Bob Adey’s book Locked Room
Murders And Other Impossible Crimes
was published by Crossover Press in 1991. The book was an revised
and expanded edition of an attempt to list all stories in
this sub-genre, with a separate section detailing solutions.
In Geoff Bradley's magazine CADS (details at the end of
this page) I soon after contributed a series of columns, two per issue,
suggesting items that might be included in any future volume.
Alas, there has not been one, nor was I able to continue my own
additional entries beyond the eight installments here. One day!
Except for one or two parenthetical inserts, the format and text of what follows remains the same as when it first appeared in CADS.
LOCKED ROOMS AND
Marv Lachman’s review of Bob Adey’s magnificent book, Locked Room Murders (Crossover Press), in the latest issue of CADS (#19) is right on target. If you don’t own this book, you should. What I’ll be doing in this and future instalments of LRAOIC is listing and annotating some of the additions I’ve found in recent months. I won’t be following Bob’s format exactly—no solutions in the back, sorry to say—but I am passing these discoveries on to him. When he writes them up, he’ll be doing them his way.
William Britain: “Mr Strang And The Purloined Memo” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, February 1983)
A memo worth millions of dollars disappears from a room that is both sealed and watched. Even stripping the room completely does not turn up the small, folded-up piece of paper. Comment: A neat puzzle, and the references to Poe are neatly done.
Allan Vaughan Elston: “The Shot Downstairs” (Detective Fiction Weekly, December 7 1929)
A wealthy man is shot to death in his study, and the room is locked. However, there is no bullet in the room, and there is no ink in the house to match that of the “suicide” note. Comment: This long novelette is only semi-skilfully told, but while it’s bound to be hard to find, it’s well worth searching out. Note: The King story below comes from the same issue of DFW.
Brett Halliday: “Tragedy Of Errors” (Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1964)
Private eye Mike Shayne investigates the death of a man who jumped (or who was pushed) from the window of his locked hotel room. Comment: This is your typical p.i. story, with far more emphasis on action than on brainwork. Mike Shayne was certainly a popular p.i. in his day, however.
Edward D. Hoch: “Captain Leopold Beats The Machine” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1983)
A man being questioned in a police interrogation room is poisoned by coffee taken straight from the vending machine in the outside hallway, right before the eyes of several witnesses. The machine itself checks out cleanly. Comment: While marginal as an ‘impossible crime’, this is really a superb example of how to construct a detective short story.
Edward D. Hoch: “Suddenly In September” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1983)
A prisoner is stabbed to death in a cell while consulting with his attorney, a lady Captain Leopold is growing increasingly fond of. She didn’t do it, but no one else could have done it either. Comment: This is an immediate sequel to “Captain Leopold Beats The Machine,” listed above. Besides being another very neat puzzle, we are also treated to more information about Leopold as a person.
When an inept burglar finds a body in the house he is about to rob, his are the only footprints in the snow surrounding the home. Comment: Since the thief then flees in panic, without checking to see if the killer is still on the premises (he is not), the puzzle is obviously not what the author had as his prime intentions.
William Colt MacDonald: Bad Man’s Return (Ace Double D‑2, © 1947)
this western novel starring ‘The Three
Mesquiteers’, a rancher is killed in a room with the door locked and
windows intact. Comment:
mechanics of the crime are crude, and are not much of a challenge to
well-established mystery fan. (It’s fun to actually figure out,
As maybe you’ll see after reading through this grouping of books and stories, I’m not insisting on absolutely impossible crimes. (I used to enjoy watching a TV show called Mission: Highly Unlikely.) Some of these Bob Adey might decide not to put into the next edition of his book, but again, some of them he most certainly will.
George Harmon Coxe: The Glass Triangle (Knopf, 1940; Dell pb 522)
The body that news photographer Kent Murdock discovers in a hotel room one evening (without telling the police) has completely disappeared the next day. Only a piece of lens from a broken pair of glasses can confirm it was ever there. Comment: So, OK, I agree that this isn’t an impossible crime—but have you ever tried smuggling a corpse out of a busy hotel without anyone seeing you? That’s not how it was done, either. There’s some clever plotting on Coxe’s part here.
