Physics of the Impossible

"...from this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination."
- Douglas Adams (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, 1980)
Thirty-three years after publishing a very unconventionally structured locked room mystery, The Seclusion Room (1978), Dr. Fredric Neuman, Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center at White Plains Hospital, came out with a sequel, Come One, Come All (2011) – which is synopsized as a "a locked room mystery, and a take-off on the locked mystery" as well as a "comic novel, but realistic." I mentioned this prospect of a new, potentially interesting impossible crime yarn in the penultimate paragraph of my review, but this news was received with a bit of skepticism from the proprietor of Pretty Sinister Books, John Norris.

Come One, Come All is a chunky, self-published novel, but the only real faults to be detected were those of a typographical nature that one expects from a book that was wrung through the innards of an independent printing press and even these printer's errors were kept at a minimum – and with that I mean that I have seen much, much worse. This is a more than passable edition for a self-published novel, comparable to John Pugmire's self-published translations of Paul Halter's locked room mysteries, and the only real drawback is that the text is sparsely spread out over the pages, which gives it a bloated and off-putting appearance. I estimate that the actual page count would be around 250-300 pages instead of the 455 pages that it counts now.

But now, on to the review! Psychiatrist Abe Redden, the main protagonist from the previous book, The Seclusion Room, is pried loose from his comfort spot, at Four Elms psychiatric hospital, to temporarily strengthen the staff of The Women's Health Center – where the winds of change are whipping up a storm in 1970s New York City. Abortion has been legalized and due to some controversial treatment programs, the health center is now under constant siege, from pro-life supporters and gay rights activists, but internally the place also rambles like a biscuit tin full of loose screws, nuts and bolts.

The man who occupied the seat of director, Charles Wegner, was transferred to the morgue after a fatal heart attack, but a whiff of gossip can be detected in the corridors, suggesting that the director was poisoned, and one of their doctors, Tina Cantor, in charge of a controversial new treatment program, may be a nymphomaniac with literary aspirations – who seems to already have penned a best-selling, fictionalized expose of her private life under the nom-de-plum of Dr. Y. Naturally, she becomes the love interest of Dr. Redden, but he's also confronted with problems of a professional nature: there's a patient, checked in under the name Adam Adamson, who claims to come from 150 years in the future and knows from his time that Redden will end up burning down the hospital, that is professionally attached to the health center, but he's unable to remember specific details about this historic event in the making.

Adamson's zany lectures on 22nd century life makes him sound as a writer for The Guide attempting to describe a futuristic incarnation of the human race, but then again, these short vignettes impressed me from the very start as an unabashed homage to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979). Adamson after all does mean "son of Adam." Yeah, it makes more sense if you have one of my mental afflictions, but you get my drift.

Anyway, the first part of the book, roughly 170 pages, does not read like a detective story at all, but as a warped comedy of manners that is unable to restrain Murphy's Law and twists like a knife in everyone and everything that is brought up on its pages. It's not until the center is confronted with the physically impossible murder of their new director, Patricia Robinson, that the detective story begins to the feel the knifepoint pricking its jugular.

Robinson was discovered behind the door of her examination room, locked with a key from the inside that was still in the lock when it was busted open, and the broken window only affords an easy entrance and quick exist with the aid of a ladder – not to mention that the alleyway beneath the window was guarded at each end by a policeman. At first, Dr. Abe Redden, backed-up by a few other characters, appear to approach this problem in a light hearted, comical way, throwing allusions around to Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and Rex Stout and proposing prosperous solution, such as an examination table that was fixed to propel Robinson head-first against a filing cabinet, but the actual answer to this locked room problem is as solid a put-down as the door itself!

This joke-explenation, at the expense of the locked room mystery, was probably meant to be somewhat of a letdown, but the solution is so incredibly simple and rational that Neuman just might have come up with something completely new here. It's so simple, that it could've easily been overlooked from the time Edgar Allan Poe penned "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841). I tend to like in the context of this story.

Unfortunately, the other compartments of the solution, the identity of the murderer and the accompanying motive, proved to be far less interesting and suffered from under exposure and sparse clueing. But this hardly affected the enjoyment derived from the overall story, which, I think, says something about how much I have begun to enjoy Neuman's take on the detective story – in spite of the fact that they are awfully modern in tone and take frequent potshots at our beloved impossible crime story. However, Neuman seems to understand that you can bring up loaded topics, like abortion, religion and sexuality, in a detective story without overburdening your characters with them and make them wallow in angst for hundreds of pages on end. I also appreciated the fact that he didn't walk around on tip-toes and blatantly poked fun at everything, which is how it should be done.

Hopefully, I have not over praised this book, but I completely enjoyed this funny, but also intelligent, take-off on the locked room mystery, the characters that wandered across its pages and its sense of humor – which hovered between darkly twisted and delightfully juvenile.

Simply put, I found this book a riot!


  1. You mean John Pugmire's translations of Paul Halter's books. Better fix that pronto. ;^)

    Glad this turned out to be one of the rare pleasures among self-published books and that you enjoyed it. This sounds like a series of academic satires with murder mystery plots by Alfred Alcorn I read several years ago. I've marked Come One Come All as a book to purchase in the future. And, yes, I am eating my words now -- lightly seasoned with barbecue sauce.

  2. That was... embarrassing. I have no clue how I switching those two around.

    Anyway, I recommend you start with the first book in the series, The Seclusion Room, which makes you appreciate this one even more and the best thing is that that one is also in print – and it's from a regular publisher! ;)

    Yes, I'm taking pleasure in watching you eat your own words and we're all looking forward to your reviews.

  3. TomCat, at least you didn't humiliate yourself by messing up basic counting. :)

    I have to admit I shared John's skepticism, especially in light of the criticisms you made about the last book. But it seems like a pleasant surprise. Good job for taking the plunge and discovering the story's respective merits and downfalls first.

  4. Hey, this book was only published a few months ago and we're only two weeks into the new year. Everyone could've mucked this simple elementary school calculation up and ended up with an extra year. Everyone!

    Anyway, it seems that I'm changing some minds around here, which means that Dr. Neuman owes me locked room mystery. ;)