Saturday, October 19, 2013

The 1981 Edward D. Hoch Locked Rooms Meeting

The Edward D.Hoch Locked Rooms List


In 1981, Ed Hoch, who had published an anthology of short stories with Locked Rooms titled Diagnosis: Impossible. The problem of Dr. Sam Hawthorne, wanting to effect complete with an introduction, summoned the 17 best crime novels authors of authors and critics of America, so that would create a ranking of the best novels with ideal impossible crimes.
Here, below, the list of the 15 best Locked Rooms, as it was drawn up on that occasion:

  1) John Dickson Carr -  The Three Coffins
  2) Hake Talbot – Rim of the Pit
  3) Gaston Leroux – The Mystery of the Yellow Room
  4) John Dickson Carr – The Crooked Hinge
  5) Carter Dickson – The Judas Window
  6) Israel Zangwill – The Big Bow Mystery
  7) Clayton Rawson – Death From a Top Hat
  8) Ellery Queen – The Chinese Orange Mystery
  9) Anthony Boucher – Nine Times Nine
10) Carter Dickson – The Peacock Feather Murders
11) Ellery Queen – The King is Dead
12) Helen McCloy – Through a Glass Darkly
13) Carter Dickson – He Wouldn’t Kill Patience
14) Randall Garrett – Too Many Magicians
15) John Sladek – Invisible Green 

As reported by John Pugmire in his excellent article titled “A Locked Room Library”:
 They were each invited to name their favourite works, up to ten in number, ranked in order of preference. ( ).
John Pugmire added that, in spite of numerous French authors had written large Locked Rooms, only a French novel was included in this list (at the 3rd place): Gaston Leroux - The Mystery of the Yellow Room.
The novel, which had been appointed by Carr himself as the greatest novel of Locked Rooms that had been written (Carr was very modest: in fact, when someone asked to name novels that somehow he had considered having to be reported, he did not fit ever his works, despite being the largest in number and quality of novels), oddly enough was the only Frenchman to be inserted. The reason given by John (that very few French novels were translated in America) does not honor American publishing, and the same critical, since it is clear that no one had heard indispensable also read works that were not only written in English: if one loves a genre, and wanted to extend his range of readings, he could obtain other works are not translated into his own language. Of course should also know other languages, which leads us to other obvious considerations (!), when we learn that no one had done, in their rankings, the name of French authors and their works, except just Gaston Leroux, and Pierre Boileau (The Repos de Bacchus), but only because the latter was probably served to Hilary St.George Saunders as the basis for his novel, very similar, The Sleeping Bacchus.
Now, this lack seems to me very strange: it is possible that no truly great American authors and critics, who were invited at that occasion
( Robert Adey, Jack Adrian, Jacques Barzun, Jon L. Breen, Robert E. Briney, Jan Broberg, Frederick Dannay, Douglas G. Greene, Howard Haycraft, Edward D. Hoch, Marvin Lachman, Richard Levinson & William Link, Francis M. Nevins, Jr., Otto Penzler, Bill Pronzini, Julian Symons, and Donald A. Yates ), did they read other novels by French authors? Possible that none among they had read La Maison Interdite by Michel Herbert & Eugene Wyl ? Or La Maison qui Tue by Noel Vindry? Or Les Quatre Vipères by Pierre Very?
Not with these reasons, but basically, also John Pugmire questioned himself about it and he made ​​known it to his readers:
