In the back of my mind when I started The Invisible Event was the idea that exactly half of what I’d post about would feature impossible crimes, locked room mysteries, and/or miracle problems — and although this proportion started an irreversible slide after the first 500 or so posts, the impossible crime remains my first love.
To mark one thousand posts — approximately 60 days solid of writing, assuming it takes me an average of 90 minutes to produce a single post, and that’s without the 6 to 8 hours of reading necessary to write in the first place (I am not a fast reader…) — I’ve taken inspiration from the Roland Lacourbe-curated Locked Room Library undertaking as well as the internet’s resident locked room expert TomCat’s frequent favourites lists and put together a list of my personal picks for one hundred locked room/impossible crime novels and short story collections that I would recommend. That list is included below, alphabetically by author and chronologically within a single author’s oeuvre, along with some brief thoughts about each title.
I have no desire to drag out these prefatory remarks longer than necessary, but to give you some idea of my process: figuring it would be a tough task to come up with 100 titles, I sat down and made a list of novels, single author short story collections, and one novella which turned out to be 103 titles long, so I took three off to feature on a possible future list…and that was it. No TV shows (I don’t watch enough to know what to recommend), no movies (ditto), no manga (ditto)…yes, that’s restrictive, but you need restrictions when making stuff up yourself. I can’t say I like all of the books featured, but all contain an impossible crime and if the book doesn’t compel itself to your attention then something about the impossibility does…and that was all I needed. Some titles are obvious, some exclusions may surprise you, and the one thing that occurred to me in putting this together is how much I still haven’t read in this subgenre…an exciting prospect!
Expect another list of 100 additional titles if I reach 2000 posts, but for now I give you…
100 Books for a Locked Room Library
Blood on His Hands (1937) by Max Afford — Two good impossible murders, enriched by detailed crime scene maps and a very entertaining amateur sleuth. Full of historical flourishes, too, which gives much entertainment as the plot unfurls…and a very good motive at the end of it all, if I remember correctly.
His Burial Too (1973) by Catherine Aird — A great murder scene (body in a church tower, the only door blocked by a fallen, smashed statue which would have trapped the killer inside) and one of the best methods of achieving this effect yet employed. All the more impressive when you consider how late this came.
The Moai Island Puzzle (1989) by Alice Arisugawa [trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2016] — Delightfully complex, a puzzle that keeps evolving and evolving…and with a locked room shooting that’s so casually obfuscated that it sort of takes your breath away when you realise how it was done.
The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure (1966) by Robert Arthur — The Three Investigators at their most wildly creative, with a valuable artifact disappearing in only a brief moment of darkness…and things getting simply weirder and weirder as the book progresses. Arthur was a genius, it’s to be hoped we get a collection of his criminous short fiction before too long.
The Decagon House Murders (1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji [trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2015] — A staggering homage to And Then There Were None (1939), with a revelation of the culprit so surprising that I nearly dropped the book. The impossible poisoning is a minor element, but this has more than enough grotesque touches to commend it.
The Wintringham Mystery, a.k.a. Cicely Disappears (1927) by Anthony Berkeley — The genre’s gameplayer in chief playing the grandest game of all, pitching an impossible disappearance and then challenging the public to solve it ahead of time. Thankfully this is far more interesting than the footnote of Agatha Christie submitting a solution…fascinating though that is in principle.
The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) by Norman Berrow — Berrow excels at folding impossible and unlikely plots into normal life, and this three tiered puzzle of escalating conundrums is no exception. Sure, the first puzzle is a bit of a dud, but the second and third are delightful, and it’s all tied together with an effortlessness that more famous names would be rightly jealous of.
The Bishop’s Sword (1948) by Norman Berrow — Four impossibilities that don’t tax the brain too hard but show again how damn wonderful Berrow is at contriving a plot to allow such occurrences. I suspect that he’d be a bigger name if more of his output had revolved around impossible crimes, but at least we got what we did.
The Footprints of Satan (1950) by Norman Berrow — An impossible trail of cloven footprints in the snow, one of the most brilliantly sustained sequences of discovery the genre has seen, and a delightfully creepy tiny town puzzle for Berrow’s DI Lancelot Carolous Smith. Probably one of my ten favourite books in the subgenre.
The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat (1944) by Enid Blyton — One for younger readers, and yet such a clever puzzle, with a prized moggy vanishing when the only person in the vicinity is clearly innocent. Shows that it’s possible to write this sort of thing clearly and intelligently, with no excuses for bad scene setting when it comes to catering for older readers.
The Mystery of the Invisible Thief (1950) by Enid Blyton — Another clever, patient investigation, and one that runs down so many false trails while trying to establish how a man could vanish from what is essentially a watched room with no discernible exit. The book which made me realise how much Blyton brought to her criminous fiction, and a great primer for adults and young ‘uns alike.
Nine Times Nine (1940) by Anthony Boucher — Perhaps an easy pick, but also a very clever puzzle that hides its vanishing murderer well, and ties into South Californian religious cults along the way. The sequel, Rocket to the Morgue (1942), gets a little too caught up in being clever, but this is pure detectival fun from first to last…you even get a locked room lecture along the way.
Suddenly at His Residence, a.k.a. The Crooked Wreath (1946) by Christianna Brand — Two no footprints puzzles here, one nestled inside the other, and a beautifully arch, bitchy family wrapped up in the complications of murder. Shows Brand’s gift for characterisation at full tilt, and had a wonderful last line reveal.
Death of Jezebel (1948) by Christianna Brand — Murder during a stage show, when all those who could have dunnit were in view of the audience at the key time; characterisation not as sharp here, but the unfurling of explanation after explanation shows the puzzle plot at its peak, with revelation after revelation reversing and upending expectations for seemingly hundreds of pages.
Tour de Force (1955) by Christianna Brand — I had the misfortune to see through the key misdirect here, but this might contain the most affecting of Brand’s casts and, at the moment you’re told what happened, manages to shock you and break your heart at the same time. Murder on holiday has never been so enticing.
Wilders Walk Away (1948) by Herbert Brean — The vanishing of a man walking along a beach might be a little disappointing, but Brean shows here how the traditional novel of puzzles and red herrings might be co-opted into the emerging crime thriller that would go on to dominate the next 15 years. A very clever book, deserves much wider reading, along with his masterpiece: the non-impossible Hardly a Man is Now Alive, a.k.a. Murder Now and Then (1950).
Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce — One impossible throat-slashing, three convenient genius detectives (parodies of Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Father Brown), four staggeringly diverse and witty solutions…one of the very best novels of the Golden Age, showing how the genre can wink it itself while also being in deadly earnest.
Death Leaves No Card (1944) by Miles Burton — Death by what can only be electrocution, no problem there…except that the house isn’t fitted with electricity. A clever use of some principles that are all the more interesting because of how they’ve sunk from consideration since this was written, a great example of the novel as a piece of historical record.
Goodnight Irene (2018) by James Scott Byrnside — An astonishingly assured debut, with flood waters rising at a house party from hell and a locked room murder and an impossible poisoning on the prowl. Restores your faith in the modern murder mystery, that someone is able to construct something this intelligent, except for the fact that traditional publishing seems to have no interest in such endeavours. What’s wrong with people? This kind of thing deserves to sell in droves.
The Opening Night Murders (2019) by James Scott Byrnside — Not only is this impossible murder-on-stage-with-no-one-near-the-victim adroitly constructed, allowing for multiple reversals and counter-reversals in the closing stages, but it also motivates one of the very best (and justifiably bloodiest!) secondary murders I’ve yet encountered.
The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire (2020) by James Scott Byrnside — Fast, creepy, packed with puzzles, this is probably Byrnside’s most accomplished achievement to date: racing around perhaps a little too energetically to allow some of its hits to land, but, man, the answers when they tumble out are magnificent to behold. A legitimate Challenge to the Reader, too. Not enough of that sort of thing these days.
