When Edgar Allan Poe wrote The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841, he not only created what most consider to be the first detective/hero, but he also gave the reading public a new genre—a new challenge—the locked room puzzle.
The appeal of the locked room mystery is simple and obvoius. As Isaac Asimov says in his introduction, No One Done It: “Somewhere, however impossible the crime seems to be, there must be an answer that involves only logic and the real world. That is the faith of the mystery aficianado. The delight is in finding the solution and the justification of that faith.”
The twelve stories in this carefully-assembled collection reflect the history of the locked room mystery story. Beginning with the grandfather of the genre, Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic, The Adventure of the Speckled Band featuring the great Sherlock Holmes, the reader will move on into the twentieth century, and be entertained by such modern masters as MacKinlay Kantor and Erle Stanley Gardner.
The stories demonstrate the remarkable variety of the locked room puzzle: the scene of these impossible crimes might be a log cabin in the mountains, and it might be a big-city automat. The characters range from telephone operators to scientists to mystery writers themselves. Jack Wodham’s Big Time Operator centers around a machine that allows people to travel in time; and Vanishing Act, by contemporary writers Bill Pronzini and Michael Kurland, involves a magician whose astonishing feats may be more than just mere illusion.
Here then are a dozen choice morsels, selected by three of the top names in crime fiction [sic!], to challenge, entice, frustrate—and tantalize.
This is a collection of an even dozen stories arranged in chronological order, all mysteries with the common theme of—well, maybe I’d better not spoil it. None are by Asimov, and few left me even slightly impressed. The earliest story is Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which I always found perhaps historically interesting but generally too melodramatic for my taste. The next story is Conan Doyle’s ever-popular “Speckled Band”—definitely very good, but not the best Sherlock Holmes story by any means. Most of the rest I found either uninteresting or—when they‘re by authors whose works I know and have enjoyed such as Erle Stanley Gardner or Robert Arthur—disappointing.
One exception is Jacques Futrelle’s “Problem of Cell 13,” which I was pleasantly pleased to find in this anthology—I owned a collection of “Thinking Machine” stories in my youth and was glad to see an old friend unexpectedly surface.
Beyond that—none of the stories are by Asimov, and few are really spectacular in any respect.