Our group of crime story fans, the Tuesday Night Bloggers, is doing Ellery Queen in November – check out Noah’s Archives for this month’s roundups, and click on the Ellery Queen tab below for more entries.
My final entry is on a book I came to via blogging friends - so that seemed appropriate – explanation below. It’s one of the late EQ books.
Next month, December, we are going on to Ngaio Marsh, so keep checking back here on Tuesdays… I’ll be collecting the links from the other bloggers too.
The Last Woman in His Life by Ellery Queen
[A very rich man has invited his 3 ex-wives to visit]
Two of the ex-wives seemed dressed for a race, in evening getups that evoked the yachtsman’s starting gun.
Audrey Weston’s blond beauty was offset by black evening pajamas and a black crepe tunic, and needle-heeled shoes that added inches to her mainmast height; she wore a bracelet of gold links that looked heavy enough to secure an anchor, and gold coil earrings.
Marcia Kemp, the expatriate from Las Vegas, had trimmed down to the bare poles; her turquoise evening sheath was so painted to her body that Ellery wondered how she was able to sit down without cracking her hull…
By contrast, Alice Tierney’s coloring showed darker against the whiteness of her gown and accessories; she looked pure and chaste in it, and very nearly striking.
commentary: This book starts literally seconds after a previous one (Face to Face) finishes – EQ is seeing someone off at the airport, and his father joins him there. They meet an old acquaintance, who invites them to spend some time at his guest cottage in a small town – Wrightsville, a place that the Queens, father and son, know well. They go up for a break. Their very rich friend Johnny is in the main house with guests – his former wives primarily. Over the weekend SOMEONE is murdered, but manages to gasp out a dying message by phone before he goes – this is, apparently, a classic Queen trope. (Nobody mentions it in this book till the very end, when the explanation is forthcoming – it is never really seen as a clue.)
My choice of this book is something of a perfect storm: no-one seems to think it was the very best one, but 2 sets of my expert friends talked about it – for completely different reasons.
Curtis Evans and Noah Stewart both mentioned the clothes in it – there is a very specific and very important outfit. This cover does its best to sum it up.
Meanwhile, my good friend Margot mentioned it on her blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and then discussed it with Sergio (of Tipping My Fedora) – here’s the post in question. Now, they were NOT actually recommending it that strongly – Margot is always polite and kind, but even she said it ‘has not done as well over time as some of Queen’s other work.’ But she went on: ‘Still, it’s such a great example of the dying verbal clue.’
What really intrigued me was this: Sergio explained that he first read the book in Italian, and so the dying-last-word had to be not just directly translated, but changed to reflect the reality of the murder plot. He very carefully explained this in a non-spoiler way! But I was hooked with this idea, and between that and the bizarre clothes (wig, evening gown and long gloves) had to read it.
It’s not bad, entertaining enough, but the final solution is tied up in the reason Sergio and Margot agree that ‘time has not been kind’ to it – and I can’t say more than that. It was most interesting to come back to Sergio’s comment after I’d finished it.
The book has its moments: I liked the nurse who – when someone else tries to blame her – says
“I’ll remember that, Audrey” … in a hypodermic voice.And someone else has a ‘dark, intimate voice suitable for a sex movie.’ Perhaps the Queens have seen a lot of them - I’d always assumed that voices were the last thing anyone worried about in such productions. A hatcheck girl is mentioned with the excellent name of Vincentine Astor – as if she had chosen it via one of those stripper name generators.
So although this isn’t finest Ellery Queen book – and I have been making a list of the recommendations from my fellow bloggers, so will pursue them in future – it was a suitable final one for the month. I feel I know EQ, writer and hero, somewhat better than I did, and I am full of admiration for his clothes descriptions.