Alien Autopsy: "The Walking Corpse" (1950) by Clayre and Michel Lipman

Clayre and Michel Lipman were a husband-and-wife writing team who worked together on a number of plays (The Night We Ate Aunt Minnie, 1943), guidebooks (The Modern Key to Money Management, 1955) and even tried their hands at a crime novel (House of Evil, 1953) in addition to a handful of short detective stories – two of which are listed in Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991). One of those two stories provided Locked Room Murders with the strangest description of an apparent impossibility of its more than 2000 entries! Something of an accomplishment in itself.

"The Walking Corpse" made its first and only appearance in the September, 1950, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which has an impossibility Adey described as "death, disappearance and reappearance of a man whose vital organs, on analysis, prove not to be human." A problem coming under the investigation of the Chief of the U.N. Division of Interplanetary Defense, George Washington Neff. What it doesn't make clear is whether "The Walking Corpse" is a science-fiction/mystery hybrid or straight detective fiction experimenting with the suggestion of something truly alien to construct an impossible crime plot around. Either way, the story sounded like a potentially interesting follow up to my previous review of Mack Reynolds' The Case of the Little Green Men (1951). Well, I was not wrong.

The story begins routinely with the harbor patrol fishing a dead man from the bay and delivering the body to the city morgue, where the body is processed and identified as G. Dorcas registered at the Hotel Clarency. A physician determines Dorcas had been in the water for about thirty-six hours and death was probably due to drowning. So far, so good, but then the vital organs get removed for analysis and the lab results blows an otherwise routine case out of orbit: the lab man's report states that the "subject was alive at the time samples were taken" and "samples are not from a human organism." That revelation brings the case under the jurisdiction of the D.I.D.

George Washington Neff is the man who convinced the U.N. Security Council to establish the Division of Interplanetary Defense, "it would be a tragic blunder to secure peace on earth, cast away our armaments and then be attacked by interstellar invaders," who appointed him the first chief of D.I.D. – despite "the subsequent uproar over his qualifications." Neff holds no university degrees or other qualifications and "his knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, astrophysics, nuclear fission, chemistry and military science was gained primarily from newspapers and science-fiction magazines." But he has a penchant for getting to the basic facts. And a knack for making pretty accurate guesses. Neff uses his own brand of truth-finding to investigate everything from the possible presence of interplanetary visitors to singing alarm clocks, sea serpents and poltergeists ("...when the first flying saucer was reported in the Northwest, a D.I.D. Observer was there in a jet-propelled plane ten minutes later"). The division is headquartered near Los Angeles "since statistics show—91.4% of all unnatural occurences in the world happen within a 600-mile radios of L.A.," but "this fact has never been publicized by that city's energetic and efficient Chamber of Commerce." So this story and short-lived series is what you get when you toss The X-Files, Scooby Doo and Fringe into the blender together with mystery writers like Theodore Roscoe and Hake Talbot. The problem of the suspected dead extraterrestrial in the morgue only gets stranger and weirder as the story goes on. How much stranger and weirder, you ask? Try a zombie not native to our solar system!

Apparently, Dorcas got up and "walked out of the morgue carrying two glass jars full of his own organs away with him." Dorcas turned up at the hotel, frightening the employees who identified the body, before putting in an appearance at the scene of a brutal murder. The newspapers have a field day with the reports of an undead alien prowling the city, but Neff reasons "there isn't any man born, and I don't care if he's from Planets X, Y, Z, or even Q, who can walk around without his brains in his head." That's where the story crashes into problem reducing it to nothing more than a curiosity.

The central plot-idea is imaginative, original and so incredibly specific, there's only one way it could have (roughly) been done without having to turn to science-fiction and fantasy for answers. So even with the sparse clueing, it should be possible to make an educated guess about the more salient details of the solution. You have to give the Lipmans some credit for going with a somewhat grounded explanation to the presence of a body with non-human organs who gets up, shakes off his rigor mortis and goes out for a stroll – scaring witnesses or leaving bodies wherever he turns up next. It would have been easy with the stated premise to pull a Thomas Carnacki and write a full-blown hybrid mystery, but the Lipmans tried to write a legitimate impossible crime about the possibility of a non-human presence in the city morgue. Just like Mack Reynolds in The Case of the Little Green Men, the Lipman's got hold of an idea that could have shaped the locked room mystery and impossible crime genre during the second-half of the 20th century, but had no idea how to deliver on it with something that would leave an indelible impression. Both are better and more memorable for their science-fiction and pop-culture dressing than their mystery plots.

So impossible crime short stories and novels swapping haunted houses, spiritual mediums and ancient curses for extraterrestrials, men in black and UFOs never got off the ground. A shame as such a type of impossible crime fiction might have enticed someone like John Sladek to stick around our genre a little longer.

Nevertheless, I'm still going to hunt down a copy of the second short story, "Man Out of Time" (1954), mentioned in Locked Room Murders as it sounds like a potentially more successful detective story than "The Walking Corpse." I peeked ahead and Adey's comment added more intrigue ("...starts with a black snow storm and a naked man claiming to be a visitor from another planet. Quite well handled throughout"). More on that sometime in the future. Next up is a Golden Age WWII-era detective novel. So stay tuned!


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

Back in June, I reviewed Norman Berrow's The Spaniard's Thumb (1949) and began the post, half-jokingly, explaining how Edgar Allan Poe created the detective story by secreting a spare heart from the horror genre underneath the floorboards of the locked room mystery – granting the detective story an immortal quality. You can spot the family resemblance every time the detective story, especially impossible crime fiction, evokes the supernatural or otherworldly entities. The examples are truly legion. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and John Dickson Carr's The Burning Court (1937) to Masahiro Imamura's Shijinso no satsujin (Death Among the Undead, 2017) and James Scott Byrnside's The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire (2020). These type of detective stories have always been popular. Even if they end on a note that leaves the door to the other side standing wide open like a gaping grave.

However, I feel that aspect of the genre, particularly the impossible crime story, never progressed past the Victorian-era and early 20th century. Just take the endearing popularity of spiritual mediums and séances as stock-characters and setting for an impossible crime story. Something that goes all the way back to Max Rittenberg's short story "The Rough Fist of Reason" (1914) right up to the 2010 Detective Conan TV-special The Case of the Séance's Double Locked Room and beyond. You, of course, have your murders in haunted houses and inexplicable deaths in a room that kills, but rarely strays far away from haunted houses, murderous curses, witchcraft and the séance room.

