2018-04-20

The best of the rest

This third and final instalment will collect those stories that a mystery buff will need to have read to get a full understanding of the impossible mystery genre. So only if you've read the stories in my last three posts can you know whether you're actually an impossible mystery fan. :)

Some of the below stories are out and out classics, and some are quite innovative to boot. Others are just great stories that bring solid surprises to the reader. And yet others belong to both categories. Bolded titles are classics, titles in italics indicate truly great stories, a must-read for any mystery fan. If a story got neither bolded nor italicised, it's still a great story that I really think you should read. But you can wait till you've read the rest...

Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace The Tea Leaf 1925
G. D. H. Cole & Margaret Cole In a Telephone Cabinet 1928
Nicholas Olde Invisible Weapon 1928
Ronald Knox Solved by Inspection 1931
Lord Dunsany The Two Bottles of Relish 1932
Vincent Cornier Duel of Shadows 1934
Ellery Queen Lamp of God 1935
Agatha Christie The Dream 1937
Agatha Christie Dead Man's Mirror 1937
Cornell Woolrich The Room with Something Wrong 1938
Ellery Queen The Dauphin's Doll 1948
Fredric Brown The Laughing Butcher 1948
Helen McCloy Through a Glass, Darkly 1948
Peter Godfrey Newtonian Egg 1951
Hugh Pentecost The Day the Children Vanished 1958
John F. Suter The Impossible Theft 1964
Stephen Barr The Locked House 1965
William Krohn The Impossible Murder of Dr Satanus 1965
Christianna Brand The Gemminy Crickets Case 1968
Peter Godfrey Flung-Back Lid 1979
H. Edward Hunsberger Eternally Yours 1985
Peter Lovesey Amorous Corpse 2000
J. A. Konrath On the Rocks 2004
Soji Shimada The Locked House of Pythagoras 2013
Rintarō Norizuki The Lure of the Green Door 2014
Szu-Yen Lin The Miracle on Christmas Eve 2016

The rest of the stories from my original list - those that haven't been featured in these last three posts - are just indications of what I think are enjoyable impossible mystery stories. They won't always be to everyone's taste - I mean, TomCat doesn't like John Basye Price's "Death and the Rope Trick", and he's still pretty well versed in impossible mysteries - but generally they're all worthwhile as mysteries.

2018-04-17

Impossible mystery masterpieces

In keeping with the frightful punning the headline of this post has a double meaning. This post will certainly contain a list of masterpieces within the impossible mystery genre, but also ensure that they are pieces by impossible mystery masters, which I think is an important distinction to make.

So what is then an impossibly mystery master? My definition would be that such a person would have to be one of the following:

1) an author who is not very prolific but wrote (almost) exclusively in the impossible mystery field, e.g. Hake Talbot, John Sladek, Clyde B. Clason, Joseph Commings, Clayton Rawson
2) a more prolific author where if not the majority, then at least a significant portion of his or her contribution to the mystery genre is in the impossible mystery field, e.g. John Dickson Carr, Edward D. Hoch, Bill Pronzini, Arthur Porges, Paul Halter

I think it's worthwhile to use this second meaning, because it means that folks like Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen - who most certainly are mystery masters - do not fall into this category. It also removes several one-off stories that are really great but can be saved for another post. This poor blogger needs to scale down on the number of stories to make the posts more manageable...

But because of the first meaning of the headline, these stories need to be masterpieces, we cannot just dump everything written by the authors mentioned above here. It needs to be their very best works - the tales you can return to later when you're a seasoned impossible mystery expert (hrmph) and still find things to enjoy and be impressed with.

Therefore, I present to you this curated list. I've tried to keep it to at most five stories by each author, though in some cases that was extremely hard to do... I've bolded one story from each author that I think you should try out, if you absolutely must limit yourself to just one.