The victim is found alone in a cabin with the door locked from the inside, the key in the dead man’s hand. Comment: Although this sounds promising, this novel is on the marginal side as a ‘locked room’ mystery. What’s worth noting is that the circumstances surrounding the obviously phoney suicide are used here instead as subtle clues in the unravelling of the real mystery. Note: This is not a Perry Mason story, but the second of two novels Gardner wrote about freewheeling old Gramp Wiggins.
Sherlock Holmes makes short work of the case of the code-busting Foreign Office clerk found dead in a locked room. Comment: At less than two and a half pages of text, this stands a chance of being the shortest locked room mystery ever ‘solved’.
Sam Hawthorne investigates murder in a
small hospital: a body is found in a locked and unused operating
room. Only the
chief physician has a key. Comment:
Not one of Hoch’s better efforts. As explained on the last page,
the killer had
to have three simply extraordinary strokes of good luck to pull this
(Plus one stroke of equally bad luck: Hawthorne was on the scene.)
After the victim’s unclothed body is found in the garden behind Jeff and Haila Troy’s basement New York apartment, it is discovered that the dead man’s own apartment, on the top floor, has been completely stripped of all its furnishings, with no one in the building noticing how or when it was done. Comment: While the stories about the Troys overall don’t compare with those about the Norths, in my opinion, this is a neater puzzle than I can recall Pam and Jerry ever having to deal with.
science-fiction mystery starring p.i.
Ben Takent on the planet Tankur, some time in the future. On page
12 he’s hired
to find how archaeological artefacts are disappearing from a locked,
supposedly impregnable vault. Comment:
Sorry—this one’s a false alarm. This is neither good SF nor a
good mystery, and
nothing past page 100 is worth reading. As far as I could tell,
artefacts (a) never came form the vault, or (b) the guilty party is
Steve Lewis continues his
suggestions for additions to Bob Adey’s Locked
Room Murders And Other Impossible Crimes with two more instalments.
Bob’s criteria for inclusion have not been followed exactly, many of
suggestions would not be eligible.
For what its worth, we expand our coverage to include locked rooms on radio as well. (There are decent examples available, but the two here aren’t them.)
Death in the snow country — Michigan’s upper peninsula. The only tracks are those of a young boy, the deer he was hunting, and the dead man. A hunting accident? COMMENT: No, it was no accident, and the boy was no murderer. This is a subtle crime, but Tony Delacroix, a constable working for the Chippewa Council, is certainly up to it. An excellent story. NOTE: Even though impossible crimes are impossibly rare today, the Newton story below comes from the very same issue of AHMM, and so did the Hahn story in the last instalment of “Locked Rooms And Other Improbable Crimes”.
As usual, PI Peter Chambers’s path crosses that of a beautiful girl, but this time they find that the uncle of this one has apparently committed suicide in his locked hotel room. COMMENT: It’s not suicide, but when the door of a hotel room simply locks behind you when you leave, it’s not much of a locked room mystery either. NOTE: This was a series both created and written by Henry Kane, but if you don’t remember ever hearing of it before, there’s an obvious reason. It wasn’t very good. (Dane Clark played Peter Chambers.)
A would-be kidnapper is shot to death while locked in the trunk of private investigator Al Hubbs’s automobile. COMMENT: The discovery of the murder certainly causes a momentary shock, but it’s obvious the killer must have panicked, as there’s no way in the world he could have gotten away with it. NOTE: Al Hubbs may be one of the very few mute detectives in the annals of crime fiction. Anyone know of any others?
A woman is found dead of an overdose of barbiturates in a hotel bedroom, the door of which is not locked but is solidly blocked by a chair. She did not commit suicide, and Rich Burris’s fiancee slept outside the door all night. COMMENT: Unfortunately, the bedroom window is found to be unlocked and accessible by means of a narrow ledge several stories up. This is not the means of the murderer’s entry, but if the window hadn’t been open, the story would have been over a lot more quickly.
