Please welcome author Tom Mead back to the blog today. Make sure that you check out his previous post here that he linked to today.
5 UNDERRATED LOCKED-ROOM SHORT STORIES
by Tom Mead
I previously contributed a post to this blog about underrated locked-room mystery novels (you can read it here). But since I'm such a devotee of the genre, I couldn't stop there. There's something unique about the challenge of an impossible crime short story. If a locked-room mystery novel can be likened to a magic show, then a short story is a game of three-card monte. It requires the same levels of skill and panache, albeit in a more concentrated form.
As before, I'll be steering clear of the biggest names in the genre to highlight some titles which deserve their moment in the spotlight. So you won’t be seeing Jacques Futrelle’s “Problem of Cell 13” or Melville Davisson Post’s “Doomdorf Mystery” here, nor any John Dickson Carr or Ellery Queen. And again, this isn't a "best of" list- it's just about highlighting some great work. There are so many sensational stories out there that it's impossible to include them all. So, without further ado, let’s get to the list:
“The Case of the Horizontal Trajectory” by JOSEF ŠKVORECKÝ
Czech-Canadian author Josef Škvorecký had a remarkably distinguished career, championing dissident authors and fighting against totalitarianism in the country of his birth. He wrote a string of remarkable novels, and among his many honours he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1982. One of his finest creations is the sleuth Lieutenant Boruvka, who appears in a large number of short stories. Of these, “The Case of the Horizontal Trajectory” offers a unique and gruesome locked-room murder with a completely original gimmick.
Where to find it: Originally published in The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka, subsequently reprinted in The Realm of the Impossible (ed. John Pugmire & Brian Skupin)
“The Haunted Room” by GIGI PANDIAN
Gigi Pandian has established a highly successful mystery writing career, and frequently offers hints of impossibilities in her work. With her short story collection The Cambodian Curse she set herself the tantalizing challenge of using each and every trick discussed by super-sleuth Gideon Fell in his fabled locked-room lecture which appears in John Dickson Carr's classic novel The Hollow Man. All the stories in this collection are good, but "The Haunted Room" is GREAT. It features her series detective Jaya Jones in a tale of apparently uncanny theft. The trick is utterly original- dazzlingly so. This is a tale that deserves to be anthologized and celebrated far and wide.
Where to find it: Originally published in Bouchercon 2014 Anthology, subsequently reprinted in The Cambodian Curse.
“The Witch of Park Avenue” by EDWARD D. HOCH
Edward D. Hoch is a titan of the locked-room mystery genre, and a specialist in short stories. He wrote nearly 1000 of them. This is both a marvellous boon because it means there is so much of his work out there for us readers to enjoy, but it can also be frustrating in that the sheer volume of his work means there are plenty of excellent stories which have not received the critical acclaim they deserve. One example is “The Witch of Park Avenue,” which features the series detective Simon Ark. Ark is a mystical figure, who claims to be a 2000-year-old Coptic priest and frequently finds himself at the centre of mysteries tinged with the impossible. “The Witch of Park Avenue” features a murder that occurs in (of all places) the revolving door of a Park Avenue apartment building. How could a man step through unaccompanied, only to die as he crossed the threshold?
Where to find it: Originally published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, subsequently reprinted in The Quests of Simon Ark.
“Coffee Break” by ARTHUR PORGES
Like Edward D. Hoch, Arthur Porges wrote a stunning amount of impossible crime short stories, though he remains unjustly obscure. He created several series detectives; the hero of “Coffee Break” is Ulysses Price Middlebie, erstwhile college professor turned “crime consultant.” This is a deceptively simple tale where an eccentric inventor is believed to have committed suicide in a locked cabin. But there is so much more to this apparently open-and-shut case than meets the eye.
Where to find it: Originally published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, subsequently reprinted in These Daisies Told.
“By an Unknown Hand” by JOHN SLADEK
John Sladek is best known as a science-fiction writer, but that is the mystery genre’s loss. With this short story, he introduced the world to eccentric super-sleuth Thackeray Phin, who would go on to appear in his novels Black Aura and Invisible Green- both neglected masterpieces of impossible crime. But “By an Unknown Hand” is where it all started, and finds Phin tackling the apparently impossible murder of an artist. The sheer breadth of imagination and ingenuity crammed into the scant few pages of this story is stunning. If only Sladek had written more.
Where to find it: Originally published in The Times of London Anthology of Detective Stories, subsequently reprinted in MAPS: The Uncollected John Sladek.
Tom Mead is a UK-based crime writer specializing in locked-room mysteries. He has written short fiction for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous others. Recently, his story “Heatwave” was included in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021 (edited by Lee Child). His novel Death and the Conjuror is forthcoming from the Mysterious Press in July 2022. John Connolly has described it as “a novel to intrigue and delight” while Daniel Stashower calls it “both an elegant tribute and a cunning update of the classic ‘impossible crime’ story.” Tom’s author site: https://tommeadauthor.com/ and Facebook.