Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Battle of Bibliophiles

「・・・東口。伝言板にXYZーもうあとがない助けてくれーそう書けば望みが叶うという」
「Angel Heart」

"The East Exit. They say that if you write down XYZ --There's no hope anymore. Save me--on the message board there, your wish will come true."
"Angel Heart"

Drury Lane's Last Review. Even though I posted only one review a week, I actually wrote all the Lane reviews in two days. Well, I wrote the XYZ reviews in one day and started reading Drury Lane's Last Case the same day; the following day I finished the book and wrote today's review.

Drury Lane series
The Tragedy of X (1932)
The Tragedy of Y (1932)
The Tragedy of Z (1933) 
Drury Lane's Last Case (1933)

Even though Inspector Thumm doesn't work at the NY Police Department anymore, some things don't change. For one, he certainly doesn't mind if people still call him Inspector. Two, he still remembers all the people who worked for him during his years at the force. So when he is told that Donoghue, an ex-policeman who is now working for the Brittanic Museum, has gone missing, Thumm and his daughter Patience naturally accept the job. During their investigation of the Brittanic, they also discover an utterly strange theft: one of the three known copies of a 1599 Jaggard edition of The Passionate Pilgrim, a poem collection attributed to William Shakespeare, has been replaced with a 1606 edition of the same book, an edition of which nobody knew the existence and therefore much more valuable. What makes the case even more kooky is that the Brittanic's copy of the book is also sent back to the museum, although with a cut through its binding and a hundred dollar bill to cover costs of repair. Thus the Britannic is left with their own, damaged copy of the book and a more valuable edition of the book. Nobody knows what's going on, but as the whole case is linked with William Shakespeare, it's no surprise that Drury Lane, distinguished Shakespeare actor and amateur detective, is called one last time to appear on stage in Ellery Queen's Drury Lane's Last Case (1933).

The last of the Drury Lane novels, and the only one not to have be titled The Tragedy of..., even though the foreword does mention the subtitle The Tragedy of 1599. Like with The Tragedy of Z, Patience Thumm is the heroine of the story, though this time she isn't narrating. This was also the first Drury Lane novel I read. Heck, it's actually one of the very first Queen novels I ever read. As such, I have a sweet spot for it. Especially because I have a funny story to attach to it. Many, many years before I ever heard about Ellery Queen or Drury Lane, I was quite fond of a certain Mickey Mouse comic. With the power of Internet, I know now it was an Italian 1991 story titled Topolino e il segreto di William Topespeare (story code:  I TL 1872-B), but I knew it as Mickey en het geheim van William Mousespeare ("Mickey and the Secret of William Mousespeare"). Imagine my surprise when I first read Drury Lane's Last Case, and I discovered that the neat Mickey Mouse story about rare Mousespeare books being stolen only to be returned to their owners again with a slash through its cover wasn't completely original.

Drury Lane's Last Case is fairly different from the three previous Drury Lane novels though. For one, for most of the book, the plot revolves around the mysterious book-swapping in the museum. In short, this book is mostly a bibliomystery and murder only becomes a part of the play at the very end of the story. This is quite different from the three Tragedies, which basically all started with a mysterious death. For Queen fans, the bibliophilical angle shouldn't come as a surprise: it's a background the Queen cousins used very often in their books. And as there's a Shakespeare link, it's obvious why Drury Lane appears in this novel.

While the main mystery might be a bit tame compared to the previous books, I definitely like Drury Lane's Last Case a lot. For people who love books and historical mysteries, the plot about the stolen (and returned) books is more than just interesting. There's just something magic about hidden secrets about Shakespeare. What helps is that Queen never allows the plot to slow down: surprises are thrown at the reader all the time and it's hard to guess where the story is going because of all the revelations on the way. It'd say this is the most active book of the four Drury Lane novels, with even an Exciting Chase somewhere.Yet it never becomes too chaotic and the high-paced mystery about a book theft is miraculously exciting all the way to the end. After the somewhat slow The Tragedy of Z, this is certainly a welcome change in pacing. Also: the book is great fun because for the longest time, you have no idea what's going on. The Tragedy of X and Z were quite straightforward with their murders. The Tragedy of Y was also clear-cut, but also added a hint of insanity because of the odd murder, as well as the whole "Mad Hatter" household. Drury Lane's Last Case however is crazy from the start, with events happening that seemingly make no sense at all. It takes a while before things take shape though, and some might find that less appealing. I however love the crazy atmosphere.