Immediately after Margo Lane locks the aged victim of a series of thefts upstairs in his room, she and Lamont Cranston find his body in a refrigeration unit downstairs in the cellar. COMMENT: Well, that’s not exactly what really happened, but what really happened is even more unbelievable. This is inept story-telling at its finest. (The ending, in other words, opens more holes than it fills in.)
On pages 61-62, a dead man is found mostly disembowelled in his locked and chain-bolted apartment. COMMENT: That’s about all I know. read the first chapter of this gruesome, sex-tinged horror novel and only skimmed pages here and there the rest of the way through. Supernatural beings are evidently at work here, and I’m really sorry I brought it up.
telepath is found stabbed to death in
the restroom of an airplane after an attempted hijacking. There
were no signs
of a struggle. Question: How do you catch a telepath by surprise?
put some thought into this one, and he plays fairly, too. This
one works quite
nicely as a mystery as well as a better than average science fiction
The head of security on a spaceship is found dead alone in the hydroponics section, but everyone with clearance to the area has an alibi. COMMENT: The problem with SF mysteries is that when all human suspects seem to be eliminated, you then have to start in on the plants!
An artist for hardcover mysteries moves into an apartment whose previous tenant died there alone, inside with the doors locked. COMMENT: The not-so-subtle hints of the supernatural notwithstanding, this is an authentic locked room murder, most assuredly worth the effort to find.
A man shoots himself inside his locked apartment — but was it suicide? Only moments before his death he had purchased a copy of Great Expectations. COMMENT: Watch out for the twists in this one. Luckily police detective Allan Hyath is a puzzle solver.
A miner in space is found alone and dead on his asteroid, two hours away from his base, but in a suit designed to hold only three hours’ worth of air. No tracks of anyone else are found. COMMENT: Even though it was murder, the case is dull and not very interesting, even by SF standards. Henrietta E. King is the police detective on the job.
Valuable silver objects are stolen overnight from a locked cabinet, the only key to which was kept in the front of Tony Smooth’s underpants. COMMENT: Hence the title! My hat’s off to Mr Scott (and not only for handling a touchy subject very well).
An alien scholar-philosopher is found dead alone in his locked spacecraft stateroom. COMMENT: As it just so happens, the famous detective Mycroft Nkruma Farley is also on board, and the story goes downhill drastically from there. Bad. (Judith Tarr is a well-known fantasy novelist, but she seems utterly out of her element here. Maybe it’s just poor editing.)
Percival Kalabash investigates
the theft of a set of kitchen silverware from a house in which all the
and doors were locked on the inside. COMMENT: A minor tale
tries to be funny, but does completely qualify to be in Bob Adey’s
Steve Lewis continues his suggestions for additions to Bob Adey’s Locked Room Murders And Other Impossible Crimes with two more instalments. As Bob’s criteria for inclusion have not been followed exactly, many of these suggestions would not be eligible.
mostly leftovers from
the end of
last year’s reading. And most of them are fairly borderline as
far as being
included in Bob Adey’s book is concerned. (It doesn’t bother me
though. Let Bob
sort them out.)
Ray Aldridge: “Obscurious” (Whatdunits, edited by Mike Resnick [Daw #892, 1st pr. 1992])
ambassador from the Sirius system is
found dead in his locked hotel rooms, with no signs of violence on his
‘Suicide’ is a word unknown in the Sirian language. What sort of
it, or was it murder? COMMENT: The detective in charge of the
Looper, has only 16 hours to answer these questions. If he fails
a fleet of
Sirian warships will destroy the earth. NOTE: This is the last of
stories from this particular collection to appear in this column, but
as is the
case with most SF-detective story hybrids, most of the work in this
well below standard. In this case I think it’s because the SF
in this book know only the surface of mystery fiction, and, as a
writing tends toward a burlesque of the field, intentionally or
‘Natty Looper’ as an example. He solves the case in fine fashion,
but he speaks
like a cornseed from Kansas, using “feller” and “iffen” and “purty” and
know what I mean?
