On Tuesday night I went to bed around 11pm, both the cats were in, all windows, doors, and catflaps were shut. On Wednesday morning only Milly came down for breakfast.
A locked room mystery is a staple of detective fiction in which a murder (usually) is committed in impossible circumstances, the scene of which no-one could possibly have entered or exited. Poe’s Auguste Dupin (a forebear of Holmes) solves just such a mystery in his debut tale, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, generally considered the first locked room mystery (or at the very least the first in modern fiction).
The premise should sound fairly familiar to anyone whose seen an (indeed, any) episode of Jonathan Creek, or fans of BBC’s Sherlock, but the master of the locked room mystery is probably Dr Gideon Fell, a creation of John Dickson Carr, who not only solved some 20 odd locked room mysteries but in The Three Coffins he not only solves one of the greatest of the genre but helpfully delivers his famous Locked Room lecture where he enumerates the possible explanations for any locked room mystery:
3. It is murder, by a mechanical device already planted in the room, and hidden undetectably in some innocent-looking piece of furniture. It may be a trap set by somebody long dead, and work either automatically or be set anew by the modern killer. It may be some fresh quirk of devilry from present-day science. We have, for instance, the gun-mechanism concealed in the telephone receiver, which fires a bullet into the victim’s head as he lifts the receiver. We have the pistol with a string to the trigger, which is pulled by the expansion of water as it freezes. We have the clock that fires a bullet when you wind it; and (clocks being popular) we have the ingenious grandfather clock which sets ringing a hideously clanging bell on its top, so that when you reach up to shut off the din your own touch releases a blade that slashes open your stomach. We have the weight that swings down frorn the ceiling, and the weight that crashes out on your skull from the high back of a chair. There is the bed that exhales a deadly gas when your body warms it, the poisoned needle that leaves no trace, the–
“You see,” said Dr. Fell, stabbing out with his cigar at each point, “when we become involved with these mechanical devices we are rather in the sphere of the general ‘impossible situation’ than the narrower one of the locked room. It would be possible to go on forever, even on mechanical devices for electrocuting people. A cord in front of a row of pictures is electrified A chalkboard is electrified. Even a glove is electrified. There is death in every article of furniture, including a tea-urn. But these things seem to have no present application, so we go on to:…
The list isn’t exhaustive, the mystery in the book itself does not, of course, fit with any of the proposed scenarios, but it makes a great primer for the budding mystery author or amateur sleuth.
Back to my mystery. While Milly tucked into her breakfast I tore the house apart; in the past Molly has managed to get stuck in the attic, the pantry, beneath the floorboards, in the laundry basket – I once pulled her out of a chimney by her hind legs. But if she was stuck anywhere in the house she wasn’t making any noise and I was running out of containers of a plausible size. I started checking more and more absurd places: drawers in my bedside table, my rucksack, the washing machine.
While my search inside had me seriously questioning my sanity I had also taken the sensible step of opening all the windows and regularly called out into the garden for her, eventually she trotted back into the house. This triggered a subsequent bout of confusion: had I been sleepwalking? Had someone broken into the house? Was there a hole in one of my walls?
Ultimately the answer was far more prosaic. At night the catflap is set to only let the cats in, Molly had figured out that if she got close enough from the inside she could trigger the lock then hook the catflap back using her claws and poke herself under. Which is frankly a far more pleasant solution than any of my madder notions even if it does mean I need to figure out a new way to make sure Molly doesn’t stray too far on another of her autumn adventures.