A Three Pipe Problem

This week I have read The Norwich Victims by Francis Beeding, Fire Burn! by John Dickson Carr (which I picked up for just £1 the previous week at the Book Barn – what a bargain) and The Greene Murder Case by S S Van Dine. I found the historic setting of Fire Burn! gave it a very different feel. I am not sure I go for the bang on the head/time travel book-ending of the story but then it worked for the TV series Life on Mars though that only went back to the 1970’s rather than 1829 as Dickson Carr chose to do.

One of the peculiarities of manner which emerged about the pre-Victorians was their prudish reaction to the excesses of the earlier Regency era.  So along with keeping one’s hat on indoors, and always wearing gloves (useful for those of a criminal disposition), there was the treatment of smoking which is not a million miles from the modern almost blanket ban anywhere civilised. A female charcter notes to a male character that she can tell he has been smoking but doesn’t mind even though she ought to do so.

This makes such a change from the usual Golden Age novel set 100 years later. Then everybody smokes, the only question is what? Of course, pipes are favoured by some of the cerebral detectives (following Holmes we see Wimsey and Campion both indulging in pipes at one time or another). Others go for cigars (Gervase Fen, Roger Sheringham  et al – as well as Wimsey and Campion when social occasions require it). Cigarettes are more the preserve of the police detectives (Inspector Martin) or Americans (Philo Vance – though, to confuse the issue, he speaks with an effete, laconic drawl in the finest Wimsey or Campion tradition).

Women tend to smoke less, however, and this can be a pointer to their moral and hence criminal tendencies – I won’t give examples to avoid spoilers but you have been warned! Note to self – must check if Harriet Vane smoked in Strong Poison – now that would have been a red herring though it could be a marker laid down by Dorothy Sayers that Vane is in the feminist vanguard.

Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

With apologies to one of our speakers, Martin Edwards, for shamelessly pinching the name of his Blog as a title for this post, I have been struck while going through the recommended reading list from our speakers how many of the Golden Age authors wrote under one or more pseudonyms.

Over the last week I have read The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah, The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley and Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts.

But Berkeley also wrote under the name Francis Iles and A. Monmouth Platts. The Francis Iles pseudonym appears to have been his preferred choice for books that attempted to subvert the conventions of the genre, such as Malice Aforethought, but he also used it when serving as a book reviewer for The Daily Telegraph – read into that what you will.

Berkeley is even less trust-worthy when you consider that The Poisoned Chocolates Case is a full length novel that reworks the plot from an earlier short story The Avenging Chance, which gets name-checked in the novel as a play attended by a possible suspect. So even the book is appearing under a pseudonym. Indeed the short story solution is one of those proposed by one of the detectives in the novel but proved to be incorrect.

Likewise, John Dickson Carr is represented in the list under both his own name (The Hollow Man and Fire Burn!) and his Carter Dickson pseudonym used primarily for his Merivale detective fiction (He Wouldn’t Kill Patience). He also used Carr Dickson and Roger Fairburn.

Francis Beeding (author of recommended book The Norwich Victims which I am currently reading) is the pseudonym of not one but two authors collaborating – John Palmer and Hilary St George Saunders.

S.S. Van Dine (author of The Greene Murder Case) is the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright who was too embarrassed at writing what he regarded as pulp fiction that he preferred to do so under an assumed name.

Even Agatha Christie was at it. She wrote several romantic novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.

So if you’re coming to the Bodies From The Library conference -you might want to consider attending under a false name. You never know who you might meet.


Mickey Mouse

The Seven Types of Locked Room Mystery

According to John Dickson Carr, there are no less than seven distinct types of locked room mystery. At least that is what his character Dr Fell tells the readers in chapter seventeen of his 1935 classic The Hollow Man (widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of that genre). Having mentioned this last week, I have been prevailed upon to summarise Dr Fell’s categorisations as a reminder for those who have read the book some time ago or to enable those who have yet to do so to benefit from Dr Fell’s elucidation while skipping over the relevant chapter (as Dickson Carr invites them to do) so they can get on with the plot.