Arthur Porges Coffee Break 1964
Arthur Porges Murder of a Priest 1967
Arthur Porges No Killer Has Wings 1960
Bill Pronzini Cloud Cracker 1994
Bill Pronzini Proof of Guilt 1973
Bill Pronzini The Arrowmont Prison Riddle 1976
Bill Pronzini Thin Air 1979
C. Daly King The Episode of the Vanishing Harp 1935
Clayton Rawson From Another World 1948
Clayton Rawson Off the Face of the Earth 1949
Stuart Towne Death out of Thin Air 1940
Stuart Towne Ghost of the Undead 1940
Edward D. Hoch Captain Leopold and the Ghost Killer 1974
Edward D. Hoch The 'Impossible' Impossible Murder 1968
Edward D. Hoch The Leopold Locked Room 1971
Edward D. Hoch The Long Way Down 1965
Edward D. Hoch The Vanishing of Velma 1969
Hake Talbot The Other Side 1990
John Dickson Carr Persons and Things Unknown 1938
John Dickson Carr The Silver Curtain 1939
John Dickson Carr The House in Goblin Wood 1947
John Dickson Carr The Third Bullet 1937
John Dickson Carr The Wrong Problem 1936
John Sladek By an Unknown Hand 1972
Joseph Commings The Black Friar Murders 1948
Joseph Commings Death by Black Magic 1948
Joseph Commings Ghost in the Gallery 1949
Joseph Commings The X Street Murders 1962
Joseph Commings & Edward D. Hoch Stairway to Nowhere 1979
Paul Halter Jacob's Ladder 2014
Paul Halter Murder in Cognac 1999
Paul Halter The Abominable Snowman 2002
Paul Halter The Flower Girl 1998
Paul Halter The Tunnel of Death 1993

This might be the best list of impossible crime stories I've ever seen, if I may say so myself... I'd recommend any of these stories to anyone who wanted to see what an impossible mystery short story might be like.

2018-04-15

Pioneers and innovators - the impossible mysteries BC

This category of stories contains the stuff from the 1800s and early 1900s. It's a bit arbitrary where to draw the line. Many will say that E. C. Bentley was the author who brought the mystery genre into the modern era (for whatever meaning of "modern" that you want to use) by writing "Trent's Last Case". Then, a few years later Agatha Christie began her career and nothing was ever the same.

However, since "Trent's Last Case" is a novel, it's not applicable here. And so I find it better to use Agatha Christie's first short stories, published in 1923, as the benchmark for when the modern era began. That means that for this category of stories everything published up to 1922 is eligible, because that is what BC means in this context: Before Christ, i.e.

Those of you who are still here after that last sentence can look forward to a varied bunch of stories in this category. I'm not going to say that these are all great stories, because most of them are not. However, they are all classics of the genre, and anyone with a passing interest in impossible mysteries should definitely have read at least the bolded stories below.

Edgar Allan Poe The Murders on the Rue Morgue 1841
Edgar Allan Poe The Purloined Letter 1844
Arthur Conan Doyle The Speckled Band 1892
Arthur Conan Doyle The Lost Special 1898
Samuel Hopkins Adams The Flying Death 1903
Victor L. Whitechurch Sir Gilbert Murrell's Picture 1905
Jacques Futrelle The Problem of Cell 13 1907
Jacques Futrelle The Missing Necklace 1908
Freeman Wills Crofts The Mystery of the Sleeping-Car Express 1909
R. Austin Freeman The Aluminium Dagger 1909
G. K. Chesterton The Invisible Man 1911
G. K. Chesterton The Secret Garden 1911
Melville Davisson Post The Doomdorf Mystery 1914
Ernest Bramah The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage 1914
Edgar Wallace The Missing Romney 1919
Arthur Conan Doyle Thor Bridge 1922
Jacques Futrelle An Absence of Air 1922

I'm going so far as to say that most of these bolded stories border on the ridiculous in some aspects, but their importance to the genre can still not be overstated. Poe's two stories are the trailblazers of the two sub-genres of impossible mysteries - locked rooms ("Rue Morgue") and into thin air ("Purloined Letter"). Doyle's first two stories take these two subgenres and refine them. To be honest, just when writing this I realise that Doyle's stories are quite similar to the Poe stories in many respects apart from just being locked rooms or into thin air stories. "The Speckled Band" in particular owes a lot to "Rue Morgue".

The bolded stories by Futrelle, Chesterton and Post all have huge problems, but are still highly innovative in their approach to the impossible mystery genre. Freeman's and Wallace's stories are better as stories, and still manage to be fairly innovative in different respects.

As for the other stories here, I think many of them are actually better than the once I've marked as classics. They're generally not as well known, but are potentially better reads. If you've read what I've written before on the topic of these early impossible mystery tales, you'll know that I'm generally quite critical of them - the later, more modern era is much more satisfying to me. But the stories I've chosen above are still very enjoyable despite the drawbacks of this early era.

