The Perfect Crime by Israel Zangwill (1892)

When Mrs Drabdump cannot wake her lodger and finds his bedroom locked and bolted she calls for help from retired policeman, George Grodman. He breaks in the door and they find Arthur Constant lying on his bed with his throat cut.

The papers immediately proclaim it as a suicide except that no weapon can be found. But with no way in or out of the room how can it be murder? The inquest returns an open verdict leaving the nation baffled. Grodman competes with his successor, Edward Wimp, to find an answer to the conundrum, but which of them will gain the upper hand?

Originally (and more often) published as “The Big Bow Mystery” this is the first locked-room novel and that is the main reason that I wanted to read it and its position in history is the primary recommendation that I can give to it. I enjoyed the generally humorous writing style, including this description of poet Denzil Cantercot:

“Life was very serious to him. He never wrote comic verse intentionally.”

Whilst the potential comedy arising from an appearance of real-life Prime Minister Gladstone is hard for a modern reader to understand, I think that overall it holds up well.

The main problem is a complete lack of detection: two explanations are provided but neither comes with detailed investigation or a chain of logical reasoning. The “How” is interesting and upon re-reading completely fair as most readers, myself included, will have jumped to the same conclusion as one of the primary characters but the “Who” is not – an unfortunate consequence of  already having read later works that build upon some of the ideas used here. That is why I will be reading the locked room mysteries currently on my shelves in chronological order through the year. Having said all that there is still a pleasing final twist which made me smile.

My conclusion is that there is more to like here than not, but that it is likely to appeal most to those with an interest in the development of the genre.

N. B. In discussing possible solutions to the case the method from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe, included in this Detective Club edition, is alluded to. Also, from reading a review of “The 8 Mansion Murders”, I know that book reveals the method used in this case.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “When – set in the Victorian era”.

 

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One thought on “The Perfect Crime by Israel Zangwill (1892)”

  1. I found this very charming — and surprisingly funny — when I read it several years ago. Not fair, no, but pioneered the false solution and the least-likely suspect when so much of the Golden Age was but and glimmer in the eye ofater Victorian sensation fiction. Didn’t realise it had been reissued by Harper, might be tempted into getting a copy.

    Like

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