Doing a tour of bookshops today, I discovered that a new collection of locked room stories has been published by Macmillan, edited by David Stuart Davies. The synopsis runs thus:
A fascinating collection of ingenious mysteries which all pose the question ‘howdunnit?’ Featuring well-known sleuths such as Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, as well as the less familiar, including Jacques Futrelle’s Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, in each story the reader is invited to play detective and is presented with a challenge: can you solve the mystery before the solution is revealed? Locked-room mysteries reached their height of popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian eras; this collection, edited and introduced by David Stuart Davies, brings together stories from such masters of the genre as Edgar Allen Poe, Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton.
Sounds awesome, right? Okay, here’s the list of the fifteen stories therein, see if you can spot the problem I have:
- ‘The Aluminium Dagger’ – R. Austin Freeman¹
- ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ – Edgar Allan Poe¹
- ‘The Problem of Cell 13’ – Jacques Futrelle¹
- ‘The Two Bottles of Relish’ – Lord Dunsany¹
- ”The Tea Leaf’ – Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace¹
- ‘The Mystery of the Taxi-Cab’ – Howel Evans²
- ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ – Wilkie Collins¹
- ‘The Thing Invisible’ – William Hope Hodgson¹
- ‘The Adventure of the Retired Colourman’ – Arthur Conan Doyle
- ‘The Curzon Street Conundrum’ – David Stuart Davies
- ‘Out of His Head’ – Thomas Bailey Aldrich²
- ‘The Doomdorf Mystery’ – Melville Davisson Post¹ ²
- ‘The Adventure of the Jacobean House’ – C.N. & A.M. Williamson²
- ‘The Invisible Man’ – G.K. Chesterton¹
- ‘The Motor Boat’ – Jacques Futrelle²
Do you see it?
Everything marked ¹ was published in the recent Otto Penzler-edited Black Lizard Book of Locked Room Mysteries, everything marked ² was published in the recent Mike Ashley-edited Mammoth Book of Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes. All but two of these stories are already easily available in far broader and better collections — seriously, what is the point of this book?
As for the two stories that aren’t in these collections, well. We all know how difficult Sherlock Holmes stories are to come by these days, amIright? And while this one contains a room that is locked at one point, it is not a Locked Room mystery in the sense that the term, and this collection, implies. Which leaves Davies’ own ‘The Curzon Street Conundrum’ which isn’t from the Victorian and Edwardian era as the synopsis promises and the others all are (more or less).
Goddamn, this must be the laziest anthology of classic crime tales ever assembled, and misses an opportunity to bring back into circulation stories that aren’t readily and easily available and haven’t already been anthologised countless times. To claim this as anything other than a completely cynical cash-grab in republishing stories out of copyright for easy money would be bloody difficult to do with a straight face.
What a complete waste of time, money, and materials. I’d lament the effort going into it, too, but clearly none has. Can we stop recycling the same old shit, please, and actually get some interesting compendiums of unheralded locked room stories published, please? Otto Penzler largely showed how it should be done, consult his book for further reference (and a far better coverage of the subgenre).
UPDATE: TomCat, because he’s awesome, has put together his own out-of-copyright suggestions for a collection of locked room tales; check it out here. Goddamn, I love this blogging community…!