Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Z

「獠に依頼したぁ~いなんて思ってなぁい? この頼れる俺にさ! いいぜ。受けても・・・言えよ例のセリフを・・・さ! ・・・言えよ♡」
「Angel Heart」

"Aren't you thinking about asking me for help? Trustworthy old me? Okay. I'll help you...just say it. You know what. Say it ♡"
"Angel Heart"

And today, the final letter of the alphabet! The next post will conclude this series of reviews.

Drury Lane series
The Tragedy of X (1932)
The Tragedy of Y (1932)
The Tragedy of Z (1933) 
Drury Lane's Last Case (1933)

It's been a decade since Mr. Drury Lane, retired Shakespeare actor and amateur detective, solved the Longstreet Murder and the Hatter Murder. Things have changed of course in those years. Inspector Thumm for example quit the force and started his own private detective agency. His bright and independent daughter Patience returned from Europe and started working as her father's assistant. District Attorney Bruno is now Governor Bruno. But crime never changes. Thumm and his daughter are hired by marble entrepeneur Elihu Clay, because he suspects his silent partner Dr. Fawcett might be involving their company with shady deals. During their stay in Tilden County, Senator Fawcett (brother and suspected accomplice of Dr. Fawcett) is murdered. A cut-up toy chest is discovered to be a major clue, linking the murder to a long-time guest of nearby Algonquin Prison.The local police inspector and district attorney think they have their man, but Patience is quite sure they are wrong and intends to prove her worth as a detective in Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of Z (1933).

The last Drury Lane book to carry the title "Tragedy", but also the first to star Patience Thumm, the daughter of Inspector Thumm who suddenly appeared in this book even though not one reference had ever been made to her in the earlier two adventures. She would also star in the last book, Drury Lane's Last Case. Patience is a weird character. I've seen her described as a crossdressing Ellery Queen once, which isn't that far off actually. Writing a convincing female narrator was definitely not a forte of the Queen cousins. Patience has an interesting function though: she is a very intelligent girl, but unlike Drury Lane, she is also more directly involved with the investigation and is less likely to keep quiet (thus driving the plot forward). Because of that, we have two detectives running around in this novel: while it's Drury Lane who saves the day at the end, there is no doubt that Patience did more than her share of the deductions necessary to capture the murderer. As a female detective following the Queen school of logical reasoning, she is interesting, but still, she really does feel like Ellery with a wig on.

The Tragedy of Z is also perhaps the most boring of the three Tragedies. It is quite a bit shorter than the previous two books, but feels just as long, not because it's so exciting, but because the middle part drags a bit. Both The Tragedy of X and The Tragedy of Y start right off with a mysterious death and the plot basically does not stop until the very end when Drury Lane explains everything. The Tragedy of Z feels a lot slower, with crime scenes that never become as memorable as the street car murder in The Tragedy of X or the mandolin murder in The Tragedy of Y. For most part, it's definitely a step down compared to the previous two letters.

That the first couple of deduction chains of Patience feel a bit... dodgy isn't helping either. Sure, at a later point Drury Lane proves that Patience is indeed right, but even so, it feels a bit arbitrary and not completely convincing. Of course, mystery fiction is always something of the imagination and therefore 'unreal', but that's why it has to be written convincingly. And we know Ellery Queen was capable of coming up with much more solid deductions, so it was not a lack of talent that was at the core of this problem. Especially as Patience's deductions revolve around that what Queen does best: deduce certain characteristics of the murderer by focusing on objects as clues. How they were used, in what state they were found, who could've used them, all of that is Queen's M.O., so it's a bit disappointing when the result is not as good as we usually see from him. When the book is a bit slow and the first couple of deductions aren't really convincing, than you have a battle uphill.

That said though, the final part of the book, when Drury Lane reveals who the murderer is, is fantastic. This is what I expect from Queen! Slowly building a prison around his suspect with bricks of logic! Identitfying the characteristics of the murderer, and comparing them to the suspects! The ending is really impressive, set in a memorable place with Drury Lane quickly, but convincingly proving who the murderer is. In fact, it's amazing howswift the conclusions are in Queen novels. I mean: the explanation of how the detective arrives at his list of characteristics is usually long, but once you have a list of five or six items, it's usually just crossing off suspects. You're out, you're out, you're it. The Tragedy of Z has one that is quick, convincing and satisfying.

There is a trial scene in The Tragedy of Z, which is actually also something you often see in Queen novels. The Tragedy of X had one too, but there's also Halfway House and Calamity Town for example. Trial scenes in Queen are never used as the conclusion of a book though, so usually, you can take a good guess at how those trials will end.

The Tragedy of Z is overall weaker than The Tragedy of X and The Tragedy of Y, there's no doubt to that in my mind. But the conclusion of Z is perhaps the strongest of the three Tragedies, providing a much better showcase of how clues and deductions are handled in Ellery Queen novels. The rest of the book isn't bad per se, but the star of the book is definitely the final chain of revelations made by Mr. Drury Lane.


  1. do you watch Boku dake ga Inai Machi ?

    1. Nope. Haven't watched anything of this season yet, actually.

  2. I've enjoyed reading your Drury Lane series and look forward to your review of the finale! Am I reading incorrectly or did you provide the translation to The Decagon House Murders that I read in English? Whether or not that is true, I wanted you to know how exciting and frustrating it is for this American to read about how Japan honors the classic detective story - exciting because SOMEBODY has to do it and frustrating, of course, because there are almost no examples of these "classic" modern works available in English. I am particularly thrilled to learn about how Japanese readers (and writers) revere Ellery Queen. I know that certain homages and pastiches of his work have been written and published there, and I very much regret not being able to read a translation.

    As I said, I look forward to your future reviews and to perusing your blog site. Thank you.

    1. Yep, I was the translator of The Decagon House Murders. And I'm glad you like the reviews & the blog! Of course, my goal is to raise enough awareness so that one day, this blog isn't even necessary anymore and we can all read Japanese mystery novels in the language of our choice ;)