Monday, August 25, 2014

Please Lock The Door On Your Way Out

So, I decided on the anthology.
 
Death Locked In is an anthology revolving around locked rooms (I hear your mind being blown) and
is edited by Douglas G. Greene (author of John Dickson Carr's biography) and Robert Adey (who wrote the definitive guide to locked rooms that is now about two decades out of date and costs the GDP of Switzerland. I still want it.) The book starts with a historical mystery before moving on into locked room. Then, it goes into uncategorized impossible crimes. It then details some impossible disappearances before wrapping up with a soft science fiction story.

Needless to say, there's a lot of variety here, but variety does not make an anthology. Is this worth your time and money?
 
(Thanks to P.J. Bergman of The Locked Room for reviewing this first. Not because I'm ripping you off, but because I can just copy and paste the titles instead of typing them myself! And your picture too!)

The First Locked Room by Lillian de la Torre

Three women lie dead. Two have been strangled and one beaten. The door is locked. An innocent woman stands accused. and guess what? It all really happened...

This is more de la Torre showing off a historical curiosity rather than a straight mystery, but it's a good historical curiosity. de la Torre's research is to be applauded and while the solution is simple, I can't say that I cared in the face of the fact that we don't have enough real-life locked rooms. We take what we can get!

Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
 
A young woman finds herself in the care of her uncle. Genre conventions already establish this as a Bad Thing (TM) and it just gets worse when you consider the lecherous son and the fact that the uncle was accused of murdering a man in a locked room...

Why is this story here? It's a good suspense story, no doubt, but there really isn't a reason to have this in, considering the small role the locked room plays in the plot. Is it because (SPOLIER we get to see the locked room from the would-be victim's point of view? END SPOLIER) It's interesting, but not a story I would have chosen, personally.
 
I Can Find My Way Out by Ngaio Marsh
 
Theater's are hotbeds of murder and mayhem. Just ask Cann Cumberland, a drunken actor who steals the spotlight from his betters... until he gets gassed in a locked dressing room that is...

Well. This story. Ngaio Marsh is well-loved right? Because I didn't enjoy this story. At all. It's bizarrely paced, I don't even think that the solution was clearly stated (I just might not understand gas heaters though), and the story just has no life ,which ultimately killed it for me.

The Suicide of Kiaros by Frank Baum

Felix Marston needs money, and he needs it now. Rather than turn to J. G. Wentworth, he comes up with a better plan. Ask a Greek moneylender for some money, and when that fails, kill him, and make it look like a suicide...

Yes, this was written by the author of The Wizard Of Oz. And it's a good story too, even though the trick is simple. Though the idea of a reverse whodunit locked room holds quite an appeal...

The Spherical Ghoul by Fredric Brown

A part-time morgue worker is looking forward to an easy night's work. Then the unidentified body gets it's face eaten off, and he was sitting in front of the locked door the whole time. Could a ghoul have slipped in through a twelve inch vent...?

The set-up is creative, and the clueing is mostly fair. The solution is somewhat iffy, though it is executed better than some other mysteries that have used the same thing.

Out of His Head by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

A young woman is found with her throat slit in a room with the door locked and the windows too high up to allow escape. It doesn't help that the detective here is a lunatic...

This story is really only interesting for the detective who, it must be said, is interesting. The solution is a pure cheat though.

Murder by Proxy by M. McDinnell Bodkin

A man is shot to death while napping and the killer vanishes from the room in spite of witnesses. That is, unless the old "it-was-the-first-person-who-found-the-body" trick applies...

Obviously it doesn't, as Not-Sherlock-Holmes proves. The main trick isn't much better, but it works, and I would like to see it in a different context. (The fact that this is an older story might've left me without much confidence in a good solution.)

Out of This World by Peter Godfrey

I've reviewed this story already under Large And In Charge, so I'll just link that.

The Mystery of the Hotel de L'Orme by M. M. B.

A woman is smothered behind her locked bedroom door, and her jewels are stolen. The only one who could have done it was her servant, who claimed to see a face in a mirror in a locked room shorty before the murder...

Not that good. It's old, so the dread overwriting appears, and the solution (to me) makes no sense. (SPOLIERS Considering the distance, could a single board really support a man? END SPOLIERS) This could just be my ignorance though. (The solution still isn't particularly good anyhow though...)

