Saturday, May 31, 2014

Footprints in the Snow by Maurice Leblanc

One set of footprints leads to the scene of a disturbance, and a different set leads away. With the victim missing, where is the body? And how did the assailant traverse over fields of snow without leaving any footprints?

The penultimate story of Leblanc's "Eight Strikes of the Clock" collection, Footprints in the Snow is an intriguing mystery featuring a number of unexplained events. The crux of the case relies on the tracks (or lack thereof) left in the snow surrounding the isolated scene.

Le Clos Lupin - Leblanc's home is now a museum dedicated
to his most famous character. Source: Cultural Etretat

The local police are quick to form an explanation for the events, but when witness testimony contradicts their theory it is up to Prince Renine to once again uncover the truth.

Footprints in the Snow

The short story is available in its entirety for free at Project Gutenberg or WikiSource. If you want to read on your Kindle you can download it here (send to Kindle instructions here).

Author: Maurice Leblanc
Date: 1922
Word Count: 9,000 (about 36 pages)


Footprints have long been a favourite trope of impossible crime authors. Leblanc's story fits within the classic mould - the prints in the snow surrounding the scene do not match the perceived series of events. While Leblanc does create a logical and (mostly) believable solution, the method used to deceive the investigators is a little tired.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins

Staying the night after an infatuating winning spree, an amateur gambler locks himself and his winnings in for the night. With the door barred and the window locked, he assumes himself to be safe. He assumes wrong...

Wilkie Collins. Source: Wikipedia
Wilkie Collins was a prolific writer and personal friend of Charles Dickens. The two collaborated on a number of projects, with Collins once proposing "We saw each other every day, and were as fond of each other as men could be."

A Terribly Strange Bed was first published in an 1852 edition of Dickens' magazine "Household Words". The story follows an amateur gambler named Faulkner who, after an incredible run of luck, finds himself celebrating a significant win with a new acquaintance.

A Terribly Strange Bed

The short story is available in its entirety for free at Nagoya University or Project Gutenberg. If you want to read on your Kindle you can download it here (send to Kindle instructions here).

Author: Wikie Collins
Date: 1852
Word Count: 6,500 (about 25 pages)


Told from the perspective of the intended victim, A Terribly Strange bed is more psychological horror than impossible crime. Faulkner's increasing level of intoxication, and apparent naivety to the intentions of his new found friend, creates a palpable sense of foreboding that serves well to set up the night in the titular bed.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Locked Room Book Cover

I've just received the latest cover design for The Locked Room, so thought I'd share it below.

Designed by Cameron Gibson, the cover integrates a number of motifs from the locked room genre - the victim is seemingly alone in a room but attacked by an unknown assailant, the use of mirrors or illusions, and the keyhole symbol that has been utilised in a number of previous works.

The style was inspired by the illustrations of Matt Taylor, an English artist who creates colourful pieces based on popular culture and has worked for companies such as Adidas, Google, GQ, Wired, and many more. You can view some of Matt's work on his website,

Previous Iterations

The initial design.
Version 2 introduced a new font,
adjusted the colours, and improved
the features of the character.
Version 3 altered colours again, aged
the character, and tweaked the layout.

I'd love to hear some opinions so feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Therese and Germaine by Maurice Leblanc

A man is found alone in a locked cabin, stabbed in the back. When the murder weapon is later found in his wife's bag, all fingers point to her...

This locked room mystery is one of a selection of short stories available in The Eight Strokes of the Clock by Maurice Leblanc. The book follows the exploits of adventurer Serge Renine and his companion Hortense Daniel as they investigate bizarre and intriguing mysteries. Leblanc introduces the book by saying the stories were told to him by Arsene Lupin, a fictional character from Leblanc's other works. Given the similarities Leblanc suggests that the resourceful adventurer may in fact be Lupin himself.

The book was selected by Ellery Queen as one of the top 125 most important detective/crime/mystery fiction works, and features eight stories which I will cover in more detail in a separate post. Therese and Germaine is one of only a couple of locked room mysteries within the collection, however the other stories are well worth a read for mystery enthusiasts.

Therese and Germaine

The short story is available in its entirety for free at Project Gutenberg or WikiSource. If you want to read on your Kindle you can download it here (send to Kindle instructions here).

Author: Maurice Leblanc
Date: 1922
Word Count: 8,000 (about 32 pages)


Therese and Germain takes a little time getting to its core mystery, choosing instead to focus on the characters involved and the impending nature of the crime. The set-up is a little contrived (Renine overhears the would-be-murderers plotting their crime on a train), especially considering Renine hears just enough to confirm that a crime will be committed without learning who the victim or attacker will be.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Locked Room - Diagnosis Cancer by P.J. Bergman

A hospital patient escapes from a locked room. Under armed guard. While sedated...

