Reviewed by Hayley Anderton
Locked room murders and other similarly impossible crimes are one of the sub genres I particularly enjoy in golden age, and older, mysteries so I was particularly pleased to get my hands on a whole collection of them. Sixteen to be specific, including contributions from Dorothy L. Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, R. Austin Freeman, Edmund Crispin, and Michael Innes amongst others in this latest collection from the British Library’s Crime Classics series.
I’ve always found the puzzle element one of the most appealing aspects of older crime fiction – so much less disturbing than forensic detail. (Anthony Wynne’s Murder of a Lady is a particularly enjoyable, and delightfully far-fetched, example – also from the British Library Crime Classics series – where I would defy anyone to work out the solution before the end). In Miraculous Mysteries the solution to more than one apparent murder is that there wasn’t in fact ever any crime – it’s all about the problem, and they’re especially satisfying, not least because they give the impression that the authors are having more than the usual amount of fun devising them.
In his introduction Martin Edwards argues, convincingly, that the locked room mystery has been a feature of the literary landscape for a good two hundred years (starting with E.T.A Hoffman’s ‘Mademoiselle de Scuderi‘ in 1818 before moving on via Sheridan Le Fanu, and Edgar Allan Poe). Despite being less popular than in their pre-war heyday, the locked room mystery has never really gone away either (shows like Jonathan Creek offer classic examples of impossible mysteries) because who doesn’t love a good puzzle?
One of the great strengths of the British library series is its association with Martin Edwards who clearly loves his subject (every time I think about these books ‘fun’ is the word I keep coming back to) as well as having an encyclopaedic knowledge of it. It’s a treat to have an anthology that covers a good number of unfamiliar stories by familiar authors (the only story I was previously acquainted with was Dorothy L. Sayers ‘The Haunted Policeman‘) as well as presenting some truly obscure ones. The end result is a decently comprehensive survey of impossible crimes over a roughly fifty-year period, each one featuring an ingenious solution to the problem it presents.
I would dearly love to discuss particular stories, but as I can think of no other format which is quite so easy to ruin with an inadvertent spoiler, I’m not going to. What I will say is that I think the collection is worth the cover price for the gem that is Michael Innes ‘The Sands of Thyme‘ alone. This series continues to go from strength to strength and this book is a worthy addition to it.
Hayley blogs at Desperate Reader.
Martin Edwards (editor), Miraculous Mysteries (British Library, 2017). 978-0712356732, 350pp., paperback.
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