Cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee wrote jointly as Ellery Queen, using that name as their joint pseudonym as well as for their most common and famous character. Ellery was the son of and informal assistant to his father, Richard Queen, a New York homicide detective with considerable genius of his own. The narrator of the first Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, tells us that these are assumed names and that the manuscripts only became available after the elder Queen retired and moved to Italy. Ellery is married and has a son of his own, although this was never developed in the novels themselves, often is portrayed as living with his father and their Asian servant Djuna. They also wrote the Drury Lane series, originally as Barnaby Ross, which name is mentioned as an aside in the first book as a previous case solved by the Queens. Lee died in 1961 and Dannay ten years later, however, several of the later novels were actually ghost written by Theodore Sturgeon, Avram Davidson, Jack Vance, and others. The Queen character would feature in movies, a television show, radio plays, comic books, and elsewhere, perhaps most notably as the title of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The cousins were renowned for their anthologies as well as their own fiction. The earliest novels are somewhat tainted by the use of racial epithets and characterizations that would be considered highly offensive if published today.
Readers should be warned that the discussions that follow will necessarily reveal the solutions to the mysteries.
The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) presents Ellery as rather foppish, a portrayal which will evolve in later books. The puzzle is cleverly constructed but the prose is rather primitive. A crooked lawyer named Fields is murdered during the performance of a play, apparently poisoned in some fashion, and his final words to a passerby is that murder has been done. Although the play was sold out, several seats surrounding the dead man were not occupied. In his possession is the handbag of a woman also attending the play, although she was not seated near him. Missing is his top hat, which cannot be found anywhere in the theater. The dead man asked one of the attendants to sneak across the street and get him a bottle of ginger ale, but the boy appears to be above suspicion. The victim's former partner is also in the audience but seems to be genuinely shocked to hear of his death and may not even have known the man was in the building. A petty criminal is also apprehended as he tries to sneak out of the building and it turns out that his girlfriend is the usher who took the dead man to his seat. An alert policeman sealed off the exits and Richard Queen collects the ticket stubs of everyone attending. The murder takes place in the Roman Theater and the missing hat completes the title. The first third of the book takes place at that site, with a series of very brief interviews, searches, and a medical examination of the body.
The investigation continues with questioning of the dead man's mistress and his valet, the latter of whom we are told acts in an evasive manner. They find the dead man's program whereupon he has written his name several times, which the authors oddly describe as being perfectly natural behavior, an implausibility which they repeat as the elder Queen's opinion a while later. This actually is just a device to put some minor clues in their hands and although it's not really cheating since the reader has the same information, it's certainly not very convincing. Fields was also blackmailing his ex-partner about a youthful indiscretion and the latter had been overheard threatening his life. The woman whose handbag was found claims to have dropped it earlier in the evening but doesn't know when she first missed it. The poison turns out to be something that could easily have been distilled from gasoline. The blackmailed partner received his tickets with an anonymous and fake letter from the theater touting it as a promotion. Fields was nearly broke because of his gambling and stock market losses, and was almost certainly meeting someone at the theater to extort more money, and it seems likely that this new victim was in fact his killer. Two thirds of the way through the story, the Queens behave strangely toward the theater manager and then insist that the theater be reopened that very evening. This is clearly a significant sequence of events, particularly when we learn that the Queens will be attending, and sitting in and next to the seat previously occupied by Field. And then the mistress shows up at the ex-partner's office, even though the two of them claimed not to be acquainted. One remaining anomaly is that Field had books on handwriting analysis at both his apartment and his office, suggesting an interest in forgery, for which crime his valet was once arrested.
Ellery points out that since the missing hat is clearly not in the theater, that somehow it was taken out on the night of the murder. His father insists that no one had two hats and that no one who hadn't worn a hat in left wearing one. The reader's immediate assumption from this should be that the hat was taken out by someone who was not part of the audience, either an actor or a member of the theater staff. Another clumsy artifice follows. The District Attorney is convinced that Field had incriminating papers in his possession, but when asked how he knows we're just told that it is a long story and not relevant. Clearly the authors needed the papers to exist and couldn't think of a plausible way to explain his certainty. We are also told that they've definitely eliminated the possibility that he had a post office box or safety deposit box, even under an assumed name, which is also impossible for them to have verified. The papers are concealed in a collection of hats, which are also concealed in a secret compartment above Field's bed, which discovery is obviously not possible to the reader, although it was obvious that there were more hats since the clothier had previously mentioned that Field had bought several of them. This struck me as a really bizarre hiding place. There's also a minor contradiction because we've been told that Field was blackmailing a large number of people, but the only blackmail evidence in the hats is related to the ex-partner, which also means he is probably not the killer, who would have taken the hat at the theater that contained the material he, or she, was interested in obtaining.
The solution is not without its problems, and a bit of cheating. It was obvious that the murderer had to be either the manager or one of the actors who could have left his own hat on the premises and walked out with the incriminating one. The odd scene in which the manager is sent out of the theater to retrieve a mysterious package - which we never hear of again until it is revealed at the end that it was a red herring - suggested that he was the prime suspect, but in fact his head size would have made it impossible for him to have worn Field's hat, a fact which we don't learn until the final summing up. Withholding of this information is cheating and the announcement earlier that the reader had in their possession all of the relevant information is clearly not true. The killer's secret, for which he was being blackmailed, was that he wasn't pure white in ancestry, which would have been a major issue in the 1920s. Overall, this is an awkwardly written but engaging mystery and the solution is only mildly over the top. It does, however, withhold significant information and some of the plot elements are so artlessly contrived that they call attention to themselves, for the wrong reasons.
The Queens returned in The French Powder Mystery (1930). Just as The Roman Hat Mystery has nothing to do with Rome, this one has nothing to do with France. The fictional introduction contains a minor contradiction. Supposedly Ellery writes detective novels under his "real" name, but at another point the unnamed friend writing the introduction states that he urged Queen to publish a fictionalized version of this case under his habitual pseudonym. Cyrus French is a department store owner who has recently completed a short trip and calls a meeting of his senior subordinates to discuss a possible merger. During the course of the meeting his housekeeper calls to say that French's wife and one of his two daughters are missing and that it appears they did not sleep in their beds the previous night. He dismisses the possibility of there being anything wrong and insists they probably stayed overnight with friends despite the fact that they didn't notify anyone. A short time later the wife's body is found inside a display bed that folds up into the wall, revealed while it is being demonstrated to the public from a glass lined booth at the front of the department store. She has been shot, sometime after midnight, and the two wounds puzzle the medical examiner because they have nearly identical angles of entry, which he considers unlikely in the normal course of events.
The dead woman is wearing a scarf that bears the initials of her daughter Marion. For no discernible reason this strikes everyone involved as suggesting that she is implicated in the woman's death. They lived in the same house and it would have been perfectly reasonable for them to have worn each other's scarves, so this entire sequence is unconvincing. There is also a tube of lipstick with the monogram "C", also inappropriate for the dead woman, and the color doesn't match the shade she was wearing when she died, and that was applied inexpertly, suggesting that it might have been done after she was dead. Questioning reveals that the woman was seen by one of the night watchmen at 11:45 the previous evening, and that in addition to the employee entrance, there is also a freight door which was open at about the same time in order to receive a nightly shipment of fresh foods for the restaurant inside the store. It was closed and locked from 11:30 until morning. The key the dead woman used to access the apartment is missing and it is possible that Marion left her scarf in that apartment earlier the same day. Since the French family kept an apartment on the top floor of the store, the guard was not surprised when she didn't come back downstairs, assuming she was spending the night. The non-missing daughter Marion, who is romantically involved with French's male secretary, arrives at which point we discover that the dead woman was her stepmother, not her actual mother.
There are some lapses of logic. Ellery insists that since the key is missing, the murderer must have it in his possession. There is no evidence to support that; it is simply a guess. He also points out the relative lack of blood which immediately suggested that the murder actually took place elsewhere, and that the body was made up and dressed after she was already dead. He does make two points of interest. First, that the body was moved to distract attention from the real scene of the crime, presumably the apartment. The second is that he wished to delay the discovery of the corpse until the noon showing of the display in order to accomplish something during the interim, which is just supposition on his part. Some elements of Ellery's cleverness really aren't; we are told that they are logical deductions but they are actually just authorial intrusions.
Ellery searches the apartment and finds the missing lipstick. Attentive readers will already know that it belongs to Marion's have sister Bernice, whose last name is Carmody. She's the only female character with the initial "C". He finds heroine concealed in the sister's lipstick container and learns that she has recently behaved oddly, possibly as the result of drug use. Further searching reveals that a razor blade is missing from the bathroom, and a card table is set up for an obscure card game which was favored by Bernice and her mother. There are also cigarette stubs of a brand Bernice is known to prefer and some clothing which she wore the day before is found in the closet. Ellery is also puzzled that the books arranged on the library desk seem to be random whereas those on the shelves are more likely to be things the owner would have read. One bookend is also faded more than the other.
The next clue is an irritating one. The bookends had been dusted with fingerprint powder. From this Queen concludes that the killer not only wore gloves, but also used fingerprint powder to ensure that he or she hadn't left a print despite that precaution. This is patently absurd. Ellery suspects that he might have had something to do which could not be done with gloves on, which makes more sense, but his father's explanation is absurd. A few motives emerge. The dead woman had been having an affair with a member of the executive committee, and another member was apparently after the stepdaughter, hoping to marry into money. The missing daughter would inherit a substantial fortune from her mother even without her stepfather's wealth. There is also the suggestion that someone may have impersonated her on the telephone.
Ellery's initial explanation of the timing of things is well reasoned. It was pretty evident that the killer was forced by circumstances to remain inside the building until it reopened in the morning. The hiding of the body, therefore, means that for some reason the killer needed time to accomplish something before it was discovered, and could not do so immediately because when the store opened, that person would need to be present for work to avoid a suspicious absence. The unscheduled meeting in the apartment meant that the body would be found first thing in the morning when the participants arrived and therefore it had to be moved. He also confirms what the reader must already have realized, that the cards and cigarettes were designed to make it appear that the sister had been in the building even though she had not been. If the bookends were bloody, that might also explain why the books on the desk were replaced with random ones, although for some reason this explanation does not occur to Ellery. They too would probably have been stained by blood, but this possibility never comes up. The dead woman must have been sitting at the desk when she was shot. The books turn out to have a different significance. They are part of a code which the reader could not have anticipated because we do not learn that dates are inscribed in them until Ellery is revealing the code.
Ellery then has one of those flashes of insight that are clearly cheating. He tells Marion that he knows she went to see the man who was involved in the affair with her stepmother in an attempt to embarrass him in front of his wife and bring the situation to a full stop. He admits this is a guess, but there is absolutely nothing in the text that might have suggested it. The summing up is logical, however, and I reached the same conclusion in almost the same fashion. The glitches are minor and very little information is withheld. The prose is also noticeably better than in the first book, and it may well be that the manner in which the authors collaborated had changed.
The Dutch Shoe Mystery (1931) continued the naming pattern; the murder takes place at the Dutch Memorial Hospital. The 1941 movie Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring is loosely based on this novel. Abigail Doorn, a rich, elderly, powerful woman falls into a diabetic coma and injures herself. Emergency surgery is scheduled and Janney, the surgeon, is her protégé and also stands to inherit a lot of money if she dies. Her daughter is also on the scene, along with the family lawyer, who is in love with her. The operation is about to proceed but when the patient is wheeled into the operating room, the doctors notice that she's unresponsive and, despite efforts to resuscitate her, she is pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Ellery, who is present, immediately announces that it was murder even though he has no idea what might have been the cause of death. He's right, of course. She was strangled with a piece of wire. But there is no reason why he should have thought so prior to being told how she died. Ellery quickly ascertains that the woman was alive when brought to the anteroom adjoining the OR by a Doctor Leslie and two nurses. One nurse, Price, remained with her while the other two left, and she asserts that Janney was the only one who entered the room during this period. Doorn had been dead for only about twenty minutes when her condition was discovered. But she didn't actually see Janney's face, only his general shape and the fact that he limped. Janney insists that someone was impersonating him and his account of his activities during the time in question suggests that he is right. However, Janney did entertain a mysterious visitor in private for part of the time in question.
The clothing worn by the killer turn up and it is evident that the shoes were too small for Janney. They also have the tongues turned up inside for some reason which will later prove significant. Janney adamantly refuses to identify his visitor but the police have other means of tracking him down. The dead woman's brother reluctantly admits that he knows something about his sister having an enemy but claims his own life is in danger, and further questioning is delayed - rather artificially - by the collapse of his niece. The contents of the will hold only minor surprises. The brother and the dead woman's companion get healthy bequests, as does Janney, but the bulk goes to the daughter. There is also a special bequest to fund research being conducted by Janney and another doctor at the hospital, research which is strangely secretive. The lawyer advised the Queens that the will was about to be amended to delete the research grant. In considering all of this, Ellery points out the oddity of a woman in her seventies having a nineteen year old daughter - we hear little of the husband who is now dead - but the anomaly is not pursued immediately.
The dead woman's companion expresses satisfaction at her employer's death, but she appears to be a religious fanatic. Ellery is curious about why she was kept on and theorizes that Doorn was frightened of the woman for some reason. From the research partner, we learn that the project was to develop a new alloy stronger than steal, which seems very odd for two medical doctors to be developing inside a hospital. The brother reveals that he is heavily in debt to a loan shark and has been threatened because of his inability to pay, which would be possible if he were to inherit his share of his sister's fortune, and also reveals that the loan shark suggested that he kill his sister. Coincidentally, the loan shark is a know criminal who was undergoing surgery at approximately the same time that Doorn died, and was even in the room next to the one in which she was killed. It appears to be impossible for him to have committed the crime. At the same time, there are two conspiracies evident. The surgeon refuses to reveal the identity of his visitor, and the unbalanced companion secretly meets with one of the doctors at the hospital, but neither will explain their purpose. The lawyer also has destroyed a number of documents following instructions in the will of the dead woman.
The surgeon's mysterious visitor eventually turns up, identifies himself as the man's stepson, and explains their reluctance to identify him as fear that an old scandal will be revived. Unfortunately this revelation comes just as the surgeon himself is found murdered at the hospital. He was knocked unconscious while sitting at his desk and strangled with the same type of wire as was used with Doorn. As it happens, everyone connected to the case was in the hospital when the murder took place, and only the gangster has an alibi. Ellery then learns that Doorn's daughter was secretly adopted and that the parents are her companion and the doctor with whom she has been privately meeting. Although this seems to explain the age discrepancy, it is artlessly contrived and implausible, and comes so late in the narrative that it casts a shadow over the solution. Ellery's explanation is a bit flawed as well. Part of his conclusions are based on the fact that only a "professionally minded" person would have thought to have repaired a broken shoelace with adhesive. This is nonsense, but fortunately there is other evidence that suggested the killer was someone familiar with the hospital, so it can be overlooked. It was fairly simple to reach the conclusion that the killer was female, based on the fact that her feet were clearly much smaller than the shoes she appropriated, which are the smallest men's size available. It was also obvious that the killer was familiar with the hospital. But the authors withheld information that would have made it possible to choose among several potential killers - the daughter, the companion, another nurse, and a female doctor. She was in fact working in conjunction with the surgeon's son, and there was nothing suggesting that they even knew one another, let alone were married.
There is a tendency in all three books for the Queens to overly dramatize their situation, beat their chests metaphorically and insist that they are inadequate to the job, and to call each case the most daunting ever faced by the police. This is particularly prevalent in their third novel and a bit wearing for the reader. There's also an internal contradiction. Ellery announces early in the second half of the novel that he knows who committed the first murder but can't prove it, but later on he decides to look into the past of all of the various characters to find some clue as to who the killer was. If he already knows, there is no point in wasting the resources to investigate the others. It's obviously designed to keep the reader from knowing the solution too soon, which is admirable, but the device by which it is done is silly. This was the weakest of the first three books by a substantial margin.
The Tragedy of X (1932) was the first Drury Lane mystery and it originally appeared as by Barnaby Ross. Drury Lane is an ageing, retired actor who left the stage when he became deaf. He lives in what is essentially a small castle where he is consulted by the police when they have cases they cannot solve. He is also a master of disguise and impersonates two of the other characters in the book at various points in the story. In this case, he is approached with information about a puzzling murder mystery, and after setting the stage, the authors revert to more traditional narrative form, showing us the events - or most of them - as they happened rather than from a single point of view. Harley Longstreet has just announced to his friends and acquaintances that he is engaged to marry the vivacious Cherry Browne. He invites everyone to a party at his house including his business partner, JohDeWitt and his wife and daughter, and several others including a professional mind reader, a mysterious Latin type, and others. He and DeWitt allude to a dispute involving someone named Weber. The entire party boards a street car en route to the party location, but this is happenstance since they were unable to get cabs and a sudden rain squall made it impossible for them to wait until some were available. Longstreet notices that his hand is bleeding slightly although he doesn't remember scratching himself, and a few seconds later he collapses and dies.
