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The locked room mystery has long been a staple of British mystery novels. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie to modern authors like Peter Lovesey and Ruth Ware, it's a puzzling setup that doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
What is a Locked Room Mystery?
Before we move on to the list, we want to make sure we're all on the same page about what constitutes a locked room mystery.
First off, it's generally agreed that a locked room mystery doesn't actually have to involve a locked room (though it often does). It simple refers to a crime committed in a situation where it seems impossible for the culprit to have entered, committed the crime, and exited without detection.
While some locked room mysteries may hint at supernatural influence (a vengeful ghost on the premises, for example), but of course we know there will ultimately be some logical explanation. It wouldn't be fair to the reader if, in the end, the murder was committed by some kind of wizard or ghost.
The best locked room mysteries feature a solid – but solvable – puzzle alongside an interesting set of circumstances surrounding the victim. Though classic mystery authors often focus more on the puzzle and give only superficial attention to the characters, many modern authors construct puzzling thrillers and crime dramas full of vibrant characters and conflicts.
Neither is better, but some people do have a preference for one or the other – so we've included a mix of both in this list.
16 of the Best British Locked Room Mystery Novels
Aside from giving Dame Agatha Christie the top spot, the list below is in no particular order.
Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Believed to be the most widely-read mystery of all time, it would be wrong to create a list like this and overlook Dame Agatha's classic train adventure. The mystery begins when, just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express on the tracks.
Nobody is too worried, but by morning, everything has changed. While they slept soundly in their beds, millionaire Samula Edward Ratchett was stabbed to death in his compartment…locked from the inside.
Trapped by the snowstorm, it's up to detective Hercule Poirot to find the killer before he or she strikes again.
The Nightingale Gallery
Author: Paul Doherty
In 1376, following the Black Prince's death and King Edward III's demise, England's crown falls to a young boy. As nobles circle the vacant throne, church prelates and influential London merchants become entangled.
After merchant Sir Thomas Springall's puzzling murder, Sir John Cranston, London's coroner, and his assistant, penitent monk Brother Athelstan, will have to navigate a web of intrigue from the grim Whitefriars slums to the English Court's savage grandeur.
The Case of the Constant Suicides
Author: John Dickson Carr
Though author John Dickson Carr was American, he lived in England for a number of years, and he wrote a number of mysteries set within the British Isles. Best known for his skillfully-executed locked room mysteries, we decided to stick with just one on this list.
The Case of the Constant Suicides puzzles over the murder of Angus Campbell, and old Scotsman who lost all his money, leaving him with nothing but a life insurance policy to leave to his heirs. After he falls to his death from the tower of Shira Castle, his family gathers and Dr. Fell (one of Carr's regular characters) sets out to solve the case.
The Red House Mystery
Author: A.A. Milne
Though A.A. Milne is best know for the Winnie the Pooh stories, he also wrote a single mystery novel – a surprisingly good locked room mystery. During a party at an English country house, the host's estranged brother is shot dead, found in a locked room that seemingly no one could have accessed and escaped.
Author: Philip Kerr
Part of English author Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther PI series, this book is set in 1941, finding Bernie back from the Eastern Front and working homicide under the terrifying Reinhard Heydrich. Tipped off that there's an assassin at work, Bernie is ordered to join Heydrich for a weekend at a country estate near Prague.
While there, a high-ranking Nazi official is found dead in room where both doors and windows are locked. Bernie will have to solve the murder – or face the wrath of some very bad people.
Author: Martin Edwards (Editor)
Martin Edwards has combed through the Golden Age archives to find much-loved classic locked room mysteries, along with a number of hidden gems by less popular authors. All are short, so it's a great option if you have limited reading windows (or just a short attention span).
BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
Author: Martin Edwards (Editor)
Rather than a single full-length novel, this one is a collection of short railway-themed mysteries by authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ronald Knox. Much like the classic locked room or secluded country estate, the railway offers a setting with an element of romance – but also a handful of constraints that lend themselves to to the locked room style of mystery.
If you don't always have time to get stuck into a full novel, this collection of 15 stories should prove satisfying.
RELATED: The Best British Railway Mysteries
Death & the Conjuror
Author: Tom Mead
Set in 1930s London, this period mystery deals with the seemingly impossible murder of celebrity psychiatrist Anselm Rees. Discovered dead in his locked study, there are no clues, no evidence, and no witnesses.
The sleuth? Offering echoes of Jonathan Creek, the case is investigated by a retired stage magician, Joseph Spector. His unique career gives him special insight into the possibilities for committing the “perfect murder”.
Spector will return in a follow-up (also a locked room mystery), The Murder Wheel.
The Devil & the Dark Water
Author: Stuart Turton
It's 1634, and detective Samuel Pipps is being taken to Amsterdam for execution. He's accompanied by his bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who hopes to prove him innocent.
The voyage seems cursed from the start. Livestock is dying, a strange symbol appears on the sail, and mysterious sounds torment the passengers. Then, there's an impossible murder.
If you enjoy locked room mysteries with a touch of horror and the supernatural, this is one for you. If you prefer the lighter, cozier books, you may want to give it a pass.
Death in the East
Author: Abir Mukherjee
This book straddles two different places and times: 1905 London, and 1922 India. As a young constable, Sam Wyndham encounters an old flame being attacked in the streets – and the next day, she's found beaten to death in her own room, the door locked from the inside.
Years later he's Captain Sam Wyndham, leaving Calcutta to head for the hills where he might be able to conquer his opium addiction. There, he encounters a face from his old life in London – and he doesn't think it's a coincidence.
A Corpse in a Locked Room
Author: Benedict Brown
When Izzy Palmer is invited to a lavish family reunion, it stirs up all sorts of painful family memories. Is it possible they've changed? Or is it just going to open old wounds?
When a member of the party is murdered in a locked room, Izzy will have to dive deep into her family's past and present to get at the truth.
Murder at the village church
Author: Victoria Walters
Nancy Hunter's mother Samantha left her family decades ago, leaving Nancy to assume she had died. When her mother is spotted at a party, she and her grandmother dive into the mystery.
Around the same time, their small Cotswold village is shaken by the appearance of an ex-con who participated in a London robbery. Then, there's a seemingly impossible murder in a locked room of the local church…
Author: P.G. Wodehouse
In a boarding house in Southampton, a dead body is discovered in a locked room. There's no indication of how anyone could have come or gone – and with no clues, there's no way to know whether it might happen again.
This book was previously published as Death at the Excelsior.
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The Woman in Cabin 10
Author: Ruth Ware
Journalist Lo Blacklock has been given the opportunity to spend a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. It's all rather nice until the weather turns, moods turn sour, and on one terrifying night, Lo sees a woman being thrown overboard. The next day, all passengers remain accounted for, and the ship sails on as though nothing has happened.
While this one isn't a pure locked room mystery like many of the others, it offers a modern take on the genre with the addition of an unreliable narrator.
Author: Emma Stonex
Inspired by a true story, this tense ghost story explores the mysterious and seemingly impossible disappearance of three lighthouse keepers working miles from the Cornish coast.
Author: Peter Lovesey
Within just a few hours' time, both a corpse and a missing rare stamp are discovered in the city of Bath. Inspector Peter Diamond soon finds that both the stamp finder and the victim belong to the Bloodhounds, an elite club for mystery lovers.
While they and Diamond all want justice for the victim, solving the crime will prove difficult. The body was found inside a padlocked houseboat, with the only key in the hands of a man whose alibi is beyond question.
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