Ellery Queen in real-life legal drama

Huh.

Excerpt in case this link goes dead:

“The jig is up!

“In a twist straight out of a pulpy page-turner, a son says he discovered his late mystery-novelist father’s signed books had been stolen — after seeing them go up for auction at Sotheby’s, according to a new lawsuit.

“Upper West Sider Richard Dannay — son of detective-fiction author Frederic Dannay — claims 33 of his dad’s signed books were stolen by his step-mom Rose, passed to her son Terry Koppel and eventually given to Sotheby’s for auctioning, according to a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed late Wednesday.”

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Carter Dickson: She Died a Lady (1943) – this review contains spoilers!

This review spoils the identity of the murderer, the secret of the impossible crime, and some other good stuff. You have been warned!

It’s the summer of 1940 and war has come to Britain, not least to the town of Lyncombe on the north Devon coast. As Hitler expands his empire and southern England faces a possible German invasion, country doctor Luke Croxley is watching a more private drama unfold: Alec Wainright’s beautiful (and much younger) wife Rita is keeping company with handsome Barry Sullivan. Will they run off together? Will one of them end the affair? Or will they do something else? When Dr. Luke, visiting the Wainrights, finds two sets of footprints leading to a cliff overlooking the sea – and none coming back – it seems clear Rita and Barry killed themselves by jumping off at low tide. But when their bodies wash up on shore, it turns out they died from gunshot wounds…

She Died a Lady was one of the first books by John Dickson Carr I ever read, and I’ve long held it in high regard for a number of reasons – the ingenuity of the solution, the atypical viewpoint character (an elderly man who doesn’t fall in love during the story), and the sharply drawn picture of daily life during the first year of World War Two. I recently reread it and while my affection for it remains unabated, I have been asking myself… does Carr play 100% fair in this one?

Let’s review the impossibility. It appears that during a narrow window of time while it was low tide, Rita and Barry walked to the edge of the cliff and jumped off – a safe thing to do at high tide, but fatal when they did it due to the rocks below. A police examination of the footprints proves that two people did walk out to the edge without coming back – there is no chance one person pulled the old trick of walking out in one pair of shoes and back in another. There is one strange thing about the prints, though – the two people who left them were walking in step. Why would they have done that? And if the murderer wasn’t hanging in midair while shooting them, how were they killed?

Dr. Luke eventually figures out an explanation – the set of prints he saw were indeed left by one person doing the walking-backwards trick. Hours later, after the tide had come in – but before the prints could be checked – Rita and Barry walked out to the edge, pushing a garden-roller ahead of them, obliterating the previous sets of prints and leaving the in-step ones. They let the garden-roller fall into the water and dove in after it, swimming to what they thought was a safe place – only to find the murderer waiting for them with a gun.

When Dr. Luke tells H.M. what he thinks the method was, and his choice for the killer of Rita and Barry (local artist Paul Ferrars), H.M. sadly tells him he thought of the same solution, but he had the bottom of the cliff checked, and there was no garden-roller there. 

At which point Chapter 19 ends, and we have a brief interlude written by Ferrars in which he tells us that Dr. Luke was killed in an air raid shortly after writing the manuscript we just read, and that he never realized that the real murderer was his own son, whom he treated in the story more as a part of the background than as a suspect. 

And in Chapter 20, also by Ferrars, H.M. explains that Dr. Luke was right about the garden-roller all along, and the reason it wasn’t where it should have been was that H.M. paid some guys to remove it before the truth could come out and break the old man’s heart. 

Now, lying is a perfectly acceptable weapon in the armoury of any detective, real or fictional. At the same time, I couldn’t help feeling let down – I began Chapter 20 expecting an even more ingenious solution to the footprints puzzle, and of course I didn’t get it.

However, having thought things over, I have to acquit Carr of not playing fair here. There’s one book of his where the detective tells a flat-out lie to a character regarding his suspicions in the case, and says in the last chapter he’d had to do it, due to the effect it would have had on the character if he’d been truthful. This is pretty much the same thing – in trying to figure things out, you have to take into account that while H.M. might be telling the truth about “no garden-roller”, he might also be lying for some strategic reason. 

