#116: The lazy waste of time that is Classic Locked Room Mysteries (ed. David Stuart Davies 2016)

Locked Room Mysteries DSD

Doing a tour of bookshops today, I discovered that a new collection of locked room stories has been published by Macmillan, edited by David Stuart Davies.  The synopsis runs thus:

A fascinating collection of ingenious mysteries which all pose the question ‘howdunnit?’ Featuring well-known sleuths such as Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, as well as the less familiar, including Jacques Futrelle’s Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, in each story the reader is invited to play detective and is presented with a challenge: can you solve the mystery before the solution is revealed? Locked-room mysteries reached their height of popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian eras; this collection, edited and introduced by David Stuart Davies, brings together stories from such masters of the genre as Edgar Allen Poe, Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton.

Sounds awesome, right?  Okay, here’s the list of the fifteen stories therein, see if you can spot the problem I have:

  1. ‘The Aluminium Dagger’ – R. Austin Freeman¹
  2. ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ – Edgar Allan Poe¹
  3. ‘The Problem of Cell 13’ – Jacques Futrelle¹
  4. ‘The Two Bottles of Relish’ – Lord Dunsany¹
  5. ”The Tea Leaf’ – Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace¹
  6. ‘The Mystery of the Taxi-Cab’ – Howel Evans²
  7. ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ – Wilkie Collins¹
  8. ‘The Thing Invisible’ – William Hope Hodgson¹
  9. ‘The Adventure of the Retired Colourman’ – Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. ‘The Curzon Street Conundrum’ – David Stuart Davies
  11. ‘Out of His Head’ – Thomas Bailey Aldrich²
  12. ‘The Doomdorf Mystery’ – Melville Davisson Post¹ ²
  13. ‘The Adventure of the Jacobean House’ – C.N. & A.M. Williamson²
  14. ‘The Invisible Man’ – G.K. Chesterton¹
  15. ‘The Motor Boat’ – Jacques Futrelle²

Do you see it?

Everything marked ¹ was published in the recent Otto Penzler-edited Black Lizard Book of Locked Room Mysteries, everything marked ² was published in the recent Mike Ashley-edited Mammoth Book of Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes.  All but two of these stories are already easily available in far broader and better collections — seriously, what is the point of this book?

As for the two stories that aren’t in these collections, well.  We all know how difficult Sherlock Holmes stories are to come by these days, amIright?  And while this one contains a room that is locked at one point, it is not a Locked Room mystery in the sense that the term, and this collection, implies.  Which leaves Davies’ own ‘The Curzon Street Conundrum’ which isn’t from the Victorian and Edwardian era as the synopsis promises and the others all are (more or less).

Goddamn, this must be the laziest anthology of classic crime tales ever assembled, and misses an opportunity to bring back into circulation stories that aren’t readily and easily available and haven’t already been anthologised countless times.  To claim this as anything other than a completely cynical cash-grab in republishing stories out of copyright for easy money would be bloody difficult to do with a straight face.

What a complete waste of time, money, and materials.  I’d lament the effort going into it, too, but clearly none has.  Can we stop recycling the same old shit, please, and actually get some interesting compendiums of unheralded locked room stories published, please?  Otto Penzler largely showed how it should be done, consult his book for further reference (and a far better coverage of the subgenre).



UPDATE: TomCat, because he’s awesome, has put together his own out-of-copyright suggestions for a collection of locked room tales; check it out here.  Goddamn, I love this blogging community…!

21 thoughts on “#116: The lazy waste of time that is Classic Locked Room Mysteries (ed. David Stuart Davies 2016)

    • I don’t disagree that there will be people who haven’t read these, but the point is that there are other, easy-to-find collections already in existence for them to read. This would be like every series of Sherlock being the same on the justification that some people may not have seen the first series yet.

      And ‘The Adventure of the Jacobean House’ is such a pile o’ shite that its repeated anthology-isation does harm to the perception of the genre; pretty much anything else would be an imporvement on those pages!


  1. Unbelievable! I’ve often criticized editors for padding their anthologies with the obvious suspects, but here they’re all neatly rounded up and stuck into a single collection. This is, indeed, one of the laziest and cheapest anthologies in existence.

    What’s really irritating is that an interesting collection could have been cobbled together with public domain work, but that would have required a minimal amount of work.

    I mean, I could probably find enough of them in Adey’s Locked Room Murders alone to replace most of the over-anthologized and bad stories from this collection. You could probably even create an entirely new anthology from them, but without the name recognition of Poe, Doyle and Futrelle.

