When Ellery Queen, adopting the cunning pseudonym of Ellery Smith, visits the town of Wrightsville, he knows he’s found the place to settle for a while to get on with his writing. Intrigued by the history of the so-called Calamity House, he soon rents it out and falls for one of the daughters of the owner. The family has a past shame – another daughter, Nora, was abandoned at the altar three years ago by her fiancé, Jim Haight. But no sooner has Ellery showed up, then Jim returns to town.
Everything seems to be returning to normal – Jim and Nora even get married - when some letters, apparently written by Jim turn up. Letters that describe the sickening and eventual death of Jim’s wife – but they are dated days and weeks into the future. On the date of the first letter, Nora indeed becomes ill – arsenic poisoning. And on the date of the last letter, death does indeed come.
Despite all the evidence pointing towards Jim, Ellery is convinced of his innocence – but no one else had the chance to deliver the fatal dose of poison. It’s going to take a while for Ellery to solve this…
A very different outing for Ellery, this one. It’s a slow piece, with a small cast of characters and is much less of a puzzle story than a lot of the other stories. What’s also missing, from the more recent books at least, is any real attempt at humour. This is a much more serious piece of work – necessary, given the plot – and it works pretty well. For a book in which, to be honest, not a lot happens, this is a surprising page turner.
Surprising that it’s a page turner, that it. Anyone who’s surprised by the killer hasn’t read many mysteries. While the back story to what is going on takes some putting together, it beggars belief that Ellery doesn’t even consider what is going on for at least three months, if not longer.
I think that’s my only quibble with this book – it’s a more sedate, mature read than previous outings and a really good read, but Ellery is really stupid in this one. Even so, it gives the reader more time to concentrate on the motivations.
So, a strong entry into the series, and a change in direction for Ellery. The next book in the series, There Was An Old Woman, returns to more traditional Queen antics, but we’ll be back in Wrightsville soon… (if I can find the books in the garage!)