So while I’m still a bit let down that there was no “true” explanation of the impossibility, I still rate this as one of the top H.M. novels, my only real criticism being that this is the point in the saga where his non-hilarious slapstick antics start to take up too much room in the stories. I blame that on the fact that things were still looking grim when Carr wrote the book, and he wanted to do something to alleviate the gloom… and by the time the war ended, he’d fallen in love with his comedy skills too deeply to give humour up.

A.A. Fair: The Knife Slipped (written in 1939, published in 2016)

In January 1939, William Morrow & Company published The Bigger They Come, Erle Stanley Gardner’s first novel under the pseudonym of A.A. Fair, marking the debut of the private-eye team of Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. in April of that year, Gardner sent in the second in the series, The Knife Slipped – and Morrow rejected it. Rather than trying to revise TKS, Gardner filed the manuscript away and wrote Turn on the Heat, which was accepted… and that was how matters stood for the next 75 years. Gardner published 29 Lam/Cool novels from 1939 till his death in 1970, but The Knife Slipped never saw the light of day.

Until 2016, at least, when Hard Case Crime released it to the public for the first time ever, and Gardner fans got a chance to enjoy it and see how it stacked up against the rest of the Fair corpus.

I won’t waste much time on the plot – Bertha assigns Donald to get the goods on a probably-unfaithful husband, there’s a murder, the cops get tough with both members of the team, and as in any of their other cases, there are a lot of complications before the solution is revealed.

Editor Russell Atwood provides an afterword in which he mentions several ways in which TKS differs from the rest of the Lam/Cool saga:

  • Bertha is a better detective here than in any of the other books, figuring out a lot of the solution by herself, although it’s still Donald who pins the killing on the guilty party
  • Donald, fresh off his first case, is still a rookie private investigator and makes the kind of rookie mistakes that you won’t find him making in Turn on the Heat or later books
  • Bertha goes easier on Donald when he messes up than she would later on (although she still chews him out quite a bit) and makes a positively sentimental gesture at the end

Atwood speculates that Donald making mistakes might be the reason Gardner’s editor, Thayer Hobson, declined to publish the book, and that may have had something to do with it. However, there are several paragraphs in Francis L. Fugate’s book on Gardner, Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer, that offer other reasons.. although I have to admit they leave me more confused than anything else.

Hobson wrote a rejection letter to Gardner, quoted in Secrets, in which he said in part, “I think it is cheap – crude without being effective. All Bertha Cool does is talk tough, swear, smoke cigarettes, and try to gyp people… And I don’t think much of the story itself. If that manuscript had come to me in the ordinary way… I would have stopped reading about page 70…”

By contrast, when Gardner sent in Turn on the Heat, Hobson enthused, “Jesus Christ, here Bertha Cool is Bertha Cool and she is flesh and blood and she is grand. So is Donald Lam. Now, damn you, Erle, you know perfectly well that these are the characters who have been in your mind and not those stuffed shirts who came wobbling into the office a few months ago.”

All of which perplexes me, because hey, the Bertha of the other 29 novels talks tough, swears (only words that were publishable in the Forties, of course), smokes cigarettes and, well, tries to get a good fee for the agency’s services. And the story itself is of a piece with the kind of cases she and Donald would investigate over the coming decades. Maybe Hobson was having a bad day?

So if you like the Lam/Cool novels and haven’t read this one, it’s a perfectly good companion to the other 29.

(By the way, the title has nothing to do with stabbing anyone. Several times in the story, Bertha says she likes to “cut herself a piece of cake,” meaning she likes to make money off of a potentially lucrative situation, but this time “the knife slipped” – meaning she got in trouble when she tried to horn in on someone else’s action.)

Ellery Queen: Ten Days’ Wonder (1948) – this review contains spoilers!

Last month The Green Capsule did a review of Ellery Queen’s second Wrightsville novel, The Murderer is a Fox. In the comments, there were several tantalizing allusions to the third in the series, Ten Days’ Wonder, and I’m eager to see what TGC makes of it once he reads it… but ever since the subject came up the book has, on and off, been on my mind, and so I’m going to do my own review of it right now! I’ve already done a brief entry explaining what I think is its great flaw in a spoiler-free way, but the time has come for a fuller treatment.

Warning! It’s impossible to discuss Ten Days’ Wonder seriously without spoiling the ending, and spoiling the ending is exactly what I’m going to do in this review! I’m even going to name the murderer! So if you haven’t read it, please stop reading now!

