Uncage the Black Lizard, Part VI: Breaking and Entering

"A thief is a creative artist, devising brilliant ways to steal his prize, and a detective following in his footsteps, hunting for faults, is no better than a mere critic."
- Kaito Kid (Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed, a.k.a. Detective Conan, vol. 16) 
I should begin this sixth post in my ongoing reviews of The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries (2014), edited by Otto Penzler, with listing the links to the previous reviews, which I forgot the last few times.

The reviews up till now of The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries:

Stolen Sweets Are Best is the seventh category of stories posing more than one answer to a simple question: "How does a thief remove valuables from a closely guarded room?"

"The Bird in the Hand" by Erle Stanley Gardner was first published in the April 9, 1932 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly and first collected in The Amazing Adventures of Lester Leith (1980), which might end up as one of my favorite stories from this anthology. An international jewel thief is found murdered in his hotel room, bound to a chair with a knife driven through his heart, but the trunk of the victim seems to have "evaporated into thin air" – as it could not have been smuggled out of the hotel without it being noticed. The case is brought to the attention of Gardner's anti-hero, a crook named Lester Leith, who doesn't only figure out how the trunk disappeared, but also were the stones were hidden. It's a cubbyhole I have seen used before in these kinds of stories, but the plan Leith's devises to pilfer some of the diamonds for himself is what gave the story its punch and a second impossible situation.

"The Gulverbury Diamonds" by David Durham was first published in The Exploits of Fidelity Dove (1924), which Penzler notes is "one of the rarest mystery books published in the twentieth century" and stars an angelic-looking woman, Fidelity Dove, running a crooked gang of lawyers, scientists and businessmen. In this story, Dove is attempting to pry the titular stones from a stage actress, Lola Marron, in order to give them back to an old, but kind, nineteenth-century style aristocrat – which his late son gave to her before committing suicide. The theft of the diamonds is partly inverted and partly a genuine locked room mystery, because the reader is aware where Dove put them. However, when Detective-Inspector Rason, from The Department of Dead Ends (1947; written as if by Roy Vickers), bursts in on her scheme, they vanish again from under their noses. A good and fun story, but it doesn't break any new ground in the plotting department.

"The Fifth Tube" by Frederick Irving Anderson was collected for the first time in The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (1914), which is a character that I always perceived as the nefarious counterpart to Jacques Futrelle's The Thinking Machine. Penzler even describes Godahl in the introduction as having a "computer-like mind" that "assesses every possibility in terms of logic and probabilities," but now I think Anderson and Godahl are closer to Vincent Cornier and Dr. Barnabas Hildreth – e.g. The Duel of Shadows: The Extraordinary Cases of Barnabas Hildreth (2011). The problem here is that of the disappearance of forty gallons of gold from a high-tech and secured company, but, somehow, this story just didn't do it for me.

"The Mystery of the Strong Room" by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace was first published in The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (1899) and I begin to admire this writing tandem for their contribution to the locked room genre, which I seem to have really under appreciated. They produced the first collection of impossible crime stories, A Master of Mysteries (1899), "The Tea Leaf," from a 1925 issue of The Strand Magazine, cemented a now clichéd explanation and "The Mystery of the Strong Room" plays around with the kind of ideas that were more common during the Golden Age. A valuable diamond is swiped for a replica, while it was safely put away in a custom-made strong room. The room is even outfitted with an electric alarm system that'll go off the moment the key is inserted into the keyhole. But, on the eve of the nineteenth century, Meade and Eustace gave two delightfully simplistic examples of how a twentieth century-style security system can by-passed with a little misdirection. Good stuff!

"No Way Out" by Dennis Lyds, better known as Micheal Collins, originally appeared in the February 1964 issue of the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, which combines the hardboiled voice of the American private eye with some great Carter Dickson-effects. "Slot-Machine" Kelly is one of two one-armed private detectives created by Collins, but I believe Dan Fortune eventually became the character that stuck around. However, it's the former who handles this case as Kelly is hired to beef up the security around five, highly priced rubies, but the end result is a dead guard, stolen gems and a murderous thief who, for all intents and purposes, doesn't seem to have existed. I figured out pretty fast how the murderer remained unseen, but should've caught on quicker how the rubies were made to disappear. This is the kind of story that makes me want to pick up a Bill Pronzini novel again.

By the way, the story opens with Kelly discussing impossible crimes and gives an example from a rather well known mystery writer, which provoked to the following response: "the guy who wrote that one drinks cheaper booze than you do." You know, if this wasn't Renaissance Era of our genre, I would've acted like an indignant fanboy and mentioned Raymond "Drinking is My Hobby" Chandler.

A good round of fun, clever stories about scheming crooks, gentleman thieves and conmen in what are essentially "How'll They Get Away With Its," which are overlooked at times by mystery fans, but they're immensely fun to be burn through – especially when they're of the impossible variety. These stories were, mostly, no exception.

The stories I skipped in this category: "The Strange Case of Streinkelwintz" by MacKinlay Kantor, which is great, but I already reviewed it as part of the short story collection It's About Crime (1960). Maurice Leblanc's "Arsène Lupin in Prison," from The Exploits of Arsène Lupin (1907), and C. Daly King's "The Episode of the Codex' Curse" from The Curious Mr. Tarrent (1935).  

Two categories, four stories and one more post left to go.


  1. Thanks for looking at these in such detail TC, really worthwhile - I do feel like I now have no choice put to get the book (though I think I must have at least a third of the content spread out in other collections)

    1. You're welcome, Sergio. But I assure you, the pleasure of digging through these locked room mysteries is entirely mine. By the way, I just put up the final review!