The investigation eventually does turn into a murder investigation, but that's very late. What's interesting that here Drury Lane's Last Case turns back into the type of mystery you expect it to be. The line of reasoning that eventually leads to the identity of the murderer is as always focused on physical objects as clues, and deductions surrounding how the objects were used and such. As I noted in my review of The Tragedy of Y, a lot of the clues are actually recyled within the story, having multiple uses in the deduction chain, which is quite impressive and fun. For while a reader might notice one correct use of a clue, it might be a lot more difficult for someone to identify all necessary uses of a clue. The most significant clue in the book for example is used in two different ways.That said, Drury Lane's Last Case never comes even close to the logical reasonings laid out in the three Tragedies and is definitely the weakest one in terms of how impressive the final deduction chain is.

The last part of the book also feels a bit detached from the first part (the 'straight' bibliomystery) though and the book overall feels less like "one" story, compared to the previous books. The last part does follow from the previous, but the non-murder part and the murder part feel quite different from each other. Not a bad thing per se, but the previous books were quite impressive because they always showed how a view on the complete case was necessary to figure out who the murderer was. That is less obvious in Drury Lane's Last Case.

But I do really like Drury Lane's Last Case though, because it's so weird. Logic-wise, it's not as impressive as the previous three books, but it makes up for that by just being a lot more unpredictable than those books.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Z

「獠に依頼したぁ~いなんて思ってなぁい? この頼れる俺にさ! いいぜ。受けても・・・言えよ例のセリフを・・・さ! ・・・言えよ♡」
 「・・・X・・・Y・・・Z・・・」
「Angel Heart」

"Aren't you thinking about asking me for help? Trustworthy old me? Okay. I'll help you...just say it. You know what. Say it ♡"
"...X...Y...Z..."
"Angel Heart"

And today, the final letter of the alphabet! The next post will conclude this series of reviews.

Drury Lane series
The Tragedy of X (1932)
The Tragedy of Y (1932)
The Tragedy of Z (1933) 
Drury Lane's Last Case (1933)

It's been a decade since Mr. Drury Lane, retired Shakespeare actor and amateur detective, solved the Longstreet Murder and the Hatter Murder. Things have changed of course in those years. Inspector Thumm for example quit the force and started his own private detective agency. His bright and independent daughter Patience returned from Europe and started working as her father's assistant. District Attorney Bruno is now Governor Bruno. But crime never changes. Thumm and his daughter are hired by marble entrepeneur Elihu Clay, because he suspects his silent partner Dr. Fawcett might be involving their company with shady deals. During their stay in Tilden County, Senator Fawcett (brother and suspected accomplice of Dr. Fawcett) is murdered. A cut-up toy chest is discovered to be a major clue, linking the murder to a long-time guest of nearby Algonquin Prison.The local police inspector and district attorney think they have their man, but Patience is quite sure they are wrong and intends to prove her worth as a detective in Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of Z (1933).

The last Drury Lane book to carry the title "Tragedy", but also the first to star Patience Thumm, the daughter of Inspector Thumm who suddenly appeared in this book even though not one reference had ever been made to her in the earlier two adventures. She would also star in the last book, Drury Lane's Last Case. Patience is a weird character. I've seen her described as a crossdressing Ellery Queen once, which isn't that far off actually. Writing a convincing female narrator was definitely not a forte of the Queen cousins. Patience has an interesting function though: she is a very intelligent girl, but unlike Drury Lane, she is also more directly involved with the investigation and is less likely to keep quiet (thus driving the plot forward). Because of that, we have two detectives running around in this novel: while it's Drury Lane who saves the day at the end, there is no doubt that Patience did more than her share of the deductions necessary to capture the murderer. As a female detective following the Queen school of logical reasoning, she is interesting, but still, she really does feel like Ellery with a wig on.

The Tragedy of Z is also perhaps the most boring of the three Tragedies. It is quite a bit shorter than the previous two books, but feels just as long, not because it's so exciting, but because the middle part drags a bit. Both The Tragedy of X and The Tragedy of Y start right off with a mysterious death and the plot basically does not stop until the very end when Drury Lane explains everything. The Tragedy of Z feels a lot slower, with crime scenes that never become as memorable as the street car murder in The Tragedy of X or the mandolin murder in The Tragedy of Y. For most part, it's definitely a step down compared to the previous two letters.

