Ellery Queen Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis
Like Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen was a master of intricate plotting. From the very first of the Queen novels, The Roman Hat Mystery, his cases are cunningly devised puzzles that the reader must work to assemble along with Queen. Unlike some practitioners of the art, Queen is a believer in fair play; all the pieces to his puzzles are present, if the reader is observant enough to spot them. One of the features of many of the books is Queen’s famous “challenge to the reader,” in which the narrator notes that all the clues have now been presented and diligent mystery lovers are invited to offer their own solutions before reading on to learn Queen’s. The mysteries abound with misdirections and red herrings, but no vital clue is ever omitted or withheld—although arcane bits of knowledge are sometimes required to reach the proper solution.
The Early Queen Books
In Queen’s earliest books, all of which sport “nationality” titles such as The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932) or The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934), the clever plotting is often at the expense of character development (as is also true of Christie). The Ellery Queen featured in these novels is a rather cool, bloodless character—an assessment shared by at least one half of the writing partnership that created him. According to Francis M. Nevins, Jr., in his later years, Lee was fond of referring to the early Queen as “the biggest prig that...
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