A person is found dead, presumably murdered, but all the doors and windows to the room were locked. How did it happen? And more importantly, who did it?
This is the premise of the mystery sub-genre known as “locked room mysteries.” However, this type of mystery doesn’t always happen in a locked room. Sometimes the people are alone on an island together, alá Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Sometimes a person is found dead in the snow or the sand and there are no footprints approaching or leaving the area, such as in The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr or Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers. Other times the murder mystery is simply an impossible puzzle.
The very first locked room mystery comes to us from that founder of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe. You may be familiar with this one from your required high school reading list. His Murders in the Rue Morgue still serves as the benchmark against which all other stories of this type are judged. If you haven’t read this since high school, try it again. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better you think it is now.
John Dickson Carr is generally considered to be the master of the locked room sub-genre. Other mystery authors who use this device on a regular basis include Andrew Greeley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Herbert Resnicow, and Edward D. Hoch.
The Mystery Book Discussion Group will be starting a series of locked room mysteries this fall. If puzzles (or mysteries) are your thing, please consider joining us. We’d love to see you and we promise we won’t lock you out!
September 18th, 2009 – And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
October 16th, 2009 – Bloodhounds by Peter Lovesey
November 20th, 2009 – The Bishop at the Lake by Andrew Greeley
December 18th, 2009 – Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
January 22nd, 2010 – The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams