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.
The Black Lizard Big book of Locked-Room Mysteries claims, on its cover, to be “The most complete collection of impossible-crime stories ever assembled.” Whether this is true or not, clocking in at 939 pages of small, two-column print, it’s definitely a monster and one I’ve been chipping away at slowly for years. For this year’s Halloween Bingo, I needed Locked Room mysteries, so I turned to my Big Book and chose two from the same author: The Wrong Problem by John Dickson Carr, and Blind Man’s Hood by the same author writing as Carter Dickson. I’ve read two of this author’s full length novels so far, one as Dickson Carr (The Mad Hatter Mystery) and one as Carter Dickson (The Skeleton in the Clock), both of which I enjoyed. The short stories though, were a mixed bag:
The first, The Wrong Problem, was frankly, weird. I gave it 4 stars for the sheer ingeniousness of the murder method but the rest seemed pointless. To mention anything about the story, I think, would be to spoil it. It honestly doesn’t deserve 4 stars but that murder method was diabolical.
The second, Blind Man’s Hood, made up for the first in spades. This one turned out to be a perfect – absolutely perfect – short story for Halloween. Yes, it takes place at Christmas, but ignore that, it’s irrelevant. So. damn. creepy. I read it before I went to bed last night and when I realised what I was reading, I knew two things: no way I was going to stop, and that I’d have to stay away long enough to read something else before going to sleep. The locked room solution isn’t particularly clever or even surprising, but the rest of the story, for me, was. 5 stars.
As I mentioned at the start, I read these for the Locked Room Mystery square on my 2020 Halloween Bingo card.