Brave New World

"Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There's an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared."
- Sherlock Holmes (His Last Bow, 1917)
My last review of October was Fire in the Thatch (1946) by E.C.R. Lorac and the plot was placed against the backdrop of the aftermath of the Second World War, and, without design in mind, I'll be closing this month with a mystery novel portraying the social turmoil in the wake of the armistice of 1918 – ending the Great War that was supposed to put a premature end to all future wars.

I place the Golden Age of Detective Fiction between 1920 and 1960 (the fifties were its twilight years) and Donald McGibney's 32 Caliber (1920) can therefore be considered as an early Golden Age mystery, but McGibney was not a trailblazer in terms of story telling and ideas. McGibney was not a Conan Doyle or G.K. Chesterton, whose stories were the building blocks for the period, but he did gave an interesting picture of the post-WWI era – framed as a well done detective story.

The theme of a changing society makes the personal problems of Warren Thompson, narrator and lawyer-cum-amateur sleuth, seem conservative in comparison: his sister, Helen, has plans to ditch her husband, Jim, and elope with Frank Woods.

Jim Felderson is Warren's partner in the firm and brother-in-law of whom he's genuinely fond, while Frank Woods is a decorated veteran who came from the outside on war business from the France government. Warren and Jim wrench themselves between Helen and Frank fitting a domineering antagonist in 19th century maiden-in-distress novel. These four characters represent the clash between the old and new world that's happening all around them. Warren is worried that the "loose morals" of his sister and Frank will be food for the scandalmongers of The Star and Jim even cast out some lines to check if there are any skeletons in Frank's closet. I guess the passage of time perfected the characterization of Warren and James and portrayed them, to modern eyes, how McGibney intended them – and, of course, this tug-of-war for Helen has to end tragically.

There's an automobile accident, killing one and severely wounding another, but the case reeks of murder with the involvement of another car disappearing after the crash. The post-mortem gives definitive proof of their theory and gives an explanation for the title, but also carries grave implications for the wounded person. I'm always willing to cut the official investigators some slack in these early stories for oversights or lack for the finer details of forensic science, because the first mob-hits with "Tommy Guns," during the Prohibition Era, were mistaken as the work of entire squads of gunmen. However, the clues Warren dug up from the car had to be found by even a remotely competent police force, even in the 1920s, but the only thing that really bothered me was that the other car (coincidently) was transporting another batch of suspects. One of them, Zalnitch, a Russian ring-leader behind the gang that blew up a few steamship piers in 1915, and recently pardoned by a Governor under pressure by the labor people in a time of reelection.

The explanation for the shooting of the car took me by surprise and, obviously, not a trick easily retooled and imitated, but combined with the words of the wounded person on what happened would've provided McGibney with the materials for a neat and daring impossible crime story. And no. I'm not suffering from withdrawals. I've had my fill of locked room mysteries for this month. I'm just pointing out the possibility that this social crime story could've easily been a spooky tale of the impossible.

Otherwise, 32 Caliber is a cleanly written and plotted as a double tap to the back of the head.


Say It With Blood

"So many murders! Rather hard to do a lot of murders and get away with it, eh?
- Luke Fitzwilliam (Agatha Christie's Murder is Easy, 1939)
Lucy Beatrice Malleson left behind a literary portfolio, mainly under the penname "Anthony Gilbert," stuffed with crime novels often floating in the gray, misty borderland between suspense and mystery. I find them fascinating to read, even if they sometimes lacked that final, illuminating touch of a truly brilliant detective story, but Death Knocks Three Times (1949) goes a long way in that direction.

The starting point of Death Knocks Three Times is ornamented with the original set pieces, painted in shades of black and white, of the cliched image of the detective story, in which the sleuth of the piece arrives soaked from a cloudburst at a decaying mansion – where the specter of death stalks the musty corridors. Enter Arthur Crook, a notable criminal-lawyer and the British answer to Perry Mason, who seeks refuge at the home of the eccentric Colonel Sherren before the weather strands him in the countryside. The residence of the Colonel is indeed a mansion with hallways stretching into the dark unknown, but the place only gives a home to two people and the conveniences the house offers them are the same as when it was built. It still beats being stuck in a flooding and Crook goes on his way the next morning, however, this divergence from the norm doesn't mean the end of his involvement with the Colonel and his relatives.

After his return to London, Crook is summoned back to attend an inquest and hears the Colonel has broken his neck after the lid of the ancient bathtub came crashing down. The Colonel had received a visit from his nephew, John Sherren, a novelist of meager fame, but a motive seems to be lacking as the money passes to Colonel's servant, Bligh, and a slightly divided jury settles on a verdict of death by misadventure. Interestingly, one of John's two remaining relatives, aunt Isabel Bond, falls from a balcony one night after visiting her! And there was only one.

Aunt Clara is a stronger and far more independent minded woman than her late sister, Isabel, but the influx of threatening, hand-delivered letters and the arrival of her nephew, John, has her reaching for the help of a friend with an amateur-expertise in crime, Miss Frances Pettigrew. Connoisseurs in Crime, who, without saying, know their classics, will be tempted to draw a comparison with the name Francis Pettigrew, the lawyer-detective introduced in Cyril Hare's Tragedy at Law (1942), but her physical description is a grotesque parody of Mrs. Bradley with the behavior of a haggard Miss Marple. John first catches a glimpse of Miss Pettigrew in a bookstore where she's giving a standing lecture on murder, "naturally murder is simple, with weapons on all sides," and plotting detective stories, "why writers of detective stories have to employ mysterious poisons or sealed rooms or blowpipes... when bricks, bread-knives, coal-hammers and pairs of scissors are to be had for the asking and are at least as efficacious." And I gravely suspect Gilbert of sniping at Agatha Christie's Murder is Easy (1939) when John found himself locked up with Miss Pettigrew in a non-smoking compartment for the duration of the journey, which was similar to how Luke Fitzwilliam was (socially) chained on his train ride to Miss Fullerton, who suspected a mass-murderer was active in her home village of Wychwood.

Even the scarlet beetle, Mr. Crook, crawling back into the picture can't prevent the case from becoming increasingly complicated with the arrival of a blackmailer into the picture and more letters – climaxing with a death by poisoning at a very curious hotel resort. I think, once again, Gilbert was subtly poking fun at one of her fellow mystery writers. The death takes place in a locked hotel room and the maid said that she raised enough noise "to wake the dead." You do the math. By the way, this is not a locked room mystery in any shape or form. It would not have mattered to the outcome whether the doors were locked or not. This one should not have been in Adey's bibliography of the locked room mystery.

On the other hand, the identity of the murderer is inventive, even if the seasoned mystery reader won't have too much problem foreseeing the twist, but the way I stumbled to it is something (read: bizarre coincidence) I'm going to blame on the bogeyman of the mystery-sphere and that's all I can say without spoiling the solution. The solution, and ideas surrounding it, anticipate and foreshadow a rather interesting Agatha Christie novel, but, again, I can't go into details without spoiling even more detective stories.

Lets end with saying that Death Knocks Three Times, alongside Something Nasty in the Woodshed (1942), is the best and most rewarding Arthur Crook mystery I have read to date.


A Union of Rivals

"Such will be a great lesson of peace, teaching men that what they can not take by an election neither can they take it by a war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war."
- Abraham Lincoln (Fourth of July Address to Congress, 1861) 
Jimmy Hale is one of the star reporters on the payroll of the New York Eagle and his involvement in a string of bizarre murders begins when the staff is ready to put the paper to be bed for the day. The untidy and grimy room fills with subdued chatter and banter, once the typewriters came to a grinding halt, and the conversation turns to an old friend of Hale – an eminent scientist, Professor Herman Brierly, who shuns publicity because of his contribution in several remarkable criminal cases. Brierly is close to eighty years old and a specialist in a variety of subjects, but Hale was the person responsible for putting on him on a path of crime.    

