MORE LOCKED ROOMS AND IMPROBABLE CRIMES, by John Pugmire
Part A. The following English-language stories are referenced in Chambres Closes, Crimes Impossibles by Soupart, Fooz, and Bourgeois (Livres sur Sambre, Dinant, 1997), although the descriptions are in French.
None of the stories appears in Robert Adey’s Locked Room Murders And Other Impossible Crimes (Crossover Press, 1991). Soupart et al.’s rating is shown alongside. Stars are awarded out of 4. The comments which follow are mine.
Christianna Brand: Heads You Lose (John Lane, 1941; Dodd Mead, 1942) **
A series of decapitations, one of which occurs in a pavilion surrounded by virgin snow. COMMENT: I love Christianna Brand (Death of Jezebel is one of the most fiendishly clever impossible crimes ever written) but here she inexplicably withholds a vital piece of information from the reader, which spoils the book.
Christianna Brand: Tour de Force (Michael Joseph, 1955; Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955) ***
One of a party of tourists is found stabbed in her hotel room in impossible circumstances. COMMENT: I would classify this more as an improbable, for the room isn’t locked and the ‘impossibility’ depends on the crime occurring while the victim was seemingly under observation by a host of witnesses, including Inspector Cockerill, but the witty Brand is on top form.
Paul C. Doherty: Satan in St. Mary’s (Robert Hale, 1986; St. Martin’s Press, 1987) **(+)
Set in 13th century England: an apparent suicide by hanging inside a church where the victim had taken refuge and whose every access was manned by armed guards. COMMENT: I haven’t read this novel. Paul Doherty also writes as Paul Harding (q.v.)
Michael Harrison: “The Fires in the Rue St. Honore” (EQMM, November 1967; The Exploits of the Chevalier Dupin, Mycroft & Moran, 1968; Murder in the Rue Royale, Stacey 1972) ***
Insurance fraud suspected in a series of fires occurring inside locked and sealed buildings. COMMENT: I haven’t read this short story, but I wasn’t overly impressed with another three star story by the same author
Clarence Buddington Kelland: “A Piece of String” (Original appearance, 1934; included in Scattergood Baines Pulls the Strings, Harper 1941) **(+)
Victim’s brains beaten out inside a locked room plus some clever stuff with fake alibis. COMMENT: I haven’t read this short story
James E. Noble: “The Case of the Cop and the Drop” (AHMM, December 1984) ***
Police have set a trap for drug dealers with a hidden camera inside an armoured van. One of three police officers is fatally stabbed inside the locked van yet nothing can be seen on the film record. COMMENT: I haven’t read this short story but it sounds promising.
Dorothy L. Sayers: Busman’s Honeymoon (Victor Gollancz, 1937; Harcourt Brace, 1937) *(+)
An unpopular villager is found with a fractured skull inside a locked room with no weapon. COMMENT: Sayers at her most verbose, with a very pedestrian and predictable puzzle
Henry Wade: Constable, Guard Thyself! (Constable, 1934; Houghton Mifflin, 1935) **(+)
A senior officer killed in his office in the middle of a busy police station where time could not have permitted the culprit to escape. COMMENT: I haven’t yet read this novel.
Cornell Woolrich: The Black Curtain (Simon & Schuster, 1941) **(+)
Listed in Soupart et al. as by William Irish. How could Harry Diederich have been shot dead by his relatives when they were miles away? COMMENT: I haven’t read this novel, but his short story “The Room with Something Wrong” as by Irish wasn’t bad at all.
Part B. Other stories referenced in neither Adey or in Soupart:
William Arden: “The Bizarre Case Expert” (EQMM, June 1970)
COMMENT: All I know about this short story is that it is referenced in The Mammoth Book of Locked Rooms. See Part C. (William Arden is a pseudonym of Michael Collins.)
Christianna Brand: “The Man on the Roof” (EQMM, October 1984; The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries, Crippen & Landru, 2002)
The victim is found shot inside a locked gamekeeper’s cottage surrounded by virgin snow and there’s no gun to be found. COMMENT: A short story which would be well-regarded if written by almost anyone else, but falls a little short of Brand’s best.
Charles B. Child: “All the Birds of the Air” (Collier’s, Jan 17, 1950; The Sleuth of Baghdad, Crippen & Landry, 2002)
The victim is dead of a blow to the head inside in a windowless cellar where he had taken refuge to escape the heat of Baghdad. A witness confirmed nobody went in or out. COMMENT: One of Crippen & Landru’s interesting collection of Inspector Chafik J. Chafik stories.
Edmund Crispin: “Nine Minus Nine Equals One” (EQMM, March 1951)
Disappearance from a train in transit. COMMENT: Pretty banal, but it’s a mysterious disappearance and they all seem to be variants on the same solution.
Christopher Fowler: The Water Room (Bantam, UK, 2005)
A woman is found drowned in a dry underground room miles from any water. COMMENT: I haven’t read this novel yet. Fowler’s first book was extremely well crafted with witty dialogue and an intriguing plot, though not an impossible crime. He has also written a third book, The Seventy-Seven Clocks, but I’m not sure whether it’s a locked-room.
Paul Harding: Red Slayer (Headline, 1992; W. C. Morrow, 1994)
Brother Athelstan solves the 14th century murder of a lord found with his throat cut in a locked room at the end of a corridor under constant observation. Harding also writes as Paul Doherty. COMMENT: A well-crafted book with a solid locked-room puzzle
H. R. F.Keating: Go West, Inspector Ghote (Collins, 1981; Doubleday/Crime Club, 1981)
COMMENT: All I know about this novel is that it is referenced in The Mammoth Book…
H. R. F. Keating: The Perfect Murder (Collins, 1964; E. P. Dutton, 1965)
COMMENT: All I know about this novel is that it is referenced in The Mammoth Book…
J. A. Konracke: “On the Rocks” (EQMM, July 2004)
The police have had to break down the door and push aside a heavy sofa to find the apparent suicide with her wrist slit open. Yet it is murder nonetheless. COMMENT: A competently written first short story with a well-constructed solution, but the trick was first used back in Le Violon Fantome (The Phantom Violin) written in 1948 by Jean-Joseph Renaud. It is available in English (Metropolitan, UK, 1948) and should be well worth reading if it has been properly translated.
