Five of the best locked room mysteries

17 March 2015

By Pan Macmillan

Locked room mysteries are a mainstay of crime fiction, pitting the wily crime writer against the reader to solve a seemingly impossible crime committed under apparently impossible circumstances since no intruder could have entered or left the scene. Norwegian crime writer Hans Olav Lahlum selects five locked room mysteries that will keep you guessing until the very end.

The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr

This list could well have been filled up with titles from Carr, as he himself never really succeeded to escape after being caught in by the locked rooms sometime in the early thirties. The Hollow Man, first published in 1935, despite hard competition from The Burning Court, is still considered his best novel. It was voted the best locked room mystery by a highly qualified expert panel back in 1981, and I am still waiting for some new locked room mystery to challenge that conclusion… Obviously I should not spoil anything for anyone not yet informed by giving any kind of hint about the solution to this novel.

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The Mystery of Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux

From Paris anno 1892 we have kept not only the story about a locked yellow room, but also a more or less hermetically closed room mystery. The final chapters might take off a bit, but still it is a very entertaining novel with a creative locked room solution, written by a very talented father of the modern French crime literature. Once upon the time this was considered the best crime novel ever written by John Dickson Carr.

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The Doomdorf Mystery 
Melville Davisson Post

A short but great story, from a still underestimated and somewhat mysterious American crime mystery writer. Post, as a writer, never did anything for good with a novel, but his best short stories about the wise Uncle Abner and his search for justice in West Virginia before the Civil War are still very well worth your time. The Doomdorf Mystery could have been even better if Post had given it some pages (and some persons) more, but remains a remarkable idea and a convincing solution.

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The Speckled Band
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

One of Conan Doyle’s best short stories, which means of course that it is a true Classic in the history of crime literature. The solution might well be inspired by Poe, but published 51 years later it definitely appears more likely – although that is up for debate… The same might be said about one of my own criminal short stories, which Conan Doyle inspired.

Read The Speckland Band now

The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Edgar Allan Poe

Published in 1841, this long short story became a very important starting point for crime literature in general and locked room mysteries in particular. The solution is definitely creative and probably logical. Whether it is likely at all is another debatable question.

Obviously you can argue in favour of many other strong candidates, but to quote a former Norwegian Minister of Foreign affairs: ‘This is my opinion, and I have to show respect for it.’

Read The Murders in the Rue Morgue now

Main image (c) Dustin Gaffke /

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