Locked room murders and other similarly impossible crimes are one of the sub genres I particularly enjoy in golden age, and older, mysteries so You can imagine how pleased I am that there's a whole collection of them here. Sixteen impossible crimes, to be specific, including contributions from Dorothy L. Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, R. Austin Freeman, Edmund Crispin, and Michael Innes amongst others (oh how I do love this series).
I've always found the puzzle element the most appealing thing about older crime fiction - so much less disturbing than forensic detail. (Anthony Wynne's 'Murder of a Lady' is a particularly enjoyable, and delightfully far fetched, example - also from the British Library Crime Classics series - where I would defy anyone to work out the solution before the end.) In 'Miraculous Mysteries' the solution to more than one apparent murder is that there wasn't ever any crime - it's all about the problem, and they're especially satisfying, not least because they give the impression that the authors are having more than the usual amount of fun devising them.
In his introduction Martin Edwards argues, convincingly, that the locked room mystery has been a feature of the literary landscape for a good two hundred years (starting with E.T.A Hoffman's 'Mademoiselle de Scuderi' in 1818 before moving on via Sheridan Le Fanu, and Edgar Allan Poe). Despite being less popular than in their pre war heyday the locked room mystery has never really gone away either (shows like 'Jonathan Creek' offer classic examples of impossible mysteries) because who doesn't love a good puzzle?
Martin Edwards, who clearly loves his subject, as well as having an encyclopaedic knowledge of it, also appears to be having more than the usual amount of fun selecting these particular stories (every time I think about these books 'fun' is the word I keep coming back to). It's so good to have an anthology that covers a good number of unfamiliar stories by familiar authors (the only story I was previously acquainted with was Dorothy L. Sayers 'The Haunted Policeman') as well as presenting some truly obscure ones. The end result is a decently comprehensive survey of impossible crimes over a roughly fifty year period, each one featuring an ingenious solution to the problem it presents.
I would dearly love to discuss particular stories, but as I can think of no other format which is quite so easy to ruin with an inadvertent spoiler, I'm not going to. What I can say is that I think the collection is worth the cover price for the gem that is Michael Innes 'The Sands of Thyme' alone (and not just because I love the pun). There's not much I find more satisfying than a really entertaining collection of short stories, they genuinely make me happy.