Friday, February 9, 2024

Miraculous Mysteries

 Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders & Impossible Crimes (2017) by Martin Edwards, ed.

Another terrific collection of little-known mysteries in the British Library Crime Classics series. This time Martin Edwards is highlighting the classic crime favorites locked rooms and other impossible crimes. And, may I just pull out my soap box and point out that the locked room mysteries really are real, live, honest-to-goodness locked room mysteries and not what passes for "locked room" these days. So many people--including those who profess to have some sort of expertise in the mystery field--seem to think that closed circle = locked room. Here we have victims killed behind locked doors in situations where the room seems inaccessible from the outside; no one could have gotten in or out--either because of locked doors/windows or because all entry-ways were under observation; and/or the idea of suicide is put out of court--either because the weapon is nowhere to be found or the victim could not have possibly done the deed in the way it was done. It appears that no one could have done it. NOT: here we have a group of people trapped on an island, in a house in the middle of a snow storm, whatever and people start dying and no one from outside our little group could possibly have done it. The only island mystery that I've read that I'd count is And Then There Were None because when the bodies are discovered and everybody who was trapped on the island is dead it really does look like nobody could have done it in the way it was done. Okay...I'll put my soap box away now.

I've read about half of these before (Doyle, Rohmer, Robbins, the Coles, Sayers, and Crispin and a couple more seemed familiar but I can't say how or when I came across them. But even having read a number of them before, I still found the collection to be delightful. The Sayers story is one of my favorites and I never get tired of reading it. Of those that were new to me, "The Music-Room," "Death at 8.30," and "Locked In" stand out. Excellent collection. ★★★★

"The Lost Special" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: As Mr. Bland the Superintendent of the Central L. & W. Railway Company says in the story, "Does a train vanish into thin air in England in broad daylight? The thing is preposterous. An engine, a tender, two carriages, a van, five human beings--and all lost on a straight line of railway." And yet, it does happen [three fell from height]

"The Thing Invisible" by William Hope Hodgson: Carnacki investigates the case of a butler stabbed in front of witnesses. The witness are convinced that either the dagger has a mind of its own or an invisible agent has employed it. Carnacki is almost convinced that the supernatural is involved...and then he notices something odd in a photograph.

"The Case of the Tragedies in the Greek Room" by Sax Rohmer: Death invades the room where an ancient Athenian harp resides. Is it a curse or is there a human agent? [one neck broken; one heart attack]

"The Aluminum Dagger" by R. Austin Freeman: Dr. Thorndyke discovers how a man could be stabbed  in a room with the only door locked and the window unreachable.[one stabbed; one shot]

""The Miracle of Moon Crescent" by G. K. Chesterton: Father Brown knows the secret of how Warren Wynd was spirited out of his room and hanged in a tree a quarter of a mile away.[one hanged]

"The Invisible Weapon" by Nicholas Olde (Amian Lister Champneys): How could a man be killed with a heavy weapon when he was all alone in an empty ballroom. The evidence of the water leak holds the answer... [one hit on head]

"The Diary of Death" by Marten Cumberland: When a beautiful woman dies in poverty, she leaves behind a diary vilifying her friends for not helping her in her time of need, someone begins killing the people mentioned--leaving the relevant pages of the diary beside the bodies. But how is the killer getting to their victims? [one natural; one shot two stabbed]

"The Broadcast Murder" by Grenville Robbins: A locked room radio murder mystery and the murder is broadcast live over the air. Tremayne, an announcer on the radio, appears to have been strangled while giving the news. He was alone in the recording studio, a locked room. When the manager bursts into the studio there's no one there--not even Mr. Tremayne, alive or dead. A clever mystery with a very surprising twist at the end.[one hit on head; two hanged]

"The Music-Room" by Sapper (Herman Cyril McNeile): Forty years ago a man was found dead (his face beaten in) in the locked music room of an old mansion. There were rumors of a secret passage and hidden gold. When the new owner holds a dinner party, the guests don't expect history to repeat itself.... [one pneumonia; two beaten to death]

"Death at 8.30" by Christopher St. John Sprigg: A criminal mastermind is extorting money from the rich and powerful--threatening them with death if they don't pay up. He's killed three and extorted money from seven more when he marks the Home Secretary as his next victim. The police set up what they think is a foolproof plan to protect Sir Charles Martell from being murdered at 8:30. They would be wrong. [two poisoned]

"Too Clever by Half" by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole: Dr. Tancred tells a story to prove that it doesn't pay to be too clever if you want to get away with murder. When Sam Allsop is found shot, there are too many clues left about to "prove" that it was suicide. The murderer should have left well enough alone. [one shot; one hanged]

"Locked In" by E. Charles Vivian (Charles H. Cannell): Another dead man behind a locked door with no other possible entrance. Interesting solution--but I will say that as soon as I heard the name Borgia mentioned I knew something tricky would be involved. I was surprised the man wasn't poisoned. [one shot]

"The Haunted Policeman" by Dorothy L. Sayers: The story of the poor policeman who saw a house numbered thirteen where no thirteen ought to be and a murdered man where no one has been murdered. Lord Peter helps him prove that he wasn't drunk nor delusional.

"The Sands of Thyme" by Michael Innes (J.I.M. Stewart): Death on the beach at Thyme Bay is reckoned to be a suicide because of the tale the footprints in the sand tell. But is it the right tale? [one shot]

"Beware of the Trains" by Edmund Crispin (Robert Bruce Montgomery): Gervase Fen and the mystery of the missing train conductor. There's also a little matter of a burglar and a dead body. [one stabbed]

"The Villa Marie Celeste" by Margery Allingham: Inspector Luke and Albert Campion join forces to solve the mystery of the young couple who disappeared from their home leaving their half-eaten breakfast behind.

First line (1st story): The confession of Herbert de Lernac, now lying under sentence of death at Marseilles, has thrown light on one of the inexplicable crimes of the century--an incident which is, I believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any country.

Last line (last story): "I suspect the charm of relatives who call at seven-thirty in the morning," said Mr. Campion.


Rick Mills said...

The train vanishing into thin air reminds me of a few years back I was on a train which vanished in the fog! I was on an Amtrak train to Portland in heavy fog, when the train began gradually slowing and there was a heated discussion on the radio between the conductor (which I could overhear, he was in my car) and the engineer. Had they passed the Old Orchard Beach station without stopping? The engineer said no, the conductor said they must have gone right by it as he had passengers still waiting to get off. What to do? The train came to a stop in the foggy woods. After a discussion with the dispatcher ("Ummm...I think we're lost") the conductor stuck his head out the door and the train proceeded very slowly until they came to the next milepost and consulting with the dispatcher, they determined that still had not reached the station. The engineer was correct.

Bev Hankins said...

That's quite a story, Rick!