter of the book and the characters are being stalked by what could be the legendary Windigo.

L'enigme du Monte Verita (The Riddle of Monte Verita, 2007) by Jean-Paul Török

An unabashed homage to John Dickson Carr and presents a complex and tightly woven affair by drawing on the work of the master himself.

Darkness at Pemberley (1932) by T.H. White

The author of the Arthurian fantasy, The Once and Future King (1958), once wrote a detective story and the first half, concerning a murder at St. Bernard's College, is a typical British, drawing room-style mystery – including maps, floor plans and an impossible crime! The second half is a dangerous cat-and-mouse game between the detective and murderer/master criminal, restricted to house, but presented here on the scale of the worldwide manhunt for Carmen Sandiego.

The Silver Scale Mystery (1931) by Anthony Wynne

The unofficial matriarch, sister of the laird, of an old Scottish clan, who reigned over her relatives with a poisonous and suffocating kindness, dies behind the locked door of her bedroom and the investigating officer is soon murdered under equally impossible circumstances. Enter Dr. Eustace Hailey. A specialist in these "locked door" affairs, but even he has to witness the invisible killer strike a third time before solving the case. A great locked room mystery, but more could've been done with the legend of "The Swimmers."

15 comments:

  1. I would personally add "He Wouldn't Kill Patience", not because the mystery is that brilliant - it's not - but because in a wonderfully cocky moment of bravado Carr pretty much gives away how the crime is done in a separate scene. It's such a brilliantly offhand moment, you can't help but admire him for hiding the solution in very plain view.

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  2. I like lists. People tend to say they are meaningleass due to subjectiveness and every work having its share of good aspects anyway, but the more people rank, the more opinions can overlap and reveal certain gems.

    I have to admit I still have to read cornerstones like The Mystery of the Yellow Room, but I plan on reading that one together with one or two Carrs in the next weeks. Somewhere between my two papers I have to write...

    And you reminded me, that being a dilettante audiophile I've wanted to get a copy of The Dead Room since you discussed it here. If only many of these books were not so rare and... you know the drill.

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  3. I personally don't love coming up with lists, but I do love reading them, especially when people give some brief reasons for why this book was included and this one wasn't.

    It's an interesting list. I wouldn't agree with all of the entries (I've always found "the Curse of the Bronze Lamp" nothing but supreme silliness with a cop-out happy ending) but there are definitely books of interest on there.

    But where, oh where is LE DIABLE DE DARTMOOR? I expect it to appear on this list as soon as it is published in English! ;)

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  4. I've read only 22 of these (a little more than half) and I agree with many of them as being noteworthy - especially the two Japanese books you listed. Glad to see THE SLEEPING BACCHUS made your list which has become one of my all time favorites in the whole genre. I don't think, however, CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP deserves being put on any list. To me it's a retread of a famous Chesterton tale. I agree with Patrick, too. I dislike the ending - almost as big an anticlimax as the ending in THE WYCHFORD POISONING CASE by Berkeley.

    One of these days I'll make a list of the worst locked room/impossible crime books. I've certainly read a lot of them and I'd have a ball writing that up!

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  5. Interesting list! I will add my John Street locked room favorites, Invisible Weapons (1938), Death Leaves No Card (1939) and The Cat Jumps (1946). He has some other true and demi locked room situations, but these are my favorites.

    Freeman Wills Crofts' locked room in Sudden Death is quite disappointing, I think. He has a better one in The End of Andrew Harrison, though it's a comparatively minor element.

    Connington has a good impossible crime element in Tragedy at Ravensthorpe.

    Of course in the Streets the "how" or means element, while usually not strictly impossible, often is so involved and fascinating that it has much of the same intrinsic interest as a locked room problem, I think. It also may help explain the great friendship that Street and Carr had (along with their hatred of Puritanism and their love of drink). Carr however combined this with a near Christie level skill at clueing that Street mostly lacked (with some notable exceptions like Murder M.D.).

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  6. What do you think of Christie's Hercule Poirot's Christmas, by the way?

