Double Double – Ellery Queen (1950)

It’s impressive to think that a detective novel could feature seven murders, and yet not for a moment feel like a mystery.  How the writing duo of Ellery Queen pulled it off, I’m still not quite sure.  Double Double follows detective Queen going about his days doing a bunch of things – playing matchmaker, buying a swimsuit, going on a picnic, getting a drink at a bar – and it ends up feeling like a book about a man with nothing better to do than running a never ending series of whimsical errands.  Yeah, people do occasionally wind up dead (quite a few of them, in fact), but there’s just never a mystique to it or a sense of purpose.

We’re back in the small town of Wrightsville, for what is apparently the last of the Queen novels set there, and wow, I guess I actually read them all in order.  This is the sixth Queen in a row that I’ve consumed in sequence, starting with Calamity Town (1942), and correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve just passed through what’s regarded as his better work.  I’ll leave that discussion for another time, but “meh”.  Calamity Town was the obvious highlight, shifting the Queen stories to something with a bit of humanity in them; this in the form of the living/breathing town of Wrightsville.  Then the stories became a bit too much about humanity, with Queen becoming a shell shocked charade of perpetual self doubt.  I guess we’re kind of straddling that with Double Double.  Queen’s still incredibly gun shy and riddled with misgivings, and it gets a bit tiring watching him second guess himself for 250 pages.  Wrightsville too is a shell of its former self; a never ending list of townsfolk and landmarks, but the spark that animated it all in Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox is missing here.

Continue reading “Double Double – Ellery Queen (1950)”

Cat of Many Tails – Ellery Queen (1949)

Well, I just spent six weeks reading this book…  Granted, I had a few camping trips mixed in there, but this was a story that I struggled to engage with, and subsequently I didn’t make the time to plow through it.  Which is a bit surprising, as Cat of Many Tails seems to be widely regarded as one of Ellery Queen’s five best novels… if not his very best.  Indeed, my 1965 Bantam Books edition is part of a “World’s Great Novels of Detection” series hand selected by none other than Anthony Boucher.

Queen for me has been… well, I was going to say “hit or miss”, but I don’t know that he’s ever really hit.  There are some decent reads in there: The Tragedy of Y (1932) is the closest thing that we get to a hit, with a total sucker punch of an ending even if you see it coming; Calamity Town (1942) is an excellent read with a somewhat obvious mystery; The Murderer is a Fox (1945) follows with a similar quality, although it may feature one of the most disappointing solutions of all time; The Four of Hearts (1938) is a weird Hollywood leaning piece that featured some fine misdirection.  Mostly though the books have been incredibly dull.

Continue reading “Cat of Many Tails – Ellery Queen (1949)”

The Ellery Queen Casebook – Ellery Queen (1977)

CasebookTo be clear, this isn’t The Case Book of Ellery Queen, a short story collection published in 1945.  Rather, this is a strange bit of history that I stumbled upon as part of a bulk Queen purchase a while back – a Reader’s Digest booklet featuring a collection of Ellery Queen stories.  It clocks in at a mere 48 pages, and given that it contains five stories, you can take the “condensed by permission” note on the copyright leaf at more than face value.

Or can you?  The original stories, gathered in Queen’s Bureau of Investigations (QBI) and Queen’s Experiments in Detection (QED) are already brief affairs, most running in the range of six pages each.  Imagine that compressed down a bit, and The Ellery Queen Casebook is a breakneck tattoo of mysteries, with solutions being offered up while the paint is still wet on each premise.

Continue reading “The Ellery Queen Casebook – Ellery Queen (1977)”

Ten Days’ Wonder – Ellery Queen (1948)

TenDaysWonder1Ellery Queen returns to the New England town of Wrightsville in Ten Days’ Wonder, and that’s good news for me.  The previous two titles in the Wrightsville series – Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox – were by far the most consumable that I’ve put down by the author duo who shared the pen name.  While they weren’t the strongest mysteries (who didn’t see the end of Calamity Town coming?) the Queen storytelling was in top form and miles away from the excruciatingly dull earlier works.

The opening passages of Ten Days’ Wonder may well be the best writing that Queen ever put to paper.  I’d give you some quotes, but I just don’t know where I’d stop.  If you have the book on your shelf, I know you don’t plan on reading it right now, but just pick it up and give the first few pages a once over.

Continue reading “Ten Days’ Wonder – Ellery Queen (1948)”

The Quintessence of Queen #2

QuintessenceOfQueen2It’s been a while since I looked at The Quintessence of Queen #1 – an anthology of “best prize stories” from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  It was originally published alongside these entries as part of a larger collection, but my Avon editions find the compilation split in two.  We get some reasonably big names in part two – Nicolas Blake, Helen McCloy, and John Dickson Carr, plus entries by less renowned authors.  Similar to part one, you get a wide range of styles, although not too many of the stories really stand out.  Two of them do though.  Both Carr and Jorge Luis Borges provide excellent entries well worth tracking down.