The Clue of the Phantom Car (1953) by Bruce Campbell — Not just a rigorous, intelligent impossible vanishing of a car along an inescapable stretch of country road, but also a surprisingly hard-edged mystery plot that twists off in unexpected directions once the vanishing has been dealt with. Easily the best of the seven or eight books by this husband and wife team I’ve read; highly recommended.
The Hollow Man, a.k.a. The Three Coffins (1935) by John Dickson Carr — Over-praised down the years, no doubt, this nevertheless contains an excellent central scheme in which a man is shot while locked in his study and his assailant vanishes without leaving a footprint in the snow…only to repeat the act in an open street a few minutes later. Ingenious, yes, even if it’s not the pinnacle of the form that lazy list-compilers have been claiming for the last 40 years.
The Burning Court (1937) by John Dickson Carr — Divisive, no doubt, but if you can come to this one completely pure you’re in for a wild time. The trick Carr wants to pull off here requires the deft switching of tone, mood, and intent that he does so well, and while it would be an exaggeration to say he’s the only one who could make it work, it’s a very pleasing entry in his oeuvre.
The Problem of the Green Capsule, a.k.a. The Black Spectacles (1939) by John Dickson Carr — Three people watch a man get murdered in the next room, with the added difficulty that one of them must be the killer…but no-one left the room and there’s video tape evidence to support their stories. A joy at every turn, easily the pinnacle of the form, my favourite GAD novel of all time.
The Case of the Constant Suicides (1940) by John Dickson Carr — How can a man be made to throw himself from the window of a locked tower in which he is alone? How can two men? Not only a deftly, efficiently constructed plot, but also one of the funniest books Carr wrote, showing again his mastery of chills and giggles.
Till Death Do Us Part (1944) by John Dickson Carr — A minor impossibility, involving a murder in a locked room, is simply the icing on perhaps Carr’s most ingeniously constructed plot. Virtually flawless, incredible that a human mind can conceive of something this neatly imbricated and then write it so seamlessly.
He Who Whispers (1946) by John Dickson Carr — I find the impossible stabbing at the top of a tower no-one else climbed a little hokey, but if anyone tells you that classic era detective fiction is only disposable fluff that doesn’t linger in the brain you need only give them this heart-rending story of Faye Seaton and then ask them how often they think about it in the years afterwards.
Fire, Burn! (1957) by John Dickson Carr — An early historical mystery that veritably ripples with glee, as Carr sends his protagonist back in time to the instigation of the Metropolitan Police and then impossibly shoots a woman in the back just for added value. Shows Carr getting a real second (or third…) wind as his focus shifted to these historical mysteries, and makes me excited to read more from this phase of his career.
The Island of Coffins [rp] (2020) by John Dickson Carr — An exceptionally high quality set of radio plays from the genre’s Golden Age, showing Carr repurposing some of his ideas to sharper effect. I’ve really come to appreciate the radio mystery of late, helped in no small part by publications like this, and I find the nature of the storytelling here fascinating. Man, I wish we had more of this sort of thing available to listen to today.
The Scandal of Father Brown [ss] by G.K. Chesterton (1935) — Accepted wisdom says you go for one of the earlier Chesterton collections, but I think ‘The Blast of the Book’ deserves more kudos for how brilliantly it misdirects, and ‘The Pursuit of Mr. Blue’, concerning a man vanishing from a guarded space, sets the archetype for a solution that’s always been less enjoyable to me elsewhere. Plus, you get here the joy of (the non-impossible) ‘The Vampire of the Village’…and then you’ll go back and read the earlier, more famous stories anyway, so everyone wins.
Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) by Agatha Christie — Perhaps my very first locked room murder, before I really knew that the subgenre existed and this sort of “but no-one was anywhere near the room when she died…” puzzle was, like, a common thing. Sure, you might think bits of the plot don’t hold up, but I’ll always retain a huge fondness for this one. And it’s my list!
Appointment with Death (1938) by Agatha Christie — By my reckoning, this counts even if you don’t realise it until later than one ordinarily could with this sort of puzzle. Christie really excelled at these “everyone stuck in a place together” mysteries, and if this is a little borderline then I don’t mind because it’s a bunch of fun and really enjoys playing around with some of the genre’s expectations.
And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie — By my reckoning, this counts even if you don’t realise it until later than one ordinarily could with this sort of puzzle. Christie really excelled at these “everyone stuck in a place together” mysteries, and if this is a little borderline then I don’t mind because it’s a bunch of fun and really enjoys playing around with some of the genre’s expectations. Hang on…
Jack-in-the-Box (1944) by J.J. Connington — People and animals are turning up dead without a mark on them and no way to determine how they died. Well, a mystic claims to have harnessed a psychic power called New Force and instituted their deaths that way, but we know that such smoke and mirrors won’t wash with Clinton Driffield. Loads of fun, see The Reader is Warned (1939) by Carter Dickson for a similar principle played out very differently.
Swan Song (1947) by Edmund Crispin — The locked room shooting of Crispin’s debut The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944) or the impossible suffocation of The Moving Toyshop (1946) might seem like more obvious choices, but this hanging of an unpopular opera singer in his dressing room has a pleasingly technical side to it and Crispin is less facetious here than he can be elsewhere.
Sudden Death (1932) by Freeman Wills Crofts — Two locked room murders, one very technical, the other less so, contribute to the enjoyment of Crofts’ first country house murder, with additional interest coming from telling portions of his story from the perspective of a servant in the house. Only goes to strengthen my thesis that Crofts clearly had ingenuity to spare; thank heavens he didn’t write too much and sprinkle his ideas too thinly.
Killed on the Rocks (1990) by William L. DeAndrea — A surprisingly good, late example of the impossible crime, with a body surrounded by unmarked snow and a house full of potential murderers. DeAndrea has been a little hit and miss in my reading of him to date, but the clues are good here and the intrigue kept fresh by the various factors in play. Clever method, too, discovered with impressive rigour.
The Bowstring Murders (1933) by Carter Dickson — You have to accept a conveniently inattentive man at one point, but the details of the crime scene and how they play into the solution of this impossible murder are fascinating. Also contains one of the author’s most elaborately baroque settings, with the rambling Bowstring Castle as much a character as any of its denizens. Great second murder, too.
The White Priory Murders (1934) by Carter Dickson — A man walks through the snow to the guest annexe of the house he’s staying at and discovers there a woman murdered after the snow fell…but only the discoverer’s footprints lead to the building. The book is perhaps a little too fond of its knife chord developments, but some wonderful clewing (the matches!) make the journey to the solution more than worthwhile.
The Red Widow Murders (1935) by Carter Dickson — Room That Kills puzzles are always fun, and this one is no exception, but the most striking aspect of the whole thing is when you realise that the victim, sitting within the room and calling out that he’s still alive every fifteen minutes, has been shouting out that he’s fine despite having been dead for an hour. And the “everyone eats the same food but only one man dies” puzzle is one of the very best ever put down.
The Judas Window (1938) by Carter Dickson — The locked room murder’s locked room murder, with a man drugged in a locked room and waking up to find his only companion stabbed to death and all the doors and windows sealed shut on the inside. There’s a mid-book revelation which I like even more than the answer to this conundrum, but there’s too much to enjoy about this one to include in one brief paragraph.
The Reader is Warned (1939) by Carter Dickson — Not just predictions of death, but a man threatening to use his own mind and his control of ‘Teleforce’ to kill people in one of Dickson’s very best books. Our ‘murderer’ might be one of the Dickson’s best villains, the revelations of the final chapter struck me as a genuine surprise, and every element of this hangs together with perfectly balanced poise and execution.
Nine — and Death Makes Ten, a.k.a. Murder in the Atlantic, a.k.a. Murder in the Submarine Zone (1940) by Carter Dickson — A crime scene on a boat, a fingerprint collected and compared with everyone on board…and no match found. Lesser authors would simply have a stowaway hiding out of sight, but Dickson was one of the greats and his solution is as inspired as you’d hope. Great atmosphere, too, in a passenger ship sailing munitions from the US to the UK through submarine territory in WW2.
