Locked Room Mysteries by Nationality (part 3/5)

Now, as I have already mentioned, one of the constraints of considering a sample drawn from English language anthologies, is that there are few examples included of foreign language stories in translation, given commercial pressures. We can however, compare the use of the different types of locked room solution by British and American authors.

As might be expected, the use of the murder from outside is the most commonly employed type on both sides of the Atlantic (and by writers in other countries too albeit in smaller numbers in the sample).

Where we do see a marked contrast is in the use of mechanical traps. These are greatly favoured by British writers but markedly less so by American writers. Is there something in the British psyche which enjoys tinkering with devices? Is this the spirit of Heath Robinson with his fantastical contraptions finding an outlet in detective fiction? There is a certain whimsical element in such devices which lives on today in the animation of Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit.

In contrast, there is a marked preference for the use of those complex timetabled plots in US locked room mysteries and for the murder of the victim after the locked room is unsealed (where again the time of death is at issue and is obfuscated). These two types, particularly the latter, are markedly less popular with British writers. Is there an American preference for the complication to be in the sequence of events described rather than in some hidden operation of an unseen device. These are, by and large, murders that take place more in plain sight – indeed, for the plots to succeed, they rely on the testimony of witnesses who are fooled into thinking they see events in a certain order when they do not. I hesitate to suggest that Americans are more concerned with time than the British but I am intrigued by the possibilities, and pitfalls, of setting such a time-driven plot device in a country which has a relaxed, manana, attitude to time.

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2 responses to “Locked Room Mysteries by Nationality (part 3/5)

  1. I’m very late here — for mhich my apoliogies — but I’m curious how this would be affected now that the BL’s Froeign Bodies and Locked Room International’s The Realm of the Impossible have brought so many more non-US and UK mysteries out for comparison.

    A quick and entirely unscientific sweep through TRotI, for instance, reveals that the most popular category here is not the most common category there. And now I want to know if there’s some kind of Anglophone bias over the explanations and methods used to resolve impossible murders!

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