Fortunately there is a policeman on the car and he prevents anyone from leaving. An examination of the dead man's pocket reveals a cork fitted with needles tipped with poison. The police are able to determine quickly that the dead man had put his hand in that pocket several times before boarding the street car, so the murder weapon must have been placed there after they were all aboard. A search of everyone in the party turns up nothing suspicious. Subsequent questioning reveals that Longstreet and DeWitt did not like one another and that Longstreet had had an affair with his partner's wife. Longstreet also made a pass at the daughter and was physically assaulted by her boyfriend, Lord, who was also on the streetcar. Longstreet may also have been blackmailing DeWitt. His secretary also admits that they were once an item, but she was not present when he died. Another member of the party admits that he had just lost a large sum of money thanks to bad advice given him by Longstreet.
A series of perfunctory interviews follows. One of the guests was DeWitt's chess partner, who also disliked Longstreet. During the course of the interview with Lord, there's an error of chronology. After Lord admits striking Longstreet after he made a pass at DeWitt's daughter, the police detective asks him if he ever took action against the man for bothering her. There is a Swiss businessman who claims he hardly knew Longstreet, and an actor who was friends with Cherry Browne. The police are stumped, which is why they are consulting Lane, who immediately tells them that he knows who the killer is but can't prove it and therefore won't identify him.
The plausibility factor plummets immediately afterward. The district attorney receives an anonymous letter from someone claiming to know who committed the murder. The writer won't identify himself because he's afraid for his life and wants to set up a meeting with the police on a dark pier. This is quite obviously absurd because he would have been much safer if he had just turned himself in to the police and given his testimony. But this is all a set up so that he can be murdered under the eyes of the police before he can speak. The writer turns out to be the conductor of the streetcar and he is thrown off a ferry boat and crushed as it docks. Also present on the ferry is DeWitt, who is clearly the prime suspect and therefore almost certainly innocent, who has a mysterious wound on one hand. DeWitt smokes a personalized cigar and one of his cigars is found in the pocket of the dead conductor. DeWitt also lies about what time he boarded the ferry, and insists he was supposed to meet someone - whom he won't identify - who didn't show up. There is so much circumstantial evidence against him by now that the reader should be quite certain that he is innocent.
Predictably, the police arrest DeWitt and he eventually goes to trial. Lane provides a hint to the defense that his injury made it physically impossible for DeWitt to have committed the crime and he is acquitted, but that line of defense was so obvious that it is ridiculous to think the police would have brought the case to trial in the first place. Then most of the main characters are on a train with Lane, who still insists that he knows who the killer is but won't reveal it. DeWitt goes off to talk to the still angry investor and nobody checks for an hour to find out where they are. DeWitt is found shot to death and the other man is missing, presumably having gotten off the train at one of the stops to take a cab back home. DeWitt made the sign to ward off evil as he died and since he was not superstitious the police assume he did so in order to indicate that the killer was superstitious. Since Lane asserts that he knows the killer this time as well, it is inconceivable that he would still withhold the evidence, particularly since by doing so he has already caused DeWitt to die. He is in fact an accessory to murder.
Inside a private safe at DeWitt's house the police find a threatening letter from a character we've never heard of before. The safe was apparently installed just to house this letter, which makes no sense since it was installed long before the letter was received. The police track down the investor, who tries to commit suicide but only manages to graze himself. The solution involves events which took place in Uruguay years before involving two other men whom we have not previously heard of, which prompted an investigation by Uruguayan police that was concealed from the local authorities for specious reasons that are waved in the reader's face as an adequate explanation, which it is not. The surprise revelation would have been quite clever if its foundation had been sturdier.
This is, I am sorry to say, an abysmally bad mystery novel. Multiple plot elements are implausible, actions by the police and Lane are both irresponsible and constantly incompetent, and the family lawyer apparently know very little about how the law works. A foreign citizen who was not even called to testify would not be forbidden to leave the country for months while the trial was in preparation. Several characters lie to the police, which is fine, except that in most cases they didn't have a reason to do so except to prevent the reader from learning something. Lane describes some of his revelations as "childishly obvious" and he's right. Drawing attention to a story's flaw is meant to disarm the reader. The story cheats in various ways. The murders are the results of a plot conducted by Longstreet, DeWitt, and another man to frame their fourth partner for murder in order to get control of his share of the mine. This makes no sense since the third member of the conspiracy was the actual killer, and they could have accomplished the same thing without perjuring themselves. We also need to know that streetcar conductors always carry gloves, which we are not told until the summing up. The explanation also requires us to believe that the man who patiently planned the murder for years in advance would (1) jettison his plan to do it in fair weather when he could dispose of the gloves through a window, and (2) have been willing to accept the risk of being the only person who could have handled the first murder weapon. There is also no explanation for how the killer acquired one of DeWitt's special cigars to plant on the second victim, and the effort to frame DeWitt makes no sense either because the killer was determined to murder him as well, which could not have been accomplished if he had been convicted. The explanation of the sign that DeWitt made with his fingers as he died is laughable as well. Even Lane admits that he could only figure it out AFTER he had solved the crime because it was so vague. We also have to accept that the killer could maintain two full life stories with two full time jobs, plus one occasional third identity and briefly a fourth. Unsatisfactory in almost every way.
Drury Lane returned in The Tragedy of Y (1932).The story opens with the discovery of a mutilated corpse by a returning fishing boat in New York harbor. The body is that of York Hatter, a man nearly seventy who disappeared five weeks earlier and who was believed to have been suicidal. There is poison in his system but the medical examiner suggests that it may have been self administered. In his pocket is a short but clear suicide note. He leaves behind his wife Emily and son Conrad, two daughters, and two grandchildren. His widow also has a daughter by a previous marriage. Conrad is a notorious drunkard, his sister Barbara a famous poet. In a lengthy series of portraits we are introduced to these characters, plus Gormly, who is Conrad's steadier business partner, but who also is playing suitor to another sister, Jill. Conrad is married to Martha, who resents her mother-in-law fiercely. Their two children are thirteen and four years of age. Jill is apparently wild and nasty. The daughter from the earlier marriage, Louisa, is blind, deaf, and dumb. There is some nonsense included here about inheriting bad blood, somehow finding Louisa's afflictions as comparable to the wild nature of most of her half siblings. We are also told that the woman's daily consumption of eggnog at a particular time will prove significant later on. We also meet the family lawyer and a friend, Captain Trivett, who has an artificial leg.
A few days following the discovery of York's body, his four year old grandson steals a sip from the prepared glass of eggnog and nearly dies of poisoning which was obviously meant for the woman. The police are unable to find the culprit, but months later the elderly widow is found dead in bed, the deaf mute unconscious on the floor beside her. There is talcum powder on the floor, some of it bearing what appear to be the footsteps of a man, and the initial surmise is that the box of talcum was knocked off the dresser by some kind of violent blow. There are bloody marks on the dead woman's forehead. A bowl of fruit nearby is found to have been poisoned, so the assumption is that the family matriarch awoke to find someone injecting the fruit and was killed on the spur of the moment as the poisoner attempted to escape. The police also determine that an extra piece of fruit was added to the bowl at some time, which raises a question about the discovery of a hypodermic at the scene of the crime. If the fruit was already poisoned, why would the murderer have brought the hypodermic into the room? And why was the mandolin in the bedroom when it resided permanently in a case elsewhere in the house.
Conrad's shoes are identified as the ones that made the tracks in the talcum powder, but Louisa touched the face of the person who was in the bedroom that night and insists that it was female. Given that we are told that the wildness exhibited by members of the family is a genetic trait - which is nonsense - the fact that only Barbara the poet appears normal is likely to make her the prime suspect for most readers, particularly since she is also the only one described as having been kind to Louisa. The suggestion that the other senses develop more acutely in blind people is another bad error, but it was a widely held opinion at the time the book was written. Louisa also asserts that she smelled vanilla at the time her mother was killed. It is obvious that the poison was taken from the locked laboratory that belonged to the late York Hatter, but a mysterious fire destroys that part of the mansion despite the posting of policeman to watch the room. There is a very convoluted will which essentially pressures the poet to care for Louisa for the rest of her life, failing which the other members of the family suffer financially.
Once again Lane's reluctance to confide in the police results in another murder, this time one of the children. Apparently Lane doesn't learn from his mistakes, and the police don't even berate him about it. I suspected from the outset that Louisa was the killer, implausible as it may have been, simply because it was so unlikely that she could have been. My second suspect was York Hatter, assuming that he had somehow faked his death. The truth is that it was the teenage boy, and Lane knew this from analyzing the footprints and rub marks in the lab, some of which was withheld from the reader and is therefore a cheat. The second Drury Lane novel emphasizes one of the serious flaws in the series. The authors spend a good deal of time on Lane's activities when he's not investigating, but even if he had been an inherently interesting character, which he is not, they were not sufficiently adept to make his mundane activities interesting in themselves and as a consequence these passages are at best tedious. The pacing is odd as well. Some scenes which should have been extended are clipped quite short; others that convey little information go on for several pages each. This one fails both as a novel and as a story of detection.
The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932) opens at the funeral of Georg Khalkis, an elderly art dealer who was in ill health and blind. When the funeral party returns to the house, the family lawyer discovers that someone has stolen the most recent will of the deceased, and even though there seems to have been no opportunity to remove it from the premises, a thorough police search turns up nothing. The will was to have disinherited the manager of the dead man's art gallery and the loss of the will means that he will inherit through his wife, sister of the deceased, since Khalkis will then have died intestate. No one knows who was named as primary heir in the new will, not even the lawyer or witnesses. Ellery suggests that the will might have been hidden in the coffin so a disinterment is ordered, but when the coffin is opened there are two bodies inside. Only the secretary admits having seen the new corpse, Grimshaw, previously, testifying that he twice visited Khalkis in recent days, once accompanied by a second man whose face was concealed. She claims to have no idea what the purposes of the visit were. Grimshaw, it turns out, was a forger recently released from prison. Examination of the body indicates that Grimshaw died before Khalkis, his body presumably concealed somewhere until it was added to the coffin and the will was removed..
By checking Grimshaw's movements and performing an autopsy, the police learn that he died before Khalkis. Natural causes are confirmed for the latter, which suggests the burial place was a crime of opportunity. An abandoned house near the cemetery seems a likely resting place for the body prior to the burial, but there is no evidence at the site to confirm this. A witness at the hotel where Grimshaw was staying says that he had several mysterious visitors there and identifies one of them as Sloane, the almost disinherited gallery manager, and identifies another as Mrs. Sloane, sister to Khalkis. The third person identified is an eye specialist who had been a guest at the Khalkis estate. They all deny having been at the hotel. Mrs. Sloane's son by a previous marriage, Cheyney, disappears, his bank account emptied, leaving behind a cryptic note.
Ellery then offers a possible explanation. He asserts that Khalkis regained the use of his sight sometime prior to his death but concealed it from others. This was reasonably easy for readers to discover for themselves because of a complicated discrepancy in the color of his necktie to which our attention was drawn by Ellery's interest in an order for a replacement tie placed by the dead man. There's a fairly ingenious explanation of how Khalkis killed Grimshaw, temporarily concealed his body, then died, after which Ellery theorizes that the missing nephew concealed the body in the coffin for some reason, and that Sloane did in fact steal the will and hide it in the coffin, although this doesn't explain why the nephew didn't thereby discover it. The motivation for the death of Grimshaw, assumed to be blackmail of some kind, is not very convincing either. Even if we hadn't been only half way through the book it would have been apparent that the explanation leaves much to be desired.
Ellery's theory is disrupted by the announcement that the evidence of some teacups was incorrect and by the discovery a friend of the family was in fact present in Khalkis' room when Grimshaw visited, both of which contradict his reconstruction. We also are told that Khalkis bought a stolen painting, then sold it to the family friend without telling him that it was stolen, and that Grimshaw was the thief and was trying to blackmail them both. They were the threesome gathered in Khalkis' private room the night before he died. But the friend also avows that the painting is a forgery in any case. But Grimshaw had a silent partner whose identity he didn't reveal, and this person is presumably the real killer. A fragment of the will is found in the furnace at the vacant house along with confirmation that Grimshaw's body was there for some period of time. It also appears that Khalkis was still blind at the time of his death after all.
The next revelation is surprising, and ultimately implausible. Sloane, the manager, was Grimshaw's brother, but Grimshaw didn't know that he had changed his name or that he was employed by the man he was trying to blackmail. The police learn this from an anonymous letter, even though Sloane claims that no one - not even Grimshaw - knew about their relationship. The police hear questionable testimony and find probably planted evidence that identifies Sloane as the killer, but when they go to question him they discover that he has also been murdered, although it is made to look like suicide. There's still another false solution toward the end, followed by a rather convoluted but mostly clever solution that ties everything up at last. Unfortunately, the identity of the real killer is rather outlandish.
The dialogue is particularly bad this time around, although the mystery itself is well constructed. Even better, the plot moves steadily forward without the lengthy side issues that are sprinkled through the earlier books. We are told, incidentally, that this case actually preceded the earlier books, apparently a retrofit to explain why Ellery withholds information from the police at other times - because he guessed wrong in this particular case and was embarrassed. The puzzle is the most complex yet and suggests that more thought was put into the construction of the story than in its actual execution, but that is true of many detective story writers of that era. It is in fact the puzzles that separate Ellery Queen from, say, CarolynWells, who was a slightly better writer, but whose stories were far less inventive.
Next was The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932). A schoolmaster is found beheaded and crucified on Christmas day in a small West Virginia town. Leaving his father behind, Ellery decides to do some investigating because the bizarre aspects of the case appeal to him. The head has not been found and the victim's personal servant is missing. A limping man hired a car to bring him to the place where the victim was crucified sometime earlier, and he is identified as an Armenian who works for a sideshow religious nut who thinks he's an Egyptian god. The victim was also apparently Armenian. He also disappeared on Christmas Eve. Ellery decides the case shows no promise and returns to New York and nothing happens for six months. Then a rich rug importer is found killed in the very same fashion in New York state and Ellery's interest is piqued again. A piece from a checker game is found near the body and it matches a stain on the victim's palm, suggesting he was was holding it when he was killed. The second man was married many years before when he lived in Europe, somewhere near Armenia! The religious nut from the first case is now running a nudist colony not far from the scene of the second one, and one of his followers is the sister of the dead man's business manager. Ellery points out that both victims - as well as the absent partner of the second one - appears to have had an assumed name taken from an atlas, which is a bit of a reach.
At about the one third mark, there is a sudden jarring change of perspective. We are no longer seeing things from Ellery's point of view but following the adventures of one of the suspects, Doctor Temple, who has recently attempted to kidnap the woman he loves from the local nudist camp. Temple was a prisoner of war in the same part of Europe that has been spotlighted already. This time he is eavesdropping on two neighbors, the Lynns, who clearly have something to hide, fear that Temple has recognized them, and make a vague reference to events also in Europe. He also spots the wife of the dead businessman in a romantic encounter with one of the officials at the nudist camp, Paul Romaine.
Halfway through, the dead man's missing business partner returns from a private cruise. He asserts that Krosac, one of the missing men from the first murder, is probably the killer of his partner. Further, he insists that the pipe the second victim had apparently been smoking when he died was actually his, that he had inadvertently left it at the house when he departed on his one year voyage. A note is then discovered hidden in a piano, written by the second victim, which references the first murder but claims that the schoolmaster, Andrew Van, is not actually dead. He and the two partners are all brothers, and they are being hunted by a man with a vendetta, a man they have not seen in so many years that they would not recognize him. The first victim was actually the missing servant and the schoolmaster has been living under an assumed identity ever since.
Nothing much happens for a while and the police begin to think that the killer has left the area. Then the mysterious neighbors disappear suddenly and are identified as international swindlers and thieves. The yachting brother is found murdered and crucified on his yacht and an urgent message is sent to protect the remaining brother, whose hiding place may have been revealed. There the police find another mutilated body, lacking a head like the others, and a chase ensues leading to the arrest of the schoolmaster, alive after all. The man with the vendetta was actually the first victim and the other murders were all fraternal. The solution also requires that the manservant - whom we are told is retarded - was concealed someplace for several months, which is never adequately explained, but otherwise the explanation is clever and mostly satisfying, although Queen cheats by withholding the motive until the explanation. It was also pretty easy to guess the killer since the missing heads raised an immediate flag about the true identification of the bodies, a ploy that would not work in a modern detective story.
