Tuesday, December 3, 2013

St. Ellery Slays the Dragon

"I'm sorry, Beau," said Mr. Queen in a gentle voice. "My specialty is murder, not romance."
"The Dragon's Teeth"

And as I was writing this review, bad memories of the ending of Broken Sword 3 were revived in my mind. But yay, Broken Sword 5 will be out tomorrow!

Millionaire Cadmus Cole had spent most of the last 18 years on sea, so Ellery Queen and Beau Rummel were quite surprised to find the illustrious man in the offices of Ellery Queen, Confidential Investigations. Ellery (and specifically him alone) is hired for services to be rendered in the future, but Cadmus refuses to tell him what he'll have to do, saying he'll know when the times comes. After the death of Cadmus, Ellery discovers that he is hired to find the two heirs of his will. One problem though: his appendix has burst, forcing Beau to take up the job under the name of Ellery. The suspicious circumstances of Cadmus Cole's death on sea, and his will which bestows his fortune upon his two nieces, who in turn must live together and never marry, give Beau and Ellery enough trouble to fill the pages of The Dragon's Teeth.

A Queen novel that starts out a bit strange, but manages to get back on trail just in time for the conclusion. First of all, the structure of The Dragon's Teeth is a lot like The Door Between: a woman in distress, a private eye trying to protect and falling in love with her, and Ellery staying most of the story in the background. Sure, Ellery appears more often here, and we know he works together with Beau, but still, these Queen novels with surrogate detective figures are weird. Of course, even in The Roman Hat Mystery Ellery wasn't that prominent present, but Beau in The Dragon's Teeth, and Terry in The Door Between are just characters that seem to be created to attract a new audience who want a more romantically involved and impulsive hero. The book also has a fairly small cast, a trait it shares with The Door Between too.

The first half of the story feels like Yokomizo Seishi's Inugamike no Ichizoku (or chronologically speaking, the other way around). The will that determines the marriage life of its beneficiaries, the tension that exists between the two nieces, the legal trouble and discussion about identities... As if Cadmus Cole, and Inugami Sahei after him, followed a course in making wills that will lead to a lot of trouble, and very possibly murder. Which reminds me, testaments, lawyers and the legal world seem to appear quite often in Queen novels now I think about it.

Ellery appears a bit more often near the end though (after a murder) and the novel becomes a lot more fun because of that. The conclusion, though not as impressive as in his earlier novels, does show elements of the Queen deductions we've all come to love. Like in so many of his novels, the state of certain items and their location is very important, and like I noted in my review of The Roman Hat Mystery, there seems to be fetish for objects in these novels,  as it's always deductions surrounding singular items that take the spotlight in the end. The murderer is also a type of person that seems to appear a lot in Queen novels, so experienced readers might even be able to guess the murderer's identity based on his/her role in the story(but of course, it's more impressive if you can actually build a logical case against said person, rather than just meta-guessing).

The murder happens quite late in the novel, which is a bit of a shame. I admit there's a lot going on to satisfy the reader for the moment, but I really liked the way all of his earlier novels featured murder quite quickly (see my reviews of the nationality novels starting with The Roman Hat Mystery). Which reminds me, I have given up on writing a full review of Queen's The Scarlet Letters, but that had the same problem: a very, very late murder and unlike The Dragon's Teeth where the hints pointing to the murderer were spread across the story, most of the important clues of The Scarlet Letters (including a dying message) appeared after the murder, as if they had forgotten to write them. (Add in the problem of Ellery and Nikki babysitting a couple in marital trouble for 80% of the book and you'll see why I hesitated with writing a full review on The Scarlet Letters. This paragraph is the review).

Location-wise, The Dragon's Teeth shows a bit of Queen's past books. From the millionaire living on sea (like in The Egyptian Cross Mystery), the mansion just outside of New York City (The Hamlet from the Drury Lane novels, Hollywood (from The Devil to Pay and The Four of Hearts) to good old New York City (most of Queen's novels), it's a mishmash of familiar locales. I am personally more a fan of the confined settings like the theater, department store and hospital, but ti's hard to deny the 'Queenesque' quality of the elements found in The Dragon's Teeth.

The Dragon's Teeth was definitely as bad as I had first thought. It's not a masterpiece, and the premise of a fake Ellery and the late murder are not that alluring, but the ending is what you'd expect from a Queen novel.

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