For a very brief period, the duo of Lee and Dannay wrote as both Ellery Queen and as Barnaby Ross. The Ross pseudonym didn’t last very long – four books were written from 1932 to 1934 featuring Drury Lane as the sleuth, but for whatever reason, the line did not last and Lane was retired.
In The Tragedy of X, a businessman is on a tram car with a party of friends when he reaches into his pocket, only to grab a nasty weapon – a cork with poison coated needles – and he promptly dies on the floor. It is clear that his pocket was empty when he got on the car, so how did the weapon get in there?
Lane is called upon by Inspector Thumm and the retired Shakespearean actor and studier of human nature is on the case. So how does this one stand up to the Ellery Queen novels of the time?
Well, to be honest, there’s not a vast amount of difference, apart from the character of Lane, but even then… Drury Lane spouts quotations at the drop of a hat, he keeps stuff from the police and when he explains what’s going on, he not only proves who the killer is, he also proves exactly why every other possibility couldn’t have been the case. There really isn’t a world of difference between the Queen novels of the time, but that’s hardly a bad
thing, stylistically at least.
However… I’m a bit disappointed with this one. There’s a critical part of the solution that is blindingly obvious which pinpoints for Lane the criminal almost immediately which is completely overlooked by the police characters. In fact, it’s so obvious that the reader may assume that it isn’t important to the solution of the crime – i.e. that the authors overlooked it themselves – but in fact it makes Thumm and company look like absolute morons for not considering it. One part that is overlooked is how anyone, including the victim, did not notice the weapon being put in the victim’s pocket.
And then we come to the overall plan – there are a couple of other deaths to keep the plot jogging along – but it’s mindblowingly stupid and overcomplicated. Add to that a middle section of the book concerned with proving (or disproving) the innocence of the obvious suspect where, again, the critical piece of evidence is obvious and, to be honest, this is a bit of a letdown. Still worth a look, but you have to suspend your disbelief at times.