PJ Bergman runs the impossible crime website TheLockedRoom.com and is currently writing his debut novel of the same name. In the book, disgraced military detective Kenneth Rhys investigates a series of locked room mysteries and impossible crimes as he attempts to repay a debt to his volatile friend Mitchell. He stopped by In Reference to Murder to talk about "locked room" crime fiction and what inspired him to take on this project:
What is a locked room mystery?
Locked room mysteries and impossible crime stories are a subset of detective fiction. The plots commonly involve an event or crime that seems to have occurred outside of what is physically possible. The locked room conundrum - a body is found alone inside a locked room with no possible escape route for their attacker - is generally the most popular of these and the various solutions provide some of the greatest examples of the genre.
Why choose this genre?
Locked room mysteries have always held a certain appeal. Generally the stories focus on the how of the crime rather than the who or the why, which creates a unique dynamic between the author and the reader. The reader is presented with the same facts as the detective in the story, and is challenged to work out how the crime was committed before the author reveals all.
Being baffled by an impossible crime, only to find an elegant but ingenious solution, makes for a hugely rewarding read. I’ve found that this challenge/reveal mechanic works most effectively in short stories so decided to structure my novel as episodic mysteries, each featuring its own impossible crime.
How did you research the project?
The impossible crime genre, though relatively niche now, was extremely popular in the early 1900s. Before I started writing I read as many of these examples as I could, working my way through the stories of John Dickson Carr, Jacques Futrelle, Arthur Conan Doyle and many others. More recent examples include television shows like BBC’s Jonathan Creek and Death In Paradise, or the U.S. show Monk. These were really good points of reference for modernising the concepts that were created over a hundred years prior. Detective stories before the advent of DNA and forensics often allowed a lot more flexibility for the author.
Part of the reason I launched TheLockedRoom.com was to force myself to read more frequently - a steady stream of content and reviews requires a lot more research. Through the site I’ve come across fans of the genre, many of whom have their own suggestions or recommended reading. It’s been fantastic to engage with the community who share a passion for ingenious and unpredictable stories.
Once a few of my stories were complete (the first three impossible crimes are available for free online) I reached out to the contacts I had accrued for feedback and suggestions. This was also a really helpful process that informed a number of fundamental changes to the book.
I’d definitely encourage aspiring writers to start a site or blog about their topic of choice. Interacting with like-minded people and examining similar works has helped me to refine my own. The Locked Room is now well underway, and I’m hoping to have it finished towards the end of 2014.
PJ was born in Boston (the town in Lincolnshire, UK, not the USA version) and moved to Dublin, Ireland in 2011 to work for Google. He is currently writing the upcoming novel The Locked Room and launched the website of the same name to share progress, talk about the genre, and generally avoid actually writing the book.
The first three stories from The Locked Room are available online for free. TheLockedRoom site also host a huge library of articles, reviews, and short stories from some of the genre’s most acclaimed authors.