Also, while I’m not going to spoil the endings of Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox, I’m going to allude to some things that might be considered spoiler-ish, so you should have already read those as well!

Ahem. Those of you who have read Wonder will recall that it’s the story of sculptor Howard Van Horn, who’s prone to blackouts that last several days and has no idea what he does during them. He comes to his onetime friend Ellery Queen for help, and Ellery returns to Wrightsville (Howard’s home town) to stay at the estate of Howard’s adoptive father Diedrich, a larger-than-life tycoon. His pretext for the visit is that he’s trying to finish a novel by deadline, but actually he’s there to keep an eye on Howard and follow him if he blacks out again.

Soon enough Ellery learns that Howard had a one-night stand the previous year with his pretty young stepmother Sally, and that an unidentified blackmailer now has his hands on certain letters Howard foolishly wrote to her, letters that would make it plain to Diedrich that he’s been cuckolded. Howard and Sally have both sworn never to revive the affair, and are now willing to pay the blackmailer rather than see Diedrich hurt by learning what happened, even though Ellery warns that they’ll just end up paying till they run out of money, and the creep will then spill the beans anyway…

Things get tangled from then on, with revelations about Howard’s biological parents, a midnight trip to a local graveyard, Diedrich asking more than once what the hell is going on, and Ellery almost getting arrested on a charge of theft before storming out of the Van Horn house in anger.  As he’s driving back to New York, he suddenly sees the pattern that he’s overlooked until now — over the course of the book, Howard’s broken nine of the Ten Commandments, and he’s about to break the one he hasn’t yet – Thou Shalt Not Kill. Racing back to Wrightsville in the belief that Diedrich is going to be Howard’s target, Ellery explains to the millionaire that he’s in deadly danger — only to discover that Howard’s actually killed Sally in the course of another blackout. When Howard is arrested, Ellery explains his solution to Police Chief Dakin and County Prosecutor Chalanski – and when Howard commits suicide before he can be taken to jail, the case is closed, and becomes a national sensation that has everybody calling the case the greatest of Ellery’s career.

A year passes, during which Ellery roams the globe solving one tough case after another, until finally he decides enough sleuthing is enough and tries to go back to novel-writing. A chance discovery leads him to realize that Howard couldn’t have come up with the Ten Commandments pattern on his own; further inquiries tell him that Diedrich had been lying about a key finding in the investigation, and that a crucial piece of evidence had been faked. Putting all the clues together, Ellery sneaks into the Van Horn house and confronts Diedrich with the truth – he’d known all along about the affair, he’d decided to kill Howard and Sally in revenge, and he’d come up with the whole complicated Ten Commandments frame-up of Howard because it was the kind of thing Ellery would figure out and, having done so, believe to be the truth. Ellery lets Diedrich commit suicide rather than face trial and, nobody else knowing he’d been in the house, leaves in silence.

So, where to start? (Yeah, all that was preliminary!) Well, there are a lot of good things about Wonder. There is a constant pervasive sense of menace, of things going on that we can vaguely perceive but not understand, that makes it Queen’s best novel from the point of view of pure suspense. There’s a moment of genuine peril for Ellery when it looks as if Chief Dakin is going to haul him off to jail. And Diedrich and Howard are two of Queen’s most memorable characters, even if you want to slap Howard half the time.

Now let’s reiterate my main criticism of the novel, the one I wrote that earlier entry about: Ellery’s solution contains a basic logical flaw. He concludes that since the blackmailer read Howard’s letters to Sally, and the person who framed Howard for the Ten Commandments crimes also read them, those two people are in fact the same person… whereas there’s no reason why the person who stole the letters couldn’t have shown them to one or more other people. Which means that Ellery’s blaming the whole deadly enterprise on Diedrich lacks a solid foundation, and disqualifies Wonder as a true fair-play mystery.

According to the Dannay-Lee letters collected in Joseph Goodrich’s Blood Relations, Fred Dannay spent two years (on and off) coming up with the plot structure of Wonder, and when Manny Lee was writing the actual book, he spotted a flaw in the solution. Rather than try to get Dannay to correct it and have to rewrite a lot of the book, he just wrote around it with as much panache as possible. Lee’s letter does not specify what the flaw was, but I bet this was it. You have to wonder how Dannay reacted once he learned about the problem.