The Department of Queer Complaints [ss] (1940) by Carter Dickson — Shorter, brilliantly confounding puzzles for the bland-eyed Colonel March to pick through. ‘The Silver Curtain’, ‘Error at Daybreak’, ‘The Footprint in the Sky’…not just great titles, but also signs of Dickson’s creativity at full tilt.
She Died a Lady (1943) by Carter Dickson — Two pairs of footprints leading over the edge of a cliff where two lovers committed suicide together…only Dickson could take this simple an image and expand it up into a case of such complexity and heart. Sure, the killer is a little too obfuscated, but the explanation for that in the text is actually pretty smart…even if it is the authorly equivalent of eating cake and having it, too.
He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944) by Carter Dickson — If a man has sealed himself in a room by taping around the edges of the door and gassed himself to death, how can it be murder? A great piece of explicit clewing holds the answer, and the final confrontation between H.M. and the killer ripples with menace and undercurrents of steel.
You’ll Die Laughing (1945) by Bruce Elliott — The vanishing of a man from a room he was just seen to enter…and the vanishing of the room’s contents along with him. Elliott is going for a grand sensation and perhaps overreaches himself in doing so, but you could add perhaps three lines to this and make it one of the most enjoyable minor classics the subgenre ever produced. Deserves to be far, far better known.
Thy Arm Alone (1947) by John Russell Fearn — Too slow and too thin to qualify as an unconditional recommendation, the manner of the delivery of death here is at least very, very novel — perhaps unique — and so the book compels itself to those of you who have read everything else on here and were hoping for something new. Its not good, but Fearn deserves credit for coming up with this and just about making it work.
Too Many Magicians (1966) by Randall Garrett — I wonder the extent to which this has become like The Hollow Man: recommended without being read, put on lists purely because it has a reputation from having been on other lists. Garrett’s masterstroke was to turn magic into a codified science (not that we know what the rules are…) and to then throw in a clever locked room stabbing without resorting to magic trickery to explain it. Yes, it’s a variation on tricks seen elsewhere, but most of the subgenre is. Taken as genre-straddling adventure on its own terms, this is pretty great stuff.
Death Out of Nowhere (1945) by Alexis Gensoul & Charles Grenier [trans. John Pugmire 2019] — A series of impossible shootings expained away with such bravura chutzpah and so much entertaining invention that you’ll happily forgive the fact that it would be almost impossible to make any of this into an actual fair play mystery. Sure, the final shooting is a bit limp, but the main event (“And the Emperor of China be damned!”) is a delirious joy. Only a Frenchman could have written this, and I mean that as a compliment.
Poached (2014) by Stuart Gibbs — Another one for younger readers, this time concerning a vanishing koala that only one (innocent) person could have stolen. Leans into the, er, natural world side of things very cleverly to explain its misdirection, and is a lot of fun along the way to a solution which I missed and really should not have. Always a plus as far as I’m concerned; highly recommended to all ages.
Hawk & Fisher (1990) by Simon R. Green — A terrible book, getting its genre-straddling all wrong where Randall Garrett did everything so smoothly, and contains some of the best unintentional jokes probably ever written. But for all its flaws — and they are legion — the impossible poisoning at its core is actually quite clever. Worth reading if only because it must be seen to be believed, with the benefit of a nifty murder scheme? What’s not to love?!
The Madman’s Room (1990) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2017] — A masterpiece of ingenious plotting and overlapping threads, in no way to be dismissed because its impossible aspect, involving a man making predictions about the future, is a minor facet. Should you suffer from a sickness that makes you willing to read only one Paul Halter novel, you poor soul, make it this one.
The Tiger’s Head (1991) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2013] — A serial killer leaving dismembered corpses in suitcases, a genie materialising in a sealed room and beating a man to death…so much to enjoy here, and another great example of why we can be so thankful that Halter was carried over the language barrier for our enjoyment.
The Seventh Hypothesis (1991) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2012] — A magically-appearing dead body and a vanishing man are only the tip of the iceberg as we explore a deadly rivalry between two men…each keen to see the other accused of murder. Contains one of the great sustained pieces of repeated “Aha!” reversals in the genre; again just so, so much fun, a rollicking good time.
The Demon of Dartmoor (1993) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2012] — An impossible defenestration that might be the most brilliantly conceived bit of homicide in Halter’s glittering career. Perhaps a little overstuffed, as the headless horseman (yes, you read that correctly) adds nothing, but you can’t fault the man for his ambition. More authors should enjoy themselves this much, because the reader then has a wonderful time, too.
The Lord of Misrule (1994) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2006] — A man being followed by two others through a snowy landscape is lost from view behind a rise in the ground, only to have been stabbed with no other footprints nearby when his followers catch up to him. An homage to Carr’s The Hollow Man (1935), and delightful in its own right.
The Invisible Circle (1996) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2014] — Leaning heavily into a playful King Arthur motif, this finds a man stabbed by Excalibur while sealed in an inaccessible room at the top of a castle’s towers. Absolutely bonkers, perhaps Halter’s most wild flight of fancy, and yet so breathtakingly entertaining that I laughed along to every insane development. More of this, please.
The Man Who Loved Clouds (1999) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2018] — More impossible being shoved around by invisible forces, and a far cleverer book than I gave it credit for on first reading. Limns a small village living in fear of the inexplicable very neatly, and explains away its various conundrums with some engagingly practical solutions. Hopefully I’ve made up for my initial harsh judgement of this by including it here!
The Night of the Wolf [ss] (2000) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire and Robert Adey 2004] — Halter’s short stories are delightful, from ‘The Cleaver’, which sees a man dreaming the future, to the existence of Santa Claus, to the no footprints baffler of the title story, with so much creative endeavour in between. Some of these plots are strong enough to support a novel on their own, but seeing them distilled to their purest essence is remarkable.
The Phantom Passage (2005) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2015] — More predictions of the future, this time from a ghostly passageway that disappears at will. Far too complex to be believable, but then that’s part of the joy of the impossible crime, as we’re often pushing what is achievable in order to confound the reader in ways they’ve not been before. On that front, this can’t be faulted.
The Gold Watch (2019) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2019] — The best no footprints puzzle of the 21st century, and more than able to stand against the best that the Golden Age had to offer. A confounding book in many regards, the plot not as tight in Anglophone terms as Halter’s other translated works, but as an exponent of the French novel of bafflement and innovation it’s surely about as good as it gets.
The Forbidden House (1932) by Michel Herbert & Eugene Wyl [trans. John Pugmire 2021] — An almost forensically tiny impossible vanishing, all the more impressive once you get to the end and realise how small the problem was an how rigorously the authors have exploited it for maximum entertainment. Feels like a book that couldn’t be written today, all the more reason to be extremely grateful for this sort of thought experiment from the Golden Age.
Inherit the Stars (1977) by James P. Hogan — The decayed body of an astronaut discovered on the Moon might not seem much of a mystery, but when that body turns out to be 10,000 years old there’s clearly something more at play. Dense, fascinating stuff here from Hogan, with one of the most brilliantly conceived resolutions on this list. Deserves to be better known, even if it is slightly hard going at times.
Death Among the Undead (2017) by Masahiro Imamura [trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2021] — Smashing genre conventions together with a gleeful creativity, this shows how cleverly tropes can be appropriated when they’re as well-established as those governing detective fiction are. For my liking this needs a little more rigour on the horror side of things, but the invention on display is both magnificent and extremely exciting.
Prague Fatale (2011) by Philip Kerr — In and of itself, another fairly familiar setup in which a dead body is found shot in a locked bedroom at a gathering in a wartime country house. But Kerr’s structure is far from conventional (most of the investigating is done in a single, 120-page chapter), his sleuth is an abrasive delight, and his suspects are high-ranking Nazi officials who one does not accuse of murder lightly. The solution is far from original, but the historical novel and the puzzle plot have rarely meshed so effectively.
