Locked room

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Locked rooms often appear as an element in a crime story . The reader is confronted with a forensic riddle in a locked room and at the same time encouraged to solve this riddle before he has read the story to the end and finds the solution in this way.


The closed space within a mediated action corresponds to the paradoxical idea of ​​the closed system: It doubles the situation of the reader, listener or viewer who cannot get into the book, loudspeaker or screen, but tries to get as close as possible to the action to lift the insurmountable barrier (see fourth wall ).

The biblical story of Daniel and the dragon in the book of Daniel is a forerunner of the motif. The “closed space” is best known since The Double Murder in Rue Morgue (1841) by Edgar Allan Poe . Poe set up rules for this type of crime story to mark the occasion. Authors such as John Dickson Carr , Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö , Clayton Rawson and Agatha Christie made the mystery of a locked room a kind of sub-genre of detective history.

A “locked room” or a “hermetically sealed chamber” in this sense represents a room in which a murder was committed. There are always a limited number of suspects, some of whom may not have an alibi . On closer inspection of the course of events, however, it turns out that no one could have committed the murder, because at the time of the crime no one could enter or leave the room without being seen or leaving a trace. This leaves the first impression that the intruder has vanished into thin air.


The following are some examples of impossible or locked-room crimes:

  • The only door is locked from the inside and must be opened forcibly. The position of the corpse does not allow the victim to lock the door after the killer slammed.
  • There is no chimney or smoke vent through which the killer could escape.
  • The only window is locked from the inside, or fresh snow lies untouched on the window sill.
  • There is no secret passage or trap door from the room.
  • The murder weapon cannot be found, although the victim was clearly poisoned, stabbed, shot or strangled (and the cause of death can later be determined beyond doubt by an autopsy ).
  • If the victim was electrocuted, no cables will be found near the body. If the victim was shot, nobody in the immediate vicinity can remember a sound.

These facts capture the reader's interest and generate a strong curiosity to reveal the truth. This, in turn, explains the unbroken popularity of these stories.

In many of these stories, plausibility is neglected at the expense of ingenuity and readership involvement to keep the tension going.

After such a story has appeared, readers often hear heated debate as to whether the described execution of a perfect murder is actually possible.

Examples of "gaps" that ultimately lead to the solution of the case and can be found by the reader:

  • If the victim was found stabbed to death in a locked room on an upper floor of a building with an open window and the murder weapon was not found, it would then be possible that the victim was killed by a professional knife thrower who then retrieves the murder weapon on a long rope has withdrawn?
  • Could an eye- witness have been fooled by a mirror into seeing a certain person entering or leaving the room?
  • Is it possible to gain entry to a house by impersonating a different person and wearing paper clothes that can then be burned in an open fire as evidence?
  • The "ice dagger" - a knife made of ice that melts before the murder is discovered.

The author John Dickson Carr is considered a master of the genre . His novella The closed space (Engl. The Hollow Man , 1935) is considered by many critics as the best puzzle over a locked room - although Carr himself Gaston Leroux ' The Mystery of the Yellow Room (fr. The Mystery of de la chambre jaune , 1907) stated as his favorite.

The locked room provides a recipe for budding crime writers. The 17th chapter of the book consists of a theoretical excursus. In this, the fictional detective Dr. Gideon Fell a full explanation of how the killer deceives everyone else (at least until the mystery is finally solved). Dr. Fell asks, for example, whether the intruder can create the impression of a hermetically sealed room when in fact it isn't. What methods are there for manipulating a door so that the door looks locked from the inside? Here is one of the easier answers that Dr. Fur gives:

(...) An illusion, simple but effective: the murderer locked the door from the outside after his crime and kept the key. It is assumed, however, that the key is still inside. The killer is the first to sound the alarm and also finds the body. He smashes the top glass pane of the door, sticks out his hand in which he hides the key, he "finds" the key in the lock and opens the door with it. This trick can also be used with a normal wooden door, the panel of which is smashed. (...)

Many authors have tried to develop new and often far-fetched scenarios with locked rooms, but in which supernatural powers or any form of magic are excluded as one of the basic principles. The American writer Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935) wrote Initials Only (1911), Margery Allingham (1904-1966) developed the same motif in Flowers for the Judge (English Flowers for the judge , 1936). Numerous other authors have dealt with the topic.

Selected Works


Paul Auster's book Behind Closed Doors ( The Locked Room , 1986) takes its title from the riddle of locked rooms.

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