You get your occasional windigo (Hake Talbot's Rim of the Pit, 1944), a localized zombie scare (Theodore Roscoe's Murder on the Way, 1935), some miscellaneous creatures (Carter Dickson's The Unicorn Murders, 1935) and the rare Yeti sighting (Glyn Carr's A Corpse in Camp Two, 1955), but even rarer looked at the post-war urban myths and legends – which would lend themselves perfectly to the impossible crime story. Imagine, if you will, a group of Bigfoot hunters deep in the woods when something begins to pick them off, one by one, in an And Then There Were None-style mystery-thriller. Or an armchair detective reasoning an answer why someone believed they took a wrong turn and briefly ended up in a parallel universe. More importantly, the answer of the modern-day locked room mystery to the haunted houses, spiritualistic mediums and killing curses from the past should be flying saucers, space invaders, miraculous technology and generally The X-Files. UFOs are the perfect vehicles for today's impossible crime fiction playing on otherworldly phenomenon to explore new ideas, tricks and generally freshen up the Western locked room mystery.

Such stories and novels are not completely non-existent, but can hardly think of more than half a dozen examples. Helen McCloy's tackled the flying saucer craze of 1947 in her short story "The Singing Diamonds" (1949) and Clayton Rawson's "Nothing is Impossible" (1958) deals with the impossible murder of a UFO investigator with evidence suggesting the culprit is not originally from this planet. Fredric Brown's The Bloody Moonlight (1949) has a character who believes he's receiving radio signals from Mars and Death Has Many Doors (1951) brings the Hunters a client who's convinces she's being menaced by Martians. And subsequently expires, inexplicably, inside a locked and guarded room! The episode "The Omega Man"  (1999) from Jonathan Creek series had a great premise of a supposedly alien skeleton, deadly to the touch, vanishing from a locked and closely guarded grate, but the solution reveals both Creek and the military to have been as thick as the ice shell on Jupiter's moon Europa. Motohiro Katou lightly touched the subject in two stories from his Q.E.D. series: "In the Corner of the Galaxy" (vol. 12) is a tongue-in-cheek story in which potential evidence of aliens visiting earth gets stolen and "Outer Space Battle" (vol. 25) has a bunch of high school students faking an alien invasion by showcasing so-called "Impossible Technology." These type of impossible crime stories are a bit more common in Japan (Ho-Ling discussed a few of them), but, outside of these eight examples, there's only one Western novel that made an earnest attempt to explore the possibilities of visiting aliens as a framework for an impossible crime novel.

Mack Reynolds is best remembered today as a science-fiction author, but Reynolds started out writing short stories for the detective pulps until his friend, Fredric Brown, suggested to science-fiction – predicting the internet and "pocket computers." A year before selling his first science-fiction short story to Fantastic Adventures, Reynolds completed his first novel, The Case of the Little Green Men (1951), which he wrote as a counter to Brown's "instant classic of science-fiction-fan-related fiction," What Mad Universe (1949). The Case of the Little Green Men was not the first novel to stage a murder mystery among the members of the science-fiction fandom (Anthony Boucher's Rocket to the Morgue, 1942), but it predates the fan convention (locked room) mysteries that enjoyed some popularity during the 1980s. Bill Pronzini's Hoodwink (1981), Richard Purtill's Murdercon (1982) and Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun (1987) spring to mind, but Reynolds beat them by three decades.

So plenty of reasons to finally return to this curiously overlooked, somewhat forgotten detective novel and see how it stands up.

First of all, The Case of the Little Green Men is on top of everything else a dark parody of the hardboiled private eyes from the pulps about a down-on-his-luck private investigator, Jeb Knight, who badly bungled a case and received "an awful razzing from the rags" – effectively ending his career as a private eye. So he sits around in the office of the now one-man outfit of Lee and Knight, Private Investigations, counting down the days until the rent was due and that would be the end. One day, three oddball characters come knocking ("...they didn't look like bill collectors"), James Maddigan, Arthur Roget and Harold Shulman, who are members of the Scylla Club. A group of science-fiction fen ("the plural of fan... we science fiction fen have developed quite a vocabulary of our own") who are of the opinion that there are aliens in the United States. Fantastical as it sounds, the three club members intend to hire Jeb Knight to investigate the possibility of there being alien life forms on our planet.

Some convincing is needed, "your tone of voice implies that the very thought of alien life is
," but Knight needs a paycheck and "if they want to hire me to look for aliens from space, who am I to argue?" Knight is invited to attend the next meeting of the Scylla Club, "incognito, of course," because the aliens would very likely keep such groups under close observation as they would be naturally aware of their possible presence. However, Knight is a fish out of water among the oddball characters of the science-fiction fandom and the day ends disastrous when the body of one of his clients, Shulman, is found dead in the garden under somewhat peculiar circumstances. The body is squashed and mangled, like he fell from a tall building or airplane, but "the highest building in this vicinity isn't more than three stories." So did a flying saucer beamed him up and dropped him from a tremendous height or is there a more down to earth explanation? Either way, there's no doubt Shulman was murdered and that places Knight in an uncomfortably tight corner.

Shulman was Knight's client and when the newspapers learn what happened, they drag him over the coals all over again ("the Chronicle mentioned casually that in the old days... an aroused citizenry would have escorted me to the city's limits on a rail and garbed in the latest in tar and feathers sportwear") and Lieutenant Philip Davis has Sergeant Mike Quinn regularly escort Knight to his office – yelling at him to keep out of his investigation. But his remaining clients want him to continue his investigation into the alien presence, which may, or may not, be connected to the murder. So the troubled Knight goes on to submerge himself into the strange world of science-fiction fandom, UFO conspiracies, stolen fanzines and a completely motiveless murder as another fan nearly gets killed by something that must have hovered twenty feet in the air and fired a heat ray into his bedroom. Leaving a seared spot on the wall behind the bed. The absolute highlight is Knight attending AnnCon, the tenth anniversary of the World Science Fiction Convention, which the Ramble House/Surinam Turtle Press edition used for a beautiful comic book-style cover illustration. A third, apparently motiveless, attack takes place at AnnCon, but, this time, the alien firing the heat ray had better aim and left a body in one of the hallways of the hotel.

This all makes for a tremendously enjoyable story and fascinating cultural snapshot of the early 1950s science-fiction fandom as the coming Space Race loomed on the horizon, but, plot-wise, The Case of the Little Green Men is not as strong as I remembered.

I clearly recall much more attention being given to the circumstances of the attacks and murders, but Knight only muttered once, or twice, how everything seemed "utterly impossible." Regrettably, the solutions to the impossibilities are not nearly as original or ingenious as their presentation and the scant clueing didn't help. So no idea why the plot and impossibilities impressed me so much on my first read. The Case of the Little Green Men is not a detective story, but simply a story about a detective. You really have to read The Case of the Little Green Men for trials and tribulations of Jeb Knight and the "alien world" he's hurled into, which Reynolds conveys extremely well, but advise plot purists to either adjust their expectations or not bother at all. It's not going to scratch that detective or impossible crime itch.