1 The murder is not a murder but is, in fact, an accident. The circumstances are such that it appears there has been a murder but this is not the case. Instead there has been a fatal accident within the locked room. Hence no murderer was present or has made his escape without leaving any trace. Often the accident will involve a fall with the victim striking their head a blow on the fender. This method is becoming more difficult to carry off now with open fireplaces being replaced by central heating.

2 The murder is achieved by means of a poison gas which overcomes the victim (perhaps driving him into a frenzied paroxysm which causes damage to the furniture leading to investigators mistakenly believing a desperate fight has taken place between the victim and the murderer).

3 The murder is done by a mechanical trap planted in the room, which is set off by the victim while the murderer is safely elsewhere. The trick here is to make the method by which the trap is sprung undetectable and, if the trap is concealed, for the weapon to return to (or else remain in) its place of concealment after being triggered – such as a gun hidden in the workings of a clock which fires when the clock is being wound (a method which surely is falling out of fashion due to the inexorable rise of battery or mains electricity powered clocks).

4 It is suicide which is rigged up to look like murder, frequently with the intention of incriminating an innocent party against whom the suicide holds a grudge. The weapon might be an icicle with which the victim stabs himself.  The icicle then melts, speeded no doubt by the fading body heat of the “victim”. In the absence of a weapon in the body, murder is presumed with the supposed murderer having made his escape with the the weapon.

5 The murderer impersonates the victim after having first killed him. The murderer is later observed to enter the room disguised as the victim.  He emerges immediately afterward having slipped out of the disguise thereby giving himself the alibi of having been seen to leave the room without having had sufficient time to commit the murder. The timing of the death is critical in this category; the elapsed time between actual and supposed later time of death must be sufficiently short for the body to be in an appropriate state of rigor mortis and at the correct post-mortem temperature.

6 The murderer manages to carry out the murder from outside the room in a manner which suggests that the murderer was inside the room to carry out the killing. Bullets made of ice, or even frozen blood, have been fired in through windows and subsequently melted leaving no trace to detect the method used.

7 This is the reverse of category 5. Here, the murderer has merely stunned or otherwise rendered the victim unconscious. They leave the room and after a suitable interval, during which no-one enters or leaves the now locked room, ensure they are on hand as efforts to break down the door are made. They ensure they are first into the room and in the initial confusion after entry is gained, they killed the unconscious victim swiftly – a stiletto is a favoured method – while misdirecting the others who have crashed into the room with them. This gives the impression that the victim has been lying dead in the hitherto locked room for some time.

If any of you are currently reading a book where it turns out that one of these tricks has been used, please don’t blame me for having outlined the method here. I’m only repeating Dr Fell’s 80 year old lecture which anyone can read for themselves if they follow the suggested reading recommended by our conference speakers at:






No Spoiler Alert Required

Encouraged by the suggested reading from our conference speakers, I have started to read (or in some cases, re-read) their recommendations in order to get the most out of their talks. I’m used to being the one in the room who knows least about the subject of Golden Age Detective Fiction but I want to have more than just a clue about what they are discussing.

So far I have read: Police At The Funeral by Margery Allingham, Green For Danger by Christianna Brand, The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr and An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson.

Without giving anything of the plots away (so no spoiler alert required), I have some questions I want to put to our experts at the conference about the means used in the first death of Police At The Funeral and why one of the characters does what they do in An Expert in Murder. It’s probably me missing something vital – not for the first time – but I do want to pick the brains that are cleverer than I am when I get the chance.

I did enjoy chapter 17 of The Hollow Man in which Carr’s detective Dr Fell delivers a lecture on the seven different types of “Locked Room Mystery” and how they may be distinguished. Needless to say, I shan’t be giving away into which category The Hollow Man actually falls.

I’m currently part way through Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. This has the advantage of featuring on both B.A. Pike’s list of recommended reading for his lecture on the works of Allingham and Sayers and on Richard Reynolds’ list for his lecture on The Oxbridge Murders. So it’s killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

For details of our speakers’ recommendations go to: