A complete stranger is found dead in an office waiting room. No-one seems to know who he is, no-one seems to know what he was doing there and most importantly of all, no-one knows why everything in the murder scene, from the victim’s clothes to the bookcases in the room, have all been turned back to front – or why the victim has a couple of African spears shoved up the arms and legs of his clothes.
The Chinese Orange Mystery is one of the early Ellery Queen novels that are often cited as being classics – the other mentioned is usually The Greek Coffin Mystery. So, read in sequence, does it stand head and shoulders above the surrounding novels?
Not really, in my opinion.
Let’s start with the good. As with the preceding Siamese Twin Mystery, the writing style has settled down considerably – Ellery’s verbal excesses are few and far between and Ellery himself is feeling more and more like a real person. The story focusses mostly on Ellery for at least the first two-thirds of the book until his police inspector father really gets involved, and he is more active than in some books in his investigations. Given this is one of those single murder books, the plot continues at quite a pace with blackmail, stamp and jewellery thefts and all sorts going on. Generally speaking, this is a highly enjoyable mystery…
… until you get to the end. The revelation of the reason for the backwards room is not bad, although I’m not convinced that Ellery should have been fooled by it – being vague here, but I don’t think that they’re the same. As for the spears – there must have been easier ways to have achieved the same effect. That’s all I’ll say.
With regards to the style of the plot, the “person you will have overlooked” theme, present for all of the books so far is (sort of) ditched for an Agatha Christie-style way of eliminating the murderer from your suspicions and, because of that, I found it a lot less satisfying that some of the other books in the series to date.
Maybe I’m being too picky – for 90% of the book, it’s great, but I thought the ending was disappointing. It’s entirely possible that you won’t/didn’t.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Long out of print, I’m afraid. Try eBay or Abebooks.