A Fine and Private Place by Ellery Queen

Published 1971          scene set in 1966 – from the diary of Virginia Whyte Importuna

Somehow being out in public with Peter for the first time, which I’d thought was going to be a supergas, turned out to depress me wonderfully. I certainly wasn’t at my best. For one thing, I don’t know why I picked the Pozzuoli A-line to wear, I loathe it, it makes me look as if I were hiding a pregnancy in a muumuu, which I loathe also; they’re great only if you’re in the ninth month or have the hips of Babar. And the coat I wore over it, the cashmere with the queen-sized Russian lynx collar, which I’d selected from the mixed herd in my closet because it’s the least conspicuous winter coat my lavish husband has allowed me to buy, had a hideous stain of some sort right in front, which I hadn’t noticed and which I couldn’t hide without laying back the coat, thus revealing the hated A-line. It was a total disaster.

observations: I was alerted to this book, as with so many, on a visit to Margot Kinberg’s splendid Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog – there was some discussion, in the comments section, of the detection involved. (Acquisition was delayed and threatened because the Penguin cover is utterly repellent - or is it just me? Take a look, I dare you.)

Ellery Queen has an important place in the world of US crime fiction, but is less well-known in the UK. The empire of the detective, the writers, the magazine, and the radio & TV series, is too complex to go into here, but is a good read on Wikipedia. The key fact is that the ‘author’ (really two people) has the same name as the investigator.

This is Queen’s very last book (one of the two writers died that year) and is a weird combo of traditional 1930s clueing, plotting and goings-on in the library, and an attempt to be very 1960s. The setup is very old-fashioned – Ellery-the-writer ‘helps out’ his Dad, Inspector Queen the policeman, in the investigation, and that isn’t something you expect to find in a 1971 book. Virginia is married to a horrible, rich, much older man, but is having an affair with Peter. The solution didn’t surprise me much. But it was an easy read, with its strange attempt at a swinging atmosphere, and it was mercifully short.

Pozzuoli seems to be an invented designer, and a muumuu (not a term found in the UK) is a large shapeless dress or robe rather like a kaftan. It is a bit disappointing that the mysterious stain on the front of her coat is not a clue.

With thanks, yet again, to Margot.

Links on the blog: Margery Allingham’s scary Mrs Cash - a very different kind of woman – had a coat with a fur collar, as did the wonderful Iris Storm in Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat.

The picture is a studio promotional shot of the actress Natalie Wood, looking very beautiful in 1965.


  1. Ellery Queen has never really done it for me but it's years since I've given his books a go. It doesn't sound like I would like them now but I'm tempted just to have a go again anyway.

  2. A very dense entry in terms of clothes references.
    Took a quick look at the book cover. And almost liked it. ALMOST.

  3. Moira - Thank you so much for the kind words. That means a lot to me. And I have to agree with you about that cover, by the way...

    About the mystery, it is an interesting mix isn't it of 1930's techniques and (then) modern setting and so on. But somehow, it works. I have to say though, that my favourite Ellery Queens are the 'mid' ones. The early ones don't (in my opinion) have well-enough developed characters. Once the characters got more fleshed out, I think the series got much better.

    On and that sweater - very elegant!


Post a Comment