all but impossible
While reading THE JOHN DICKSON CARR COMPANION by James E. Keirans, I was intrigued by Keirans’s mention that Edward D. Hoch had come up with a list of the best locked-room mystery novels ever. Hoch presented this list in the Introduction to All But Impossible!: An Anthology of Locked Room & Impossible Crime Stories by Members of the Mystery Writers of America publihed by Ticknor & Fields (remember them?) in 1981. So I tracked down a copy of All But Impossible! and read the introduction. Hoch’s list has some interesting aspects. Hoch had a panel of experts choose the best locked-room mysteries.

“The panel of 17 consisted of Robert Adey, Jack Adrian, Jacques Barzun, John L. Breen, Robert E. Briney, Jan Broberg, Fredrick Dannay (Ellery Queen), Douglas G. Greene, Howard Haycraft, Edward d. Hoch, Marvin Lachman, Richard Levinson & William Link, Francis N. Nevins, Otto Penzler, Bill Pronzini, Julian Symons, and Donald A. Yates. In all, they listed exactly 50 novels, though only 21 appeared on more than one list.”

Here’s the list:
1. THE THREE COFFINS-John Dickson Carr (104 points)
2. RIM OF THE PIT-Hake Talbot (59 points)
3. MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM-Gaston Leroux (57 points)
4. THE CROOKED HINGE-John Dickson Carr (55 points)
5. THE JUDAS WINDOW-Carter Dickson (51 points)
6. THE BIG BOW MYSTERY-Israel Zangwill (47 points)
7. DEATH FROM A TOP HAT-Clayton Rawson (39 points)
8. THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY-Ellery Queen (35 points)
9. NINE TIMES NINE-H. H. Holmes (Anthony Boucher) (30 points)
10. THE PEACOCK FEATHER MURDERS-Carter Dickson (22 points)
11. THE KING IS DEAD-Ellery Queen (20 points)
12. THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY-Helen McCloy (19 points)
13. HE WOULDN’T KILL PATIENCE-Carter Dickson (18 points)
14. (tie) TOO MANY MAGICIANS-Randall Garrett (13 points)
INVISIBLE GREEN-John Sladek (13 points)

The stories in All But Impossible! are pretty good, too. My favorites were “The Day the Children Vanished” by Hugh Pentecost, “The Arrowmont Prison Riddle” by Bill Pronzini, and Hoch’s own “The Problem of the Covered Bridge.” If you’re a fan of locked room mysteries and impossible crimes, yo’ll find this an entertaining collection.
The Shadow of the Goat-John Dickson Carr
The Little House at Croix-Rousse-George Simenon
The Problem of the Emperor’s Mushrooms-James Yaffe
For Another World-Clayton Rawson
Through a Glass, Darkly-Helen McCloy
Snowball in July-Ellery Queen
The Newtonian Egg-Peter Godfrey
The Triple-Lock’d Room-Lillian de la Torre
The Brazen Locked Room-Isaac Asimov
The Martian Crown Jewels-Paul Anderson
The Day the Children Vanished-Hugh Pentecost
As If By Magic-Julian Symons
the Impossible Theft-John F. Suter
Mr. Strang Takes a Field Trip-William Brittain
No One Likes to Be Played for a Sucker-Michael Collins
The Arrowmont Prison Riddle-Bill Pronzini
Box in a Box-Jack Ritchie
the Number 12 Jinx-Jon L. Breen
The Magician’s Wife-J. f. Peirce
The Problem of the Covered Bridge-Edward D. Hoch

15 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOKS #328: ALL BUT IMPOSSIBLE! Edited by Edward D. Hoch

  1. Bill Crider

    Sounds great. Bill Pronzini, Art Scott, Bruce Taylor, and I got in to a brief discussion of THE RIM OF THE PIT when I was in California in May. Bill’s a big fan. I have my doubts. As for Ticknor & Fields, it was fun to see that name again. Once a great publishing house, now gone. They published Hawthorne and many other great names.

    1. george Post author

      Bill, I’m with you on RIM OF THE PIT. When I was selling books at the BOUCHERCON in Toronto (remember that?) I had a copy of RIM OF THE PIT. A guy picked it up and almost fainted. “I’ve been looking for a copy of RIM OF THE PIT for 20 years!” he exclaimed. Of course, this was pre-Internet.

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    Of course, my friend Bob Adey was the expert on locked rooms and impossible crimes (he wrote the book, literally!) and over the years we had many discussions on the top. Also, he recommended a lot of books, not only RIM OF THE PIT (yes, he was a fan) but the John Sladek/Thackeray Phin books. I read ALL BUT IMPOSSIBLE a dozen years ago and have read most of the 15 listed titles. I agree with you about the Hoch & Pentecost stories (aren’t they pretty similar in theme?) though I don’t recall the plot of the Pronzini offhand.

    Good choice.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I somehow missed ALL BUT IMPOSSIBLE! when it was first published. Only the mention in THE JOHN DICKSON CARR COMPANION motivated me to track it down. I’m glad I did.

  3. Art Scott

    Three Coffins and Rim of the Pit are wildly overrated. Coffins should rank far down the Carr list, certainly behind Hinge & Judas, which deserve to be at the top. I suppose it’s The Lecture that props it up. It’s a clunky assemblage of theatrical illusions, coincidences and papered-over problems. CADS has published a chapbook by J. Morris which enumerates twenty-five problems with the story, worth reading. As for Rim of the Pit, if you tell non-specialists how the impossible crimes are worked, they are sure to break into giggles and “Are you kidding me?” Hell, we were all laughing about it in Pronzini’s bookroom! Norman Berrow’s obscure over-the-top impossibles like Three Tiers of Fantasy & Footprints of Satan are of comparable ridiculousness, but somehow haven’t acquired the cachet of Rim.

    1. george Post author

      Art, I found a copy of FOOTPRINTS OF SATAN and hope to review it for FFB sometime soon. I agree: THE LECTURE in THREE COFFINS makes the book memorable. I need to go back and reread more John Dickson Carr.

      1. Todd Mason

        As a fan of John Sladek’s work, mostly his satirical sf, I wasn’t aware he’d made a mark in impossible-crime novels. Though I should’ve been.

    1. Art Scott

      Rick, I just took a look at the Penzler, which I recently finished. I may have missed one, but it appears the only duplications are the Simenon & Pentecost stories. Otto’s collection has more of the classics, but also a fair number of stinkers, included for historical reasons or as obscure discoveries. This collection is a gem, and worth having if you’re a fan of the genre.

      1. Jeff Meyerson

        Of course RIM OF THE PIT was ludicrous. And the Lecture chapter is what makes The Three Coffins a “classic” rather than better titles.

        Todd, I’d definitely recommend the Sladek titles.

      2. george Post author

        Art, you’re right about Otto’s “kitchen sink” anthologies. They’re mammoth, but they also include a lot of duds.

  4. Richard R.

    I didn’t realize there might be clunkers (or clinkers) in the Penzler, but I can understand him putting them in for, as you say, historical reasons.


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