This writing duo have been quite prevalent in discussions at various corners of the classic crime blogging-sphere, with strong opinions for and against them. They seem to be quite a Marmite author. My experience of their novels has not left me their greatest fan, but I decided to give them a go in the short story format today. Let’s see how I got on…
1st January – The Inner Circle
The opening story recalls how the Januarians, a club within Eastern U., comprised of the first set of graduates that left the university, became forgotten – in memory and even architecturally within the university’s club building itself. One of its members went to Ellery Queen to look into the deaths of two other deceased members. Were their deaths natural or murder? Yet death strikes again, and it takes a name-based riddle for Queen to solve this tontine insurance-based case.
As I was to discover with many of these stories in this collection, the Ellery Queen writing duo decided to begin their tale with an affected intellectual style of writing. I’m sure it was meant to be entertaining but I just found it to be waffle. However, the story picks up once the case gets underway.
22nd February – The President’s Half Disme
Unravelling the first few paragraphs of this story takes some doing but I finally figured out that they were heralding a case in which Ellery Queen matches his wits with a President of the United States on a farm near Philadelphia. The president in question is George Washington and a young woman fearing that she will lose her family farm if she can’t raise enough money in time, tasks Queen with the challenge to find two heirlooms Washington buried under a tree in a grove at her farm. These artefacts plus her relative’s diary, detailing Washington’s visit to the farm all those years ago are to be sold for money, but no finds, no money. Of course, Queen does eventually stumble to the solution, but only after pondering a mathematical puzzle and a piece of American history. This story came across as a dull treasure hunt, as Queen works by himself a bit too much.
15th March – The Ides of Michael Magoon
This story has an unusual crime focus, centring on the stolen tax return and papers of private eye Michael Magoon; the theft taking place the day before he is supposed to submit his tax return. Murder and blackmail also feature, though the case is rapidly solved on the smallest of clues. Though in fairness it is a pretty damning one. My main criticism is the ponderous start of the story, which discusses tax laws.
1st April – The Emperor’s Dice
This next story is also plagued with a tenuous mini lecture at the start of the story, this time the comments targeting the Emperor Caligula. However, when we get to the story proper, we are confronted with Inspector Queen, Ellery and Nikki Porter who are being driven by a highly erratic individual and unfortunately for the Queen party it is the unbalanced driver’s home which they are going to stay at. Things get even more awkward when the driver casually mentions how he and his siblings covered up the murder of their father…
This was my favourite story of the collection, as I rather enjoyed the ending. I thought it was very cleverly done, and not just because of the immensely obvious clue which I managed to overlook.
30th May – The Gettysburg Bugle
This tale recalls a murder case which Ellery solves when he and Nikki get stranded at Jacksburg, Pennsylvania. The murder targets appear to be three veterans from the Civil War and a tontine designed hoard of money may be the motive. I predicted the murder method, but I was still surprised by the culprit’s identity.
June – The Medical Finger
Once we get through the initial discourse on Juno, we are faced with a wedding between Helen Troy and Henry Yates. Yet due to some shrewd psychology working but also backfiring, Helen’s father is sufficiently worried for his daughter’s life that he asks Ellery to make an appearance at the wedding. Nevertheless, death does strike and the authors do a good job of providing several strong suspects. Again, I cottoned onto the murder method very early on, but the choice of killer was good.
4th July – The Fallen Angel
Nikki bumps into an old friend who has lately married an older and wealthy man named Miles Senter. Yet she soon confesses to loving another and then shortly after that the attempts on Miles’ life begin. Some of the writers’ subterfuge was quite successful, but I think the reader will anticipate some parts of the solution.
August – The Needle’s Eye
Eric Ericsson, a retired explorer, invites Ellery to Ericsson island. He fears the man his niece has married and her father in law are up to no good and fears some awful crime may take place. Whilst on the island attention also turns to the legend that Captain Kidd hid some treasure on the island. With so much wealth at stake, will someone be tempted to turn to violence? I think the build-up to this case is sufficiently long that when it comes to solving it, the remaining page space can only contain a fait accompli when it comes to the solution. I wonder whether this story might have been better as a novella or novel.
3rd September – The Three R’s
This is another university set mystery, this time Barlowe College in Missouri. The opening waffle was particularly obtuse in this case but eventually we find out that a professor from the university has gone missing and foul play is suspected. I predicted the ending fairly on, it somewhat mirroring another tale in the collection.
31st October – The Dead Cat
Nikki gets invited to a mysterious event on Halloween called the secret meeting of The Charmed Circle of Black Cats. All guests must be dressed as a cat and Ellery, much against his will, gets dragged along. It turns out the party is hosted by an old friend of Nikki’s, who has married a British man with a roving eye when it comes to the ladies. The game Murder is duly suggested, and Ellery is tasked with being the detective. Their version of the game is a little too realistic as it includes props such as a knife and I think we can all guess what is going to happen when the lights go out… The most amusing part of this story is the sarcastic internal comments Ellery has when he is stuck at the party. I think the howdunnit element of the case had the potential to be quite interesting, but unfortunately a lack of page space prevented this from being realised.
22nd November – The Telltale Bottle
After Ellery finishes his lecture on thanksgiving, he goes with Nikki to take food gifts to the residents on the East Side. One gift recipient though seems to have left home in a hurry and from this small beginning commences a tale of drugs, murder and a fugitive on the run, with a final nod to Chesterton.
25th December – The Dauphin’s Doll
I reviewed this short story a while back on my blog. You can read my thoughts on it here.
I think from my lukewarm praise you can safely conclude that Ellery Queen in the short form is not much of an improvement on my experiences of reading their novels. In some ways I think the ideas used didn’t always fit the space allotted very well, meaning the endings invariably had a more rushed quality to them. My final thought is for the cover artwork, which you can see above – Is it just me or is anyone else reminded of the Muppets?
Calendar of Crime: November (4) Thanksgiving
See also: Les has also reviewed this title here.