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The Locked-room Mysteries

The Locked-room Mysteries - Otto Penzler

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

This 1400+ page mammoth of a book is a collection of short stories; each of them (as should be obvious from the title) is a locked room mystery. This term is used very loosely as mysteries deal not only with a person shot, stabbed, poisoned, or otherwise disposed of in a completely inaccessible room locked from inside, not only with things stolen from equally inaccessible room/storage/safe,

Locked Room Mysteries
but also with other seemingly impossible crimes, like a guy stabbed in a snow or a sand field with the only footprints appearing being his own.

There are stories of well-known authors, some of them with status of classics of literature and some approaching it. To give you an idea I will just name the writers mentioned on the cover (yes, I am too lazy to look through the whole book myself): Stephen King, Dashiell Hammett, Lawrence Block, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Dorothy L. Sayers, P.G. Wodehouse, Erle Stanley Gardner. Just like myself you might be surprised to see some names in the list as some of these became famous writing in a completely different genre.

I am puzzled by the reason why such giants as Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle did not get mentioned on the cover. The former wrote mysteries featuring the first private investigator ever which also happened to be a locked room mystery (this is the first story of the book) and the latter made genre immensely popular. Speaking about his best-known character Sherlock Holmes, this collection includes The Speckled Band which I consider to be one of the best Sherlock Holmes mysteries. In my opinion any collection including this one cannot be rated lower than 4 stars, but this was not the only reason for my rating.

Continuing my discussion of the most famous detective I would like to return to one of the best ideas mentioned by him - or his author to be exact: I used it as an epigraph. More than half of the mysteries in here can be solved by stripping away the impossible - in fact several times the investigators did just this and one of them even quoting Holmes.

Still speaking about the guy I will have to mention something else. What does a good mystery need? A great fleshed out investigator (Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot being two best examples from this book) is a must. While a detective needs to be a good character, his sidekick can make or break a story. In my opinion Dr. Watson is greatly unappreciated.

Dr. Watson
Surely he is not the brightest guy around, but he is a loyal friend, he never hesitates to rush into a danger following Holmes, and most importantly he never ever gets in the way of an investigation.

The reason I talk about Arthur Conan Doyle creation so much is that it is an excellent example of how to create a great mystery. The sidekick I just mentioned: in one of the story there was a good mystery, interesting investigator and absolutely awful sidekick (in this case a husband of a woman who played the detective). The guy kept getting in a way of his wife's investigation and as a result the story itself suffered.

I became convinced of the following fact. If you read an anthology of locked room mysteries, sword-and-sorcery fantasy, or anything else whatsoever you can tell the quality of the story without reading a single line. Is the author well-known? The story is most probably good (4 and 5 star level good). Is the author forgotten? There is a very good reason for this: the stories are forgettable. This idea fully applies here. I mean 100% fully. Speaking about literature in general I can only think of one or two exceptions.

Yes, there are forgettable stories in the collection. However even the weakest ones never fail at something mysteries strive to do: they never ever fail to entertain and sometimes even make your brain work trying to find the solution.

So yes, to make a long story short (I will not make you suffer by reading my 1400+ page review as I am not going to write the one so huge): the book is good, especially if you like this kinds of mysteries. The solutions to some might seem kind of similar, so it is not a good idea to read the whole thingy in one sitting - but who would want to do it considering its length?

The last unsolved mystery still remains though: that the heck does the last story has anything to do with locked room mysteries? Is somebody was able to puzzle this one out, I would dearly love to know the explanation. For me it looks like the editor owned a guy a favour and he paid it off by including his story in here.