2018-04-11

The full list of impossible mystery short stories

This will be a fairly boring post, because it'll mainly consist of the list of all those short stories that I identified as good and/or important enough to belong to the ultimate selection of impossible mystery stories. But I guess it's good to have them all in one place so it's easy to refer to the list whenever necessary.

First one other thing though. One of the stories I selected is "Dnr 94.028.72- Mord" by Jan Ekström, mainly because of its great setup. Just the other day I managed to find out that this story has actually been translated into English, so if anyone wants to check it out it's possible to do so. It was published in the anthology "Locked Rooms and Open Spaces", published by Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, which seems to be a collection of Swedish locked room mysteries. I've not read it myself, but Ekström's story is good enough that you might want to seek it out. As a bonus you'll get around 10 other stories that might be worth the price of admission...

Anyway, back to this big list. In the end, I selected a whopping 212 stories. And that's not all, because then there's all the Dr. Hawthorne stories by Ed Hoch, where I have a hard time selecting which should be discarded... Even if I manage to cull them down to a more manageable number, I'm sure there'll be another 20-30 stories to add to the list.

The list is ordered chronologically after publication year. That's a bit misleading, because some stories weren't published until long after they were written - and some of the other stories are written as pastiches of earlier times, so reading them in this order would not necessarily mean that you go from old-fashioned stuff to more modern writings, though the general trend is obviously in that direction. I was happily surprised to see that there's so many stories from recent years. For all my griping about modern mysteries, it's apparent that the subgenre is alive and well.

In coming posts, I will try to divide these stories in different groups according to various criteria that I think are useful. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Enjoy this list instead. And please alert me if you spot any mistakes.

