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The Big Bow Mystery: the first locked room murder mystery novel

A closed door
Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay.

The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill is a locked room murder mystery that is usually taken to be the first full length novel of that type. (Edgar Allan Poe got to the concept earlier in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. But that was a short story rather than a full novel.)

The book has plenty of black humour – an unusual choice for murder stories of the time – and features a nicely caricatured appearance by William Gladstone. There is a strong backdrop of satire of Victorian society to go with the main business of the murder plot.

The revelation of how the locked room crime occurred is clever, even if you have come across derivatives of it in subsequent locked room plots. There are a couple of Jonathan Creek plots which use very similar explanations to the one found in this book, for example.

The motivation of the murderer didn’t really work for me, though as the puzzle is much more about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ that only takes a little away from the enjoyment.

My version was a print on demand book. It has the poor typography and design that is common with such books, alas, and also a cover that warps very easily. The main text is all there and, some horrible layout aside, all readable. But if part of the pleasure you get from reading is the physical experience of handling a book, this one will disappoint, so look out for a normal edition instead.

You can buy The Big Bow Mystery from Amazon or Bookshop.org (which supports independent bookshops).*

If you like this, you might also be interested in The Hollow Man, with its wonderfully superfluous spilling of numerous different locked room plot devices.

* These links includes affiliate links which generate a commission for each sale made.

2 responses to “The Big Bow Mystery: the first locked room murder mystery novel”

  1. There is an early Hercule Poirot story by Agatha Christie called “The Affair (or Mystery, can’t remember) of the Spanish Chest”, which has most of the characteristics of the locked room murder whodunnit. The televised version with John Suchet (made in something like 1989) does it quite well.

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