    I liked the comment in one Ngaio Marsh story, from Alleyn: "Don't let's have any nonsense about locked rooms." Georgette Heyer hated Carr too, though she has one herself in Envious Casca.

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  7. A great list, TomCat, but I'll have to side with the anti-Curse of the Bronze Lamp lobbyists! I'd personally put The Reader Is Warned quite a way ahead of it.

    And being vaguely controversial, I'd bump He Who Whispers because, much as I love it as a novel, part of the solution always felt ludicrous to me - what someone physically has to do (if you've read it, you know what I mean) and that soured it a little for me. Personally, I'd add in Til Death Do Us Part and The Black Spectacles/Problem of the Green Capsule... possibly above the theatricality of The Hollow Man.

    Must get round to reading Captain Cutthroat now...

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  8. Well, I guess I did a pretty good job at this list when the only real complaint is the inclusion of The Curse of the Bronze Lamp. :)

    Quick notes:

    @mousoukyoko:

    I like lists, too, but the problem they give me is that I constantly want to revise them. When I look back at the one with my favorite detective novels, compiled only last year, I want to delete it and start from scratch again – as there are so many glaring omissions and new titles to add.

    Herbert Resnicow is all but forgotten today, but his books, thankfully, are fairly easy to obtain and not all that expensive, either – especially the paperback editions. So you should be able to get your hands on The Dead Room without much of a problem or a huge financial setback. ;) And I hope you will enjoy the book as much as I have.

    @Patrick:

    Your recommendation will be taken under review later this year! ;)

    @John:

    I think you would do us all a huge favor if you would compile that list as soon as possible, but before you do you have to read Dead Box!

    @Curt (The Passing Tramp):

    I have read Death Leaves No Card and reviewed it here, but reading back my comments it's safe to say that I was not impressed.

    Hercule Poirot's Christmas is OK as a detective story, however, I never understood why people think it's one her trickiest whodunits (I solved this one when I was newbe) and the immediate, off-hand explanation of the locked room angle disqualifies it, IMHO, as an impossible crime story. Has anyone ever notice Nicholas Blake gave the locked room the same treatment in The Case of the Abominable Snowman, which, also, happens to be Christmas mystery? I think either Strangeways or one of the policemen even jokes about it ("oh did the murderer really uses such an obvious trick," or something along similar lines).

    @Puzzle Doctor:

    To be honest, I could've filled this entire list with Carr alone and it still would've been a great list. So picking only a few of them was the hardest part in compiling this list.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on Captain Cut-Throat.

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  9. Incidentally, I just noticed this but I believe the Martin Meroy title should be spelled "Meurtre en chambre noir".

    As for disagreements, I could go and list some more. Don't think you're just getting away by throwing THE CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP at us! I refuse to accept WHAT A BODY! We've had this discussion before, but I think that while the situation is ingenious, the clueing is inept. The author stresses the incredible superhuman feats a murderer would have to achieve to commit the murder so much, that he only draws attention to the *real* way the murder was committed. And all the false solutions are half-realizible, shaky ones that are thrown at you in a bunch in an alcoholic stupor. Hardly "one-of-the-best-locked-room-stories" material.

    Clayton Rawson is... interesting. He keeps flip-flopping between brilliant ideas and ideas that make me wonder what on earth he'd been drinking at the time. THE HEADLESS LADY is worth reading for two thigng: (1) the beginning (2) a great escape by The Great Merlini from prison. Apart from that, it's very unremarkable to say the least. THE FOOTPRINTS ON THE CEILING has a great opening and a great discussion on poisons, but by the end the twist is rather obvious. DEATH FROM A TOP HAT is a masterpiece of plotting, with only one flaw in the whole patchwork, and that is the ridiculous explanation of the second locked room when Merlini had a perfectly acceptable explanation ready, that was only rendered invalid by the author's say-so.