Peter Lovesey: Bloodhounds (Little Brown, UK, 1996; Mysterious Press, 1996)
Two murders occur, each inside a barge padlocked on the outside. COMMENT: A brilliant work (which still rates in my top ten despite John Hudson Tiner’s “The Preacher and the Locked Shed,” December 1990, EQMM, predating it.) Lovesey’s story is nevertheless beautifully executed and involves two variations on the padlocked room theme.
Dorothy L. Sayers: Have His Carcase (Victor Gollancz, 1932; Brewer Warren & Putnam, 1932).
Body found on rock on empty beach, with no footprints in the sand; witnesses on a boat at sea saw nobody on the beach at the presumed time of death. COMMENT: A completely original solution to an interesting puzzle. As a bonus, Sayers isn’t quite as bombastic as usual, all of which makes for a very entertaining read. May be her best.
Part C. The following stories appear in The Mammoth Book of Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes, edited by Mike Ashley (Robinson, 2000; Carroll & Graf, 2000), which contains twenty stories not mentioned in Adey, including many previously unpublished ones as well as a few that first appeared a long time ago. I have excluded those which aren’t really impossible crimes:
William Brittain: “Mr. Strang Accepts A Challenge” (EQMM, November 1976)
Victim is struck down by heavy blow to head when opening door in torrential rain. No footprints in the muddy ground and nothing in the vicinity heavy enough to have caused the wound. COMMENT: Nowhere near as prolific as Ed Hoch – who is? – but Mr. Brittain has produced quite a few impossible “Mr. Strang” stories of a consistently high quality. This is one of his best: surprising, original, and very ingenious.
Michael Collins: “No Way Out” (Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, February 1964, as by Dennis Lynds)
Guard shot inside upper floor locked room with a dozen other guards outside; precious rubies vanish without trace despite sophisticated scanning equipment. COMMENT: A tightly written story with an ingenious solution.
Kate Ellis: “The Odour of Sanctity” (First appearance)
Man is stabbed in locked church tower under observation, then falls to ground half and hour later with the only key in his pocket. COMMENT: A nicely done mystery, perfectly fair.
Howel Evans: “The Mystery of the Taxi-Cub” (The Novel Magazine, 1922)
Famous judge is found stabbed with thin steel shaft inside cab taking him to court. COMMENT: The solution is fairly tame by today’s standards, but it is not trivial, and the period details make the story interesting.
Susanna Gregory: “Ice Elation” (First appearance)
Scientists in an isolated Antarctic research station vanish without trace. COMMENT: The solution is banal, but the storytelling is good and the location intriguing.
Lois H. Gresh & Robert Weinberg: “Death Rides the Elevator” (First appearance.)
Man is decapitated as he rides alone in an elevator. COMMENT: Not hard to work out the general idea, if not the detail. A very similar solution was used 7 years earlier in 1993 by J. J. LeMarrec in his prize-winning novel: Tout Abus Sera Puni (Any Offence Will Be Punished), which is well worth getting if you read French.
Edward D. Hoch: “The Problem of the Crowded Cemetery” (EQMM, May 1995)
A freshly-dead body turns up in a long-buried coffin. COMMENT: Ed’s stories are of a uniformly high quality and this is no exception.
H. R. F. Keating: “The Legs That Walked” (First appearance)
Victim is found strangled inside a tent. Not all that unusual, except his legs have been cut off. Although the knife has been left at the crime scene, the legs haven’t. COMMENT: This startling crime is solved with Keating’s customary wit and ingenuity.
Michael Kurland: “The Stolen Saint Simon” (First appearance)
Painting disappears from gallery under observation and man is shot in locked room also under observation. COMMENT: A fairly uninspired story with rather implausible solution.
Peter Lovesey: “The Amorous Corpse” (First appearance)
A bank robber is caught live on video an hour after he has died during a hold-up. COMMENT: Although I’m a big fan of Peter Lovesey, this isn’t one of his best.
Richard A. Lupoff: “The Second Drug” (First appearance)
Actor playing vampire dies inside padlocked dressing room. COMMENT: Long on vampire lore, short on locked-room ingenuity. Forgettable.
Edward Marston: “Blind Eyes” (First appearance)
After a series of explosive distractions, the statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square is found to have been replaced by that of Napoleon Bonaparte. COMMENT: Amusing and ingenious, albeit a rather lightweight story.
Amy Myers: “Murder Strips Off” (First appearance)
Night club owner poisoned on stage when only other occupants were male strippers. COMMENT: Workmanlike, if not particularly ingenious
Bill Pronzini: “The Pulp Connection” (EQMM, February 1979, as “The Private Eye Who Collected Pulps”)
Victim killed inside locked room by razor-sharp splinter of steel in breastbone. COMMENT: Again, not hard to work out the general idea, if not the detail. I find Pronzini dull and vastly overrated and this is a good example of why.
Marilyn Todd: “Stag Night” (First appearance)
Set in ancient Rome. Leader of boar hunt vanishes in front of witnesses. COMMENT: Good period stuff with a neat surprise ending
Peter Tremayne: “Murder in the Air” (First appearance)
Murder in a locked toilet in an aircraft at 30,000 feet. COMMENT: Yet again, not hard to work out the general idea, if not the detail. Passable.
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