“This was scarcely surprising for – with the exception of Leroux’s work and Pierre Boileau’s “Repos de Bacchus”– almost none had been translated into English.  By contrast, a great many English-language works had been, and still are, routinely translated into French, which gives French readers a far wider range of choice than that available to Anglophones”.                                  ( ).
I do not understand why no one in America had felt the need to fill gaps related to foreign novels: in this, I believe that we Italians are more open to new, perhaps because, unlike the French or the Anglophones, churned out novels of absolute relief, we have produced little, and then we have assimilated by others; they instead, churning out a lot, perhaps, hadn’t the same need to know what others had written abroad (not denying that someone still this urge not hear it!). Thus, both the French and the Americans among Anglophones do not know that even an Italian writer, Franco Valiati, back in 1939, he published a novel, The Mystery of the Seaplane, which contained a Locked Room quite interesting.
Possible only with us, these authors and these novels in a lot of years, before the Second World War, had been translated and published, while elsewhere, i.e in America, they did not know who these writers were?
It’s no doubt that anyone who was aware about this, he would ask himself if he had any insight. (!)
An American blogger friend of mine, and among other things bookseller, John Norris, he voiced his thought about the issue, pointing out, that :
“Pietro, these are only my opinions and not actual facts”.
Ok, John. It ‘s just a comment, but it seems very interesting, and for this, publishing,it,  I use it to make a more general my reflection about the theme.
“The obvious answer is that those critics cannot read the original language in which the book was written and published. Not everyone cannot read French or German or Italian. Most of us have to wait for a translation to come out.
Why so few translations? I think it has always been about sales.  Long ago US publishers wouldn’t invest in a translated work unless it was proven seller either in the original language or in English translation in the UK.  Also, England has always been the leader in English translated works because of being part of a European marketplace. The US is a huge country and publishers have always ended to think of US books intended for US readers only.
I’d love to read the mystery novels of Noel Vindry, Jean Alessandrini, Gensoul & Grenier.  Waiting for someone to translate them into English, however, and then publish them is almost pointless.  Unless John Pugmire turns his translating talents to these books as well as Halter I don’t think I will ever see those books in English.
I think also some books do not translate well for a foreign audience or are so tied to a particular culture that a US publisher didn’t think the book would appeal to a US reader. They tended to look for universality in content.  In other words: can the US reader relate to the characters, find something similar in the story that will make them want to read the book?  Luckily, times change and we have a much larger readership in the US who are eager and curious to read about other cultures. It’s only fairly recently that US publishers have bothered to think more globally and recognize there are indeed readers who hunger for stories from outside the US simply because they are foreign”.

