The Hit List: Top 10 Best Translations & Reprints from Locked Room International

The last time I compiled a list, "The Hit List: Top 5 Intriguing Pieces of Impossible Crime Fiction That Vanished into Thin Air," I concluded the list with the promise to pick a slightly less depressing, more upbeat topic for the next hit list – instead of continuing to dwell on the obscure and lost. A fun, upbeat topic occurred to me right after finishing it, but decided to save it for another month, or so, to pad out the summer months. Not some backdoor excuse to ride my old hobby horse again. But then the news broke that John Pugmire had passed away.

Martin Edwards shared the news on his blog and said of Pugmire, "he was a great fan of the Golden Age and since the death of Bob Adey nobody has done more than John to advance the cause of the locked room mysteries." That's an understatement!

I wrote in "The Locked Room Mystery & Impossible Crime Story in the 21st Century" how Pugmire and Locked Room International were instrumental in bringing the current impossible crime revival about. Pugmire's translation of Paul Halter's La nuit du loup (The Night of the Wolf, 2000), published in 2006, is what Soji Shimada would call an epoch-making event that helped to finally lift the Western locked room mystery out of its post-John Dickson Carr rut. It lead to the creation of LRI that brought the fabled Paul Halter to an international audience and helped to popularize translations of non-English detective novels and short stories. A still largely untapped reservoir of excellent, Golden Age-style detective fiction often ignored in the past as it was deemed inaccessible and publishers back then were not always keen on taking chances on translations – exemplified by "99 Novels for a Locked Room Library." A then eye-and mouthwatering list of mostly untranslated or scarce, out-of-print and completely out-of-reach impossible crime novels posted on MysteryFile back in 2007. You only have to look at some recent lists of favorite locked room mysteries to see how much has changed since 2007. Pugmire fittingly played a key role in making what looked like an impossibility in 2007 possible only a decade later. A genuine locked room revival!

I decided to do a hit list with a selection of the ten best, arguably most important books Pugmire translated or reprinted between Halter's Le roi du désordre (The Lord of Misrule, 1996) in 2010 and Le cri de la siréne (The Siren's Call, 1998) in 2023. A short, thirteen year period that left an indelible mark on the genre and particularly the locked room mystery. A legacy to be proud of.


1. La maison interdite (The Forbidden House, 1932) by Michel Herbert & Eugéne Wyl

Pugmire not only championed and translated Halter's novels, but translated a dozen other classic and modern French locked room mysteries from the likes of Gaston Boca, Marcel Lanteaume and Jean-Paul Török – including a GAD masterpiece from Messieurs Herbert and Wyl. The Forbidden House is a first-rate impossible crime novel recalling some well-known English detective novels, but Herbert and Wyl's little gem predates them by three, four years. Simply one of the best towering over most French mysteries from the 1930s and '40s.


2. La bête hurlante (The Howling Beast, 1934) by Noël Vindry

A close second, when it comes to French mysteries translated by Pugmire, is Vindry's The Howling Beast. A strange novel in which M. Allou listens to the story of a man on the run from the police, Pierre Henry, who relates his ungodly adventure at a fourteenth century castle – culminating with a double murder which only he could have committed. M. Allou is a fine armchair detective as he pieces everything together while listening to this unusual tale of howling beasts and impossible murders within the walls of an old castle.


3. Jukkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji

The Decagon House Murders is not only one of the best modern, or shin honkaku, mysteries published by LRI, but one of its most important titles. It's original publication in Japan officially signaled the beginning of the shin honkaku movement, which is still going strong nearly forty years later. Someone once said, "history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." The publication of the English translation of The Decagon House Murders signaled the beginning of the translation wave, which directly influenced new talents like James Scott Byrnside, A. Carver and Jim Noy. On top of being an excellent detective novel and plan to revisit it one of these days.


4. Koto pazuru (The Moai Island Puzzle, 1989) by Alice Arisugawa

Another one I need to revisit some time in the future, but remember it as an excellent detective novel and not merely as a locked room mystery. It's a great detective novel in how neatly Arisugawa managed to put everything together in the final chapter, which is what makes this "isolated island" mystery a fan favorite. And these were only the first notable novels from the early years of shin honkaku! Only frustrating part is that no further translations of novels or short stories have materialized since LRI published The Moai Island Puzzle in 2016.


5. Locked Room Murders: Second Edition, Revised (1991) by Robert Adey

This bibliography is the most referenced book on this blog and securing a copy used to be like trying to find the Holy Grail, but Pugmire finally reprinted it in 2018 and surprised everyone by winning the inaugural Reprint of the Year Award – snatching the award from E.R.C. Lorac's Bats in the Belfry (1937). The following year, LRI published Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement (2019) expending the second edition with over 1150 additional entries that "identify novels, short stories, TV shows, movies and other media with puzzling impossibilities." It goes without saying these are as important to locked room fans as the translations as those once out-of-reach impossible crimes from France, Japan and Italy.


