In GAD We Trust – Episode 18: The ‘No Footprints’ Impossible Crime [w’ Tom Mead]

For a blog set up with the implicit aim to explore the impossible crime in fiction, it has to be said that impossibilities have been rather thin on the ground at The Invisible Event of late. Here, then, is a podcast episode committed to the impossible crime (or one-tenth of it, at least) with author Tom Mead.

With his no footprints story ‘The Indian Rope Trick’ having appeared in the July/August 2020 edition of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and another no footprints story ‘The Footless Phantom’ due to appear in EQMM in the near future, not to mention this lovely breakdown of the impossible crime he wrote for the EQMM blog, Tom is well-placed to talk about the obscure and not-so-obscure when it comes to vanishing killers and tracts of impression-taking material underfoot. And so alongside the expected names — Norman Berrow, John Dickson Carr, Paul Halter — expect some less heralded examples to fill out your wish lists in the shape of Herbert Adams, Ken Crossen, Gerald Verner, and more.

I mean, sure, we wander a bit over the impossible crime as a subgenre — doubtless leaving our footprints everywhere — but there’s no point sitting down with people who love a field of writing and only talking about the hedges. It always comes back to footprints or the lack thereof, those of you waiting for me to express an opinion on the Joseph Commings collection Banner Deadlines (2004) finally get your wish, and Tom even went so far as to adapt Gideon Fell’s locked room lecture from The Hollow Man (1935) by John Dickson Carr and apply it to the ‘no footprints’ problem in fiction.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or on Stitcher here, or by using the player below. 

Thanks to Tom for his time recording this — we battled many a technical issue, let me tell you — and his efforts in bringing the likes of more Rob Reef to an English-speaking audience, to Jonny Berliner for the music, and to those of you who listen for, y’know, listening.

The podcast will return in two weeks. If you haven’t yet voted in the poll for more Agatha Christie discussions, there’s still plenty of time: details here, no purchase necessary, definitely no refunds.

~

All previous episodes of In GAD We Trust can be found on the blog by clicking here.

6 thoughts on “In GAD We Trust – Episode 18: The ‘No Footprints’ Impossible Crime [w’ Tom Mead]

  1. Great podcast guys, the enthusiasm is so infectious. So many new authors to find! Lovely shout out for JONATHAN CREEK by the great David Renwick. And so pleased to see some love for Carr’s PROBLEM OF THE WIRE CAGE, which I think gets unfairly dumped on these days. 😁

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    • Hahaha, who was telling me recently that they had a new solution to Wire Cage all worked out? Surely that can’t be any worse that the one being “written” at the start of Sleuth 🙂

      Jonathan Creek really was wonderful in its prime, wasn’t it? I do enjoy the current impossible melee of Death in Paradise, but Creek really was magnificent for its repurposing of so many great ideas — and, indeed, for the possibly new solutions it brought to the fold. Shall we ever see its like again…?

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      • Haha 😂 I’m the one behind the new solution to The Problem of the Wire Cage. Luckily, it’s not the one in Sleuth, Jim. As a matter of fact I don’t think that solution would work. Let’s suppose you’re really strong and you can throw a corpse far away from the line, a toss like that will surely leave displacement marks on the court. 🤓 There are better alternatives…
        Anyway, another interesting episode as usual.

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  2. A fun discussion; I loved how much it meandered around the topic. I didn’t quite catch the names of the Gerald Verner and Edgar Wallace novels. Was They Walk in Darkness the Verner one?

    It’s a bit of a crime that The White Priory Murders only received a brief mention instead of a focused 10 minute discussion, as it’s got the most brilliant solution to a footprints impossibility. Not Carr’s best overall novel by a long shot, but one of his best solutions. If I recall correctly, The White Priory Murders also features a lecture of sorts on the various solutions to a footprints problem (which interestingly predates the more famous locked room lecture in The Hollow Man).

    Here are some other impossible footprints mysteries worth discussion:

    Suddenly at His Residence by Christianna Brand. This features two footprints impossibilities, and they’re both exceptional. Of course the stand out part is that Brand drops the solution to one of them in the final pages of the novel, and it’s the sort of solution where Brand doesn’t even have to fully explain it. There’s something so haunting about that, as it leaves you to imagine how it all unfolded.

    Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand. This book falls apart a bit in the last chapter, but it’s actually pretty good otherwise. There’s a decapitation in a gazebo surrounded by untouched snow, and there’s a delightful scene where the suspects try to recreate how it could have been accomplished.

    Witch of the Low Tide by John Dickson Carr. This is a bit of a flawed novel, but the puzzle of a woman strangled to death in a bathing hut surrounded by untouched mud is exceptional.

    Dark of the Moon by John Dickson Carr. This was the final Dr Fell novel, and Carr’s writing was pretty hard to put down. Still, there’s three footprints impossibilities, with the main crime having a novel solution. Carr still had some tricks up his sleeve.

    The Plague Court Murders by John Dickson Carr. The combination of a footprints impossibility with a locked room is pretty ingenious.

    She Died a Lady by John Dickson Carr. It’s funny because I think most readers will remember this novel for completely different reasons, but there is a variation of a footprints impossibility.

    Rim of the Pit by Hake Talbot. This features a number of footprints impossibilities and is famously listed as one of the best impossible crimes of all times. I agree with that, and yet at the same time, I think that the solutions to the footprint impossibilities are a bit disappointing.

    The Lord of Misrule by Paul Halter. Two different footprint impossibilities, with varying degrees of success. I was let down in some sense, but I still look back at this book as being overall excellent.

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    • They Walk In Darkness was indeed the Gerald Verner novel. I, er, don’t remember the Wallace one. I may have mentioned reading The Crimson Circle ,so that might be it…not a footprints problem, but a savagely brilliant (and very, very brief) locked room killing therein.

      Another footprints mystery would be the first murder in Invisible Green by John Sladek — a man found killed in his downstairs toilet with the floor outside covered by something I forget (flour?). Perhaps not explicitly a “no footprints” mystery, seeing as it takes place inside and thus perhaps invites other alternatives, but it definitely qualifies in my mind.

      I’m intending to read Red Snow by Michael Slade for next weekend as part of my Modern Locked Room Mystery series. John Norris and TomCat made Slade sound a compelling combination of violence and detection, so here’s hoping I get to it and it delivers.

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  3. The Gold Watch. ‘Nuff said.

    No seriously, it renders all no footprint crimes that preceded it irrelevant and all those that will succeed it redundant. Though I’ve nothing to lose by humouring other attempts – I certainly won’t feel any disappointment when they inevitably come up short – on the one in a million shot that something out there will trump it.

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