Obelists Fly High (1935) by C. Daly King — A deeply flawed book: tediously slow, devoid of interest most of the time, and with no idea how prologues and epilogues work…but the manner in which its impossible-to-enforce promised poisoning at a given date and time is achieved is a work of pure genius. Deeply, deeply annoying; such a magnificent scheme deserves to be in a far, far better story.
Murder on the Safari Star (2021) by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman — Another one for younger readers, and another superbly clever mystery with a great method that fits perfectly inside the brief the authors have set themselves. This is one of my favourite modern series for any age group, and the series as a whole — now on hiatus — is a pure delight.
The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907) by Gaston Leroux [trans. ??? 1909] — Over-reliant on coincidence to provide so many developments, and somewhat slapdash in its interpretation of some evidence…and yet it’s a classic for a reason, giving us a good locked room murder and a completely superb vanishing. Set the pattern of so much that was to follow, and deserves respect — and reading — as a result.
Death in the House of Rain (2006) by Szu-Yen Lin [trans. ibid 2017] — Dark, disturbing, and highly inventive, one of a handful of Carr homages that would have worked perfectly in Carr’s own oeuvre. A series of locked room deaths in an abandoned mansion that are explained away with the sort of bravura brinksmanship that makes you want another 15 books by the author immediately to hand.
The Wrong Letter (1926) by Walter S. Masterman — Masterman seems to get less conventional as his career progresses, as this debut is a remarkably readable and entertaining entry in the world’s greatest subgenre. And when you get to the closing stages and discover the reason for the title you’ll delight afresh.
Leonardo’s Law (1978) by Warren B. Murphy — While it’s more fashionable to lament the lost years of Christianna’s Brand’s hiatus, or to wonder whatever happened to that lost Hake Talbot manuscript, I’ll be over here raging that Warren B. Murphy wasn’t given sufficient encouragement to write a 20 book series about David Leonardo. He’s a character with great potential, and his only case — this locked room shooting — deserves to be far better known.
The Red Death Murders (2022) by Jim Noy — It may seem sheer hubris to include my own book on this list, but, c’mon, a) Fred Dannay put himself on the Cornerstones list and b) I devised two completely original impossible murders 180 years into the subgenre and wrapped them up in a plot of quite devilish complexity. Plus, this is a book I’d recommend since if I sell enough of them to be financially viable I’ll eventually get round to writing the sequel.
The Ginza Ghost [ss] (2017) by Keikichi Ōsaka [trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2017] — A wonderful collection of stories from pre- and post-WW2 Japan, showing a country at odds with the change it was forced to embrace and the creeping broadening of cultural themes. ‘The Cold Night’s Clearing’, ‘The Monster of the Lighthouse’, ‘The Hungry Letterbox’, ‘The Guardian of the Lighthouse’, and the title story are all utterly sublime.
Policeman in Armour (1937) by Rupert Penny — A meticulously-plotted chess game of a novel, in which a man is stabbed in the back when no-one could possibly have been in the room with him to commit the act, an obvious suspect being magnificently proved innocent at the halfway stage and a painstakingly clever reframing of events thereafter. Penny should be more famous, y’know?
Policeman’s Evidence (1938) by Rupert Penny — I can fault this locked room ‘suicide’ only in that the scheme is so good there’s no reason for anyone to suspect murder…but then where would we be? Certainly we’d miss out on one of Penny’s neatest bits of misdirection, and any time spent with Tony Purdon and Superintendent Edward Beale is to be cherished.
Sealed Room Murder (1941) by Rupert Penny — My first Penny title, and as savage a portrait of an old family mouldering in a dusty pile as you’re likely to encounter…before a series of obscure thefts and pointless act of vandalism result in surely one of the most superbly technical and outrageous tricks of the genre’s heyday. And it’s not even his best book…!
The Curious Cases of Cyriack Skinner Grey [ss] (2009) by Arthur Porges — A series of stories written between 1965 and 1975 which rely on clever scientific principles. Not all impossible, but when they are (c.f. ‘The Scientist and the Vanished Weapon’, ‘The Scientist and the Multiple Murder’, etc.) they show how much invention can be brought to bear in this subgenre. Porges also wrote some wonderful Sherlock Holmes pastiches that I’m hoping we’ll see republished someday.
The Footprints on the Ceiling (1939) by Clayton Rawson — The eponymous footprints are a minor aspect of this, and the only sniff of an impossibility in the whole thing, but the book is brisk, energetic, and entertaining in a way that much of Rawson’s longer work has not proved to be for me. Up there with the best “We’re stuck on an island and what the hell is happening?” mysteries ever written.
The Great Merlini [ss] (1979) by Clayton Rawson — I find Rawson’s shorter works far more successful, and the diversity of intelligent ideas here is wonderful to see. ‘Off the Face of the Earth’ is one of the all-time great impossible crime short stories, but there’s much here to marvel at, not least aliens and the world’s smallest locked room.
The Real-Town Murders (2017) by Adam Roberts — A dead body in an automated car plant where no human has cause to go, nor could enter unobserved. Earns huge props from me for how it takes so many familiar principles and speculates intelligently about where these may lead in a futuristic society, and the detective’s tragic personal life is, for once, genuinely affecting. Great word-play throughout, too.
They Can’t Hang Me (1938) by James Ronald — A madman escapes form an asylum and seeks vengeance on those who put him there…with the complexity of his undertakings hinting that there might in fact be some glint of sanity beneath the veneer. Pure pulp, but Ronald was class all the way through and really sells you on the terror, the bafflement, and the intelligence behind the design. And the impossible gassing is as good a ploy as any Carr dreamed up, to boot.
Murder on the Way! (1935) by Theodore Roscoe — Roscoe really is one of the great prose wranglers of the Golden Age, with event following event in a colourful tumble that barely stops for breath. Here we’re on Haiti and the dead are coming back to life, with a revolution stirring, a man impossibly shot in the head while alone in a room, and just about every flavour of craziness you can imagine thrown in. Wild stuff.
I’ll Grind Their Bones (1937) by Theodore Roscoe — Anti-war propaganda that’s by turns thrilling, sobering, and maddeningly brilliant in its series of locked room shootings with no killer present. Roscoe’s pulp roots show through at times, but few authors would be brave enough to tackle such a huge theme under the guise of a mystery thriller, and few would wrangle the grand embellishments of its OTT finale so successfully.
Murder Among the Angells (1932) by Roger Scarlett — As perfect a setup as has ever been committed to the page in a detective novel, it’s perhaps inevitable that the ensuing chapters can’t quite match the opening quarter or so. Nevertheless, this stabbing while alone in a lift in the mansion house of the stuffy Angell family is well-structured, well investigated, and provides an answer that’s pleasingly baroque-yet-workable into the bargain. Good diagrams, too, and lots of ’em…always a bonus.
Black Aura (1974) by John Sladek — With a terrible vanishing trick (from the toilet), a superb one (from the funeral parlour) and an excellent impossible levitation, this very much runs the gamut. It’s a good little puzzle, too, and weirdly out of print…perhaps because Sladek is better known these days for his (much more prolific) SF writings. Shame, because while a new generation deserves to discover this, the generation before could do with reading it, too.
Invisible Green (1977) by John Sladek — My preference of Sladek’s two criminous novels, with some lovely puzzles — a murder in a room with unmarked powder on the floor outside, a man failing to recognise someone he’s just been introduced to — as a book group are killed off one-by-one. Someone needs to reprint these two.
Whistle Up the Devil (1953) by Derek Smith — One of those impossible-to-find titles (though not any more, thanks to its recent reprinting) that lived up to its reputation: a stabbing in a room with watched exits and a strangling under similar circumstances. A little naive in the writing, perhaps, but gorgeous in construction.
Come to Paddington Fair (c. 1954) by Derek Smith — Smith’s second novel is more mature in tone and handling, with the impossibility behind its on-stage shooting developing slowly as the book progresses. He shows increased assuredness with a larger cast, too, and layers a few more events into proceedings with genuine skill and acuity. Makes you sort of want to cry that he never published anything else, dunnit?