So, yeah, not the stuff of classics I remembered. Well, where the plot is concerned, but the story itself engrossing from start to finish, even with the downer of an ending, littered with fascinating sidelines on the fandom like a visiting a workshop basement – where fanzines get put together and printed. Reynolds also sneaked a short-short SF story, "Ultimate Destiny," written by one of the characters into the narrative. There's always the bickering and disagreement you'll come across in practically every fandom ("he thinks the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is superior to Astounding"), but found the bits and pieces of early UFO conspiracies, historically-speaking, just as interesting and sometimes downright funny. The Case of the Little Green Men was published years before the Space Race got off the ground. There were no man-made satellites in orbit, the Apollo 11 mission was still eighteen years in the future and the post-war pop-culture legends and conspiracies mentioned above were still very much in their infancy with some stories appearing to have flipped around over the decades. So these lines from Arthur Roget got a good chuckle out of me, "Willy Ley, one of the top rocket authorities, says that with even our present knowledge we have the know-how to get a rocket to the moon. Why, for all we know, the government might have already done it. If they have, it'd probably be on the top secret list, classified."



The Case of the Little Green Men is not the precious, unearthly gem I remembered and will likely be moved over to "Curiosities & Oddities" whenever the next revision of "The Updated Mammoth List of My Favorite Tales of Locked Room Murders & Impossible Crimes." I must have been impressed with the idea of replacing haunted houses and curses with flying saucers and aliens, but this second read left me wanting something more meaningful or simply clever was done with the premise. However, The Case of the Little Green Men is a hilarious and sometimes sad take on the character of American private eye with the cultural and now historical background carrying the story to the final page. But decide for yourselves.


Monster Hunter: Case Closed, vol. 86 by Gosho Aoyama

Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed, vol. 86 begins, as is usually the case, with the concluding chapter to the story that closed out the previous volume and concerns the body of a woman who miraculous materialized in a hotel swimming pool – alongside shards of glass from a broken aquarium. I called the story potentially one of the most transparently-plotted cases since the first half dozen volumes and the ending proved me correct. My solution was pretty much spot except for how the aquarium was broken, but hardly enough to keep it afloat. An uncharacteristically bad story for the series. Fortunately, the next three stories are much better and of considerable more interest.

The second story starts out a little weird and slightly contrived contrived with the familiar who-of-the-three setup, but turned that series trope on its head brilliantly.

Conan, Anita and the Junior Detective League are out and about, when they spot a boy twice in the same spot intently observing an apartment building. So they ask the boy what he's doing, but the kid bursts out in tears and tells Conan that the nice lady who lives there was likely killed. She had asked the boy to keep watching her apartment, because "three men would visit her apartment, one by one, and if she didn't come out after the last one left it meant she was dead" – a signal to call the police. Conan rushes to the apartment and finds the lady in question hanging from a makeshift noose, but evidence on the scene immediately suggests foul play and several items are missing (a telephone, money and TV script). The three suspects are quickly identified and all three claim to have found her hanging, but why did they leave without calling the police? I said this story turns the who-of-the-three suspects trope upside down, but actually does it twice and very cleverly so. Granted, the over-arching story and plot feels strained in parts, but nevertheless a strong recovery from the previous couple of the stories. Note that Conan gets called "a regular Jimmy Kudo."

The previous volume had the big blow-off of the storyline that was set in motion all the way back in vol. 58 and vol. 59, which means new pieces have to be set in place for the next arc in the ongoing storyline. A sub-plot running through this volume, starting with the second story, is Conan considering and discussing the identity of the second-in-command of the Black Organization, "Rum." A shadowy character who has been described as a large, muscular man, a slight, feminine man and an elderly man ("some people said they were all decoys"). Conan and Anita, of course, keep running into people fitting one of those descriptions ("it's certainly on the nose...").

The third story is a very good and delightful, pulp-style impossible crime story somewhat reminiscent of Theodore Roscoe and Hake Talbot. Harley Hartwell invites Conan, Rachel and Richard Moore to the mountains of Nagano to investigate sightings of the local yokai, or cryptic, named the Kamaitachi – who "rides a whirlwind an' slashes folks with a sickle." A magazine writer photographed the blade-wielding monster flying or running across the surface of a hot spring at a local mountain inn! So out they go to the inn to investigate and get told about a family heirloom, a scythe, which is kept in a shed. That where the initial attack happens as Harley, Richard and a reporter gets slashed after the light bulb exploded, but nobody appears to have been the attacker. Nor can they find any trace of a possible weapon. This part of the story has a nice moment between Conan and Harley when the same false-solution occurs to them simultaneously. However, the meat of the story is the murder under somewhat impossible circumstances of the old inn keeper, which is difficult to describe, but boils down to the murderer escaping either by flying over a long stretch of undisturbed snow or sprinted across hot spring again.

I think every observant reader or seasoned armchair detective can identify the murderer and motive, but the water walking act is a different kettle of fish altogether. Walking on water is the kind of impossibility you don't often encounter in detective stories with the only examples springing to mind being Ellery Queen Junior's The Mystery of the Merry Magician (1961), Robert Innes' Ripples (2017) and the mid-air strolls from John Sladek's Black Aura (1974) and vol. 44 from this series. The range of possible solutions is admittedly about as limited as those for disappearing buildings and vanishing streets, but never considered the trick used here. A trick that first elicited some skepticism on my part. I looked it up and apparently it's possible to work exactly as shown in the story. A solid, original and above all entertaining impossible crime story.

The last three chapters setup a story that will conclude in the next volume and immediately follows the previous one.

Conan, Rachel, Moore and Harley are still in Nagano, "historic Nagano," where they visit a shrine and bump into several familiar faces from the Nagano Prefectural Police. Kansuke Yamato, Takaaki Morofushi, Yui Uehara and three other police inspectors who were to meet with their squad leader, Shigeru Takeda – who went silent without a reason. Not long thereafter, they witness his decapitated head floating down the river and upon retrieving the gruesome catch, they discover the forehead has been marked with an "X." Like the X-shaped claw of a woodpecker suggesting a link with the mysterious Woodpecker Society. A group within the Nagano police with potential shady motives and the murderer appears to be targeting its secretive members, one by one, ending on a cliffhanger. And not the proverbial one. But by then, it has become clear that the stench of suspicion is clinging to Inspector Yamato. Not to mention the introduction of the 1st Investigation Division Director, Hyoe Kuroda, who resembles a more accurate description of Rum that emerged over the course of these stories. The next volume is shaping up to be excellent!

So, yeah, perhaps not the best overall volume from the last few years, but found the second story quite good, unsurprisingly liked the third and the cliffhanger makes me want to get to the next volume as soon as possible. Definitely a return to form with the new pieces being set in place adding to both the intrigue and enjoyment.


The English Garden Mystery (2022) by Dan Andriacco

Last time, I babbled incessantly about "The Locked Room Mystery & Impossible Crime Story in the 21st Century," rattling on how the reprint renaissance and translation wave is already leaving its traces, but those visible traces do not stop at a locked room resurgence – even if you don't always get that idea from this blog. So today's review has no murders in hermetically sealed rooms or someone disappearing at the end of a trail of footprints in the snow. Instead, it's a pure, undiluted fair play whodunit.

