Locked-Room Mysteries: Modern Interest in the Classic Mystery Subgenre

With roots in the Golden Age of detective fiction, locked-room mysteries are making a comeback. Author of Under Lock & Skeleton Key—the first book in the Secret Staircase Mystery series—Gigi Pandian writes about the genre and how it offers the ultimate puzzle for readers to crack. Read Gigi's essay below, and leave a comment on this post to enter for your chance to win a hardcover copy of Under Lock & Skeleton Key!

A locked-room mystery is the ultimate puzzle. Not only is the mystery plot fairly clued, so the reader can match wits with the detective, but the crime itself appears to be truly impossible. 

This style of mystery had its heyday in what’s known as the Golden Age of detective fiction, a period loosely defined as between the two world wars, when mystery readers devoured not only whodunits but also howdunit puzzles, following clues and trying to solve the crime before the book’s detective. A “clue finder” often occurred in the back of a book, so readers could see what they missed. In a locked-room mystery, a sketch of the layout of the room or house was also often provided. 

In the middle of the 20th century, puzzles fell largely out of fashion. Some prolific mystery writers, like as John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie, continued writing them, yet many talented Golden Age writers were forgotten. 

As a huge fan of traditional puzzle-plot mysteries, and locked-room mysteries in particular, I’ve been thrilled to see a renewed interest in the genre in recent years. I began reading locked-room mysteries as a kid in the 1980s, and writing locked-room mystery short stories in the early 2000s. That was before they became popular once more, so in the last few decades I’ve observed two things I believe have helped fuel the renewed interest in the genre:

First, technology enables long-forgotten authors and out-of-print books to be published once again and find a wider audience. 

eBooks and print-on-demand technology mean it’s easier than ever to inexpensively produce an author’s works to see if a new generation will embrace it. Online reviews and podcasts spread the word about excellent classic mysteries to a wider audience than was previously possible. 

Books and stories I’d previously only heard about but couldn’t find are now available, and thanks to blogs and podcasts celebrating the genre there are so many “new” authors I’m only now discovering—nearly a century after they wrote their books. 

Second, during uncertain times, a diverting puzzle where the reader knows there will be a satisfying answer can be incredibly gratifying. 

Locked-room mysteries are truly the ultimate puzzle, because the crime appears as if it could not have been committed without a supernatural explanation. Yet the reader also knows it must have a rational explanation (otherwise it’s cheating). 

Not all of these traditional mysteries can be considered cozy, although most do keep graphic violence off the page. But all of them share the contract with the reader to present a fair game with all loose ends tied up. 

Those aren’t the only reasons the genre is making a comeback. Reader tastes change over time, and predicting popularity is always guesswork, but regardless of the convergence of factors making it possible, I’m so pleased to see more books in the genre. 

Not only are classic mysteries being rediscovered, but more present-day authors are writing locked-room mysteries, so there are new gems to discover.

Many foreign-language locked-room mysteries are now being translated into English for the first time as well. One of Japan’s most widely known classic honkaku mystery writers, Seishi Yokomizo, is finally being translated into English and published by Pushkin Vertigo. Locked Room International publishes translations of impossible crime novels from around the world, including more than a dozen novels by celebrated French author Paul Halter.  

It’s an exciting time to be a reader of locked-room mysteries, and also to be a writer in the genre. When I began writing my novel that became Under Lock & Skeleton Key, published this month, I had no idea if there would be an audience for it. I was simply writing a story I loved. A traditional locked-room mystery with a fair-play puzzle plot, a gothic backdrop that baffles the characters by suggesting a possible supernatural explanation, and a cast of diverse characters based on my own life that I hope helps bring this classic style into the 21st century. 

I’ve previously had more than a dozen impossible crime short stories published, as well as one novel with a secondary locked-room mystery plot, but Under Lock & Skeleton Key is my first novel where it’s front and center. An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases. When illusionist Tempest Raj finds her stage double’s dead body hidden inside a wall that’s been sealed for a century, she must use her skills creating misdirection to see through the trick and lay her own family curse to rest.

As I wrote the novel, it was such fun paying homage to the Golden Age locked-room mystery writers I’ve loved since I was a kid. The novel includes a locked-room lecture (a tribute to John Dickson Carr, the master of the locked-room mystery) and the setting includes the Locked Room Library, a quirky private library devoted to classic mystery novels. 

I hope readers will have fun with Tempest as she solves a seemingly impossible crime, and also seek out classic locked-room mysteries.

*Author Photo Credit: Susan Parman

Read an excerpt of Under Lock & Skeleton Key


Enter the Sweepstakes!

