Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ellerius Bibliophilus

"I can understand a chronic bibliophile having this bizarre collection on his desk, for some dark purposes of his own (...) Your employer does not impress me as having the intellectual potentialities of a paleontological field worker, who is a stamp-collecting addict, who has a passion for medieval comerce, who knows so little of music that he must read a child's history of it, and finally who indulges in the sickening horseplay of the year's best - or worst- vaudeville jokes! ... Wes, old boy, there is more here than meets the vacillating eye."
"The French Powder Mystery"

Another Ellery Queen in just a few days? In fact, this was the only Western detective I actually planned to read this year, all the other books just happened to cross my path...

Reviews of Ellery Queen's 'nationality' novels:
The Roman Hat Mystery
The French Powder Mystery
The Dutch Shoe Mystery
The Greek Coffin Mystery
The Egyptian Cross Mystery
The American Gun Mystery
The Siamese Twin Mystery
The Chinese Orange Mystery
The Spanish Cape Mystery 

The French Powder Mystery is the second novel in the EQ series and starts very promising. Every day at noon, an exhibition of a living/bed room is held in a window-booth of the French department store. A girl is supposed to show the various products in the booth and lure the bypassers on the street by her demonstration. But when she pulls down the bed-built-in-the-wall, she, and the onlookers are in for a big surprise as the dead body of a woman falls down from the bed! She is quickly identified as Mrs. French, the wife of the department owner. Inspector Queen is charge of the case, even though he is busy enough with the new Commissioner (who demands reports every day by every officer on the force, checked by Queen) and a drug-ring in the City. Son Ellery on the other hand sees no problems in the French case, as he quickly and steadily deduces himself to the killer.

Wow, I really liked this book! It starts off great, with the public exposition of a dead body and then the logical progress of the story: Ellery Queen notices something at place A, which logically leads him to place B et cetera. Reading the story is like following Ellery's train of thought and that's precisely what I like about the early Queen books: carefully plotted stories that develop at a steady pace that ultimately lead to the one solution. And whereas Inspector Queen and Velie seemed more present than Ellery in The Roman Hat Mystery, Ellery is no doubt our protagonist in this book.

Queen classics like the search of an open, public space (looking for suspects and clues within a department store) and the profiling of the killer through several characteristics indicated by the clues are executed flawlessly. Add in the public display of the dead body, the complete team of Inspector Queen, Velie, Prouty and the others, a Challenge to the Reader, introducing quotes (!), thematic chapter-naming and we have a Classic Queen that has all the elements I love. I especially like the part where Queen uncovers several vital clues by looking at a couple of books and deducing something is not all quite right with them.

My one complaint is maybe that Ellery states his own deductions at several stages of the story, leaving almost no new material for the conclusion: most of his explanations we already know. While the deductions are presented a lot more structured in the conclusion, I think this made the challenge to the reader a bit too easy, as too much of the deductions were already voiced by Ellery, rather than leaving it up to the imagination of the reader.

And that was actually the last of the Nationality novels I needed to read. Still got some Queens left to read, but Classic!Queen is still the best of all Queens, and I doubt I'll encounter something as fun as this amongst the remaining ones.


  1. This is weird, I don't know whether to congratulate you on finally reading the last Ellery Queen novel from the international series, or give you my condolences for reaching the end of it. :P

  2. Meh, had to happen sometime.

    Of the remaining Queens, I'm now mostly interested in Queens Full and Queen's Bureau of Investigation. Because of obvious reasons. Re-reading some of the Norizuki Rintarou stories has been fun (looking for text suitable for translation), but some (old) new Queen short stories are always welcome :)

    (And no, that Japanese collection of Queen pastiches is still not released, nor is there a known release date :()

  3. Hey, Queen's Full and Queen's Bureau of Investigation are fairly good short story collections with vintage Ellery Queen stories, but are overshadowed by the superior volumes in the adventure series. Surprisingly, the stories that really stuck with me are some of the minor ones, like "'My Queer Dean'" and "Diamonds in Paradise," and there's a neat little impossible poisoning story in QBI. Definitely recommended.

    Have you read Calendar of Crime? Those stories are a cut below all the other collections, but decent enough and mostly based on radio plays – and very obviously non-canon. Some of the tales take place around the same time as The Greek Coffin Mystery, with a very young EQ, but Nikki Porter is already there!

    And now that you've finished up the important EQ novels, you should take a look at Patrick Quentin (Q. Patrick) whose plots are as complex and multi-layered as Ellery Queen and I recommend starting out with Death and the Maiden. You're in denial now, but you're obviously grieving and their books might help you get over this lost. ;)