Glory spent many hours with crosswords, Double-Crostics, anagrams, and detective stories (the classic bafflers of the field--she had no use of the sex-and-violence or psychological mysteries that began to clog the paperback racks after World War II)
"Face to Face"
It's been many, many years, but I've finally worked myself through all of the Ellery Queen novels. Well, there's still the non-series Cop Out, the real crime based The Woman in the Case and the critical works left, but my primary interests have always been the writer Ellery and Drury Lane series, so now I'm done! Today, no less than three Queen novels in one post!
In Ellery Queen's Face to Face (1967), Ellery and the Scottish private detective Harry Burke have just returned from Europe when they are contacted by Roberta, a pretty girl who says she was once the lover of the infamous womanizer 'count' Carlos Armando, current husband of the famous retired singer Gloria Guild. Or to be exact: ex-husband, for Gloria Guild was murdered that evening. Roberta tells the two that half a year ago, Armando had made her an offer: she would kill Gloria (for Armando, as the prime suspect, needed an alibi) and the two of them could share the inheritance. Roberta refused, but now that Gloria has indeed been murdered, she is convinced that Armando found another silly girl that fell for the count's charms and commited the murder for him. Ellery and Burke try to find out who the mysterious aide of Armando was, helped by a dying message by Guild in the form of four simple letters: f a c e.
I have to admit that I didn't have very high expectations for these last couple of left-over Queens, for the simple reason that I had been going through them in order of interest and opportunity: I hadn't read these Queens only because they didn't look too interesting and I just happened to never come across them. But I concede, Face to Face was actually quite enjoyable. I do think that is partly because so many elements feel almost eerily familiar and whether you consider this good or bad: Face to Face is a rearrangement of previously seen plots developments and other elements. For we have already seen the dying message (oh so often with Queen), the love-stricken private detective helping Ellery (Terry and Beau), the dangerous womanizer, shenanigans with last wills, the mysterious person from the past popping up. Even the overly dramatic ending seems lifted from an older Queen.
But on the other hand, these elements do work fairly well together in Face to Face and there is a good pace throughout the story. Also, while the dying message 'f a c e' returns in the title and it is fairly important to the plot, it luckily is not the only element carrying the mystery plot: dying messages just don't do very well as cornerstones of novel-length mystery stories. On the other hand, the most vital clue to the solution is classic Queen and I quite love it. It is fair, it's almost in your face and yet so easy to overlook. The chain from hint to solution is a bit short and thin, but overall, Face to Face is more than decent.
Another Wrightsville story (by now Ellery should be denied access to the town), another dying message story and also one that shows that dying message stories don't lend them too well for longer stories. Stuff happens, discoveries are made, but ultimately everything can, and is revealed through Benedict's dying words. So a good part of the book feels like padding. The hint is too ingenious for its own good. There is absolutely no way that that particular sitation could have led to that particular dying message, despite Ellery's very very detailed explanation and his answers to all of the old man's (very natural) questions. The reasoning appears to be sound, but if you realize the utterance was made by a man dying with little time left, than it kinda falls apart. Also, the motive also makes the book feel quite dated. Good stuff is done with the wig, dress and gloves (reminding of an early Queen novel), but overall, I think The Last Woman in His Life would have worked much better as a simpler short story.
Middle-aged millionaire Ashton McKell, his wife Lutecia and their writer-son Dane may seem like the typical well-off family, but the three also form a triangle surrounding Sheila Grey, the famous haute couture designer and self-made woman who occupies the penthouse in the same luxury apartment building where the McKells live. Sheila is Ashton's mistress, Lutecia is aware of her husband's infidelity with Sheila and Dane tries to steal Sheila way so his father returns to his mother. This sitation is of course already quite unsightly, but the consequent murder on Sheila Grey naturally does little to help it: investigation by the police quickly puts the initial spotlight on Ashton, but further developments make it hard to determine which side of the McKell triangle was reponsible for the murder in The Fourth Side of the Triangle (1965).
The Fourth Side of the Triangle was one of the ghost-written Queen novels: it was written by Avram Davidson based on an extended outline by, and also edited by the Queen cousins. It was also turned into the pilot film Too Many Suspects of the excellent Ellery Queen TV series starring Jim Hutton. In fact, I like the Too Many Suspects version better than the original novel version. Both versions are not particularly inspiring stories, but there are quite some setting changes between the two. The ending of the original novel however is just disappointing: a deus-ex-machina just pages before the ending leads to the solution and basically everything you've read feels like a waste of time because if a decisive clue is coming falling out of the sky anyway, at least do it right away after the murder and don't try to fill up time with plot developments that prove to be useless. This is luckily changed in Too Many Suspects and while still a bit shakey on the question if it's completely fair, it's doing a lot better than the novel and looking at the whole of things (for example, the new solution ties in wonderfully with the TV/radio setting often utilized in the Ellery Queen TV shows), I think Too Many Suspects is the superior version.
I knew from the start that I wouldn't find The Greek Coffin Mystery-quality mystery novels in these remaining three Queens, but I have to say, I was quite surprised by Face to Face. The rest isn't really must-read material, unless you're trying to go through all of Queen. Anyway, that was it for today and so long Queen, thanks for all the fish.