Sign in and comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Under Lock & Skeleton Key Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/locked-room-mysteries-modern-interest-in-the-classic-mystery-subgenre/ beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) March 15, 2022. Sweepstakes ends at 2:59 p.m. ET March 29, 2022. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.


About Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian:

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

After a disastrous accident derails Tempest Raj’s career, and life, she heads back to her childhood home in California to comfort herself with her grandfather’s Indian home-cooked meals. Though she resists, every day brings her closer to the inevitable: working for her father’s company. Secret Staircase Construction specializes in bringing the magic of childhood to all by transforming clients’ homes with sliding bookcases, intricate locks, backyard treehouses, and hidden reading nooks.

When Tempest visits her dad’s latest renovation project, her former stage double is discovered dead inside a wall that’s supposedly been sealed for more than a century. Fearing she was the intended victim, it’s up to Tempest to solve this seemingly impossible crime. But as she delves further into the mystery, Tempest can’t help but wonder if the Raj family curse that’s plagued her family for generations—something she used to swear didn’t exist—has finally come for her.

Learn More Or Order A Copy

Comments

  1. Sharon Spinos

    I love mystery novels and hope to win

  2. Anne

    Intriguing and fascinating. Gigi’s books are the best.

  3. TANYA R MCCRACKEN

    I LOVE this genre!! So happy for the comeback!!❤

  4. Tabitha Olson

    This book looks like it is so much fun! I love a great mystery!

  5. Rena

    Looks like a great story!

  6. Jill

    Thanks for the opportunity!

  7. Laini Pearl

    How interesting. The Golden Age certainly interests me as classics are always memorable and captivating.

  8. Reilly

    sounds fascinating

  9. Michelle R

    When I first read the author biography, I thought Pandian was a cooking style and was intrigued. I love cozy mysteries, especially ones that end neatly.

  10. Sandy Morse

    Gigi is a great writer and this sounds like a new favorite!

  11. Melissa Renee Ingram

    This book sounds so good!

  12. Kristen Cox

    This sounds like an amazing book…definitely up my alley!! Thank you for the chance, good luck everyone!!

  13. Darcia

    This sounds fantastic! I love supernatural elements. Add a quirky library? Sold!

  14. Elise Terry Modesitt

    Ooh, I want to read this!!

  15. Nancee

    I can wait to read this mystery! I wish the author had shared a bibliography of her favorite locked room mysteries!

  16. Beth Talmage

    I have not read any of Gigi’s books and I’d love to start with this one!

  17. cvstuart

    Great news!

  18. MarthaT

    Agatha Christie was my first introduction to written mysteries many moons ago. I would love to try any author that compares to the master. Fingers crossed!

  19. Joel Timmons

    Locked. Rooms. Who’ll. Survive. Love. It. Mysteries

  20. Tad Ottman

    I love locked room mysteries! Really looking forward to this!

  21. VMosby1972

    I just read The Christie Affair…and have never read Agatha Christie but plan to soon. This looks like it’d be right up my alley.

  22. Susan Yurkus

    Just bought this book today, and I am looking forward to reading it.

  23. Jill White

    I’ve been intrigued by this book ever since I first learned about it – am very much looking forward to reading it!

  24. Alandrea Anderson

    This sounds really cool. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a locked room mystery book.

  25. bayleaves

    I love locked room mysteries! Under Lock & Skeleton Key looks great!

  26. Danielle Hammelef

    This sounds so much fun to read!

  27. Wilma Prochaska

    I can’t enough of mystery stories. I hope I win this one

  28. Jane Schwarz

    I have always enjoyed locked room mysteries and even the secluded house with a number of suspects that get eliminated one by one. Thank you for this opportunity to win a copy of “Under Lock & Skeleton Key”.

  29. Susan

    Your Book has been on wishlist when I saw it on BN…Excited to Read Gigi..

  30. Linda Walonen

    Those kinds of mysteries have always been something I enjoyed.

  31. Kathy Reeves

    Sounds like a great book. Would love to win!!

  32. Susan Stokes

    Oops Your book Gigi has been on my wishlist when I first saw it on BN…

  33. KellyL

    I love this type of story and can’t wait to read it!

  34. Richard Silberg

    Lemme outa here!

  35. Robyn L Russell

    Looking forward to reading this book!

  36. Amber Pate

    Thanks for the opportunity

  37. Beth Cohen

    Adding to my TBR now. This sounds fantastic!

  38. PM Palmer

    Sounds like a fun book I would enjoy!

  39. Ali Thurman

    Looks like an interesting read. Love mysteries.

  40. Lindsay Fairbrother-Henige

    Sounds really interesting!

