ELLERY QUEEN. The Door Between (1936).

24 Jan

This transitional work marks a passage—yes, a door between—one part of the Queen canon and another. Originally published in Cosmopolitan magazine, it attempts to mix two story types that mix just as poorly as one might imagine. In the first instance, there is the formal detective novel, which focuses on a sleuth-hero’s work to establish the true order that lies hidden within a welter of clues and complications. Thus does this novel partly concern the quest by Ellery Queen (the detective) to solve a proper crime puzzle: DoorBetween.jpgWho killed Karen Leith, the noted Japanophile and writer, in her Greenwich Village home? Was it Eva McClure, who seems to have been the only person in the vicinity of the door that leads to the murder room? If not, then who was it, and how was the foul deed done? In the second instance, there is the slick-magazine romance novel, in which a damsel on the cusp of womanhood discovers who she is by discovering which man she will marry. And, in that tradition, The Door Between dwells at length on the question of whether Eva will end up with a Park Avenue doctor who is a prize catch but also a stick-in-the-mud, or with a Lower East Side private eye who is rough around the edges but rock-solid in his regard for her. (Eva acts the part of a standard romantic heroine; we watch the proceedings as much from her vantage point as we do from Ellery’s.)

The murder puzzle, for its part, features a semblance of the pyrotechnic power that characterizes the classic early Queen tales. With a little reworking, in fact, this variation on the impossible-crime theme might have formed the nucleus of a book called—in the spirit of the nationality-plus-object title structure that marked the first nine books in the series—“The Japanese Bird Mystery” or “The Japanese Knife Mystery.” The love story, meanwhile, displays the indifferent competence of a professional who has opted to write within an unfamiliar but salable genre. The novel that results from this two-fold effort sits awkwardly on a threshold between something that’s quite promising and something that’s fairly disappointing.


Posted by on January 24, 2013 in American, Golden Age, Novel, Puzzle


4 responses to “ELLERY QUEEN. The Door Between (1936).

  1. Ho-Ling

    January 25, 2013 at 12:11 AM

    In Japan, the book is actually called Nippon Kashidori no Nazo/ The Japanese Jay Mystery, and therefore also considered part of the ‘nationality’ series there. Yes, I was also surprised to when I first heard them talk about the [i]ten[/i] nationality novels.

    Not a big fan of this novel (I wrote my thoughts about it here: I’d rather consider Halfway House as a ‘nationality’ novel

  2. Mike

    January 25, 2013 at 6:56 AM

    Thank, Ho-Ling, for your excellent and very helpful comment. I’ll check out your review. Meanwhile, I’m intrigued to learn that EQ’s publisher in Japan unilaterally decided to align this book with the early nationality tales, which are far more different from “Door Between” than they are like it.

  3. John

    January 25, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    Oh dear. I nearly chose this one as my re-entry to Queen this month. I have quite a few I haven’t read — mostly done with the nationality books, his mid period and the later books from the 60s and 70s of which I think THE FINISHING STROKE is superior. I think I’ll opt instead for THE FRENCH POWDER MYSTERY which you mentioned as being rather good in a comment back on that Van Dine post a few weeks ago. Do you know anything about THE DEVIL TO PAY? Is that worth reading?

  4. Mike

    January 25, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    Hi, John. This one isn’t all that bad, actually. It’s a decent period piece, and (as I noted) it has a fairly good plot. Definitely do read “French Powder,” if you haven’t enjoyed that one already. I’ll confess that I haven’t read “Devil to Pay.” One other book from this period that I’ve read is “The Four of Hearts,” which I’d rank about a notch below “Door Between.” Finally, I completely agree with your view that “The Finishing Stroke” is a very strong effort—one of my favorite EQ novels, in fact. Some critics, I gather, dismiss it as a self-cannibalizing pastiche. But I think that it’s rather more than that.


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