The Dead Room by Herbert Resnicow

The testing room for Hamilcar Hi-Fi was soundproof, airtight and monitored at all times. So when Walter Kassel, the elderly inventor or a revolutionary new speaker is found stabbed through the heart inside the chamber, it seems to be an impossibility. Kassel and his speaker were due to make the company, and its six owners, more money than they could shake a stick at. So which of them would risk everything by murdering him? And why?

Enter businessman Ed Baer, an investor in the company, and his philosopher son, Matthew. Determined to get his investment back on the rails and build a better relationship with his son, Ed sticks his nose into the case.

Herbert Resnicow was a civil engineer who became a mystery novelist at the age of sixty. He is best known (a relative term, I’d admit) for the five “Gold” books, but he wrote this as the first of two featuring the Baer family. TomCat, over at Detection by Moonlight, is a bit of a fan, so I thought I’d take the plunge and try this one out. So, is it any good?

There’s a clear attempt to emulate the Golden Age here – a small cast of suspects, a locked room and a slightly odd detective team.

Let’s tackle the characters first. The Baers are well done – the book is in the first person, narrated by Ed, and, while not being the world’s greatest sleuths, they are pretty believable. There’s a nice spin about halfway through where the lead detective role slips from one character to the other – sort of – and it’s nice to see a team where one of them isn’t a complete idiot. Indeed, each of them solves part of the mystery – one gets the how, the other the who and why.

The suspects are less well served and, for me at least, they tended to blur into one at times. Admittedly, I was reading the book in small chunks, but it might have helped if the suspects weren’t all middle-aged men – apart from Ed’s confidant, it’s fair to say that the fairer sex are not particularly well-served in this book. There’s a lab assistant character but she doesn’t even get on the list of suspects.

The locked room is one of those technical ones – a bit of “Problem of the Wire Cage” and, for me, this was the least interesting part of the mystery. I’m more a fan of the “little thing you’ve overlooked” locked rooms, rather than the gadgety ones, and this falls into the latter category.

What redeemed the whole thing though was the motive. It’s rare that the motive is the element that actually solves the crime and Resnicow does a really good job of the plotting here. I’ll admit, I was completely on the wrong track about the mysterious super-speaker, but all the clues you needed to spot the who and why were well on display. A shame that I didn’t particularly care about the who – it was just one of the six people to me.

So, recommended? I think so, but I’d recommend either reading it in big chunks or making a couple of who’s who notes. It would certainly have helped me, and I’m sure I’d have enjoyed the book more if I had. I’ll be back to Resnicow later in the year with one of the Gold mysteries.

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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10 Responses to The Dead Room by Herbert Resnicow

  1. TomCat says:

    Your impression of the book does not entirely coincide with mine, especially in the enthusiasm department!

    I thought this one was absolutely brilliant and disagree with you that the solution to the locked room belongs to the same category like “gadgetry” stories such as The Problem of the Wire Cage and The Chinese Orange Mystery. They are overly complex, for one, and you need a pencil and sketch book to make sense out of them – not to mention that one of them relies on an incredibly dense victim. The trick in The Dead Room is ingeniously clever in its simplicity, the exploitation of the conditions in that titular room and does relay on booby traps or a net work of strings and ropes to pull it all off, which should count for something.

    Hopefully, the next Resnicow novel will provide you with the overall experience that I always rant and rave about. ;)

  2. TomCat says:

    And with “does relay,” I mean, of course, “does not relay.”

  3. Or even “does not rely” :)

    You know, I’m going to re-read the last part of the book – especially the explanation as to the locked room. As I mentioned in my review, I was reading this in smaller chunks than I usually do – external reasons, not the book’s fault – and I may have done the solution a disservice. I’ll let you know…

    • TomCat says:

      I really, really wish I could use dyslexia as an excuse for the atrocities I leave in people’s comment sections.

      Anyway, looking forward to your second opinion on the (locked room) conclusion of this book, Doc!

  4. OK, Take Two!

    I take your point, it’s not a gimmicky murder. I think my problem was, due to the way I was reading it, I had the dimensions of the room off and, for whatever reason, thought that the BLANKS on the BLANKS were impossible to BLANK on without damaging them, hence the need to wear BLANK-BLANKS. So for someone who’s paying even the slightest bit of attention to the description of the dead room, it’s a lot better than I gave it credit for.

    I still think the how is still weaker than the why though…

    By the way, TomCat, I’ve another of your recommendations coming soon – Hoodwink by Bill Pronzini. Both you and Patrick liked it, so I’m giving it a whirl soon.

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  6. Bill says:

    I’ve either got to stop following yours and TomCat’s blogs or finally break down and read something by Resnicow.

  7. Hi, Puzzle Doctor! I’ve wandered over here via Patrick’s Scene of the Crime–and should have made the journey sooner (having seen your posts on several blogs….). Just wanted to chime in on Herbert Resnicow and humbly suggest that if you can get your hands on his “The Seventh Crossword” you might give it a try. I grabbed it up a few years ago because it falls into one of my favorite mystery sub-genres–the academic mystery (my loose definition being a mystery that takes place in a university/school setting; has a professor/scholar/teacher as amateur detective; or has a heavily academic theme of some sort). And…it just happens to be set in Vermont if you’re needing Vermont for your mystery tour of the states.

    • Welcome, Bev. I’ll have a look at The Seventh Crossword, if I can find a copy over here.

      You might find my next review, The Square Root of Murder, as it certainly ticks all the academic category.

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