The King Is Dead by Ellery Queen

AIMQJA peaceful evening at the Queen household is cut short by the arrival of some uninvited guests. Soon Ellery and his father are winging their way to the mysterious Bendigo Island, recruited by Abel Bendigo to protect his even-more-oddly named brother, King Bendigo.

King Bendigo is a man with his own private army, navy and airforce, a man of power who can topple governments, a man who brokers both war and peace and makes a handsome profit doing so. He is also a man who is receiving death threats, which, while he does not take them seriously, his brother does, which is why Ellery has been summoned.

As the threats become more and more specific, King Bendigo ensures he is safely sealed away at the time the threat is due to be carried out. But when an impossible bullet strikes him down, Ellery finds himself with one of the most baffling cases of his career.

Remember the Ellery Queen bibliography? One of the first projects of this blog and it’s been – whoops! – over a year since I last checked in with him. Sorry about that. Not entirely sure why, possibly as I could remember the next book in order, The Murderer Is A Fox, a little too well. So as the Readathon attempt is being extended past the ten books target, I thought it was time for another of my favourite writers and jumped ahead to a new book to me. There’ll be another later in the month as well, as Face To Face (if I can find it) fits the 1967 Book Challenge over at Past Offences. So how was this one?

Um… not good. Very not good I’m afraid.

There’s a scene just after halfway in the book – I won’t detail it as that far in counts as a spoiler – that is absolutely superb. The scene as the attempt is made on King’s life is done superbly well. Shame about the rest of the book.

Basically, it comes down to this. It’s a short story with a clever set-up with a lame solution that has been padded out to novel length. The character-driven mysteries of the Wrightsville books has gone – until an information dump of a chapter near the end – to be replaced with a mystery that should not have taken Ellery a day to solve, let alone a month or so. It takes an age to get going and an age to get to the point – and a fairly unsatisfying one too. And given Ellery’s reputation, why would anyone… never mind. Spoiler again.

So, it was good to touch base with Ellery again, but I miss those tightly over-plotted mysteries of the early days. Let’s see how things are as we jump ahead a little more later in the month.

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9 comments

  1. I skimmed through this book, and I had read it straight through as you did I might agree with you. That being said, the locked room mystery at the center of the story is very, very good (and unlike “The Chinese Orange Mystery”, it really IS a locked room mystery), and the solution is brilliant. But it might just be that if I took the time to read the whole thing that that mystery belongs in a short story rather than a novel.

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  2. I agree that it would have been better as a short story.
    Though I found the locked room stuff highly intriguing, I was not satisfied with the solution.
    One aspect namely removal of SPOILER from SPOILER was clever and clued.
    However, another aspect namely that the victim completely failed to notice anything is absurd and impossible. He knew the exact time when the attempt would take place. Wouldn’t he be extra alert during the time ?

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  3. (continuing)
    Moreover, since the intention was to kill, the culprit would not have made any special effort at concealment.
    Also, I couldn’t understand why the culprit wasn’t anxious that the victim might have noticed something and would tell.

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  4. (continuing)
    Ellery Queen is known to be a brilliant detective who pursues a crime relentlessly till he solves it and has solved many difficult cases in the past.
    Then, why…………….?

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  5. I d vaguely remember the central situation from when I read it three decades ago, but that’s it and I have never been tempted to re-read it. FACE TO FACE on the other hand is a great late period Queen.

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  6. I’ve not read this one, but I think it’s famous for being one of the weirdest EQs? I’ve never heard anyone recommend it wholeheartedly.

    I haven’t a lot of luck with EQ recently either. I thought I’d give a Wrightsville one a try, to see if I prefer that style, but The Murderer is a Fox was incredibly disappointing, not least because it started promisingly. The first bit had some sympathetic and almost believably human characterization, which is rare for EQ, but then the authors decided it would be better to drop that and spend 75% of the running time talking about grape juice instead!

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