With 10 days to go until the release of New Year’s Eve, I decided to post every day about an influence on the novel.
For today’s post, I am going to write about something a little different. Not a book or a film- but an entire literary tradition: the locked room mystery.
It’s possibly the most outrageous and silly subgenres of murder mystery literature; it certainly has nothing to do with the reality of crime. And yet, seen as an enjoyable brain-tease, the tradition is undeniably fun.
For those who don’t know, the locked-room mystery is a type of story where a crime takes place in a room which is then found locked from the inside. The crime should therefore be impossible, because the culprit should not have been able to get out- and a genius sleuth is therefore hired to find a solution to the puzzle. There have been a thousand variations on this story, and I have read quite a few. And I have to admit… I’ve enjoyed every single one.
The origins of crime fiction are intertwined with the locked-room mystery. If you are to look up the birth of detective literature, you will find that people generally point to the founding fathers of Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone or Edgar Allan Poe’s Auguste Dupin stories. And both of these examples contain elements of the locked room mystery. It’s almost as Collins and Poe came up with a crime so impossible that they had to invent the figure of the sleuth detective in order to solve it.
To this day, the subgenre still delights me. The most famous iterations of the locked room mystery are still fantastic fun: the propulsive plotting of John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man, the delightful twists of Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room. And there is no cosier viewing than Jonathan Creek, a BBC series centered on locked-room mysteries so complicated that the police need the aid of a magician to help solve them. Every episode is not so much a ‘whodunnit’ than a ‘howdunnit,’ and even the most preposterous solution never fails to make me grin.
It is too much of a stretch to say that New Year’s Eve is a locked room mystery. Indeed, it’s a difficult thing to pull off in a modern day psychological thriller. I will say, however, that the book contains a tip of the hat to the genre I love. It is just a small detail in the unravelling mystery of Palace Gardens, where the novel takes place.
Most will not notice it. But this is entirely appropriate. That way, I can think that the reference is hidden. Or locked away, even.