That the first couple of deduction chains of Patience feel a bit... dodgy isn't helping either. Sure, at a later point Drury Lane proves that Patience is indeed right, but even so, it feels a bit arbitrary and not completely convincing. Of course, mystery fiction is always something of the imagination and therefore 'unreal', but that's why it has to be written convincingly. And we know Ellery Queen was capable of coming up with much more solid deductions, so it was not a lack of talent that was at the core of this problem. Especially as Patience's deductions revolve around that what Queen does best: deduce certain characteristics of the murderer by focusing on objects as clues. How they were used, in what state they were found, who could've used them, all of that is Queen's M.O., so it's a bit disappointing when the result is not as good as we usually see from him. When the book is a bit slow and the first couple of deductions aren't really convincing, than you have a battle uphill.

That said though, the final part of the book, when Drury Lane reveals who the murderer is, is fantastic. This is what I expect from Queen! Slowly building a prison around his suspect with bricks of logic! Identitfying the characteristics of the murderer, and comparing them to the suspects! The ending is really impressive, set in a memorable place with Drury Lane quickly, but convincingly proving who the murderer is. In fact, it's amazing howswift the conclusions are in Queen novels. I mean: the explanation of how the detective arrives at his list of characteristics is usually long, but once you have a list of five or six items, it's usually just crossing off suspects. You're out, you're out, you're it. The Tragedy of Z has one that is quick, convincing and satisfying.

There is a trial scene in The Tragedy of Z, which is actually also something you often see in Queen novels. The Tragedy of X had one too, but there's also Halfway House and Calamity Town for example. Trial scenes in Queen are never used as the conclusion of a book though, so usually, you can take a good guess at how those trials will end.

The Tragedy of Z is overall weaker than The Tragedy of X and The Tragedy of Y, there's no doubt to that in my mind. But the conclusion of Z is perhaps the strongest of the three Tragedies, providing a much better showcase of how clues and deductions are handled in Ellery Queen novels. The rest of the book isn't bad per se, but the star of the book is definitely the final chain of revelations made by Mr. Drury Lane.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The House of Mystery

「XYZだ・・・香!!年も離れててろくでもない男で・・・国籍なくて正式に結婚できなくて・・・だからこんな事言う資格ないかもしれんが・・・」
「ごちゃごちゃうるさい!」
「一緒になってくれ、香」
 『Angel Heart』

"XYZ! Kaori! I might be older than you and just a worthless bum...I don't have any nationality so I can't even marry you officially... perhaps I don't even have the right to ask you, but..."
"Stop talking around it!"
"Kaori. Let's be together."
"Angel Heart"

Part two of the Drury Lane review series!

Drury Lane series
The Tragedy of X (1932)
The Tragedy of Y (1932)
The Tragedy of Z (1933) 
Drury Lane's Last Case (1933)

The Mad Hatters, the newspapers called them, and mad, the Hatters were. Perhaps you could say they had a lot of "character". And even York Hatter, husband of family matriarch Emily Hatter couldn't cope any longer with his wife and his children and grandchildren and decided to take early leave from life. In retrospect. York's death was just the prologue to the tragedy which would happen in the Hatter house. The first act was an attempt at poisoning Louisa's egg-nogg, Emily's first daughter from a prior marriage who was blind, deaf and dumb. Luckily (?), one of Emily's naughty grandchildren had gulped down the egg-nogg before Louisa could and he was saved thanks to Emily's quick reaction. The other children from the Hatter marriage are not very fond of Louisa (who hogged all of mother Emily's attention because of her condition), but would any of them have stooped to poisoning their half-sister? But the mystery really starts to deepen when some months later, Emily Hatter is found murdered in her bedroom (which she shared with Louisa after the poisoning attempt), having been bashed on the head with a mandolin!  Was there someone trying to kill all the Hatters? The problem is one which troubled both Inspector Thumm and District Attorney Bruno, and the two once again ask Drury Lane, professional Shakespeare intepreter and amateur detective to help solve Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of Y (1932).

This is the second adventure of Drury Lane and like The Tragedy of X, this too is a very highly regarded mystery novel. In fact, in the most recent Tozai Mystery Best 100 ranking (of non-Japanese titles), the book ranked second place, behind Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. This was the second Drury Lane book I read by the way, after Drury Lane's Last Case (which again shows I never read things in the right order). It's probably my favorite Drury Lane novel too, even though I think that in general, The Tragedy of X is regarded better than this one.