Ann C. Fallon: Where Death Lies (Pocket, 1991, 1st pr. June 1991)
a middle-aged Irish couple return
home from a vacation in Africa, they find a dead man in their locked
Worse than that, he’s nude, and in their bed. Solicitor James
second case) helps investigate. COMMENT: Very literary, insightful
the puzzle in the plot is noticeably weak. How the killer managed
to get in is
a question not gotten around to until Chapter 12, or more than 200
Paul Harding: The Nightingale Gallery (Avon, 1991, 1st Avon pr. May 1993)
the wake of the death of King Edward
III, Brother Athelstan helps investigate the death of two men whose
found behind locked doors. The title refers to the corridor
outside the first
man’s room, the squeaky floorboards of which make it impossible for
enter without being heard. COMMENT: While not quite in the class
of the John
Dickson Carr type of ingenuity, it will do for now. An impressive
The squalor of London described in the book surely makes one appreciate
invention of indoor plumbing all the more!
Edward D. Hoch: “The Problem Of The Black Roadster” (EQMM, November 1988)
car a gang of three bank robbers is
driving roars off from the bank only to disappear long before reaching
roadblocks that were immediately set up. COMMENT: Since this
adventure of Dr
Sam Hawthorne is not in Bob Adey’s book, he must have rejected it as a
too trivial to trifle with. Just so. NOTE: We do learn how
Sam first met Mary
Beat, his long-time nurse and assistant. (In fact, she’s the one
this case. Sam’s answer is quite wrong.)
Michael Piper (aka Michael and Kitty): “The Eerie Basin Murder” (Broadcast February 6, 1942, on the ABC network)
could a murder be committed by a
sailor imprisoned in a jail hospital room that’s guarded by a policeman
outside, with bars in the only window? COMMENT: Michael
Piper was a PI on this
short-lived series, and Kitty was his wife. The puzzle is
trivial, and the
program is the last of the series. (It began on October 10, 1941.)
Charles Sheffield: “The Heart Of Ahura Mazda” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, November 1988)
(Charles’s grandfather) investigates a mysterious death and the
theft of a magnificent ruby. COMMENT: This is marginal as an
since a window to the locked building is found open, but how did the
of the jewel seem to disappear into thin air, complete with red
bushy beard and scarlet robes? And when the clothes are found,
why can’t the
bloodhounds pick up the trail?
This group of entries certainly illustrates the wide range in time in which improbable tales can be found.
Stanley Day: “Shamus Spots A Phony” (Detective Fiction Weekly, May 20 1933)
Maguire is the
hotel detective on duty when an elderly man is found shot to death in
The housekeeper on the floor swears she saw the man’s wife enter the
never leave, but she is not in the room when the body is found.
the police suspect the housekeeper, her testimony is ignored, but she
telling the truth. A better writer might have made something of
it. NOTE: This
issue of DFW also contains
Maxwell story below.
Gillian B. Farrell: Alibi For An Actress (Pocket; 1992; 1st pb printing July 1993)
Annie McGrogan’s first case, she is assigned to guard the bedroom of a
opera actress whose husband is found murdered across town the same
Unaccountably, witnesses are found who saw the actress fleeing the dead
apartment. COMMENT: While this book has its various charms (and
recommended), the intricacy of the puzzle is not among them. Not
much of a
challenge to this one.
Jane Haddam: Quoth The Raven (Bantam: 1991; Bantam pb, October 1991)
When a woman in a college cafeteria line is poisoned by lye, the only thing on her tray is a cup of tea — and as former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian well knows, lye fizzes on contact with any form of water. COMMENT: Unfortunately, this bizarre mystery is too intense to be of much entertainment, and this small element of the impossible is far too fragile to sustain the 276 pages of high angst that “Haddam” provides us.
after a patrolman
spots an intruder in a locked house and is fired upon, the incident
a full-fledged siege. The house is filled with gas and riddled
with machine gun
fire, but when the shooting stops, the house is found to be
empty. COMMENT: The
story requires a certain amount of inventiveness (both on my part and
author’s) to make it belong in this column, but, upon full
there’s no doubt that it does.
