Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The XYZ Murders: Part 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.

The third and final novel in this collection, The Tragedy of Z, is written in a different style from the first two.  The Tragedies of X and Y are each written in the third person and center on Drury Lane with Inspector Thumm and District Attorney Bruno in supporting roles.  This third story is written in the first person and our narrator is Patience Thumm, the Inspector's intelligent, observant, and outgoing daughter.  Here, Thumm has retired from the force and is making his way as a private investigator.  He is also getting reacquainted with his daughter--who had been shipped off to Europe and parts unknown for finishing school and travels in the company of a companion.  Patience is determined to share in dear old dad's investigations and she opens her career as sidekick with murder amongst the crooked politicians of up-state New York.

Thumm is initially hired by Elihu Clay to investigate his "silent" partner Dr. Ira Fawcett, who Clay suspects of underhanded dealings in the form of crooked contracts for their marble business.  It would be no surprise if Dr. Fawcett were crooked--his brother Joel is a senator rumored to be as corrupt as they come.  The Thumms have barely begun their checks on Ira when Joel is discovered murdered with the oddest little trinket propped before him on his desk.  It is what looks to be a third of a miniature chest.  

Patience and her father quickly pick up on clues strewn about the Senator's study, but the local DA (and also, incidentally, the man who planned to run against Fawcett in the next election) fastens on a recently released prisoner with an unspecified grudge against Fawcett and hustles the poor man through the fastest trial in East.  Dow (the prisoner) is sentenced to life and has just gotten settled back into prison when he makes an escape.  And, lo and behold, if Dr. Fawcett isn't murdered that very night....with another third of the miniature chest in his possession.  Bet you can't guess who the DA picks on as suspect number one.  And who, by the way, is NOT the killer.  [That's no spoiler...anybody with reasoning skills could figure that out with the first murder.]

Patience comes up with a dandy partial solution that her dad just doesn't buy...so they toddle off to present her logic to the old master, Drury Lane.  Who absolutely agrees with her...as he says, as far as she goes.  Between the two of them, Patience and Drury will pinpoint the killer.  But it will take a grand finale in the execution chamber of the prison to bring  everything together.

This particular story was a mixed bag for me.  On the plus side, it read more quickly than the first two.  It seemed a little more action-packed, and Drury Lane didn't take quite as long to explain every little detail of the explanation.  I like Patience...but on the negative side, I wasn't as comfortable with the first person narrative.  I did like her interactions with her father--trying to convince him that she could manage in a murder investigation and didn't need to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected.  I did think it a shame that Drury was taken from the extremely fit and youthful older man in the first two novels to pretty sickly (at first) and somewhat doddering elderly man in this outing.  I'm not sure if Queen thought it necessary to make him so weak in order to have an excuse to feature the Thumms so prominently...but it was a disappointment.  Three stars only.  

For reviews of The Tragedy of X and The Tragedy of Y, please click the links.


J F Norris said...

I liked X the best. Z I lost interest in. I started Y last month but it was dragging for me and I put it aside. I also happen to know the ending of Y thanks to some dope on some blog somewhere who compared it to a Christie novel that has a similar surprise killer. He named the Christie book, of course, thus ruining TRAGEDY OF Y for anyone who had yet to read it.

Now that you've read the XYZ trilogy you need to read DRURY LANE'S LAST CASE. In my opinion the best of the entire series. A whopper of an ending! I can lend you my copy if you like.

Bev Hankins said...

Oooh. John--I may take you up on that. I thought I might tap you for my Gold Bingo card "Read a book you HAVE to borrow." There was another one you reviewed earlier this year that I had in mind too....