The success of the movie Knives Out is being attributed to its stellar cast and, in particular, to Daniel Craig’s hilarious turn as a Southern detective with an arresting accent (which, btw, he says is a Shelby Foote impersonation). But Craig’s investigator, Benoit Blanc, is hardly the first fictional sleuth to find himself with a dead body and a houseful of suspects.
The closed-circle mystery (where a small number of suspects are marooned somewhere with little chance of escape) and the locked-room or closed-door mystery (where a seemingly impossible murder happens inside a locked room) have been staples of crime fiction for decades, and Knives Out pays homage to both. (Fun fact: The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) by Edgar Allan Poe is frequently cited as the first locked-room mystery in literature.)
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The granddaddy of the closed-circle mystery, and a recent Lifetime TV hit movie, Christie’s deceptively simple thriller centers on 10 strangers, each with a dark secret, who are lured to a remote island by the mysterious U. N. Owen. When a gramophone in the dining room begins to expose their dirty little secrets, the tension escalates, and then the first dead body turns up....
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Swap a remote island for the Orient Express, and you’ve got the basis for another of Christie’s ingenious closed-circle mysteries. The morning after a snowdrift strands the Orient Express train in the mountains, one of the passengers is found in his locked room, stabbed to death. With a killer hiding in plain sight among the passengers, Hercule Poirot must determine who it is before they can strike again.
Malice by Keigo Higashino
Like Harlan Thrombey in Knives Out, bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home office, his door locked from the inside. Detective Kaga may not be as amusing as Benoit Blanc, but since all those present have airtight alibis, leaving him stumped by the question of who did it, let alone how, he also must concentrate on the "why" in order to crack the case.
The Likeness by Tana French
The body of a young woman is discovered—a young woman who not only resembles Detective Cassie Maddox, but who is known by the name Cassie once used as an undercover cop. So naturally Cassie goes undercover as the dead woman and takes up residence in the dead woman’s home, all the better to figure out which of her four roommates killed her. Outlandish, yes, but French’s whip-smart prose, uncanny dialogue, and suspenseful pacing make this work.
An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena
Mitchell’s Inn, set in the remote forests of the Catskills, makes for the perfect romantic winter getaway. Until one of the guests, and then another, turns up dead. And when a blizzard cuts off both the electricity and any chance of escape, there’s nothing to do in this twisty thriller except wait to see who’ll still be alive come morning.
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
If Agatha Christie is the queen of the closed circle mystery, many agree that Ruth Ware is her heir. Leonora has fallen out of touch with most of her old university mates. So it is with misgivings that she accepts an invitation to join them at a cottage deep in the English countryside for a fun-filled weekend celebrating an upcoming wedding. It all goes sideways in terrifying fashion when the party realizes they may not be alone in the woods. But is the killer inside or outside?
The quirky investigator from 'Knives Out' is hardly the first fictional sleuth to find himself with a dead body and a houseful of suspects.
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