The Locked House by Stephen Barr
Source: 21st annual anthology of the ‘Best Detective Stories of the Year’ published in 1966.
Story Number: 17
What are some of the statements which a critic or a person who abhors locked room mysteries could put forth for his defense? They could read something like this:
“A locked room problem isn’t a mystery at all: it’s a self-contradiction”
“What the author asks the reader to believe is that a man is found murdered in a place from which the murderer couldn’t have escaped, and yet the murderer is not there. Writers have various ways of circumventing this. For example, the victim committed suicide in such a way as to resemble murder. Or the victim was dealt the fatal blow before he locked himself in. Or the murderer locked on the door on the inside while he was still on the outside.”
“The shoddiest solution of all is that he DID, in fact, get out, and his escape appears impossible only because of the author’s incomplete and therefore unfair description of the circumstances. None of these faces squarely up to the real dilemma – that the murderer got out when he COULD NOT. That, by definition, is absurd.”
Looks like the author set himself the task to break their defenses by providing this tightly knit locked room murder which does not fit any of the categories mentioned above. This is a story where a man has been murdered in a locked house (decapitated body in the living room with the axe used for the deed in the underground cellar), the murderer is not present in the house but at the same time, the murderer did not leave the room! If Dr. Fell gave us 7 categories under which to categorize all the possibilities of a locked room murder, Stephen Barr brilliantly instructs us that this method could very well be the eight. This story was written in 1965 but a variation of this method was used recently in one of the episodes of Jonathan Creek. It would be really interesting to come across a few more.