The Hangman’s Handyman (1942) by Hake Talbot — Delightfully creepy stuff for the first half, with the lights out on an isolated island, a weird curse causing bodies to rot at an advanced rate, people being attacked by strange creatures, and a murder in a locked room. Shows Talbot — a pen name for magician Henning Nelms — unpacking his toybox to great effect.
Rim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot — A wild, wild time, with a group of people heading into the snowy wilderness to conduct a seance for bizarre reasons only for events even more bizarre to unfold around them: a killer flying through the air and passing through locked doors and windows, demonic possession, a wendigo spirit on the prowl…too insane for words, resolved magnificently. Makes you sort of want to cry that he never published anything else, dunnit?
Murder in the Crooked House (1982) by Shimada Soji [trans. Louise Heal Kawai 2019] — Utterly, utterly, utterly, utterly, utterly bonkers, and not believable for a second, but it’s difficult not to be impressed by the size and ambition of what Shimada pulls off here. It’s undertakings like this, almost existing within its own form of logic, which show why this subgenre holds such a fascination for so many of us, because how on earth do you even begin to go about thinking this sort of thing up…?
The Killing of Polly Carter (2015) by Robert Thorogood — If Thorogood had started out as a novelist rather than a TV writer he might have an output to rival Paul Halter’s for ingenuity. His second novel is hamstrung by too much fidelity to the TV show which spawned it, but the core impossible murder is undeniably very clever indeed. Rare to see someone suffer from too much success, but this is one of those instances.
The House that Kills (1932) by Noel Vindry [trans. John Pugmire 2015] — A fascinating experiment: one impossible murder solved by the halfway stage, only for the sleuth to fall victim to an impossible attempt on his life. Wants for actual detection, but Vindry certainly found a new way to structure a mystery, and the second crime is well resolved. Anticipate lots of classic radio knife chords for best effect.
The Howling Beast (1934) by Noel Vindry [trans. John Pugmire 2016] — A superbly claustrophobic, atmospheric story, essentially a three-hander in an isolated castle with mysterious beastly noises heard at night while everyone tries to fit events into some meaningful pattern. The impossible element, involving the disappearance of a gun used in a shooting, comes in late and is resolved quickly, but there’s so much more going on here. My favourite of the four Vindrys so far translated.
The Crimson Circle (1922) by Edgar Wallace — The impossibility here, involving the poisoning of a man in a locked room, is a very minor aspect of this novel, but the invention behind the method used is quite something. I need to read more Wallace, because he evidently had ideas to spare; fingers crossed he has other schemes as brilliant as this to entertain us with.
Mystery in Room 913, a.k.a. The Room with Something Wrong (1938) by Cornell Woolrich — Over a period of months, even years, people check into Room 913 of the St. Anselm Hotel and throw themselves out of the window. What’s the link? Why that room? All right, it’s not technically impossible, but not only is the answer brilliantly Golden Age in its invention, the setting really stamps itself on the memory.
The Honjin Murders (1946) by Seishi Yokomizo [trans Louise Heal Kawai 2019] — A couple slain on their wedding night in the sealed annexe to the groom’s family home, the sword which killed them plunged into the surrounding snow and nary a footprint in evidence to show how the killer entered or left. Short, sharp, ingenious, and full of cultural richness. Western audiences are only just beginning to discover Yokomizo, and he’s been delightful so far. More!
The Big Bow Mystery (1892) by Israel Zangwill — A man found with his throat cut in his locked room, this mystery gets props not only for innovating a key principle of the Golden Age (I’ll not say which one, but you’ll know if you’re read it) but also for how damn funny so much of it is. 130 years old and still as readable as ever, this is one of those classics whose reputation is thoroughly deserved.
My thanks to all you wonderful readers — commenter, lurker, or otherwise — who continue to find some interest in these ramblings of mine. The Invisible Event is only worth doing if anyone’s reading and engaging with it, and I consider myself very fortunate to have found people willing to hang about in this niche with me. Onwards to the next thousand…!
83 thoughts on “#1000: A Locked Room Library – One Hundred Recommended Books”
Whew…what a flurry of shots! Your including worthy attempts as well as bullseyes really summons the pure fun of the genre, and I look forward to filling in my reading of both. Thanks for your astounding run so far, and here’s to another 1,000. (A further sabbatical to produce a Red Death sequel would be most appreciated, however!)
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I very much look forward to all these hopeful expectations being fulfilled in the fullness of time!
Congrats, and thanks for this awesome list
Many thanks, and I hope you enjoy the list — always fun to write about favourites, and something so close to my heart seemed like a good topic for the occasion.
Jim, Congratulations on your 1000th post. I continue to be impressed with your insights, use of language and critique.
As primarily drawn to GAD for its puzzles, I love lists like this one. Your inventory here (along with the others you mentioned, etc.) help me curate the best of the best impossible crime books. After going through the list of 100, I see that there are nine books of which I have never heard and have added those to track down.
Perhaps some inspired blogger will run a poll/vote next year for the best impossible crime novel. Other than The Red Death Murders, which deservedly must be included, and I second the request above for more some day from that author, do you a favourite in the list?
Thanks for the kind words, it’s very much appreciated.
As to your query, the list above is pretty much what goes through my head whenever the prospect of naming only a handful of favourites arises. I could give a reason for each of them being my favourite, but then I could turn to another with the proviso that that is also worth mentioning because of some extra criterion 🙂
In future, if ever asked for a favourite, I’m just going to give the asker the URL of this post and leave them to it…
Congratulations JJ and thanks a lot for this list. Have bookmarked the page and will be returning to it often.
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That’s the hope! Wishing you many happy hours of reading in the years ahead 🙂
Congratulations – a list to be returned to again and again. I’ll definitely be picking up the Philip Kerr as Bernie Guenther is included within the 100 Greatest Fictional Detectives that is my current reading project.
And I just found a copy in the Amnesty Secondhand Bookshop so very serendipitous!
Bernie’s a lot of fun, and it was a delight to see Kerr veer into impossible crime territory just this once. Perhaps not the strongest book in the series, but a superb example of realistic history and puzzle plotting overlapping.
Congratulations for the 1000!
Many thanks; been a long time coming!
Well done on reaching such an exalted number Jim – I only follow a few blogs now but never miss your. Superb stuff. May not agree about some very daft elements of MESOPOTAMIA but 99% is one fell of a batting average kiddo! Well done 😁
I’m especially flattered by this as you were one of the people who inspired me into blogging in the first place; still hoping to lure you into a return one of these days…
Congratulations on your 1000th post, Jim! What a way to celebrate. Surprisingly, I don’t have much to grumble or nitpick about your choices (except groaning at your inclusion of Too Many Magicians) and it warmed my heart to see Fearn’s Thy Arm Alone. Even if it comes with a few caveats. I still recommend you give Pattern of Murder a shot and you might actually like The Man Who Was Not, because you’re not adverse to bizarre, pulp-style impossible crimes.
Here’s to the next thousand posts and your future list to mark your 2000th post should be of short locked room stories.
Yes, the (entirely hypothetical) list at 2000 posts will have to diversify, if only because there’s so much great work being done in other media which needs acknowledging. And I hope to be able to get to it if the blog ever continues that long.
As to Fearn…I dunno, I had to give up on The Five Matchboxes, so maybe he’s not for me. Might just be another of those authors — c.f. Bush, Flynn, etc. — whose prose style simply puts me off, I’m sorry to say. But, still, that leaves me more time to track down modern impossible crime novels for you, and I still hope there’s a belter out there somewhere 🙂
And I’ll brook no criticism for liking Too Many Magicians from someone who won’t give Sealed Room Murder by Rupert Penny the time of day 😄
I’ve given Sealed Room Murder more than the time of day. Sometimes it feels like I’m still reading that damn book!