This was far and away the best Ellery Queen to date. Not only is the mystery complex and intriguing, but the writing is markedly improved. There are occasionally clumsy bits of dialogue but even there we have considerable improvement. Richard Queen has only a cameo, but his character has consistently been less than convincing. His irascibility contradicts his description as empathetic and he is constantly bemoaning that a case is unsolvable even when his investigation is only hours along. There is one scene that is exceptionally bad, however. When a presumed good guy takes an unjustified punch at a presumed but unproven bad guy, the retaliation knocks him cold. But instead of arresting the aggressor for assault, the police detective decides to go after the intended victim, simply because he don't like the fact that he had an affair with the dead brother's wife, and assaults the perfectly innocent man. Even in the 1930s, this would make no sense.
The American Gun Mystery (1933) was also published as Death at the Rodeo. The pattern of the earlier books - which all had a murder in the first few pages - is broken. The Queens are attending opening night of a rodeo in a New York coliseum where they meet a variety of characters including an over the hill Hollywood cowboy named Buck Horne, his adopted daughter who is also an actress, a fading movie star whose beauty is fading, a promising prize fighter, an event promoter, the head of the television unit, the manager and several members of the cast of Wild Bill Grant's Rodeo show, and others. During the opening parade, when forty something cowboys are riding around shooting, someone actually shoots the aging screen cowboy, who falls to be trampled under the hooves of the pack following him. The exits are all blocked and Richard Queen as 20,000 potential suspects and/or witnesses to interrogate. Not an enviable task.
A few facts emerge quickly. Two of the people present were planning to bankroll the dead man's first talking movie even though they were dubious about his chances. More significantly, the cameramen have filmed almost everything that happened. The only person with a motive appears to be the man who was normally the lead rider in the rodeo, temporarily sidelined for the celebrity's appearance and none too happy about it. And then Ellery points out that he counted forty-one riders when there should only have been forty, and they soon find an outsider who had no business being there. The intruder is a newspaper reporter and he has one of the several weapons present which were the right calibre to fire the fatal bullet, but ballistics tests proves that none of them could be the murder weapon. The shot was fired with incredible accuracy and apparently from a raised position, suggesting it was fired from the audience. Nevertheless, a thorough search fails to discover the murder weapon. Ellery seems to think it significant that the dead man only had one of his two revolvers with him, but his friends insist that was nothing out of the ordinary.
Horne withdrew as large amount of cash in small bills from his bank shortly before his death, but no trace is found among his effects. The second revolver is discovered, as expected, in his hotel room. Tension is detected between the adopted daughter and the businessman who was supposedly interested in bankrolling a new movie. We also learn that Buck Horne had gambled and lost a substantial amount of money the night before his death, more than he could possibly have repaid. When the show finally starts up again, the jealous cowboy who had been temporarily displaced by Buck Horne is killed in exactly the same way and once again there is no sign of the murder weapon despite searching another 20,000 people. Ellery then explains that Horne is not dead, that the first murder was of his stunt double, that he himself had committed both murders by disguising himself and joining the supporting group of horsemen. Although the explanation is clever, the steps by which Ellery reaches this conclusion are problematic.
I had considerable problems with the plausibility of this one. Searching 20,000 people is absurd on the face of it. Having the building closed for weeks afterward simply because they could not find the murder weapon, for which they were no longer searching, and depriving the owner of his income for that period just doesn't make legal or logical sense. Once again Ellery supposedly knows the killer well in advance but doesn't say anything in order to - according to a footnote - avoid embarrassment if he's wrong is unethical and probably illegal. It isn't even necessary for the plot. There is no reason for us to be told that Ellery knows the solution that early and it would have eliminated the problem if he didn't finish his analysis until much later. There's also a problem with the film taken at the first murder. Although Ellery specifically told the crew to continue filming far longer than usual, it never occurs to him that when they show him the footage it is only ten minutes long. He only realizes that when he sees the longer raw footage of the second murder. This just doesn't seem plausible. And although the conclusion is relatively clever, the evidence from which Ellery deduces everything is ambiguous and there is no credible way that he could have proceeded from it to the right solution. The fact that he had his left hand revolver in his right hand could just as easily be explained that he had placed it in the right hand holster and was not about to shift hands in the middle of the opening salute since he was only firing into the air. The author also withholds information - that Horne had an almost exact double as a stunt man - which is clearly cheating. Information from the film is also withheld that explained the downward angle of the bullet. And finally, the fact that one of the horses had been trained to hold objects concealed in his mouth - in this case the murder weapon - is also not told to the reader. Perhaps most infuriating is that we are never told Horne's motive for this elaborate playacting. A very unsatisfactory summing up.
Next came The Siamese Twin Mystery (1933). The Queens are on their way home from vacation when a forest fire forces them to take refuge in an isolated house belonging to Dr. Xavier. Also resident are Xavier's wife, his brother, his assistant and some house guests. On the way there, the Queens encounter an unpleasant man in an automobile, but no one at the house admits knowing of anyone else on their remote mountain, although it is assumed that he has also been trapped by the fire. The senior Queen sees something or someone that shocks him, but circumstances make it impossible for him to describe what he saw to Ellery or the reader for a significant amount of time, and he eventually describes it as some sort of giant crab glimpses briefly through a dark doorway.. We also learn that at least two rings have disappeared from the rooms of some of the others, although in both cases the rings were inexpensive, and that a famous society woman is also a guest, although her presence is concealed from them. Various individuals act somewhat oddly and Ellery's suspicions begin to mount that all is not as it seems. All the elements of the "old dark house" school of mystery are present.
The morning after the Queens arrive, their host, Dr. Xavier, is found shot to death in his study, holding half of a playing card crumpled in one hand. It is the six of spades so the early evidence points to the dead man's wife, whose initials are SIX. We also discover - if we hadn't already guessed - that the crab is actually two teenage boys, who are permanently joined Siamese twins, sons of the celebrity guest. There is palpable tension between that woman and the widow, and between the widow and the family servant who was fiercely devoted to Dr. Xavier. His will leaves virtually everything to his wife, which is not unexpected. The mysterious man whom the Queens encountered earlier shows up, identifies himself as Smith, and insists that he was just lost the previous day and doesn't know anyone in the house. The fire, however, is still out of control so no one can leave and they may in fact be in danger if the wind shifts. Ellery "disproves" the widow's guilt by demonstrating that the torn card is in the wrong hand for the dead man to have done it and concludes she is shielding a lover whom she thinks is guilty. The proof is more than slightly dubious. One can perform the card tearing experiment and find that while the other outcome is slightly more likely, it is not improbable for it to have happened differently, particularly if the man was seriously wounded and perhaps had restricted movement of one arm.
Ellery proves, sort of, that the brother did it because only he would have torn the card in the right fashion. The brother panics and runs and Queen senior shoots him in the back, which I rather think would have been extreme even for a policeman given that they are trapped on the mountaintop in any case. The wounded man admits that he tore the card to frame his sister-in-law but insists that he didn't commit the murder itself. He claims to know who the real killer is but conveniently passes out before he can identify the killer, and even more conveniently is himself murdered during the night. Queen senior is chloroformed and the ring stolen from his finger.
The resolution is less than satisfactory although the writing is otherwise pretty good. We have to accept that a dying man would ignore pencil and paper readily at hand and sort through a deck of cards to find a specific one that presents a cryptic clue to the identity of his killer. After Ellery tells us rather annoyingly that this is the greatest puzzle ever solved in all the annals of detection, he unravels what really happened. To solve it, the reader must know that the name of the celebrity and her two sons, Carreau, is French for diamonds the suit, although not the jewel. Ellery eventually admits the obvious, that this is too implausible to be true. The authors' understanding of kleptomania also leaves something to be desired. The story itself - the siege by the wildfire - is very well done. The detection, not so much. There's also an interesting question that they deal with badly. If one of the pair of twins had been the killer, how could they execute him without executing the innocent one? The authors ignore this by having him proved innocent, but the question is false to start with. The twins are children and could not have been executed in any case.
The Tragedy of Z (1933) returned to Drury Lane, although the story is told by the daughter of his friend Inspector Thumm. Patricia Thumm is a welcome addition because Lane's limitations - deaf and physically frail - make him an unlikely hero. Patricia has the observational skills of Sherlock Holmes and is spotting things that her father, now retired, and the active police miss. She and her father are working as private investigators and are about to embark on an investigation of a business, one of whose partners thinks the other is taking corrupt advantage of having a senator for a brother. Before they can get their teeth into the issue, the senator is found stabbed to death in his study. His desk has been rifled and on top of the desk is part of a toy with the letters "HE" visible on the surface. This object was found within a shipment of toys for charity made by convicts at the nearby prison and the senator reportedly was shaken when he first saw it. His secretary and the servants had been sent out for the evening, and it was the secretary who - returning early - found the body only moments after the man died. Inspector Thumm recognizes the secretary but says nothing which suggests that the man had an earlier criminal record, perhaps under another name. The desk has been searched. The senator's brother is traveling and no one knows where he is. The local police are not happy to have Thumm looking into matters and they don't make a secret of it. Toward Patricia they display obvious contempt. There are also some ashes in the fireplace of paper from a pad found on the dead man's desk.
In due course, they discover links to a political boss and an influential bordello manager, as well as a note from Aaron Dow, a prison inmate who is clearly planning to blackmail the senator, and who was released from prison on the day he died. Suspicion focuses on the convict when we learn that the senator told the warden that he was being blackmailed, and he did in fact withdraw a large sum of money shortly before his death. Suspicions that the secretary is a former crook prove to be unfounded; he is in fact a federal agent specializing in corruption. Dow is sentenced to life in prison despite the evidence that he is innocent, and the next fifty or so pages are tedious and uninformative. Then Dow escapes and we learn that the prison priest is inadvertently carrying messages in to the prisoners. This is accomplished by bumping into him and replacing his Bible with a different one. The whole premise is laughable at best and despite a stronger start, this rapidly becomes the least interesting of the Drury Lane novels.
Shortly after the escape, the senator's brother is murdered and naturally the authorities believe Dow killed them both. It never even occurs to them to wonder who bribed the guards to let Dow escape, although it turns out it was the second victim himself. Dow is captured and tried and this time sentenced to death. Dow refuses to explain some aspects of the case for no good reason except to keep the reader guessing. Several other clues are withheld until the final few pages, making it impossible for the reader to make an educated guess. We know so little about the various suspects that they are virtually interchangeable.
The authors attempt to evoke a female viewpoint is painfully awkward. Patricia has flashes of female intuition denied to males, and alternates between resenting their patriarchal attitude and seeking to be protected by their manly selves. There is also far too many instances where characters comment upon their own genius or the genius of others when actually they just made a fairly obvious observation. The mystery itself is poorly thought out, poorly executed, and the steps by which the detectives solve it involve leaps of logic and unrealistic bursts of intuition. This is a thoroughly bad mystery on virtually every count.
The final Drury Lane novel was Drury Lane's Last Case (1933). Like the previous one, this is told primarily from the point of view of Patricia Thumm. Her father has been hired to hold a letter in trust, unread, so long as his client calls in once a month to confirm that he is still alive. The nature of the letter and the identity of the client are both completely unknown to them. The elder Thumm is interested in a case in which two separate outsiders infiltrated a group touring a temporarily closed museum, after which a security guard and former police officer disappeared. Patricia is romantically involved with a young scholar whose researches are being financed from the estate of a recently deceased patron of the arts, whose widow has no interest in her husband's pet projects. The daughter, inexplicably, is named Patience now instead of Patricia. During the tour incursion, someone attempted to break into a display case and steal a valuable book, which had been left to the museum by the same late patron of the arts who is interested in Thumm's daughter, whatever her name is. Lane discovers that although the museum doesn't realize it, the rare book in that case was stolen and replaced - but that the replacement is even more valuable. Then the stolen book is returned anonymously, with a slit in the binding suggesting that something was concealed inside, and the Saxon estate reports that a forgery of that same book was stolen from their home a few weeks earlier.
A brief investigation and some luck reveal interesting details. The new museum director arrived in the US earlier than he claims, although not early enough to be one of the various mysterious figures. The Saxon estate was visited by a man who stole a piece of stationery, which turns out to be inside the envelope held by Thumm, and he is positively identified as being the director, although that is impossible. We do, however, know that the man has a brother who has been missing for several years. The stationery bears a short, cryptic series of letters and numbers. Patience and her romantic interest are assaulted and the piece of stationery is stolen, while at the museum a pickpocket is caught prowling around and is identified as one of the two infiltrators in the tourist group. The mysterious Dr. Ales is tracked to his lair, but he has been missing for weeks. We know at this point that he was behind both thefts and was also the man who left the envelope with Thumm. Unaccountably, none of the brilliant detectives ever suspects that the director's brother might be the missing man. Ales' lair is searched by another mysterious intruder, after which it is destroyed by a bomb. Eventually they learn that the director has a twin - which any conscious reader would have guessed long before - but when a burned body is discovered, it's not clear which brother is dead.
Although not awful, this isn't a particularly good mystery. There are numerous minor problems. The authors, for example, apparently didn't know much about cryptography because there is no possibility of decoding a code that consists of just six symbols. At another point, the police conduct a thorough search of a house, but fail to look into the basement. The twin brother trick is horribly transparent and the real explanation of the code is so silly it's not worth mentioning. Worst of all, they think that color blindness means that an individual cannot see any colors, which is not the case at all, and that's the method by which they uncover the true identity of the brothers. This is a really embarrassing error that should have been checked. As it stands it is preposterous.
Ellery Queen returned in The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934). A mysterious visitor is sitting in the waiting room of a successful publisher's office, waiting for him to return. When he does arrive, the inner door is locked, although the outer one is open. Inside he and his friend, Ellery Queen, find the room in disorder and the visitor lying dead. The possible suspects include the publisher's assistant, who was in the main office throughout, his business partner, his sister - who is engaged to another stamp collector, the publisher's infirm father who lives in the same building and who was alone at the time, the elderly man's nurse, who has a crush on the assistant, a receptionist, a beautiful celebrity, and various others. We initially know nothing suspicious about any of them, although the nurse recently took a tangerine from that same office, which suggests significance relative to the title. The body is interesting. All of the man's clothes except the shoes are now being worn backward, and two large African spears were taken down from the walls and run up through the man's clothing. Similarly all the furniture has been turned to face the wall and the rug has been turned over. The victim had been dead for about an hour when he was found and the apparent cause of death was a blow to the head that killed him instantly. His pockets are empty and there is nothing by which to identify him. Ellery secures the scene and waits for his father and his minions to arrive.
The early chapters are rather awkward. As usual, people refuse to say where they were, invent obviously implausible excuses, and conceal information which all serves to prolong the mystery but which inevitably proves to be trivial information that real people would have volunteered immediately. It's an annoying trait common to the early Queen novels. Queen also makes some minor deductions that suggest he has clairvoyance since there is no logical way in which he could have drawn those conclusions. There are also a couple of examples of someone making an obvious observation which the author then insists is marvelously intuitive.
The autopsy shows that the victim ate one of the tangerines - known at the time as a Chinese orange - shortly before his death. Ellery points out that one of the suspects collects Chinese stamps and another is writing a book about her experiences in China and suggests that this cannot just be coincidental. He also refers to China as a backward country in the sense that their customs are the exact opposite of Western customs, except that the examples he cites are not opposites at all, just variations. A collection of Hebrew books are stolen and Ellery points out that the Hebrew language is written "backwards" as well. Then Ellery is visited by the stamp collecting friend who reveals that he recently purchased a rare Chinese stamp that was partially printed backwards. Ellery traces the stamp back to the publisher, who for some reason rigged the anonymous sale to his friend. There is also a vague letter suggesting that the publisher was involved in some sort of dangerous enterprise.
The plot chickens. The celebrity is revealed to be a scam artist and thief. The source of the rare stamp is the woman who wrote the book about China and its provenance seems innocent. The publisher's sister is spotted returning the stolen books clandestinely. The publisher himself is secretly badly in debt and it appears that he is being blackmailed by the scam artist, Sewell, who is using the false names Llewes, which is her own name spelled backward, another reference to the murder. The resolution is a bit complicated and a bit of a reach as well, but not fatally so. A severely flawed novel but not without its good points.
The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934) was the first collection of short stories. The first story, "The African Traveler," has an interesting set up. Ellery has three students of detection with him when he investigates a murder in a hotel room. Each presents a possible solution, all of which prove to be wrong, of course. The story suffers a bit from contrivance; two of the three theories are disproved by outlandish coincidences. "The Hanging Acrobat" is much better. An acrobat is found hanging and there are various suspects, but when the rope is removed it is discovered that she was strangled by hands, and the marks are upside down. Pretty obviously her partner was the killer, but still quite well done. "The One Penny Black" concerns the theft of a valuable postage stamp, but the solution is obvious rather early despite some nicely placed red herrings. "The Bearded Lady" is also pretty good. A man paints a beard on a woman's portrait just before he is killed to suggest his killer is a man impersonating a woman. "The Three Lame Men" is too obvious. Three sets of footprints are found at a kidnapping scene, each of which suggests someone limping. It's obviously the same man wearing three sets of shoes and therefore obviously a fake kidnapping.
