The Locked-Room Mystery and Agatha Christie

Thanks to John @ Pretty Sinister Books, I became aware of an article on the resurgence (or so the author claims) of the locked-room puzzle in contemporary crime fiction. Just for the record, John wasn’t impressed by the article stating that “the author completely misconstrued the term “locked room” into a metaphorical meaning rather than its true literal meaning.” The article can be read here.

However, what irked me most in the article was this sentence:

I had been lured into a locked-room mystery — a puzzle-box subgenre of thrillers, perfected by Agatha Christie, that seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance in recent months.

Really? Agatha Christie perfected the locked-room mystery! I know she is the best-selling author of all time, but to credit her with each and everything is just a little too much. Or am I reading it all wrong?

What do you think? Do share your views.

12 thoughts on “The Locked-Room Mystery and Agatha Christie

  1. That’s why I disliked the article. The author claims that a “locked room mystery” is the term used to describe a mystery novel in which there is a closed set of suspects in a confined setting, often one in which the characters cannot leave (island with limited boat access, snowbound house, train, airplane, etc.). She then dares to separate the locked room mystery from the impossible crime mystery when in fact they are EXACTLY the same kind of plot. One category is specific (a literal locked room) and the other is more open to interpretation allowing for a body found on the beach with no signs of anyone being near it, weapons that seemingly could not have been used because of witnesses, and all the other types of murders that seem to be impossible.

    That she misunderstands what she’s writing about shows that she learned all she did from online articles written by others who are also misinformed. Young “journalists” do not do hard work of genuine research anymore. They quickly scan the internet and lift their ideas from existing writing that is easily obtainable. They don’t even interview people anymore. Read any news article these days and you will find that facts are cited from the pages of Linked In, Facebook, and other online sources. They never bother to call people or ask questions. It’s passive journalism and it is perpetuating a lazy copycat style of content.

    I’m sure that she most likely has a dearth of understanding about the classic writers of the past. Because anyone who reads mystery novels of this type knows that it is John Dickson Carr who is the master of both the locked room and the impossible crime.

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    1. John, I completely agree with you about the way News is researched and presented nowadays. With information available on fingertips, everyone has become a journalist and anybody with a microphone tends to become a reporter. The way journalistic ethics and etiquettes have died down is sickening. Remember the time when News Anchors did not tell us about their own inclinations but rather handled the debate in a fair manner, presenting both (or all) sides of the matter. Now news anchors have their own views on each and everything and brow-beat down anybody with a differing view. Debates on TV have become a slanging match.

      There is so much of misinformation on the Net and when people blindly copy it in their articles etc without checking the facts, they simply perpetuate the lies and falsehoods even further. Does a news editor even exist now?

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  2. When I think of locked-room mysteries, I tend to think of John Dickson Carr, not Agatha Christie. Anyway, even they were not the first by any means. The locked-room mystery of Bel appears in the apocryphal scriptures (included in the Roman Catholic Bible as Daniel 14:1-22). The priests leave food and drink offerings in a locked room for the cast idol Bel, and every morning when they open the room, they find the food has been consumed; thus indicating the idol is indeed alive. Daniel, in the role of detective, finds a method to prove that there is some hanky-panky going on, and solves the locked-room mystery. You can read this story online here. http://www.usccb.org/bible/Daniel.14:1

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    1. Rick even I think of John Dickson Carr when I hear the phrase ‘locked-room puzzle’. And after that perhaps, Paul Halter. In fact, Agatha Christie doesn’t come into my mind at all.

      That seems to be an interesting Biblical story. Going to read it…..

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    2. Thanks for the link to the story, Rick. Hadn’t known about it earlier. Entertaining story but didn’t like the children being put to death.

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  3. I did go read the article and I agree with what you and John have said. I don’t have the depth of expertise you two have and I don’t care for locked room mysteries especially but I do know there is a difference between that and crime taking place in a closed environment with a limited set of suspects.

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    1. Expertise and me, Tracy!!! Very kind but hardly true:) This is John’s and TomCat (of Beneath the Stains of Time) forte.

      Glad you agree. Was totally put-off by that sentence.

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      1. Thank you for the vote of confidence, but there are other locked room fanboys out there who would pat my head and call me adorable, if I pretended to be an actual expert on the topic. 😀

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        1. Welcome to the blog, TomCat.

          No seriously, I meant it. As I told you before the moment I hear the phrase ‘locked-room’, I think of you and if it is a book under discussion, I wonder if you have read it.

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  4. These kind of articles used to annoy me to no end, but it has become a convenient way to tell whether, or not, someone knows what they’re writing about. Not being able to differentiate between a locked room mystery/impossible crime and a closed-circle of suspects is a sure way to tell. The most grievous example I’ve come across was an article describing the impossible crime series Jonathan Creek as a supernatural cop show.

    I only skimmed the article, but it’s amusing to see how they try to explain and rationalize the resurgence of these classic tropes. A 2016 novel is even cited for making the impossible crime “fresh, buzzy and accessible for today’s crop of writers.” You only have to read some JJ’s reviews of some recently published locked room novels to know that these Western crime-and thriller writers have precious little to offer to the impossible crime story (crude without a hint of subtlety).

    There’s no mention that the resurgence of the locked room mystery, or the traditionally-styled detective story, perhaps has something to do with more, and more, once hard-to-find, long out-of-print mystery writers having returned to print over the past 20 years – not to mention the growing list of translations of French and Japanese (locked room) mysteries. They’re being rediscovered and embraced by a whole new generation of mystery readers.

    I’m getting off-topic here. Anyway, I’ve added your new blog address to my blog-list!

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    1. TC, I like your touchstone method:).

      I can just imagine your reaction as you read all those adjectives: fresh, buzzy, and accessible… laughing even as I type them. For the author to know about the reprinting of GAD novels or the influence of French and Japanese mysteries, she would have had to do some research but who is bothered about those dead dinosaurs better to credit somebody around whom there is a buzz….

      You were not off-topic at all but even if you go off-topic, it’s fine. Always nice to hear from you. And thanks for putting the new blog address on your blog-list.

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