Sunday, June 19, 2011



"Without the power of the government, there is very little you can do in the Meiji period with just one single sword."
"Even with just a single sword, I can at least protect the people around me."
 "Rurouni Kenshin"

Heh, reading English is a lot easier than Japanese, I can easily finish one or two books a day now! Of course, this does mean that I spend fewer days on Japanese books, which in turns means it will take longer for me to finish my backlog pile...

In Ellery Queen's Cat of Many Tails (Dutch translation: Paniek op Manhattan / "Panic in Manhattan"), a mysterious serial killer has been creating chaos in Manhattan. During an unbelievable hot summer, men and women from all classes and ages are found strangled, without a single clue to the identity of the murderer. Who is this "Cat", as the press call him, and how many lives is the Cat going to take? The police isn't able to find any connections between the victims and it seems like anyone in Manhattan could have committed the murders. Inspector Queen is made head of  the Cat investigation, but the police is stumped. What makes things even worse is that the population is getting very restless under the stress of the unknown assailant and the killer-heat. Ellery is appointed as a special advisor to the mayor to assist in the man-hunt, but can our man create logic out of chaos?

After several trips to Wrightsville better left unmentioned, Ellery Queen finally returns to his home-base: Manhattan! But the story is quite different from what we're used too: instead of a real mystery, a manhunt, a thriller, the search for that single killer amongst the population of Manhattan. And how to stop him! Or her! Or it! For who is the Cat, and why is he killing everybody? It's an interesting problem and the 'missing link' between the victims was wonderfully devious! Leave it up to Queen to find that single thread of logic. Of course, the search for something within a confined space was a specialty of Queen: see the search of the theater in The Roman Hat Mystery and The American Gun Mystery. Or compare to that other specialty of Queen, the reducing of suspects by comparing them to a list of characteristics of the killer (the killer is 1) left handed, 2) blind and 3) deaf, therefore it was A). Looking for a single killer within Manhattan is in fact a blown-up version of this, though executed in different way, as we don't even know what we're looking for.

I see many, many positive reviews of Cat of Many Tails, but I am not as enthousaistic about it as other, I think. It just feels too different from classic Queen. By the time you reach the plot-twist near the middle of the book, it's way too easy to see who the Cat is going to be and it's annoying to see post-Wrightsville!Queen angsting over everything, while we know that classic!Queen wouldn't have been so slow in getting to the truth. Seriously, it might be cool and post-modern and I don't know what for a detective to angst over his abilities to save mankind or something like that, but I sure don't like it (note: I'm very sure that I feel this also partially because I read Cat of Many Tails right after Rouletabille chez le Tsar, where Rouletabille ends up freaking out too at the end).

Cat of Many Tails has some great parts in the beginning though, with the descriptions of the lives of the victims of different layers of New York society. Similar passages are found in The ABC Murders, but the big difference to me is that our victims here are all inhabitants of Manhattan; the city is alive more than in other Queen novels, with the population feeling as one big entity. You feel that the fear for the serial killer is slowly but surely rising in the city and the culmination of that fear in riots was one of the more captivating parts of the book.

The way the victims are linked is smart and I like the depiction of Manhattan in this novel, but it's just so far away from what I expect, want from a Queen novel that I doubt I'll ever really like it as much as other people seem to do. Sure, Cat of Many Tails ranks amongst the better late-period Queens, but that is not saying much.


  1. Yes, this one feels very different from classic GAD, but it should be judged on its own terms as it really is one of finest, and earliest, examples of combining a suspense thriller with a formal detective plot – and the only thing that bogs down the story is Ellery Queen angsting over his previous case. And I grant you that the killer, at one point, is perhaps a shade too obvious.

    Good job at working a Rurouni Kenshin quote into an Ellery Queen review! And, by the way, will you be reviewing one of the Bertus Aafjes books you recently bought?

  2. Yes, I think that review's planned for tomorrow. I wrote pretty much all of the reviews on Saturday, but I don't want to make multiple posts a day, so it's a new post a day until Wednesday? Thursday? Automatic posting \O/And that's only the backlog, I might finish another book by then... =_=

  3. You know, I love, love, love this book. I consider it a genuine masterpiece, sucker as I am for serial killer stories of this sort. The city of New York became a character of its own in the proceedings and the plot is one of Queen's finest.