"The Invisible Lover" is pretty good although having the coroner be the killer is usually cheating. In this case, he substitutes bullets to frame an innocent man. "The Teakwood Case" is relatively weak. A man is murdered and his cigarette case stolen because it is believed that he had jewels hidden inside his cigarettes, but it was the wrong man. "The Two Head Dog" is also rather disappointing, a murder in a cabin that was obviously done by an animal before we learn that the animal exists. "The Glass Domed Clock" is quite bad. A dying man grabs an amethyst and a clock to identify his killer. The connections are so outrageous that they would never have occurred to a dying man, and there's no chance that a reader might have guessed the truth. In "The Seven Black Cats", an invalid buys a cat once a week for reasons unknown, despite the fact that she hates cats. The killer is almost a random person but the story is pretty good despite that. "The Mad Tea Party" is also very good but the solution involves one element that defies credibility - that an architect would put a small secret compartment in a house to which he has no other connection just by whim.
Dell books published a novelette as a slim little book. The Lamp of God. has a fascinating puzzle. Queen responds to a call from a friend who is involved in the disposition of the estate of a man recently deceased. The daughter he had not seen in twenty years has just arrived from England and the rest of the family - a dubious lot - put Queen, the woman, and the lawyer up in the house adjacent to the dead man's mansion. The following morning they wake up to the find the mansion missing, not even a foundation, and a layer of snow that keeps them isolated from the rest of the world. Although I figured out the solution - simply because there was no other alternative - it's still a fascinating story with a quite unexpected twist toward the end.
The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) was one of the few Queen novels to have a movie adaptation. A house party on Spanish Cape is thrown into turmoil when one of the guests is found murdered, sitting naked in a chair covered only by an opera cape. The murdered man is something of a philanderer with lots of enemies, and in the opening scenes another man is kidnapped by a thug who mistakes him for his real target. The naked dead man, Marco, was knocked unconscious and strangled, after which for some reason the killer or someone else stripped him naked. His clothing is nowhere to be found. At the time of his death he was apparently writing a letter to a friend which suggests that he was on the verge of provoking some dramatic confrontation, about which he includes no specifics. Everyone else in the household appears to be frightened of something and some of them are clearly not unhappy that Marco is no longer among the living, which suggests blackmail. Marco had recently secretly proposed to the daughter of his host, and she had tentatively accepted but had told no one. Her on again off again boyfriend objected to the flirtation and quarreled with Marco shortly before the latter was killed. It appears that no one in the house has a solid alibi for the time of the murder, which took place after midnight when they were all supposedly in bed.
Ellery notes the oddity that three of the houseguests were strangers to their host and hostess, posing the questions of why they were invited and why they accepted. These include a self made millionaire, his wife - a former entertainer, and a middle aged woman whose husband has been confined for some time to a sanitarium for health reasons. One of the servants indicates that he delivered an anonymous message to Marco shortly before his death, but he did not read it and doesn't know from whom it came. The missing clothes are eventually discovered in his room - which leads us to wonder why the police hadn't looked there during their supposedly exhaustive search. Except that it turns out that he changed clothes just before the murder, so they are indeed still missing. Part of the mysterious note is recovered. It was typed inside the house and asks for a meeting, but provides no other clues. Meanwhile, one of the maids is missing along with all of her clothing. The maid, who was recommended for hire by Marco, was seen talking to him shortly before his murder. She turns out to be his crony and is caught trying to take up the dead man's blackmail business, although only after driving one of the victims to suicide. The solution is a mild stretch but within tolerable limits.
The Door Between (1936) - supposedly the basis for the movie Ellery Queen, Master Detective - is shorter than its predecessors. A reclusive writer is murdered in her apartment while her fiance's adopted daughter sits outside. The latter, Eva, investigates when the telephone rings but is not answered and finds the body, inadvertently getting blood on her hands and even touching the murder weapon, although more plausibly than is usually the case. A mysterious man then appears in the room, apparently also surprised at finding the dead woman, and he is looking around when someone throws a rock through the window from the outside. Since all the windows are locked and the only other door bolted, it looks like only Eva could have committed the crime. The mysterious intruder, however, unbolts a door, opens a window, and orders her to burn the bloody handkerchief she used in order to provide an alternative solution and divert police suspicion from her. It's pretty obvious early on that he is going to replace her current beau, a society doctor, by the end of the story, which also makes him prime suspect for the murder in the early going. Meanwhile, Ellery is returning from Europe on a cruise ship and has just made the acquaintance of the dead woman's fiancé.
A lot of the early uncertainty depends upon Eva acting with extraordinary stupidity about having touched the murder weapon. While it is indeed possible that people would do stupid things, particularly in stressful situations, the authors lay it on entirely too thickly this time and one cannot help almost wishing that she was the killer just so they would shut her up and put her away where her stupidity wouldn't bother us again. There is more than a little misogyny in the story as well and this is just one symptom. The intruder is a private detective who had business with the deceased, who had also asked the police to send someone to her apartment the same afternoon when she was killed. She had also been writing a letter at the time of her death regarding royalties on her books published in Europe and had started to allude to another matter when she was interrupted. We also learn that Eva's father's brother was at one time married to the victim's sister, that she had accidentally killed him years earlier and then reportedly committed suicide, although there are strong indications now that she not only is still alive but that she was living in her sister's attic.
The revelations continue as Eva is inevitably if somewhat belatedly arrested for the murder. The dead woman's supposedly deceased sister was actually held prisoner in the attic - although how all this was managed is never quite explained since she had to have voluntarily come from Japan first - and the sister is the real author of all the books. She is also Eva's mother, a fact that has been concealed from her, but which the police assume she knew because it gives her a prime motive for murder. She would inherit a rather substantial estate. By now it is also obvious that she's going to end up with the private detective and not the doctor. The missing sister is found dead in another city, but despite what appears to be a confession, she died far too soon to have committed the murder, which puts Eva in the hot seat for the second and final time. The solution is fairly complex and there's a double climax, and while clever in its general outlines, the execution is not up to the task and much of it fails the plausibility test.
Halfway House (1936) opens with Ellery running into an old friend who almost immediately finds his brother in law dying of a stab wound in a decrepit shack where he had been asked to meet him for an unspecified reason. The brother in law also left a sealed envelope in his safekeeping a short time earlier. At the time he arrived at the shack, the friend heard a woman scream and saw one drive away frantically, but he did not see her face. The murder weapon was removed from the body and is now tipped with a piece of charred cork. The rug in the shack is spotless despite the mud outside, and the clothing in the closet is very expensive although the dead man supposedly was not very well off financially. Ellery also notices that his friend quietly conceals something he found on the floor while the police are making their initial examination. The building - as the title suggests - is just a stopover because the dead man was living two separate lives, involving two separate women. In one he was rich and in the other relatively poor His wife in his Joe Wilson persona has no alibi for the murder, but says she was at the movies. The murder weapon was taken from a present intended for Ellery's friend.
The arrival of the other half of the cast is annoying. The friend, Bill Angell, recovered a precious stone from the floor and concealed that fact for no good reason and when Andrea Gimball arrives on the scene, he notices that it is missing from her ring and, again for no good reason, decides to conceal the fact that she was the woman he saw driving away from the scene of the crime - even though this would remove suspicion from his sister! Andrea's mother Jessica Gimball also identifies the dead man as her husband, but with a different name. The dead man changed his substantial insurance policy to list his poor wife as the beneficiary instead of his rich one, and the trap seems to draw closer when the murder vehicle is traced and turns out to be her car, stolen from her garage while she was at the movies. Her fingerprints are also on the murder weapon, because she handled the object knowing it was to be a gift for her brother. Her failure to mention that fact is another of those implausible devices designed to help the plot rather than sound realistic. She is arrested, tried, and convicted. The guilty verdict, given the summary of the trial provided, seems extremely unlikely given that the evidence was circumstantial, that the prosecution had attempted to suppress evidence, and that there are clear indications that Andrea Gimball is lying.
Eventually we learn that Andrea found a note at the murder scene threatening her mother if she didn't keep quiet. Except that she didn't see anything that she needs to be quiet about. Queen eventually does a reenactment and provokes the killer into revealing his identity. The solution took me by surprise, but only because there's a really major cheat. The dying man's identification of his killer as a woman is wrong. He was disguised, which is supposed to help frame the sister when he stops for gas in her car later on, but that means there was no reason for him to have worn his disguise during the actual commission of the murder. Several elements of his explanation are similarly unconvincing. There are no cigarettes found, just matches, so he concludes that the killer smoked a pipe. But why couldn't it just have been that the killer took the butts with him? I certainly would have. A reasonably entertaining story but with some major flaws.
The Four of Hearts (1938) finds Ellery in Hollywood where he has been roped into helping write a screenplay for a movie about two feuding Hollywood families, with members of those families in the cast. It takes a long time before anything actually happens, which is a bad thing because Ellery's adventures with movie people and an encounter with a gossip columnist are so clumsily done that they're acutely embarrassing. The two feuding actors and their even more fervently feuding children cause a sensation when the older pair reconciles and marries, much to the consternation of their children. The only hint of trouble is that the older woman keeps receiving envelopes containing playing cards with no note or explanation. She dismisses them as a prank but there are suggestions that she knows something more. Then finally, just after the wedding, the two kids are tied up and a disguised figure pilots the plane with the older couple. The plane is found abandoned and the two ageing actors have both died of poisoning. There is no sign of the pilot. At this point, our potential suspects are the film director who is dating the daughter, the constantly drunk screenwriter, a broken down actor, the dead woman's reclusive father and his live in companion, and perhaps some personal servants.
Evidence reveals that the male actor had been recently in debt to a gambling house, although he may somehow have recently paid his IOUs. The cards mailed to the actress, however, came from the same establishment. Oddly, another of the mysterious envelopes with playing cards is mailed even after the deaths have been made public. A suicide not is found for the broken down actor but no body; he claims to have thrown himself into the ocean. Then Queen and the police discover that a gossip columnist was aware of the kidnap plans well in advance, knows who gave her the information, but claims she can't tell them because she was told confidentially. This is so patently absurd that the novel is rendered totally worthless. She is by her own admission an accomplice before the fact to two murders, but the police don't arrest her and she clearly feels she has done nothing wrong, although we are supposed to admire her. The characters - all of them including Ellery - behave childishly and absurdly throughout the story. The eventual explanation, a murder committed in conjunction with a "fake" kidnapping, is too absurd to take seriously. Far and away the weakest Queen to this point, and so bad I suspect it would not have published if the name hadn't been so firmly established.
The Devil to Pay appeared in 1938 and continues the Hollywood connection. I read this book when I was eight years old, which might explain why I didn't really get interested in mysteries until almost ten years later. It opens with a bewilderingly unorganized discussion of the various characters, all in the abstract since we don't actually see any of them until later, and it is very difficult to slog one's way through the mess. It's as if everything the authors had learned about writing had suddenly vanished. Walter Spaeth is a political cartoonist whose father is an unscrupulous businessman. He is in love with Valerie Jardin, a rather brainlessly portrayed young woman who is socially connected and the daughter of an unwise investor. The Jardin family has just lost a bundle on an investment with Spaeth senior, which was wiped out by a flood and a shortage of cash. Walter and his father have a fight over the issue, which has bankrupted the Jardins, and Walter is disinherited. Not surprisingly, Spaeth senior gets knocked off and his son is naturally the prime suspect. Fortunately, he's an old school friend of Ellery Queen, who just happens to be available to investigate.
The usual interviews and evasions follow, and they're better done than the lengthy opening, although most of the characters still don't act like actual human beings. The unnecessarily complicated resolution is a mild cheat because one character who is not the murderer has altered elements at the crime scene deliberately to obscure the identity of the actual killer. This effectively makes it a conspiracy - although one sided - and that involves too many variables for the reader to have a decent chance at spotting the solution. It still might have been a decent procedural crime novel if the plot had been more organized, the characters less stereotyped, and the prose considerably tighter, but none of those things are true and the result is unsatisfactory on almost every level.
The Dragon's Teeth (1939, aka The Virgin Heiresses) is fortunately somewhat better. Ellery opens a detective agency with Beau Rummell as his partner, although initially Ellery is supposed to be virtually a silent partner. Then they are approached by an ageing millionaire who retains them to investigate a future matter, the details of which we don't learn until after he is dead. Queen suspects something though and is also interested in what appears to be an ordinary fountain pen left behind by the eccentric, who has also recently made out a new will. The victim dies of an apparent heart attack and is buried at sea, which event Ellery would have attempted to prevent had he not been hospitalized at the time and near death himself. Since Ellery is bedridden, he and Rummell decide that the latter should impersonate him in order to investigate the death since the two principle characters - the lawyer and the business manager - have never met either of them. The lawyer informs him that the will stipulates that Queen locate two missing sets of heirs - the wife and daughter of the dead man's similarly deceased brother, and his missing sister, who also had a daughter. The will also stipulates that the two daughters will share the income from the estate equally, but only if they remain unmarried and live together for one year in the same mansion where the business manager has settled down.
The brother's wife, Kerrie, is discovered fairly easily, working as a movie extra under an assumed name. The other heiress, Margo, has spent all of he life in France. Antagonism between the two is apparent from the outset. Kerrie, the good one, has one of those standard silly romantic entanglements with Beau in which neither admits caring for the other while Margo plays the tease. Kerrie's friend Violet also joins the group at the estate. Then one night someone attempts to stab Kerrie while she's in bed and Beau suspects that the business manager, De Carlos, is involved. Bizarrely, no one thinks to report this to the police. Nor do they call the police when a second attempt is made while Kerrie is out riding. The rationale is that there is no way to prove either attempt happen, which is patently absurd since there is physical evidence in both cases. The romantic subplot is really annoying this time. Kerrie thinks Beau is on the plot because he secretively collects evidence, and he doesn't tell her what he's doing because he doesn't want to frighten her. Both aspects of this are nonsense. They eventually realize they're in love, but they still don't involve the police following a third and nearly successful attempt.
When Kerrie decides to give up the money and marry Beau - who still hasn't told her his real name! - her friend Vi suddenly undergoes a change of personality, which sets off alarms with perceptive readers. They get married, as Mr. & Mrs Queen. Beau disappears from their hotel room and Margo shows up claiming that she and Beau planned the attempts on her life together. As she gloats, someone shoots her through the window and tosses the murder weapon into the room, which Kerrie naturally picks up so she can get her fingerprints on it. Unfortunately, there's a great deal more nonsense. Beau told Margo where he was going to make it sound realistic, but there was no reason for him to have wanted to do so, and no reason why a random location wouldn't have worked, and no reason why she should want to know. The plot reeks of contrivance, and while a certain amount of coincidence and contrivance is necessary to make a clever puzzle, this one is way overboard. There is an interesting speculation at this point, that the millionaire is not really dead and that this was all a clever plot to allow him to eliminate his only living relatives - whom he had never met. And the authors don't seem to have realized that if you are married under a false name, the marriage is invalid. And when Inspector Queen arrives on the scene, he decides the motive for the murder was fear that Margo was trying to kill her. But the problem with that is that having gotten married, Kerrie had already eliminated that motive. The identity of the real villain is transparent but the events surrounding it are so poorly established that the book goes from mildly interesting to annoyingly bad in very short order.
The second collection of shorter stories was The New Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940), which opens with the previously mentioned "The Lamp of God." Ellery foils a jewel thief in the relatively minor "Adventure of the Treasure Hunt." There's a rather standard mystery surrounding a missing doorstop in "The Adventure of the Hollow Dragon." Ellery solves a murder in a funhouse in "The Adventure in the House of Darkness," which has a clever physical explanation although the identity of the murderer depends on a woman not recognizing her husband simply because he's wearing a false beard, and the police not bothering to ask him for identification. "The Adventure of the Bleeding Portrait" is very minor. An apparent murder turns out not to be one after all. A murderer accidentally poisons himself at a baseball game in "Man Bites Dog", a horse racing enthusiast faces complications in "Long Shot," a murder at a boxing match in "Mind Over Matter," which is quite good, and a jewel thief strikes in the confusion surrounding a college football game in "Trojan Horse." The last four sports related stories all involve Ellery's romance with the gossip columnist he met in The Four of Hearts. "The Lamp of God" is an order of magnitude better than all of the others.
The Penthouse Mystery (1941) is based on a movie starring Ralph Bellamy and the actual author is unknown. Whoever the real author was, his or her prose is much more polished. Ellery has a private office and a secretary, Nikki Porter, who was invented for the movie. One of her friends is assaulted in Ellery's office when she comes there to tell him that her father, recently returned from China, has disappeared. The missing man turns up packed in a trunk, dead, and Ellery quickly discovers that at least three people who arrived on the same ship are connected to the hotel crime scene, two as guests and one as a new employee. It all has to do with valuable jewels the dead man was carrying, and Ellery solves everything in what more properly resembles a police procedural than do most of his previous adventures. For some reason the novelization changes most of the character names and the Nikki Porter character replaces the gossip columnist who was Ellery's romantic interest for a while.