The editor of the city newspaper, "Iron Man" Hite, overhears Hale's crack-up of his friend and decides his upcoming holiday should be on expense of the paper to visit Brierly, who's staying up in Canada, and enjoy some pints of beer outside of one of the dimly let, smoky speakeasies in New York. Oh, and there's a reunion at the retreat of Justice Isaac Higginbotham of fourteen Civil War veterans. They are the last members of a group of two hundred and thirty seven. Confederate and a few Union soldiers. This group is held together and gathers every Fourth of July by a Tontine insurance policy, giving the last surviving members the pot, and after more than sixty years that amounts to several million dollars.

And thus begins Death Points a Finger (1933) by Will Levinrew, another mystery writer too obscure for his own page on the GADWiki, but I have to start off by saying how similar the set-up of the plot is to Ellery Queen's "The Gettysburg Bugle," collected in Calendar of Crime (1953), in which three Civil War veterans have a yearly ritual at Memorial Day and a last-survivor-takes-all scheme of themselves. The whole Tontine insurance/last survivor policy is also at the heart of another story, "The Inner Circle," from the very same collection of stories and would again be refurbished in "The Last Man Club" from The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Plays (2005). I think I can safely sate that Death Points a Finger is interesting reading material for Ellery Queen fans, because Levinrew may've played his part in shaping those stories.

The rough background sketch of the surviving Civil War veterans is brief, but interesting, concentrating on some of the blackest pages from the war, when brothers were fighting each other on opposite sites, but their story is also one of betrayal – and they've been receiving papers with the number fourteen printed on it every time someone from the group passed away. And the number of suspicious suicides and accidental deaths has been on an alarming rise among members of the group. Just before Hale arrived, they received news of three new deaths!

Morris Miller was found dead with a bullet in his head on the couch in his bedroom, a revolver had fallen from his limp hand, but the door and the windows were locked from the inside and the burglar alarm had not been aroused. Professor Brierly does not waste time in busting open this part of the case and sort-of makes Stonewall Rountree, from Jesse Carmack's The Tell-Tale Clock Mystery (1937), on the slow side with solving his seemingly impossible murder case on the Fourth of July. But Brierly is more a grumpy old man immersed in his hobby and lets out a snarl every now and then. Not at all the arrogant borderline sociopath sleuth John from Pretty Sinister Books promised in his review of Murder from the Grave (1930). Arrogant... absolutely, but not to the extent described in that review. However, the best solution would've been if Hale had revealed Briery as the brain behind the plot and explain his fantastic deductions as perpetrator knowledge in a grand play on the narrator-did-it ploy. Brierly had the age to be the elusive Amos Brown.

Death Points a Finger noticeably looses momentum in the second half as the Civil War elements are phased to the background and the plot concentrates on investigating the several deaths, traveling between the States and Canada, and even more murders follow! Levinrew even throws in a bomb for good measure killing not only its intended target, but also several service men assigned as bodyguards. The food theme mentioned in the review of Murder from the Grave is present here, as well, as they arrest a hungry burglar whose modus operandi was used as part of the locked room trick and it's a round-a-bout way to use a simple trick, but there's a rather clever reason for it. A completely new motive (for me) to justify all that work to create the illusion of the locked room and the cover of suicide is just the surface. But the second half felt a bit under whelming compared to the grander stage of the opening act, but, as a whole, a fairly competent second stringer and the snippets of the newspaper business were fun. The trail of obscurity is getting brighter!

By the way, I opted out of using the punning post-title A Union of Rifles. :)


He Came With the Rain

"We barred the windows and doors
As from an emerald ghost—"
- Emily Dickinson 
I'm still on the trail of obscurity, which is how I ended my previous review of G.E. Locke's The Scarlet Macaw (1922), and the next stop takes us back even further to the early dawn of the Golden Era of detective fiction.

A time when editions of Frederic Arnold Kummer's The Green God (1911) occupied the same shelve space and bookcases in stores, libraries and homes with the greatest and most influential mystery novels of its time. A.E.W. Mason's At the Villa Rose (1910), G.K. Chesterton's The Innocence of Father Brown (1910) and R. Austin Freeman's The Eye of Osiris (1911), but The Green God became a title known mostly to collectors and scholars – even if the plot of the story could very well have thrown fuel on the fiery imagination of a young John Dickson Carr. Yes. It's one of those old-fashioned brass affairs with a seemingly impossible crime and a suggestion of supernatural residue drifting far in the background.

Owen Morgan is braving a severe cloud burst on his way to the Half-Moon Hotel, passing through the village of Pinhoe, when an automobile picks him up and drives him to the home of Major Temple. The driver is bronzed and rugged Mr. Robert Ashton, back from an adventure in China and ready to finalize a deal he made with the Major – an emerald statuette of Buddha for his collection in exchange for the hand of his daughter. Muriel Temple has no desire to marry Ashton and during diner, Morgan, now an uncomfortable guest, notices friction between the Major and his prospected son-in-law.

Morgan decides to take Muriel after the night has passed away, but, the following morning, the household is awakened by a scream and a thump from the Green Room (supposedly haunted) and after breaking down the door they find Ashton with a peculiar dent in his skull. The wreckage of the door show it was clearly dead bolted when it was beaten down and the windows were latched, which must mean both the murderer and the statuette of Buddha dissolved from the scene as if they never even existed! The chapters investigating and discussing the circumstances of the crime are the most satisfying portions of the story, because you see a pre-GAD writer building upon the foundations laid by Gaston Leroux and Israel Zangwill – eventuating in a nifty false solution based on a bloody handprint left on the windowsill and a perfume scented handkerchief.

The eventual solution was not bad, original even, especially the first step to the trick I particularly liked, but the second part owed some debt to the weird menace/impossible crime stories from L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace A Master of Mystery (1898) – giving coincidence a little bit too much sway in the game. But altogether not bad, even if some information should've been shared with the reader in a much, much earlier stage of the story to have a fair shot at solving the locked room angle, however, I still liked the idea behind the whole set-up. It's a consolidation of what was and what was being created at the time. The solution for the vanished, emerald statuette is something that would later become a popular plot-device with Ellery Queen and their followers. Plot-wise, while it has some of what we now consider the shortcomings of its period, The Green God has a lot of rich (impossible) material. By the way, the small pool of suspects, only three, works in favor of the locked room trick.

Unfortunately, there's one problem that will probably disfigure the merits of the book for some readers today, because of the portrayal of the Chinese characters in the story. The dialogue between Major Temple's Chinese manservant, Li Min, and Sergeant McQuade would probably get a comedian or radio DJ to loose their gig, if done as a sketch, but McQuade and Morgan facing a gang of Chinese (who came to retrieve the Buddha) gives The Green God a streak of the Yellow Peril. They were basically one step removed from a lost tribe of blood thirsty Incas. However, if I'm allowed a word of defense on behalf of Kummer, I think what he was trying to tell with this crude, antiquated parable is that us Europeans should try to make an effort not to loot artifacts when we're abroad, because it could come back and bite you. And that's what really haunted the characters in The Green God: not the nameless ghost in the Green Room, but the consequences of their own deeds.

But don't take my word for it... read it for yourself. It's in the public domain and readily available to everyone, everywhere on the web. 


The Scarlet Thread of Murder

"We balance the probabilities and choose the most likely. It’s the scientific use of the imagination."
- Sherlock Holmes (The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1902) 
I have often maligned the Golden Age of Detection Wiki as a virtual Who's Who of who the hell are these guys, but you begin to appreciate that long list of obscure names even more when you're confronted with a writer that even the GADWiki draws a blank on – such was the case with Gladys Edson Locke.

A more profitable source of information, however, was the website of the Dorchester Atheneum, which revealed a scholar and teacher was behind the Locke name who had nurtured literary ambitious from the time she was a child and penned a biography of Queen Elizabeth I as a college student. Locke moved to America in 1924 and earned a Master's degree in English at Boston University, which led her to becoming a teacher of Latin and English at a high school in Mildford, New Hampshire. In her personal life, Locke was an active Unitarian Universalist, member of both the church and the Republican party, and belonged to the Boston Society for Psychic Research – a rich background to draw from for less than a dozen mystery novels.