This exclusive short story is the second chapter of my upcoming novel, The Locked Room. The first chapter, "Private Eye" is available to read online for free here.

For more information and further chapters of the upcoming book The Locked Room, check out The Locked Room (Book).

The Locked Room - Chapter 2 - Diagnosis Cancer

The short story is available in its entirety below. If you want to read on your Kindle you can download it here (send to Kindle instructions here). The previous chapter, "Private Eye" is available here.

Author: P.J. Bergman
Date: 2014
Word Count: 7,500 (about 30 pages)

© 2014, P.J. Bergman. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author. Extracts may be used, provided that full reference to the source is available to the reader.


Case Log #002 - January 2005

Diagnosis Cancer

Three months after Allsop’s death I was once again standing on the shining gloss tiles of the LAX arrivals lounge. Coming home was always a strange feeling. Locations were familiar yet enough time had passed for them to inherit a certain alien quality. My mind associated civilian airports with temporary solitude - mandatory downtime spent in a series of sterile apartments before an assignment came in and I was shipped off to my new station in another corner of the globe. The permanence of my arrival on this occasion was a little bewildering.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Locked Room Mysteries In Real Life - Sherlock S03E02 The Sign of Three

There's been a bit of criticism levelled at the central mystery of Sherlock - The Sign of Three. The crime has been called both unrealistic and impractical.

In an unlikely case of truth proving stranger than fiction, the events in Sherlock - The Sign of Three are actually based on a real-life crime.

Sherlock's best man speech. What could go wrong?

(Spoilers below)

Sherlock S03E02 - The Sign of Three

Alfie Enoch as Private Bainbridge
The primary case(s) at the heart of The Sign of Three is the death of Private Bainbridge of Her Majesty's Household Guard. Killed in a locked shower with no sign of the murderer, Sherlock begins to suspect the murderer could strike again at John's wedding. Sherlock identifies the potential second victim as Major James Sholto, and manages to determine the method of the crime before Sholto is killed.

The concept of the case is a classic locked room mystery (Sherlock even refers to it as such upon finding Bainbridge's body). The method - the victim was stabbed by a very sharp blade that penetrated his uniform imperceptibly - fits neatly within the "fatal wound was inflicted prior to the victim entering the locked room" category. The Sign of Three offers a slight twist on this format by making the victim(s) unaware of their wounds (their tight fitting uniforms act as a tourniquet and prevent blood-loss while worn).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Now You See Me Review

Magic and impossible crimes share many of the same characteristics - both bending our perception of reality to accomplish the seemingly impossible feats. Now You See me happens to share staples more than most, following a group of magicians (The Four Horsemen) as they steal millions of dollars, outwit the authorities, and entertain the public with outlandish shows.

Starting in Las Vegas and ending in New York (by way of New Orleans), the plot centres around three heists committed during the Horsemen's live stage performances.

In the first, they mysteriously teleport an unsuspecting witness to his bank in France before showering their audience with the vault's content. In the second, they hack the bank account of a millionaire and wire his money to the individual accounts of their audience members. Finally, they steal a reinforced vault from within a warehouse and use the cash within to frame an unfortunate pleb for their crimes.

Each of the robberies require a significant suspension of disbelief, however the first and third both use techniques familiar to locked room fans. The film glosses over them quite quickly in its rush to display the glamour of the magic shows, though does feature some satisfying twists. The car chase in the final third of the movie in particular features a clever mechanic (the plot kind, not the automotive kind) that adds a "whodunit" element to the concluding heist.

Speaking of whodunits, the film teases the possibility of a mastermind behind the magicians' antics, a "fifth Horseman". A few characters are highlighted as potential candidates before the culprit is revealed at the end of the film. Unfortunately this fits very much into the "least likely suspect" that doesn't bother itself with believability or logic. The movie may have benefitted from avoiding this aspect altogether as it is both unnecessary and groan-inducing.

On a more positive note, the cast seem to be having a ball. The star power has to be seen to be believed - Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine all feature, with up-and-comers Melanie Laurent and Dave Franco also contributing. Production values match the talent on show, though reducing the amount of CGI during some of the magic tricks may have improved their believability.

A sequel is reported to be in the works, with filming beginning in September this year. Many of the original cast are rumoured to be returning, and it will be interesting to see how the creators up the stakes from the first outing.

