A lot of impossible crime novels published these days have, let’s face it, about enough impossible crime content for a short story. So a short story collection seems like a sensible thing to try, right? Even one that does put ‘short stories’ on its cover and then call itself “a novel” on the back. Right?
Confidence and competence are, I think, the two qualities I’d like an author to exhibit if they’re going to ask for money for their work. The confidence to know they’ve written something well, and the competence to be at least moderately schooled in things like continuity, how to use the language they’re writing in, and how to place and build ideas around their core structure.
The English language is a funny thing. Take for instance Chris McGeorge’s debut novel Guess Who (2018) which, revolving as it did around a group of people solving a mystery while locked in a room, was marketed as a ‘locked room mystery’ when that is a phrase which has already had another meaning for well over a century.
Slowly, slowly I work my way through the Otto Penzler-edited Woo Whatta Lotta Locked Room Mysteries (2014) — it’s not really a convenient size to dip into — and, since my chronological reading of Ellery Queen is going so well, it seemed time to take on this impossible disappearance story. Or so I thought…
The appeal of detective fiction and impossible crime novels for me is their potential for elegance, for taking something that seems utterly baffling and rendering it clear through intelligent deployment of a few key ideas. This achieved peak density during the Golden Age, which is why that era earned that sobriquet, and it feels like it’s been downhill ever since.