3 The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen
This was the most complicated Ellery Queen story yet and despite focusing correctly on the right clue, I came nowhere close to solving it. When Abigail Doorn, wealthy supporter of New York City charities, is murdered in the hospital she founded, the demand that her murderer be caught rises up from powerful men and women across America. But who could the culprit be putting tremendous pressure on the Queens? The woman was strangled with a wire while unconscious waiting for surgery and the culprit appears to be a man posing as her surgeon. And everyone had a reason to kill the beloved woman because they needed the money she was leaving them in her will. It’s a perplexing case and it almost slips up even Ellery Queen.
Honestly, this was not one I ever had any chance to solve. The clues are subtle—way too much so for me. But this is a well written adventure and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ellery sift through the clues and eventually explain them to me. I’m not so certain that this case would have resulted in convictions in court without the all-important confessions at the end of the book. I’m sure a defense attorney would have loved trying to confuse the jury to make it harder to follow Ellery’s chain of logic. But then again, maybe not. The very last clue we discover after Ellery has solved the crime makes the case seem pretty rock solid.
In Series Order
1 The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen
This is the first Ellery Queen mystery and I was a little bit surprised that Ellery was only a supporting character in the story—THE supporting character as it turns out, but not the person whom we follow throughout the case. The mystery is top notch—a murder happens in the middle of a theatrical performance and Ellery’s father, Inspector Queen, has to figure out who committed the crime. The biggest clue, as suggested by the title, is a missing top hat, but how it is supposed to lead to the culprit is by no means obvious.
The first fifth of the story sets up the crime and provides the boundaries of the investigation in a very enjoyable fashion. Then we get down to brass tacks and try to figure out who killed a lawyer with an increasingly bad reputation. Lots of people hated the man and as the Queens discover, lots had reasons to fear him.
The gimmick of the Ellery Queen mysteries is that each book carefully provides all the clues needed to solve the crime—who done it and why? I figured out the “who” in this one, but not because of the clues. I figured it out by thinking about how mystery writers plot stories and using this totally unfair technique I correctly identified the culprit—but now how the murderer committed the act. As the Queens narrowed in on the culprit, I went a step further and figured out how the hat was gotten out of the theater (that was done fairly) but I couldn’t have explained anything else. Yet, when the Queens explained it, I felt that I had been given every chance to solve the crime.
One additional thing needs to be mentioned, This book was published in 1929 and reflects the prejudices of the 1920s. At times, interactions and other facets of the story will make a modern reader cringe as I’m sure we would do nearly constantly if we ever traveled in time back to the Roaring Twenties.
2 The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen
The second Ellery Queen mystery is very different from the first. Right from the start the reader is able to follow with Ellery and his father a large collection of clues that show not only that the murder was not committed where the body was found but that all of the clues point toward one suspect. Naturally, the reader immediately assumes that the suspect cannot be the guilty party because Ellery Queen solutions are never obvious—and there in lies part of the genius of this story. The crime has clearly been very carefully planned. So it’s only in a few dangling places where there is a piece of easily overlooked evidence that does not fit the other facts that the reader gets the chance to find the true murderer.
I didn’t come close to solving this case. I fell back on the “who do I least suspect?” method. I also tried taking a second look at the most obvious suspect. But nothing helped me. I certainly didn’t figure out the crime based on the clues in the story, but I should have. The authors played fair and they even told us how to go about solving the crime if I had paid enough attention to their hints. So despite my failure, this was a solid case that played true to the Ellery Queen challenge. It was possible to solve this mystery.
7 The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen
I’ve only read a handful of Ellery Queen mysteries in my life, but each tends to play out the same way. There’s a murder with a bunch of suspects and Ellery Queen through careful observation, repeated questioning of the witnesses, and some fancy deductive thinking figures out who the killer is. In several of the books, the reader gets challenged to name the murderer too—because that is the true gimmick in an Ellery Queen mystery. The clues are all there if you can get past the smoke and mirrors to solve the crime.
For the record, I never identify the killer, but I always enjoy trying. In The Siamese Twin Mystery, I came very close to getting the answer, but I’m not sure the authors were actually fair with us this time. In a genre where the exotic clue is often the key to everything, I’m not convinced that they played fair with the exotic element.
And yet, this is my favorite Ellery Queen mystery to date, because there was a second plot having nothing directly to do with the mystery that added a lot of tension to the story. The Queens are caught in an isolated mansion cut off from the world by an encroaching forest fire. Throughout the tale the fire gets closer and adds a disturbingly personal threat to the investigation. It frays nerves and physically endangers everyone present adding a touch of the adventure story to the murder mystery. It was a decidedly nice change of pace from the other Ellery Queen Mysteries I’ve read.