Considering that I’m not the impossible crime nu-, er, fetishi- er, expert that you are, I own sixty-two of these titles, have read about fifty of those, and probably only crave a small handful of what I’m missing. I wish you had the fondness for Hercule Poirot’s Christmas that I do: the trick might not be as cleverly simple as the one found in Mesopotamia, but sometimes the overall delights of a book push it in the “add” category.
But this is your list, not mine, and you’ve earned that right. Congratulations on 1000 posts, Jim! Three posts a week is amazing, and you are a speed reader compared to me. I’m biting at your heels, however. Doing the maths (which I’m capable of because of teachers like you!), I have computed that if I keep going at my current pace, I will have my own thousandth post (and list of the hundred best clues in classic mystery) on August 7, 2029. Stay tuned . . . . .
HPsC might indeed be a better book and trick than MiM, but MiM was my first foray into the impossible crime and you can’t fight fondness with reason, I’m afraid. Plus, this way it leaves me some Christie for the next list 1000 posts from now.
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Looking forward to it, as it’ll correspond with the tenth anniversary of my highly rated podcast SPOILER ALERT!
Or did YOU do Spoiler Alert . . . ? Ah, well, you say potato . . .
Congratulations on your 1000th post. A very suitable topic to boot.
Given that I am not a locked room fanatic I was impressed that I had read 29 of them.
Looking forward to your next 1000 posts!
Good numbers, we might make a fan of you yet…
The fact that I’ve only read 40% of the titles on your list is great news. There’s so much great reading in my future. Congratulations on your 1000th post. God only knows how many readers have been turned on to the dark side (impossible crimes) with your work. Cheers.
I’m very fortunate indeed to have any audience at all in this very niche corner of the web, and it’s always fun to talk about things like this and potentially give some people somewhere to start if they’re curious. It was one of TomCat’s lists on this very subject that got me properly started on the impossible crime, so I’m hopeful others might find this post down the years and use it as a jumping-off point of their own obsession.
Congratulations on 1,000 posts! These brief snapshots of each book you’ve included are fantastic, and I’m bookmarking this list. Many of my favorites are included, but also so many I haven’t yet read. Thanks!
Many thanks! I hope this list is of use to someone down the years, and I very much look forward to all the reading I now have to do in order to compile a second one…
Congrats on a magnificent number of posts – my own rate of posting would see me hit 1K in maybe another decade!
Thanks for compiling this list too. I can see myself returning to it often.
Thanks, Colin — hard to believe that the Spoiler Warning discussion we had about Halfway House is now in the first half of this blog’s life…seems like only the other day!
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What a great article,thanks. I’d recommend the couple of Japanese writers mentioned unconditionally.
I very much look forward to more Japanese writers making their way over the language barrier in the year to come, because the standard of the puzzle plots we’ve gotten in recent years has been superb, hasn’t it?
Merry Christmas, Mark.
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You know, you could learn Japanese, J.J.! Take it from me, it’s a lot of fun, and I’m not just saying that because I’m spending $60,000 to study the language! You, Ho-Ling, and I could become a Translation Triumvirate. 😛
I’ve failed badly enough at trying to improve my schoolboy French, so Japanese I think I’ll leave to you intelligent and insightful people 🙂
Oh, please, I’m definitely the dimmest person in our little circle of bloggers. If I of all people can learn the language in four years, you all could do it in two, easy! But I won’t force it on you! Ce la vie.
Congrats on the 1000, and here’s to 1000 more!
At the moment the next 1000 seem a long way off, as it’ll take another seven years of my life…but, man, when I get there it’s going to have gone in the blink of an eye!
Congratulations on your 1000th post! And thanks for the reminder that I should finally get my hands on those two Herbert Brean books.
I gasped when I saw the title ‘Obelysts Fly High’ on the list, but was re-assured about my not having an abject lack of good taste once I read your vignette assessment of it.
I still need to track down Brean’s Traces of Merrilee, but once I’ve read that…no more Herbert Brean! Unless, of course, I start looking into his short fiction, which I’ll probably do since the man was a superb writer who deserves much more attention.
And, man, Obelists Fly High is a vexing book — such a great trick, but almost everything else about it fails to land. I’m interested to see hoe Obelists at Sea compares when the AMC republish it next year.
I just finally got my hands on Traces of Merrilee on Friday. Not an easy book to track down for a reasonable price.
Congratulations to your 1000th post! You know, you say “you need restrictions when it comes to making lists like these”, and I do hope that wasn’t a jab at me! I’m definitely a lot more loose when it comes to my lists. 😛
Definitely a lot to read here, and yes I hear you and your many Halter inclusions and remember I need to get back to him… I love the inclusion of your own novel, so now all we need is for Jim to write a full review of his own RED DEATH MURDERS and hope nobody notices! 😛 Great list, Jim, thanks for putting it together!
It’s your own diversity of media that makes me feel like this list has failed to fulfil a few expectations, to be honest: I had no idea there was so much going on in videogames before you brought that to my attention, and I feel decidedly remiss for not having any real coverage outside of the printed word.
Far from a jab, it was if anything an admission of my own poor limitations!
Well, hey, if you’re interested in diversifying a bit, I’m putting together a little “comprehensive reading guide” for the Ace Attorney series that also serves as a catch-all portal for recommended video game mysteries, so maybe that could be helpful to you!
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Congrats on 1k! You can bet Herds and I will be coming back to this post often enough when we’re in need of a conundrum for the show.
Thanks, Flex. This should keep you going until I write the next list, at least 🙂
Congrats on 1000 posts! This list is definitely a nice reminder for me that there’s still so much more GAD and post-GAD and pre-GAD impossible crime writing that I can still look forward to.
So many! And this is barely even the tip of the iceberg — I almost bailed on posting this because so many of these seem so obvious. IN another thousand posts, things are going to get very weird, I have no doubt…
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A masterpiece of a post. Not only is each blurb an enticing nugget, but the list reads with an impressive sense of continuity. There are so many observations/inclusions/exclusions that it’s going to be difficult for me to not post 100+ replies. I hope my comments don’t come across as nitpicking, because the debate is the fun part.
One of the thoughts that crept into my mind as I was reading was “which Halter books is he going to choose?!?!” I think you did a fine job with the selection: the glaring miss is The Seven Wonders of Crime – not only for the premise, but also because two of the crimes (Hanging Gardens and Pyramid) have excellent solutions. The Crimson Fog and The Picture from the Past both feature one fine impossibility, but I agree the surrounding novels have enough issues to not make this list. You’re spot on for not including Death Invites You, as it simply can’t deliver on the fascinating premise.
I just about had a heart attack when I reached the end of the John Dickson Carr section, not yet realizing that you had captured the Carter Dickson novels separately. Well selected titles overall. The notable omissions in my mind are:
– John Dickson Carr – The Problem of the Wire Cage – yeah, it’s not perfect, but for 90% of the book this is the very essence of a focused impossible crime. I want my impossible crime novels to really emphasize the impossibility and explore various solutions, and this does all that.
– John Dickson Carr – The Third Bullet – for the inclusion of The House in Goblin Wood, plus some other excellent stories. It’s hard thought to account for all of the potential short stories in this sort of list though.
– Carter Dickson – The Unicorn Murders – kind of a weird novel for Carr (with the whole super-thief angle), but I love that impossible stabbing.
– Carter Dickson – The Ten Teacups – it’s fallen out of favor (and the middle drags a bit), but this is a hell of an impossible shooting in a locked room and the ending is jam packed.
You get massive props for not being swayed by the genre list conventions and predictably including:
– Any Ellery Queen novels
– Death From a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson. The book does have some wow factor but Rawson is pretty bland when it comes to a full length novel.
– Through a Glass Darkly by Helen McCloy. It has a poignant ending, but besides that it isn’t earth shattering. I would go for Mr Splitfoot instead.
There are some notable omissions though in my mind:
– Anthony Boucher – The Case of the Solid Key. Maybe Boucher’s best novel and it rivals Nine Times Nine.