Back in November, I learned of Dan Andriacco's The English Garden Mystery (2022) when Ellery Queen: A Website on Deduction highlighted it as "an homage to Golden Age great Ellery Queen." A modern-day mystery complete with a dying message, false-solution, challenge to the reader and even a subtitle ("A Problem in Deduction"). Andriacco is a former journalist, reviewer and an active member of the Baker Street Irregulars who writes detective novels and wrote on his blog, "all of my books owe a lot to Golden of mystery fiction," but none more than The English Garden Mystery. In another blog-post, "The Logical Successor to Sherlock Holmes," Andriacco calls his series-detective a devotee of EQ whose "exploits often include the Queenian tropes of the dying message and the false-solution" with his latest adventure being "an out-and-out homage to Queen."

The English Garden Mystery is the thirteenth novel starring the celebrated mystery writer, Sebastian McCabe, whose side career as a local amateur detective is chronicled by his brother-in-law, Jeff Cody. The entire series takes place in the small town of Erin on the banks of the Ohio River and the town with its inhabitants appears to be as much of a "character" as McCabe and Cody. An apparently living, breathing and buzzing community as the story is littered with footnotes referring back to previous events or appearances of characters and locations. Such as meeting with a local lawyer or museum director whom McCabe and Cody had met before other times, "on the edges of cases," which have footnotes referring back to two short stories, "Art in the Blood" and "Foul Ball" – respectively collected in Rogues Galley (2014) and Murderer's Row (2020). While another footnote informs the reader that the setting from No Ghosts Need Apply (2021) had "gone out of business after COVID and a murder." Yes, even the fictitious town of Erin, Ohio, was unable to escape the pandemic and The English Garden Mystery finds the town "much changed by the COVID-19 pandemic" with "some of our old friends gone forever and others transformed."

I mention all of this because, as of this writing, The English Garden Mystery is the latest addition to the series and, chronologically challenged as ever, I dropped in at the end simply for the dying message, false-solution and EQ fanboying. That left me feeling disconnected from most of the characters and parts of the stories, but that's wholly on me. Not Andriacco. So this review will be limited to discussing the plot and its treatment of those Queenian tropes of the dying message and false-solution.

The English Garden Mystery begins as Erin emerges from the COVID lockdowns and their social bubbles, "still stir-crazy from a year of social distancing and Zoom meetings," to attend a fundraiser for the Erin Arts Council in the English garden at the Bainbridge family compound of houses known as Stratford Court. Ezra Bainbridge is "the pater familias of one of the oldest of Erin's old-money families" and Shakespearean scholar who named his triplet daughters, Desdemona, Portia and Ophelia, after characters from the Bard's plays ("...Des is the bad girl, Portia is the socialite and Ophelia is the scholar"). The story's opening finds the elderly Ezra Bainbridge in poor health, "battling brain fog in the wake of COVID-19," confining the patriarch mostly to a wheelchair and getting pushed around by his much younger wife, Fleur. She gets accused by Desdemona and Portia of elder abuse and adultery, but their sister Ophelia does not believe it. So asks McCabe and Cody to drop by Stratford Court to observe for themselves nothing is going on ("nobody observes more than Sebastian McCabe, except maybe Sherlock Holmes on a good day").

Before the long, the personal favor becomes a full-blown murder case when Ophelia's body is found, "hit in the head with a marble bookend in an art deco design," holding a bright yellow bell-shaped flower – a columbine from the garden at Stratford Court. Erin Police Chief Oscar Hummel believes the murder is a bungled burglary, but McCabe believes the presence of the flower argues otherwise. Ophelia was a puzzle fiend who loved word games, anagrams and "the dying message stories of detective story great Ellery Queen" who reviewed detective stories for the Oxford Gazette and taught a course on "Locked Rooms and Dying Messages." So reasons a dying Ophelia must have taken "the columbine out of that vase after the killer left as she sought to tell us who killed her." A classic dying message straight out of the Golden Age detective stories! Why not? Leaving a dying message is something that would occur to someone who reads and collects Ellery Queen. Just one problem: the murderer is not even close to being done and every murder comes with its own floral tribute. So the flowery clue goes from a potential dying message to the killer's cryptic calling card. Or is it?

I noted earlier that airdropping into the thirteenth title in the series with its living setting and cast of recurring characters made me feel disconnected from the characters and parts of the story, but nothing to muddy the clarity or cleverness of the EQ-style plot.

Andriacco carefully constructed the correct-and false-solution alongside each other with enough clues and red herrings to delight, or frustrate, the amateur armchair detective who wants a shot at beating McCabe to the solution. Something that's absolutely doable with the given clues, even if you miss a small detail or two. Although the hook of the plot is the dying message/calling card and false-solution, The English Garden Mystery played the Queenian trope of the fallible detective card slightly better. There was already a hint and characters suggesting McCabe's luck ("let us say good fortune rather than luck") as the local Sherlock Holmes is eventually going run out, which all nicely builds up towards gathering all the suspects in the library to present and destroy the false-solution – punctuated by a short challenge to the reader ("...he didn't see it. Neither did anybody else. Do you?"). I just wonder how far Andriacco played out the fallible detective card as the ending left me with the feeling the second solution is also incorrect and will come back to haunt him in a future mystery novel. Something that does not appear unlikely in a series like this, but I could be wrong.

Either way, The English Garden Mystery succeeded with flying colors in capturing the feeling of the characters wandering into an EQ-style novel that fully does justice to the favorite tropes of those two mystery writing cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. If there's anything to nitpick at, it's that perhaps more could have been done with the English garden with its riot of lowers, bronze fountain and statue of a flute-playing Pan to evoke that "Ellery-in-Wonderland" atmosphere of There Was An Old Woman (1943) and The Player on the Other Side (1963), which would have been perfect for a story taking place right after the characters emerged from the pandemic lockdowns. Other than that, The English Garden Mystery is a compelling detective novel that comes highly recommended to every Ellery Queen fan and West 87th Street Irregular. But if you're completely new to series, like me, the characters can make you feel like a stranger among friends.


The Locked Room Mystery & Impossible Crime Story in the 21st Century: A Brief Historic Overview of the First Twenty (Some) Years

I perhaps should have waited with compiling and writing this brief history of the locked room mystery in 21st century, probably until 2025, but recent publications made me reflect on the state of the locked room subgenre in 2000 and how radically the landscape has altered in two short decades – a transitional period, of sorts, that ended in 2020. Fittingly, the world went into lockdown at the same time the locked room mystery started on, what appears to be, a new phase in its long and storied history stretching all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841). But first, we have to go back in time a little further than the year 2000.

