Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934)

This is a collection of 11 short stories:
  • The African Traveler, in which Ellery Queen has three of his students examine a corpse of a man just back from Africa at a crime scene, to try to solve the crime. Of course, all three get it wrong.
  • The Hanging Acrobat, in which an Acrobat's wife is found hanging backstage at the theatre. The puzzle is: why did the murderer pass up four possible weapons close at hand and commit the crime the most difficult possible way?
  • The One-Penny Black, in which one of two priceless postage stamps is stolen from a dealer. Who did it? And where did it go?
  • The Bearded Lady, in which a painter is murdered - and his dying clue is to paint a beard on a woman in a painting. What was he trying to tell us?
  • The Three Lame Men, in which a kidnapping goes bad and a woman dies unintentionally. Footprints indicates three men were involved - and all limping.
  • The Invisible Lover, in which competition for the girl results in one man dead and the other framed for murder. Ellery indulges in some night-time grave digging to examine the body.
  • The Teakwood Case, in which a man is murdered in his apartment, and the only clue is the one that is not there - his teakwood cigarette case, which is missing.
  • The Two-Headed Dog, in which Ellery stops at the Two-Headed Dog pub, and find a salesman murdered in his cabin; the same cabin a jewel thief used months earlier.
  • The Glass-Domed Clock, in which a curio shop owner is murdered, but leaves a mysterious dying message pointing to his killer.
  • The Seven Black Cats, in which a bedridden woman who hates cats, adopts one every week; all black with green eyes.
  • The Mad Tea Party, in which Ellery is invited to a friend's house for their son's birthday party, featuring a play of Alice in Wonderland. All is fine until the Mad Hatter, played by the host, disappears.


This collection of short stories is not too satisfying. The mysteries are so-so, generally needing a long stretch of imagination and complicated explanations as in all the early Queens. However, the stories are overshadowed by a lot of the baggage of the 1930's writing styles :

Female gender stereotypes abound, especially in The African Traveler. The young woman student is patronized by Queen. It also irks me that women tend to be treated differently - why is it that a woman enters a scene, the writer provides a head-to-foot description of her clothing and accessories, but when a man enters a scene, nothing?

Pejorative racial terms are used for Black and mixed-race persons in Three Lame Men and The Teakwood Case. Granted, the n-word does not appear, but several others of their ilk do. Not only that, the appearance of a Black woman is only as a menial chambermaid in each.

Intentional harm to pets appears in Two Headed Dog and Seven Black Cats. Distasteful in the extreme. In a murder mystery, the murder victim usually deserves it, but innocent animals never do.

The best stories - by process of elimination - are The Hanging Acrobat, The One-Penny Black, and The Mad Tea Party. After subtracting the stories noted above, and two in which the dying victim spends his last precious moments constructing confounding dying messages (Bearded Lady and Glass-Domed Clock), they are pretty much the only ones remaining.

There is a sequel about ten years later: The New Adventures of Ellery Queen. 

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