by Otto Penzler
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Vintage Crime / Black Lizard
In this definitive collection, Edgar Award-winning editor Otto Penzler selects a multifarious mix from across the entire history of the locked room story, which should form the cornerstone of any crime reader's library.
Virtually all of the great writers of detective fiction have produced masterpieces in this genre, including Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy L. Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, G.K. Chesterton, John Dickson Carr, Dashiell Hammett, Ngaio Marsh and Stephen King.
The purest kind of detective story involves a crime solved by observation and deduction, rather than luck, coincidence or confession. The supreme form of detection involves the explanation of an impossible crime, whether the sort of vanishing act that would make Houdini proud, a murder that leaves no visible trace, or the most unlikely villain imaginable.
There were so many promising selections and recommendations from everyone for locked-room mysteries, I found it a little overwhelming: what to choose?
Then I stumbled across this book at my library and it seemed the perfect answer; at 900+ pages I was certain to find a few good stories and all of them locked room mysteries.
I was not disappointed. In fact, I think I’ll probably buy a copy of this book for my personal shelves; if half the stories are as good as the ones I’ve read, I can’t go wrong.
For the Halloween Bingo challenge, I read the following stories; none of them less than 4.5-5 star reads:
A Terribly Strange Bed – Wilkie Collins
What do Disney’s Haunted Mansion and the movie Murder by Death have in common? This story! It was so much fun; I admit I wasn’t sure how much I’d like Collins’ writing style after listening to Mrs. Zant and the Ghost, but I found this story so entertaining, I’m feeling much more confident about picking up his longer classics.
The House of Haunts – Ellery Queen
A new author for me – I know, Queen is a legend! – but I’d never picked him up, thinking his work might be more noir or graphic than I’d like. HA! It was great! This is the longest of the stories I read, and it had all the elements: dark, forbidding atmosphere, gothic houses, mentally disturbed residents, an unending snow storm, a question of paranormal influences, and of course a locked room setup. The ending is nothing short of fantastical and cunning, with Queen coming across as a blend of Whimsey and Holmes.
The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke – Lawrence Block & Lynn Wood Block
Years ago I had a first date that took me to a bookstore and bought me a Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery. Despite such auspicious beginnings, the boyfriend didn’t last, but I’d read a few of the Burglar Who… books, so I pounced on this story as a guarantee of something light. After reading it, I sort of think Block would have been better off keeping Rhondenbarr confined to the short story format: this was a much better mystery than I remember the full-length books being. This is a true locked-room mystery, and while most relatively savvy readers will recognise the method of death, the details were really fiendishly clever, while still being a light, entertaining read.
The Poisoned Dow ’08 – Dorothy L. Sayers
My first Montague Egg mystery, and probably the ‘weakest’ of the stories I chose at 4.5 stars. Egg reminds me too much of Poirot, only a little bit… smarmy. This was also the most conventional of the locked room scenarios offered in the stories I read. Still, Sayers is a master and given a choice, I might choose Egg over Poirot in short story format. Maybe.
Death at the Excelsior – P.G. Wodehouse
Did you know Wodehouse wrote crime stories before he brought Wooster and Jeeves into the world? I didn’t, and when I saw him in the TOC there was no way I skipping it. It’s a classic mystery, and there are hints of the wry, dry humour Wodehouse would become famous for here and there. Another truly locked room mystery, with shades of The Adventure of the Speckled Band, but ultimately very different. This short could also be used for the Black Cat Square.
I’m looking forward to owning my own copy of this; I highly recommend it for classic mystery lovers.
(Read September 8-9 2016; Library copy; ISBN 9780857898920)