Review: Sealed Room Murder by Rupert Penny

Mrs Harriet Steele is a woman possessed of all the attributes of a GAD Murder Victim (Priority One). She is selfish, mean, vindictive and unattractive; she has a Murky Past; and she is stuck, via some complicated testamentary shenanigans added to spite and greed, in a house with numerous family members who detest her, each other and their wretched, wretched lives. So it is surprising, when she visits her old flame – now an ‘Enquiry Agent’ – that she is only being plagued by petty acts of vandalism.
Douglas Merton, the Enquiry Agents’ nephew and our narrator, is dispatched to her home to investigate. There he discovers a stew of resentment that is about to boil over into murder – murder, moreover, that takes place inside a thoroughly sealed room.
JJ is an eloquent advocate of Rupert Penny’s and so I added one to my Christmas list but fortunately – as I almost always get jumpers – came across this one beforehand.

Wasn’t sure what to expect but the style of narration was quite engaging, with an affectionately acerbic relationship between uncle and nephew and a nicely depicted unhealthy, unhappy household. Merton is intelligent, observant and surprisingly knowledgeable about flowers; and he has apparently flung on some Lynx before his visit as he finds himself eyed up by two unwanted parties before winning round a more welcome one. But – as narrators are almost always condemned to be Watsons – so he is unable to get to the root of the matter and the investigation is completed by Inspector Beale (Penny’s series detective who seems a decent enough chap but doesn’t get much of a role here).

The puzzle itself is a very neat one, with a great set up and a few complications to muddy the waters and it is nicely resolved (though it does have several implausibilities, which are addressed to some extent) And there is a positive cornucopia of helpful diagrams, both before and after the resolution.
I did guess whodunit (Spoiler: The business in the garden might as well have come with a neon sign reading ‘Big Fat Set-Up’ flashing overhead) but not the mechanics of the murder.

For those interested in such things, there is also gratuitous nudity* and the wholesale slaughter of gnomes.
(*yes, there’s an explanation of sorts but not a very convincing one).

I really enjoyed this book, which encompassed a lot of standard GAD tropes (a smashed clock establishing time of death; a loathsome victim; a vindictive will; an accelerated romance; blackmail, etc) but without being too hoary with it. More Rupert Penny is definitely on the cards for the future.


But, probably, more jumpers first.


12 thoughts on “Review: Sealed Room Murder by Rupert Penny

      1. I’m delighted that someone else has finally seen the humour in this — Penny is a very funny writer, but you’ve got to be in the mindset of his characters to pick up on most of it. The dismissal of this as dry — especially given my recent experiences with the highly-praised desert that is Early Ellery Queen — has never made sense to me.

        Beale is a wonderful character, too. You don’t get to see much of him or Tony Purdon in this one (which is odd, as all the others feature them heavily…), but they have one of my favourite friendships in GAD, and Beale is a delightfully human creation to build everything around.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. You liked this one a lot more than I did. Normally, I don’t mind a long buildup to a good murder, but found Sealed Room Murder to be excruciatingly boring that went on, and on, without getting to the point. I’ll admit that the solution to the locked room was an interesting one. However, Penny practically gave away the crux of the trick with the floor-plan of the vandalized bedroom and, by that time, I had stopped caring about the story.

    A good deal of editing could have resulted in an excellent locked room novella, but found the novel-length treatment of this supposedly grand impossible crime an absolute chore to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to admit I usually find my interest in the puzzle bit to take a back seat to the story and I liked the story enough not to mind that the murder and the wrapping up weren’t that brisk. Also, not so bright on the mechanics, so this one fooled me nicely in that respect.
      Can definitely understand the point of view though.


  2. Yes I can imagine JJ will be very happy he has another Penny convert. I’m afraid me and Brad escaped the net on that one. Like Tomcat I found the narrative style quite excruciatingly boring, especially when it got down to the plethora of maps and floor plans (though I had stumbled into a text book at that point by accident). However I am always happy to read people’s reviews of Penny’s work, bit like watching a cyclist go up an extraordinarily long steep hill.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 🙂 I was rather expecting this to be laboured prose wrapped around a cunning core of bafflement so was very pleasantly surprised to find it full of humour and very easily readable – more like a freewheel down a pleasant slope. But, then, there are plenty of well-loved authors who bore me completely, like Erle Stanley Gardner.


      1. Pamela Branch I can’t comment on, and I’ve only read the first one and kinda enjoyed it if I remember correctly…but not enough to investigate any further, it seems.

        Your indifference to The Frightened Stiff I’m baffled about, but you redeem yourself with Penny. Man, real people are tricky, I knew I read so much for a reason…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I had a look at this one almost exactly a year ago ( and we seem to have taken about the same level of pleasure in it; I agree with TomCat that Act 1 is way, way, way too long and Acts 2 and 3 are unfortunately abbreviated. I also agree with you that that unhealthy, unhappy household is well depicted. What a bad thing it is for mysteries that modern legal developments have made it impossible to write a will such as the crazy one here!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the link, enjoyed your review very much. Having just made a will and had all my complicated clauses, eccentric codicils and loosely worded loopholes vetoed I completely agree. You just can’t make your family miserable after your death any more.

      Liked by 2 people

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