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Countdown to Mystery: Locked Doors

September 30th, 2020

A woman enters a room. Closes the door. Then, from inside, a voice cries “Murder!” When her father breaks down the door, he finds her bleeding on the floor. She is alone. The windows are barred. There is no other exit. Yet the perpetrator is gone!

And so begins The Mystery of the Yellow Room (Le mystère de la chambre jaune) by Gaston Leroux (1908), a novel considered by many to be one of the greatest locked-door mysteries of all time.

Over the years, some of mystery’s greatest writers have tried their hand at the subgenre, each attempting to outdo those who went before. Consider, for example, this locked-door scenario from the back cover of the 1983 Signet reprint of Ellery Queen’s The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934):

No one had seen the fat man enter the luxurious suite; no one knew his name. All his clothes were on him backward, and all the furniture around him was reversed. The room […] was locked from the inside, and aside from him, was empty. [And now …] the man was dead.

How can you not want to read that one? And if you’re a writer, how could you not want to play in that sandbox?

In this series of posts, I’ve been recommending mysteries that feature elements you’ll find tomorrow should you accept Prime Time Theatre’s invitation to join me for the first installment of A Knavish Piece of Mystery. The story features an eccentric detective in the mold of St. John Lord Merridew (Sleuth) and Hercule Poirot (Murder on the Orient Express); a sidekick who complements the qualities of that detective (Zero Effect), an ensemble cast (The Last of Shelia, Murder on the Orient Express), a writer who blurs the lines between life and fiction (Sleuth) and a locked-room puzzle (The Mystery of the Yellow Room, The Chinese Orange Mystery). The fun starts tomorrow at Noon. I hope you’ll join us then … or any time during the days that follow.

That’s one of the nice things about podcast theatre. You can attend at your convenience. Here’s the link.

In the meantime, click the link below to view a 1931 adaptation of the locked-door mystery The Speckled Band, based on a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyal. It stars Raymond Massey (in his first starring role as a film actor) as the master sleuth and Athole Steward as his sidekick Dr. Watson.

Enjoy, then stop back tomorrow as we unlock the door to A Knavish Piece of Mystery.