Another thing that bothers me is how Diedrich is supposed to have thought up the Ten Commandments frame-up and made all the necessary arrangements in the two short days between the time Howard phoned him from Ellery’s apartment and the time Ellery arrived in Wrightsville. Particularly improbable – for a story set before the Internet existed – is the idea that he could have: come up with the “H.H. Waye” anagram; looked for the grave of someone of the right age… who had died at the right time… and whose last name was Waye; failed to do so but found one for a couple named Way; and carved the extra letter on their tombstone. Ellery says that Way is not an uncommon surname, but the Mongabay census-data website (invaluable if you’re a writer trying to come up with character names) says it was the 2,605th most common surname in the U.S. in 1990, and I imagine it was around that same position forty-odd years earlier (maybe higher because of the influx of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, etc. that happened in between). I think Diedrich would have had to spend a lot more time driving around and visiting graveyards before he found even the approximation of what he was looking for.

This aspect of the story reminds me of one of those John Dickson Carr novels where the detective says in the last chapter, “Gentlemen, are we to believe that A, B, C, D and E all happened in an impossibly tiny span of time?” Except that here, we are supposed to believe just that.

Also, if the case became a national sensation, wouldn’t at least one newspaper have sent someone to take a photo of the tombstone? That plus an observant reader would have let the cat out of the bag right away. A reporter might also have looked into the matter of Dr. Southbridge.

I have no trouble believing that Howard and Sally, both of whom owed Diedrich an awful lot, would have been wracked by guilt at the way they were deceiving him throughout most of the novel. I do have trouble believing they wouldn’t have figured they were torturing him all the more by arousing his suspicions – he certainly puts on a good show of being tortured – and simply made a clean breast of it (and ruined his whole plan).

As well, it sure is lucky for Diedrich that Howard’s detective friend was Ellery Queen and not, say, Archie Goodwin. If Archie had been the one handling the drop-off at the Hollis Hotel, he would never have played a lone hand the way Ellery does – as soon as he got back from the Friday picnic, he’d have phoned up Saul and Orrie and Fred to come help him out, and maybe had Del Bascom send a squad of men for good measure.  And with a whole bunch of trained P.I.’s on stakeout, Diedrich’s scheme for taking the money undetected would have failed.

Wonder is the first Wrightsville novel to feature a murderer who’s one of those masterminds who manipulates everyone, including Ellery, before finally being unmasked. As such, it makes Wonder a far less naturalistic novel than the previous two, both of which featured culprits who might far more easily have existed in real life. Nice that Queen wasn’t just doing the same thing over and over in his favourite small town, but the transition from relative realism to quasi-fantasy is a jarring one.

A final puzzle related to Wonder comes as late as the next Wrightsville novel, Double, Double (no spoilers for that one here!). As I’ve mentioned, Ellery’s “Howard did it” solution becomes famous and adds lustre to the legend of Ellery Queen, Great Detective. Then at the end, he lets Diedrich commit suicide on whatever pretext he likes, the strong implication being that no one else will ever know about their late-night conversation, and the world will continue to believe in Ellery’s original solution. Yet in Double, Malvina Prentiss says that all three of Ellery’s previous Wrightsville cases have been “skunk eggs”. If the world still thinks Howard is the killer in this case and Ellery the sleuth who trapped him, how is the case thought of as a failure? Maybe Diedrich’s suicide note (which Ellery never read) confessed the truth, and it came out when it was too late for Ellery to do anything about it?

(For that matter, why would Malvina think Town and Fox were “skunk eggs”? In each case, Ellery suppresses the truth, but lets the world believe a false solution that won’t harm any living person.)

It’s interesting to note that according to Francis M. Nevins, Anthony Boucher “hated” Wonder, calling the two solutions a “farrago of nonsense” in a letter to Lee and having a private meeting with Dannay (with John Dickson Carr as a witness!) in which he unloaded about his feelings. A few months later, though, his review of the book in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine was a lot milder, and after voicing his criticisms, he actually said “I’m ashamed of myself for quibbling.” I have a feeling it would have been better if EQMM had had a policy of not publishing reviews of Queen novels at all than making Boucher feel as though he had to pull his punches.