In the comment by John Norris , I read, however, also a kind of critique of American editorial policy, which has influenced the choices of that group of critics. What John says , in my opinion, is that in America until some time ago ( not now that you have moved on a market is global , but nevertheless the trends remain ) was published in American language something alien who had been previously translated into England.
So if anything, we should ask ourselves why in England the works of French are not been so translated. This could also be explained by a certain mistrust that existed between the French and English cousins ​​, always willing to each other to establish themselves in Europe, and also culturally to prevail over each other . So you might think that this trend was more English than French, if it is true that several British and American works have been translated into French ( and included in the list by Lacourbe ) , while no French work has been translated into English ( missing except Leroux and Leblanc ) and therefore absent in that by Hoch .
At this point I make my reflections on the provision of the first list , announcing that after this article will be followed other two: the first will consider the list by Lacourbe and the second that by Scott. Then , I shall make a my Locked Rooms shortlist , which I consider essential reading for any lover of this genre.
What you notice ( not only thing that I notice , but anyone can do it ) is that a list of 15 novels, is a bit  skimpy , in practice should be the best of the best . However jump out that some by the participants were famous writers : Dannay ( Ellery Queen), Boucher (even critical ) , Pronzini , Hoch; the others were also crime ficion critics : Nevins (critic by Ellery Queen), Greene ( especially critic by Carr ) Symons ( critic who did not particularly like the classic mystery ), and then a varied number of critics : Barzun , Robert Adey ( author of the most important study ever on Locked Rooms ) , Jack Adrian ( curator along with Adey of a fundamental anthology of short little known stories) , Levinson & Link ( classic TV detective series producers, as Columbus, Mannix, Ellery Queen, for example) , Howard Haycraft (famous critic) .
All, however, leaving out Adey, and perhaps Greene (who, as biographer and maximum connoisseur of Carr still had to be practical about Locked Rooms), were extemporaneous connoisseurs of Locked Rooms and then only at some of them: I do not think, in fact, that Symons, who also was one of the most important critics of all times, or Boucher, were experts Locked Rooms. If anything, they were well aware of some authors of Locked Rooms.
In fact, the list is made ​​up of works by well-known authors, and repetitions of works by some of them, can be ascribed in my opinion, rather the real and undisputed quality of the same, than to a tendency to exalt those who were considered the cornerstones of American Crime Fiction.
The only repetition of which I would not have objected, i.e. that of works by Carr, would have been untouchable only in the case where the list had included all the authors and works really fundamental in the genre. And then, in the amount, certainly more titles by Carr would have been legitimate. Here, instead, would be sufficient only two fundamental novels by Carr: The Hollow Man and The Judas Window.
In fact I do not see among the works, some American Locked Rooms very important, even historically, but not very well known (because their authors are not) among the general public:
The Thinking Machine (1907) by Jacques Futrelle [1]; Into Thin Air (1928) by Winslow & Quirk, and the novels by vandinian writers: The Canary Murder Case (1927) and  The Kennel Murder Case (1933) by  S.S. Van Dine; Obelists Fly High (1935), Careless Corpse: A Thanatophony (1937)  and  Arrogant Alibi (1938),by Charles Daly King;  The Man from Tibet (1938) by Clyde B. Clason; The Red Right Hand (1945) by  Joel Townsley Rogers 
We therefore aren’t surprised if there aren’t novels as The Shade of Time (1942) by David Duncan, or The Devil Drives (1932) by Virgil Markham!
Then there aren’t - and this is, together with the lack of French authors, the data that immediately jumps to the eyes - major works by major British authors, New Zealanders, Australians, etc.. i.e. authors by the British Commonwealth:
The Woman in the Wardrobe (1951) by A. & P. Shaffer; Whisle Up The Devil (1953) by Derek Smith; The Gilded Fly (1944) and The Moving Toyshop (1946) by Edmund Crispin; Suddenly at His Residence (1946), Death of Jezebel (1948), Tour De Force (1955),by Christianna Brand; Off With His Head (1957) by Ngaio Marsh; at least, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1935) ,  Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), Murder for Christmas (1938), by Agatha Christie; The Layton Court Mystery (1925) by A. Berkeley; The Rynox Murder Mystery (1930) and  The Polferry Riddle Mystery (1931) by Philip MacDonald; Policeman’s Evidence (1938) and Sealed Room Murder (1951), by Rupert Penny ; at least, Murder of a Lady (1931), The Case of the Green Knife (1932),  The Case of the Gold Coins (1933) , The Toll House Mystery (1935), by Anthony Wynne; Sudden Death (1932) by  Freeman Wills Crofts.
