Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Vanishing Corpse: Review

My edition of Ellery Queen's The Vanishing Corpse (first published as Ellery Queen, Master Detective, 1941) has a suitably spooky cover--just right for a Halloween night review. It should be noted that the story is based on the screenplay for the film (written by Eric Taylor). The title tells it like it is. John Braun dies under mysterious circumstances and then his corpse disappears. Not once--but twice.  

Braun, owner of the Home of Health health farm; possessor of a prime example of the body beautiful, receives the shocking news that his health advice, healthy diet, and exercise routines have let him down. He has cancer and has little more than six weeks left. Braun has never had a pleasant disposition and the news does nothing for his demeanor. He calls his Home of Health team, partner, on-site doctor,  and lawyer to his bedroom suite to let them know they're all out of a job. The health farm is closing down immediately. Everything connected with it will be sold and his will has been rewritten to exclude everyone but his wife. His estranged daughter, who was still in the old one, has been written out as well. This makes Dr. Rogers (the on-site doctor) very happy. He has been in love with the daughter for quite some time and wanted to marry her, but wouldn't because Braun called him a fortune-hunter. Now he feels free to make her his wife.

After the announcement, Braun dismisses everyone, locks the main room door and goes into his bedroom (off the outer room used as an office) to rest. Little does he know that Nikki Porter, friend of his daughter, has managed to sneak into the suite while the will-changing festivities were going on and is now trapped inside. Then a phone starts ringing in the bedroom and Nikki waits for him to answer it. But he doesn't. She reasons that there must be another door and if Braun left, then she should be able to leave as well. Except he didn't leave. He's lying behind the smaller desk in the bedroom with his throat cut and no weapon in sight. 

Nikki somehow keeps herself together enough to find the key and get out of there...running into Ellery Queen in the process [they met earlier in the story and she fooled him into thinking she was Braun's daughter...that's how she wound up at the house]. He can tell she's shaken and when she explains he can also tell that she's telling the truth. She didn't do it. But if she didn't, who did? And how did they manage it with the door locked, bars at the windows, and Nikki in the anteroom? And why does someone steal the body (from right under the nose of Inspector Queen) twice?

This is a short, fast-paced, highly entertaining story is full of quick-witted dialogue and banter between Ellery and Nikki. It provides an interesting locked room mystery. I do think it's fairly obvious who the murderer is--but there's enough distraction figuring out how everything was accomplished that it makes up for the quick identification. I really enjoyed the interactions between Nikki and Ellery--and the elaborate charade they went through to keep her identity from the Inspector. Lots of fun. ★★ and a half.

I haven't read as widely in the stacks of Queen novels as I have others (Christie, for instance), so I wonder if Nikki shows up in other tales? I hope so.

3 comments:

Debbie Rodgers said...

It seems to me that Nikki is still with Ellery by the time he gets to Hollywood in the '50s, although I don't know if that was a continuous association. ;-)

fredamans said...

I love Ellery Queen mysteries. My mom had a bunch when I was a kid that she got from the grandma. I used to dig into them often. Great review!

TracyK said...

This is a good review, and I love the cover. I will have to seek this one out.