Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Battle of Bibliophiles

「Angel Heart」

"The East Exit. They say that if you write down XYZ --There's no hope anymore. Save me--on the message board there, your wish will come true."
"Angel Heart"

Drury Lane's Last Review. Even though I posted only one review a week, I actually wrote all the Lane reviews in two days. Well, I wrote the XYZ reviews in one day and started reading Drury Lane's Last Case the same day; the following day I finished the book and wrote today's review.

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

Even though Inspector Thumm doesn't work at the NY Police Department anymore, some things don't change. For one, he certainly doesn't mind if people still call him Inspector. Two, he still remembers all the people who worked for him during his years at the force. So when he is told that Donoghue, an ex-policeman who is now working for the Brittanic Museum, has gone missing, Thumm and his daughter Patience naturally accept the job. During their investigation of the Brittanic, they also discover an utterly strange theft: one of the three known copies of a 1599 Jaggard edition of The Passionate Pilgrim, a poem collection attributed to William Shakespeare, has been replaced with a 1606 edition of the same book, an edition of which nobody knew the existence and therefore much more valuable. What makes the case even more kooky is that the Brittanic's copy of the book is also sent back to the museum, although with a cut through its binding and a hundred dollar bill to cover costs of repair. Thus the Britannic is left with their own, damaged copy of the book and a more valuable edition of the book. Nobody knows what's going on, but as the whole case is linked with William Shakespeare, it's no surprise that Drury Lane, distinguished Shakespeare actor and amateur detective, is called one last time to appear on stage in Ellery Queen's Drury Lane's Last Case (1933).

The last of the Drury Lane novels, and the only one not to have be titled The Tragedy of..., even though the foreword does mention the subtitle The Tragedy of 1599. Like with The Tragedy of Z, Patience Thumm is the heroine of the story, though this time she isn't narrating. This was also the first Drury Lane novel I read. Heck, it's actually one of the very first Queen novels I ever read. As such, I have a sweet spot for it. Especially because I have a funny story to attach to it. Many, many years before I ever heard about Ellery Queen or Drury Lane, I was quite fond of a certain Mickey Mouse comic. With the power of Internet, I know now it was an Italian 1991 story titled Topolino e il segreto di William Topespeare (story code:  I TL 1872-B), but I knew it as Mickey en het geheim van William Mousespeare ("Mickey and the Secret of William Mousespeare"). Imagine my surprise when I first read Drury Lane's Last Case, and I discovered that the neat Mickey Mouse story about rare Mousespeare books being stolen only to be returned to their owners again with a slash through its cover wasn't completely original.

Drury Lane's Last Case is fairly different from the three previous Drury Lane novels though. For one, for most of the book, the plot revolves around the mysterious book-swapping in the museum. In short, this book is mostly a bibliomystery and murder only becomes a part of the play at the very end of the story. This is quite different from the three Tragedies, which basically all started with a mysterious death. For Queen fans, the bibliophilical angle shouldn't come as a surprise: it's a background the Queen cousins used very often in their books. And as there's a Shakespeare link, it's obvious why Drury Lane appears in this novel.

While the main mystery might be a bit tame compared to the previous books, I definitely like Drury Lane's Last Case a lot. For people who love books and historical mysteries, the plot about the stolen (and returned) books is more than just interesting. There's just something magic about hidden secrets about Shakespeare. What helps is that Queen never allows the plot to slow down: surprises are thrown at the reader all the time and it's hard to guess where the story is going because of all the revelations on the way. It'd say this is the most active book of the four Drury Lane novels, with even an Exciting Chase somewhere.Yet it never becomes too chaotic and the high-paced mystery about a book theft is miraculously exciting all the way to the end. After the somewhat slow The Tragedy of Z, this is certainly a welcome change in pacing. Also: the book is great fun because for the longest time, you have no idea what's going on. The Tragedy of X and Z were quite straightforward with their murders. The Tragedy of Y was also clear-cut, but also added a hint of insanity because of the odd murder, as well as the whole "Mad Hatter" household. Drury Lane's Last Case however is crazy from the start, with events happening that seemingly make no sense at all. It takes a while before things take shape though, and some might find that less appealing. I however love the crazy atmosphere.

The investigation eventually does turn into a murder investigation, but that's very late. What's interesting that here Drury Lane's Last Case turns back into the type of mystery you expect it to be. The line of reasoning that eventually leads to the identity of the murderer is as always focused on physical objects as clues, and deductions surrounding how the objects were used and such. As I noted in my review of The Tragedy of Y, a lot of the clues are actually recyled within the story, having multiple uses in the deduction chain, which is quite impressive and fun. For while a reader might notice one correct use of a clue, it might be a lot more difficult for someone to identify all necessary uses of a clue. The most significant clue in the book for example is used in two different ways.That said, Drury Lane's Last Case never comes even close to the logical reasonings laid out in the three Tragedies and is definitely the weakest one in terms of how impressive the final deduction chain is.

The last part of the book also feels a bit detached from the first part (the 'straight' bibliomystery) though and the book overall feels less like "one" story, compared to the previous books. The last part does follow from the previous, but the non-murder part and the murder part feel quite different from each other. Not a bad thing per se, but the previous books were quite impressive because they always showed how a view on the complete case was necessary to figure out who the murderer was. That is less obvious in Drury Lane's Last Case.

But I do really like Drury Lane's Last Case though, because it's so weird. Logic-wise, it's not as impressive as the previous three books, but it makes up for that by just being a lot more unpredictable than those books.


  1. To use your phrase I "meta guessed" knowing that this was the last book and one other fact which perhaps we should not mention as it is a spoiler.

    1. Yeah, I think this is definitely one of the easier Queens to meta-guess the solution.