Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Locked Room Fans Take Note

Martin Edwards just alerted me of a new reference book on the locked room subgenre that I and so many other vintage mystery bloggers enjoy. It's called Narratives of Enclosure in Detective Fiction by Michael Cook and it tends to have a historical and academic flavor.

Martin writes:

...the book is not quite what I expected, for a number of reasons. The author’s starting point is interesting. He suggests that Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” set a pattern for detective fiction with an emphasis on “enclosures, death and references to sequestered lives”. So although there is quite a bit of focus on Golden Age fiction, when – most people would accept, I think – the locked room mystery was in its hey-day, the book includes extensive discussion of some stories that one wouldn’t really associate with the locked room sub-genre. A key example is that splendid Charles Dickens story, “The Signalman”.
Unfortunately, like all academic tomes it's a pricey book and will run you well over $50 (plus shipping depending on where you find it). To purchase a copy of the book try the usual bookselling sites. I found it listed at and (free shipping always!).  It may be at other sites as well.

For more on the book see Martin's post Narratives of Enclosure at his blog.


  1. John: I have mixed emotions about reading academic treatises on crime fiction. Unless I have read the books covered I would prefer to consider them on my own before reading another analysis. I doubt I would have read The Invention of Murder on Victorians if it had assessing contemporary murder and crime fiction because the review is bound to reveal more information than I would want to know about a book before I have read it.

  2. Thanks John, seems really fascinating, even with that hefty price tag. One would hope that a scholarly tome would illuminate both what place the locked room mystery has historically in the field as a sub-gebnre - and also why we read such stories so taking a broader approach sounds potential of real value.

  3. Bill -

    I agree with you. Martin's brief review of the book implies that it is another "eggheady" examination of detective fiction with a post-modern bent to it. The title alone tells me it's approaching the locked room as a metaphor and not as the literal puzzle it is intended to be. I would rather read about the writers who followed in the footsteps of Carr like Clyde Clason and Clayton Rawson rather than read an evolution of the subgenre. I bet Cook doesn't even mention Clason. And I'm sure he will overlook Anthony Wynne who came a full decade before Carr. But I'll hunt it down and page through the index hoping that some of those writers will get their overdue notice.

    Sergio -

    Those are two intriguing themes. Let's hope Cook did just that.

  4. Trying to figure out what the cover illustration has to do with locked rooms...Is it a reference to a particular book?

  5. 29, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    If I understand correctly, the volume would be a study about Locked Room, but not “senso strictu”: it would use the stories to speak of something else. I do not know what to say.
    If it is a study about Locked Rooms, the study should must starting necessarily from them. Why to talk about Borges or Anna Katherine Green, if they didn’t write Locked Rooms? Booh. You can also talk about something unusual, but always starting from the sensitive data, from source. If the source is not there, what’s he discussing here?
    Bob Adey in his study dealt with the subgenus encyclopedic knowledge, creating something very unlikely to be exceeded. It may be that the author, starting from the knowledge that little could be said about this without repeating Adey, has decided to explore a more particular aspect. But anyway, he would have to leave only works connected to the subgenus.
    And at least treat Carr, Chesterton, Rawson, Derek Smith, Boucher, Van Dine, Rupert Penny, Norman Berrow, Christianna Brand. At least.
    The only study of a certain completeness that I remember, written in the academic field but at least intellectual, by one who was not a scholar in the strict sense of the kind, was that of Ernest Mandel, the great theorist of the Fourth International Trotskyist and a great economist. He wrote a text that focused on the detective story from the Marxist economic point of view, "Delightful Murder: a Social History of the Crime Story." Only that it took into consideration all or most of the authors.


  6. Darrell --

    It's an odd illustration from a volume of Poe's stories. It's supposed to be the orangutan carrying the corpse of the woman it killed from "Murders in the Rue Morgue." To me it looks more like a dandified Morlock from H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. No orangutan has a tail (an artist who didnt' do his research) and no self-respecting ape of any species would wear that gaudy earring.

  7. Update on the cover drawing - It's by decadent artist and Victorian aesthete Aubrey Beardsley! No wonder the earring. But shame on Aubrey for not knowing about apes having no tails. That's something kids learn in elementary shcool.