Saturday, October 12, 2019

73. The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen

This is actually the first Ellery Queen book I have ever read.  I have never been too attracted to them, I guess because they felt common and I was never clear there would be a strong authorial voice. Having read this, I now know that all the Ellery Queen books featuring Queen himself as the detective were written by two cousins.  There are many other books under the Ellery Queen imprint, written by other authors, and of course the magazine.  The Spanish Cape Mystery was written in 1935 and is around the 9th in the series. 

I have to say, it was quite an enjoyable, competent and at times demonstrated its own character, enough that I would be interested in picking up another one.  It's a real mystery, to the point that near the end, there is an interlude, a brief chapter all in italics where the author(s) tell you that you now have all the info that Ellery Queen has and can go back and make an effort to solve the mystery yourself.  That was kind of fun and made more so because I actually figured it out.  I was lazy on some of the details, but did guess the broad plot of the conspiracy and who the killer actually was.  I never used to be able to even come close to figuring mysteries out on my own (excepting one Sherlock Holmes story; The Case of Silver Blaze), so I guess all this reading and wisdom is paying off.  This interlude was a trope in all the Ellery Queen books.

The story here is about a wealthy couple with a secluded mansion on the coast northeast of New York City.  The husband avoids the guests and wants to potter around in his garden.  His wife is the socialite and has invited a weird crew of guests.  Her brother and her daughter, out for a walk on the grounds late on night while the others are playing bridge are brutally kidnapped at gunpoint.  The brother is taken away, mistaken for one of the guests, a playboy named Marco.  Later, Marco himself is found murdered on the verandah by the beach (the kidnappers ostensibly having discovered their mistake), stark naked but for a cape around his shoulders.  As it happens, Ellery Queen and an older ex-judge of his were coming out this way to take a well-earned vacation at a neighbouring beach house and they get involved in the murder.

The characters are quite good and the dialogue was fun.  There are very wealthy people, the servants and then the striving guests in between.  Class plays a role but it never gets really nasty.  Likewise, the local sheriff does a lot of the heavy lifting and is always a step behind Queen, and yet is treated with respect and shown to have positive characteristics.  The entire proceedings are somewhat light in delivery and done in a pleasant way, though the characters themselves have traits of hard-boiledness.  It makes for a nice middle ground and I can see why these books were so popular in their time.  I understand, though, that the tone varies as does Queen's persona.  We shall see.

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