The Magic Bullet by Edward D. Hoch

In the country of Beneu, trouble is brewing. It looks like a rebellion is brewing and tension are running high. Not that this is really important when you have a United States ambassador shot to death in his locked and bulletproof car...

Just when despair sets in, Hoch comes to spark this anthology's rise in quality with his usual near-perfection. The clues are well-laid, the solution is the best kind of simple solution (it's so simple and obvious that you kick yourself when you miss it) and it's just great all around. My sole complaint is the sheer "Wait, what?" in the interaction with the token female, and I'm sue you'll notice it when you see it. Also... I wonder how much the guy named Harry PONDER knows about magic... (Sorry)

A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins

A young man, fresh from victory at the gambling tables, is invited to celebrate at an inn. Little does he know that he will soon find his life in mortal peril...

...I'm torn. On one hand, this is a good story, and a good example of the "room that kills" idea. On the other hand, It's really not a locked room except for a mention of the protagonist locking his door. It's good, I'm just wondering why it's here. (Also, I'm ashamed to admit that it took me a long while to recognize Wilkie Collins as the author of The Moonstone.)

The Room with Something Wrong by Cornell Woolrich

Room 913 has problems. Oh, it's a nice enough room on its own, it just has a nasty habit of throwing people out of it at random...

The longest story in this anthology, but well worth it. I has a few flaws (SPOLIERS We get no hints that the killer has a keycard, for example END SPOLIERS) but they're all pretty minor. This story actually makes me want to read more Woolrich...

Invisible Hands by John Dickson Carr

King's Arthur's Chair is a small natural rock formation that sits on a beach. Considering who the author is, it should come as no surprise that someone is strangled to death near that chair with only her footprints in sight...

My first exposure to Carr! And it could have been better! The set-up is good, but the characters seemed... off in a way that can't be justified by, "It's Carr." The solution never set right with me either (SPOLIERS I can't seem to wrap my head around the idea that a whip was used. You'd only have one shot, and your aim could get off too easily. I could buy it better if it was a lasso... END SPOLIERS) The irony in the killer's motive is good though.

The X Street Murders by Joseph Commings

Once again, already reviewed. Please check the above link.

The Mystery of Room No. 11 by Nicholas Carter

All Willie Gray wanted to do was find his mother. Instead, he finds himself caught in a police stakeout, faced with the possibility that his mother is dead, and having to explain how his mother, dead or alive, could have left a building surrounded by police...

Merely okay. The set-up is good, but the solution is too simple. (This may or not be because the editors say where the solution probably came from, which leads the mind in a certain direction.) As said, merely okay.

The Man Who Disappeared by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace

After years at sea, Oscar Digby returns with the location of vast amounts of gold. Not that he'll be able to make use of it after he walks into an observed house and vanishes...

About the same as above. Clichés run rampant, but the story is passible. The solution is merely okay. (SPOLIERS Would those chemicals really dissolve a body like that? END SPOILERS)

The Invisible Man by G.K. Chesterton

Years ago, Laura Hope promised two men that she would marry whoever made his way in the world. One became an inventor. The other seems to have found the power to turn invisible...

This is the Chesterton story everyone has heard of! If his name or Father Brown's name is mentioned, this is the story everyone thinks of. And I didn't care for it's solution. (SPOLIERS While I believe that this trick can work, both Carr and Christie have done it, it can't in this story. Everyone has been told to watch out for someone, whereas in the other stories, the people being fooled aren't paying attention. END SPOLIERS) It's a good story, just not as good as everyone says it is.

The Adventure of the Man Who Could Double the Size of Diamonds by Ellery Queen

Professor Lazarus, currently on leave from Doctor Who, claims that he can double the size of diamonds. Amazingly, people believe him and set him up in a tightly guarded lab where he can't leave without going through procedures that would make the TSA complain about invasions of privacy. Not this it stops him from spiriting the diamonds out of the lab...

This actually isn't a story, but a radio play, so it might take a bit to get used to the script format. But it's well worth it, as this is a good story. The solution is simple, yes, but it's designed to fly straight over your head. And hey, I didn't solve it, so clearly something was done right.