The locked room mystery, in all its guises, has always been somewhat of a large, specialized niche that attracted its own devoted admirers and practitioners, but the immediate post-war period came with a sharp decline in locked room novels. John Dickson Carr and John Russell Fearn were the only writers who stubbornly persisted alongside some occasionally flareups over the decades. Some valiant, frustratingly short-lived attempts were made in the sixties like Paul Gallico's Too Many Ghosts (1961), Kip Chase's Murder Most Ingenious (1962), Charles Forsyte's Diving Death (1962) and John Vance's The Fox Valley Murders (1966). None of those writers or series got pass two or three novels. John Sladek left an indelible mark on the genre a decade later with Black Aura (1974) and Invisible Green (1977). The 1980s represent a small revival as Bill Pronzini introduced his nameless detective to a series of impossible crimes in Hoodwink (1981), Scattershot (1982) and Bones (1985). Herbert Resnicow added a new dimension to the impossible crime with his large-scale locked room puzzles as exemplified by The Gold Deadline (1984) and The Dead Room (1987), which I consider to be the best of the lot. The next ten years were a lull as Peter Lovesey's Bloodhounds (1996) is the only well-known locked room mystery from the '90s, but Mary Monica Pulver's Original Sin (1991), Roger Ormerod's A Shot at Nothing (1993) and Paul Doherty's A Murder in Thebes (1998) should not be overlooked.

While the locked room and impossible crime novel experienced a decline in the second-half of the previous century, it positively thrived in short story form as various publications continued to publish them – most notably Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. These magazines produced three legitimate claimants to Carr's mantle, Edward D. Hoch, Joseph Commings and Arthur Porges, who wrote over 200 short impossible crime stories between them. More than half of the stories came from Hoch ("...among the most gifted contemporary creators of impossible crime stories").

So the locked room mystery novel took a backseat to the short story as publications like EQMM produced "a host of excellent authors, many of whom have contributed generously to the impossible crime saga." Occasionally, the locked room puzzle would turn in a novel and sometimes in the oddest of places. Like Nicholas Wilde's juvenile mystery Death Knell (1990) or Michael Slade's gory thriller Ripper (1994). That's more or less where things stood in 2000 and remained that way until roughly 2006. But those first years were not bereft of some excellent miracle crimes.

The first notable publication of the new century is undoubtedly Mike Ashley's 500-pager The Mammoth Book of Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes (2000), which is a diverse collection of older, rarely stories material and newly commissioned material original to the anthology. So the anthology added some new, good and interesting stories to the genre right off the bat. Kate Ellis' "The Odour of Sanctity" concerns a murdered man who's thrown from an open window of a locked tower room. Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg's "Death Rides the Elevator" deals with the decapitation of the sole occupant of a sealed and moving elevator solved by a modern-day Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. H.R.F. Keating's "The Legs That Walked" has a pair of freshly severed legs disappear from a guarded tent, but honesty compels me to point out Keating likely swiped the solution from Edmund Crispin, but Keating used it so much better than Crispin. Susanna Gregory's "Ice Elation" is not, strictly speaking, an impossible crime story and perhaps should not have been part of the anthology, but really liked the setting and premise of scientists disappearing from an Antarctic research station. It really should have been a novel-length mystery-thriller.

Edward D. Hoch continued to write short stories until his death in 2008 and two stories from this late period standout. "The Problem of the Potting Shed" (2000) offers an ingenious and original solution to the problem of how someone could be shot in a locked shed with a small window too small to have been used as an exit. "Circus in the Sky" (2000) answers a twenty year old challenge from Jon L. Breen's parody "The Problem of the Vanishing Town" (1979) to find a rational explanation how someone could be shredded to death on the top floor of a high-rise building as if a lion had appeared from nowhere and then vanished. Hoch represented the old guard during this period, but new writers appeared on the scene.

J.A. Konrath's debuted in the mid-2000s with Whiskey Sour (2004) that introduced his series-detective, Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, who has starred as of this writing in 17 novels and numerous short stories – two of which are locked room stories. "On the Rocks" (2004) is a conventional of the two as Lt. Daniel is confronted with a dodgy suicide in a locked and barricaded apartment. "With a Twist" (2005) is a minor classic by turning the suicide-disguised-as-murder on its head. A terminally-ill puzzle fiend commits suicide under circumstances defying reality and planted clues all over the locked suicide room. Arguably, the first real gem the decade produced and pairs beautifully with "On the Rocks." If only Konrath had written some more!

The five-year period from 2000 to 2005 saw few noteworthy impossible crime novels with exception of Lee Sheldon's self-published Impossible Bliss (2001). Sheldon is a game designer and former scriptwriter who penned episodes for Blacke's Magic, Clue Club, Father Murphy, The Edge of Night and The Eddie Capra Mysteries. Many of which feature locked room murders and impossible disappearances. Impossible Bliss introduces his capricious painter and detective, Herman Bliss, who's confronted with the perplexing disappearance of a golfer right after making a nigh miraculous shot. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Impossible Bliss is that Sheldon was a good twenty years ahead of the curb. When self-published novels, regardless of merit, had the stench of the vanity press around them. So the second, still unpublished Herman Bliss novel, The Beast of Big Sur, never materialized. A peripheral author, of sorts, who deserves a mention is the late Christopher Fowler as he created the first Great Detectives of the new century, Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, which began with Full Dark House (2004) and The Water Room (2004) – trumpeted at the time as modern-day locked room mysteries. However, the series only began to venture into the impossible crime territory with (IIRC) Ten Second Staircase (2006), White Corridor (2007) and The Victoria Vanishes (2008). I lost track of the series after The Memory of Blood (2011) and need to return to it one of these days.

Halfway through the first decade, subtle changes began to happen that would set the tone for the 2010s and completely alter the landscape of the locked room mystery in the West. There were three publications that can now be identified as bellwethers of those coming changes.

Firstly, Wildside Press published John Pugmire's eagerly anticipated translation of Paul Halter's short story collection La nuit du loup (The Night of the Wolf, 2000) in 2006. There are some excellent stories to be found in this collection. "La hache" ("The Cleaver," 2000) is simply one of Halter's best short stories and the best take on that rarity of the impossible crime story, the predictive dream, while "La marchande de fleurs" ("The Flower Girl," 2000) is an imaginative tangle of Christmas miracles concerning the possible existence of Santa Claus. More importantly, the lack of further interest from publishers drove Pugmire to create Locked Room International and changed the whole game. More on that in minute. Secondly, Hal White's collection of longish short stories, The Mysteries of Reverend Dean (2008), came like a bolt out of the blue as White had not enjoyed the same, decades-long myth building as Halter and a collection of exclusive, brand new impossible crime stories were not all that common at the time – especially from a single writer. So coming out guns blazing in your alliance to the impossible crime story left an impression in 2008, but not a lasting one as the collection seems to be largely forgotten today. You can likely blame that on White never returning to Reverend Dean and the fluctuating quality of the plots, but I personally liked "Murder at an Island Mansion" and "Murder on a Caribbean Cruise." The former presents Reverend Dean with three impossible crimes of the no-footprints variety and the latter is a pleasantly conventional shipboard mystery with a murder behind the tightly locked door of a cabin. But other readers praised "Murder in a Sealed Loft" as the collection's standout story. I should also note here The Mysteries of Reverend Dean received a Japanese translation. Foreshadowing!

