I went with Roman Hat Mystery, the first Ellery Queen next because I thought it might be dull and take a while. It wasn’t, not at first, but it did mean I took an entire month to read 3 books. Not a fantastic start. The writers of the Ellery Queen mysteries decided for reasons of their own to use the name for their pen name and their genius young detective even though these are not told in the first person. This one even starts with a preface in which the Queens, father and son, retire to Italy after their first published case, but supposedly one of the greats of their career. This is all just odd to me. Why would you write your first book retiring your detectives, not in the story, but in a preface? Plus Ellery is still young and supposedly meets his wife and has a kid before ‘retiring’ after this case. The whole preface is pretty pointless.
The mystery starts off well and is much more readable, I thought, than the Greek Coffin, but maybe it’s just getting used to peoples’ styles. Ellery is less insufferable and his deductions less incomprehensible, but still there’s more deducing than evidence. The victim is a dodgy lawyer who is attending the hit of the season on Broadway: Gunplay! For some reason no one is in the immediate six seats around him and the reason his body is quickly discovered is because some guy gets up in the middle of the second act and finds him dying. Stop the play. Hold the audience. Search the theater. Monte Field appears to have died from poisoning in his seat surrounded by empty seats. The usher doesn’t seem to have even noticed a whole batch of empty seats. These days I don’t think that would happen. The theater would fill those seats, but I don’t know what they did then. No one sees anybody meet the victim, nor anyone walk along the aisle. He’s in the last row, but still you would notice some of the things the murderer is revealed to have done at the end if you were not too far off. Pretty ridiculous how unobservant people are in this story. If you went to Hamilton, for example, and there were six empty seats behind you or across the aisle, you’d notice, wouldn’t you? You’d think it’s odd. Even if you were a bored and jaded usher wanting to sit with your boyfriend.
The Queens determine that the victim, dressed in evening clothes, had a top hat which is now missing. They search the audience for extra hats, they search the theater for hidden hats. No luck. This is all fairly interesting until they then search the theater again, in excruciating detail and make no progress. This could have been written in two sentences, but instead covers many pages. They do the same with the victim’s apartment. The victim is one of those where most people are celebrating: a blackmailer. They want to find the documents he must have hidden somewhere. Possibly in a series of top hats. But where? Here the flaw of books for situations like these is evident. They search the whole apartment, twice, in exquisite detail, but when they actually show you the diagram of the room, I’m like why the hell didn’t you look there? When you know how the hiding place worked you too might roll your eyes as to how long it takes them to check there. Then again, maybe not. Of the couple other blog reviews I’ve read, no one seems to have issues with the fairness of this mystery or the density of the Queens. This is not fair play, I don’t care what anyone says. I was given the distinct impression that no one went where the murderer is described as going at the end. There are some discussions by the Queens with the wardrobe lady, but we aren’t told what is said. And then I have my own personal opinion of a blackmailer who blackmails a person in the situation the murderer is in, instead of waiting for… well, I can’t tell you. But you can’t get blood from a turnip, that’s all I’m going to say about that.
So not fair play and difficult to believe the solution, but interesting characters and I love how it portrays life in 1929. Very few people dress up for the theater any longer. What the blackmailer has on the blackmailee is equally dated. At least I like to think it is. Probably there are some circles where it would still work, but far, far fewer, thank goodness.
8/10/19 – Well, lookie here. Never published this somehow. Poor deprived reader! Pining away wondering my opinion of The Roman Hat Mystery. Wonder no more.