The Mystery of the Lost Special by Arthur Conan Doyle

A train carrying an important man with important papers leaves its station, and never arrives at its destination. With no other routes off, the only answer is that it vanished into thin air...

Ah, the "vanishing train" plot. Incredibly difficult to pull off, amazing if you do, and Doyle does and doesn't. The solution works (and is kind od terrifying when you think about it from the victim's point of view) but the idea that this would leave no evidence that the numerous authorities investigating this wouldn't notice is bizarre.

Off the Face of the Earth by Clayton Rawson

Bela Zyyzk is a lunatic. Who else but a lunatic would proclaim that a woman will vanish of the face of the earth? A correct one, for not only does she vanish, but a judge he makes a similar proclamation to vanishes as well, this time from an observed phone booth...

Excellent story. The solution is long, yes, but it's easily followed, and clever to boot. Not much more to say here, except that I believe that I saw through Merlini's trick when I first read it.

The Grinning God by May Futrelle/The House that Was by Jacques Futrelle

A young man gets messed up in a storm and drawn into a living nightmare. Ghostly women rising into the air, a man who seems to completely ignore him, and a mysterious grinning idol...

The first story is a ghost story, and the second is a solution presented by The Thinking Machine. It's a interesting concept, but it's clear that Futrelle's wife made this too difficult, as the answers really don't hold up to scrutiny. (SPOLIERS How didn't the protagonist notice that the woman was climbing? How does a blind, deaf, and mute man take care of himself and his insane sister? What was that fire all about? etc. END SPOLIERS)

Thin Air by Bill Pronzini

Pronzini's nameless gumshoe has a simple task ahead of him; follow some lady's husband, and gather proof that he's cheating on her. Then the husband vanishes from his locked car, which Nameless was watching at the time...

This is good. The story flows at a nice pace, there's a good reason for the disappearance, and the story seems more fairly clued than some of Pronzini's other stories.

Elsewhen by Anthony Boucher

Harrison Partridge has built a time machine. Sure, you can only go so far with it, but it's still a time machine! Too bad that he soon embarks upon the road of the comic book supervillian, and instead of making it public, he uses it to commit the perfect crime...

An excellent end to the collection. It's a well-done reverse whodunit, and a good example of how to incorporate soft- science fiction and mystery. My only two complaints are that time paradoxes are involved, and that means headaches (though they are done very well), and that I find it hard to believe that no one would be interested in a time machine! Even if you can't remember or explain exactly how it's done, you'd think that the science community would be all over this! This guy's sister is an idiot.

And that's Death Locked In for you. It's certainly better than the last anthology I reviewed, if just because their are more actual locked rooms here, but the quality just jumps around too much. It makes reviewing harder too.

I give this anthology a 6.5/10

Next time, we'll get to that lost Ellery Queen novel! Thanks for reading, and be sure to comment!

(Sorry for the long wait. The first picture I used caused this to glitch out a little, and then I got distracted. I'll try to have another entry this week.)

3 comments:

  1. Douglas Greene brought a fine collection of locked room mysteries together with an eye for history, while avoiding some of the usual suspects (e.g. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue Press" and "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"). They might be cornerstone stories, but they have been reprinted far too often.

    I think "The Room With Something Wrong" is still my favorite and "Elswhen" was more fun (and acceptable) than it should've been for the last story. It's somewhat similar to a story from Asimov's Mysteries, entitled "Obituary," which plays around with the same idea.

    The Pronzini story was later used as part of the superb Scattershot, following the Nameless Detective on the worst week in his life and two impossible crimes, but you'll have to read Hoodwink first. It more or less sets Scattershot up, but don't despair, there are two locked room mysteries to be solved in that one.

    By the way, is it just me or are there a lot of locked room orientated blogs around lately? This is going to end like Lovesey's Bloodhounds, isn't it?

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    Replies
    1. I do need to read more Pronzini. There's just so much though... also, do you think I'm accurate when it comes to cluing with him? My main exposure has been the Carpenter and Quincannon short stories, and they didn't seem overly fair to me...

      I wouldn't know about the blog thing, I only follow what others recommend. (Though as long as we don't get together in some cut-off location, I think that we'll be fine. If we do... dibs on being the detective, murderer, or survivor.)

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete