I was going to read this book and not post on it directly but have had my mind changed. I was interested in identifying some great last lines in books, and I had heard there was an Ellery Queen book in which the name of the murderer is revealed in the final few words of the book – an intriguing idea. I asked on the GA Facebook page which book it was, knowing that the collective mind would find this almost too easy to answer, and was proved right: the title came in very quickly and was followed by a lovely collection of comments and discussion from a large number of EQ fans.
So I read it, with an eye to a ‘last line’ collection post, which will no doubt come in the future.
And I hesitate to discuss it, because so many people love Ellery Queen and love this book, whereas I have some very specific issues with it.
MY DISCUSSION COULD BE CONSIDERED SPOILERESQUE – PROBABLY ONLY IF YOU WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF READING IT, I WILL NOT BE NAMING THE MURDERER.
First of all, the crime is discovered in the window of a department store: a crowd has gathered to see a demonstration of modern design at 12 noon. A beautiful model enters the window space, and presses a button, and a fold-up bed descends from the wall. And on this day there is a dead body on the bed. Well! That’s a tremendous opening scene in my view – would we all agree? Only it’s not the opening scene – before we get there, there are two different incredibly dull scenes where men sit around talking about things. WHY, when you’ve got such a fantastic crime scene, would you throw it away like that?
Another personal criticism – I love both crime books and novels set in department stores (see here for a collection of blog entries), and even including the Ellery Queen Christmas story The Dauphin’s Doll, which I enjoyed very much ... but the day-to-day life of the store doesn’t feature at all once we get past a very boring description of the night security arrangements and telephone lines.
There is a nice bit of detection involving women’s clothes: someone didn’t put the clothes away properly, and there is a lipstick problem. OK, tick, I approved of that – though I also think he could have added that a careful owner would not have put damp items away in the way described. I also think the owner of the clothes got a very raw deal...
Next: and this is SPOILER-ISH
I hoped this wouldn’t be true, that there’d be another twist but: there is a discussion in which a plot is explained, and a raid is planned on a certain house. When they get there, the birds have flown. So – although this is never mentioned, isn’t it obvious that someone in the meeting tipped off the criminals? Who could it have been? There is only one candidate (the person who is obviously hated by Inspector Queen) and, yes, there are not going to be any further surprises there. But nobody raises the question as to the tipoff.
In general I found the book uninspiring and uninspired.
There is one other aspect to the plot that I am keen to discuss – the drug distribution system: but that will wait for another day.
After I’d written this post, I almost ditched it because JJ said it so well, but honour is satisfied by telling you all to go over and read his take on the book:
And it is always a joy to find pictures for a book like this… there's plenty more in the posts linked to above.