The third publication is not a collection of short stories or even a novel, but an old school webpage, "A Locked Room Library," added to the MysteryFile in 2007. The page brings together the 1981 top 14 locked room novels voted on by a panel headed by Edward D. Hoch and the then brand new ranking conducted by the celebrated anthologist, Roland Lacourbe, who wanted to create "a list of novels which should be included in any respectable French locked room lovers collection." Lacourbe gathered the results under the title "99 Novels for a Locked Room Library" and appended the list with 14 additional novels that due to a lack availability in French failed to garner enough votes. I think the 1981 and 2007 ranking proved to be a window into both the past and the future. The 1981 ranking looks now more than ever as very basic and standard list with most of the usual, well-known suspects represented. Ellery Queen somehow got two novels listed purely on name recognition and not because The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934) or The King is Dead (1952) are classics of the impossible crime story, but a perfect illustration of the rut in which the English-language locked room novel found itself in during the second-half of the 20th century. Lacourbe's ranking is loaded with obscure, long out-of-print rarities, untranslated titles and generally some surprising picks. Lacourbe's "99 Novels for a Locked Room Library" appeared like a hazy mirage of a desert oasis as unreachable as an affordable copy of A. & P. Shaffer's Withered Murder (1955). You only have to take a glance at "The Updated Mammoth List of My Favorite Tales of Locked Room Murders & Impossible Crimes" and JJ's "A Locked Room Library – One Hundred Recommended Books" to get an idea how much that situation has changed since 2007.

While the genre awaited the coming translation wave, the second-half of the 2000s saw several old names return to the locked room mystery. Bill Pronzini confronted his nameless detective with a double impossibility in Schemers (2009) when a collector of mystery novels asks him to investigate the mysterious disappearance of half a dozen collectibles from his private library, but then that same private library becomes the scene of a seemingly impossible murder. The theft of the books has an excellent explanation and the murder has "a sick new way of killing somebody" behind a locked door. In 2005, Pronzini resurrected his two historical gumshoes, John Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter, in a new series of short stories that appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Years later, Pronzini began to rework the short stories, new and old, into a series novel-length mysteries which he co-wrote with his wife, Marcia Muller. The series began with The Bughouse Affair (2013) and each novel has one or more impossibility to dispel with The Stolen Gold Affair (2020) having a particular neat one staged in an underground, dead-end crosscut of a gold mine. This series would make for a great TV-series, but its biggest contribution is that it gave the locked room mystery attention outside of our niche at a time when it needed the most.

A strange, unlikely return was that of the sadistic thriller novelist, Michael Slade, who tried to merge a story of cruel, tortuous serial killings with several locked room puzzles in Ripper (1994), which received praise at the time for being Grand Guignol fair play mystery – not everyone agreed. Stylistically, anyway. Slade tried his hands at it again with Crucified (2008) and Red Snow (2010). Crucified proved to be surprisingly good, original even, as the skeleton discovered inside an excavated WWII-era bomber turns the wreck into an archaeological "locked room." Arguably an even stranger, more unlikely return was that of a long-dead pulp writer. John Russell Fearn died in 1960 and would have been forgotten even today had it not been for Philip Harbottle. Not only ensuring practically all of Fearn's work returned to print and remained in print, but expanded his body of work with several previously unpublished novels. The Man Who Was Not (2005) is a pulp-style mystery-thriller in which a seemingly omniscient killer terrorizes a family with terrifyingly accurate predictions of their death and the death become progressively more impossible as they try to take precautions. Pattern of Murder (2006) is Fearn's masterpiece and a highlight of the decade. A brilliantly presented and executed inverted mystery that takes place among the employees of a cinema, which was familiar territory for Fearn and makes the story standout. The murder method is inspired and something of an impossible crime from the perspective of the police.

I would be amiss not to mention the dark historian, Paul Doherty, who has been a lone, often overlooked, but prolific, champion of the locked room mystery ever since debuting in the 1980s. Doherty probably gets overlooked on account of exclusively writing historical mysteries making his impossible crime fiction feel disconnected from the rest of the genre. Like they existed in a separate pocket universe. Doherty produced two noteworthy locked room novels during the late 2000s. The Spies of Sobeck (2008) is the seventh and regrettably last novel to feature an Egyptian judge from antiquity, Amerotke, which has the impudent cheek to exploit its historical setting to explain how man could have been strangled inside a fortified retreat. The Mysterium (2010) is not the most ingenious impossible crime novel penned during this period, but Doherty clad the story in a thick, dark and brooding atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of Theodore Roscoe. The two impossibilities are merely an extra on top of Doherty's most engrossing Hugh Corbett chronicle to date.

So the genre entered the second decade of the 21st century, the 2010s, which would change everything and began with the founding of Pugmire's Locked Room International. A game changer, if there ever was one!

Locked Room International dedicated itself at first to publishing translations of Paul Halter that included a lot of his novels from the 1980s and '90s, but, over time, more of his novels from the past twenty years were translated – some of which can be counted among Halter's best. La toile de Pénélope (Penelope's Web, 2001) deserves a mention as it found a unique way to seal the scene of the crime by covering the open window with an intricately-woven, thick and undamaged spiderweb. La ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage, 2005) is a minor tour-de-force as Halter outdid himself with a stunningly brilliant answer to the problem of a dark, obscure passageway that keeps appearing and disappearing like a ghost. La masque du vampire (The Mask of the Vampire, 2014) is a dark flight of fancy and one of Halter's most successful attempt to intertwine multiple impossibilities like a murderer who's seen disappearing up a chimney as a wisp of smoke. Halter closed out the decade with an international exclusive. La montre en or (The Gold Watch, 2019) appeared in English, Chinese and Japanese ahead of the French publication and this time-shattering detective tale proved to be a highlight of the 2010s and rightfully praised for its take on the no-footprints scenario.

During the first five years, LRI mostly published Paul Halter with some odds and ends like Jean-Paul Török's tribute to John Dickson Carr, L'enigme du Monte Verita (The Riddle of Monte Verita, 2007), that can be read as a flattering fan letter to the master. The Derek Smith Omnibus (2014) finally gave Come to Paddington Fair (1997) a proper print-run as it had previously appeared in a limited run of less than 100 copies and fans have disagreed ever since whether or not it's actually better than Whistle Up the Devil (1954). Around 2014, LRI began to expand their catalog with translations of Noël Vindry, Ulf Durling and Yukito Ayatsuji. That last name appears to have opened to the floodgates to a translation wave.