8/10 - Flashy, inventive and entertaining, but slightly let down by a face-palmingly implausible twist ending.

Now You See Me is available on DVD from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US).

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Phantom Motor by Jacques Futrelle

A car speeds onto a road with high walls either side, but never comes out the other end...

Taken from the collection of Jacques Futrelle's Thinking Machine stories, The Phantom Motor only briefly features the renown detective. Primarily focusing on the two policemen that reside either side of a thin stretch of road, the plot follows the confusion and frustration of the first policeman as he tries to convince his colleague of the seemingly impossible.

A modern day invisible car. Source: The Telegraph

Almost ever night, a mysterious car rushes past the officer (Baker) and into the inescapable stretch of road. When Baker calls his colleague (Bowman) at the other end to catch the speeding vehicle, it is nowhere to be seen. Even after walking the entire length of the road, neither policeman can determine how the vehicle could have accomplished such a feat. Only The Thinking Machine can piece together the story...

The Phantom Motor

The short story is available in its entirety for free at or If you want to read on your Kindle you can download it here (send to Kindle instructions here).

Author: Jacques Futrelle
Date: 1907
Word Count: 5,500 (about 22 pages)


The concept is really strong - a car is seen going onto a road that is surrounded by high walls on both sides, but disappears without a trace before coming out the other end. I'm not sure the solution can quite live up to the high expectations the concept generates.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Locked Room Mysteries In Real Life - The Duel Of Shadows

The reveal - explaining of how the events occurred - is often the most rewarding part of a locked room mystery or impossible crimes story. The key to an edifying ending is ensuring the method is both ingenious and feasible. While there have been a huge variety of solutions proposed by the multitude of authors operating within the genre, very few have been replicated in reality.

As with any fiction, the methodologies don't have to have happened to be creditable. The audience just have to believe that they could happen. Maintaining realism is key to keeping the reader engaged with the story - if the world of the story operates within the same laws as our world we have a fair chance of figuring out the solution prior to the reveal.

Perhaps it is the somewhat contrived nature of the genre that means crimes are rarely attempted outside of fiction. Stories tend to overcomplicate what could more easily be accomplished in an attempt to provide the reader with a fulfilling story.

That being said, there are a few impossible crime stories that have striking similarities to real life events.

"Truth is always strange; stranger than fiction." - Lord Byron

(Spoilers below)

The Duel of Shadows by Vincent Cornier

The Duel of Shadows is a short story, originally published in Pearson's Magazine in 1934. Written by Vincent Cornier, it covers the inexplicable shooting of Henry Leonard Westmacott who was seemingly attacked by an invisible assailant while dozing in an armchair.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Holiday Puzzle: A Locked Room Mystery by Mosomoso

An elderly woman is found dead in a locked apartment, with little to indicate the possibility of foul play...

I wasn't able to find too much information about this story or its author, however enjoyed the tale and thought I'd include it here. The narrative is told from the perspective of Gavin, an investigator for an insurance company. While on holiday Gavin challenges his friends to solve the case behind an insurance claim that he had previously worked on.

Holiday Puzzle: A Locked Room Mystery

The short story is available in its entirety for free at With A Twist.

Author: Mosomoso
Date: 2012
Word Count: 4,300 (about 17 pages)
With A Twist Homepage


Holiday Puzzle... is a well written short story that works its way through the events leading up to a life insurance claim. Told in retrospect by the insurance claim assessor (Gavin), it provides a unique viewpoint from which to analyse the crime.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Inside Man Review

There aren't too many examples of locked room mysteries in modern movies, but Inside Man gives us a great one.

The film follows Clive Owen's Dalton Russell as he pulls off "the perfect bank robbery". Russell is pitted against Detective Keith Frazer, a likeable and world-weary negotiator played by Denzel Washington.

Wasting no time getting to the crime itself, Inside Man shows us the action from both inside and outside the bank. Russell and his team of thieves manage the hostages and execute their plan as Frazer and co. set up perimeters on the surrounding streets.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Death In Paradise Season 1 Review

Death In Paradise offers a nice twist on the detective story by relocating to the fictional island of Saint Marie. Ben Miller stars as Inspector Richard Poole, the fish-out-of-water Englishman who is charged with leading the local police force (a grand total of three people) and solving the various mysteries that frequently occur on the island.

Ben Miller as Inspector Richard Poole

Right from the off, mysteries include locked rooms and other impossible crimes. It's great to see the genre still going strong (Season 1 averaged about 6 million viewers per episode on BBC) on the small screen.