Edgar Allan Poe The Murders on the Rue Morgue 1841
Edgar Allan Poe The Purloined Letter 1844
Arthur Conan Doyle The Speckled Band 1892
Arthur Conan Doyle The Lost Special 1898
Samuel Hopkins Adams The Flying Death 1903
Victor L. Whitechurch Sir Gilbert Murrell's Picture 1905
Jacques Futrelle The Problem of Cell 13 1907
Jacques Futrelle The Missing Necklace 1908
Freeman Wills Crofts The Mystery of the Sleeping-Car Express 1909
R. Austin Freeman Aluminium Dagger 1909
G. K. Chesterton The Invisible Man 1911
G. K. Chesterton The Secret Garden 1911
Melville Davisson Post The Doomdorf Mystery 1914
Ernest Bramah The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage 1914
Edgar Wallace Missing Romney 1919
Arthur Conan Doyle Thor Bridge 1922
Jacques Futrelle Absence of Air 1922
Agatha Christie The $1,000,000 Bond Robbery 1923
Agatha Christie The Sign in the Sky 1925
Agatha Christie At the Bells and Motley 1925
Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace The Tea Leaf 1925
G. K. Chesterton The Oracle of the Dog 1926
G. K. Chesterton The Vanishing of Vaudrey 1927
Agatha Christie Temple of Astarte 1928
G. D. H. Cole & Margaret Cole In a Telephone Cabinet 1928
Grenville Robbins Broadcast Murder 1928
John Dickson Carr The Murder in Number Four 1928
Nicholas Olde Invisible Weapon 1928
MacKinlay Kantor The Strange Case of Steinkelwintz 1929
Agatha Christie A Christmas Tragedy 1930
Ronald Knox Solved by Inspection 1931
Lord Dunsany The Two Bottles of Relish 1932
Dorothy L. Sayers The Poisoned Dow '08 1933
Vincent Cornier Duel of Shadows 1934
Agatha Christie Problem at Sea 1935
Agatha Christie Miss Marple Tells a Story 1935
C. Daly King Codex' Curse 1935
C. Daly King Nail and Requiem 1935
C. Daly King Vanishing Harp 1935
Ellery Queen House of Darkness 1935
Ellery Queen Lamp of God 1935
Agatha Christie Poirot and the Regatta Mystery 1936
Agatha Christie Murder in the Mews 1936
John Dickson Carr The Wrong Problem 1936
Agatha Christie The Dream 1937
Agatha Christie Dead Man's Mirror 1937
John Dickson Carr Blind Man's Hood 1937
John Dickson Carr The Third Bullet 1937
Margery Allingham The Border-Line Case 1937
Cornell Woolrich The Room with Something Wrong 1938
John Dickson Carr Persons and Things Unknown 1938
John Dickson Carr Crime in Nobody's Room 1938
John Dickson Carr King Arthur's Chair 1938
E. C. Bentley The Flying Shot 1939
John Dickson Carr Silver Curtain 1939
John Dickson Carr Emtpy Flat 1939
John Dickson Carr The Diamond Pentacle 1939
John Dickson Carr Strictly Diplomatic 1939
John Dickson Carr The Proverbial Murder 1940
Stuart Towne Ghost of the Undead 1940
Stuart Towne Death out of Thin Air 1940
Stuart Towne Claws of Satan 1940
Stuart Towne The Enchanted Dagger 1940
Craig Rice His Heart Could Break 1943
James Yaffe Department of Impossible Crimes 1943
C. Daly King Little Girl Who Wasn't There 1944
James Yaffe The Problem of the Emperor's Mushrooms 1945
Leonard Thompson Close Shave 1946
Ngaio Marsh I Can Find My Way Out 1946
John Dickson Carr The House in Goblin Wood 1947
Joseph Commings Fingerprint Ghost 1947
Joseph Commings Murder Under Glass 1947
Joseph Commings Spectre on the Lake 1947
Manly Wade Wellman A Knife Between Brothers 1947
Clayton Rawson From Another World 1948
Ellery Queen The Dauphin's Doll 1948
Fredric Brown The Laughing Butcher 1948
Helen McCloy Through a Glass, Darkly 1948
Joseph Commings Black Friar Murders 1948
Joseph Commings Death by Black Magic 1948
Clayton Rawson Off the Face of the Earth 1949
Edmund Crispin Beware of the Trains 1949
Joseph Commings Ghost in the Gallery 1949
Judson Philips Room Number 23 1949
Thomas Flanagan The Fine Italian Hand 1949
Edmund Crispin Name on the Window 1950
Ellery Queen Double Your Money 1951
Peter Godfrey Newtonian Egg 1951
Vincent Cornier O Time, In Your Flight 1951
Afonso Carreiro Lying Dead and Turning Cold 1952
Ellery Queen Snowball in July 1952
Anthony Boucher The Anomaly of the Empty Man 1953
Adrian Conan Doyle & John Dickson Carr The Adventure of the Sealed Room 1954
John Basye Price Death and the Rope Trick 1954
Edmund Crispin A Country to Sell 1955
Edward D. Hoch The Man from Nowhere 1956
Edward D. Hoch The Hoofs of Satan 1956
John Dickson Carr Ministry of Miracles 1956
Agatha Christie Greenshaw’s Folly 1957
Joseph Commings Serenade to a Killer 1957
Christianna Brand Cyanide in the Sun 1958
Clayton Rawson Nothing Is Impossible 1958
Clayton Rawson Miracles - All in the Day's Work 1958
Hugh Pentecost The Day the Children Vanished 1958
Poul Anderson The Martian Crown Jewels 1958
