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The Big Bow Mystery

3.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whodunit fans who prefer their murders mysteriously committed behind locked doors will appreciate this reissue of the first impossible crime novel, penned by the unlikely Zangwill (1864-1926)-better known during his lifetime as an ardent British Zionist-in the late 1890s. Widowed landlady Mrs. Drabdump and retired Scotland Yarder Grodman batter down a secured and bolted bedroom door to find Arthur Constant, a hero of the working classes, dead from a cut throat. After suicide is quickly ruled out, the puzzle captures the city's imagination, with theory after theory (some poking fun at Poe's solution to "The Murders in the Rue Morgue") floated in the press, until Grodman himself returns to the lists to try to clear the man condemned to death for the crime. The plot device has been used many times since, but Zangwill deserves credit for inventing it and enlisting it in an entertaining and timeless plot. With a sardonic style and vivid, Dickensian characterizations of Victoria-era London, Zangwill still appeals to contemporary readers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Israel Zangwill (21 January 1864 – 1 August 1926) was a British humorist and writer. The Big Bow Mystery was the first locked room mystery novel. It has been almost continuously in print since 1891 and has been used as the basis for three commercial films. His play The Lens Grinder, based on the life of Spinoza, was widely produced. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks; Unabridged edition (December 12, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786105917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786105915
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,133,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Mann VINE VOICE on March 8, 1998
Format: Audio Cassette
Author Israel Zangwill wrote one of the earliest locked-room mysteries in "The Big Bow Mystery." A woman becomes discouraged when she cannot wake her new lodger. He is in his room, which has been locked from the inside. Despite her fervent knocks, she simply cannot wake him, and she hears no sounds from within. Convinced that her lodger has been murdered, she enlists the help of a celebrated ex-detective neighbor. He breaks down the door, and the lodger is found dead in his bed, his throat slit. The door was indeed locked from the inside, and the windows were similarly secured. Thus is the puzzle at the heart of one of the earliest (circa 1891) locked-room mysteries.
Zangwill has indeed included a masterful puzzle, though the story itself is somewhat problematic. The middle of the story is unnecessarily complex and confusing, and there is a bit too much devotion to politics. Still, the book is very accessible, and anyone with a fondness for the sort of "impossible" crime that John Dickson Carr (a.k.a. Carter Dickson, a.k.a. Carr Dickson) later made famous should read this early entry to the genre.
Note: I read the paperback book for this review and have not listened to the tapes.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I raise an eyebrow at the ending, but the author's preface explains why he went with it.
A young man is murdered in a locked room seemingly without motive. A noted detective, now retired, attempts to solve it as a "last hurrah" before his Scotland Yard rival can convict an innocent man in Victorian England.
While the subject is confounding and tragic, the actual writing is humorous and entertaining, as well as some of the situations the characters encounter. Some courtroom drama stating the opposing cases was a little long but summarized the clues for those willing to try to solve the puzzle. I would read more by this author.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The PRINT SIZE is so small in this edition that even with two pair of glasses on AT THE SAME TIME I can hardly see the text. It is miniscule. Teeny-tiny! Had I known this I would not have purchased this book!
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Format: Kindle Edition
This newspaper serial from the 1890s is a decidedly mixed blessing. In my eBook anthology (not Kindle), it is a bit short of a hundred pages, making me wonder if I didn't get an abridged copy. Be that as it may, there were strengths, most notably lovely language and an intriguing mystery beginning, a murdered man in a room locked and secured from the inside. In the included preface, the author acknowledges that even HE didn't know whodunit at the beginning, and he solved it as the story neared its climax, deliberately working it out so that the murderer was one whom nobody had suspected in the readers' responses to the newspapers in which it was serialized. For this reader, that left an unsatisfactory conclusion, one which didn't follow in any compelling way from the story, a story which, given the ending, in retrospect seemed to do a lot of aimless wandering around. I would read more Zangwill for his use of language, but would be hard-pressed to recommend this mystery.
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Format: Kindle Edition
One of the main points of this novel is that people see what they expect to see, and do so at the expense of what's really there. So, caveat lector. Don't start this early locked-room mystery (the first?) expecting a purist's detective tale of the later (Golden Age) type. That's not to say that it isn't a decent locked-room mystery with a couple of last-page surprises, but Zangwill also uses the genre as a vehicle for his ideas and observations, and for poking fun at late Victorian London. The novel offers a good representation of the period--especially with regards to the labor movement--Dickensian characters (almost caricatures, not necessarily likeable but still entertaining), and quite a bit of sardonic humor.

In that regard it struck me as more "modern" than many later and more pristine detective novels of the twenties and thirties.
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