Monday, September 2, 2019

The Spanish Cape Mystery

"That’s the trouble with clever men,” muttered Ellery. “A crime being necessary, according to their lights, they determine to commit it so ingeniously,that it will be insoluble. But the cleverer they are and the more complex their schemes, the more danger they run of going wrong."

The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) finds Ellery Queen on vacation and immediately confronted with a baffling murder and a too-clever-for-his-own good murderer. The story opens with David Kummer and his niece Rosa sitting outside the family's Spanish Cape home having a little confidential chat about Rosa's interest in the handsome ne'er-do-well John Marco. Next thing they know they're being hustled to an empty neighboring cottage by giant tough guy, Rosa is tied up, and David (who the giant insists is John Marco) is knocked out and toted off to a boat.

Enter Ellery and his friend Judge Macklin who are renting the cottage in question for a late summer vacation. Imagine their surprise when they find the door busted in and a pretty young woman tied to a chair. They're even more surprised when they take her home and discover that John Marco has been found murdered in the very spot from which Rosa and David were kidnapped. Marco was banged on the head, strangled with wire, and found naked as the day he was born except for an opera cape. Ellery works with Inspector Moley of the local police to find out why David was kidnapped; why Marco was killed; why the corpse was naked; and who did it. By the time David escapes from his captor, Ellery is ready to answer all the questions.

This is the last appearance of Queen's Challenge to the Reader as well as the last of the "international" titles (Roman, French, Dutch, Egyptian, Spanish....). I grew up on the TV version of Ellery Queen with Jim Hutton and I always loved when Ellery would break the fourth wall, turn to the audience, and ask us if we knew who did it. Because at that point we had all the clues.

For years now I have been challenging my readers to solve my cases by the exercise of close observation, the application of logic to the winnowed facts, and a final correlation of the individual conclusions... Technically there are no snags. The facts are all here at this point... Can you put them together and logically place your finger on the one and only possible murderer?

I also loved it when I discovered that the challenge came from the early books. It's a shame they stopped using it, but I could see that they might have wanted to avoid getting thoroughly entrenched in a rut. This is a good solid mystery from the early period of the Queen novels--though perhaps not quite as mystifying as others. I did spot the killer--but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. ★★★★

Vintage Gold Card -- What: written by more then one person
Calendar of Crime: Sept -- primary action
Deaths =  2 (1 strangled; 1 fell from height)

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