The Greek Coffin Mystery – Ellery Queen (1932)

TheGreekCoffinMystery3At long last, I’ve made it…I think.  I’ve survived the brutal intrigue-barren plains of the first three Ellery Queen novels with a grim determination to make it to an oasis – The Greek Coffin Mystery.  With the promise of a nearly unanimously regarded top five Ellery Queen novel, I’ve maintained a steady yet bleary eye on the horizon as I trudged through hundreds of pages of mind-numbingly detailed suspect interviews and crime scene searches.  Now that I’ve arrived at the goal, would it be a GAD paradise or merely a mirage?

I started my journey reading Queen in publishing-order with burning excitement.  Here was one of the big name golden age authors – a true master of the craft – with a library of almost forty novels to look forward to.  I’ll never forget those first few chapters of The Roman Hat Mystery.  Mesmerized by crime scene maps, dramatis personæ, and a false forward, I waded into the chaos of those exciting first few chapters as the New York police struggled to contain a crime scene in a crowded theatre.  It took a while, but as I slowly realized that I was going to have to sit through the police interviewing every damn person in the theatre, I found my startled eyes contemplating just how many pages there were in the book.

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The Dutch Shoe Mystery – Ellery Queen (1931)

TheDutchShoeMystery4It’s been six months since I set out on a mission to approach the Ellery Queen books in order…. and it’s been six months since I read one.  My initial experiences with The Roman Hat Mystery and The French Powder Mystery were a true let down.  Although both books started somewhat strong, they descended into the monotony of one-dimensional investigation.

We all love a little investigation though, don’t we?  Well, not when it’s the only thing you get over the course of a 250 page novel.  Page after page of interviews followed by more interviews, then a review of the facts, then more interviews, then more reviews of the facts.  Without a touch of comedy, atmosphere, or really anything else, it gets to be a little much.

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The Tragedy of X – Barnaby Ross (1932)

TheTragedyOfXIs it possible to fall in love with a book?  No, not the novel contained within, but the physical object itself.  I have two copies of The Tragedy of X, and if I were to go purely by cover, I’d have read my Avon copy (the publishing year of which I haven’t been able to figure out).  This time though, I was lured beyond the cover by the pure beauty of the corpus itself.  My Pocket Book edition is the seventh printing (from October of 1942), and it is a beauty to behold.  The pages are the very definition of paper thin – the writing, and in some cases the imprint of the printing itself, is clearly visible through each page.  The feeling is incomparable to any other book I possess – the most desperate analogy that I can conjure is that of silk.  In that sense, this has been a pure joy to hold, and I’ve savored the mere turn of each page.

Ah, but as to what those pages hold…

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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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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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