Samuel W. Taylor Deadfall 1958
Edward D. Hoch Sword for a Sinner 1959
Theodore Mathieson Leonardo da Vinci, Detective 1959
Anthony Boucher Gandolphus 1960
Arthur Porges Horse-Collar Homicide 1960
Arthur Porges No Killer Has Wings 1960
Edmund Crispin Too Clever for Scotland Yard 1960
Joseph Commings Murderer's Progress 1960
Arthur Porges A Puzzle in the Sand 1961
Julian Symons As If By Magic 1961
Joseph Commings Castanets, Canaries and Murder 1962
Joseph Commings The X Street Murders 1962
Joseph Commings Hangman's House 1962
Arthur Porges Birds of One Feather 1963
Joseph Commings The Giant's Sword 1963
Arthur Porges Coffee Break 1964
John F. Suter The Impossible Theft 1964
Michael Collins No Way Out 1964
Edward D. Hoch The Long Way Down 1965
Stephen Barr The Locked House 1965
William Krohn Dr Satanus 1965
Arthur Porges The Scientist and the Vanished Weapon 1966
Joseph Commings The Glass Gravestone 1966
Michael Harrison The Facts in the Case of the Missing Diplomat 1966
Arthur Porges The Scientist and the Multiple Murder 1967
Arthur Porges The Scientist and the Invisible Safe 1967
Arthur Porges Murder of a Priest 1967
Harry Kemelman The Man on the Ladder 1967
John Lutz The Crooked Picture 1967
Stanley Ellin The Twelfth Statue 1967
Anthony Boucher The Smoke-Filled Locked Room 1968
Christianna Brand The Gemminy Crickets Case 1968
Edward D. Hoch The Magic Bullet 1968
Edward D. Hoch The 'Impossible' Impossible Murder 1968
William Brittain Mr. Strang Takes a Field Trip 1968
Edward D. Hoch The Vanishing of Velma 1969
Edward D. Hoch The Leopold Locked Room 1971
Jeffrey Wallmann Now You See Her 1971
Edward D. Hoch A Melee of Diamonds 1972
Bill Pronzini Proof of Guilt 1973
Jan Ekström Reg. No. 94.028/72 Murder 1973
Arthur Porges The Scientist and the Exterminator 1974
Edward D. Hoch Captain Leopold and the Ghost Killer 1974
William Brittain The Impossible Footprint 1974
Arthur Porges The Scientist and the Missing Pistol 1975
Edward D. Hoch The Theft of the Bermuda Penny 1975
Edward D. Hoch The Theft of the Venetian Window 1975
Bill Pronzini The Arrowmont Prison Riddle 1976
Edward D. Hoch Impossible Murder 1976
William Brittain Mr. Strang Accepts a Challenge 1976
Jack Ritchie Box in a Box 1977
Bill Pronzini Pulp Connection 1978
Bill Pronzini Thin Air 1979
Joseph Commings & Edward D. Hoch Stairway to Nowhere 1979
Peter Godfrey Flung-Back Lid 1979
Bill Pronzini Where Have You Gone, Sam Spade? 1980
J. F. Peirce The Magician's Wife 1981
Edward D. Hoch The Witch of Park Avenue 1982
Edward D. Hoch The Theft of the White Queen's Menu 1983
Edward D. Hoch The Vanished Steamboat 1984
Joseph Commings The Vampire in the Iron Mask 1984
H. Edward Hunsberger Eternally Yours 1985
Edward D. Hoch The Return of the Speckled Band 1987
Stephen King The Doctor's Case 1987
William F. Smith Almost Perfect Crime 1987
Paul Halter The Dead Dance at Night 1988
Hake Talbot The Other Side 1990
Paul Halter The Night of the Wolf 1990
Paul Halter The Tunnel of Death 1993
Bill Pronzini Cloud Cracker 1994
Bill Pronzini Desert Limited 1995
Bill Pronzini Horseshoe Nail 1997
Edward D. Hoch Shower of Daggers 1997
Lynne Wood Block & Lawrence Block Burglar Who Smelled Smoke 1997
Bill Pronzini Medium Rare 1998
Paul Halter The Call of the Lorelei 1998
Paul Halter The Flower Girl 1998
Paul Halter Murder in Cognac 1999
Amy Myers Murder Strips Off 2000
Edward Marston Blind Eyes 2000
Kate Ellis Odour of Sanctity 2000
Margaret Frazer Traveller's Tale 2000
Michael Kurland Stolen Saint Simon 2000
Paul Halter The Cleaver 2000
Peter Lovesey Amorous Corpse 2000
Peter Tremayne Murder in the Air 2000
Susanna Gregory Ice Elation 2000
Paul Halter The Abominable Snowman 2002
Paul Halter The Robber's Grave 2002
J. A. Konrath On the Rocks 2004
Joseph Commings The Whispering Gallery 2004
Edward D. Hoch The Gravesend Trumpet 2005
J. A. Konrath With a Twist 2005
Bill Pronzini Devil's Brew 2006
Bill Pronzini The Carville Ghost 2007
Edward D. Hoch Gypsy Gold 2007
Maria Hudgins Murder on the London Eye 2007
Hal White Murder at an Island Mansion 2008
Hal White Murder in a Sealed Loft 2008
Paul Halter Nausicaa's Ball 2008
Arthur Porges The Scientist and the Poisoner 2009
Arthur Porges The Scientist and the Heavenly Alibi 2009
Soji Shimada The Locked House of Pythagoras 2013
Paul Halter Jacob's Ladder 2014
Rintarō Norizuki The Lure of the Green Door 2014
Szu-Yen Lin The Miracle on Christmas Eve 2016
Jochen Füseler The Witch Doctor's Revenge 2017
Pietro de Palma The Barese Mystery 2017
Edward D. Hoch The Hawthorne mysteries 1974-2008