In 2015, LRI published the first English edition of Ayatsuji's landmark novel, Jakkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987), which was received in Japan "as en epoch-making event" forever changing "the world of Japanese mystery fiction with revolutionary new ideas" – kick starting the shin honkaku movement. While it was The Decagon House Murders that got it moving, it was Soji Shimada who designed the shin honkaku blueprint earlier in the decade with novels like Senseijutsu satsujinjiken (The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, 1981) and Naname yashiki no hanzai (Murder in the Crooked House, 1982). This movement rejuvenated the Golden Age-style detective story and proved you can teach an old dog new tricks. Shimada wrote in his introduction to the English translation, "it is my belief that if we can introduce this concept to the field of American and British detective fiction, the Golden Age pendulum will swing back, just as The Tokyo Zodiac Murders and The Decagon House Murders managed to accomplish in Japan." The current developments in the Western detective story appear to be proving him correct, but more on that in a moment.

Just like Shimada's The Tokyo Zodiac Murders paved the way for Ayatsuji's The Decagon

House Murders, Keigo Higashino's 2011 translation of Yogisha X no kenshin (The Devotion of Suspect X, 2005) turning into an international hit can be credited with opening the door for publishers to take a chance on Japanese crime fiction. Ironically enough, neither The Decagon House Murders or The Devotion of Suspect X contain a locked room murder or impossible crime of any kind, but the so-called translation wave that followed were overwhelmingly locked room mysteries. And overwhelmingly older writers from the original classic period or from the 1980s. These names range from Akimitsu Takagi, Keikichi Osaka and Seishi Yokomizo to the new generation of Alice Arisugawa, Takemaru Abiko and Yamaguchi Masaya, but practically nothing from the '90s and only a handful of gems from the past two decades.

Zaregoto series: kubikiri saikuru (Zaregoto: The Kubikiri Cycle, 2002) by "NisiOisiN" is the least-known, unfairly overlooked of these translated gems as the series is perhaps too close to the fringes for your average western mystery reader. The series blends the storytelling and plotting of the traditional detective story with manga aesthetics and characters, but The Kubikiri Cycle has multiple impossible murders taking place among a group of geniuses who gathered at a place called Wet Crow's Feather Island. Unsurprisingly, the trick employed to present the detective and reader with a headless body in a locked room is quite ingenious and inspired. Misshitsu no kagi kashimasu (Lending a Key to the Locked Room, 2002) introduces Tokuya Higashigawa's "series-character," Ikagawa City, acting as an assemble cast and concerns the problem of a film student waking up in a locked apartment with a dead body in the bathroom. Another very well constructed locked room novel and an even better example of the high quality of debut novels of Japanese authors. I sincerely hope this is not the last western readers have seen of the port city and its citizens. Higashino second novel to be translated, Seijo no Kyusai (Salvation of a Saint, 2008), is an inverted mystery which tells the reader who poisoned the victim, but now how as it appeared to have been impossible for this person to have administrated the poison. A necessarily character-driven mystery with a very original solution to the problem that you can only swallow due to the character building. The best was yet to come!

Since the 1980s, the Japanese detective story has been enjoying its Second Golden Age, but, after three decades of dominance, readers yearned for the kind of impetus that Ayatsuji's The Decagon House Murders had created – a challenge that did not go unanswered. Masahiro Imamura's Shijinso no satsujin (Death Among the Undead, 2017) is a landmark mystery novel that, on its surface, begins like your regular shin honkaku mystery novel with an isolated setting, impossible crimes aplenty and university students who plays detective, but Imamura turned to concept on its head by situating the story right in the middle of a small, localized zombie apocalypse. The introduction of fantastic elements, like zombies, in a strictly fairplay detective story works better than you might assume, because readers are exactly told what the zombies can and cannot do. So the internal logic, while weird, remains sound and opened (not closed) new doors to tell and plot a detective story. Death Among the Undead was received in Japan as a potential sign a revolutionary change and possible Third Golden Age is on the horizon. I agree.

LRI also recently published the sequel, Magan no hako no satsujin (Death Within the Evil Eye, 2019), which combines a traditional murder mystery with inescapable visions of the future. Death Among the Undead and Death Within the Evil Eye are both modern-day classics and perhaps even signs of a coming age in which the hybrid mystery rises to dominance. John Pugmire confirmed that a translation of the third title, Kyoujinteo no satsujin (The Murder in the House of Maleficence, 2021), is forthcoming.

 I need to pause here to emphasize how important these developments have been up to this point and the locked room resurgence coinciding with the current reprint renaissance and translation wave. Never before had detective fans, like us, access to such a wide and varied selection of detective-and crime fiction as today. Whether reprints, translations, public domain work or newly published, the past twenty years has left us spoiled for choice. The effects have already become slowly visible over the past three years, or so, but more on that in a moment.

The locked room genre unexpectedly stirred back to life in my country, the Netherlands, which can be harsh, unforgiving place for detective fiction with a traditional bend, but that has changed a bit with M.P.O. Books – who reintroduced the concept in De blikvanger (The Eye-Catcher, 2010). Although this initial attempt provided a fairly minor and modest locked room-puzzle, a poisoning behind several locked doors, it lighted the way for a second, much more ambitious stab at the impossible crime story. En hoe! Een afgesloten huis (A Sealed House, 2013) is the first Dutch-language locked room mystery of note to be published since Cor Docter's Koude vrouw in Kralingen (Cold Woman in Kralingen, 1970) in which a notorious criminal is gutted inside his fortress-like home. A completely sealed fortress secured with steel shutters, burglar alarms and motion sensors that trigger security cameras and overhead lights. Books has since added many more novels and short stories under a now open penname, "Anne van Doorn," beginning with "De dichter die zichzelf opsloot" ("The Poet Who Locked Himself In," 2017). A short story that was translated and published in the September/October, 2019, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The best of the short stories is perhaps "Het huis dat ongeluk bracht" ("The House That Brought Bad Luck," 2018) using the haunted house setting to stage a series of ghostly visitations, but the standout of the series is undoubtedly De man die zijn geweten ontlastte (The Man Who Relieved His Conscience, 2019) with two impossible murders, a dying message, false-solutions and a revelation about the main character that caught me off guard. Books is not the only Dutch author who tried his hands at everyone favorite trope.

P. Dieudonné's third politieroman (police novel), Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongrijpbare dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death, 2020), strings together three impossible disappearances. Firstly, there's the disappearance of a body alongside with the murderer from a burning building with all exits either locked or under observation. Secondly, the police has to contend with a motor rider who tears up the city with dangerous stunts and has to peculiar ability to miraculous disappear or reappear. This breaks with traditions of the old-school Dutch politieroman as they tend to be more about the journey than the destination and rarely feature unbreakable alibis, dying messages or impossible crimes, but Dieudonné does not shy away from any of them – integrated them seamlessly into the style of the politieroman. The solution to the double vanishing from the burning building stands out as a huge improvement on an old idea that always felt a little contrived. Rechercheur De Klerck en een dodelijk pact (Inspector De Klerck and a Deadly Pact, 2022) returned to the impossible disappearance with a sub-plot involving a Swiss-style chalet that somehow got lost.

