A big hello to the new subscribers to my wittering – and a hello to the poor souls who get this appearing regularly on Facebook whether they like it or not! It’s time for the letter Q in the Alphabet of Crime Fiction and I couldn’t pass up the obvious Q – namely Ellery Queen, here represented in the form of The Player On The Other Side.
The Player On The Other Side sets an interesting problem. We know almost from the start who the killer is – a handyman of limited intellect known as Walt, but we also know that Walt is getting instructions telling him what to do – in effect, he is a human weapon, while the person using him to kill is hidden. You may recall that Ellery Queen (the author) was a collaboration between Fred Dannay and Manfred Lee, but this book was the first of a sequence produced when Lee had writer’s block and as such the plot by Dannay was ghost-written, in this case by science-fiction author Theodore Sturgeon.
If I didn’t know it in advance, I doubt I would have noticed the change in scribe. Ellery’s dialogue seems to be lacking some of the dafter expressions that he tends to spout in the earlier novels that I am more familiar with, but this may reflect the style of the later books. But does it measure up to the earlier books?
Well, I had trouble putting it down. Yesterday I found myself basically carrying around school (teacher, not student) on the off-chance of reading a few pages in a quiet moment, but it was not to be. However, Mrs Puzzledoctor was working last night so I shoved some tunes on the Ipod and savoured almost the whole book in one go.
The plot starts off quite typically for Queen – it’s the old eccentric family that seems to turn up all the time in these novels, and, surprise surprise, there’s a tontine concerning their shared fortune – i.e. last man standing gets the lot. Before you can say Watch Out!, the handyman has his instructions and Robert York has a large piece of masonry where his head used to be. The rest of the family start to follow…
It’s a fairly typical Queen investigation, which held my attention throughout the book. There is one thunderingly obvious clue (and not many others) to the identity of Walt’s master and there is a lovely notion as to why Walt would obey without question, but… Now I need to be careful here, as these are spoiler-free reviews, but the identity of the true villain needs a lot of suspension of disbelief and the motive is very slight. I really can’t say
anything else without giving the game away, but I felt that the ending was a bit of a cop-out.
However, if you’re a Queen fan, and have avoided this as it wasn’t a Lee-Dannay collaboration, I’d recommend it. If you’re not, go and read There Was An Old Woman first, or one of the others recommended by my fellow mystery lover over at Tipping My Fedora and then come back to this one once you’re properly indoctrinated.