The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes
Ed. Michael Ashley
Published in 2000 by Robinson
I have been reading this mammoth Mammoth book in between my other reading for a few weeks.
The collection spans almost a century and offers a mix of classic and newly-written impossible crime stories by a mix of well-known and not-so-well-known authors.
Of interest to classic crimers are:
William Brittain’s ‘Mr Strang Accepts a Challenge’ (1976) might suit people who liked The Nine-Mile Walk. And there should be more people who like The Nine-Mile Walk. Stuffy teacher of logic Mr Strang agrees to demonstrate the practical application of his science to a sceptical class.
John Dickson Carr’s ‘The Silver Curtain’ (1939) features Colonel March of the Department of Queer Complaints investigating the murder of a spiv on the French Riviera. The solution is charmingly simple, and marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Michael Collins’ ‘No Way Out’ (1963) is a tale of the theft of a priceless artwork from Polish emigrees. A proper contraption-based locked room story.
Howel Evans’ ‘The Mystery of the Taxi-Cab’ (1922) features an outing for the Murder Club. A famous judge is killed in his taxi with a mysterious weapon.
Melville Davisson Post’s ‘The Doomdorf Mystery’ (1914) was the first outing for ‘the right hand of the land’, the ferocious Uncle Abner. Uncle Abner strides around West Virginia dispensing Old Testament justice.
‘It is a statute,’ replied Abner, ‘of an authority somewhat higher. Mark the language of it: “He that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword.”‘
Bill Pronzini’s ‘The Pulp Connection’ (1978) concerns the murder of a famous pulp collector, who before dying manages to arrange three of his books into a clue.
Clayton Rawson’s ‘Off the face of the Earth’ (1949), featuring magician-detective The Great Merlini, is quite famous as the response to a challenge by John Dickson Carr to have someone vanish from a phone booth. Honestly I found it almost painfully contrived (compared to the elegant solution to Carr’s story in this collection).
C. N. and A. M. Williamson’s ‘The Adventure of the Jacobean House’ (1907) is from The Scarlet Runner, a book starring daring automobilist/detective Christopher Race.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s ‘Out of his Head’ is an excellent story of obsession and monomania from 1862. The narrator lives opposite an apartment block.
This house, I repeat, has a morose, unhappy look, at present, and is tenanted by an incalculable number of Irish families, while a picturesque junk-shop is in full blast in the basement.
In the block lives danseuse Mary Ware, who is apparently murdered by one of her two gentlemen callers. Our narrator, it soon becomes clear, knows much too much. For me this was the stand-out story in the collection – way ahead of its time.
All this, and stories by Lawrence Block, Edward D. Hoch, H. R. F. Keating, Peter Lovesey, and many more.
It is rounded off with a handy essay by Mike Ashley charting the impossible crime story from its early days (Hoffmann’s ‘Mademoiselle de Scudari’ and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘A Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess’) to ‘The Murders in the rue Morgue’, The Big Bow Mystery, Mystery of the Yellow Room), the 1930s peak (John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Hake Talbot, Clayton Rawson), and a sprinkling of newer stories from the 90s.
Well worth a look (and very good value as an e-book).
I have very fond memories of this book and the Merlini story was by far my favourite. Might have to take another look at it.
I thought it started well, but I just found the mechanism beggared belief. Although I suppose Rawson would know all about what you could get away with using misdirection.
I think this is a really excellent collection and am always amazed how much Ashley manages to pack in the ‘Mammoth’ collections (actually, I hate that word as to me it always suggests it will be a bit bargain basement, and this is anything but).
I found an interview with him at http://www.zone-sf.com/mikeashley.html in which he talks about getting anthologies published:
‘My publisher Nick Robinson takes the line that if there’s a core of readers who are interested in a particular subject he can shift a sufficient number of those books. He liked Patrick O’Brien – and Hornblower, which was coming back on telly at the time – and knew he had a strong readership. There’s a clear appeal for the Napoleonic stuff. We did a war story one too, because he was interested in Sharpe and that kind of stuff. And that’s how I did the historical whodunits – I’d been on at Nick for two or three years to do one of those and it dawned on him that with the Ellis Peters market there was a sufficient readership there. It was very worth doing: my first historical whodunit collection sold more than all my other anthologies put together.’
Thanks for that Rich – fascinating stuff. And Ashley really knoiwn his onions of course …
I think this is a great collection of stories! So glad to see it featured here, Rich.
This one sounds good. Wish I’d known about it but the one I have and I am enjoying is the Otto Penzler edition: Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries. I’m reading that one in between others but it’s been slow going. I discovered that I like Wilkie Collins among a few others.
I was actually going to buy the Black Lizard one but I saw this was cheaper 🙂 I will get it in the end.
Of the 2 collections, the Penzier collection is the actual mammoth one, having as many as 68 stories !
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That’s probably all the short stories you’d ever need 🙂