Welcome to Locked Room International, whether you came here looking for English language versions of foreign locked room mysteries and re-issues of forgotten English language classics, or stumbled on our site by accident.
What is a locked room mystery? It is ideally a mystery which follows Golden Age Rules about providing fair clues to the reader and also poses the question: how was it done? A “locked room” is a special case of the more general “impossible crime,” in which one or more victims are discovered dead in what appear to be impossible circumstances (hermetically sealed room, no footprints in the snow, inaccessible site, etc.) It makes no pretense to be probable, no attempt to analyze the human condition, and no effort to probe the detective’s foibles. Its purpose is purely and simply to baffle while entertaining. It challenges the mind, not the heart or the spirit.
Who were the great practitioners of the genre? That depends on who you are. If you are an Anglophone, one name stands above all others: the American-born John Dickson Carr, who spent almost his entire creative life in England. If you are a Francophone, you will know of Pierre Boileau (of the legendary Boileau-Narcejac team) but even you may not have heard of Noel Vindry who, like Carr, specialized in the genre. If you are Japanese, Edogawa Rampo (a phonetic interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe) was one of the early pioneers.
What are the greatest works? There have been two attempts to draw up lists: one in 1981 by an almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon group, and a later effort in 2007 involving a Franco-Belgian majority. The results of both exercises are described in: “A Locked Room Library” Note that almost all the English-language books have been translated into French, but roughly 40% of the French titles have not been translated into English. In the absence (so far) of any mainstream publisher willing to seize the opportunity, Locked Room International (LRI) is stepping into the breach in a small way– at least as far as French-language books are concerned. More recently, we have broadened the scope to include a Japanese masterpiece and a re-publication of a number of English classics. We expect this trend to continue. A list of our publications will be found on a later page.
Who are the great contemporary practitioners of the printed word (we exclude David Renwick, the creator of the Jonathan Creek TV series who has remained exclusively in that medium)? Well, you guessed it, neither of them writes in English, although both appeared on the 2007 list. In alphabetical order, they are Paul Halter and Soji Shimada (Shimada Soji in Japan). Both were featured in the May 2012 BBC 4 broadcast “Miles Jupp in a Locked Room,” about which you will find more later.
John Pugmire has been an avid reader of impossible crimes since a tender age. In addition to having founded Locked Room International (LRI) in 2010, he is an acknowledged expert in the sub-genre. In 2006 he completely rewrote the Wikipedia article Locked Room Mystery; in 2007 he was invited to join an international panel to name the top 100 locked room mysteries of all time. In 2010, he and Brian Skupin, co-publisher of Mystery Scene, were invited to review the contemporary locked room scene for Book and Magazine Collector Magazine. And in March 2012 he was contacted by the BBC to help create a 30-minute radio feature on the subject, in which he also made an appearance. His translation of Paul Halter’s The Crimson Fog was named one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Top Mysteries of 2013 and Ayaatsuji Yukitlo’s The Decagon House Murders followed in 2015. The Derek Smith Omnibus was included in the Washington Post’s Top 50 Fiction Books of 2014. He has helped foreign authors to get their work published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
Learning about Paul Halter in 1991, and having learned French in school and spent many years working in France, he bought a bunch of Halter’s books and whiled away long-distance business flights translating them for his own amusement. His was frequently the only light on in the darkened cabin as he and his companion Jack Daniels toiled through the night. He spent several fruitless years trying to interest mainstream and specialist publishing houses, to no avail. The mainstream press didn’t, and still doesn’t, believe there was a market– despite average sales of 5000 in France and 12000 in Japan– and the specialist press were only interested in authors who were deceased, a condition which M.Halter was strangely reluctant to satisfy. In 2006 Wildside Press courageously decided to take a risk with the short story collection The Night of the Wolf because they liked the stories so much. Critical acclaim followed, but not enough sales, for Wildside was not known as a publisher of mysteries. The opportunity finally came when Amazon made it possible for small publishers to produce high-quality trade paperbacks, and its Kindle division did the same for e-books. LRI’s early publications were all by French authors but, starting mid-2014 we have added work from other countries, including English- and Japenese-speaking ones.