And after what seems like an age, although it’s only actually a couple of months, we return to Ellery Queen, and we’re off to Hollywood!
Well, to be precise, the vicinity of Hollywood – Ellery has been dragged to the west coast to write a screenplay and, while trying to arrange a meeting with his producer, decides to stick his nose into the murder of Solly Spaeth. Spaeth is a businessman whose recent deal has ruined a lot of people, including his friend and neighbour Rhys Jardin, and who isn’t happy with the fact that his son, Walter, and Jardin’s daughter, Val, are conducting one of those typical-of-the-era detective story romances. When Spaeth is found stabbed by a sword in his bedroom, suspicion seems to ricochet back and forth between Walter and Rhys. It’s up to Ellery, going undercover as a reporter, to get to the truth.
The last couple of books in the series were a bit of a drop in form, in my opinion. Would this one raise the quality again?
Well, I think it’s better than the last two, as the mystery is much better clued, and annoying as the romance is – I love you, I hate you, etc – it’s nowhere near as annoying as the character of Eva in The Door Between. It’s another of these five act stories, in other words, it was written for a magazine – a woman’s magazine, if I understand correctly, hence the “romance” element, and the first couple of acts are a little flat, mainly because Ellery’s hardly in them. When he does show up, complete with beard, he’s more charming than ever – compare him to the character in the early stories and you’d think it’s someone else. But once he does get involved in the action, it rattles along quite nicely.
The murderer is a bit underwhelming – there’s a number of clues indicating the character, but at the end of the day, the clever bit of the plot is… well, it seems a bit wasted on the story. There is something interesting here, but somehow the presentation seemed to let it down. There is a mild similarity, plot-wise, with The Door Between – and saying that, if the problem hadn’t occurred, surely the actual murderer would have been caught very easily by anyone with half a brain.
Still, it’s a step up, so let’s hope the quality continues to improve. Cautiously recommended.
Oh, one last thing. You meet an old school friend who has now grown a beard. The next day, you meet him and he’s shaved the beard off and brushed his hair a bit different. I think you’d still recognise him straight away, don’t you? That’s not a spoiler, by the way, just a quick pop at “Undercover Ellery”.