If you were giving an award for "truth in advertising" or "truth in titling," you would need to look no further than the book "Sealed Room Murder," a Golden Age classic from 1937 by Rupert Penny. "Sealed Room Murder" gives the reader precisely what it promises: a victim is assaulted and stabbed in the back while inside a room whose only entrances and exits are both locked and sealed. It is the subject of this week's Classic Mysteries podcast, and you may listen to the full review by clicking here.
In "Sealed Room Murder," we are presented with the murder of a particularly unpleasant woman named Harriett Steele who, as I said, is murdered by being stabbed in the back while alone inside a locked and bolted room. It is one of those apparently impossible crimes - but, as Inspector Beale points out, it can't be impossible because it quite clearly did happen. The trick, then, is to figure out how it happened.
If you want to know why it happened that way, Beale is quite clear: "The essential quality of a miracle is that it can't be explained, and what can't be explained isn't punishable." Certainy, the circumstances of the crime make its investigation far more difficult. Yet Inspector Beale, to his credit, is able to see through the artifices which make the crime appear impossible.
That solution will be presented to the reader in its proper place - after he or she has been given all the necessary clues. And, just before the final section of the book, the reader is challenged, in the best traditions of, say, Ellery Queen:
"The problem is now complete, the previous chapters containing all the data necessary to a full solution. Accordingly, who murdered Mrs. Steele? Or, for those readers who like hard work, how was the murder committed?"
Be forewarned. While the solution is fairly given, it is quite complicated, involving a number of diagrams, thoughtfully included in the last section of the book to help explain the "miracle." As with all "impossible crime" stories, there is the risk of disappointment when the reader learns how the trick was done. I think that's unfair. This is the first book by Rupert Penny that I have read, and it is now available thanks to Ramble House publishers. It will not be my last.