– Christianna Brand – Green for Danger. Apparently I’m the only person who considers this an impossible crime, but I think the question about how the murder was accomplished thoroughly qualifies. It’s more impossible than Tour de Force in my mind.
– Virgil Markham – The Devil Drives. Yeah, there’s a lot more to the plot than the impossible crime, but talk about a wonderfully unique solution.
– Soji Shimada – The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. I guess this is missing because the actual impossible crime has a weak solution, but the non-impossible crime has one of the best solutions out there.
My memory of The Devil Drives is, I’ll admit, hazy — as perhaps befits the book — but I’ll definitely reread it before post #2000 in order to give it due consideration. And yes, I can’t disagree with any of your comments, but I was committed to 100 books…as soon as it creeps up to 103 or 106 you might as well make it 120 or 150 and that way madness lies 🙂
And — ha! — The Unicorn Murders was the very last book I cut from the list, since I love the book itself but the impossibility left me a little underwhelmed. I’m hoping someone reprints it in the coming years so I have an excuse to pick it up again before too long.
I completely agree that Green for Danger’s first murder counts as an impossible crime. My name for that type of impossibility is “Death Without Cause”, which perfectly fits Higgins’ death as it appears that there’s no discernible cause for his death, yet it has to be murder. I’d count The Reader Is Warned as a “Death Without Cause” impossibility, as well as like every other John Rhode.
I duuno, guys. Someone dies on the operating table like that, the first thing I’d be doing is looking at the gas they were breathing. Failure to investigate fully does not an impossible crime make…
Congratulations on the big 1000 (and change, given my late posting…)!
It’s in large part thanks to your blog that I ended up obsessed with classic mysteries. So I thank you not just for the enjoyment of reading this blog, but also for the fantastic experience of reading Carr, Brand, Berrow, Halter, and all the rest.
The analysis-essay mixed with standard review format is one that keeps me coming back; it’s in the essays that your love for the genre comes through in the desire to figure out what makes it tick and how to make classic crime work the best that it can do. With that level of dedication I think you can be forgiven for putting your own book on the list…
Don’t get too hopped up on the praise though, here is my itemized list of unforgivable omissions:
… Just kidding.
Seriously though, it might be fun to have a list unrestricted by length. Robert Adey’s Locked Room Murders: But Only The Good Ones. Maybe I’ll add a new column to my spreadsheet to record that.
And once again: congrats.
Thanks for the kind words; I’m lucky to have found an expression that works for my nerdy mind, not to mention people wiling to come back and engage with the results of my enthusiasm. now all I need to do is make some money from this somehow and I’m set for life…!
I always thought it was a shame that Adey didn’t give his individual ratings for the books in LRM, if only to get a sense of his own tastes. I remember finding a copy of the second edition before LRI reprinted it and assuming the ticks next to certain titles meant they were notable or meritorious in some way…only for them simply to be new titles added from the first edition. Such a shame!
There are the occasional comments… usually in the solution section, the bit you’ll read after you already finished the book yourself! I can well understand that having an opinion on every book would only add to the monumental task of compilation though.
To be honest I could probably cut out a lot of the dross from the list by filtering out all entries with “key turned from outside using pencil and string” as the solution. Though I’m sure even that contains some good examples.
Brian Skupin expanded — dare I say improved…? — on this by moving many comments to the front of the book in the LRM Supplement he edited. Hopefully this will continue if there’s ever a follow-up to that wonderful volume.
And, yes, a spreadsheet version in which one could filter by solution is much-needed!
20% published by Locked Room International. My, but you have excellent taste!
It’s almost like a niche publisher with titles selected by someone who knows the genre is a good thing, eh?
Congratulations on 1000 posts, all of them witty and erudite.
Thanks, John; looking forward to more LRI titles to be able to include on the next list…!
I’m somewhat surprised to find that I’ve read 64 of these and have 3 on my TBR pile – and most of that is down to you, so many thanks.
Thankfully there’s very little on here which is completely inaccessible, too, so, if the spirit takes you, there’s plenty of opportunity to get the remaining 33 in due course 🙂
Came back to this list to find recommendations because I know I can always trust J.J. to lead me in the right direction, but I’m shocked (and proud) to admit I already owned and/or had access to 88 of the 100 titles and a close friend was happy to give me his copies of 7 of the remaining 12! I’ll say that almost all of my gaps in your list were the young adult/juvenile novels, specifically M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, Enid Blyton, and Robert Arthur, whose MYSTERY AND MORE MYSTERY I also got, because TomCat has given his short fiction a proper tonguebath a dozen times over… well deserved, I’m sure, though! Besides the young adult fiction, the only ones I didn’t have are the most random of entries, like the Roger Scarlett, James Ronald, and Adam Roberts ones. Besides that, I’m shocked at how well covered I had this list! The last few I’m missing are just some Ramble House stragglers.
I also got Catherine Aird’s book, whom I’ve heard of before but for the life of me can’t remember where… but you praise her solution as “one of the best”, so I’m not about to complain about a new author whose work promises to be “one of the best”.
Sorry about this, but I obligatorily have to bitch and moan about exclusions of my favorite writers. 😛
I think more hardboiled authors who wrote impossible crimes and are very notable in the field are conspicuously missing. You included of all people John Russel Fearn, but Bill Pronzini’s HOODWINKED and SCATTERSHOT, and anything by Herbert Resnicow are passed up? Also Roger Ormerod is a pet favorite of mine for whom I feel compelled to campaign.
I’m in a long and complicated Schrodinger’s friendship with DWaM so I’m also somewhat obligated to mention that you were very positive about his writing and I’m surprised to see him passed-up too. You clearly aren’t just going for historically significant authors, and I think his writing is unique enough to deserve a slot or two. Same for Robert Innes, if you’re wanting to name quality self-published writers.
I know you don’t like it very much but THE TOKYO ZODIAC MURDERS, being the most important of all Japanese detective novels ever written, is a very bizarre exclusion. Even if you had to trade out CROOKED HOUSE for it, I think that’s a worthy exchange.
I’m also shocked to see not a single Edward D. Hoch entry? I haven’t read anything by him I love (yet), but everyone drools over the Hawthorne collections, and I’m shocked to see him NOT included on a list like this!
I guess it’s fair that you have to be selective, even with as many as 100 entries, so I don’t want to be too harsh! This is still a helpful list, and I’m glad it was put together! Thanks a ton, Jim!
Oh, and BANNER DEADLINES for Joseph Commings is a surprising exclusion, too!
As you say, one must always make cuts when trying to keep to a given figure, but most of what you suggest is scandalous in its absence is pretty easy for me to exclude as I don’t really like any of it 🙂
The Joseph Commings stories never really convinced me, Hoch — for all his marvellous productivity — is incredibly hoary a lot of the time, producing only maybe a handful of interesting stories in the four collections I’ve read, and Pronzini’s popularity baffles me. I’ll admit that overlooking DWaM is purely because I’ve last track of his work and really should get back to more of his wildly creative stories…but, man, there are so many books out there and I just don’t have the time to read them all.
Ormerod is on my To Be Checked Out list after the praise you and TC have poured upon him, so I’m hopeful he’ll make the second list when I get to 2000 posts…
I’m honestly refreshed to find someone else who doesn’t worship the ground Hoch walks on. I agree with you, most of Hoch’s problems and solutions are merely perfectly fine. His quality is on average higher than you expect for someone who wrote 1000 stories, but so much lower than anyone would have you believe. Some people would have you think Hoch wrote 1000 stories and every single one is a stone-cold goddamn masterpiece (which is silly!).
