ELLERY QUEEN. Double, Double (1950).

11 Sep

DoubleDouble.jpgDid Queen the author tire of Queen the detective and come to despise him, much as Arthur Conan Doyle became wearily contemptuous of Sherlock Holmes? True, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee (the men behind the Queen pseudonym) never tried to do away with Ellery—unlike Doyle, who took the drastic, albeit reversible, step of killing his brainchild in print. But in several novels from late in their career, including this one, they subjected their sleuth to a fate arguably worse than death: They made him dangerously incompetent. In this outing, seven dead bodies pile up before Ellery, who narrowly misses becoming the eighth, sees the light and nabs the killer. Until then, he stumbles in the dark, unable to comprehend why anyone would commit murder to the tune of an old nursery rhyme, the one that goes (in the American version used here) “Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief.” In answer to that question, Queen the author devises a plot of surpassing and largely satisfying complexity. All the same, he (or “he”) forgets that most detective novel readers are looking for more than a puzzle that they can’t hope to solve. In addition, they want to follow the exploits of a sleuth who can solve it.

[ADDENDUM: Several of my recent posts, including this one, stem from an effort to dredge up old notes on books that I read a decade or more ago. Although I’ve spruced up these notes somewhat, they stand as remnants from a time when approached reviewing detective fiction—and, indeed, reading detective fiction—differently from how I do now. For one thing, these older reviews are shorter. I drafted them before I created Only Detect and before I aspired to do more than jot down a brief “note to self.” For another thing, they reflect a single-minded focus on how an author sets and solves a puzzle. Today, I admire a fine corkscrew plot as much as ever, but I’m also inclined to celebrate other attributes that cause a detective novel to succeed or fail.]


Posted by on September 11, 2018 in American, Novel, Puzzle


4 responses to “ELLERY QUEEN. Double, Double (1950).

  1. Justice for the Corpse

    September 16, 2018 at 7:11 AM

    In Joseph Goodrich’s Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, there is correspondence saying that Dannay wanted Ten Days’ Wonder (the last Queen book before this one) to be Ellery’s last case. Obviously Lee talked him out of it, or he changed his mind.

    • Mike

      September 16, 2018 at 4:19 PM

      Thanks for the comment, Rusty. One thing that makes Queen’s body of work so intriguing is that, after writing a dozen or so novels that exemplify and indeed help to define the classic puzzle-mystery form, the author(s) began questioning and testing the fundamentals of that form. And over time the Ellery character clearly became an impediment to such efforts. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dannay or Lee (or both of them) tried to kill the fellow off several times.

  2. Ken B

    January 6, 2019 at 8:40 PM

    Blood Relations is worth reading. But for a Queen fan, pretty dispiriting.
    I think that EQ did come to hate Ellery Queen, at least partly. But it’s also clear that E came to hate Q and Q to hate E, at least partly.
    It’s spoilers to the gunwhales though.
    I remember not liking this one much.

    • Mike

      January 7, 2019 at 10:41 AM

      This last of the four Wrightsville novels is definitely the weakest of the lot. Thanks for providing further background information from “Blood Relations.” I haven’t read that book, but I gather that during the relevant period (late 1940s and early 1950s) Dannay and Lee were indeed were wrestling creatively not only with each other but also with the character and the very genre on which they had based their shared literary career.


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