CLAYTON RAWSON “From Another World.” Novelette. The Great Merlini. First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1948. Collected in The Great Merlini (Gregg Press, hardcover, 1979). Reprinted in The Quintessence of Queen, edited by Anthony Boucher (Random House, 19620; and Whodunit? Houdini?, edited by Otto Penzler (Harper & Row, 1976), among perhaps others.

   I’m really of two minds with this one. On one hand, it has one of the cleverest ideas of how to set up a near-classic locked room mysteries. On the other, if you start to think about, the more and more you begin to think, “Would this really work?”

   Here’s the set-up: A wealthy man would like to believe that psychokinesis really works, but before he invests any money in a foundation to study it, he wants a full, hands-on demonstration. To that end, a noted female psychic agrees to these terms. Together alone in an otherwise empty room, she in a bathing suit, he across a desk from her, are to hold the equivalent of a seance. The edges of the only doorway are sealed with gummed paper tape.

   How then, when they become suspicious and break into the room, tearing the tape, do two men, The Great Merlini’s friend Ross one of them, find the man murdered, stabbed to death with a knife, the woman unconscious – not faked – and no knife to be found. Not only was the door locked, but it was sealed.

   So far, so good, or even better. As an author, Rawson wasn’t quite as good as John Dickson Carr in setting up a certain atmosphere in a locked-room story which only adds to the mystery, but he comes close. Could something akin to the supernatural be responsible?

   The answer is “no,” at least in this case, and if it wasn’t, what’s the fun in that? At first glance the solution is extremely simple — and indeed brilliant — but – and this is a huge “but” – if at story’s end, you start to realize that the story simply just couldn’t have happened the way Merlini susses it out, how then do you rate a story like that?