Locked Room Mysteries

John Dickson Carr was the master of the locked room murder – well, writing about them, anyway. Pretty sure he didn’t do any. Just to be clear, when I’m talking about locked room murders, I’m using the phrase to include any impossible crimes – vanishing guns, invisible murderers, etc.

It’s a difficult genre to pull off because if you’re going to do it properly, you need to include a (preferably plausible) reason as to why you’ve created an impossible situation. If you can do it though, this gives a triple mystery to solve – who did it, how did they do it and why did they do it in that manner? Given the three issues, you can also drip-feed the solutions throughout the last section of the book, rather than tie everything up in the last chapter to maintain the readers interest.

I love locked room mysteries – if I was to make a list of my all-time favourite mysteries, over half of them would be locked rooms and most of those were written by John Dickson Carr or his pseudonym Carter Dickson. There are others that you may have come across in novel form, primarily Agatha Christie with Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Murder in Mesopotamia – if memory serves, the reason for creating an impossible murder in those isn’t really explained, but I could be wrong.

Edward D Hoch’s short stories are full of impossible crimes, especially the Sam Hawthorne stories – I imagine it’s easier to sustain an impossible crime over twenty pages rather than two hundred, but that doesn’t belittle the quality of these stories. There are other collections worth picking up too – Banner Deadlines by Joseph Commings, The Complete Curious Mr Tarrant by C Daly King, Night of the Wolf by Paul Halter chiefly among them.

Anyway, the next couple of reviews will be impossible crime books, the first being one of my favourites.


  1. Hake Talbot’s RIM OF THE PIT and Clayton Rawson’s DEATH FROM A TOP HAT are really well worth seeking out (no idea how difficult getting the Talbot is these days) as truly sensational examples of the locked room mystery.


    • I’ve got Death From a Top Hat (and Footprints on the Ceiling). Both excellent, but Rawson has a very dense writing style. I prefer the short stories that I’ve found of his, as I think the format suits his style better.

      RIM OF THE PIT is out of copyright, so you can get newly printed versions from Abebooks. Might have a look at that when I’ve a bit more free cash.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.