Columbo: Season Three (Part 1)

Mark Dawidziak, author of The Columbo Phile, says Season 3 (1973-74) was the best of them all. Is he right? Let’s check things out…

“Lovely but Lethal” by Jackson Gillis, based on a story by Myrna Bercovici

Cosmetics tycoon Viveca Scott (Vera Miles) has a powerful rival, David Lang (Vincent Price). Karl Lessing (Martin Sheen), a research scientist for her company, is planning to sell her out by letting Lang have the formula for a revolutionary new wrinkle cream, and in the course of a violent argument she slugs him with a microscope and kills him. Then another of Viveca’s employees turns on the blackmail screws… 

The Columbo episodes that deal with an unpremeditated murder are never as interesting as the ones where the villain has everything carefully worked out beforehand, and this is no exception. As well, the clue that finally lets Columbo pin guilt on Viveca is less than convincing; there would be at least one way for a defence lawyer to explain it that didn’t involve her being guilty. Not a strong choice to launch the new season, in spite of a great lineup of guest stars.

“Any Old Port in a Storm” by Stanley Ralph Ross, based on a story by Jackson Gillis

Half brothers Adrian (Donald Pleasence) and Ric (Gary Conway) Carsini are co-owners of a winery that, with Adrian running things, turns out distinguished but unprofitable wines. Ric actually owns the land all by himself, and when he tells Adrian he’s going to sell it to a concern that makes undistinguished but profitable wines, Adrian clobbers him from behind, ties him up and and locks him in the wine cellar, turning off the ventilation to make sure Ric will suffocate. He later dresses the body in scuba gear, dumps it in the ocean, and hopes the police will conclude it was an accident. 

This one is widely considered a top-notch Columbo, and the strength of Donald Pleasence’s performance is one reason why; this nice-guy-pushed-too-far is one of our hero’s more memorable adversaries, and I was almost sorry when it was time to read him his rights. As well, going after a killer who shares his heritage brings out a lot of Columbo’s Italian-ness, and it’s nice to see him fleshed out a bit this way. On the other hand, I don’t think a lot of viewers will have much trouble anticipating exactly how our guy is finally going to trip Adrian up.

“Candidate for Crime” by Irving Pearlberg, Alvin R. Friedman, Roland Kibbee and Dean Hargrove, based on a story by Larry Cohen

Nelson Hayward is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, left unexpectedly vacant by the death of the incumbent (no, he had nothing to do with that!). His campaign manager, Harry Stone (Ken Swofford) insists the very married Nelson break off his affair with a beautiful young aide. Instead, Nelson decides to kill Harry (who knows too much about a lot of things) and pass the murder off as a botched attempt on his own life by organized crime.

By the third season, Columbo – originally a 90-minute show – was bouncing back and forth between 90- and 120-minute episodes. “Candidate for Crime” is a two-hour affair that could easily have been cut back to the shorter length, with several scenes that pad things out without adding much to the story. That said, Jackie Cooper is a wonderfully slimy politician-murderer, and the final clue is nothing short of brilliant, maybe the second- or third-best in the entire Columbo canon.

“Double Exposure” by Stephen J. Cannell (who later created “The A-Team”)

Dr. Bart Keppel is a motivational psychologist who specializes in the art of subliminal advertising on film. He also has a side hustle as a blackmailer, which helps him fund his company. One of his victims has decided enough is enough, so Keppel uses subliminal techniques to lure the man to his death while appearing to have an airtight alibi. 

The best Columbo endings are the ones where our man finds a flaw in the murderer’s plot that leads straight to him; less satisfying are those where there is no clinching proof, so Columbo sets a trap of some kind to get the villain to betray himself. “Double Exposure” has a “trap” ending, but it’s truly ingenious, the best trap Columbo ever set. Add to that a brilliant “perfect crime” and a wonderful performance by Robert Culp (playing a character who’s the most likeable of the three he portrayed on the show, yet also the most sinister) and you have a classic. It’s too bad Stephen J. Cannell never wrote another Columbo.

To be continued with the other four episodes from this season…

Edward D. Hoch: More Things Impossible (2006) (Part 2)

Concluding our look at the second collection of Dr. Sam Hawthorne impossible-crime stories. The first part is here.

“The Problem of the Octagon Room”

What seems to happen: Sheriff Lens, Dr. Sam’s lawman buddy, is getting married, and his fiancee Vera wants to tie the knot in the famous Octagon Room at historic Eden House. On the morning of the big day, a tramp is found knifed to death in the room, which as you might expect is locked from the inside. 