The Vanishing Corpse(1941, aka Ellery Queen, Master Detective) is also a novelization by an unknown writer of a movie supposedly based on The Door Between. It also includes Nikki Porter, who becomes chief suspect when she's present for a locked room murder only remotely similar to that in the actually Ellery Queen novel. The dead man - it was originally a woman - was terminally ill and it's not a big surprise when we find out he wasn't murdered after all, but committed suicide in a way designed to cast suspicion on someone else. Then the body gets stolen and Ellery has to figure it all out based on not very many clues. The movie was full of problematic situations that the author here has mostly eliminated, which is a plus. Like the previous title, the prose is better but the plot is simpler and less interesting, and it has the feel of a novelization with the background done sketchily and the story overall much shorter than normal.
Calamity Town (1942) has Ellery incognito renting a house in the small city of Wrightsville. There he becomes acquainted with his landlord's three daughters. Lola married badly, divorced, and returned home but is not on good terms with her family. Nora was engaged to be married to a man who disappeared the day before the wedding and she is reclusive and clearly mentally ill. No one knows what happened to the missing man but foul play is apparently not suspected. Patricia is the youngest and happiest and she's engaged to a local attorney who becomes jealous when she pays attention to Ellery. Then, unexpectedly and confounding the reader's assumption that he is dead, the missing man - Jim Haight - reappears and the marriage is announced again. The marriage takes place despite the quiet opposition of the local newspaperman, who is infatuated with Nora. No one ever explains the three year hiatus. Then Nora finds three letters from Jim to his sister, which mention his wife's illness and eventual death, and sister Patricia immediately assumes that Jim is planning to murder his wife. The alternate explanation, of course, is that these refer to an earlier wife who died, although that would not explain why the letter's are still in Jim's possession, and that explanation doesn't seem to occur to anyone.
Jim receives and destroys a letter from his sister Rosemary, who shows up a few days later for a protracted stay. Ellery has by this time indulged in housebreaking twice in what is really an inexcusable bit of nosey invasion of privacy. Time passes and on the indicated days Nora does become ill, but she refuses medical treatment and there is no proof that it was poison other than the symptoms. Jim, meanwhile, has become habitually drunk, gambles, and is broke. He refuses to talk about his problems and Nora refuses to talk about her illness. On the next attempt, Ellery confirms to himself that Nora's food was poisoned, but he doesn't inform the police - as usual - or even mention it to anyone else. The final attack takes place - in part because of Ellery's stupidity - and while Nora is sickened, it is Rosemary who dies, both having drunk from the same glass provided by Jim. Finally Nora explains the three year absence - they quarreled over money. This is patently absurd but apparently the authors thought it was plausible. Ellery commits perjury during the trial; he has been using an assumed name and continues to do so although under oath. The unwillingness of the characters to talk - and during the trial Patricia insists on testifying but won't tell the lawyers what she wants to say - keeps the mystery going but makes the story ludicrous.
Nora dies while giving birth. Jim's trial is aborted when Patricia corrupts one of the jurors, after which Jim escapes from jail, then commits suicide by driving off a cliff. The solution, which is pretty obvious despite being based on shaky premises - that after attempting murder a man would casually leave the evidence stuck in one of his books, that a divorce can take place without one partner being involved in the legal process - is that the sister is actually Jim's wife. It's a very minor and generally dissatisfying mystery that is also marred by its very slow pacing, particularly the middle third, which drags on endlessly without anything actually happening and without any revelations or clues.
There Was an Old Woman (1943) has also appeared as The Quick and the Dead. The Potts family is very rich, having made their money selling inexpensive shoes. Cornelia Potts is elderly but still rules the roost, which consists of her second husband and three children by each of her marriages. The first three are not entirely stable mentally while the second set seem much more balanced, although their mother favors the older children. Thurlow, the oldest, takes offense over trivialities and has recently purchased a set of firearms with which he promises to defend the honor of the family name. The youngest, Sheila, is in love with the family lawyer, a pairing that Cornelia has forbidden, and it is through the lawyer that Ellery is somewhat awkwardly introduced to the family. There is a quarrel between Thurlow and one of his younger brothers and Thurlow proposes a duel. Ellery, alarmed, manages to substitute blanks for the rounds in both weapons on the night before the duel is to take place. Unfortunately someone replaces one blank with a live round and the younger brother is fatally shot. Although Thurlow is the killer, Ellery insists he is not the murderer. Actually, Ellery is wrong. Thurlow is a murderer by act and intent; it's just that now there is a second murderer to be unmasked as well. Then Cornelia takes a near fatal shot at a police officer and despite this neither she nor her son are put under arrest. An otherwise promising mystery plummets to idiocy in the space of a few pages.
A second brother is murdered in his bed a day or so later, which only underscores the idiocy of the police not arresting Thurlow, even though he didn't commit the crime. Cornelia then dies of apparent heart failure, and her will is found in an envelope along with a second one that is only to be opened once a new board of trustees is formed to operate the shoe company. Thurlow is elected president and the envelope, opened, reveals a confession in which Cornelia claims to have murdered her two sons. Obviously she is covering up for someone. The second husband's friend, Gotch, struck me as possibly the long lost first husband, a theory which Ellery advances somewhat later. But Ellery claims this makes Cornelia a bigamist when it does no such thing since we have been told specifically that he was missing for seven years and declared legally dead. That invalidates the first marriage. Sheila won't move out of the house because her father has to stay there since he's destitute - but what about the eight million dollars that SHE just inherited? The solution is transparent; it was obvious almost from the outset that Thurlow had bought two identical weapons so that he could be sure of having a genuinely loaded one at the duel. Of course, even if he hadn't, he was still guilty of second degree murder despite the fact that the authors apparently didn't realize that.
But this doesn't make sense either. Thurlow never knew that they were going to substitute a blank so using a duplicate gun does NOT give him an alibi. And he clearly didn't guess it either since he later tries to kill Ellery using the gun loaded with the blank. Ellery theorizes that Thurlow might have overheard them talking about the blank, but his later action contradicts it, and how would he have known to go through the elaborate procedure to ensure he had a duplicate weapon if he didn't know about it well in advance. Eventually Ellery realizes that someone else was manipulating Thurlow, which partly resolves these contradictions, but they're so obvious that it makes no sense that weeks would pass before it occurred to him. But even then it doesn't make sense because if Thurlow had been effectively revealed to the police, he would certainly have implicated his partner in crime. The assertion that no one would have believed him just doesn't hold water. The story ends with the rich young heiress agreeing to become Ellery's secretary - which is rather silly - but only after changing her name to Nikki Porter, the character created for the earlier movies. The set up is interesting in this one and the actual writing isn't bad, but the plot is so badly constructed that it fails utterly.
The Murderer Is a Fox (1945) is a return to Wrightsville from Calamity Town. A war hero suffering from shell shock, Davy Fox is returning to his wife and family. The family consists of an aunt and uncle who took him in after his father killed his mother and was sent to prison. Davy is afraid that something is going on between his wife Linda and the pharmacist, Alvin Cain, although there is no evidence other than some malicious suggestions made by the town gossip. He begins to feel urges to murder Linda, even though he knows he is not acting rationally. One night he tries to strangle her and although he stops, it is clear that he is troubled. Linda, still loving him, decides that they need to talk to Ellery Queen - which doesn't make any sense but at least gives him an opening into the story. Linda is convinced that he should look into the twelve year old murder case, prove that Davy's father didn't do it, and that this would solve his current psychological problems. I suppose in 1945 this misunderstanding of psychology would seem plausible but it certainly doesn't today. In any case, Davy's mother had fallen in love with his uncle and the two brothers had decided to let her decide between them. They both thought that the aunt was unaware of the situation, although she insists she knew all along. But before any decision could be made, the mother was poisoned and died and her husband was convicted of her murder because it appeared that no one else could have had the opportunity to commit the crime.
Ellery reconstructs the crime as accurately as possible without finding any alternate method by which the murder could have been committed, but someone breaks into the abandoned house where the crime occurred, searching for something, and assaults Ellery in the process. This suggests the father is innocent after all, but then further evidence arises which makes him look guiltier than ever, his signature in a pharmacy log indicating that he had purchased some of the appropriate poison only a day earlier. The break in and the obviously forged signature are explained as the interference of a man who wanted to drive a wedge between Davy and his wife, but that resets the investigation back to its starting point. The solution is technically satisfactory and has a double twist that works quite well.
Ten Days' Wonder (1948) also takes place in Wrightsville. Howard Van Horn is a young sculptor who has periodic blackouts. He is afraid that he has committed one or more crimes during these episodes, which is the somewhat shaky rationale for why he won't talk to doctors frankly but instead goes to Ellery Queen, who agrees to stay with the family for a while to observe. Howard lives with the man who adopted him, recently married to a much younger woman for whom Howard has romantic feelings. There is also an irascible uncle. Ellery suspects that there is more tension than is apparent within the household but no one will tell him what's going on behind the scenes. Ellery learns when it was when the young couple tell him that they fell in love but decided not to pursue it because they both respected their adopted father/husband. But stupidly Howard wrote and Sara held onto some love letters, which have now fallen into the hands of the inevitable blackmailer. Ellery is to act as go-between and delivery $25,000. But the money was stolen from the father's safe and only the two unhappy lovers and the brother new the combination, so Ellery also is asked to solve the mystery of the theft, to which he already pretty much knows the answer.
Events occur which seem to have no relationship to one another. Ellery successfully pays the blackmail money and receives the letters back, but he is unable to identify the blackmailer and fears that copies have been made. He also meets the elder Van Horn's aging mother, who appears to be senile, and somewhat malevolent. We also learn Howard's true identity, although his parents died years earlier. They were poor farmers in the area who felt they could not raise him properly. Howard's psychological shift to thinking of himself by his biological parents' name - within hours of discovering the truth - is unconvincing and his blackouts indicate a much more serious problem than the authors would have us believe is the case. The characters are so astoundingly stupid when the second blackmail demand arrives - they decide to pay it - that I no longer cared about the book or its outcome. The young wife is murdered by Howard while in one of his fugue states and Ellery then explains a convoluted, metaphysical argument about how Howard was breaking all ten commandments systematically, some of it relying on information he could not have known, and all of it quite nonsensical. The police, even after they arrest Howard, are lackadaisical about watching him and he escape in one of the most unconvincing sequences in detective fiction. This is very nearly their worst book.
Cat of Many Tails (1949) is arguably their best novel. Ellery is determined not to get involved with any more investigations when the story opens, but his resolve is shaken when his father is put in charge of a task force trying to track down a serial strangler. The killer, dubbed the Cat, seems to pick his victims at random, and five of them are already dead when the novel begins. Inspector Queen feels completely out of his depth and worries that the city is on the verge of an outbreak of law and order due to hysterical fear of the Cat, who leaves no clues and no witnesses behind. Ellery's initial evaluation finds no common thread or even method of operation other than the fact that all but one of the deaths involved very precise timing to gain access to the victim. After the seventh victim, Ellery reveals the patterns he has detected. Each victim has been younger than the preceding one, six of the seven were single, and the strangling cords are different for males and females. He also notes that all of the victims had their own phone, which wouldn't mean anything today but was statistically improbable at the time the book was written. Although these provide some structure to the killings, they provide nothing that would suggest the identity of the killer or where and when he might stage his next attack.
Relatives of two of the victims offer their personal assistance to Ellery, but it turns out that both of them were in a position to benefit substantially from the death of their relatives, and that makes both of them suspects. Meanwhile panic spreads throughout the city, causing riots during one of which the Cat takes another victim. The ninth murder provides the crucial clue. The last two victims were born on the very same day and when the police look into the matter, they were delivered by the same doctor. And the doctor is also the uncle of one the earlier victims. Further research reveals that in fact he delivered all of the victims. A good deal of circumstantial evidence confirms their theory that the doctor, Cazalis, is the Cat, but there is no actual physical evidence so they can't act. Ellery figures out the method by which Cazalis chooses his victims and identifies the next person on the list, then arranges to have an observer placed within that household, but while both killer and victim are kept under surveillance, nothing happens even remotely suspicious. Eventually Cazalis is caught in the act and arrested, but he refuses to speak. As the trial draws close, Ellery makes a startling discovery. In at least one case, Cazalis could not have been responsible for one of the deaths. He was just covering for someone else.
This is my favorite Queen novel by a considerable length. In addition to being one of the first to make extensive juse of psychological traits in solving a crime, this might well be the first detective story to employ a version of profiling. A team of psychologists run a project to try to determine the nature of the Cat's psychosis. There is also a major change in the way minority characters are handled, including a passing reference to a respected black police officer. The blurb on this Bantam edition is bizarre, claiming that five career girls were murdered. Actually, two of the first five victims were men, one of them was independently wealthy, and one of the women was disabled and confined to a bed.
Double Double (1950) is another return to Wrightsville. Someone sends Ellery a season of clippings that reveal that the town recluse has died, that he was secretly partner in the town's biggest business and thus a millionaire, that he left all of his money to a local doctor who apparently didn't know the man was rich, and that his partner in the business committed suicide when advised that the company's books would have to be checked as part of the probate process. This all sounds pretty open and shut, but the next clipping is about the town drunk - Tom Anderson - who disappeared and who is believed to have been murdered and dumped in a quicksand pit. The murdered man's daughter Rima appeals to Ellery to solve the crime and mentions that he had given up drinking about a month before his death, for reasons unknown. The newly rich doctor, Sebastian Dodd, tells Ellery that he had given the dead man $5000 to encourage him to stop drinking and that it appeared to have worked, but that he never saw him again before he disappeared, presumably murdered. The daughter, Rima, never heard anything about the money, which has also disappeared. Dodd's lawyer confirms that the money was given to Anderson but that he returned it with a sealed envelope that he said also contained instructions for his friend Nick, who was to receive the envelope if anything happened to him. The lawyer did so following Anderson's presumed death.
Nick claims the envelope contained only some personal letters but Ellery believes he has the money. Through happenstance, Rima manages to get a job working for Dr. Dodd. Ellery wants her to snoop since Dodd appears to be the only common factor connecting the three deaths but she feels bad about it and the investigation seems to have ground to a halt. Eventually she agrees and while the files offer nothing interesting, she tells Ellery that the doctor - who is clearly suffering a bad case of nerves for no apparent reason - keeps the attic locked but goes up first thing every morning for a few minutes. Then Nick is caught breaking into the doctor's house and in the ensuing scuffle he is fatally shot by Dodd's partner. At this point Ellery points out that the deaths are following a rhyme - rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. He predicts that Dodd will be the next victim, and Dodd dies in what is assumed to be an automobile accident. Then his lawyer "falls" from his office window. The death in a fire of one of the tailors seems to have broken the pattern.
The solution is nicely done considering the complexity of the plot. The one drawback is that in order for the story to work, one of the killings gives the whole thing away. As soon as it happened, the identity of the murderer is inevitably revealed because it was the one case where we absolutely know who was responsible. That said, this was one of their better novels, with a clever underlying device, a reasonably good story on top of the mystery, and some interesting characters.
The Origin of Evil (1951) takes Ellery back to Hollywood. A young woman accosts him at his temporary home and tells him that her father died of a heart attack as the result of someone having put a dead dog on his doorstep. There was a piece of paper attached to the dog which he had read, but he had presumably destroyed it before his final attack and no one knew what it had said. The dead man's business partner, Roger Priam, came to see him after the first attack even though he's wheelchair bound and hadn't left his house in years, apparently following a secret phone call between the two. Ellery is about to send her away when Mrs. Priam shows up to explain that she is troubled by her husband's reaction to a mysterious package he received in the mail. Roger Priam is uncooperative when interviewed, but Ellery is intrigued now and without much difficulty locates the missing note, or rather a copy of the note, which suggest that the two partners tried to commit murder years earlier. As he does so, he noticed what appears to be a naked man hiding in a nearby tree. The clothes challenged eavesdropper turns out to be Mrs. Priam's son by a previous marriage. The other members of Priam's household include his elderly father-in-law and his secretary, Albert Wallace.
The partner eats poisoned tuna fish, but not enough to kill him. A few days later Priam is found in a state of shock in his study, surrounded by the corpses of dozens of frogs. A police investigation reveals that neither of the partners have any history prior to their arrival in California more than twenty years previously and Alfred Wallace has no history more than a year old and claims to have amnesia. He also claims to be sleeping with Mrs. Priam, and with her husband's encouragement. Ellery, who has been behaving very childishly because of his infatuation with Mrs. Priam, is present when the next mysterious parcel is opened. It contains only a brand new wallet with no contents but once again Priam is clearly shocked. Then a box of worthless stock certificates shows up and the young woman who started the whole investigation tries to shoot Mrs. Priam, convinced she is responsible.