Like I pointed out in my review of The Tragedy of X, that book is very obviously a book written by Ellery Queen. The Tragedy of Y on the other hand, not that obvious. At least, not in terms of tropes and setting. In fact, if there's one thing the book reminds me of, it's S.S. Van Dine's The Greene Murder Case (1929), which was no doubt a source of some inspiration for the Queen cousins for The Tragedy of Y. The book is mostly confined to one setting (the Hatter home) and revolves about the fate of a family with a fair number of not-so-nice members, which are probably the defining characteristics of The Greene Murder Case. As I already indicated in my review of The Greene Murder Case, the book has been an influence on Japanese detective fiction, but that's definitely in conjunction with The Tragedy of Y. The two of them are probably the most famous books in their specific type of setting (family murders in a mansion), and were major infuences on Oguri Mushitarou's infamous anti-mystery Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken (1934). Following this line further, we also have Yokomizo Seishi: many of his Kindaichi Kousuke novels revolve around family feuds in mansions. In a sort of branch-line we have Ayatsuji Yukito in more recent years, who focuses more on the buildings (mansions) themselves. While the setting is not typical Queen, we'd sometimes see it in some of his works, like The Siamese Twin Mystery (1933, an isolated mansion in the mountains, with fairly strange inhabitants) and The Player on the Other Side (1963, ghostwritten).

By the way, at a certain point in the story the will of Emily Hatter is presented, and the complexity of it (with all sort of clauses to protect one certain person) reminded me a lot of Yokomizo Seishi: especially The Inugami Clan, which had one of the most convoluted last wills ever (which was definitely a reason why all those murders were commited in that book). In general, complex wills usually result in murders in mystery fiction.

The story is mostly confined to the house, and with the attempted poisoning of Louisa and the bizarre murder on Emily Hatter  (a mandoline as weapon) hapening in quick succession (in terms of pages), The Tragedy of Y has a strange, pressing and somewhat creepy atmosphere. The Hatter home has quite the number of strange secrets and weird revelations hidden for the reader, one of them for example York Hatter's laboratory inside the house, which will prove to be of importance to the case in more ways than one. Now I think about it, a lot of the clues in this book are used in multiple ways (and not just "This points to X, and now you can throw this hint away"). Heh. Clue recycling. Anyway, The Tragedy of Y feels unreal, like a play, and that's why Drury Lane fits wonderfully in this story, because the whole case is just nuts. And that's why I like about it. For a very long time, nothing makes sense in this novel. And it's unsettling.

Louisa, as a blind, deaf and dumb person, is a very interesting character in this story. She is actually witness to the murder of her mother, but because of her special condition, her testimony has to rely on very different senses than the ones we usually associate with "witness". It's again an element that makes The Tragedy of Y feel bizarre and it is very effective.

In terms of mystery plot, The Tragedy of Y covers familiar ground: as in most Queen novels, figuring out the murderer is very well possible by applying logical reasoning based on the clues provided. As often in Queen novels, clues take the form of physical objects, though the deduction based on them can be about all kinds of things (for example, 'the state of an object', or 'who could've used the object' etc.). The Tragedy of Y can be a bit trickier than The Tragedy of X though; The Tragedy of X is fairly straightforward in its reasoning, but The Tragedy of Y is, as I said earlier, a bit nuts, and it is a lot more difficult to reconstruct the whole chain fo reasoning Drury Lane presents by yourself. In fact, there is one point in the chain that asks of some inspiration if you want to figure it out yourself, and that is not usually the case in Queen-like deductions. Also, at a certain point "a significant clue" is discovered by Drury Lane, which basically explains all, even though the story continues for a little while, as if it's still a mystery. It's a bit of a shame, because while the solution is shocking, it's as if the story forget they just showed you a clue that basically told you everything. That said though, the initial chain of reasoning that led Drury Lane to the murderer is still good, and The Tragedy of Y also has one of my favorite clues of all time (people who have read the book, can probably guess what it is).

And this is another thing for those who have read the book: I actually have a Korean version of The Tragedy of Y. The cover of it is almost too brilliant, as it....err, makes one certain character very very suspicious. I recommend you to only click this link if you already read The Tragedy of Y, but I think most will agree this cover might not've been the best choice.