  41. Rebecca Case

    What a great idea to bring back the old mystery locked room genre for readers. Eager to read one.

  42. mhubbert

    This sounds so cool!

  43. Beverly Gordon

    I love agood mystery and im drawn to this book so much cant wiat to read it mystories are amazing

  44. Tammi

    Very excited to read this book!!

  45. Christine Marquez

    Thanks i hope i win a copy

  46. Sandie Herron

    The company itself sounds like a blast. The mystery must surely be as well!

  47. Sarah Brede

    This sounds so good!!

  48. Angela Sanford

    I am so excited to see the Locked Room Mysteries coming back. I love the classics mysteries and trying to figure out who actually done the crime. Gigi, I cannot wait to read your new locked room mystery!

  49. Susan Coster

    I have recently been intrigued with mysteries, suspense and thrillers. I can’t get enough of them!

  50. Bridget Taylor

    This sounds so good.

  51. Michelle Murphy

    Oh this sounds like a fun genre! I just read a few cozy mysteries this year, but look forward to this twist on the genre and seeing what it’s all about!

  52. mbott

    I loved the excerpt I read. I hope to win!

  53. Lorrie L Montgomery

    This looks like a fun read.

  54. ejggardner

    This sounds like a great book!

  55. Pat Dupuy

    What a great premise! One locked room mystery I remember is The Speckled Band by A. Conan Doyle.

  56. ariel

    How intriguing! Sounds like the author had fun with it and put a lot of herself into it. Those are the best kinds of stories. 🙂

  57. LINDA BASS

    I LOVE MYSTERIES!!

  58. Les Blatt

    I’ve enjoyed your earlier books and can’t see what you’ve done with the impossible-crime genre – long my favorite mysteries.

    • Les Blatt

      that should, of course, have been “can’t wait to see”…sigh…sorry.

  59. Pat Embury

    Looks like a great read!

  60. elvinoray

    Looks great 🙂

  61. Traci Rowenhorst

    I love a good mystery! I don’t need the sex, the blow ups and modern technology, just a simple who dunnit with plenty of twists. And of course, a cozy chair, blanket, fire and stormy night with a good cuppa!

  62. AmyK

    Great interview! I can’t wait to read this book!

  63. Pam

    Definitely a book I am putting on my must read list. Sounds like a good book and. Future Movie?!!

  64. Leslie Merchant Price

    I would love to win!

  65. Richard Mann

    I love locked-room mysteries, especially the Dr. Sam Hawthorne stories by Edward D. Hoch. Unfortunately, I’ve now read all of those, so it’s good to hear of a new (for me) author who does them well.

  66. Nathan

    I love a good mystery and am always looking for new authors and books.

  67. Barb Bolam

    It’s about time that a great type of mystery has finally become popular again. I loved Agatha Christy and her style.

  68. Lisa Ahlstedt

    This sounds like a mystery with something extra! Can’t wait to read it

  69. Diana Thomas

    Very intriguing. I hope to read more

  70. Susan Graham

    Locked room mysteries are always brain-teasers and brain testers. Love them!

  71. notoriouslynice

    I was introduced to locked room mysteries when I was a teen. My favorites were the Sir Henry Merrivale mysteries written by John Dickson Carr under the pen name Carter Dickson.

  72. Hopestowin

    Looking forward to reading it.

  73. Janice Milliken

    Reading mysteries helped keep me sane during Covid lockdown!

  74. Lori Byrd

    Sounds like a really great book. I’d love to win.

  75. enchantedtamara

    I love this genre! Sounds like a fun read!

  76. Nicole Seabolt

    Fascinating!

  77. book-chick-annie

    Locked-room mysteries are my favorite. I can’t wait to check out your new book, Gigi.
    Thanks for the chance to win.

  78. Deb Tilton

    this book and series sounds intriguing. I’m not very good at solving mysteries, but would like to read the book

  79. BookFun

    I love this style of mystery – Under Lock and Skeleton Key sounds fabulous!

  80. Marti

    Sounds like a great read!

  81. maraschino

    sounds good

  82. Kira Mounts

    Adding to my TBR!

  83. Karen Terry

    Interesting read.

  84. SAMANTHA COX

    Awesome contest. I’d love to read this.

  85. Christopher

    Sounds just like something I want to read!

  86. MaryC

    Love locked room mysteries!

  87. Julie McDonough

    Oh my gosh, this sounds so good! I love locked room mysteries, they are so challenging. Thank you for the chance to win this.

