Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

The Big Bow Mystery – Locked Room Mysteries

The Big Bow Mystery - Locked Room Mysteries - Tea Tonic and Toxin Podcast
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
The Big Bow Mystery - Locked Room Mysteries

The Big Bow Mystery and Locked Room Mysteries

Set in London’s working-class East End, The Big Bow Mystery is one of the earliest examples of locked room mysteries. In the story, two detectives race to solve a murder, an innocent man is condemned, and only at the very end is the startling solution revealed.


How to Read ItBuy it on Amazon, find a copy at a used bookstore, or read it for free (courtesy of Project Gutenberg).


Estimated Reading Time: 3 hours.

Share your thoughts and check out the questions below!

What We're Talking About --

The Big Bow Mystery is generally seen as the first locked room mystery novel. In a locked room mystery, a crime is committed in a room locked from the inside. How could any murderer have committed the crime and then escaped? It seems impossible. Writers have developed many ingenious solutions to locked room murders, but Israel Zangwill took the locked room device to a new level. 


The novel’s style is reminiscent of Dickens, including the use of funny character names, such as Edward Wimp and Mrs. Drabdump. The book also highlights the lot of the working man and the fight for workers’ rights. Like Bleak House, the book even begins with a description of a dense morning fog …


Israel Zangwill has a dry wit. In the intro, he called the book’s humor too abundant and that “Mysteries should be sedate and sober. There should be a pervasive atmosphere of horror and awe such as Poe manages to create.” Do you agree?


The book was serialized in The Star, a popular paper known for sensationalizing Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel murders (1888-91). The burning question in Big Bow: how did the murderer commit the crime? Various theories are suggested in the book, including:

  • Small monkey with a razor came down the chimney
  • Removal and replacement of a windowpane cut with a diamond
  • Door panel sliced and replaced
  • Powerful magnets used to turn the key and push the bolt
  • Secret passages and trapdoors
  • Arthur Constant swallowed the razor he used to cut his own throat
  • The murderer hid and escaped when the door was broken down
  • The murderer got in when Grodman and Mrs. Drabdump entered
  • Wimp’s theory: the broken bolt and a loose key (or key on the floor)


Two rival detectives try to solve the case. Here, we have retired policeman George Grodman and Inspector Edward Wimp of Scotland Yard. Several books we’ve read (The Mystery of a Hansom Cab and A Study in Scarlet) have focused on the rivalry between detectives. Did this trope develop during this time period? Is it still common in detective novels? Who are your rivals?

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