"So you are a Holmes fan too?"
"Nah. I just applied for the tour 'cause I thought I might meet Kudou again. I like Ellery Queen more than Conan Doyle anywa..."
Two things got me into Ellery Queen: his Nationality novels, which are great pieces of orthodox detection. And his short stories, which are great pieces of orthodox detection. Hmm. Anyway, since I've read all the Nationality novels, I'm now concentrating on the remaining EQ short stories before moving on to the remaining EQ novels. Of which there are not many left.
I had come across Q.B.I: Queen's Bureau of Investigation -style stories in Q.E.D.: Queen's Experiments in Deduction already and I thought they were brilliant! Yes, the stories are very short, some barely 5 pages, but leave it up to Ellery Queen to fill those 5 pages with a great puzzle plot. Most of the stories could have been extended easily and they would still have made wonderful detectives stories, but it's the extreme brevity of the stories that make them so impressive. Not a single word gone to waste. Everything is plotted carefully, and distilled to the core of the problem, without comprimising the readibility, as the witty writing is still very much intact. In fact, much of Queen's humor derives from abrupt contridictions of earlier statements, so the short, to the point style of the stories really complement Queen's humor. The carefully plotted story-structure combined with this wit make the Q.B.I. (style) stories rank amongst my favorite detective stories.
In Money Talks (Blackmail Department), an Sicilian woman is being blackmailed over an indiscretion commited in her youth. The mother isn't particular well off, but her daughter is an upcoming opera star who would suffer gravely from any scandal. The mother suspects one of three lodgers is the blackmailer (conveniently with initials A, B and C) and asks Ellery to help her. Which he does, by having a keen eye for detail and a bit of inspiration.
In A Matter of Seconds (Fix Department), a boxer is kidnapped just before his most important match. The kidnappers are very careful though, they work solely through proxies, demaning one proxy (who happens to be Queen) delivering the money to another proxy (a famous newsreporter), who will then hand the money over the kidnappers. If done as told, the boxer will be returned in time for his match. Queen however wouldn't be Queen if he would just do as he was told.
In The Three Widows (Impossible Crime Department), a widow gets poisoned in a seemingly impossible way. Room was locked, food and everything was prepared by the victim herself, the works. Main suspects are her two stepdaughters (who happen to be widows too). It's a pretty classic-style story, but a very ingenious one. It's also a Queen-ish solution for that. Conan has a lot of howdunnit poisoning stories, but they seldom, if at all, have this kind of solution.
"My Queer Dean!" (Rare Book Department) is every thing Queen: an ingenous short story featuring three suspects, a dying message and rare books (though the suspects aren't conveniently named A, B and C). Dying messages were a Queen specialty and they are almost always fun. Like this one.
Driver's Seat (Murder Department) reminds of Halfway House, with an investigation concentrating on the coming and going of cars to the crime scene. The three (living) Brothers brothers all have a reason for wanting their sister-in-law dead, but which of the three was it? Like always, Queen manages to excel in these which-of-the-three stories.
A Lump of Sugar (Park Patrol Department) is a dying message story, with a man dying with a lump of sugar in his hand. The solution? A surprising one. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine actually made a short radio-drama podcast of it, so listen to it!
For some reason, I find the introduction of Cold Money (Open File Department) is very memorable.
THE HOTEL CHANCELLOR in midtown New York is not likely to forget the two visits of Mr. Philly Mullane. The first time Mullane registered at the Chancellor, under the name of Winston F. Parker, an alert house detective spotted him and, under the personal direction of Inspector Richard Queen, Philly was carried out of Room 913, struggling and in bracelets, to be tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten years for a Manhattan payroll robbery. The second time -ten years later- he was carried out neither struggling nor manacled, inasmuch as he was dead.
What was Mr. Phillly Mullane doing in Room 913? Where did the money of the payrol robbery go? Who killed him? A lot happens in this story, making events feel even faster than other Q.B.I. stories. I don't why, but this story feels a bit... different from others. Maybe because it's less clear what the puzzle is until late in the game, maybe because the solution seems so obvious.
The Myna Birds (Embezzlement Department) is another story that has been dramafied by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The first one actually. A Myna bird snitches on a trio of no-goods, with one of them having killed a man. Ellery picks up on the birds words and interpretates it like only Queen can. And maybe Phoenix Wright. Who also has a history of using birds as witnesses.
In A Question of Honor (Suicide Department), a Scotland Yard officer has messed up a blackmail transaction of the utmost importance to be conducted in the States and commits suicide. Or did he? Things are seldom what they seem in Queen, or they might be exactly what they seem, but nothing more.
The Robber of Wrightsville (Holdup Department) is the longest story in the collection and in some ways, the most satisfying. It is the story that reminds that appeals the most to that Queen-trope of deducing the criminal's characteristics and comparing it to the list of suspects. A robbery of a payroll check is what Queen is asked to investigate in Wrightsville, and the story is a very well structured one.
An impossible disappearance is what bothers Inspector and son Queen in Double Your Money (Swindle Department). 'Double-Your-Money' Grooss had been making a fortune scamming people in his investment plans (in fact a pyramid scheme), so Inspector Queen, Velie and Queen came to scare him a bit, hoping to find proof of his swindle. Grooss however manages to disappear from his office, with only two exits. The window, which was locked (and they were several stories high), and the door, which was watched by the Queens and Velie. With Grooss' investors / victims getting into a panic as they realize their money is gone, Ellery is forced to work at full speed to find out how Grooss got away.
