Some months ago, in our podcast The Men Who Explain Miracles, first myself and then Dan chose our fifteen favourite locked room novels of all time. In celebration of Locked Room International recently putting out their thirtieth fiction title, I have done essentially the same again, this time choosing solely from their catalogue: effectively, my personal picks for the ‘top half’ of their output to date.
Most people who write and publish one novel go on to complete a second, yet the second is often the one deemed ‘difficult’. I suppose it’s the not knowing whether a universe and characters previously deployed will stretch over another 100,000 words, or whether a writer used up all their good ideas on Book 1 and so Book 2 is likely to fall on drier ground.
Before we get onto the book itself, it’s worth mentioning that this is the twenty-ninth publication from Locked Room International. Under the stewardship of John Pugmire, we’ve been brought a wonderful mix of classic and modern impossible crime novels and short stories from all corners of the globe, and — given the standard of their recent output — it certainly seems that the best is far from past. I anticipate a great many excellent, obscure, and previously-untranslated works coming our way in the years ahead thanks to LRI, and I wanted to take a moment to recognise the work that goes into making this happen.
Whatever I thought of this book, I was committed to reading more of Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page’s Roger Scarlett mysteries as I had already bought volume 2 of the Coachwhip reissues — comprising the novels Cat’s Paw (1931) and Murder Among the Angells (1932). Impetuous? I prefer optimistic: the promise on display in their debut augured well for their future, and I believed remuneration would be found somewhere in these pages. So it’s either my own foresight or my stubborn inability to admit a mistake that sees me having a hugely enjoyable time with this one…I shall leave it to the reader to choose.
The classic GAD puzzle plot being the complex and obstreperous beast it is, we should not be surprised that sometimes it took two brains to wrestle in into readable shape (under a single name so as to simplify things) — Ellery Queen, Francis Beeding, Kelley Roos, Patrick Quentin, etc. Now, thanks to the work of Coachwhip and Curtis Evans, we can all add another collaborative nom de plume to our libraries with Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page’s Roger Scarlett and their Boston-set country house conundra. And, as with their distinguished kin, they prove to have an equally troublesome first swing at this while also showing a huge amount of promise.
Gather everyone together in a closed, isolated location, then kill ’em off one by one. Yup, at heart Death in the House of Rain (2006) is simply a marvellous instauration of this most spavined of classic detective fiction framings. The ingredients are familiar — take a remote mansion of obscure design, a landslide, a rain storm, and ten near-strangers, then add some baffling murders and stir — and this familiarity is invested with the vim and vigour that continues to breathe new life into the possibilities these recurrent trappings allow. In short, it is superb; chalk up another win for Locked Room International and fans of impossible crimes.