Saturday, November 30, 2013

The XYZ Murders: Part II of III

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.

Part II: The Tragedy of Y is Drury Lane's second outing as recorded in print and it brings him in contact with the Hatter family--the Mad Hatters as they are known.  The Hatters are not just mad...but they are thoroughly nasty people.  The family is ruled by the imperious Emily Hatter--a woman who sowed plenty of wild oats before marrying poor York Hatter.  York had been a brilliant scientist before Emily got him in her clutches--sucking the life out of him and making him bend to her every whim.  She rules the rest of the household--three grown children, one daughter-in-law, two grandsons, a cook, a maid, and nurse--with an iron fist.  The only one she seems to have any feeling for is her fourth child--a young woman born with certain disabilities and who has acquired more.  Louisa is deaf, blind, and mute.

The old lady's preference for Louisa only ensures that the woman will be hated by the rest of the family.  And it isn't long before the family's madness and vicious streak takes hold.  York is the first to go--drowned at sea and an apparent suicide.  What follows is a rash of poisonings...all attempts to get rid of Louisa...and then, finally, murder when Emily is killed with the oddest of weapons--York's mandolin.  The police are baffled and call in Drury Lane to help them get to the bottom of the mystery.  There are clues and false clues and the first thing that must be determined is who was the real target?  Were the attempts on Louisa genuine and the old lady killed to prevent the murderer from being caught too soon?  Or will someone be wiping out as many of the Hatters as they can?  Lane discovers that there is a detailed plan being followed...but whose plan is it?  And why are there references to York Hatter when the man was the first to die?

I am enjoying these mysteries featuring Drury Lane very much.  The plots are nice and intricate and there are plenty of clues to be had.  For a fair amount of the book it looks like a dead man may be responsible and the explanation of the plot is very pretty indeed (in the short form).  My one complaint has to do with Lane's methods--he plays that brilliant amateur keeping clues from the police role just a little too well.  There are real dangers in his secrecy.  The other problem with Lane is his tendency to drag out his wrap-up.  An explanation that should take--at most--four or five pages goes on for almost twenty.  Another three and 3/4 star adventure. 

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