The Dutch Shoe Mystery (1931) by Ellery Queen

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.

Overall Thoughts

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.

See also:

The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935)

‘The Adventure of the Dauphin’s Doll’ (1948)

The Origin of Evil (1951)

Did Ellery Queen Ever Escape the Golden Age of Detection?

Typing Ellery Queen

Ellery Queen and the Secret to Writing a Bestseller Title

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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11 Responses to The Dutch Shoe Mystery (1931) by Ellery Queen

  1. rkottery says:

    I started an Ellery Queen once and fell asleep, which has put him low down on my list to try again, despite reading a number of good reviews (and feeling it somewhat unfair to judge a whole body of work on one opening chapter). The Greek Coffin Mystery is one of the most consistently well-reviewed, so I plan to try that some day – with a strong cup of tea at hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm…

    So, I’ve been quite reluctant to take this book on, having suffered through The Roman Hat Mystery and The French Powder Mystery. I actually started it once, merely making my way through the JJ McC intro before I cast it aside for something that seemed more interesting.

    On paper, the early Ellery Queen novels are everything I want – fake forwards, multiple murder maps, heavy puzzle. In reality though, they are one dimensional – interviews, interviews, interviews, summaries, interviews, summaries. There is just no humanity.

    That you seem to find some positives in this title gives me hope. I know that on the other side awaits the well regarded The Greek Coffin Mystery and several other books that sound appealing on the surface (The Chinese Orange Mystery and The Siamese Twin Mystery).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I’m so glad I haven’t given myself the challenge of reading all the Queen novels, like you and JJ have. This one though I think has some promise and for a puzzle fan there is probably a lot to enjoy.

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  3. JFW says:

    Thanks for the review. 🙂 I think I quite liked this one, and I certainly enjoyed it more than ‘Egyptian Cross Mystery’ – but less than ‘Face to Face’ and ‘There Was an Old Woman’. I thought there was a stronger sense of characterisation and human interest in those two novels…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I had a feeling you were a stronger Queen fan than myself. Which would you say is your favourite? (My turn to ask the difficult questions lol)

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      • JFW says:

        I think I’ve so far read: The Roman Hat Mystery; The French Powder Mystery; The Dutch Shoe Mystery; The Egyptian Cross Mystery; There Was an Old Woman; Cat of Many Tails; The Player on The Other Side; Face to Face.

        The top three were probably French Powder, Old Woman and Face. I probably liked Egyptian Cross least, followed by Cat and Player?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I can see you enjoying earlier Queen more than late.

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  4. crgreaves52 says:

    ‘The Greek Coffin Mystery’ is definitely worth a read. Another early one I’ve enjoyed a lot [with the usual reservations] is ‘The Door Between’ [1937] – it’s faster moving than the books preceding it and presents the reader with a good puzzle which is satisfactorily unravelled.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Book of the Month: October 2017 | crossexaminingcrime

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