Continue reading “The Quintessence of Queen #2”

Ellery Queen – The Murderer is a Fox (1945)

MurdererIsAFox2Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town (1942) was a turning point for me with the author.  Up until then I had suffered through the early era works (1929-1932) with little to indicate why Queen is held in regard as a top author of the golden age.  The Four of Hearts had some promising bits, but besides that, Queen had been a desert of boredom.

Calamity Town was different.  The series shifted from NYC detective fiction heavy on investigative footwork to a cozy small town New England murder.  Gone were the heavy police procedurals, the dense chapters chronicling every last detail of the hunt for evidence.  Gone was the privileged son of Inspector Queen, smugly weaving teetering towers of filament-thin brittle logic to snare the killer.  In its place we got a slice of Americana that lived and breathed.  Wrightsville, a town that was brought to life by its own citizens.  A town where as a reader you got to know the butcher, not because he could provide evidence relating to the story’s crime, but because he was part of the fabric of the community.  The characters actually live lives and carry out actions that aren’t directly related to the mystery, and the story benefits from it.

Continue reading “Ellery Queen – The Murderer is a Fox (1945)”

The Quick and the Dead (There Was an Old Woman) – Ellery Queen (1943)

quickandthedeadMy last encounter with Ellery Queen – 1942’s Calamity Town – left me wanting more.  It was with some restraint that I didn’t immediately pick up The Quick and the Dead, instead electing to mix up my authors a bit.  Well, I’ve done my mixing and I’m back for more.

I’ll spare you the tales of boredom that I experienced with the early period one Queens – dry monotonous tomes filled with chapter after chapter of never ceasing investigative footwork.  I found a different Queen with the second period’s The Four of Hearts – cardboard in a Hollywood sense, but not boring; even clever in the end.  It was Calamity Town that won me over though.  This was no classic mystery by a long run – if you’ve read more than five GAD books then you’ll see through it in an instant – but the milieu was so damn fine.

Continue reading “The Quick and the Dead (There Was an Old Woman) – Ellery Queen (1943)”

Calamity Town – Ellery Queen (1942)

CalamityTownBefore I ever started actually reading Ellery Queen, I had read a lot about him.  Err…them…and him?  If you’re reading this then you’re likely aware that “Ellery Queen” refers to both the detective character and the pseudonym used by the Dannay/Lee cousins who wrote the series.  And quite a series it was, stretching well over 30 novels.  Two of my favorite blogs – Noah’s Archive and Ah Sweet Mystery – have excellent posts breaking that career down into a set of periods.  From the very beginning, the third period – Wrightsville – has stood out as a destination I very much wanted to get too.

My experience with Ellery Queen hasn’t exactly been great so far.  The first period books were dry slogs.  I dragged myself through four of them before abandoning my mission to read the series in order.  I skipped ahead to the so called Hollywood period, and had much better luck with The Four of Hearts, even if it did feel a little…well, Hollywood.

Continue reading “Calamity Town – Ellery Queen (1942)”

The Quintessence of Queen – Edited by Anthony Boucher (1962)

QuintessenceOfQueenI acquired a substantial portion of my Ellery Queen library through bulk purchases of 15-30 books at a time.  Swept up in the tide were several “associated by name only” compilations such as The Quintessence of Queen – assortments of short stories published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and probably tossed into the bundles by some seller who didn’t know much better.

I’m admit I’m a fan of the short story.  As a child I read a fair amount of Ray Bradbury and similar authors who walked the tightrope between science fiction, mystery, and horror.  As an adult, I found my way into the locked room genre via the short story form.  Since going full in with my reading of John Dickson Carr, I’ve stuck to novels based on the knowledge that authors such as him recycled story ideas occasionally – The Gilded Man being a well known example to appear in both short and long form.  Better to ruin a twenty page read than a two hundred page one…

Continue reading “The Quintessence of Queen – Edited by Anthony Boucher (1962)”

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.

Continue reading “The Tragedy of Y – Barnaby Ross (1932)”

Solving the Mystery of Murder

Investigating how classic crime writers plot their mysteries.

A Crime is Afoot

Reading notes from an eclectic reader of mysteries

Long Live The Queens!

About Ellery Queen and other GAD authors

James Scott Byrnside

Author of impossible-crime murder mysteries

Countdown John's Christie Journal

A review of Agatha Christie's crime novels and short stories from beginning to end

Dead Yesterday

Classic Mysteries and Domestic Suspense


The annex to John Grant's *A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir*

Justice for the Corpse

Reviews of classic fair-play mystery fiction - spoiler-free unless otherwise noted

Composed Almost Entirely of Books

Books read, books written, books I just spotted and covet like an ox

Mysteries Ahoy!

Detecting Great Crime Fiction

Only Detect

Book Reviews, Mostly