Jeffry Scott: “The Brick Overcoat” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, December 1990)
An actress who is
renovating an old theatre in a bad neighbourhood is tormented by
threats coming from nowhere. (2) A drug deal goes sour when the
disappears out of a room with barred windows and a ten foot drop.
Detective-Sergeant Nick Flinders neatly solves two impossible cases in
blow. NOTE: While this story is not in Bob Adey’s book, two
others in the same
issue are. In the first, Dr Sam Hawthorne solves “The Problem Of
Tepee” by Edward D. Hoch; the second is even better: “The Preacher And
Locked Shed” by John Hudson Tiner.
Three Sheets To The Wind “The Sultan’s Curse” [radio program; date unknown]
drunken playboy (Brian
Donlevy) on board ship finds the bodies of a sultan and a steward in an
otherwise empty ballroom. When he returns with help, the room is filled
party-makers, and there are no bodies to be found. COMMENT: This is
— I have no idea how this one comes out. This is an audition/preview of
radio equivalent of a serial at the movies, and it ends just as things
even more interesting. NOTE: The program eventually became a network
running on NBC in 1942 between February 15 and July 5. In Brian
on the network series was none other than John Wayne.
Stephen Waslyk: “An Apple For The Teacher” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, April 1988)
elderly woman — a
music teacher — dies of a heart attack while alone in her locked
husband has a perfect alibi, so how could this be murder?
COMMENT: It is, of
course, but as an “impossible" crime, don’t go out of your way hunting
this one down.
Lewis continues his
suggestions for additions to Bob Adey’s Locked
Room Murders And Other Impossible Crimes with two more instalments.
Bob’s criteria for inclusion have not been followed exactly, many of
suggestions would not be eligible.
In which at least one of the entries came as much as a surprise to me as it will to you.
sleuth Philip Bethancourt teams up
with Detective Sergeant Jack Gibbons of Scotland Yard to solve the case
woman poisoned in her bedroom while putting on makeup. There was
unpoisoned cup of coffee in her room, the back door was locked, and the
(innocent) was in the living room watching the front door.
relatively unchallenging puzzle, a “first story”, is rather
in both meanings of the word. (One wonders if the two detectives
ever had a
Edgar Franklin: “Instead Of Vegetables” (Detective Fiction Weekly, October 16, 1937)
an invalid ex-army officer is shot
at in the room he has been unable to leave for several days, a
is mysteriously found on his desk, which only he and his butler could
near. COMMENT: PI George Batey, who would rather be tracking down
racketeers in the vegetable business, is as good with his fists as his
and luckily so, since brains are only marginally required in this one.
Simon Green: Hawk & Fisher (Ace, © 1990; 1st pr. September 1990)
locked room fantasy, in which Hawk and
Fisher, two captains of the guard (male and female, and married to each
investigate the stabbing of a reformist councillor in his locked
has an amulet around his neck designed to ward off magical spells, so
not the answer. COMMENT: A finely crafted story, reminiscent in
many ways of
the old-fashioned isolated country manor capers of yesteryear — as long
can ignore the vampires, succubi and werewolves! The solution to
reasonably intricate, is worked out in exemplary fashion.
Herbert Resnicow: “The Christmas Bear” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January 1990)
toy stuffed bear is stolen from the top
row of rickety shelving formed by boards laid across boxes. There
is no way
anyone could have climbed up to get it. COMMENT: This is a barely
story for this column, but please keep in mind the criteria are mine
alone. It’s a warmly sweet story, and I loved it. (The
detective is Deborah’s
grandmother, Miz Sophie Slowinski.)
Treacherous Crossing (Movie, made for cable TV, rebroadcast on the USA Network, July 14, 1993)
newly married woman (played by Lindsay
Wagner) is taking a honeymoon on a ship bound for England, only to find
husband has disappeared and is nowhere to be found on board.
