And Throw Away the Key!

Locked Room P.I. Mysteries

S. S. Van Dine's Philo Vance, possibly the only detective more annoying than Hercule Poirot, may indeed need a kick in the pants, but there are indeed hardboiled locked-room mysteries. Here are a few:

  • Murder in the Madhouse (1934)
    Headed for a Hearse (1935)
    The Dead Don't Care (1938) by Jonathan Latimer

It's rare for the worlds of hard-boiled crime fiction and screwball comedy to merge, and even rarer for them to enter into locked room mystery territory, but damn if that isn't exactly what these three novels, featuring Latimer's hard-drinking private eye Bill Crane, manage to do.

  • The Deaths of Lora Karen (1944)
    The Whistling Legs (1945
    The Blushing Monkey (1953) by Roman McDougald

Genteel NYC private snoop Philip Cabot specialized in locked room mysteries and other impossible crimes in these three novels, which leaned more towards Van Dine and John Dickson Carr than Chandler and Hammett.

Barry Ergang writes: "Includes both a locked-room problem and a seemingly impossible disappearance. Both are initially intriguing but turn out to be very lame. Neither is fairly-clued. (P.I.) Steve Drake's entry into the case is prompted by a couple of all-too-convenient coincidences, the nature of one of which would be a spoiler if revealed here. Suffice it to say I found the book to be a huge disappontment, and I sincerely doubt anyone would rate it a great example of an impossible crime story."

  • Too French and Too Deadly (1955) by Henry Kane

"A pretty darn good locked-room P.I. tale" featuring New York private richard Pete Chambers, this novel was reprinted in its entirety as "The Narrowing Lust" in the more or less definitive collection of locked-room mysteries, The Locked Room Reader, edited by Hans Stefan Santesson. The collection was later reprinted in two volumes by Dell, as 8 Keys To Murder and 8 Doors To Death.

  • Murder Among Children (1967) by Tucker Coe

A hardboiled locked-room mysteryfeaturing wall-building private eye Mitch Tobin. This is, I think, my favorite in the series, but all five books are worth tracking down. I think a British publisher reprinted them about ten years ago. All come heartily recommended by Coe contemporaries such as Donald Westlake and Richard Stark.

  • Invisible Green (1974)
    Black Aura (1979) by John Sladek

Although Thackery Phin is a former university philosopher turned private detective, he's a long way from hard-boiled.

  • Hoodwink (1981) by Bill Pronzini

Nameless cracks a locked-room-type case at a pulp convention where, coincidentally, he refuses to wear a name tag. Cute, huh? (And Paul Bergin notes that Pronzini also wrote the shortest locked room mystery ever, "Whodunit?". It was one sentence long, and appeared, appropriately enough, in a Pronzini collection titled Small Felonies.)

  • Even the Wicked (1997) by Lawrence Block

New York eye Matt Scudder has to deal with a vigilante who calls himself "The Will of the People," seems to be able to get anyone anytime, and is kind enough to announce the identity of his intended victims to the media before he kills them.

  • The Play of Light and Shadow (2004) by Barry Ergang...Kindle it!

This novelette-length story originally appeared in FMAM, Issue 35, 2004, and is an honest-to-goodness locked-room mystery by our very own Barry Ergang, featuring Darnell, a bookworm barfly P.I.

List report respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Bill Crider, Barry Ergang, Paul and all the others for their contributions to this list.

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