    By the way, Mike Ashley may very well have compiled two of the best locked room anthologies, which ranged from some of the most obscure stories to stories that were original to those anthologies. Quality of the stories were all over the place, but that’s the only complaint you can level at those anthologies. I hope he will get around to compiling a third one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What’s really irritating is that an interesting collection could have been cobbled together with public domain work

      I have absolutely no doubt about this, and it’s especially galling that Davies has put his own story in there so he’ll reap some royalties as if he’s put the effort into collecting these to deserve any. Gah! It’s a giant middle finger to a lot of great authors who could go on to achieve some recognition out of which more books could be spun…but clearly that’s thinking too far ahead for these likes of Macmillan.

      The Ashley compilations do run the gamut of quality, but there is some high quality stuff in there: at the very least, someone needs to reprint more/some/all of William Brittain’s ‘Mr. Strang’ stories, because the one he picked was bloody great.

      Incidentally, volumes 1-15 of Case Closed have turned up in a charity shop near me. I bought #1 to try them out…is that a good place to start? Should I miss some out and start elsewhere? Very curious to give them a go seeing how you’ve been raving about them for a long while now…


      • To be fair, Davies’ story is not too shabby for a locked room mystery, but it’s a bit self-aggrandizing to place your own work among the stories of Doyle and Chesterton. Particularly if your own story is the only modern entry in an anthology of turn-of-the-century fiction. Maybe it’s just to secure that extra royalty check. Who knows.

        As you know, I love Case Closed, but the first six or seven volumes are made up of fairly weak stories. Aoyama was still testing the ropes in those volumes, establishing characters and setting up storylines, but after the seventh or eight volume (the one with The Moonlight Sonata Murder Case) the stories begin to show a marked improvement in overall quality.

        So I would not expect too much from the first volume, plot-wise, but sets up the ongoing storyline that runs like a red thread through the entire series, which is closing in one 100 volumes in Japan!


          • Well, story-wise, they’re not very impressive, but they do setup the main storyline and introduce the first badge of regular characters. So, in that regard, they’re kind of important volumes. And you can bet there are one or two important clues about the identity of the leader of the BO hidden in those first couple of volumes.

            Probably not the answer you’re looking for, but keep in mind that Case Closed/Detective Conan is not your regular detective series.


            • Well, let’s see how #1 goes and I can see if I want to go back for the other 14. Maybe they’ll do me a discount if I buy in bulk…!


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  3. Oh dear! I read a lot of short story collections in a variety of genres and this kind of duplication is all too common. I suppose that, given the popularity of ebooks and the easy access to the Public Domain that we now enjoy via the internet, this kind of lazy trawling through past works in the interests of making a fast buck will only increase. At least the ebooks are relatively cheap.
    If you are able to find them it’s worth while seeking out the short story compilations that publishers like Odhams were putting out during the 1920s and 1930s. They read more like showcases of (then) contemporary authors, often re-publishing stories which had appeared in newspapers and magazines, and therefore are a bit more varied in scope. And of course there’s Dorothy L Sayers’ 3-volume compilation ‘Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror’, which includes a foreword by the great woman herself. I recently visited Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway, and while scanning the shelves in the library there I was delighted to see that she had exactly the same edition (lurid cover included) of ‘Thrills, Crimes and Mysteries’ (published by Associated Newspapers) that I have myself. For some reason this made me ridiculously happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the tip — you’ve casually mentiomede there a lot of stuff I’d never evern heard of! I’ll see what I can do about tracking them down…


      • Charity shops, or I found quite a few on Amazon UK being sold by the second hand book sellers. Not really in collectable condition – hardly ever any dust jackets – but good readable copies. Many are illustrated too which is nice. I paid about £3 – £4 each.


    • This is beautiful work; have added it to the post above as people should see how this kind of thing can be achieved with just a little effort. Many thanks for this, dude, am very impressed.


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  6. I came to this post to ask about your opinion on the new Otto Penzler Locked Room Mysteries anthology, but then I was floored by a couple of these entries. “The” –fucking– “Motor Boat”!? By Jacques Futrelle? If I’m thinking of the correct story, I’m genuinely offended that of all of the Jacques Futrelle impossible crimes in existence, some hackneyed anthologizer thought that “THE MOTOR BOAT!!!!!!!” was a worthy addition to this volume. I haven’t even read much of Futrelle and I don’t think I have to in order to recognize that surely… Surely! there are at least a dozen better options to choose from. I’m more offended by that than I am at the uncreativeness of the entries (which I am also offended by, don’t worry). God! To think that story was anthologized not once, but twice…

    Anyway, how did you feel about Mr. Penzler’s jab at it? TomCat was displeased, as I recall.


    • The AMC range has, like the British Library Crime Classics, done a wonderful job at bringing back a broad section of neglected authors and has some genuine gems in it. The locked room anthology is, alas, not among those gems…but then I also didn’t think much of Penzler’s selection in the Black Lizard Big Ol’ Locked Rom Stories collection, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when I came away from the contents list underwhelmed.


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