The Scarlet Macaw (1923) was Locke's second stab at the detective story, preceded by The Red Cavalier (1922), apparently lauded by critics at the time as one of the best mysteries of the year, but here there are a few faults in the structure of the plot that could not justify such a comment. Not that The Scarlet Macaw is a bad detective story. It's just that Locke's plotting seems to bow nostalgically to the detective stories of her youth and not always done effectively. 

The story opens with Mr. Arnold Percival Inderwick, attached to the banking house of Palford Brothers & Palford, receiving a distressing phone call from Jasmine Holland, secretary of a famous playwright and treasured client of the firm, Genevra Tressady, begging to come to Pomander Lodge. They've heard Genevra's agonizing and crying accusations, "you have poisoned me, you have poisoned me," before everything went silent in her private and windowless study, but the door is locked from the inside and the skylight barred. And when the door is (finally!) pried open, they're confronted with a dying Genevra pointing to a tiger-skin rug and muttering the dying words, "the tiger's eye," and the titular macaw shrieking out the words "Nella, Elfinella."

A play Genevra was working on, Titania's Flight, an extravaganza involving fairies, is missing from the study and traces on the body show her assailant violently wrenched the rings from her fingers, but the instrument of murder in order to inject the poison also fails to turn up in the room – precluding suicide from the outset. Inspector Burton from Scotland Yard and Inderwick discover Pomander Lodge to be funk hole of distorted-and cross relationships, false identities and professional criminals lurking in the background. There's even a character shipped in from Australia and the poison is a "little known East Indian drug, Purpurus Somnus, or the Purple Sleep, so called from the purple discoloration of the skin of its victim," which is voluminous verbiage to say you're still very British in spirit.

But for all their work, Burton and Inderwick are only the legman of the investigation and halfway through the story, Mercedes Quero, one of the early female private detectives of fiction, is introduced to the reader – only to disappear until it's time to tie together all the threads at the end and a lot of her work is done off-page.

The solution to the locked room mystery and the identity of the murderer betrayed Locke's interest and passion for history, because they both felt out of place and belonged to the time of medieval court intrigues and robber barons. The method for the impossible poisoning would be perfect for one of Paul Doherty's historical mysteries, which is exactly the problem with a mystery novel set in contemporary 1923. I think Locke's name would have echoed more today had she written historical detective stories. The Scarlet Macaw and it's locked room trick had been of more interest, today, if the locality of the story had moved a few hundred years into the past – leaving no room for the some of the shop-worn tropes from the 1920s and the even older sensationalist novels we feel somewhat ashamed of now. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of what Peter Dicksinson successfully attempted in The Poison Oracle (1974), in which modern civilization encroaches on the ancient costumes of a small sultanate and happens to also include an impossible poisoning in the plot.

But the new-fangled crimes committed were harmoniously balanced with the old customs of the country, while in The Scarlet Macaw, the old-school crimes struck a decidedly false note in the modern-day setting. It's almost the same feeling as when you plough through a contemporary locked room mystery and discover the author was under the impression that small, but deadly, animals, hidden passageways or a suicide disguised as a murder are acceptable explanations. No. You have to do better than that. Luckily, Locke was not that bad, but, altogether, the solution was better fitted for a historical setting and, overall, I can't say I didn't enjoy this little curiosity and I'll return to Locke to see what all the fuzz was about with The Red Cavalier.

I'm on still on the trail of obscurity! Not as much in these past few weeks as I wish I could've been, but I'm still going. 


A Bridge Too Far?

"Let's not invent elaborate excuses to drag in a discussion of detective stories. Let's candidly glory in the noblest pursuits possible to characters in a book."
- Dr. Gideon Fell (The Hollow Man, 1935) 
J.C. Masterman may've been one of the last of the erudite, university dons who saw the detective story as a fertile playground of the mind and interrupted his scholarly pursuits twice to pen a full-length mystery novel: An Oxford Tragedy (1933) and The Case of the Four Friends (1957). The sleuth in both stories is a German lawyer, Ernst Brendel, with a European reputation and his occasional utterances in his native tongue completed the image of the reputable foreigner with a deep understanding of the English people and human nature in general, i.e. a literary descendant of Hercule Poirot

 Fittingly, I began with the second book in this two-part series, which is subtitled "a diversion in pre-detection," and put a new spin on a then (fairly) new angle that Leo Bruce's Case with Four Clowns (1939) and Pat McGerr's Follow As the Night (1951) introduced to the inverted detective story – a who-will-be-done-in-and-by-whom! A story in which you not only have to figure out the identity of the killer, before he strikes, but the name of the victim-in-waiting as well!

