Friday, February 13, 2015

The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen (1931, Grosset & Dunlap)

Ellery Queen, the amateur detective son of a New York police inspector, is visiting a friend at the Dutch Memorial Hospital, where he gets invited to witness the removal of a gall bladder.  However, when the sheet covering the patient is pulled back, it reveals that the elderly millionaire, Abigail Doorn, has been strangled during pre-op.  Quickly sealing the hospital, Queen calls for his father and starts to investigate his most difficult case to date.  It appears that someone with nerves of steel has impersonated a leading surgeon and murdered the woman in a busy hospital.  With plenty of suspects but few clues to work with Queen struggles to solve the mystery.

Published in 1931, The Dutch Shoe Mystery is the third book in the Ellery Queen series, jointly written by cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, under the pen-name of Ellery Queen.  The series was considered one of the finest examples of a ‘fair play’ mysteries, with the reader presented with all of the clues available to the fictional detective so that they might solve it for themselves.  Indeed, the book includes a ‘challenge to the reader’ page inserted near the end of the book, prior to the denouement, that asks them to try and identify the killer based on the clues revealed in the plot.  The Dutch Shoe Mystery is a variation on the locked room mystery in that one of the workers, patients or visitors within the vicinity of the pre-op room must have perpetrated the crime and was almost certainly still present on its discovery.  And the investigation soon reveals plenty of people present with the motive to murder the victim.  The strength of the story is the intricate plot, which charts the detective’s investigation and reasoning.  However, this offset somewhat by the dryness of the read, the fact that Ellery Queen is quite a difficult character to warm to, being somewhat aloof, snobbish and self-obsessed, and the fact that whole premise felt somewhat contrived in order to produce the puzzle.  Nonetheless, an interesting read for the puzzle and challenge of solving it.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

It's been decades since I read any really early elderly Queen books - GREEK COFFIN is the one that surprised me most, though i have a real soft sport for SIAMESE TWIN - Thanks Rob, I really will have to dig this one out.

George said...

Like Sergio, it's been years since I've reread any of the early Ellery Queens. I need to do that.

Rob Kitchin said...

I'd give others a go because I like the premise of fair play mysteries, but I'm not sure how I'll get on with Ellery Queen the detective, who I didn't connect with at all.