Here’s a look at the last five of the eleven stories in Ellery Queen’s first short-story collection.
“The Adventure of the Teakwood Case” – there’s been a series of jewel thefts at the exclusive Gothic Arms apartments. Now the body of a man, identity unknown, has turned up on the sixteenth floor, the victim of strangulation. Is there a connection? A second murder then happens, right under the combined noses of Ellery, the Inspector, Sergeant Velie, Dr. Prouty, and assorted detectives.
I’m not going to say much more about the plot because this is one of the best stories in the whole collection, the book’s most outstanding case of a short story having a plot that could have filled a whole novel. Read it and see for yourself.
One more word: like The French Powder Mystery, this is one where you have to wait till the final line to learn the identity of the killer. So don’t peek ahead!
“The Adventure of ‘The Two-Headed Dog'” – “The Two-Headed Dog” is the unusual name of a tourist-cabin operation where Ellery stays for a night. He meets a cast of colourful characters and, inevitably, has to solve a murder that’s committed during his stay.
Well, you could pretty much say the same things about this story as about “Teakwood Case” – an excellently plotted story that a lesser writer would have padded out to 60,000 words or so. Frederic Dannay must have been a plotting machine in the early 1930s, and it’s a shame that he and Manfred Lee decided (for business reasons) to make the stories simpler after the Nationality-Object Mysteries were done. Happily it wasn’t a decision they were still sticking to by the time they got to Calamity Town!
“The Adventure of the Glass-Domed Clock” – someone has bludgeoned curio dealer Martin Orr to death, but before he succumbed to his wounds he managed to drag himself against the floor of his shop and pull down two objects – an amethyst and a clock – apparently to indicate the identity of his murderer.
in the 1950s and later, the name of Ellery Queen became synonymous with dying-message mysteries almost as strongly as John Dickson Carr’s was with impossible crimes. This was Queen’s second effort in that subgenre (the first was “…The Bearded Lady” in the same collection), and it’s very different from most of what followed. Generally, when you read something like The Scarlet Letters or “GI Story” and find out what the victim was trying to say, the effect (or at least the desired effect) is for you to smack your forehead and proclaim “Of course, why didn’t I see that myself?” Here, by the end you’re more saying “Yeah, I guess so” to Ellery’s solution. Dannay was good at complex plots, but I think this one is a little too complex.
“The Adventure of the Seven Black Cats” – Rich old Euphemia Tarkle is buying black cats from pretty young Marie Curleigh’s pet store at the rate of one a week. And she hates cats. What’s she up to?
Another good one in the puzzle department, but I do wonder what the authors were thinking when it came to Ellery’s attitude toward women, especially of the attractive “heroine of a mystery story” type. Here, it’s obvious he’s attracted to Miss Curleigh (as she’s called throughout the story), yet as soon as the case is solved and explained, he can’t seem to get away from her fast enough. I guess in those days your sleuth could have a “girls, yuck!” kind of viewpoint, and people just accepted that he was too much of a brain to allow emotional entanglements to cloud his vast intellect.
“The Adventure of the Mad Tea-Party” – Ellery attends one of those weekend house-parties that of course turns into murder, and someone is not only manufacturing mysterious clues, they’re doing it with a distinct Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass theme. What more appropriate books for a story in a genre that’s its own kind of Wonderland?
This story was actually adapted into a dramatic work, as an episode of the short-lived Ellery Queen TV series from the mid-1970s (the only one based on an actual Queen story). It’s fun, but when you get down to the business of identifying the murderer, Ellery’s chain of logic is actually quite simple – this is one short story that was better off at that length. Still, it’s a fun way to end the book, and the last line hints that the early Ellery might not have been quite as virginal as he seemed.