ELLERY QUEEN. The Murder Is a Fox (1945).

07 Apr

The word Fox in the title refers to an interlocked pair of Fox families, one of whose members killed Jessica Fox by putting a poisonous dose of digitalis in a glass of grape juice that she drank one morning in 1932. According to the local keepers of the law, it was Bayard Fox, Jessica’s husband, who did the fatal deed, and when the action here commences he has served 12 years in prison. Bayard and Jessica’s son, Davy, upon his return in 1944 from heroic wartime service in China, fears that murderous blood flows through his veins. MurdererFox2.jpg That fear becomes acute after he awakens from a jealousy-infused nightmare to find his hands wrapped around the throat of his loving wife, Linda.

Enter Ellery Queen, playing the role of sleuth-cum-shrink. At the behest of Linda, Ellery travels to the scene of the crime—the Our Town–inspired community known as Wrightsville—and reopens the earlier murder case on the theory that proving the father’s innocence will expel the son’s demons. That aspect of the book, partaking of the Freudian conceit that truth about the past can set the soul free (just as clearly and unambiguously as a surgeon’s knife can remove a cancerous growth), is contrived and overdone. What redeems this tale are Ellery’s rivetingly intricate reconstruction of the crime; the author’s trenchant exploration of several big themes, including the power of a paternal legacy, the quest for knowledge, and the ironies of fate; and a splendid use of setting. Wrightsville, which Queen generally treats as the habitat of comically limned mid-century American types, emerges as a scene of subliminal tragedy, a place where the hard granite of pride and pretense is shot through with the soft clay of human weakness.


Posted by on April 7, 2017 in American, Novel, Puzzle


3 responses to “ELLERY QUEEN. The Murder Is a Fox (1945).

  1. Cavershamragu

    April 14, 2017 at 8:27 AM

    Read this about 30 years ago, and remember liking it a lot – but then, when ti comes to Queen, I used to love all their stuff. Glad to hear it holds up!

    • Mike

      April 15, 2017 at 5:16 PM

      Sergio, I’m glad to see that my posts still catch your eye (especially after my long hiatus from posting here). I particularly enjoyed this book because it’s a well-executed example of one of my favorite sub-genres—the murder-in-retrospect tale. It doesn’t generally garner a lot of attention, even from Queen enthusiasts, but I’d place it in the top tier of EQ’s work.

  2. Marco Bigliazzi

    August 1, 2017 at 6:00 AM

    When I first read this book, the copy that I had was a bad, abridged Italian translation. Hence, I lost much of the atmosphere and characterization, which is why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did with other EQ novels – such as The Tragedy of Y or Cat Of Many Tails. Anyway, IMHO, here the plot is still not first rate. I mean, if this had been written by any other author than EQ, it could probably had been billed as a masterpiece. But it _was_ actually an EQ. Well, I don’t know, maybe I’ll give it a second (or third) chance…


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