The solution has a nice double reversal. Priam engineered the whole thing using his secretary as a proxy, but in fact it was the secretary who was manipulating his boss. He has some justification for his vendetta, and in any case Ellery admits that there is no way to prove it, so instead he hires him as his own secretary. That doesn't seem to follow logically but since that's the end of the story, it doesn't really matter. For some reason, Queen's Hollywood stories have always seemed to me subpar and this is no exception, although possibly part of that is because it follows two of his best books.
Calendar of Crime (1952) is a collection of short stories, in most of which Nikki Porter is now firmly established as Ellery's secretary, although she disappeared pretty much from the novels. There are twelve stories, each set in a different month. "The Inner Circle" involves murder within a tontine and the solution is based on a coincidence of names. "The President's Half Disme" is a not very convincing story about the hunt for a coin buried by George Washington. "The Ides of Michael Magoon" involves a set of missing income tax returns - they were due in March back when this story was written - which leads to a murder. "The Emperor's Dice" has Ellery solving a ten year old murder mystery that turns out to be an elaborate April Fools hoax. There's a poisoning in "The Gettysburg Bugle," a very minor story. The solution of "The Medical Finger" - that a lefthanded crime always means there's a lefthanded killer, did not convince me. "The Fallen Angel" involves a romantic triangle and a false confession. "The Needle's Eye" is about a fake buried treasure and a missing bullet fired by a murder victim. There's a missing professor in "The Three R's," a murder game turns real in "The Dead Cat," a fairly routine mystery in "The Telltale Bottle," and a fairly good case of impersonation in "The Dauphin's Doll." None of these stories are exceptionally good but they're all reasonably well done.
The King Is Dead (1952) has Ellery and his father whisked off to a mysterious island where one of the richest men in the world has been receiving death threats. The island doesn't make a lot of sense since we are told that the King Bendigo rented it for 99 years but no government knows where it is. How, then, did he rent it? King has two brothers, Abel - who actually arranged for the Queens to become involved - and Judah, supposedly a dissolute and mostly unknown factor. King refuses to take things seriously and the Queens find themselves stuck on the island with no real purpose. Eventually they are allowed to investigate and it doesn't take long to discover that Judah is the author of the letters. In fact, when confronted, he admits to them, admits that he intends to kill his brother, and even specifies the time and date when the murder will take place. He also hints at a secret project on the island, and the disappearance of several scientists. King is then shot and killed inside a locked vault that had been previously and subsequently searched, and the only person with him was his wife, who says she saw the wound appear but did not hear a shot or see any sign of smoke. The wound, however, is not fatal and he eventually recovers.
Although they can find neither the weapon nor the shell, when they do a ballistic check on the bullet they discover it was fired from the empty gun that Judah was holding at the very moment his brother was shot. This immediately suggests that the bullet had been fired at some prior time and that the wound was inflicted by some other means involving the bullet. Next we learn that the three brothers were born in Wrightsville, Ellery's favorite town, so he travels there to do some research. He discovers that King is a stuffed shirt, that Abel is the real power, and correctly figures out that the murder weapon was concealed in a specially constructed bottle of brandy - a bit of a cheat - and that the wife and both brothers were all in on the murder attempt - an even bigger cheat. Then in a perfunctory and rather unsatisfying ending, someone murders King successfully, the island is evacuated and destroyed by a massive explosion. Not a very good novel.
The Scarlet Letters (1953) has an atypical plot. Ellery and Nikki Porter are concerned about a couple they know who are having marital problems. Dirk is a frustrated writer subject to fits of jealous rage during which he assaults various people including his wife. Martha is in love with her husband but is having an affair with Van Harrison, a somewhat disreputable actor who arranges their trysts by sending cryptic notes with letters which are references to red circled locations in a tour guide, hence the title. Harrison is also having unspecified trouble with a prominent gossip columnist, whom he assaults. Since Martha's affair justifies Dirk's jealousy, even though he doesn't actually know about it, and since Dirk refuses to seek professional help for his rages, Ellery considers washing his hands of the whole affair, but Nikki wants to see it through so he reluctant continues to follow Martha to her assignations. Ellery learns that while Martha thinks she is in love with Harrison, he has no such illusions and in fact has more than one woman on his string. The columnist gives Ellery a list of Harrison's previous conquests, but it turns out that none of them is willing to go public and in fact they seem to still like the actor even though their relationship ended. Inevitably, Dirk finds out what is going on, Martha finds out that he knows, and Harrison knows everything. A violent confrontation, even murder, seem inevitable. Although this all moves quite smoothly, Dirk should long since have been jailed for the multiple assaults, including two against women. It is hard to feel any sympathy for any of the three people in the romantic triangle, all of whom behave despicably. Dirk finally catches them together, shoots them both, killing Harrison and seriously wounding Martha. There's a bit of a twist at the end - Dirk and Harrison were partners in a blackmail scheme - but after the long buildup it feels out of place. It's still one of their better novels.
The Glass Village (1954) does not include Ellery or his father among its characters. Shinn Corners is a dying New England town whose only claim to fame is the residence of an elderly but highly regarded artist. Johnny Shinn has recently left the army where he worked in Intelligence and is visiting the town for the first time, guest of Judge Shinn, to whom he is related. After we are introduced to a bewildering number of local characters, the artist is found murdered. At least three people noticed a tramp in the area that day and the local constable decides that he must be the killer and refuses to call the state police. The tramp was seen in the dead woman's yard and he runs whenever he sees anyone else. Because of a previous experience, the locals insist that they will not surrender their prisoner to the county authorities even though they are legally obligated to. Johnny, who has become disengaged from the world, initially doesn't care either way. The townspeople refuse to surrender their prisoner and a violent confrontation looms.
A retired judge who lives there works out a compromise designed to defuse things and buy time. He gets the governor to agree to a trial in Shinn Corners with a local jury, even though it will have no legal standing, but advises the judge that he will send in the National Guard if necessary to prevent them from executing their prisoner, regardless of their findings. The prisoner's story does not seem to make sense. Although he admits stealing money from the dead woman, he insists she was alive when he left. He also contends that he split firewood for her in exchange for a meal, but no firewood was found on the property. The judge gets Johnny to agree to be on the jury, but indicates that he suspects that someone local committed the murder and asks Johnny to keep his eyes and ears open. At the last minute, as a lynch party is forming, Johnny realizes that one of the alibis for the other local people has a hole in it and he saves the day. Not bad overall, but I'm not convinced the authorities would ever have let it go as far as it did.
Q.B.I. (1955) is a collection of stories about the Queen Bureau of Investigation. The stories are all very short, almost vignettes. Ellery thwarts a blackmailer in "Money Talks," helps rescue a kidnapped prizefighter in "A Matter of Seconds," explains a mysterious poisoning in "The Three Widows," and captures an assault despite the misleading testimony of a spoonerizing professor in "My Queer Dean." "Driver's Seat" involves a rather perfunctory murder and a rather obvious solution. "A Lump of Sugar" is terrible; Ellery solves a murder by a gigantic and completely unjustified leap of intuition. "Cold Money" involves the search for some missing stolen money, "The Myna Birds" involves a layout of cards that identifies a killer, another gives himself away as being English in his spelling in "A Question of Honor," and Ellery returns to his favorite town to catch a thief in "The Robber of Wrightsville." He finds a runaway crook in "Double Your Money," finds a missing cache of money in "Miser's Gold,: locates a missing train in "Snowball in July," and unmasks an impostor in "The Witch of Times Square.: There's a swindler in "The Gamblers' Club" and a dying clue in "GI Story." A drug dealers gets foiled in "The Black Ledger" and a kidnapper in "Child Missing!". All of the stories involve a trick ending and none of them are very memorable.
Inspector Queen's Own Case (1956) features Ellery's father, Richard, as the primary detective for the first time. The Humffreys are childless and old enough that legal adoption is problematic, so they purchase a newborn from an unwed mother. This upsets their nephew, who expected to be their heir, and he makes a scene at their island estate. Not far away, Richard Queen - now retired - is visiting old friends, the Pearls. Abe Pearl is the local chief of police. Queen briefly meets the family nurse, Jessie Sherwood, who is aware of the fact that the child is not actually related to the Humffreys. The nurse scares off an intruder in the baby's room and a few weeks later, while she is visiting with a friend, the baby is suffocated in his crib. Everyone except the nurse claims that it was an accident but she insists that she saw the imprint of an adult hand on the pillow that covered the baby's face, even though there is no sign of such an imprint when the police arrive. The pillowcase had been changed, which means that despite the ladder at the window, someone inside the house was at least involved in covering up the crime. The police - other than Queen - are not convinced that there is a crime, given the absence of physical evidence, and faced with the insistence by the Humffreys that the matter be handled quietly. The nephew, who should be the obvious suspect, was undergoing emergency surgery at the time the infant died.
Queen decides to track down the baby's birth parents and contacts the lawyer who arranged the illegal adoption. The lawyer promises to bring in the parents but when Queen returns for the meeting, he finds the lawyer murdered. They track down the mother through hospital records and find out that she's a nightclub singer who left town on a week's trip, but still hasn't returned three weeks later. They also discover that they are being followed by a private detective with a shady reputation. The mother finally returns and - in an unfortunate cliché - is shot from a distance just as she is about to tell them the name of the baby's father. Mrs Humffrey is in a sanitarium at this point but her husband is nowhere to be found. It's obvious that he was the baby's real father, that he is responsible for all three murders after apparently deciding the baby wasn't his after all. Queen confronts him but Humffrey denies everything. A trap fails and then the nurse takes a chance and almost dies in the process. There's a nice twist - Humffrey was only responsible for two of the three murders, and it ends up with Queen engaged to the nurse. This is one of the best Ellery Queen novels, even if doesn't have Ellery in it.
The Finishing Stroke (1958) involves separated twins and it is retroactively Ellery's first solo case thanks to a long flashback to 1929. John Sebastian was an infant when his father died of complications from the accident that claimed his wife's life. Unbeknownst to him, he has an identical twin brother whom the father hated for having been the final strain that killed the mother. The twin was raised by the attending doctor and his wife. Neither brother knows of the other's existence and the substantial estate is held in trust for John, who is the ward of Arthur Craig, the dead man's business partner. The young Ellery attends a house party at which John is to celebrate finally getting control of his endowment and announce his engagement, which reveals a triangle in the form of a female houseguest with a crush on him. A mysterious figure dressed as Santa Claus distributes presents, but after he disappears the guests realize that since everyone is present, Santa must have been an outsider. But a fresh coat of snow proves that whoever it was had already arrived the previous evening, and has not yet left, although a search proves fruitless. John receives a present consisting of a cryptic verse and three small objects representing a camel, an ox, and a house. The next day a complete stranger is found stabbed to death inside the house. All means of identifying him have been removed but Ellery notes that he does not physically resemble the still unidentified Santa Claus.
This is one of those cases where the reader knows more than the detective, since we know that there is an unsuspected twin brother. When Ellery sees "John" at one point unexpectedly, it is evident to the reader but not to him, that the twin is in the house. John begins to show strange lapses of memory but then recovers after disappearing briefly, which suggests the brothers are taking turns mingling with the others. But shortly after midway through the book, Ellery is told that the story of the missing twin - with strong evidence that he died in infancy. The adoptive parents disappeared shortly afterward. This is clearly a red herring that will be resolved later. That happens after John is found with a knife in his back, only to show up again while the police are examining the body. There were identical triplets. The surviving one is able to prove that he is the original heir and it appears that the dead one was responsible for some low grade blackmail efforts with two of his guests. Ellery has solved part of the mystery of the various objects sent anonymously, although he doesn't tell anyone including the reader, and determines that someone wanted him to follow that trail and identify the wrong person as the killer. The closing chapters are set in the present - no one was ever arrested for the two murders and Ellery has always regretted his failure. He takes a fresh look at the evidence and figures it out, a rather fanciful solution but reasonably satisfying.
Dead Man's Tale (1961) was ghostwritten by Stephen Marlowe and does not involve Ellery Queen the character. The plot and style are so different that I'm puzzled at the pretense of the penname. Barney Street, a criminal, is expecting to be murdered and has willed his estate not to his wife but to a man who saved his life during the war. The wife wants the money, obviously, so she sends her one time lover, Steve Longacre, to track down the missing man and presumably kill him so that she can have it when her husband dies. Street is in fact killed and Longacre goes to Holland accompanied by his younger brother, who is not involved in anything criminal. They learn that the man they seek is dead, but also pick up hints that his daughter is still alive. She is living with a man whom she believes is her grandfather, but he's not, and in fact he has killed two people because he was afraid they would take the girl away. He tells the brothers that her father is not dead after all but simply went away, and there is reason to believe that he is telling the truth. The false grandfather then has a stroke and dies. The police find the buried bodies of his two victims. The search takes the brothers across Austria and into communist Czechoslovakia. The non-grieving widow shows up with another hitman just in case and gets herself killed in an unrelated matter while the brothers and the hitman head for Prague. There, before they can find their quarry, he is framed for a political assassination and killed by an angry crowd. The younger brother escapes but the others are all killed. This is a fair spy novel but has none of the feel of Ellery Queen at all.
The Player on the Other Side (1963) was ghost written by Theodore Sturgeon. Four cousins live in small replica castles on four sides of a common square, required to live there for a period of years as a precondition to receiving their inheritance. Myra is physically and mentally frail, Robert is organized to the point of mania and collects stamps, Robert is a spendthrift and a gambler, and Emily is a crusader for various causes. This mini-community is augmented by Walt, the handyman, Ann, nurse to Myra, and Tom, assistant to Robert. Walt, who is rather simpleminded, begins to receive unsigned letters urging him to perform several strange if innocuous acts starting with sending Robert an odd shaped piece of paper stamped with the letter J. Robert is killed shortly thereafter when Walt pushes a stone block off the roof, although it's unlikely that Walt knew what the consequences would be. He was simply following the instructions he received in another letter. Tom and Ann were together at the time of the murder, but that means nothing since we know Walt was acting as an instrument of the real killer. And then Walt is told to send a second piece of paper, stamped with the letter H, to Emily. It is at this point that Richard Queen convinces Ellery, who has been suffering from writer's block, to take a look at the case.
We are told more about the York estate. The four cousins are named because of the disappearance and presumed death of Nathaniel York Jr., who was lost on an expedition to South America, his body never found. Walt receives another letter, after which he pushes Emily York to her death in front of a train. This time there is no question that he understood what he was doing. We catch glimpses of the killer typing his letters in a hotel room, which seems to eliminate Myra. The police have been following Perceval, but that doesn't mean he didn't write the letters. That leaves him, Tom, the presumed dead son, and Myra's one time beau who left her at the church fifteen years earlier and hasn't been seen since. Or it could be Walt, writing letters to himself. Ellery tracks down the missing beau and virtually eliminates him; he is richer than the four Yorks and their estate combined. Archer acts uncharacteristically cruel at one point, but this seems a likely red herring and is explained by his fear that an argument with the late Robert might become common knowledge.
The third card appears, this one decorated with a W, and Myra dies when someone poisons her concealed supply of gin. This time Walt was the only one who could have committed the crime. He is arrested and reveals his full name - he's an amnesiac - for the first time. The initials match the three cards. He is promptly arrested, but the reader knows that he was simply the instrument of the real killer. Ellery begins to suspect the truth, arranges for Walt's release, foils a fourth murder attempt, and unmasks the rather unusual killer. Well written, puzzling, and reasonably exciting during the final few chapters. Sturgeon captures the tone of the original duo remarkably well.
Kill As Directed (1963) was written by Henry Kane and involves neither of the Queen character. Harrison Brown is a young doctor whose practice has not flourished. He's badly in debut when an old friend, Tony Mitchell, offers to underwrite him temporarily and introduces him to a few posh patients, including the Greshams. Gresham is much older than his wife, with whom Brown unwisely gets romantically entangled. Then he returns to his apartment one evening to find a dead woman, someone he has never seen before, and the circumstances obviously cause the police to ask some uncomfortable questions. He also knows that Kurt Gresham is involved in some dubious night club operations and on one occasion he treated a woman with a bullet wound without reporting it to the police. There is a confrontation and discovers that Gresham is a drug dealer catering to rich people. Gresham threatens to have Brown murdered if he doesn't cooperate. It would be unfair to say that Brown relishes his situation, but he is ambitious and likes the illicit payments he is receiving and his conscience seems to bother him less than the possibility that he could lose his medical license.
Then the wife suggests that if her husband should die, she would inherit millions of dollars, and that she would be happy to marry Brown if that should happen. Clearly she is suggesting murder. When Gresham threatens him again, it nudges him into embracing her idea and he acquires an unregistered gun. He knows the schedule and location of Gresham's drug transactions and decides to make his death look as though it is gangland related. At the last minute, he finds he cannot pull the trigger and, even worse, discovers that he has been maneuvered into this situation by the wife and her secret lover, Mitchell. Gresham kills the two lovers and plans to kill Brown as well but he has a stroke and dies. Brown calls the police, confesses all, and they cover up his involvement. Not a bad story but not remotely like something Ellery Queen would have written.
