#148: So, Like, What Is an Impossible Crime or a Locked Room Mystery?


Recent experiences of reading Darkness at Pemberley by T.H. White and What a Body! by Alan Green  — oh my days, I’ve only just noticed that they’re both named after colours… — have made me wonder on the above question.  See, both are listed here, on a compendium of the best ever locked room mysteries voted on by an international collection of people who know about this stuff, and both are listed here, on a rundown of the favourite locked room mysteries by resident blogosphere expert TomCat…yet personally, in the face of public opinion from such well-informed and respected sources, I’m reluctant to consider either of them as locked room mysteries.  Even taking my famously contrary nature out of the equation…what the hell?

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#136: Darkness at Pemberley (1932) by T.H. White

Darkness at Pemberley GollanczI’d like to get a fundamental contention out of the way: T.H. White’s sole detective novel Darkness at Pemberley came to my attention for the locked room murder that opens it, but I don’t feel it qualifies an impossible crime (the room can be unlocked at will, for one…).  Had White made a couple of different narrative choices — not even in the scheme itself, purely in the structure of how he presents the problem — then it could be an ‘impossible alibi’ problem.  But he doesn’t.  You’re told the guilty party before they’ve had a chance to really fall under suspicion or even mention the alibi they’ve given themself, and so you have a well-that-would-have-been-impossible-if-they’d-been-given-a-chance-to-deny-it crime.  Which I’m pretty sure is a new sub-sub-genre, though perhaps not one that we’ll get many further books in…

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