Miser's Gold (Buried Treasure Department) is precisely what the title suggests it to be: a treasure search money. To be precise: the money left to Eve and Dr. Ben by Uncle Malachi, an old miser. It should be on the premise somewhere, but they just can't find it. The only clue is some vague hinting made by Malachi when he was still alive. Queen luckily has a gift for finding things that don't want to be found.
More impossible situations in Snowball in July (Magic Department). A train from Canada with an important witness who can put Diamond Jim Grady behind jail on board disappears between stations, despite the enormous effort made to avoid this (including several fakes). They say Grady can work magic, but can he really make an entire train disappear? A classic, but difficult problem to tackle, but I think that Queen has come up with my favorite solution for this conundrum!
In The Witch of Time Square (False Claimant Department), two men appea claiming to be John Gaard, nephew of miss Wichingame, a well-off lady who wishes to leave everything to her only relative. As the real John Gaard lived most of his life in Korea and China, with the war and political ties not helping in background enquiries, Wichingame has a hard time finding out who the real John is. Enter Ellery. The solution is a rather familiar one (was it in another Queen short too?), though the clueing was pretty good.
In The Gambler's Club (Racket Department), members of an anonymous gambling club have trouble deciding whether the newest tip is a genuine or not. The writers of the letters hasn't been wrong until now, but asking the members to just bury a lot of money and to expect returns on that is kinda strange. The three members who have the letters ask Queen for some advice, who surprsingly says it's a sound investment. Has Queen gone mad?
By the time I arrived at GI Story (Dying Message Department), I had seen several dying messages in this collection, why is this the only story in the dying message department? Anyway, the two letters GI pretty much can mean anything or nothing at all, but Queen using his superior logic to come up with the one interpretation that unanimously points to the killer of old Clint.
In The Black Ledger (Narcotics Department), it's Queen who does the impossible. Ellery is supposed to bring a black notebook from New York to Washington D.C., in it every name and adress of the important drug dealers in the country. The owner of the notebook wants it back (for obvious reasons) and snatches Ellery of the moment he leaves the police department, searching him completely. Not even Ellery's insides are safe. Yet, they can't find any sign of the notebook or other writings on him and decide that Ellery was just a diversion. Ellery of course did had the black ledger with him, but how did he accomplish the impossible?
The title pretty much tells you everything. Child Missing! (Kidnaping Department). A kid has disappeared, but a look at the ransom note tells Ellery pretty much everything. One clue is pretty much impossible to get for non-inhabitants of the USA (and even then, it's doubtful they'd know, I think), but when Ellery gets the ball rolling, it's a nice enough story.
A lot of stories, but they are all fun. Like said, these stories present complex puzzle plots despite their length and because none of them are bad and there are quite some stories collected here, the collection as a whole feels simply wonderful. A must-read.
And as I'm writing anyway, Queen's Full! Also a short story collection, but very different from set-up. Here we have three novelettes and two short stories, rather than a series of very short stories. The three novelettes remind of the short stories in The Adventures and The New Adventures of Ellery Queen, which is never a bad thing. The two short stories are more in the vein of the Q.B.I. stories, yet distinctly longer. It's an amusing collection overall, but I do have to say that this collection is the most... mundane of all the Queen short story collections I've read. It misses the real complexity of the two Adventure collections and it also misses the rapid-fire bursts of ingenuity found in Q.B.I. and Q.E.D. (as well as the Puzzle club stories in The Tragedy of Errors).
The Death of Don Juan is like a condensed novel-length Queen story, with an interesting crime scene (the leading actor of a stage play is killed during the break in his dressing room), a dying message which seems to point to the heroine of the play and the type of killer we quite often see in Queen novels. A very nice short story.
E=Murder is a short dying message / impossible crime story, with a scientist working on a top secret government project being killed in a room under guard. The only clue left is something that resembles the letter E. Queen comes up with his trademark 'multiple interpretations for the message, but only one makes sense in the context' solution. But a bit too open for interpretation for my taste.
In The Wrightsville Heirs, Bella Livingston is killed, leaving her fortune to her stepchildren Sam, Everett and Olivia. Or so everyone thought. To everyone's surprise Bella's solicitor announces that Bella had changed her will in favor of her companion Amy. Queen can't prevent that attempts on Amy's life are made (even though she manages to survive luckily), but redeems himself by finding out the murderer on Bella and the would-be murderer of Amy.
Diamonds in Paradise is another dying message story, but provides more satisfaction than E=Murder. A diamond thief is caught redhanded and in his attempts to escape falls of the stairs. As Ellery asks him where the stolen diamonds are, the thief says 'diamonds in paradise' and dies. An enigmatic utterance, but Queen comes up with a perfectly fine interpretation of the thief's final words.
The Case Against Carroll is in fact very much like a certain The Adventures of Ellery Queen (the TV show) episode. Ok, in a totally different setting, with totally different characters and a totally different plot, but the main idea is the same. Anyway, Caroll Hart is arrested as the main suspect of the murder on his senior associate, having motives (multiple!), means and opportunity to do it. He has one ace up his sleeve though, a witness who will vouch for his alibi, but he does not want to reveal this unless he has absolutely no other choice. Things don't go as Carroll want though (with the signed statement of the witness missing and the witness herself skipping town). Ellery has taken an interest in the case, but doesn't seem able to help Caroll. At least, not in the way Ellery wants. I like the story quite a bit, though I have to admit it's mainly because it reminds so much of that Ellery Queen TV show episode (which is one of my favorites).
Queen's Full is a good story collection by any standards, but it somehow pales in comparison to the other collections. Which is saying something about the quality of the Queen short stories. At first I was thinking of also discussing Calendar of Crime too, but that would make this post even longer than it is already. And let's be honest, it's too long the way it is now already.