Richard Deming was the author of Wife or Death (1963), as well as Death Spins the Platter (1962) as Queen. Jim Denrton is pretty much resigned to the unfaithfulness of his wife Angel and is just waiting for something that will allow him to divorce her. Eventually he overhears her making an assignation with an unknown man during a blackout at a party, after which they decide to get divorced. The following morning, however, he finds a note saying that she's left him with no forwarding address and only a handful of her clothes are gone. Denton tracks down all the leading candidates for the assignation and none of them are missing, so he has no idea who his wife was supposed to meet. He tells people his wife is visiting her family, which obviously makes him look guilty when her dead body turns up. There's not enough evidence to arrest him, particularly considering that the local district attorney is also a viable suspect, given that Angel had broken off their affair at about the same time she was killed. There's another murder before the solution, which is somewhat obvious given the emphasis placed on the fact that Angel never dallied with a married man. That leads to the obvious assumption that this time she did and the wife did it, although there's a nice twist. A readable but unremarkable novel.
Death Spins the Platter is quite short. Tutter King is a disc jockey who has just been fired after admitting that he took payola to tout second rate records. Jim Layton, a reporter, visits the studio on the night of the last show and King tells him that there were a lot of other people involved who are pretending to have clean hands and that he's going to make an interesting announcement at the end of his final show. During a subsequent break in the show, and before the announcement is made, someone murders King in his dressing room. The studio executives try to claim it was suicide but Layton isn't buying their version. Also present is the mysterious wife of the dead man, his mistress, and a group of overly enthusiastic fans. The story is quite routine, and the payola as motive theme is so obvious that it was clearly not the real reason for the murder. That left only the wife as a viable suspect and Layton, who has fallen in love with her, eventually figures it out. Very minor.
Murder With a Past (1963) was written by Talmage Powell. David Tully comes home from a business trip to find his wife is missing and suspected of having murdered Crandall Cox, who appears to have been a man from her past. The murder weapon was the gun Tully had bought for home protection and the dead man was overhead saying his wife's name to an unknown female visitor in his motel room the night he died. Ruth's younger sister Sandra obviously knows something about Cox but she refuses to explain. Sandra's spoiled brat boyfriend is less reticent and says he knows that Cox had called the house at least once looking for Ruth. His efforts to locate Ruth are fruitless but the police suspect he might know more than he actually does. Sandra's boyfriend is told by his mother that he will be cut off if he marries Sandra, who apparently has some gambling debts. Tully also suspects that the woman who overheard the dead man say his wife's name knew him better than she admits. When she tries to touch him up for money, she admits she followed Cox to the motel, has known him for years, but she's still withholding something. Then the witness dies, apparently after drinking too much, but Tully suspects foul play. He somewhat belatedly realizes that the assignation with Cox was actually between him and Sandra, not Ruth. There are some clumsy bits in this one. The fact that part of someone's alibi holds up doesn't mean that the police would therefore assume that the rest was true as well. Nor do the police investigate when it is revealed that the witness had known the victim for years. Nor would they continue to assume that Ruth was also having an affair with Cox after all their evidence to that effect is effectively refuted. The resolution is almost complete nonsense based on improbable coincidences and confused motives. Even if it had been better constructed, it has none of the feel of an Ellery Queen novel.
The Last Score (1964) is by Charles W. Runyon. Reid Rance supports himself, badly, by escorting jaded businessmen into dangerous parts of the world. When he is approached by a very rich woman who wants him to provide the same service for her seventeen year old daughter, who is determined to tour Mexico, his inclination is to decline, but he eventually lets himself get talked into it. Initially thinks go reasonably well despite her lack of judgment. He lectures her about marijuana when she brings it up - and most of what he says is now accepted as nonsense - but without convincing her. She goes off on her own one night to find some pot and gets kidnapped instead. He tracks her down fairly easily but muffs the rescue and she and the gang holding her have disappeared. Concealing the truth, he goes back to the States to raise the ransom money but the mother smells a rat and he ends up in jail instead. The missing girl's sister arranges for him to escape and insists upon accompanying him back to Mexico. They overcome a variety of obstacles, thwart the villains, rescue the girl, soothe the authorities, and the implication at the end is that our hero will end up with the older sister. This was actually pretty good, though not much like an Ellery Queen novel.
Avram Davidson ghost wrote And on the Eighth Day (1964) is an Ellery Queen story set in 1943. Ellery is driving across the country when he unwisely takes an unmarked detour in the desert. Lost, he wanders into a secluded valley occupied by a religious cult. Coincidentally his name closely resembles that of a prophet for whom they have been waiting and they assume that's what he is. Most of them are known by their titles rather than names, so Ellery's initial host is the Teacher. Ellery is caught up in the mythos of the place, not very convincingly. Much of the first half of the book is a description of how the communal society works. Ellery learns that only one crime has been committed there in living memory. The perpetrator was exiled into the desert where he may have died. Then murder is done and Ellery must deal with the peculiar rules of that community in order to solve the crime, while also discovering the truth about the way in which the settlement was founded. Very unusual, and I suspect a lot of readers were really puzzled when they read it expecting a more conventional Queen story.
Blow Hot, Blow Cold (1964) was by Fletcher Flora. The story opens with a neighborhood barbecue which serves to introduce us to most of the characters, in particular one couple who seem to be at each other's throats. The female neighbor through whose eyes we see this is restless later and goes for a walk. She sees the embattled husband driving away and he tells her he is going to spend the night sleeping at his office. The next day Lila is found stabbed to death in her bedroom and her husband is missing. The husband turns up at his office, dead, apparently a suicide. The solution involves manipulation of the air conditioning to alter the time and sequence of the two deaths, and the savvy police detective suspects this right from the outset. A neighbor who had an affair with the dead woman is the obvious prime suspect, so it's pretty obvious that it is his wife and not he who committed the crimes. Awkwardly written at times, this is the weakest to date of the ghostwritten novels under the Ellery Queen byline.
Fletcher Flora also wrote The Golden Goose (1964), which has a considerably more interesting premise. A lifelong freeloader is living off his late wife's estate and supporting four related freeloaders plus a daughter who actually tries to support herself, named Prin. His will splits the estate in so many ways that it would support none of his dependents, so they are much better off keeping him alive. Nevertheless, one day he is murdered in his bedroom. An autopsy shows that it was murder but the police play it close to the chest for a while, during which period they discover that the supposed will was a fake and that the entire estate was actually left to the dead man's sister, Lallie. There is, however, no evidence that she was aware of that fact. But Prin's boyfriend secretly knows that the real will left everything to Prin, and he suspects that the lawyer and Lallie cooperated in the murder. It turns out to be Prin's boyfriend, who knew what the real will said. He was pretty obviously the killer throughout, although the motive wasn't initially clear. There's a light vein of humor running through this that was absent from Flora's previous novel as by Queen.
The Four Johns (1964) was by Jack Vance. Flirtatious Mary has disappeared from her apartment after being overheard setting up a meeting with someone named John. Unfortunately, there are four different people named John who were interested in her and there's no way of determining which one it was. Her sister and a neighbor named Mervyn, the protagonist, are concerned that something might have happened to her. Someone steals Mervyn's car, which shows up abandoned a few days later. He reclaims it and finds Mary's body in the trunk, at which point the book jumps the shark. Mervyn fears that if he goes to the police, the scandal will put his job with the university in jeopardy. He decides to hide the body, which is doubly nonsense because he knows that someone is trying to frame him and that her purse is missing, and when that and/or the body turns up it will make him look even guiltier. Sure enough, he finds her purse hidden in his apartment and gets rid of that as well. Then Mervyn receives an unsigned note which says simply "You'll suffer." Clearly someone doesn't like him.
Adding to his woes, an elderly neighbor insists that it was Mervyn who pushed her down a flight of steps, landing her in the hospital where she nearly died. His investigations are fruitless; none of his four suspects has, or is willing to provide, an alibi for the evening Mary disappeared. More messages follow and someone tries to poison him. When he does find apparent alibis, he subsequently learns that people were lying to him, including people other than the Johns. Finally, after someone takes a shot at him, Mervyn receives a note telling him to confess to the murder of be killed within 24 hours. The first revelation - that Mary's sister put the body in his trunk and has been sending the notes and trying to kill him - is also based on a nonsensical event. She does this rather than just inform the police that she saw him do it. Actually, as we know, she saw someone else do it, but her motivation is ridiculous. The next revelation is a case of the unreliable narrator. Mervyn actually did hide the body, though he didn't kill her. In addition, it's cheating, made even worse by a contradiction. If Mervyn knew that the murder weapon was his ski boot, why was he not aware of this fact until later, after he disposed of the purse? Despite a good beginning, this deteriorates steadily and the closing chapters are terrible.
A Room to Die In (1965) was also written by Jack Vance. It is much better than his previous one. Ann Nelson and her parents, who are long since divorced, rarely see one another. Then Ann is notified that her reclusive father was found dead in his locked study, an apparent suicide, a few months after inheriting a substantial estate from his second wife. Ann's mother has moved and left no forwarding address, but she had recently mentioned knowing about the inheritance and expressed her intention of getting some of the money. The local police police it is suicide, but they suspect that the dead man was being blackmailed because of a rather obvious note demanding money and some regular withdrawals of cash. Ann doesn't understand why her father would have killed himself, an opinion she shares with at least one of his casual acquaintances. Her father's landlord also strikes her as disagreeable. She wonders why her father's study had such elaborate locks, but it isn't serious enough to interest the police. Her father did write a will, leaving everything to her, but the circumstances were a little bit odd. An unidentified man who was present was apparently infuriated by the terms. He is later identified as a cousin of the deceased wife, and he's particularly interested in a set of Persian miniatures which the will specifies Ann must keep in her possession for twenty years.
Lots of tension follows. The cousin suggests that Ann's father might have murdered his wife. The landlord is irritating in general. A neighbor confesses that she had an affair with the dead man. The local sheriff hits on Ann and conceals the fact that he is married. There are also strange marks where the book cases were moved and a missing mortgage. Then someone attempts to murder Ann even though there appears to be no good motive since no one stands to gain from her death. Then her mother's body turns up, strangled and in the trunk of her car. She had been dead for some time before Ann's father died. There's a clever solution to the locked room murder, a variation I haven't encountered before. The motive barely squeaks past the plausibility test and the identity of the killer is slightly telegraphed. Otherwise, it's nicely done.
The Fourth Side of the Triangle (1965) was ghostwritten by Avram Davidson. Dane McKell is an unsuccessful writer whose mother informs him one day that his very rich father is having an affair. Dane impulsively tracks down the identity of the mistress and then decides to seduce her so that her father will be forced to break things off. At first things work out well but then he discovers that he has fallen in love with the mistress, and vice versa, although she refuses to marry him. She also indicates that she is monogamous but Dane isn't sure whether or not she has broken things off with his father. Eventually he confronts her, is told that his father is impotent and that they do not have a sexual relationship, and he flies into a rage, nearly strangling her before fleeing the apartment. Since there is no earlier indication of a fiery temper, this scene does not ring true at all. His father then arrives, but she doesn't tell him what happened and in fact he apparently has no suspicion of her involvement with his son. She writes a note describing the confrontation and seals it in an envelope and then, predictably, she is murdered a few hours later, shot to death in her apartment.
Not having found the note, the police arrest the father, having traced some clothing that he had left in her apartment. This rings false as well since they have no other evidence except that she was killed with a gun which he claims to have given to her for self defense. The case is so circumstantial that they could not possibly have held him in custody if he had a good lawyer, and he has a very good lawyer. They also deny bail and there's a hasty but not completely unbelievable explanation for that, but this all seems to indicate a too heavy authorial hand. Ellery shows up about half way through when Dane decides to consult with him. Queen is able to suggest a way to prove the father's alibi and he is acquitted, but the police promptly arrest Dane's mother in his place. The police have found cartridges in her bedroom. But why wouldn't they have searched the entire apartment when they arrested her husband? This doesn't make sense. Finally the note turns up, but unfortunately it's in the hands of a blackmailer, presumably also the murderer. The conclusion to this one is very disappointing. Dane did in fact return and shoot her. That completely contradicts the comment that he only flies into rages when provoked since the second time he sneaked in and shot the woman without even speaking to her. A very promising beginning this time collapses into nonsense.
The Killer Touch (1965) was by Charles Runyon. It's a well written but pretty minor crime story. A police officer recovering from a gunshot visits a small resort where a nasty thug has recently murdered his wife. There are drugs involved and an accident makes the protagonist aware of their existence, while a misunderstanding puts him at odds with the killer. The dead woman was about to commit suicide, so there's a note to confuse things as our hero gropes toward an understanding of what happened, unofficially, and the villain seeks to conceal his crime through a variety of means. Ultimately the latter's plan fails, of course, and there's a satisfying is somewhat low key conclusion.
Talmage Powell ghost wrote Beware the Young Stranger (1965). John Vallancourt is concerned about his daughter Nancy's infatuation with Keith Rollins. In addition to his instinctive distrust of the young man, he discovers that he was recently the prime suspect in the brutal murder of a young woman. Then Keith's aunt is murdered in her home and he is found in hiding, from which points he attacks Vallancourt, who discovers his presence. The assumption is, naturally, that he killed his aunt. That obviously means that he's innocent. The dead woman had called Keith and Vallancourt just before she died, asking them to come over right away, suggesting that she'd just learned something she needed to tell them, something for which a third party had killed her. There's a very obvious giveaway involving a cash box that strongly suggests Keith is innocent, which is in fact the case. Fairly entertaining but there's not much of a mystery.
The Copper Frame (1965) was once again written by Richard Deming. Andy Saxon is shocked when his father, the chief of police, is killed in what is obviously an ambush. Within a day, he is appointed to his father's job, although it may be temporary given local politics. He also learns that his father had discovered that a famous gangster is behind an effort to put a racetrack in the town, which suggests a motive for the killing. Before long he's accused of rape and corruption and even the murder of his own father. There are corrupt cops and politicians involved and obviously the gangster is behind it all. Deming was a competent enough writer but the story is as predictable as it is possible to be. It might have been an episode of a television show.
Shoot the Scene (1966) is by Richard Deming. The story opens with a party at a film producer's house. One of the guests is the star of his next project, a controversial actress whose sexual adventures have made her dangerous to handle. Another is a screen writer who resents her because she drove a friend of his to suicide. There's also the producer's wife, his secretary, and several other people connected to the industry. Two men kidnap the producer's wife but they get a surprise when they show up at the cottage they expected to find empty. It has been loaned to the screen writer, so they have to watch two prisoners. Then the controversial actress shows up and is added to the captive crew. The ransom is paid but the man delivering the money, made up to look like the producer, is fatally shot in the process. Although not badly written, the secret of what is really going on is so transparent that they might as well have mentioned it in the cover blurbs. Fake kidnapping to alibi the wife who wants her husband dead so that she can marry her confederate.
The Madman Theory (1966) is another by Jack Vance. Five businessmen start out on a hike through a wilderness. On their second day, one of them is shot from ambush and killed. They report having seen another person hiking behind them and camping on the opposite side of a small lake but cannot identify the individual. The police are inclined to believe that it was a random killing - hence the title - but it turns out otherwise. The police check the license plates of all the cars in the parking area for the past several days and find one whose owner is missing. The man then turns up dead, his body mutilated in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent identification. He died four days after the first murder, and the possibility exists that he was hired to commit the crime, then disposed of to protect his employer. The second victim's occasional girlfriend is caught trying to blackmail someone who was seen drinking with him recently, but it takes a while for the police to figure out who it is. It turns out to be the first victim's brother in law, who was once married to the second man's girlfriend. Victim two is identified as having been at the wilderness park at the time of the murder, but acquaintances say he was too timid to commit a murder. Then the girlfriend is murdered, presumably to silence her about something she saw. There's a bit of a cheat - there's no hint of the motive until the final revelation - but overall this was quite good.
Losers Weepers (1966) was once again Richard Deming. Jim Morgan is struggling to make ends meet, in part because his wife is careless about money. One evening he stops for a drink at a bar, and while he's in the restroom another man comes in and deliberately switches brief cases with him, mistaking him for someone else. Morgan finds himself with a case filled with money, which he knows he should report to the police, but he decides to keep it after discovering it was mob payoff money meant to bribe a crooked prosecutor. Then the gangsters discover his identity. His airhead wife gets a friend to stand in for him to throw them off the trail, but naturally the friend wants a cut of the money. Then the friend and another man are murdered, apparently by the gangsters, but there's something strange about their deaths and the police suspect that Morgan killed them because they were blackmailing him. In reality, of course, it was his wife who shot them both, which he discovers a short while later. Despondent he walks out, only to find out later that she has killed herself. It's a fairly good story of suspense with minimal mystery.
