An old, legendary house with a room sealed off. Years ago, there was a string of bizarre deaths in that room and legend has it that anyone who spends a night in that room will die. On a dare from his friends, a man enters the room to spend the night. Everyone has a good laugh and promise to let him out in the morning. Morning arrives to see him sprawled dead with his throat slashed and with a blood message that threatens to kill all the others. It is obviously clear that a serial killer is on the loose but who is he? Who will he target next? What is his motive?
Did that spike your curiosity? Do you wish that it had an ending? Then you, like many others are an avid fan of crime fiction. Curiosity, they say, forms the basis of any crime story. Keeping the reader hooked on to the book is a very hard task and it totally depends on the presence of enough number of page turners to make it a good read. Even inside crime, there is a whole range of plots that run through the entire story.
THE IMPOSSIBLE CRIME
There are crimes that seem impossible but have happened and there is simply no denying them. But the way the crimes took place leave absolutely no clues behind to be traced and remain an unsolved mystery till the end. The master of this kind of writing was John Dickson Carr who came up with variations of these impossible crimes in his books. One such masterpiece is He Who Whispers that involves a mysterious death that occurred years ago when a man was stabbed to death on top of a tower with no evidence of anyone climbing the tower. In modern day, a woman is almost frightened to death in her room by something outside her window but again, there is no way someone could have climbed the window sill. The creativity of these stories and the apparent lack of rational explanations is what make these stories engaging.
THE ROOM THAT KILLS
This plot involves an empty room in a deserted house that no one has visited in a long time but suddenly there is a death that shocks everybody. Soon after the incident, anybody who goes to the room ends up dead in the most bizarre ways possible. Carter Dickson’s The Red Widow Murders is the pinnacle of such stories. It involves a bizarre locked room murder and a chase that has adventure lurking in every corner along the way.
THE SUPERNATURAL MURDER
This is one of those scenarios that involve a ghost of sorts. The typical setting for this kind of plot is a haunted house that is a relic of an unsolved murder blamed on witchcraft or possessions. The set is modified for the present day and when done right, it is one of the best possible mysteries to indulge in. These stories make the reader question the existence of a possible rational explanation behind the events. There are many books in this genre that have left their impressions on readers. Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse is about a dying woman who gives someone her last confession along with a terrible secret that results in the death of that person, John Sladek’s Black Aura involving levitation, Robert Van Gulik’s The Chinese Gold Murders that involves the ghost of a judge who refuses to lay simply in his grave are all best reads in this genre of crime.
MURDER IN A THEATRE
There is something extremely incredible about a murder in a theatre. The killer lurking in the shadows, trap doors with ropes as props and the actors rehearsing for the performance unaware of the killer all make for an interesting read. It mixes the theatre world with mystery and that gives an edge to the already existing drama. The first book that comes to mind in this genre is Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera which is not a complete mystery as such but paved way for future authors to experiment with the style. Some of the other mentions include Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler that is about a bombing case in present-day London and a flashback story to a murderer in a theatre in World War II period of London and Edmund Crispin’s The Case of the Gilded Fly that involves the seemingly impossible murder of a despised actress in a theatre.
THE DYING MESSAGE
In fiction, dying people seem to say the craziest things that then become the onus of the protagonist to solve and help the person die in peace. Recommendations for this kind of story are The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen that involves a forest fire slowly eating its way to the mountain top and it is the responsibility of the detectives to find out the cause behind it and The Tragedy of X by the same author that has a bit of a lecture on dying messages, and tries to explain why anybody would leave one. It’s an appreciated effort and a very good story that failed to create a huge impact on people but is an honourable mention nonetheless.
THE SERIAL KILLER
A serial killer is striking the city randomly and killing people one by one. The police have absolutely no idea of the connection between the victims and the media is having a field day with the story. A mania grips the people and the body count just keeps getting higher and higher in a situation where everybody is treated like a suspect. The serial killer plot sounds more like a script for a good action movie but is extremely tried and tested as far as books go. Ellery Queen’s Cat of Many Tails is a masterpiece in this regard and shows the reader which characters can or cannot be ignored in the book. A serial killer named Cat is on a rampage in the city and strangles his victims to death. After every killing, a picture of a cat is printed in the papers, with one tail more than it had last time. Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders is another example of a successful serial killer story done right.