6. La ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage, 2005) by Paul Halter

Pugmire translated and championed French mystery and locked room artisan, Paul Halter, who used to be something of cryptid like Big Foot or Nessy. You heard or read about him from time to time, but always from secondhand accounts. For example, Pugmire wrote a MysteryFile article in 2005, "Paul Halter, A Master of Locked Rooms," which made many a fan salivate for translations. Since then, nineteen of Halter's novels have been translated into English in addition to two short story collections. Just picking one, or two, titles for this list proved to be a bit of a challenge. I was tempted to go with the funny choice, Le cercle invisible (The Invisible Circle, 1996), but decided to go with one of Halter's best. La ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage, 2005) has a fantastic premise of a dark, obscure passageway, Kraken Street, that keeps appearing just as mysteriously as it disappears again. Halter delivered an explanation that neither disappointed nor diminished its wonderful premise and setup.


7. The Derek Smith Omnibus (2014) by Derek Smith

This omnibus brings together Derek Smith's classic impossible crime novel Whistle Up the Devil (1954), the ultra rare Come to Paddington Fair (1997) and two previously unpublished works – Model for Murder (1952) and the short story "The Imperfect Crime." So a literal treasure trove for locked room fans when it was first published containing everything from Smith's famous, long out-of-print and rare classics to previously unpublished material. Not bad material either. So, in one stroke, LRI ended Smith's spell in total obscurity and wish the omnibus format was used more often for writers a relatively small output. Value for your money!


8. Shijinso no satsujin (Death Among the Undead, 2017) by Masahiro Imamura

Published thirty years after The Decagon House Murders, Imamura's Death Among the Undead and MORI Hiroshi's Subete ga F ni naru (The Perfect Insider, 1996) give Western readers a glimpse of how the Japanese detective story has evolved since the days of Shimada and Ayatsuji. In this case, Imamura admirably succeeded in fusing the strictly logical with the utterly fantastical by taking the tried-and-true closed circle situation and infusing it with zombies. However, Death Among the Undead is not just a zombie survival story with locked room puzzles, because the zombies with their abilities and limitations play a key role in the plot. It created something very special and unique brimming with new ideas as the Japanese have begun to probe the realm of the hybrid mystery.


9. The Realm of the Impossible (2017) edited by John Pugmire and Brian Skupin

I consider this anthology to be the flagship publication of LRI. A 430 page anthology of twenty-six short stories, collected from twenty different countries, of the impossible crime variety. Some of the highlights of this anthology include Rintaro Norizuki's "Midori no tobira wa kiken" ("The Lure of the Green Door," 1991) and Szu-Yen Lin's "The Miracle on Christas Eve" (2016?) with a dozen short anecdotes of real-life impossibilities peppered throughout the book. A treat for fans and the best, certainly most original, locked room-themed anthologies published to date.


10. Le montre en or (The Gold Watch, 2019) by Paul Halter

Paul Halter was the backbone of the LRI catalog, a flagship author, who wrote this time twisting tour-de-force only a five years ago and it didn't originally appear in French – giving the scoop to Pugmire and LRI. What a scoop! Halter wrote a devilishly intricate historical mystery with a plot stretching across the previous century, taking place in 1911 and 1991, which intertwines two different narratives full with impossible crimes and the hunt for a long-lost film. I believe The Gold Watch is going to be viewed in the coming years and decades as one of the first classics produced during the early stages of the locked room revival.


I could easily extend this list or swap out half a dozen entries for other titles meriting inclusion from Szu-Yen Lin's Death in the House of Rain (2006) and Tokuya Higashigawa's first novel in the Ikagawa City series to the selection of French Golden Age mysteries and the short story collections. So, to cut a long story short, Pugmire left an indelible mark on the locked room mystery, helped to popularize translations and as a result revitalized and pushed it on an entirely new course. That's quite a legacy to leave behind. R.I.P.


  1. Great list. Unfortunately, all of the Halter books seem to have vanished mysteriously from Amazon. I hope other LRI publications aren't soon to follow.

    Hopefully this is a sign that the rights have been reacquired, but it would be awful if these translations disappeared so quickly.

    1. Huh, that's an interesting development. I remember Pugmire could only translate the novels and short stories Halter himself held the rights to. So maybe Halter is planning to republish the translations himself or through another publisher?

    2. So they have, within the last week. Halter self-publishes through Eurydice, so maybe he does intend to publish the English translations himself?

    3. Hopefully—as long as he puts up all the old ones at once instead of making us wait for them each to come out.