There are all kinds of impossible crimes, but there’s nothing quite like a good solid locked-room mystery, and this is a fine one, with a solution that would not be out of place in a John Dickson Carr story.

“The Problem of the Gypsy Camp”

What seems to happen: (1) a patient at Pilgrim Memorial Hospital dies of a bullet to the heart even though there’s no entry wound. (2) the Romany band from “The Problem of the Christmas Steeple” returns to Northmont, and somehow every one of its members, plus all their horses and wagons, disappear while the local cops are blocking the only exit they could have used.

Two weak solutions here. I suspect Hoch realized neither of them was a winner and tried to do a story that would offer quantity over quality.

“The Problem of the Bootlegger’s Car”

What seems to happen: Under observation by Dr. Sam, bootlegging kingpin Tony Barrel gets into the back seat of his car, but when Sam goes over to talk to him, the car is empty.

The impossibility is a minor one and seems like an add-on to what is basically a suspense story about Dr. Sam being kidnapped by bad guys who need him to treat their wounded boss, put in because every story in the series had to have a miracle problem in it.

“The Problem of the Tin Goose”

What seems to happen: barnstorming pilot Ross Winslow visits Northmont, and after performing his stunts he lands his plane in the usual manner. He never comes out, though, and when Dr. Sam breaks into the locked cockpit, he’s been stabbed to death.

Another good one, although I confess I was able to spot the murderer and the method!

“The Problem of the Hunting Lodge”

What seems to happen: Ryder Sexton’s hunting lodge is surrounded by fresh snow when he walks into it alive and well. No one else makes any tracks, but someone manages to enter the lodge anyway and club him to death.

Not a bad solution, but it’s basically the same one from another, earlier no-footprints mystery.

“The Problem of the Body in the Haystack”

What seems to happen: Local farmer Felix Benet covers a haystack with a tarpaulin; Sheriff Lens, who’s helping to look for a bear that’s been in the area, keeps a constant watch over the area around the haystack and sees no one approach it; yet when the tarp is removed, there is Felix’s murdered body underneath. 

Another pretty basic solution; fittingly, Hoch lets the sheriff solve this one without Dr. Sam’s help.

“The Problem of Santa’s Lighthouse”

What seems to happen: someone throws Harry Quay out of the top of the lighthouse he runs as a tourist attraction, even though there was no one there to do it.

A pretty good one, with a false solution that’s almost as satisfying as the true one.

So the second half of More Things Impossible isn’t quite as good as the first, but overall the collection has a lot of entries that are well worth reading.

Edgar Box: Death in the Fifth Position (1952)

As Gore Vidal tells the story in the foreword to the 2011 Vintage edition of this book, he had a couple of problems back in the early 1950s. One was that he’d antagonized a powerful book critic for the New York Times, with the result that the newspaper was not reviewing his books. This led to lower sales, which led to problem number two: lack of money! A friend suggested he turn his hand to writing mystery novels under a pen name, and shortly Edgar Box was born. His literary career lasted for three novels, of which Death in the Fifth Position is the first.

All three Box books star Peter Cutler Sargeant II, a New York public-relations specialist. In this one, the Grand St. Petersburg Ballet hires him to do damage control after choreographer Jed Wilbur is outed as a Communist and their new production is threatened with protests if Wilbur is not fired. Things get complicated when one of the troupe’s dancers takes a death plunge to the stage during a performance, and Inspector Gleason of the NYPD fixes on replacement dancer (and Sargeant’s love interest) Jane Garden as the suspect. There’s more killing and assorted intrigue before Sargeant figures out who the real murderer is.

Vidal had already published several novels before Edgar Box made his debut, and he knew how to keep the reader interested. As a story about show business, the investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Sargeant’s love life, it’s entertaining; in fact, I sometimes found myself wishing we could get past the murder-investigation parts and back to what I (and Vidal, I suspect) thought were the really interesting parts.

As a mystery? Sadly, it’s one of those full-length novels where the whole thing turns on a single clue that was mentioned exactly once. Technically fair, but if you’re going for longer than Encyclopedia Brown length, you’d better have more backing up your solution, or make sure the clue is utterly brilliant. Neither of those is the case here. I closed the book more annoyed than anything else, and I won’t be going out of my way to hunt down the other Box novels.