COMMENT: This, of
course, is based on John Dickson Carr’s famous story, “Cabin B-13”,
also made into the movie “Dangerous Crossing” in 1953, starring Jeanne
wish I had a copy of the latter on tape, as I remember it as a far
movie. The problem with the new version is that in the opening
scenes we never
see the man who disappears, and we’re left with only the bride’s word
ever existed. (We’re in the same boat, you might say, as the
The mystery of the disappearance is underplayed and pretty much
wasted. For all
we know, the ship’s captain may be right, and she really is having a
breakdown, and, if so, who really cares?
Stephen Wasylyk: “Element Of Doubt” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 1988)
retired hobbyist clockmaker named Barney
helps solve the stabbing death of a cabinet-maker in the man’s own
son is found at the scene of the crime with the murder weapon in his
backdoor, locked to outsiders, is under watch, and a neighbouring
saw only the son enter. COMMENT: Wasylyk is hardly a
household name, but he’s
written any number of excellent stories in his career, and this is one
NOTE: This appears in the same issue of AHMM
as the Chan story above.
James Anderson: Angel Of
Death (Doubleday Crime Club, © 1978; CC edition April 1989)
of twelve members of
a Caribbean yachting party are fatally poisoned. Since the poison
was dosed out
completely at random, what retired Scotland yard policeman Alec Webster
discover is how the murderer managed to kill only the six s/he intended
COMMENT: Obviously there aren’t any locked rooms in this mystery, but
‘improbable crime’ all the same. It’s a good puzzle, in the
Christie tradition, but it’s crammed into a story filled with too many
things going on, or so it seemed to me.
unknown killer seems
to have no trouble with the locked doors of a rooming house, even after
change of locks, and two women are done in before
Inspector Franklin can find the culprit. COMMENT:
all the roomers have their own keys, and so does the landlady’s nephew.
too bad. Even though none of them were used, that about does it as far
column is concerned. (And, overall, it’s a case of a story that
more than it delivers.)
successfully outbids the locals for a farm in Vermont, he is fatally
down by a rifle bullet. The rifle is not found in the farmhouse
where it was
fired, however, and watchers can verify it was not taken away by
COMMENT: The statement made on page 11 is that the rifle apparently
into thin air, but the answer, of course, is
much easier than that. So easy, in fact, that Bob
Adey will only
sneer at this one.
While Nick Velvet himself looks on, his long-time nemesis Sandra Paris (aka The White Queen) successfully steals two flags in as many mornings, both in broad daylight while flying from their respective poles. COMMENT: Sandra’s motto is “Impossible things before breakfast,” and for a while she seems to have Nick completely buffaloed. QUERY: On the cover of this issue of EQMM is a photo of Olympic diver Greg Louganis. Why?
William F. Smith: “An Almost Perfect Crime” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, April 1987)
eyewitnesses, a man in a closed telephone booth is stabbed to death
ice-pick in his back. More than that, the tip of the ice-pick is
have been covered with curare. COMMENT: This one’s the real
Detective Sergeant Raymond Stone really has his work cut out for him on
one. (It takes six pages for the explanation alone.)
The story begins with a man discovering a photgraph resembling his own wife in a manuscript about medieval poisoners, but the real element of the impossible occurs later when he and a friend dig up an empty coffin in a securely sealed crypt. COMMENT: Since this radio play is only 30 minutes long, it’s obviously a greatly abbreviated version of John Dickson Carr’s novel of the same name, with only a fraction of the complexity. Charlie Ruggles stars as investigator Gauden Cross, and Julie Hayden is his co-star. NOTE: This was the first regular broadcast in the long-running Suspense series. More in these programs will be entries in this column, just as soon as I can get to them.
But this, with promises unkept, was the final installment. This material first appeared in the following issues of CADS: #20, March 1993; #21, August 1993; #22, January 1994; and #23, May 1994.
The British mystery fanzine CADS continues to be published irregularly by Geoff Bradley, 9 Vicarage Hill, South Benfleet, Essex SS7 1PA, England. For a sample issue, send £5 (UK) or $10 (US/Canada, airmail). Please make checks payable to G. H. Bradley.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.
Copyright © 1993-94,2006 by Steve Lewis. Return to the Main Page.