I got a whole big heap of them, and these are the first two to get randomly read. One of them is the first ever Ellery Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery. It’s very different from the other Queen’s I’ve sampled, both in how the characters act and behave and in general tone. It does have a lovely period feel to it, being from 1929 – and by the way, I’m just so tickled by how long this series kept going. It’s like bloody James Bond. The other book, The Player on the Other Side, is from 1963, and I’m currently reading another Queen, this one from -68.
Anyway, The Roman Hat Mystery is a classic mystery crime puzzle. A man is murdered in the theatre, and oddly enough his hat is missing. The hat must be the crucial jigsaw piece – since it’s gone, it must be incriminating, and therefore only the murderer will have taken it. So who could have removed the hat from the theatre right under the noses of the police? All the clues are there, and it is relatively easy to work out whodunnit, although you must read more of the novel to get the motive. As for the Queens, they are somewhat more Europeanly foppish here, especially Ellery. Also, they have some sort of boyish man-servant named Djuna, who reminds me of nothing so much as the witch’s familiar the way he’s talked about. It’s quite absurd and I’m glad he went in later books.
The Player on the Other Side is a bit weirder. According to the terms of an eccentric will, four cousins must inhabit a house each, surrounding a common square, for a certain period of time in order to inherit a vast sum of money each. They are all very different and odd in their own little ways, bar one who is really mad. Then they start receiving mysterious notes, and then they’re killed. The twist of it is that as the reader you know who the killer is all along, but you don’t know who is ordering him to commit the murders. This is revealed at the end, and is a little disappointing. Smacks of sensationalist pseudo-psychology a bit, in my view, and too fanciful. Overtly and in-your-face clever.
What I noticed most in these two novels was that somewhere in one of them a room or office is described as tasteful, with a Constable oil painting. Now, I swear, Constable paintings seem to be The Thing in crime fiction. I’m convinced I run into them all the time, as the epithomy of taste. I must start keeping note of this.