It has been a long time since I have read anything by Queen. In fact it has nearly been 2 years! I guess he has never been a favourite author and there have been so many other books and authors to try, that they have somewhat slipped off my radar. The reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for Queen have varied; finding their earlier novels somewhat dull and dry, whilst some of the later efforts exhibit a highly troublingly and creepy Ellery Queen.
Today’s read though is from the first Queen writing period (so we’re save on creepy Queen front). It’s very classic in its puzzle focus, with a character list, two maps, a challenge to the reader and even an interlude where one chapter only has one column of writing to along for reader note taking in the margins. There is also the foreword by a Watson type character, who frames the story as a case memoir.
The novel opens with Queen Junior and Senior discussing the importance of the first 5 minutes after a crime has been discovered. They bemoan how the detective always seems to be brought into the situation much later. Yet this will not be the case for Ellery Queen’s next investigation, as he is 20ft away when it is discovered in an operating theatre that hospital founder, Abby Doorne, has been murdered. This was an unplanned operation, as she had only fallen into a diabetic coma on some stairs, (thereby rupturing her gall bladder,) that very morning. Yet the crime itself seems very well executed and it is not long before both Queens fear that this is no ordinary case, especially when it may involve a frame up for one of the doctors. The suspects themselves are equally very reticent, much to the chagrin of Inspector Queen.
The first 2/3s of the novel were fairly enjoyable in my opinion. The story opens in a very strong way and I liked how it was very dialogic in style, (which helped to mitigate the minimal characterisation), and another positive was that Ellery held back from long winded theorising. The shortness of the chapters also worked well for me, as the pace in these sections was good, as other Queen novels have dragged on a lot! An additional murder also helped the pacing of this book and it was introduced at an effective point. Queen too comes across quite well, limiting annoying mannerisms and objectionable attitudes. There were even moments of humour (which felt like a first for my Queen reading experiences).
However, one issue with Queen taking a backseat role in this case is that when he finally unleashes all of his theorising it comes across as rather unachievable to the reader, even if a formal challenge to the reader is issued. The clues are technically there, but whether anyone can generate the correct inferences is another matter entirely, (and of course I will now be overwhelmed with comments saying how easy this case was to solve). The final third of the book did drag and unfortunately the authors are not adept at writing theorising or explaining of solutions in an entertaining style. That final 23 paged chapter was a chore. Though it has made me consider how hard it is to write theorising in an entertaining way.
So despite that short catalogue of negatives this was actually a better Queen experience than many of the others I have had. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend anyone spend a fortune on getting a copy of this, there are thankfully a few reasonably priced copies for under £5 online. Queen in my opinion is a bit like marmite in the way these mysteries can divide the mystery fan community. There are those who rate these books very highly. Noah at Noah’s Archives for instance says ‘this book gets an automatic pass into your library simply because, well, it’s an Ellery Queen novel.’ Whilst there are others, probably including myself at this point, which think the stories are somewhat overrated. Of course the only way to decide is to try for yourselves…
Rating: 3.75/5 (My highest Queen novel rating on the blog yet!) Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Gold Item): Doctor
The Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel has also reviewed this book here.
The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935)
The Origin of Evil (1951)