The only story of his I’ve read so far and really like is “The Problem of the Covered Bridge”, the footprint crime (we found one I like!). Everything else is, as you say, very hoary so far…
I just figured that since he’s a constant presence in discussion on impossible crimes he’d be a natural inclusion on the list (since, after all, this list is a weird hybrid of random shit you like, and historically significant stuff you don’t necessarily like). But I respect that you merely chose to not include authors you don’t like, which is fair. 😛
I love Hoch’s detective fiction without worshiping the ground he walked on and can admit he was, unsurprisingly, an uneven mystery writer, which is easy to overlook when reading single stories in a magazine or anthology. Hoch’s reputation is largely based on his short stories usually being among the best of any anthology he’s a part of. If you read Hoch’s stories in bulk, the discrepancy between quantity and quality becomes very apparent. Dr. Sam Hawthorne collections are unfortunately good examples of the fluctuating quality in Hoch’s fiction. But I still like him on a whole. And his best stories are really fantastic.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to come off as dismissive of people who like him. But I was thinking about a post in the Golden Age Mysteries Facebook group
from years ago where someone asked for examples of an author with the most consistently good payout, and not just one person named Hoch as their pinnacle of consistency, and that’s more the kind of perspective I was taking issue with. I can see how my comment errs a little towards brusque, though.
From Hoch, I’ve EXCLUSIVELY read Hawthorne stories from the first collection (still unfinished), and then the occasional anthology stuffer, so obviously my perspective is a little limited. Any standouts I should keep an eye out for?
‘The Problem of the Leather Man’ is ingenious, and at his very best Hoch is a pure delight — but, as TC says, reading him in anthology form makes the wild variety of his output stand out more starkly. I appreciate what the man did, and his commitment to the impossible crime, but I think he gets a pass a lot of the time purely because of how much he wrote rather than the overall quality of his work.
I’m always happy to find something wonderful by him, though — I’m not a completely blinkered fool 🙂
“Any standouts I should keep an eye out for?”
All of the Hoch stories on my updated locked room list from last year with a special mention for “The Case of the Modern Medusa.” Why that one never turned up in a locked room anthology is simply baffling to me. The Dark One, of The Perfect Locked Room blog, is a Hoch fan and his review of More Things Impossible reminded me of a low key gem, ‘The Problem of the Pink Post Office,” I had completely forgotten about it. So that one also comes recommended. Since you’re interested in hybrid mysteries, The Ripper of Storyville and Other Ben Snow Tales is a must read. And stop apologizing every other comment.
“Ormerod is on my To Be Checked Out list after the praise you and TC have poured upon him…‘
Do you have any particular title in mind as your starting point? You probably want to begin with Time to Kill, but A Shot at Nothing is perhaps a better appetizer and John had some high praise for The Hanging Doll Murder. And sounds like a good introduction to new readers.
Re: Ormerod, I had The Key to the Case or A Shot at Nothing highlighted as one you’d enjoyed previously, so I imagine one of those would be my starting point. All rather depends on me making sufficient progress on my TBR to be able to read him, though…
(how are you all italicizing your comments, the text editor on my screen doesn’t let me do that…)
Jim, I personally recommend TIME TO KILL, THE WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE, MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE, WHEN THE OLD MAN DIED, THE HANGING DOLL MURDER, and A SHOT AT NOTHING of the Ormerods I’ve read. A few of these would’ve ended up on my 30 favorite mysteries list if I’d read them before compiling that list.
TIME TO KILL is up there with my three favorite “impossible alibi” (no, TomCat, I will not negotiate my use of the term) tricks of all time, and it’s Ormerod’s debut so… a good debut is probably a great place to start, if you ask me. MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE isn’t an all-time favorite impossible crime of mine, but I do think it’s one of the most audacious tricks I’ve ever seen, and I imagine it would hit like a bolt of lightning if Ormerod had any subtlety about his clueing at all. For all that, it’d definitely make my “runner-up” list of favorites, I think, reserved for such scratched gems as Smith’s COME TO PADDINGTON FAIR.
I also disagree with TomCat, and consider THE WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE a superior example of the “interlinked double locked-room murder” to Carr’s THREE COFFINS. It’d be on my favorite impossible crime list if I’d read the novel before compiling that list, and it’ll be on whatever revision list I eventually end up making.
Unlike TomCat, I hated THE KEY TO THE CASE. I felt like it’s hard-boiled preoccupations diluted the puzzle plot, and I didn’t like what I perceived as being honest-to-God rape apologia. It was gross, and didn’t even have the decency to be interesting in return.
Duly noted, and much appreciated. Expect Ormerod to get an outing on this blog in the near(ish…) future.
Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize I was apologizing that much! It’s a bad habit of mine, I’ll try to reel it in a bit.
I’m actually friends with The Dark One! I believe he is among the younger members of the community (like myself), so I tend to talk to him on Discord when I can! I definitely ought to ask him for specific recommendations, I know he’s a huge Hoch mark…
I’ll keep THE RIPPER OF STORYVILLE in mind, too! Though it seems it’s a western-noir hybrid, where my interests more like in high-concept science-fiction and fantasy hybrid mysteries (imagine a science-fiction hybrid mystery that reads like it was written by Christopher Nolan working on INCEPTION), but I’ve definitely read a few western-mysteries I really liked, so thanks for the recommendations! I appreciate it!
Congrats on 1000 posts! I doubt my blog would get anywhere close to that.
I only discovered this blog like two days ago and I’ve been looking through a bunch of posts. It’s always cool finding someone who likes impossible crimes even more than me. I’ve only read a fraction of these, so I’ll definitely be looking at your recommendations to decide what to pick up next. If only I had more time!
Also I just saw in another comment you’ve reviewed DWaM??? His work got me into the genre and no one ever talks about him! I gotta go read those reviews now
I thoroughly enjoyed the first few DWaM stories I reviewed, but now — as a self-published author myself — don’t know quite how allowable it is for me to review any more SP books. Which is a shame, because I have very little time for reading that doesn’t go into this blog, and so have had to drop that element of what I read now…and I miss some of it, I can’t deny, since there’s some superb creativity at work in the field (not least in DWaM’s works).
As to the above list, it’s always lovely to make the acquaintance of another impossible crime fan; come back any time!
Yes, definitely! That makes sense about the self-publishing stuff. If you get the chance, I’d at least read Hear the Devil Sing, as it’s my absolute favorite thing he’s written, and honestly he hasn’t written a whole lot of standalone stuff after it.
I’ll definitely keep this in mind for when I have spare moment — many thanks for the rec.
Hold on a minute! Why would being a self-published author disqualify you from reviewing self-published mysteries? Is Martin Edwards forbidden to discuss the work of other professionally published authors or Tom Mead not allowed to comment on recent locked room mysteries? Besides, you have been nothing but fair in all your reviews, whether the author is professionally published or not. Just try avoid saying, “well, as a published author myself,” and you’ll be fine.
It’s generally the expected thing to uplift fellow authors — you’ll notice that the likes of Martin and Tom are always positive about their peers — which is an admirable quality that I’m unable to guarantee. I have a tendency to be rather frank when I don’t think something is good — which feels acceptable when criticising professionally published authors, who had plenty of help and are probably tough enough to take it (and getting so many reviews that they’re unlikely to notice or care), but I no longer feel comfortable being critical of self-published works.
The way around this is to only review SP works which I feel positively towards, but my AiSP to date have shown that one must kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, and I can no longer afford the time of reading something I’m not enjoying and so not going to get a blog post out of. This policy is still under review, but it’s how I feel at the moment and hence why the AiSP undertaking has been on hiatus for a while.
Finding a (Probably Terrible…) Modern Locked Room Mystery for TomCat shall, however, continue at as fast a pace as I’m able to find qualifying titles to bring to your attention. Those are fair game.
You know I prefer honesty to niceness and an honest, well-informed, opinion is something self-published authors often miss out on. Something self-published authors toiling in our niche corner generally appreciate. I believe only one writer responded negatively to an “Adventures in Self-Publishing” review. But the decision is, of course, entirely up to you.
“The way around this is to only review SP works which I feel positively towards”
I recommend A. Carver’s The Author is Dead!
TAiD is definitely at the top of the list if/when I return to self-published works. Very tempted by that one, it has to be said.