  88. Sonja Pool

    Don’t think I’ve read a locked room mystery before. Sounds intriguing

  89. cath56

    I’m adding this to my TBR list. Thanks

  90. Anne McIntosh

    Can’t wait to read Under Lock and Key

  91. Anne McIntosh

    Sorry lol too excited and I can’t wait to read Under Lock and Skelton Key

  92. Shelley Beachy

    I love a great mystery, and this certainly fits the bill! Can’t wait to read this!

  93. Michael Carter

    Great read!
    Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  94. lasvegasnv

    intriguing book

  95. Michelle Leyvas

    I love reading mystery, suspense and thriller cant wait to read this one

  96. Becky Jaase

    I love Agatha Christie. Just read Grafton’s The Rat Began to Know the Rope. Great fun!

  97. Alicia

    This sounds really intriguing. I’ve been looking forward to reading it.

  98. Patty Dump

    Locked room mysteries have entertained me since I read Mystery of the Locked Room by Carolyn Keene and later The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Poe.

  99. Shannon Capelle

    This sounds really interesting!!

  100. Christine Royer

    I’m not familiar with locked-room
    mysteries. However, I love thrillers and mysteries so would love to win a copy! Thanks!

  101. Linda Peters

    Love mysteries, thanks for the chance

  102. JoAnne Reuter

    Sounds so intriguing. Definitely MY kind of read!

  103. Gail Gallant

    I love it when I can read a mystery that I don’t have the answers to 1/2 way through (or less). Thank you for the opportunity.

  104. Candice Gigous

    Sounds like an awesome read.

  105. Lori P

    My kind of fun!

  106. Becky Wilhoite

    This book sounds like a lot of fun!

  107. Brandy Ybarra

    I cannot wait! (Also, why do I have Mrs. White’s,” He wasn’t a very good illusionist” ringing in my head? XD)

  108. karenh1221

    This sounds so good and it would be amazing to win.

  109. susan beamon

    I’ve liked locked door mysteries. I wasn’t very good at solving them. I still liked them.

  110. Nathan G

    This sounds good.

  111. Daniel M

    looks like a fun one

  112. Joe Fernquist

    These are my absolute favorite types of mysteries. Mr. Carr was my go to author.

  113. Susan B

    Would love to win this!

  114. Judy Kahn

    Have read all Gigi’s other books — have been anticipating this one ever since she announced it!

  115. Kara Marks

    This sounds really good!

  116. Darlene L Torday

    I love mysteries and this one sound like one I’ll enjoy reading.

  117. Betty Dawson

    I have read and enjoyed locked room mysteries since I was a kid. It is always nice to find a new author!

  118. Allison McMillan-Lee

    Sounds like a good mystery! And I love the cover! Very attention-grabbing!

  119. Maude Moore

    Sounds wonderful!

  120. Jo Ann Riggs

    I can’t wait to read this. Please share some of the blogs you read!

  121. Britteny Williams

    I love this genre! I can’t wait to get my hands on this book! Just heard of this author last month and this book sounds so good!

  122. bill norris

    love the sound of this.

  123. Eric Hendrie

    I’ve always loved locked Mysteries and learning about them.

  124. LeMinou

    Sounds fascinating. Love the fun cover.

  125. Andrew Beck

    I am impressed by the challenges inherent in creating a locked room mystery—to come up with a new idea and then develop a situation that keeps the reader guessing.

  126. Stephen Larson

    Looking forward to reading the rest of this book.

  127. Anne Hardy

    I’ve enjoyed Gigi Pandian’s other stories & look forward to reading this one , which will undoubtedly be well-executed l..

  128. Tiffany

    This sounds great!

  129. JacquieG

    This would be my first Gigi Pandian Book and a start of a wonderful book romance!

  130. Margit Curtright

    Thank you

  131. Chelsey Hanafin

    Sounds exciting!

  132. Deb Philippon

    I cut my teeth on locked room mysteries, as these old classics were everywhere in used book shops when I was a kid. I.m glad they’re becoming more readily available.

  133. Cindy Kerschner

    I loved reading John Dickson Carr mysteries. How done it is better than who done it! Good luck everyone!

  134. Eileen Sharp

    Hmm. Intriguing! I would love to read this!

  135. Debbie OShaughnessy

    Mysteries are my favorite genre. Love it when I get to try to solve the mystery on my own !

  136. Candice Rosado

    This sounds amazing!

  137. germanowl

    Loved The Accidental Alchemist series. Can’t wait for this new one!

  138. Cherisse T.

    This sounds great!

  139. Karen Martin

    My favorite kind of mystery!

