For murder mystery book aficionados, there’s nothing quite like the locked room mystery or impossible mysteries. Whatever you call them, the premise remains the same: someone is dead (or something is stolen) in a seemingly impossible way. All entrances and exits are accounted for. Often the murder weapon or the desired object seems to vanish in thin air. Sometimes, even bodies disappear. These locked room mystery puzzles take the genre to new heights because they add howdunit to whodunit.
While locked room mysteries were very popular in the 1930s and 40s, they dropped out of favor for many decades. Fortunately, we’re beginning to see a resurgence of new locked room mysteries —whether they are newly-translated editions or new books altogether. Here is a list of eight recently published and/or translated locked room murder mysteries.
Under Lock & Skeleton Key: A Secret Staircase Mystery
Magician extraordinaire Tempest Raj is feeling anything but magical. She’s returned home, after a disastrous career-ending magic trick that nearly killed her. Thankfully, she’s home in a magical house filled with secret passages, hidden doors, and more—thanks to the family business of construction that makes these magical wonders. But when a body seemingly appears without explanation in her father’s middle renovation project, she’s terrified that maybe there is something to this family curse after all. She’s determined to get to the bottom of it all. Murder & Mayhem had the chance to talk about Pandian about her recently published book.
The Honjin Murders
While The Honjin Murders were first published in Japan in 1948, the book was only recently translated into English. The locked room mystery genre was so admired in Japan and there are so many authors who have their own contributions to the genre that they are considered honkaku mystery novels. Osusume Books reports that Japanese crime author Saburo Koga defined it as “A detective story that values the entertainment derived from pure logical reasoning.” The Honjin Murders is considered one of the top books in the genre. A wealthy groom and his new bride are found slaughtered in their room on the snowy night of their marriage. No snow tracks are found around their suite and the clues that just don’t add up. How could they possibly be murdered?
A hacker breaks into the FBI’s website and delivers code that leads investigators to a Michigan cemetery, where a dead girl is found “rising” from her grave. The evidence doesn’t add up. The case forces FBI agent Jessica Blackwood to draw on her former life as a magician to solve this strange and unusual crime. It is one of three books in the Jessica Blackwood series. Mayne has a background in magic and has been a creative consultant for magicians like Penn & Teller and David Copperfield.
The Decagon House Murders
The Decagon House Murders is another example of honkaku mystery novels recently translated into English. It feels very influenced by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Some people like to read and talk about mysteries. Some like to investigate them. Others like to camp at the sites of…grisly murders? A group of university students in a murder mystery aficionados club has decided to spend a week on a secluded island, the site of a brutal murder/suicide only a year before. But then someone starts start picking off the students one by one. Doors locked and unseen methods make this a great one for locked room mystery enthusiasts.
While many of the books in this list are set in the world as we know it, Six Wakes is best classified as science fiction. On a spaceship, Maria Arena wakes up to see her old body—and those of her crewmates—floating dead in front of her. She has no recollection of why they died and how she and the crew’s clones were activated. This is a universe where clones are standard. No one really dies anymore; they just clone themselves over and over again. But that doesn’t explain what has happened on the ship. Told from different perspectives of those aboard the ship, it’s a race to figure out how this happened before the murderer can try to kill them once and for all.
Proof of Murder
While this book is the fourth in Elliott’s Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery series, the cozy can be read standalone. Addie Greyborne, a bookshop owner, is working with an appraiser to review the books for an estate sale. While she expected to find a gem or two, she had not anticipated finding something as valuable as an 1887 magazine with the first print of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet. But nothing is that simple. The appraiser ends up dead in the locked private library—magazine missing—and no good answers as to who or how. Can she find the solution to this seemingly impossible crime?
Fortune Favors the Dead
Set in 1942, Lillian Pentecost won’t let multiple sclerosis stop her from being a successful detective. But she’ll need some help. She finds the perfect assistant—the knife throwing Willowjean Parker who previously worked in the circus. When a widow is found murdered with a crystal ball at her Halloween party, everyone is perplexed how someone got into the room to do the deed. Was it her dead husband’s ghost? Can Pentecost and Parker figure out who killed the woman before ending up the next target? The third book Secrets Typed in Blood is projected to come out in December 2022.
The Paradox Hotel
Time travel and locked room mysteries are together at last. Paradox Hotel is the hotel for the rich and famous who want to travel back in time in the nearby timeport. But trips are getting canceled without explanation and the guests are becoming unruly. But that’s the least of concerns for January Cole, hotel detective, when she finds an unknown corpse in one of the rooms. But no one can see him and it happens just before a summit with some of the wealthiest and most powerful people who are looking to buy the hotel and timeport from the government. More things go wrong, one after another, and nothing makes sense. Clocks are skipping minutes, objects are going missing, cameras are not working, and oh there’s been a few assassination attempts. All the while January is suffering from the effects of too much time travel—a career and life-ending situation. Can she hold it together to figure out who the man is, how he got there, and what is going on in her hotel? It’s definitely an unconventional locked room mystery but it’s a real page turner.