Monday, November 25, 2013

The XYZ Murders: Multi-Part Review

The XYZ Murders is a 3-in-1 volume by Barnaby Ross (aka Ellery Queen aka Frederic Dannay & Manfred Lee)--the star of which is Drury Lane, retired actor and amateur sleuth extraordinaire.  Since the three novels included in this volume were originally published as separate works, I will treat them as such and review them accordingly.

First up is Drury Lane's debut novel, The Tragedy of X. Lane is a Shakespearean actor who was forced into retirement due to deafness. As compensation for his hearing loss, he has developed an extraordinary skill at lip-reading and his acting background has given him plenty of practice at the art of disguise.  He will use both skills as he helps Inspector Thumm and District Attorney Bruno track down a ruthless killer intent on evening old scores.

The story opens with Thumm and Bruno driving up to Lane's fortress estate on a mission to solicit his help with their latest murderous puzzle.  Reference is made to the help he gave on "the Cramer case" but we, the reading public, are never enlightened with the details of that mysterious outing.  The current victim is Harley Longstreet, a wealthy stockbroker, who has been killed on an enclosed streetcar in the company of his nearest and dearest.  The method? A piece of cork stuck with dozens of pins laced with deadly poison.  And who did it? One of the people on that streetcar.  But there is no evidence and not even a clue to point the police in the correct direction.

Enter Drury Lane.  Like Sherlock Holmes, he sees and "hears" everything that the police do--but he observes all the finer points that the officials miss.  He thinks to interview those that the police miss--or give only a brief once-over.  Before long, Lane knows who the culprit is, but has no proof.  Two more men will die before Lane can help the police put the cuffs on the villain.

The story is an interesting variation on the locked room mystery.  The streetcar's windows are all shut and the doors were not opened once Longstreet collapsed.  None of the passengers were allowed off the car until the police arrived to question and search them.  And yet Lane insists that there is a certain item that must have been found if that is true.  How did the murderer kill in full view of a carload of passengers and how did she or he dispose of the crucial item?  Solve that and you'll be ahead of the police...and Drury Lane.

An interesting mystery with clues galore and twists and turns throughout.  A good fair play story--it's all there, if you're nimble enough to spot it--with (in my opinion) just one weak spot.  The wrap-up--Drury Lane gives a marathon session monologue to explain the murders.  It would seem necessary to tell us every little thought process along the way--even explaining the bits that the reader was privy to (and the police were not).  Twenty-four pages of smallish print is rather a lot of explanation.  Three and 3/4 stars...nearly 4

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I reremember being a bit fan of these Bev, especially TRAGEDY OF Y, but it has been ages since I read them (and I mean about 30 years) - well donr on finding a copy as I have had to hang on to my Italian editions!