  140. Margaret

    I discovered this time-period/genre one rainy weekend many years ago at the family cottage with its bookshelf of musty yellowing Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie paperback mysteries. During the past two years of the pandemic and its curtailment of travel, I’ve been powering through Patricia Wentworths, Dorothy Sayers, Francis Lockridge, Heron Carvic, etc etc. This new book sounds like it would be ideal to read while lazing on the cottage dock with the waves lapping at my toes or curled up in a cozy armchair with a cup of tea during a snowstorm.

  141. Susan Morris

    I love trying to solve these mysteries before the author reveals the outcome. Can’t wait to read this.

  142. kelly dunaway

    Interesting essay. I would like to try a book by this author.

  143. kathleen m deneweth

    I love mysteries! I love to try and figure the answer out. It gives you thrill when you do. So glad you have made this story. Looking forward to reading it and fingers crossed I win!

  144. Desmond Warzel

    Awesome.

  145. AnneSD

    I, too, am loving the republishing of Golden Age masters, AND I’m also really enjoying the modern sensibilities of current authors’ takes on the trope. Can’t wait to read your book!

  146. JULES M.

    sounds intriguing!! thank you for the chance!

  147. Debi Krogstad

    Wow, I’m one of those readers that had no idea how long locked room books have been out there. This is one of my favorite “new” genres I’ve been reading.

  148. Beverly Pettit

    Looks to be interesting.

  149. Nikki

    Oh! This sounds like such a fun read! I never realized the locked-room mystery was a subgenre and now I feel like I really need to look more into some TBR options there.

  150. Twila Mason

    So intriguing!

  151. Lana Sibley

    I have been eagerly awaiting this book, it sounds like so much fun! Can’t wait to read it!

  152. Denise Loewenthal

    This looks really interesting and like it would be really fun to read!

  153. Debbie Rhoades

    I love this type of mystery! Thank you for the chance to reconnect with Golden Age-type mysteries.

  154. Marisa Young

    Interesting article. New authors to investigate. Thanks for the info.

  155. Teresa Warner

    One of my favorite genres to read, count me in!

  156. Sherry Clark

    I would like to read this!

  157. Paula Adams

    Thank you for this chance at your giveaway!!

  158. ReadWell

    I love the cover!

  159. Andrea Wille Ritcher

    Carr has always been one of my favorite authors. And I think my love of OTR has sprung from my love of locked room mysteries. Can’t wait to see what is coming next.

  160. Andrea

    I am in the mood for a mystery! Thank you for offering the opportunity to win a copy of this book.

  161. Kimberly Dull

    This sounds like a great read!

  162. Marie Connelly

    I’ve enjoyed mysteries since I read MYSTERY IN THE APPLE ORCHARD which I loaned from the mobile library that visited my Brooklyn elementary school once a month. As I got older, I devoured Nancy Drew. My favorite is THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE. I always longed for a secret passage in my home.

  163. Padmini Rao

    This book looks like it’s a page tuner. I would love a copy.

  164. Linda

    Sounds intriguing !

  165. Diane Furst

    Your book sounds so good! I love locked room mysteries.

  166. TCasteel

    I truly love a good old fashioned locked room mystery.

  167. BeckyIA

    How very intriguing! I also love a good mystery and locked room mysteries are among the best.

  168. Joy Isley

    I have added this book to my TBR list. it sounds like the kind I enjoy reading.

  169. Sandra Kitchener

    I just started re-reading my Agatha Christie collection again. I love a locked room mystery and am excited to read your novel.

  170. goldyjess

    Great article – I love a locked room mystery and would love to read this book!

  171. Darlene Slocum

    I have been reading mystery novels for 80 years and not about to stop yet. Thanks for the chance for a new one.

  172. Bonnie

    I am just finishing this book. I love it!! Can’t wait for the next one

  173. Sabine

    I love mysteries. Thank you for the chance.

  174. neednap

    Love the cover – and the genre. Thanks for the opportunity. Whee!

  175. Patsy

    I love this,it’s like you’re part of the story!

  176. poppy playtime

    There are many websites for you to find the places you need to visit, but you should visit this one. I think you won’t be disappointed.

  177. sims games online

    I’m a sucker for a good mystery! I don’t need the sex, the explosions, or the cutting-edge technology; all I want is a basic whodunit with plenty of twists. A comfy chair, blanket, fire, and a stormy night with an excellent cup of tea, of course!

  178. Magnum Quest

    This book appears to be a lot of fun! I adore a good mystery! I was interested when I initially read the author’s background and assumed Pandian was a cooking style. I enjoy cozy mysteries, especially those that have a satisfying conclusion.

  179. Barbara Banks

    Sounds fantastic I ope it delivers I love all mysteries

  180. Elizabeth Robinson

    Your book sounds fascinating, and I enjoyed your brief history of the locked-room genre!

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