The Tragedy of Y – Barnaby Ross (1932)

TheTragedyOfY2Ok Ellery Queen, you finally won me over.  I’ve been your critic up to now, but from this day forward, some part of me will always be your fan.  The Tragedy of Y did something for me that none of your books have ever accomplished – it kept me engaged from cover to cover.  More importantly, this is the one that’s sticking with me for a long time to come.

I recently abandoned my attempt to read Ellery Queen in order because it was just plain boring.  The four first period stories that I made it through were dry, overly long, and never really paid off in the end.  The same could be said for The Tragedy of X – my one encounter with Queen writers’ alter-ego Barnaby Ross.  Published in 1932 (the same year as The Greek Coffin Mystery and The Egyptian Cross Mystery), The Tragedy of X was a marathon of exhaustive police work and… weirdness.  You see, the amateur detective of the series, Drury Lane, is an odd character.  An actor residing in a storybook castle situated on the Hudson river, Lane exists somewhat outside of the realm of standard Golden Age reality.  His gnome-like servants, his positioning as a 60 year old adonis,… I really have no clue what the authors were going for.

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The Case of the Solid Key – Anthony Boucher (1941)

CaseOfTheSolidKeyHaving enjoyed Anthony Boucher’s locked room classic Nine Time Nine, my natural next stop was Rocket to the Morgue.  Right?  I mean, that’s the only other title by the author that ever really gets mentioned.   That struck me as odd.  Boucher was a well regarded writer of both science fiction and mysteries, yet I only really associate his name with two mystery novels.  Instead, I typically think of him as the mystery critic who wrote forwards in reprints of other authors’ novels, or assembled short story compilations, such as The Quintessence of Queen.

Recent reviews of The Case of the Crumpled Knave and The Case of the Seven Sneezes turned me on to the fact that Boucher had an actual library of books aside from those published under the pseudonym of H.H. Holmes (Nine Time Nine and Rocket to the Morgue).  A comment by Tomcat from Beneath the Stains of Time pointed me towards The Case of the Solid Key – a novel I’d never heard of, and one that Tomcat suggested had a particularly interesting solution.  The ante was raised when JJ from The Invisible Event replied that the book was nearly impossible to find at an affordable price.

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A Murder is Announced – Agatha Christie (1950)

MurderIsAnnouncedIf there’s a better village mystery than A Murder is Announced, please tell me so I can scramble to read it.  Admittedly, I haven’t read many of these, so that statement might come across as hopelessly naive.  I don’t mind – all I know is that this one provided everything I was looking for.

I’ve enjoyed my nascent reading of Agatha Christie so far.  When picking my least favorite novel has me scratching my head between The Hollow and Cards on the Table, you know I’ve been having a good run.  That run keeps going with Murder is Announced.  It doesn’t pack an emotional punch that’s going to stay with me like Murder in Retrospect, but this may be the most fun I’ve had with Christie so far.

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The Four of Hearts – Ellery Queen (1938)

FourOfHeartsI absolutely love reading about Ellery Queen.  When I read posts at Ah Sweet Mystery or Noah’s Archive detailing the various phases of the detective/author’s career, I get completely sucked in.  There’s a myth I create in my mind about these unread books and it’s amplified by the sheer number of them.  They may simply be titles and cover art to me at this point, but my imagination fills in those gaps with the promise of something legendary.

Unfortunately, I don’t actually enjoy reading Ellery Queen.  At least, I haven’t so far.  The first phase of his career, known for its puzzles and logical deduction, sounded right up my alley.  It wasn’t.  Attacking the books in order, starting with The Roman Hat Mystery and clawing my way through to The Greek Coffin Mystery simply wasn’t much fun.  These weren’t stories – they were painstaking descriptions of crime scenes followed by crossword puzzle-esque contortions of logic at the end.  There were some pleasurable moments mixed in there – the denouncement in The French Powder Mystery was a heart pounding moment; The Dutch Shoe Mystery had a clever bit of misdirection; The Greek Coffin Mystery wasn’t nearly as tedious as its predecessors – although somebody should have carved about 80 pages off that one.

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Death in Five Boxes – Carter Dickson (1938)

deathin5boxesWhen I look back at my early days of reading John Dickson Carr’s work, it’s almost obscene.  Hit after hit after hit after hit.  This wasn’t exactly an accident – I had done my research on the author.  At the same time, I wasn’t exactly being greedy.  My goal was to mix up the consensus classics with some well regarded books that flew a bit below the radar.  It just so happened that a lot of those below the radar books are astoundingly good.

My early days were also constrained by the books that I owned at the time.  One particular bulk purchase that I made towards the beginning was a package of early Merrivale titles in 1960’s Berkley Medallion editions.  Not only did these prove to be solid selections, but they had some great cover art as well.

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Nine Times Nine – Anthony Boucher (1940)

NineTimesNineIt’s always interesting diving into a renowned impossible crime novel.  John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man, Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit, John Sladek’s Invisible Green, Clayton Rawson’s Death from a Top Hat – each of these novels are a legend to themselves.  Does that legend create too much of an expectation for the reader?  Even if the stories deliver a tight puzzle and face slapping solution, can they ever really live up to their reputation?

In some cases, these books are known for an element beyond the pure impossibility.  The Hollow Man is the most notable example, with an entire chapter devoted to a locked room lecture provided by Carr’s classic detective Dr Gideon Fell.  The passage is well known for laying out all of the possible solutions to a locked room mystery – of course leaving the door open for the novel to deliver an unaccounted for technique.

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Cards on the Table – Agatha Christie (1936)

CardsOnTheTableFour suspected murderers sit around a table playing bridge.  Nearby, four of Christie’s greatest detective minds sit embroiled in their own game.  The play is interrupted by a gruesome discovery – the body of the party’s host, stabbed through the heart.  Despite the murder occurring in full view of a room of players, nobody can describe how it happened.

Sounds like a dream come true, right?  There’s almost an element of John Dickson Carr’s The Problem of the Green Capsule or Seeing is Believing, in that a murder is pulled off in front of a room full of spectators.  In this case though, it wasn’t quite a captive audience – the players were paying too close attention to their cards.  It’s still  a perplexing puzzle – how did the killer slip away from the game and dispatch the host without being observed?

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