The Case of the Four Friends has a story within a story structure and is narrated by Brendel to three of his friends in the Senior Common Room at St. Thomas' College, Oxford, after a game of bridge deteriorates into a discussion about crime detection. Brendel showcases his deductive abilities similar to Philo Vance's dubious poker scheme from The Canary Murder Case (1927) by analyzing and exposing the weaknesses in the playing styles of his friends. I've to pause here for a moment and wonder how it's possible, after plowing through fields of mysteries of British stock, to still know next to nothing about bridge. If Brendel had given his expose in Chinese, I probably wouldn't have noticed it. And yes... the post-title is a pun (tee hee!). 

Anyway, there's a story behind the intellectual posturing of Brendel, but, like a reluctant vampire about to turn down an invitation, has to be nearly pressured in staying late to tell his pre-construction of a crime that was prevented – which is interspersed with their analyzes and commentary. 

Charles Sandham stands at the head of an old-established and respected firm of solicitors, Sandham, Sandham and Bovis, dating back four generations and has a traditional New Years golf-and bridge holiday which originally began with three of his WWI army comrades. But, one by one, they fell off and were replaced. Currently, the other three "friends" consist of Evelyn Bannister, his oldest friend, Toby Barrick, a junior partner in the firm, and Bannister's nephew, Piers Gradon. In the first part of this pre-construction, the chess pieces are introduced and we learn of what goes on behind the pristine reputation of Sandham's firm – from embezzlement and petty rivalries to blackmail. 

Meanwhile, in the Senior Common Room, Brendel's narrative is interrupted not only to discuss the story itself, but also to lecture on (for example) the unpopularity of blackmailers in fiction – where as thieves, highwaymen and pirates often become the hero of the tale. There's also an exemplary piece of plot-driven characterization that I particularly liked. A heiress of major interest to both Barrick and Gradon, Dhalia Constant, is described as an "advanced yet static pawn," a piece that had been "boldly advanced two or three squares at the commencement of the game, thereafter remains static" and "its capture is the darling wish of one player... its defense the sustained endeavor of the other." 

The following section of the story has Brendel as the narrator and a participating character, because he was staying at the same hotel as the New Year's Party of Sandham and becomes a player in the events on a very peculiar night. The night in question is seen from the view point of the various characters, adding up to rashomon-like accounts of what happened, but I think the conclusion can be experienced as disappointing by some readers and they'll be glad to find that one of Brendel's friends provided an alternative solution after he retired from the room. The solution I was suspecting (by the way) and one that owed some debt to a very famous mystery novel. But hold one, Masterman has tucked away the introduction to The Case of the Four Friends at the end of the book and you could call it a defense of his own story. The English language would allow him to call it that. Sure. Here's a direct quote from the "introduction" by Masterman: "This, My Lord... is a very bad book, and it is my painful task, without undue prolixity, to expose its manifest faults and absurdities". As you can understand, the afterword made me feel justified for liking the book. Masterman was a good chap, as Cap. Hastings would've said. 

Finally, I should’ve mentioned Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929), which shares similarities in structure (a group discussing a murder), but I felt The Case of the Four Friends is what Agatha Christie's Cards on the Table (1936) would've been like if the setting had been used to develop the central idea from the short story "Wasp's Nest," first collected in Double Sin and Other Stories (1961), into a full-fledge novel.


