A Locked Room Mystery


My friends over at the ever-excellent Londonist are adept at finding things I didn’t know about right on my doorstep. This time it’s Hinthunt, a pop-up live game service that locks you in a room and defies you to escape within an hour, following clues and puzzles before the countdown is over. Up to five people can play it at one time, and I imagine that the more of you there are the easier it is to escape, although given the fact that most of my friends are argumentative or barking mad a group is not necessarily desirable.

I imagine it would be best to be armed with a copy of this. Robert Adey’s Locked Room Murders are just that, the answers to almost every single locked room puzzle written in the Golden Age of crime fiction. It’s not especially useful to writers (there’s no detail) but certainly it sparks ideas when you’re stuck. And the sheer effort of producing such a volume is amazing.

I’m a bit addicted to locked room puzzles, and have included elements of them throughout my writing – even Calabash has one tucked in it somewhere, and there are several in the Bryant & May books – but it’s surprising that so few are really satisfying, as they often involve insanely complex mechanical arrangements that make me think ‘For God’s sake just bludgeon him/her to death!’.

I was thinking of trying the Hinthunt game by myself – but what if the company suddenly closed down and whoever is meant to let you out fails to do so? Then you’d have a real locked room mystery.

8 comments on “A Locked Room Mystery”

  1. Alan Morgan says:

    It would make for shorter mysteries however.

    ‘He used a hammer,’ said May.

    Bryant looked up from the body. His face lit with the satisfaction that often crossed his features when he knew something that others did not. ‘But what is the meaning of the hammer?’ he said.

    ‘A blunt object that caved in the poor man’s head,’ said May. ‘Look Arthur, not everything has to be a locked-room mystery. The door isn’t even locked. In fact they were hanging the thing when it happened.’

    ‘In Red Creek, in 1934 or 1936, the Hahn family in London, Texas, spotted a piece of wood from which a nodule projected. Breaking it they discovered a metallic hammerhead which is said to predate man’s use of tools by some 100-million years. It was called the London Hammer. Now here we are in Holloway, home of Arsenal football club.’

    ‘The hammers? Yes Arthur, I know that. But I’m sure that he was hit on the hit with a hammer because the victim and the assailant are carpenters.’

    ‘Like Jesus? But no, Arsenal is named for the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Where can also be found Belmarsh Prison, and what prison is associated with marshes?’

    May looked round. In the next room the victim’s close friend was in hysterics as he shouted to the arresting constable, confessing that he had argued with and then struck the man with a hammer. It seemed the dead man had admitted to having had an affair with the wife of the other. May said, ‘Dartmoor?’

    ‘Dartmoor, originally built to hold Napoleonic prisoners of war. Before that they had to make do with prison hulks, such as one from where escaped Abel Magwitch. Magwitch the secret benefactor of Pip, and where do you suppose Pip resided in London with the Pocket family, John?’

    ‘I don’t know Arthur but I feel sure you’re about to tell me?’


    ‘Or the poor fellow was just beaten to death with a hammer.’

    ‘That is what really happened,’ admitted Arthur.

  2. Diogenes says:

    I love locked room mysteries but almost all are flawed. The ultimate test is whether you would try and murder someone using that method, is it reliable enough. Almost always the MO is too risky for any same person to use in real life.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Very good Alan.
    I, too, love locked room mysteries. I’ve read all, but one of Carr’s many, many books and the last few collections of things he never published. I’m saving these for just a few at a time reading. I will read the last novel when I turn 80 – still way off – and the shorts and radio plays I dip into during the Christmas holidays along with a reread of an M. J. James ghost tale. A tradtion.
    Have any ever read the Merlini mysteries by Clayton Rawson? Quite good from the ’30s.
    My brother and I had great fun one summer holiday working variations on the locked door-dropped key onto paper-paper pull through bit.

  4. John Howard says:

    ‘The locked door dropped key onto paper’ brings back memories of an Enid Blyton Secret Seven book I read in the fifties which uses just that device. Did she get the idea from you Dan?

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    No. The fifties was about the time we were experimenting. We also rigged up invisible wires across the yard and street from our 2nd floor windows to trees. Then put black paper bats with weighted rollers on wires – a half dozen if I remember rightly – and attached heavy black thread to them with moving loops to hold the thread near the wire. A lot of work, but worth it. In the evening we’d wait for someone to walk by on the sidewalk, either side, and then release the paper bats just a few at a time. They went quietly down the wire by gravity and as they did their wide wings would flaps. Great fun. Scared a lady and her poodle, too. Generally got a fine reaction a number of times. Then repeated it for Halloween.
    We decided we could do the same for The Bat, a stage play if we were ever asked.
    JD Carr used the key trick in a book I read later – perhaps the Nine Wrong Answers, but don’t remember.
    For my money it beat what the taggers do to buildings and windows.

  6. Ken M says:

    Are there any using up to date lock technology? I have experienced both “electronic lock control system fails and server is inside room locked with electronic lock control system” and “incredibly secure room that allows exit in case of fire has door failure so people can leave but not enter”. Come to think of it also “air lock style double door freezes with people stuck inside in glass cube in giant office”.

  7. Dan Terrell says:

    Ken – The new Bourne Legacy has a grim scene near its start, where a killer locks all the doors into a pressurized glass secure room. He then proceeds to shoot everyone there, but one, while people on the outside try to gain access by breaking in, and see what he’s doing. Now, if the killer had got out without opening a door and got away it would be a Carr, but he doesn’t. Too bad. There should be though, even if it’s a bit hookey. This latest Bourne film is a bit too much warmed over Bond. I would have preferred a Salt II.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    My complaint against Bond is that the evil geniuses spend too much time explaining why they hate Bond and starting up complex systems that take so much time to do damage that Bond has time to circumvent the machinery and/or escape. Elizabeth George in Believing the Lie has a character complain about the same thing. Just hit him with a hammer, knife him or shoot him and be done with it, she says.

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