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  10. RE: DEAD BOX and David Louis Marsh. I read one of Mr. Marsh's short stories at his website and it was utterly incomprehensible. It began with a puerile sex scene between a doctor and nurse hiding in a supply closet and kissing each other like two horny adolescents while the woman character writhed and groaned like some pulp magazine nympho. But all they did was kiss. No sex described at all. I get the feeling from what I read that Mr. Marsh is a devout Christian (he goes out of his way to point out that the Brown family reads the Bible after dinner in one scene) and I guess writing about sex beyond rabid frenzied kissing would be too much for him. I also get the feeling he is very young or very naive. I'd like to imagine that the story was written by someone in junior high school and NOT an adult, but you never know these days. A sampling of the first chapter of DEAD BOX was too painful to get through after the mess of his short story which by the way does not solve any of the purported "impossibilities" in the tale. A "mystery" with no solution - what's the point? (Is Mr. Marsh emulating Kay Cleaver Strahan? Bet he never heard of her.) But it didn't really matter since the story wasn't even a story. To paraphrase Truman Capote: it's not writing, it's just typing.

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  11. Patrick, I was somewhat disappointed with the Merlini novels too.

    I liked Bronze Lamp, myself, though the impossible part isn't his greatest.

    TomCat, I liked the "comedy of manners" stuff in Death Leaves No Card. There's actually quite a bit of satire in there (the "Insititute for Incurable Imbeciles").

    Granted, Arnold is not a thilling detective. I was amused when Merrion sent him the telegram saying he couldn't solve his case for him this time because he had flu. Didn't that ever happen to Campion or Wimsey? I think Street must have started to wonder whether Arnold could ever solve a case on his own. He has three solos without Merrion as I recollect and this one is the most complex (there's an earlier one he appears in with another amateur tec type, though he's a lot smarted and sophisticated in that one--Arnold got dumbed down over the course of the Burton series).

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  12. No, THE LOCKED ROOM by Sjowal and Wahloo? I remember it as great but I was twenty then. Maybe not.

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  13. I am curious just where the Kelley Roos book, Sailor, Take Warning! fits in with this list. I know you regard it quite highly, so I was surprised by its absence.

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  14. Some late, late responses:

    @Patrick:

    Yes, we had this discussion before and I stand by my opinion that What a Body! is not only an original ripple in the locked room genre, but also a masterpiece (see pass discussions for supporting arguments).

    @John:

    Incomprehensible is one way of describing Dead Box, but I very much doubt that Marsh could fall back on being a high school student as an excuse for creating this thing.

    According to the back cover of the paperback edition we are dealing with a man who authored over a 100 newspaper columns dealing with crime and lives in Salt Lake City with his wife, son and a cat named Patchwork. So unless he started this family during his school career we're dealing here with a thoroughly bad writer instead of an inexperienced one.

    I still think you should read the book, though. The review would be hilarious! ;)

    @Curt:

    I'm afraid that particular book just didn't do it for me.

    @Pattinase:

    When I was just getting into detective stories, I gave them a shot and I despised them so much that I almost turned my back on the genre before I had really begun exploring the field. Thankfully, I had already began picking up Christie at the time and had pretty much read everything by Baantjer - who kept me in the game.

    So no Sjowal and Wahloo for this mystery addict.

    @JIM:

    I have been tempted to add Kelley Roos to this list, but the impossible crime from Sailor, Take Warning! is literarily a redressing of one of the oldest tricks in the book and thought the semi-impossible situation in The Frightened Stiff was not enough to justify a spot on this list.

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  15. A great list TC though there are limitations for me for those titles not available in Italian or English so I'm afraid that I can't say I've read more than 14 of them, though I do have a couple more on the shelves at least. Yet to take the plunge with Halter, a pleasure I am saving for a rainy day. I'm such a sucker for John Dickson Carr that I wouldn't want to do without any of your choices, though I might add HE WOULDN'T KILL PATIENCE and TEN TEACUPS / PEACOCK FEATHER MYSTERY which I remain inordinately fond of.

    If you ever decide to give the Martin beck series again, THE ABOMINABLE MAN is a really, really strong entry.

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