Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Tragedy of Shakespearian Pretentiousness

I'm pretty sure that the people on this blog know about Ellery Queen, but if not, let me elaborate.
Ellery Queen is the creation of Manfred B. Lee (the writer) and Fredric Dannay (the plotter). Ellery Queen also served as their pen name, which probably led to people assuming that this was some early form of self-insert fanfiction. The books are known for twisty plotting, serious attempts at making more psychological mystery novels. and for being hilariously overwritten. To me anyways.

The Tragedy of Errors and Others' main feature is an unpublished novel, the outline of which was sent to Lee before he died. Crippen and Landru got their hands on it and published it, along with a few other stories and essays, for the 70th anniversary of the first book, The Roman Hat Mystery. Does this novel live up to Queen's standards, as much as I can judge as I've never read one of their novels so I'm probably completely unqualified and I'll stop now.

The Tragedy of Errors

Morna Richmond could've been a star. She was great in the silent films, but when she actually had to act, things fell apart. Now she spends her days in a castle estate, waiting for her big break, which she will receive. Posthumously, of course. She is found dead on her estate, murdered by someone who did a terrible job of making it look like suicide. The murderer is obvious, but Ellery can't shake the feeling that there's more to it...


+ Fairly clued, as far as I can see. Impressive, considering that this is just an outline.
+ The killer is hidden well.
+ The plot is good and twisty.
+ I enjoy what was done with the will. Unrealistic, but this is pointed out in-story, and I can still appreciate the effort.
+ I just love Dion Procter, because he just goes through the book with this "I don't give a crap" attitude. Considering how insane the plot gets...


- Let's start with the simple one; this thing feels overwritten. This is something I see in almost every novel snippet I see, these two just keep inserting unnecessary pretentiousness. But that's a matter of personal opinion.
- What was the point of (SPOLIERS Dion Procter? A red herring? If so, he worked on me, but I kind of wanted more to be done with him. END SPOILERS)
- This is probably more personal stupidity more than anything, but... what was the killer's motive again? I know they'd end up with enough money to buy at least two copies of Locked Room Murders, but their final conversation implied that there was more to it. Am I being dense? Was Dannay being too lofty?
- While the killer's plan mostly works, I do have one complaint. (SPOLIERS Why didn't Buck rat Rago out? Ellery says that he manipulated Buck, and unless he used subliminal messages, I don't see how Buck could be unaware of it. Why didn't he tell the police that "Oh by the way, Rago gave me this idea." For that matter, how would Rago be sure that he would off himself? END SPOLIERS)

This is a pretty good story. A complete judgment is impossible, due to it being an outline, but I believe that it would have been good if it had been completed. (Also, as a side note, Let me boast to TomCat that I did not fall into the same trap he did. I didn't solve it, but I take my victories where I can get them. Even if I achieved that victory through ignorance.)
Terror Town
Tommy Cooley walked away one October day. The town searched and searched but never could find him...until the spring rains turned up his body. And that was only the beginning of a series of murders that would shake the town to its core...
This story mocks me. It has good atmosphere, the clueing, while sparse, is fair, and I liked the motive for the murders. The main problem is the Dang. Romance. Plot! Look, I'm not like S.S. Van Dine, marching up the isles going "Harumph!" at romance plots. Heck, I don't mind when one is part of a story; it gives more emotional investment. But it's never done well in mysteries, as I learned here. It's annoying and gets in the way of the story. Heck, I could write a better romance! The rest of the story's good though.
Uncle From Australia
Ellery has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a real uncle from Australia. Complete with fortune to be willed away! As well as a knife in his back, and the dying message "Hall". If only all the people with a motive to kill him didn't share the same last name...
A simple story, with a good dying message. Not much more to say.

Note: The next three stories all have the same device of Ellery receiving problems from the Puzzle Club, a group of smart and rich people with nothing better to do.

The Three Students

Take a valuable ring. Now give three students access to it. End result: one missing ring and one strange note...

Unfortunately, this is one of those stories where there's only one clue, and if you don't have the knowledge to decipher that clue, you're outta luck. It's ultimately a guessing game.

The Odd Man

An undercover agent is murdered while looking into drug trafficking. The only clue he leaves behind is the killer is the "odd" one of the three...

Better than the last story. There are three possible solutions, so you have a pretty good chance of being able to figure out at least one. The knowledge required is also less specialized.

The Honest Swindler

Old Pete said that he was looking for uranium, and that he needed money. He got $50,000, because he said that his investor would get their money back. He doesn't find a thing, but he lives up to his promise...

Probably the best of these three stories. The situation is clever, and the solution is obvious once it's pointed out.

The Reindeer Clue (by Edward D. Hoch)

A two-bit blackmailer is shot to death in a reindeer pen. Of course, this being an Ellery Queen story, he's able to leave behind a dying message... that accuses Santa's reindeer...?

This is a fun story. It's short, to the point, and the dying message is clever, with only the bare minimum of specialized knowledge required.

The rest of the book contains reminisces and essays, and those are a little out of my expertise. I will, however, recommend Robert Adey's "The Impossible Mr. Queen" for a look at the locked room mysteries in the novels and short stories.

I really like this collection. The stories are of almost consistently good quality, the essays and the like are interesting, and the unfinished Queen novel is bound to excite the Queen fan boys.

I give it a 7.5 out of 10

Next time, Ellery Queen: Radio Personality. Thanks for reading!

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