As an experiment in deduction, The Tragedy of Y is not as neat as The Tragedy of X, even if it's still amazing for most standards. But it's the wacky and bizarre setting and characters that make this a favorite of mine and definitely the first Drury Lane novel I'd recommend anyone to read.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Great Mouse Detective

「 オレは名探偵じゃない。名探偵だ」
『名探偵ピカチュウ 新コンビの誕生』

"I'm not a detective. I'm a great detective!"
"Great Detective Pikachi ~ Birth of a New Duo"

Pikapikapikachu? Pikapika. Pikapikapikkkachu. Pi!

When it was first announced in 2013 that a detective game starring the mascotte of the Pokémon franchise, Pikachu, was in the making, people were surprised for several reasons. One was the creepy facial mapping technology used for Pikachu. But people also got excited because it was so unexpected and yet somehow fitting, especially because Pikachu's voice actress, Ootani Ikue, also voices Mitsuhiko from Detective Conan, the Detective Boys member who is way to smart for his age. Fast-forward to January 2016, when Nintendo suddenly released this trailer of the 3DS game Meitantei Pikachu ~ Shin Combi Tanjou ("Great Detective Pikachi ~ Birth of a New Duo"), together with the announcement the game would be released the following week (first week of February). And people were surprised again. Not by the sudden release, but by the deep, manly voice Pikachu suddenly had. I decided immediately I needed this game. Meitantei Pikachu tells the story of Tim Goodman, a young man who has moved to Lime City in search of his father, a private detective who has gone missing while working on a case. Immedaitely after his arrival in the city, Tim runs into the talking Pikachu, who was actually the partner of Tim's father Harry. Harry and Pikachu got in an car accident and only Pikachu was found. Pikachu lost his memories, but he gained the powers to communicate in human speech with Tim. Together, the two try to find out what happened to Harry.

Do I need to explain what Pokémon are? Pokémon is a popular media franchise that started with videogames, but als features animated series, theatrical releases and much, much, muuuuuuch more. The games are about the titular Pokémon (Pocket Monsters), about 700 differrent species of creatures with special powers. People use them for a variety of activities, from pets to using them for Pokémon fights and having them help with work. Pikachu, the best known Pokémon for example, is a yellow mouse species of the Electric type, capable of generating electricity for attacks.


I wouldn't say that all Pokémon games are for kids (stuff can get crazy complex in battles), but Meitantei Pikachu ~ Shin Combi Tanjou is definitely a mystery game geared for kids. But that's not a bad thing. I actually enjoyed this game a lot. During the game, Tim and Pikachu will come across mysteries, which they record in their notebook. To solve a mystery, the duo needs to find evidence, both of the physical kind, as well as testimony from both humans and other Pokémon. When you have gathered all the available evidence, the game (Pikachu) will prompt you to solve the mystery, which you do by combining the right evidence (there is also non-essential evidence). As the game is geared towards the younger public, the mysteries aren't superdifficult, and can be solved just by carefully reading all the clues (and the game also nudges you in the right direction). There are no penalties for doing something wrong, they just have you reconsider your answers.

The game is called a "Dramatic Adventure", which in this sense means the game is very story-focused. You solve a mystery, the story advances, and you find yourself in a new spot with more mysteries to solve. You are always confined within a limited space (of several streets/rooms/areas) to find your clues, so it's never that difficult to find every ncessary clue. There is no way to stray from the correct path, so it's a very linear experience.


While I said the mysteries are not particuarly difficult (okay, they're easy), the game does offer something seldom seen in other mystery fiction. That is: the Pokémon themselves. And that makes this a very special detective story. Animals in mystery fiction have always been troublesome, because well, they're animals. But Pokémon do have a human side to them, and because Pikachu can talk (and 'translate' for Tim), you're actually able to get testimony from them. It adds a very original element to detective fiction, because now you have 'humanized animals' participating with the plot, which gives the mystery plot a lot of potential to do original things. Normally, you wouldn't be able to get testimony from birds. But in this game, you can get testimony from Flying type Pokémon. Meitantei Pikachu's mysteries might not be really complex, but it really is an original experience because of the use of Pokémon throughout the plot.

A while back, I wrote that a mystery starring youkai could be considered fair, because even though these are fictional and supernatural beings, they are actually well documented, meaning they have clear 'rules' and thus can be used in a fair mystery story. I'm glad to say that Meitantei Pikachu did precisely that. Pokémon are fictional creatures with extraordinary powers, but extremely well-documented and defined. Pokémon belong to certain types and learn certain powers. Within the world of Pokémon, there is the Pokédex, an encyclopedia on the many species of Pokémon. So while a talking, electricity-generating mouse might not be real, its powers and characteristics are 'defined' in enough detail in the fictional world for it to work within the framework of a fair-play mystery. Meitantei Pikachu has you make deductions based on the powers of the various Pokémon that appear within the story and therefore feels really fresh and original compared to 'boring realistic' mystery stories. And for those not very knowledgable on Pokémon: don't worry. All the clues necessary are available within the game.


Detective Pikachu deserves a special mention: he's a really fun character. Great voice-acting and animation really brings him alive and you soon forget he's basically a talking animal.  Sometimes, he acts like the cute mascotte figure he's supposed to be, at other times he sounds like a hardened private eye. As an original detective character, I think he's one of the most memorable characters I've seen in years!

The only 'but' I have for Meitantei Pikachu is the fact the game is fairly short considering the price. It's also only the first episode in a longer storyline, meaning it ends with 'To Be Continued" and leaves you with quite some unanswered questions. This first episode does end with a climax in the storyline, but to be honest, considering the price I had really expected this game to be at least one hour longer. I'll probably play the following episodes too, but I do really hope they do something about the pricing.

So while I'm not really sold on the cost/performance ratio of the game, I did really enjoy Meitantei Pikachu ~ Shin Combi Tanjou as a funny, original and accessible game. Let's hope new episodes will follow soon.

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵ピカチュウ 新コンビ誕生』

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Deus Ex Machina

「このカクテルの名はXYZ-つまり、もう後がないということさ。マスターがおれに助けを求める時の合図だよ」
「シティーハンター」

"The name of that cocktail is XYZ... meaning there's no more hope left. The barkeeper uses it as a signal for when he needs my help."
"City Hunter"

I recently re-read my The XYZ Murders omnibus, which collects The Tragedy of X, The Tragedy of Y and The Tragedy of Z. As I haven't reviewed any of the Drury Lane novels yet on the blog, I figured I might as well write something about them, as I think quite highly of them. So the month of February will feature quite a lot of Tragedies.

Drury Lane series
The Tragedy of X (1932)
The Tragedy of Y (1932)
The Tragedy of Z (1933) 
Drury Lane's Last Case (1933)

Mr. Drury Lane is a retired Thespian known throughout the world for his interpretations of the work of Shakespeare. His estate is called The Hamlet, consisting of a castle and accompanying castle village that would've fitted the period when the Bard lived, but are horribly anachronistic in 1930s New York. Inspector Thumm of the NY Police and District Attorney Bruno find themselves at the Hamlet, because they ask for Lane's help not as an actor, but as a gifted amateur detective who has helped the police in the past. The problem: the Longstreet Murder. Longstreet was a slick broker, who was murdered in a street car, on his way back to his house with a party of "friends" to celebrate his engagement. The murder weapon was one that would remain in the annals of Fictional Crime: a cork with countless of needles covered in nicotine had been slipped into his pocket and some pricks later, the man was dead. Despite thorough investigation, Thumm has not been able to zero in on a suspect, but Drury Lane boldy asserts he knows who the murderer is based simply based on Thumm and Bruno's recount  of the case. But despite that, Lane does not reveal who he suspects, and that is of course something the Inspector and the D.A. don't really like, especially not if a second murder is committed connected to the Longstreet Murder. And that wasn't the end of Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of X (1932).

It's common knowledge by now, but for those who don't know: the Ellery Queen cousins (Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) made their debut in 1929 with The Roman Hat Mystery. In 1932 however, they came up with a second pen name, Barnaby Ross, who'd be responsible for four novels starring the amateur-detective Drury Lane. For a while, the Queen cousins played with these two identities (even having "Ellery Queen" and "Barnaby Ross" debating with each other), but eventually the gig was up and nowadays the Drury Lane novels are known as Queen novels. The Tragedy of X is the first of the novels and also one of the best regarded books written by Ellery Queen. In the most recent edition of the Tozai Mystery Best 100 (for non-Japanese novels) for example, the book ranked in at 14 as the second Ellery Queen work (The Tragedy of Y ranked in at second place).

This was a re-read by the way, which happened under the better cirumstances than the first time I read the book, actually. While it's the first of the Drury Lane novels, it was actually the last one I read because I never read things in order, and I don't remember why, but it took me ages to get through it because of circumstances, so the book, as a whole, never left much of an impression on me except for some specific scenes (though I still thought it was a good book). I learned to appreciate the book a lot better this time around though.

