Thursday, February 27, 2014

"A Chastened and Far More Palatable Character"

By Ellery Queen.
Frederick A. Stokes [US], Gollancz [UK].
1932. 370 pages. $2.00
Brains aren't everything, just most of it:
The peeling away of the final layers is, I think, very likely to provide quite a surprise when the guilty individual is revealed – but an honest appraisal leaves us feeling that we have not been cheated, that we should have been able to spot that individual earlier in the book. I know that I failed to do so . . . and I suspect you will too. — Les Blatt, CLASSIC MYSTERIES (February 17, 2014)
EQ's The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932) is notable for its four separate solutions, that gradually emerge at the four separate climaxes of the novel, one at the end of each major section. The book demonstrates how much more complex life can be than one originally figures. It also shows how ideas can grow out of each other, gradually leading to more complex ideas. The real and final solution impresses by being "deeper" than the others, containing some very startling surprises. EQ is not an absurdist. The solutions seem logical and well developed, unlike Anthony Berkeley's multiple solution novel, The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929). Berkeley seems most interested in writing an anti-detective story, showing how each situation can be twisted to express a multitude of interpretations, mocking the idea of detective stories in general, and the ability to understand anything through reason. This sort of absurdism is very far from EQ's approach. EQ is instead interested in showing how reason can go deeper and deeper in a situation, uncovering profounder and profounder ideas. — Mike Grost, A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION ("The Greek Coffin Mystery")
In one of his earliest cases, Ellery Queen confronts a murder in blue blood. America’s master of deduction, Ellery Queen, has made his name by combining dazzling feats of pure reason with the old-fashioned legwork that comes with being the son of a New York cop. Before he became the nation’s most famous sleuth, he was just an untested talent—a bookworm who thought he might put his genius to work solving crimes. Young Queen made his bones on the Khalkis case. The scion of a famous New York art-dealing family, Georg Khalkis has spent several years housebound with blindness—a misery he is relieved of when a heart attack knocks him dead on the library floor. After the funeral, his will vanishes, and an exhaustive search of home, churchyard, crypt, and mourners reveals nothing. Baffled, the police turn to a headstrong young genius named Ellery Queen. During this case, Queen develops his deductive method—and swings dramatically between failure and success. — OPEN ROAD MEDIA ("The Greek Coffin Mystery")
Ellery Queen in The Greek Coffin Mystery by throwing on all the lugs tries to be ultra intelligent and succeeds in becoming a bit soggy. Frankly, this impression is not given so much by the book itself as by a pompously ridiculous little leaflet inserted in each copy wherein the author (or authors) tells how the story should be studied, etc. Throw away this circular, destroy it utterly, and then you can enjoy the strange circumstances surrounding the death and burial of George Khalkis. Preposterous is also the word to describe Drury Lane, the trick criminal investigator who gyrates through the pages of an otherwise excellent mystery story, The Mystery [sic] of X by Barnaby Ross. It, too, runs to long words and subtle deductions but is chockful of action and has a surprising denouement which nobody under the sun will ever believe. — William C. Weber, "Thrillers", THE SATURDAY REVIEW (June 18, 1932; scroll to page 797)

Category: Detective fiction

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