Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE ROMAN HAT MYSTERY by Ellery Queen


The current vogue in detective literature is all for the practice of placing the reader in the position of chief sleuth. I have prevailed upon Mr. Ellery Queen to permit at this point in THE ROMAN HAT MYSTERY the interpolation of a challenge to the reader. . . .  “Who killed Monte Field?” “How was the murder accomplished?" … Mr. Queen agrees with me that the alert student of mystery tales, now being in possession of all the pertinent facts, should at this state of the story have reached definite conclusions on the questions propounded.

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I confess. This is the first Ellery Queen mystery I ever read.

I think I tried one in my youth and put it aside.

The Roman Hat Mystery is a straight puzzle cozy. The authors set up the characters for the puzzle. The characters have little value in themselves. And the fun (if you find it so), is in solving the murder before Inspector Queen gives the answer.

This book has less character development than an Agatha Christie book would have. No Miss Marples here.

That’s not to say this is a bad book. It is very readable. I like Ellery’s style (whichever of the two authors was Ellery in the writing). But I also know why I picked up an Ellery Queen book in my youth, then put it aside before I finished it.

Strictly puzzle stories are not my cup of tea. I read for people and for plot that develops character. I like some feeling in my stories.

In this book, someone kills a nefarious lawyer in a crowded theater. His hat is missing. Inspector Richard Queen thinks the hat holds the key to the case. And his son Ellery tags along, all the time wanting to go to a bookstore and buy a rare book.

Queen gathers the clues, interrogates the suspects, creates the time line, and discerns who is lying and who is telling the truth. Then he challenges the reader to solve the crime.

When the reader can’t (at least I couldn’t, though intuitively I thought I knew), he reveals the truth.

One thing I do when I write these comments: I try to make them so you get a sense of the nature of the book. You might like or not like a book I liked or didn’t like. My opinion is not really of much value to you. But for me to give you enough of a sense of the story to decide for yourself could be of value.

If you like very clever puzzle mysteries, you might well like The Roman Hat Mystery.

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This is the first of the Ellery Queen mysteries. It was published in 1929.

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