Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries Review

"The best puzzle is not merely a mysterious crime but an impossible one - the kind where the murder takes place in a locked room, or in an unapproachable place, or at a non-existent time, or under conditions when there are no possible suspects."

Isaac Asimov headlines the list of editors that also includes Charles G. Waugh and Martin Harry Greenberg. Published in 1982, Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries features 12 short stories of the genre including Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue, Jacques Futrelle's Problem of Cell 13, and many more established classics. Mixed in are a selection of lesser known works, but mystery fans will recognise many of the author names. A brief review of each story is detailed below, as well as links to those works that are available online for free.

Source: Biblioklept
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
Story and full review available for free here.

A genre defining story that has been emulated countless times by later authors.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle
Story and full review available for free here.

One of the few Sherlock Holmes stories to feature a true locked room mystery, the solution is a bit of a disappointment.

The Problem of Cell 13 by Jacques Futrelle
Story and full review available for free here.

One of the finest examples of locked room mystery fiction.

The Light at Three O'clock by MacKinlay Kantor
A silent phone call is made from a locked room, the occupant of which died the night before...

Gradually building tension as the hotel phone operator and manager go to investigate, Kantor's short story has a simple solution that, while elegant, defies one of the cardinal rules of locked room fiction.

Murder at the Automat by Cornell Woolrich
A man drops dead from cyanide poising in the middle of a busy restaurant. Who killed him, and how did they poison him without being seen?

A simple story with an ending that isn't quite creative enough to be classified as impossible crime fiction, this short story is engaging nonetheless.

Erle Stanley Gardner
Source: ThrillingDetective

The Exact Opposite by Erle Stanley Gardner
A man is killed in a locked room, and a ruby is stolen from a secure safe. Can con artist Lester Leith solve the murder and retrieve the jewel for his own ends?

Combining a locked room mystery with an intricate tale of misdirection and hustling, The Exact Opposite provides a wonderfully enjoyable romp as we try and keep up with the increasing complexities of Leith's master plan. While the initial impossible crime may feature a fairly simple resolution, Leith's efforts to retrieve the valuable ruby are both entertaining and ingenious. Ends with a superb final line.

The Blind Spot by Barry Perowne
A playwright devises the perfect locked room mystery, only to forget the solution when his drunken escapades end in him being hit by a car. With the rest of the play written, can he find the one man he disclosed the ending to?

Teasing the reader from the outset with the promise of the ultimate locked room puzzle, The Blind Spot provides an engrossing story that can't quite live up to its premise. While some readers may find the ending something of a cop-out, the charm and wit of the writing makes it an entertaining read nonetheless.

The 51st Sealed Room by Robert Arthur
When a fellow mystery author is found decapitated in a sealed room, Harrison Mannix is determined to find the solution and use it in his own writing.

The set-up of Robert Arthur's short story is both self-aware and humorous, mentioning a number of genre stalwarts by name as Mannix' obsession with writing a locked room mystery grows to grotesque proportions. The solution is certainly unique, though requires very specific circumstances. Another story with a fantastic closing line.

The Bird House by William March
An unassuming man is shot within a securely sealed laundromat.

Based on the real-life case of Isodor Fink (more details here), The Bird House fails to provide a satisfying answer to the locked room riddle. The solution features a plot hole so gaping (how did the little boy not notice?) it derails the entire story.

Isodore Fink's case makes the papers. Source: StrangeCompany

Big Time Operator by Jack Wodbams
A scientist has finally unlocked the secrets of time travel, and is selling trips for a high price. When local gangsters come across his services, they want proof before committing the funds...

While the ingenuity behind proving the functionality of the machine is impressive, this story holds few similarities with the locked room mystery genre. The "solution" is fairly obvious, and the reader is never really challenged with calculating how it was done.

The Leopold Locked Room by Edward D Hoch

Story and full review available for free here.

A fantastic set up - the investigator's ex wife is shot right in front of him, with his gun, in a locked room surrounded by witnesses - leads to a great story with a satisfyingly clever end.

Vanishing Act by Bill Pronzini and Michael Kurland
A magician is killed while performing in front of a live audience of police cadets. His killer runs from the stage, and disappears into thin air...

Featuring a solution used in numerous other impossible crime stories, Vanishing Act relies on the novelty of the setting - a magician on stage. Though the story does include numerous disappearances, none are interesting enough to elevate the story above mediocrity.

Prioritising quality over quantity, Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries features some of the genre staples as well as ingenious entries from later authors.


The Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries anthology is available in hardback from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US).

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