So while the 2010s were slowly drawing to a close, two self-published authors deserve singling out for their contributions before moving on to the first-half of the 2020s. Matt Ingwalson published three novellas, "The Single Staircase" (2012), "WDYG" (2013) and "Not With a Bang" (2016), which explored the reasons for creating a locked room scenario and the stories take a minimalist approach – chapter lengths run anywhere from a few lines to a couple of pages. Ingwalson cut everything out except the essentials and therefore one of those rare occurrences of deconstructionism creating something instead of tearing it down. You can say these three novellas take a pair of hedge clippers rather than a sledgehammer to the locked room mystery. Robert Innes has set himself the enviable task of trying to please two entirely different and demanding audiences by juggling two entirely different genres, locked room mysteries and romance, within the same series. I've only read two of the currently eleven novellas, but the presentation and resolution to the impossibilities showed the genre still has large, untapped reservoirs of creative juices. Ripples (2017) has a murderer fleeing the scene of the crime by sprinting across the surface of a lake and Flatline (2018) concerns a drowning inside a sealed, dry-as-dust, hospital elevator. The future of the genre as a whole was looking bright as the next decade loomed on the horizon.

I alluded to the visible effects of the reprint renaissance and translation wave that has slowly been taking shape over the past three, four years beginning with the arrival of James Scott Byrnside.

Byrnside is the child of the renaissance who did not began to read Golden Age detective fiction until 2017 and immediately penned two novel-length fan letters to Christianna Brand, Goodnight Irene (2018) and The Opening Night Murders (2019), but began to find his own voice with The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampires (2020) and The 5 False Suicides (2021) – all of them containing one or more well-crafted locked room mysteries ("I wouldn't be interested in writing anything except impossible crime"). These four prodigious detective novels have raised the bar for self-published mysteries. Byrnside is not the only self-published author to demonstrate a firm grasp and keen-eyed understanding of what makes a good detective story tick. A. Carver's The Author is Dead (2022) and Jim Noy's The Red Death Murders (2022) impressively strung together multiple impossibilities, dazzling the reader with multiple false and original solutions, which have a distinctly Japanese flavoring to their storytelling, plots or characters. Carver wrote The Author is Dead specifically as a Western-style take on shin honkaku mysteries like The Decagon House Murders and The Kindaichi Case Files. So the translation wave is already leaving its traces on the genre's landscape. Robert Trainor's The Murder of Nora Winters (2016) warrants a mention as the story suggests Trainor is not a devout reader of impossible crime fiction, but, for an outsider, he produced a clever and spirited piece of amateur detective fiction.

I should note here that the uptick in self-published locked room mysteries have gone up considerably in recent years and the quality is rising along with it, but the lack of entry barriers means there's still a lot of tribe to wade through. So there's still a galaxy-wide gap between a Byrnside or Carver and a Steve Levi or Raymond Knight Read. Jim Noy, of The Invisible Event, has more closely examined this corner of the genre, "Adventures in Self-Publishing," but if you really want to know what's underneath the bottom of the barrel, you need to read David Marsh's Dead Box (2004). Only self-published novel Jim is too cowardly to review. I dare you, Jim! It's still print.

Away from the world of self-published mysteries and closer to the mainstream, Tom Mead, "a student of the locked room," debuted with the ambitiously-plotted Death and the Conjuror (2022) challenging his series-detective, Joseph Spector, to disentangle no less than three impossible crimes. The second entry in this locked room series, The Murder Wheel (2023), is expected to be released later this year. Gigi Pandian is another modern-day champion of the locked room genre, but, to date, have only read her short story collection The Cambodian Curse (2018) with "The Haunted Room" (2014) being the standout story. A tale of haunted room, suffering from kleptomania, where all kind of items have inexplicably vanished over the decades (it really should have been called "The Magpie's Nest"). Another notable and personal favorite among these moderns is D.L. Marshall's John Tyler series that merges the action-and spy thriller with the traditional detective story and locked room mystery. The first novel in the series, Anthrax Island (2021), is simply fantastic with its post-apocalyptic aesthetics on a contaminated island where someone receives a 7.65mm lobotomy inside a locked and watched room. Unfortunately, the impossible crime took a backseat in the second novel, Black Run (2021), but seems to be front and center in the third book. 77 North (2023) brings John Tyler to "an old Soviet-era hotel on an ice-locked island in the frozen wastes of Siberia," where the KGB experimented with psychic phenomena, but "a killer stalks the hotel's dilapidated corridors, able, apparently, to kill through concrete walls and sealed doors." That one will be published next month.

So this brief historic overview of the locked room mystery in the 21th century has gone on longer than originally intended, but still have glossed over a ton of stuff that brought us to this point. Such as the addition of several hefty anthologies with rarely reprinted and new material, an increased presence in TV-series (e.g. Monk and Death in Paradise) and the slightly more easier access to anime-and manga detectives with the Detective Conan one-hour TV-special The Cursed Mask Laughs Coldly (2000) being the first great locked room mystery of the century. So while brushing pass some of the finer details, I think my rambling served its purpose in showing where the genre was in 2000 and what happened between then and now. But where does it all go from here?

For the foreseeable future, say from now until 2028-29, I can see the trend from the past few years steadily continue as nearly every recent writer and publisher mentioned have new books or translations forthcoming to keep the fire kindled. The locked room story always had its own dedicated cult of followers, loyal as dogs and as dogmatic as an inquisitor, which grew as a niche due to the reprints and translations – which made it easier than ever before to indulge in impossible crime fiction. I'll refer you to the previously discussed best-of lists from past and present to get an idea how easy it has become. When the locked room mystery has you hooked, you can never pry yourself free from it.

Where the self-publishing side is concerned, I can see the online hub taking the place of the Japanese university club rooms in the West. A place where aspiring mystery writers and simply fans can test their ideas, hone their writing skills and freely experiment. Some of the best locked room mysteries from the past ten years either came from smaller publishers or were self-published. Depending how things turn out, the cream of the crop might get picked up by publishers who want a piece of the retro-GAD pie. After all, the locked room mystery is somewhat of specialist's game. My only reservation is that the fandom seems to be insulated today locked away in private groups and servers. These vintage mystery blogs began to appear during the 2010s as a response to the mailing groups and message boards dying out when an attempt was made to migrate to social media, which killed those large, interactive archives of reviews and discussions. And eventually were deleted. But they were open to everyone to browse, read or lurk before deciding whether or not to create an account to participate in the discussions. Those lists and boards did their part in changing the landscape as open information sources and gathering places. Something these cluster of blogs never managed to fully replicate, but let's not end this rambling on a sour note.

Wherever the locked room genre will find itself twenty years from now, the immediate future is looking bright and for now there's a lot to look forward to. So thank you all for coming to my TED talk and onward to the locked room's 200th birthday in 2041!