The French Powder Mystery – Ellery Queen (1930)

FrenchPowder3My initial experience reading Ellery Queen with The Roman Hat Mystery was a mixed bag, slanting heavily towards disappointment.  I had an exciting start, gobbling up the maps, false forwards, and dramatis personæ preceding the start of the actual story.  The investigation started out fairly interesting, but as the book wore on, I came to the slow uncomfortable realization that investigation was all I was going to get.  The sleuthing and police work was enjoyable enough, but one dimensional.  It was only really at the end when the wheels came off.  The stark reality that 300 pages of interviews, interrogations, and painstaking searches was all for nothing.  There was no twist to satiate my curiosity, no clever misdirection to be unveiled.

Yet, I’m not going to dock an author for a first book, especially one as well respected as the Queens.  The next in line was The French Powder Mystery, and reputation was that it featured a rather notable ending.  Well, actually, I came in knowing exactly what makes the ending notable because I did a bit more blog reading than I should have (a bad habit that I’m trying to ween myself from).  Fortunately, I didn’t learn anything that ultimately detracted from my experience.

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The Roman Hat Mystery – Ellery Queen (1929)

RomanHatMysteryFor over a month I’ve had a tall stack of Ellery Queen books staring at me out of the corner of my eye.  It would be easy (perhaps advisable) to dive in with The Greek Coffin Mystery, commonly regarded as Queen’s best.  But no, I’ve made the decision to tackle them in order (an effort which JJ at the Invisible Event proactively cribbed from me).  This makes my path perilous – The Roman Hat Mystery doesn’t seem to be that well regarded.  In fact JJ flat out panned it several months back.

The criticism didn’t affect me though – I was excited to get started with such a well regarded author(s) with a massive backlog of enticing titles.  And what a start it was…

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Panic in Box C – John Dickson Carr

pacnicinboxcI’m taking a jump towards the end of Carr’s career as I return to our regularly scheduled program.  Published in 1966, Panic in Box C is the second to last Dr Fell story and the sixth to last novel by the author.  Popular consensus tends to regard the previous year’s House at Satan’s Elbow as the beginning of Carr’s end of career slide, although I have seen some reviewers state that they enjoyed Panic in Box C, Dark of the Moon, and The Ghosts’ High Noon.

Panic in Box C feels different than earlier Fell works, although there is also much that is the same.  At this point, the author had been living in the United States and focusing much of his output on historical mysteries.  Nearly 20 years has passed since the core run of well-regarded Fell and Merrivale novels.  The historical mysteries that filled the gap (as far as I’ve read) have been deep in research and adventure, but lighter on mystery.  You can somewhat feel that effect on Panic in Box C.  The fact that this is a Fell novel seems to result in Carr putting more focus on the mystery, yet he also applies a liberal sprinkling of trivia on wide range of subjects.

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To Be Read – Ellery Queen edition

Alternative title – what you can accomplish with $70 on eBay.

If there’s one thing I love about John Dickson Carr besides the quality of his work, it’s the quantity.  70+ titles to look forward to.  Sure, the quality ebbs and flows a bit, but I’ve yet to encounter a title that I regret reading.  I’m sure I’ll encounter a few late career ones eventually, but when my worst reads so far are The Lost Gallows, The Demoniacs, and My Late Wives, you know the author is doing something right.

There are undoubtably many GAD authors who produced a string of high quality works – Christianna Brand seems like an obvious example.  Yet her entries into the mystery genre are less than 10.  How many authors like Carr do you get who provide such high quality and sustain it for 30+ novels?  Agatha Christie is a definite qualifier.  The other author(s) likely to come to your mind is Ellery Queen.

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Green for Danger – Christianna Brand

GreenForDangerJohn Dickson Carr has left me with some emotional moments – the anger followed by enlightenment at the reveal of It Walks By Night; the poignancy of the end of He Who Whispers; the shock and disbelief of The Burning Court; the haunting conclusion of She Died a Lady.  Never though, have I been so impacted as the final chapters of Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger.

I was bound to delve into non-Carr works eventually and so why not take the leap with a classic?  I’ve started to accrue a backlog of books by other authors, and the temptation to branch out proved to be too much.  My first choice would have been Brand’s The Death of Jezebel, but that title has proven itself hard to find in physical form.  My tipping point was a recent purchase of Tour de Force and Green for Danger by the same author.  I desperately wanted to read the former, but worried that it may contain some end of series reveals, I opted for the earlier work.

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The Mad Hatter Mystery

MadHatterThe second Dr Fell novel, The Mad Hatter Mystery finds us in fog-soaked London.  Ted Rampole (previously in Hag’s Nook) reunites with the doctor as they investigate a string of hat thefts plaguing the city and confounding the police.  We’re also introduced to Chief Inspector Hadley, who will go on to be the Fell equivalent of Merrivale’s Chief Inspector Masters – a likable investigator lured to false conclusions by the clues of the crime, only to eventually be shown the light by the omniscient series detective.

The stolen hats go beyond just simple theft – someone is snatching hats from people in positions of powers and placing them in conspicuous places.  On top of that, we have the theft of a rare manuscript by Edgar Allan Poe – a lost story featuring the first appearance of detective Auguste Dupin.  All of this in the first chapter of the book, plus one more thing – murder.

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My Late Wives

MyLateWivesRoger Bewlay has made his fortune by marrying women who have a habit of disappearing without a trace.  His use of aliases has allowed his first two crimes to pass by unnoticed, but a slight slip up with his third wife has drawn the attention of the police.  Under the close observation of the law, Bewlay goes on holiday with a fourth lover.  She vanishes from a guarded house, and the next day, Bewlay is gone, never to be seen again.

That was 11 years ago.  The police were never able to track down the killer, nor did they ever figure out what happened to any of the bodies.  Now, a script for a play shows up at a theatre company in London.  The author is unknown, but the play tells the tale of the infamous wife-killer’s life, both before and after the murders.  The script reveals too much – facts that would only be known by the police…or the killer.

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