I wonder how long it took for people back in the day to notice The Tragedy of X was written by Ellery Queen? Because the thing is rather obviously a Queen product. It reminds especially of The Roman Hat Mystery. Ellery was the detective in Roman Hat, and Lane obviously the one in The Tragedy of X, but both books are actually structured around the police investigation: Roman Hat was all about Inspector Queen's investigation while The Tragedy of X mostly follows Inspector Thumm's efforts, occasionally interrupted by very short actions of Lane. This focus on the police investigation, and not on 'the great detective' can also be seen in the dynamic between the Inspector and the District Attorney in both books. Bruno in The Tragedy of X is a very important person in the investigation, but who of us still remember District Attorney Samson, who appeared very often in the earlier Queen novels? At some points the narrative does switch over to Lane though, who does a bit of sleuthing himself, though in retrospect, it appears to me some of that could've been done through the official channels anyway, despite Lane saying he wanted to keep some things secret from the Inspector and the D.A.

The whole premise of the first, and the consequent murders is also typical Queen. A lot of the early Queen novels had murders in strange, and often fairly public spaces. A murder in a theater, a murder in a department store, one during a rodeo show. The Tragedy of X starts off with a murder committed inside a packed street car, but follows up with even more deaths on means of public transportation. Because of that, we see another typical Queen device in The Tragedy of X: having to confine a lot of potential suspects and search each of them for clues, in the form of an object. Similar to how everyone in the Roman Theater was detained for search by Inspector Queen, Inspector Thumm also uses the 'search everybody and everywhere' command often in this novel. Queen loved this trope and has written many stories where there is a specific search for something and The Tragedy of X betrays its writer in that respect also. The Tragedy of X is a bit special in the sense that it does not make clear why Thumm's search will prove to be important until later, while in The Roman Hat Mystery, it was made quite clear what the inspector was searching for (hint: it's in the title).

In a sense, The Tragedy of X is a very over-the-top novel, and much more... energetic than most of Queen's other novels. The book starts right off with a mystery, and that's something we often see with Queen. But more deaths follow, accompanied by trails of clues and red herrings and the story basically is running at max speed until the very end. Few (early) Queen novels are as engaging as this one. One of the is The Greek Coffin Mystery though, which was published in the same year. Like that book, The Tragedy of X is divided in several 'acts', which keeps the reader's eyes glued to the pages. But this is also done by some weirdly grotesque devices: the murder weapon (the needles coated in nicotine sticking out of a cork) for example is one of the most bizarre, yet effective murder weapons I've ever seen. And there are some gruesome parts later in the story too (the second death in particular), which make this a captivating read.

But most of all, Queen's hand can be felt in the method in which Drury Lane solves the case. At the foundation, The Tragedy of X is "simply" a variation of a very classic trope of mystery fiction. But Lane arrives at that conclusion with the same logical reasoning we expect from an Ellery Queen novel. For a deeper (and more chaotic) write-up on the types of clues in Queen novels, I refer to this post, but in general, the "correct" way of solving a Queen novel is to figure out the characteristics we know the murderer must have and then see which of the suspects fits the pattern. Of course, figuring out those characteristics isn't as easy as it sounds, and demands quite some thinking, but it's usually a lot fairer than expecting the reader to point out the murderer by a sudden flash of genius. The Tragedy of X in particular is very memorable, because it is actually possible to figure out who the murderer very probably is at the very start of the book, as Drury Lane himself also states. The rest of the adventure mostly helps confirming his thoughts. While I think it's quite possible for a reader to correctly guess the murderer, I doubt many will have gone through the complete deduction chain Drury Lane presents at the end of the book, which is really the highlight of the book and a great example of logical reasoning in mystery fiction. This is obviously also the reason why it's so well-regarded.

Also of importance for Queen fans: The Tragedy of X has a dying message. The dying message was a favorite of the Queen cousins, and especially often seen in the short stories. I think The Tragedy of X might even be the first dying message of Queen, from the top of my head? The other novel I strongly associate with dying messages is The Siamese Twin Mystery, but that was published in 1933. The one from The Siamese Twin Mystery is much more interesting though.

The Tragedy of X is one of the better known books by Ellery Queen (Barnaby Ross) and rightfully so. It's a wonderful experiment in deduction and even though at the core, it's actually a very familiar problem, the execution is daring, impressive and memorable. Definitely of the must-reads of Queen.