Saturday, September 11, 2021

And on the Eighth Day by Ellery Queen (1964)


photo: L. W. Currey Inc.

About the author: John on Goodreads writes: Most of the Ellery Queen mystery novels of the sixties were ghostwritten by other authors. Avram Davidson, better known for his fantasy/sf fiction, wrote And On the Eighth Day based on an outline by Frederick Dannay, half of the Ellery Queen writing team.

Major characters:
  • Otto Schmidt, storekeeper
  • The Teacher
  • The Successor
  • Storicai the Storesman
  • Ellery Queen
Locale: The Nevada desert

Synopsis: It is 1944 and Ellery Queen is just finishing up a job in Hollywood producing films for the war errort. He drives across the desert into Nevada, and stops at a remote outpost, The End of The World Store, Otto Schmidt, proprietor. While there, he encounters two strange men: one quite old, one middle-aged; dressed in robes and speaking in a stilted old fashioned English. They pay for their supplies with a large silver coin.

Ellery gets his own supplies and inquires on the best route. He gets confused in the desert, and winds up approaching a lush agricultural community in an isolated basin. He is welcomed by the old man from the store, who introduces himself as The Teacher, leader of their community; and his protegĂ©, a young man called The Successor. 

The community is an independent town of several hundred, and have developed their own ways and customs; eschewing contact with the outside. They are religious, and follow practices which are a mix of Christianity, Judaism, and other beliefs. The town operates smoothly, and Ellery (called El-roi Quenan) is welcomed as someone the prophets had foretold would arrive prior to a time of great trouble.

The Holy Congregation House is their church. The Teacher and The Successor live there. There is a sacred room, the Sanquetum, which holds their prayer scrolls, a holy book of some sort, and their 'treasure', consisting of (originally) fifty silver dollars, obtained from selling some possessions in their move. The dollars have diminished a bit, 19 of them having been used over time to purchase supplies from The End of The World Store, where a sympathetic Otto Schmidt takes the rare silver dollars into the city to sell them and credit the group's account.

As foretold, trouble begins. Someone has been trying to get into the Sanquetum. Then their inventory manager, Soricai the Storesman, is found murdered. It is the first crime to occur in their community, and Ellery steps in to investigate.


*POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD* I cannot write about this book without revealing the following plot line.

About halfway through, the reader, if at all familiar with the account of the resurrection of Jesus in the Bible, will realize we are in a carefully constructed allegory. Most of the major events of the crucifixion/resurrection are present, applied to the current day - even some of The Teacher's dialogue at his trial is taken verbatim from the Bible.
  • "Teacher" is another name used for Jesus in the Bible.
  • The Teacher decides to sacrifice himself in order to save others.
  • The Teacher is betrayed for 30 pieces of silver.
  • The Teacher is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.
  • The Teacher invites Ellery to share his last meal of bread and wine on Thursday, reminiscent of The Last Supper.
  • The Teacher leads his followers up the hill to his execution on Friday.
  • The Teacher dies on the hill on Friday.
  • On Saturday, the only event: Ellery wept.
  • On Sunday, the surprise appearance of Manuel (emmanuel) from the heavens.
I enjoyed the book, especially the descriptions of how the independent community organized themselves. 

The only loose end was the revelation of the sacred book - it did not seem to make sense to me how it became so, and what the point of it was. Suffice to say, it was not a religious book, and has no connection to the Bible.

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