Not to mention those other British authors less well known but whose works (sometimes only one) still enough to remember them: for example The Death of Laurence Vining (1924) by Alan Thomas, or Darkness at Pemberley (1932) of T.H.White.
In other words, with the exclusion of Zangwill (initiator of this genre, could be said) and Leroux (accredited by Carr), the list appeared only formed by the works by American authors, known. It is suspected that those critics and writers who extended their list of preferences, did not know several other works. This resulted in a basic idea completely misleading: that only in America were written decent Locked Rooms. And for more than a few known authors: an absurdum!
So,  we are faced with a list of works by American authors (with two exceptions) which by its nature could not aspire to be referred to as the reference list.”
Nothing to complain about the first place awarded to The Three Coffins / The Hollow Man by Carr : for the atmosphere that is contained, the complexity of the puzzles and the famous Conference by Dr. Fell, a good reason may deserve the top spot. However, if a few years ago the position of this novel was clear supremacy , currently other critics ( including myself ) propose , for the same genius enigma , for the atmosphere and the sheer simplicity of explanation of a done absolutely impossible, another novel by Carr (aka Carter Dickson ), which figures in this list at fifth place : The Judas Window .
At second place it is Rim of the Pit by Hake Talbot:  also about this novel, I would observe that in my opinion ( but I’ve found that other reviewers think the same way as Mauro Boncompagni and Philippe Fooz ) a place would had to earn The Hangman ‘s Handyman by Hake Talbot, the first of two novels written by the author , and instead blatantly missing . In my opinion you would have prefer it to the other, because of the very dense atmosphere of the novel , as Rim of The Pit , but also for of the Locked Room, absolutely brilliant , which inspired many other later, and the impossibility of the curse ( a corpse decomposes in a few hours ) explained with an eminently hallucinatory and yet absolutely simple to understand, unlike the other novel, which in the face of so many problems accumulated during the reading, can not give them a logical and understandable explanation , often climbing on mirrors. The reason because was entered Rim of the Pit and not the other novel, lies in the fact that his literary quality was sponsored by none other than himself Carr , who had dwelt in its quality . Since Carr was number one in the consideration of those critics ( and he truly is , to date , the largest ever in my opinion) , it follows that his judgments were accepted without question.
About the novels put in positions from 3^ to 7 ^ ,  I do not put your mouth, except that in my opinion , perhaps it would be more just an exchange between the 4th and 6th : the novel by Zangwill , historically is much more important than the novel by Carr presented there, also because for the era in which it was written , the solution was absolutely revolutionary; and novel of the same Rawson , whose Locked Rooms , are absolutely extraordinary , on the same level of imagination of those Carr’s most renowned , also if they lose something only on the level of atmosphere, in my opinion I would have added it to the 5th place, while The Judas Window by Carr , as mentioned earlier , I would have joined to the novel put at the first place, The Hollow Man.
We arrive at Ellery Queen: in my opinion, the two novels proposed , The Chinese Orange Mystery and The King Is Dead could have been well not be there !
I understand that someone will consider me crazy, but to me those novels never seemed significant in the group of Locked Rooms : first, to want to be picky , The Chinese Orange Mystery , Locked Room just is not because the door of the antechamber is not closed : if anything, are the situations that introduce a puzzling situation ; also The King is Dead , is not really a big Locked Room . If you really had wanted to include an emblazoned novel , one would have to mention The Door Between, the only proper Locked Room by Ellery Queen . But you know, at that meeting attended Dannay ( the most imaginative member of the two authors hidden behind the brand Ellery Queen) and Nevins ( author of the most celebrated work of criticism about Ellery Queen) and Symons : it could be argued then because could be been selected precisely those two novels : the first belongs to  phenomenal ten novels, the second belongs to phase which so pleased to Symons: novels with a more psychological rather than deductive .
Ditto for Boucher, huge critical and remarkable writer. However Nine Times Nine is still a very nice Locked Room , also for references to the Locked Room-Lecture by Fell . However, I would point to the same quid Boucher valid for Dannay : to be truly impartial that group of critics would not have included inside two authors whose novels would have figured in the list.
About the novelsat positions 10and 11I have nothingto say.In fact, I want to add thatI would haveaddedanother greatnovel byCarr,strangelyabsent here: The WhitePrioryMurders, the grand Locked Roomfor the firsttimeputinto be the bigtrickof thesnowy meadow, almost become arecognizable traitof the production byCarrand thenchangedmany times(sand, soil, clay courts,a tennis court, etc. ..).