Where Is Bianca? (1966) is another novel by Talmage Powell, which introduced Tim Corrigan. A young woman is found dead, thrown into a sewer. Her husband reported her missing but Corrigan, a police detective, isn't sure whether or not his grief is real. He does find out that the man has been having an affair, and strongly suggests that he is a fortune hunter who married his wife while she was suffering from a mental breakdown. He's also not entirely sure that the body has been properly identified - it has been badly mutilated - and that doubt grows when another woman claims that the body is that of her long lost daughter and offers some slight corroborating evidence. Then he learns of a missing minor actress who might well be the missing daughter, and she has recently disappeared as well. What's more, the actress was known by the grieving husband. There's quite a bit of coincidence in this one but it's basically a sound story.
The Devil's Cook (1966) was written by Fletcher Flora. Terry Miles goes missing from her apartment, leaving her husband - a college professor - and a neighbor who had been invited to supper. The husband doesn't seem particularly concerned and there's a suggestion that she might be involved with someone else, but nothing is definite. The guest, Farley, is bothered by her absence along with the simultaneous disappearance of his roommate. He and the roommate's sister begin investigating and soon discover that the missing woman is scheduled to receive a large inheritance when she turns 26. Eventually they convince the husband to go to the police, who show him Terry's body. She was found strangled in an abandoned house. We switch viewpoints to a police detective at this point, which is mildly disruptive, but even so this was the best of Queen novels written by Flora. Reasonably good solution though it cheats in that it introduces evidence we had not known previously.
Why So Dead? (1966) is a Tim Corrigan novel by Richard Deming. There's a visiting sultan in town with a vivacious daughter and a fabulous jewel. When the sultan is killed by a bomb, a routine security job takes a very different turn. In the confusion, the jewel disappears as well. Corrigan happens to be present as a guest when the incident occurs, and some political maneuverings place him in charge of the case, which he thinks is designed to make him the scapegoat. The cover blurb, incidentally, says he was there to protect against the jewel theft which is completely wrong. Although there is an organization of criminals whom Corrigan eventually uncovers, the plot could not have worked without someone on the inside and it's the identity of the traitor in the sultan's camp that makes up the final revelation. Fair but rather ordinary.
Queens Full (1966) is a collection by the original Ellery Queen duo. "The Death of Don Juan" is set in Wrightsville. An obnoxious actor is killed in his dressing room and he names the leading lady as his murderer with his dying breath. This isn't a bad story except that it assumes that someone could forget that he had had a famous actor as a houseguest two years previously, which I find completely implausible. "E = Murder" is a minor puzzle story. "The Wrightsville Heirs" is a pretty good story about a surprise will and the question of who murdered her believing the original will was still in force. "Diamonds in Paradise" is very minor. "The Case Against Carroll" is also pretty good. A man murders a woman who plans to renege on providing him an alibi. A fair collection overall but with no outstanding stories.
A Study in Terror (1966), a movie tie-in, was written alternately by the original duo and Paul Fairman, with Fairman doing the parts involving Sherlock Holmes. Queen does not appear in the movie. Holmes is anonymously presented with an old manuscript that purports to be a lost Sherlock Holmes novel penned by Dr. Watson, in which Holmes investigates Jack the Ripper. Although initially disdainful of what he considers a common crime, Holmes is drawn in when he receives a mysterious surgical kit in the mail, with no explanatory note. He tracks down the original owner and set out to visit him. He finds an aristocrat who claims that his younger son, who disgraced the family name, is dead, although there is no evidence of that. Holmes then tracks the surgical kit back to a pawn shop, where he learns that it was pawned by a woman and redeemed by a second one, the latter of whom had a badly disfigured face. The Holmes portion ends with the identification of Jack the Ripper's real name, but the Ellery Queen addendum says that he was concealing the identity of the real killer and offers an alternate solution. I assume this was not true of the movie, which I have never seen.
Who Spies, Who Kills? (1967) is by Talmage Powell. It was another appearance of Tim Corrigan, who will show up in other ghosted Queen books. Corrigan is a police detective who is assigned to look into the murder of a man thrown from a hotel window. Although there was a suicide note, there is evidence that he was attacked in his room first. His name is fake and he has a pronounced German accent. Corrigan learns that the dead man called a prominent publisher's office shortly before his death, but the publisher insists that he didn't know the man, and in fact the call was taken by someone else in his absence. The writing is fair but the messaging is a clumsy anti-communist screed with special interest in fellow travelers. Powell seems to have been a fan of Joe McCarthy. The CIA tips them off that one of the editors at the publishing house is suspected of being a communist sympathizer. He also is sharing a mistress with the top man's son, which leads to a confrontation between the two of them. it all gets sorted out eventually but clumsily at best. One of the weakest of the faux Ellery Queen books.
How Goes the Murder? (1967) was by Richard Deming and features Tim Corrigan. There's a political campaign on and the front runner has made enemies of PUFF, a rightwing organization analogous to today's Tea Party. When the candidate is shot from the balcony while giving a speech, the PUFF spokesman is one of several people with obvious reasons to want him dead. Other suspects include the widow, the dead man's bodyguard, and another woman who is rather secretive about her relationship to the deceased, a business associate with a grudge, and the primary opponent who resented the dead man's tactics. The bodyguard is found unconscious on the balcony right after the shot is fired, but he has no idea who hit him. Then someone breaks in at the scene of the crime, leading Corrigan to suspect that there was something there that he had overlooked. There's a rather clever solution to this one, which I haven't seen used elsewhere.
Face to Face (1967) was not ghostwritten. Ellery is visited by a young woman who says she was approached by a gigolo husband to help him murder his wife, in return for his affections and part of the inheritance. She refuses but several months later he shows up, presses a visit upon her, and then leaves at midnight. Not coincidentally, his wife was murdered during that period, meaning that she has to provide an alibi for someone she suspects of having committed murder. Ellery also has a detective with him who was with the dead woman shortly before she was killed. She lived long enough to write the word "face" but nothing else. The victim's diary has one blank page despite her regular habit of entering each day's activities. Ellery discovers that there is a single word written there in invisible ink, again the word "face". The detective had been hired by the dead woman to track down her niece, who turns out to have been living not far away. The niece was also in the apartment shortly before the murder. The widower had been conducting multiple affairs recently, which surprises no one and which were probably known to his late wife, who had no illusions about his personality. All of these women have good alibis except an unnamed one who always appeared in a veil, and whose identity the gigolo is obviously unwilling to reveal. The will leaves the bulk of her estate to the niece, after which we discover that the business manager had embezzled some money, which she will replace from her legacy. Although no charges are preferred, it obviously provides her with a motive to have killed her employer. The murder weapon turns up in a hatbox in the apartment, but it was not there before, which means it was planted some time after the fact. The niece is promptly arrested - but the evidence against her is so circumstantial that this seems unlikely. A derelict claims to have information but he is killed before he can tell anyone what it is. Fortunately a second derelict confirms the defendant's alibi and she is acquitted. The solution is mostly quite clever, but there is one oversight. One of the two killers slips into a men's dormitory to kill the witness, but there was no way that he could have known which of the many men in the room was his target because he had never seen him before.
Which Way to Die? (1967) is a Tim Corrigan novel by Richard Deming. Two obvious killers are set free on a technicality. The police receive a death threat directed toward the twosome and Corrigan is assigned the unpleasant job of protecting them against assassination. There are a couple of good twists as Corrigan discovers not only who is behind the threats but the true story of the original murder as well. This is quite short - the shortest of all the Queen house name stories - and it moves pretty well. The story itself remains somewhat shallow and while I was mildly surprised by the conclusion, the mystery element was not designed to be its strongest characteristic. Deming was a solid of relentlessly orthodox writer who wrote a number of books - often tie-in novels - under his own name.
Guess Who's Coming to Kill You (1968) is by Walt Sheldon. Peter Brook is a CIA agent sent to Tokyo to facilitate the defection of a Russian agent, after the first man on the job is killed. Although somewhat dubious, he sets off on his assignment, which has to be conducted carefully to avoid annoying the Japanese. But there's an added complication when Brook starts to suspect that the Russian agent is playing a convoluted game and may not want to defect after all. There are a couple of twists at the end but the explanation for why they occur is not entirely convincing. This is pretty much a standard espionage novel and I don't understand why it was published under the Ellery Queen name.
What's in the Dark? (1968) is a Tim Corrigan novel written by Richard Deming. A man is murdered in an office building just as the great blackout strikes New York City. Corrigan and company are called to the scene where various other employees of that same company remain stranded by the power failure. This one is a fairly conventional detective story as Corrigan interviews each of the potential suspects, proves easily that it wasn't suicide, and eventually figures out which one of them is responsible. It is the closest the Corrigan character ever came to a traditional detective story and the novelty of the setting makes this one stand out slightly from among the others. It is also the best of the ghostwritten Queens written by Deming.
The House of Brass (1968) is a direct sequel to Inspector Queen's Own Case and was ghost written by Avram Davidson. It opens with the marriage of Richard Queen to the woman he met in that earlier novel. Freshly home from their honeymoon, Mrs. Queen receives a cryptic letter inviting her to the home of Henrik Brass and dangling the possibility of mysterious money in her face. Similar letters are received by various other people, none of whom seems to know their prospective host or each other. The idiosyncratic Mr. Brass, who is blind and has an acromegalic servant, tells them that at some point in his life he was helped by one or both of each person's parents and that he wants to decide whether or not to split his inheritance among some or all of them. Queen's wife tells him that it must be a mistake because her father was a clerk not a doctor, but Queen tells here not to say anything right away because he suspects something odd is going on. We later learn that she is not the only one there under false pretenses. Queen calls in some favors and his friends investigate. The stories Brass told them are untrue; in fact he had reason to hate the parents of the invitees. He survives a murder attempt - which oddly occurs before he has written his will - and they all wonder why, if he is rich, he has so many unpaid bills. Queen's friends also discover that he has no known assets except the crumbling house. Eventually he does write the will, splitting his estate among them, and then predictably is stabbed to death. There are some exceptional twists and turns as various theories about the concealment of the money in the house are developed, only to be proved wrong. The solution - the two attempts were by two different people - is quite well handled and the story pulls the rug out from under our feet more than once.
The Campus Murders (1969), ghost written by Gil Brewer, introduced Mike McCall as its protagonist. McCall is a troubleshooter for the governor who is asked to look into the disappearance of a coed on a campus troubled by protests and petty acts of violence. Brewer seems to have gleaned his vision of how a campus operates from conservative accounts of student protests because he makes the protesters into cartoon characters, although to be fair the administrators are also buffoons. The girl turns up so badly beaten that it's not certain she'll survive, and shortly afterwards one of the deans - who seems to have been a blackmail victim - is murdered. McCall clashes with the local police, who are all incompetents as well. It's a fairly routine investigation, the identity of the killer is no surprise, and the underlying misapprehension about colleges and protesters renders it nearly unreadable.
Cop Out (1969) is another by the original duo, but neither of the Queens makes an appearance. It was a decided break from their usual story, and unfortunately not a particularly successful one. Three crooks kill their inside man in a payroll robbery. They can't take the money through the roadblocks so they stash it with a cop and his wife, taking their eight year old daughter as a hostage for their silence. The policeman gets his daughter back but someone slugs his wife and takes the money. The possibility exists that one of the threesome was responsible, trying to cut out the other two from their share. Eventually the bad guys are played off against one another for a favorable outcome. This isn't a bad novel but it doesn't draw on any of the strengths of the two authors and isn't as entertaining as are even the ghost written efforts.
The Black Hearts Murder (1970), the second and final Mike McCall novel, was written by Richard Deming. This time McCall has to track down a missing Black militant who may or may not directly or indirectly be responsible for the assassination of a White political figure. The political situation is itself fraught, with some claiming that the original indictment against the fugitive was racially inspired while others are taking advantage of the turmoil for their own political gains. This is a lot better than the first McCall adventure and there is a reasonable attempt to view the more controversial aspects objectively, but the story itself is pedestrian and totally devoid of suspense, with only a moderate amount of mystery. McCall succeeds as much by luck as by intelligence and the whole story feels like it was written to fill in the spaces in an outline rather than having any organic integrity.
The Last Woman in His Life (1970) is by the original duo. Ellery and his father are taking a vacation near his old stomping ground of Wrightsville, courtesy of a rich friend. The friend has had three very short marriages and he has just invited his three ex-wives to visit him for awhile. On the day that they arrive, he writes a new will and gives it to the Queens for safekeeping. Oddly, each of the women reports that a personal item was stolen - a dress, a pair of gloves, and a wig. Their host tells the three women that his new will leaves them nothing, but suggests that he has not written it yet, an obvious invitation to murder. His explanation is that he has finally fallen in love with someone left unnamed. Predictably he is bludgeoned to death that night, but finds the strength to call Ellery and repeat the word "home" a few times before dying. They rush over and find him dead, and the three missing items of clothing were apparently left behind by the killer to implicate all three of the ex-wives. The dead man's lawyer and the lawyer's secretary are also in the house but they and the three wives appear to all be sound asleep. The will left with the Queens intended to assign everything to someone named Laura, but in the event that he hadn't married her at the time of his death, the estate would go to a cousin named Leslie. No one knows who Laura is, but unless they were already married, she inherits nothing. It also disinherits the three ex-wives.
An extensive investigation fails to identify who Laura might be, although it does reveal that one of the former wives has secretly remarried a known criminal. Ellery is convinced that he has overlooked something, but a return to the crime scene does not help. One of the ex-wives plans to contest the will but the crooked husband of another is knifed to death by parties unknown. Time passes with no answers and few developments. One of the suspects has a brief nervous breakdown. Then the recent widow announces her engagement to the lawyer, surprising everyone. Somewhat belatedly, Ellery realizes that the first victim's brown suit was apparently removed by the murderer. The solution is fairly predictable but Ellery's method of determining the guilty party is rather a reach.
A Fine and Private Place (1971) was the last Ellery Queen novel. Lee died that year and the byline was never used again by Dannay. Nino Importuna finds that one of his subordinates has been embezzling funds. He offers to forget about it if the man can convince his daughter to marry him, even though he is three times her age. If the marriage lasts five years, she will become his sole heir. The significance of the number nine is woven through this. Nino has nine fingers, the meeting takes place on the ninth of the month, he was born in 1899, his name is Nino, etc. The daughter acquiesces and four years later she is still stuck in a marriage she detests, while having a secretive affair with Peter Ennis. Nino lives with his wife in a fancy apartment building. His two brothers have their own apartments in the same building and one of them is found bludgeoned to death with evidence - a footprint and a button - implicating the other brother, evidence that seems too good to be true. Ennis functions as assistant for all three men. Ellery and his father are convinced that the physical evidence was planted.
The second brother then appears to have committed suicide. Months pass and so does the five year deadline after which, quite promptly, Nino is found murdered in his bed. The murderer begins sending clues to the police, each of which is a riddle involving the number nine. Ellery, and probably most readers, are convinced that Ennis is responsible, but when he springs his trap, Ennis is able to provide an ironclad alibi. More experienced readers will have guessed the real murderer - whose identity is given away by the fact that he is not mentioned throughout the bulk of the story. He's the newly made widow's father, whom we already knew was crooked. This was a pretty good story and not at all a bad way for Ellery Queen to end his career as a detective.
There are two remaining ghost written novels that I have not seen - Kiss and Kill by Charles Runyon and The Blue Movie Murders by Edward Hoch. I also overlooked a title while compiling the above. The Tragedy of Errors (2000) contains a screenplay that was designed to be the outline for a novel, a handful of uncollected short stories, and a bunch of tributes. The longest and best is "Terror Town", a non-Ellery story about a series of apparently unrelated murders in a small town. The others are minor puzzles. "Uncle from Australia" has a nonsensical solution. The dying word of the victim was that all of the suspects had stabbed him, but there was no way that he could have known that two of the three were involved. Ellery is in all of these but none of them are particularly memorable
Kiss and Kill (1969), This relatively hard to find novel was ghost written by Charles Runyon and does not feature Ellery. When a woman disappears under mysterious circumstances, her husband assumes she was taken against her will and hires a private detective to locate her. He does just that, eventually, after encountering a handful of disreputable and sometimes puzzling characters connected to the woman. This is pretty low level private eye entertainment, competently written but fatally formulaic.
The Blue Movie Murders (1972) was the third and final Mike McCall novel. McCall is a troubleshooter for a governor who gets involved this time with the murder of a film company executive who was trying to track down the brilliant director of an underground porn film. Unfortunately for him, a number of people associated with that film have good reasons for not wanting details about the movie to resurface and at least one of them will stop at nothing to make sure it doesn't. McCall is in good form in this one, solves the mystery, and brings the villain to justice. It was one of Hoch's two traditional detective novels.