Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Sealed Room - Vincent Starrett

Story: The Sealed Room
Author: Vincent Starrett
Book: The Casebook of Jimmy Lavender
Theme for the Month: Locked Room or Impossible Crime Stories
Vincent Starrett has written 6 detective novels and around 500 detective stories for the ‘pulps’, out of which around 50 of them feature Jimmy Lavender and his assistant Charles Gilruth. 12 of these cases were collected in 1944 in ‘The Casebook of Jimmy Lavender’. Recently, The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box has published 3 more volumes in addition to the original: The New Adventures, The Memoirs & The Return of Jimmy Lavender (which features 13 novelettes) and republished Casebook with 3 extra early stories.
The story Sealed Room opens with the door to a locked room being broken in by the patrolman. He is carrying out this task based on Miss Jane Howard’s request who suspects that there is something wrong with her rich politician employer Harper Wolgate when she comes in at 8.30 in the morning.  Sure enough, when the library door is broken down, Wolgate is found dead due to a bullet hole in his chest with no sign of the murder weapon. He is wearing his overcoat though it’s extremely warm inside the room and his silky hat is still perched on his sunken face. The two windows are securely fastened from the inside and there is no other possible entry into this room which is on the 8th floor of the building. Fearing that she is the one who is gone be suspected, Jane calls her fiancĂ© who in turn calls in Jimmy Lavender. A cursory glance at the library is all that is needed for the detective to remark that he knows the solution to the locked room conundrum (so did I and so will the reader familiar with the genre) – he says he knew the solution some twenty years back and he was just waiting for a case to present itself! Thus ends the first of the five chapters.
Rest of the story is devoted to finding the motive behind the murder (by the police) and to confirm the locked room solution that Lavender has in his mind. The motive becomes clear when it comes to light that the mysterious red diary is missing from the library safe. The other clue turns out to be a bloodied handkerchief (found in the overcoat) with initials ‘J.H’ which looks too big to belong to a woman. The scene shifts to a gambling den during the second half of the story and after two more deaths Lavender proposes his solution to the district attorney and the police investigator. Not a superlative locked room problem by any means but a worthy addition to the genre nonetheless.

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