HerethenHelenMcCloy. HerThrough a Glass,Darklywasconsidered by many a lockedroom:in my opinionis a novelto fantasy, whose locked roomis also quite simple, and has nothingspectacular to beconsideredone of the best15lockedroomsever!I would havedefinitelyreplacedwithatrulyepochalnovel, unfortunately absent inItaly, The Woman in the Wardrobe by the BrothersShaffer.
About HeWould NotKillPatience, nothing to complain.
Ditto for Garrett.
Finally, sincethe candidacy byJohnSladekseemssacrosanct, I would have preferredtoInvisibleGreen, thenext novel,BlackAura,ahigher quality novel which containstwomajorproblemsreallysolvedwith greatnonchalance.
Before concluding, I feel obliged to make a reflection about the novels of Carr, also urged by a comment posted by a friend, Stefano Serafini , on Italian blog where I published this article in the first place .
Stephen emphasized among other things , the presence of a value judgment attached to the novels on the list , which “can give space to harsh criticism and controversial : in fact, he has not been repeated ,” and as a list of 15 novels, was quite restrictive . Also remarked one point about I also told my thinking about Carr :
“The Master here has basically 5 slot , otherwise there would be no race: in fact, in the first draft of the list by Lacourbe (The 99 Chambres Closes, 1991) Carr does not appear , nor he doesn’t appear in the 15 best mystery of all time chosen by Adey . Because it would not make sense . Therefore to create a compromise , as in this case , between non to insert Carr and to add him at will , inevitably becomes restrictive”
I would then bring back my reflection in the wake of the comments by Stefano, although it could go beyond the discourse about the subject.
The comments by Stefano gives me the opportunity to expand , albeit in this area  the terms of the issue. Stefano understood what I was getting :
Carr is the cornerstone of the building. If you take Carr, it will be reflected about the lawfulness of his exclusion , and if you don’t include him, it will be reflected about the weight that it should have had, about which novel to insert and which to remove . That’s because creating a list is always a question mark : the best thing for me, it would create a list not susceptible of ranking, and do not put Carr in this general list , reserving him a sort of preferential roadway , a container in which novels by Carr with meritorious Locked Rooms could be remembered.
The list by Hoch inserts  5 novels by Carr among the top 15 .
About the lawfulness of choice I don’t discuss . However in my opinion , four titles are sacrosanct , while the fifth ( as the solution to come as a slap ) , in the light of the novel by Zangwill, before Carr, present in the list , it would seem  to be a kind of illustrious citation. I’m speaking about The Peacock Feather Murders.
I would add The White Priory Murders or even The Problem of the Wire Cage or The Case of the Constant Suicides or even He Who Whispers or The Witch of the Low Tide .
As you can see , enter 5 titles by Carr it is strongly limited . Do not put it , even if it is a bold act , has led to a welter of criticism. As you can see .. the solution is obvious : removing Carr and inserting him at the same time .
Stephenalso asked mewhatwas the bestnovel by Sladekbetween the first his novel (Invisible Green) and the second his novel (Black Aura). I respond with a statement in which deeply believe, because I wrote short stories ( I wrote another recently , the development of a more ancient,  not yet published):
the best Sladek is not Black Aura, and even Invisible Greene, but … By Unknown Hand.
The Locked Room , it can be the great engine around which the novel runs (for example The Judas Window by Carter Dickson ) or it can be one of the engines of the novel ( Arrogant Alibi by C.D.King ) ..
But the novel is , by its very nature , highly dispersive : the novelist rarely succeeds , with the sole locked room to keep standing throughout the novel : very often he adds more locked rooms , or he creates subplots . This is because the history of the Locked Room and its solution , is by its very nature, more often than not mechanistic , deliberately restricted : it is an issue , which puts in place mechanisms logical- mathematical , disinclined to be regimented in a literary style .
That’s because I believe that the best way to illustrate a Locked Room is that by the short story : short, concise , detailed , who proposed the problem, gives the framing, a brief overview of the human environment on which it stands , and then . . gives the solution .
A short story with thirty – forty pages it is the best.
That’s because I controversially say that By an Unknown Hand by Sladek ( included in the collection Maps, edited by David Langford ) is the best I could find : an extraordinary plot , which comes on a solution equally extraordinary , but yet extremely simple. Although in its basic simplicity it seems bizarre .
In the novels by Carr there is plenty ofchoice. It’s in the case of others, that imposes the choice !


Pietro De Palma


Yet published on

[1] It isn’t a novel , but a series of short stories among which it’s  The Problem of Cell 13, one of the best locked room before Carr