Israel Zangwill: The Big Bow Mystery

illustration of man and woman discovering dead body in bed

Zangwill made a major contribution to the development of detective fiction: his The Big Bow Mystery (serialized in the London Star 1891 and published as a short novel in 1892) was the first modern locked-room mystery.1 There are two plausible solutions to the mystery (one of which is wrong) and neither relies upon unrealistic elements such as a wall-climbing "Ourang-Outang" or a secret passage. The story was filmed three times: The Perfect Crime (1928), Crime Doctor (1934) and The Verdict (1946).

Note: The following information may spoil your reading of the story.

The story contains many of the elements we have come to expect in detective stories: a sensational murder; a desire to commit the perfect crime; the gradual accumulation of evidence; substantial evidence that incriminates someone other than the real murderer; realistic psychological motivation; an unsubstantiated alibi; a false or unnecessary confession; a rivalry between two investigating agents. It also contains humor and word play.

See also

Israel Zangwill and Zangwill's Zones


1Zangwill published a number of stories in the magazine The Idler including "The King of Schnorrers" and "The Memory Clearing House." In the May 1892 issue Robert Barr (co-editor with Jerome K. Jerome) under the pseudonym Luke Sharp published his humorous story "The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs," the first parody of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.