Pioneers and innovators - the impossible mysteries BC

This category of stories contains the stuff from the 1800s and early 1900s. It's a bit arbitrary where to draw the line. Many will say that E. C. Bentley was the author who brought the mystery genre into the modern era (for whatever meaning of "modern" that you want to use) by writing "Trent's Last Case". Then, a few years later Agatha Christie began her career and nothing was ever the same.

However, since "Trent's Last Case" is a novel, it's not applicable here. And so I find it better to use Agatha Christie's first short stories, published in 1923, as the benchmark for when the modern era began. That means that for this category of stories everything published up to 1922 is eligible, because that is what BC means in this context: Before Christ, i.e.

Those of you who are still here after that last sentence can look forward to a varied bunch of stories in this category. I'm not going to say that these are all great stories, because most of them are not. However, they are all classics of the genre, and anyone with a passing interest in impossible mysteries should definitely have read at least the bolded stories below.

Edgar Allan Poe The Murders on the Rue Morgue 1841
Edgar Allan Poe The Purloined Letter 1844
Arthur Conan Doyle The Speckled Band 1892
Arthur Conan Doyle The Lost Special 1898
Samuel Hopkins Adams The Flying Death 1903
Victor L. Whitechurch Sir Gilbert Murrell's Picture 1905
Jacques Futrelle The Problem of Cell 13 1907
Jacques Futrelle The Missing Necklace 1908
Freeman Wills Crofts The Mystery of the Sleeping-Car Express 1909
R. Austin Freeman The Aluminium Dagger 1909
G. K. Chesterton The Invisible Man 1911
G. K. Chesterton The Secret Garden 1911
Melville Davisson Post The Doomdorf Mystery 1914
Ernest Bramah The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage 1914
Edgar Wallace The Missing Romney 1919
Arthur Conan Doyle Thor Bridge 1922
Jacques Futrelle An Absence of Air 1922

I'm going so far as to say that most of these bolded stories border on the ridiculous in some aspects, but their importance to the genre can still not be overstated. Poe's two stories are the trailblazers of the two sub-genres of impossible mysteries - locked rooms ("Rue Morgue") and into thin air ("Purloined Letter"). Doyle's first two stories take these two subgenres and refine them. To be honest, just when writing this I realise that Doyle's stories are quite similar to the Poe stories in many respects apart from just being locked rooms or into thin air stories. "The Speckled Band" in particular owes a lot to "Rue Morgue".

The bolded stories by Futrelle, Chesterton and Post all have huge problems, but are still highly innovative in their approach to the impossible mystery genre. Freeman's and Wallace's stories are better as stories, and still manage to be fairly innovative in different respects.

As for the other stories here, I think many of them are actually better than the once I've marked as classics. They're generally not as well known, but are potentially better reads. If you've read what I've written before on the topic of these early impossible mystery tales, you'll know that I'm generally quite critical of them - the later, more modern era is much more satisfying to me. But the stories I've chosen above are still very enjoyable despite the drawbacks of this early era.


  1. This is a little off-topic, I know, but thought you would like to know that Richard Simms emailed me with great news. These Daisies Told: The Casebook of Professor Ulysses Price Middlebie is scheduled for publication in August of this year! I already re-read "Coffee Break" and wrote a review to mark the occasion, which will published two weeks from now (I accumulated a little blogging queue over the last year or so).

    So, long story short, we get another collection of Porges' previously uncollected locked room stories in August! :)

    1. Lovely news. That's certainly something to look forward to.