With the Stroke of a Pen

"'Come, we shall have some fun now!' thought Alice. 'I'm glad they've begun asking riddles — I believe I can guess that,' she added aloud.
'Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?' said the March Hare.
'Exactly so,' said Alice."
- Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
The May issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine from 2007 contains an Ellery Queen pastiche from the hands of two collaborating fans, Dale C. Andrews and Kurt Sercu, entitled  "The Book Case," in which a near centenarian Ellery attempts to curtail the ravages of time by solving sudoka puzzles and the occasional, locally committed homicide.

Ellery Queen was drawn out of retirement in “The Book Case” when a shady collector of rare, hardcover mystery novels was found murdered in his study, but in his death throws was able to leave the police a clue by sweeping a row of Ellery Queen novels from one of the shelves – implicating the children of the late Djuna. The story works perfectly as a final salute to the Ellery Queen legacy similarly to Charles Ardai's pastiche "The Last Story," from The Return of the Black Widowers (2003), but it was only the first adventure for this twenty-first century incarnation of EQ. In September/October 2009, "The Mad Hatter Riddle" appeared and has Ellery Queen as a consultant on the set of the 1975 TV-series Ellery Queen! Unfortunately, that's a story I missed, but I have just read the third installment, "Literally Dead," which inclusion would not have shamed Queen's Full (1965) – a collection of original short stories by Dannay and Lee.

A native of Wrightsville, a twin town of Cabot Cove, Jennifer Rothkopf taught English at the local high-school and worked on her literary career with kids' verses, however, it was the publication of The Lemon Sand of Abrillion that put her name among the other stars of fantasy fiction. The five succeeding chronicles also made Rothkopf financially independent, but, after the seventh one, The Black Night of Scythallon, she decides that Jonathan Dellerworth's journay has come to an end. Literally and permanently! Rothkopf rescinds the deal she was negotiating to farm out the character and her determination looks to be Dellerworth's Waterloo Reichenbach.

Not long thereafter, Chief Anselm Newby is tasked with finding Jennifer Rothkopf's murderer and, as to be expected, there's a dying message: a colored napkin was pinned to a piece of fruit with a paring knife. But that isn't even the most puzzling aspect of the murder. The doors were locked from the inside and could only be locked from the inside with the sole key fastened to a bracelet, which still clutched to Rothkopf's wrist, and the windows were bare of any traces of tampering.

As the consulted Ellery Queen remarked, "I have encountered more than my share of dying messages over the years, but locked rooms are a bit of a rarity."

However, Queen shows more interest for the locked room angle than Newby does, because he expects to get the answer from the murderer, but it's Queen who, naturally, gets it right – even though the basic gist of the locked room trick is older than EQ himself at this point. Still, it was nicely presented and well clued, as were all three major aspects of this story (whodunit, locked room and dying clue). There were clues for all of them, but only in the EQ universe can a victim, seconds before dying, have all the materials within reach to create a perfectly logical, if often needlessly cryptic, clue for the police. Personally, I would've let Rothkopf (who was, by the way, found slumped over her desk) cradle those three items in an enclosing embrace, which would've given the clue a double meaning (if you have read the story, you should know what I mean), but that's nitpicking from my side. 

Generally, I'm not a fan of pastiches and I echo Stout's sentiment to "let them roll their own," but it's a bit different with Ellery Queen, isn't it? Dannay and Lee infamously worked with ghostwriters themselves and allowed the character to reflect the changing times. Ellery Queen has even known a short, angst-ridden period! So I can't complain if the original authors clearly wouldn't have had a problem with farming out their character – especially when done well and within the pages of their own magazine. Granted, if Dannay had still been alive today, he probably would've altered the titles, but they would've been published.

Briefly put, "Literally Dead" has everything you expect from a proper detective story and more than that from a pastiche.

One last observation on the story (I couldn't wriggle-in anywhere else) is that "Literally Dead" also felt as a wink at Anthony Boucher. The legacy of a fantasy writer recalled Fowler Foulkes creation of Dr. Garth Derringer, an Americanized version of Arthur Conan Doyle's Dr. Challenger, from Boucher's Rocket to the Morgue (1942) and a Gregory Hood radio-play from the late-1940s, "The Derringer Society," collected in The Casebook of Gregory Hood (2009).