Ellery Queen, Golden Age

The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen

DutchAfter getting off to a rough start with The Roman Hat Mystery, I felt that I had turned the corner with the second Ellery Queen novel The French Powder Mystery. I had read good things about the third book in the series, including from some people who generally don’t care about the early Nationalities phase of the cousins’ writing. On top of that, this book was significantly shorter than the two efforts that preceded it. Surely this would be the book where Dannay and Lee would knock it out of the park and deliver the classic read I know they are capable of… Right?

Well, let’s start with the positives. The initial premise of the book is, in my opinion, the strongest of the first three novels. Ellery is attending a meeting at the Dutch Hospital and, at its conclusion, he is invited to watch an operation being carried out on a wealthy philanthropist who funds some of the hospital’s research.

When the time comes for the surgeon to operate however they discover that she has been garroted and at first it seems that the killer is none other than the surgeon himself. There are a few other possibilities however including – and here my pulse was truly quickening – a mobster who was under anaesthesia at the time.

The other element of the novel that particularly marks it out is that this story features a second murder at the midpoint of the novel. This is a particularly welcome development as it addresses one of the principle weaknesses of the first two books – that the second halves of those books drag, becoming chapter after chapter of interviews. By introducing a second corpse, Ellery not only has something to do but he also must now question whether he is investigating the actions of one murderer or a first murderer and a second copycat murderer.

So, why aren’t I feeling more enthused about this? Perhaps it’s an expectations game. Maybe I just thought that The French Powder Mystery was so certain to be terrible that I was pleasantly surprised whereas I came to this one feeling hopeful that I was on course for a thrilling read that I felt let down. I certainly think that is a part of it.

The more significant problem for me was that I didn’t find the mystery particularly mysterious, at least in comparison with the previous two stories. There are some clues that Ellery takes a long time to piece together (or at least to tell us that he has pieced together) whose significance seemed quite obvious to me and, once worked out, the identity of a key figure is pretty simple to piece together. So where the previous books kept my attention in their final section as Ellery explains it all in minute, excruciating detail, here I just wanted him to get on with it.

There are other issues of pacing. While the introduction of a second murder certainly gives the story a lift, the individual chapters often pass with very little progress being made. In fact, there is quite a large section of the book where Ellery just seems to wallow in his inability to piece the case together in spite of the apparent simplicity of the crime. While I think the first two books are far too long, there is at least the sense of constant progress, however incremental. Here however we are waiting for Ellery to make a mental connection between evidence he already has and it is tedious.

I also think the book suffers from not having any particularly standout, colorful characters. I wasn’t rooting for anyone, either to be found innocent or guilty, and with Ellery conducting the investigation on his own, I found myself missing the banter between Ellery and his father.

So, were there any bright spots? Well, I appreciated that Djuna is finally given something to do and sets up some future development, though I still find the core concept of that character problematic (he is a Romany orphan that Ellery’s father adopts and makes into a sort of housekeeper).

Also, while the individual pacing of the chapters is a problem, I do think that the second murder adds a welcome complexity to the investigation even if it has the unfortunate side effect of narrowing an already quite limited field of suspects.

But sadly I think that’s about it. While the previous two books were a grind at times, I was at least interested in following them through to the end and finding out exactly how the crimes were committed. The Dutch Shoe Mystery tested my patience and I was found wanting.

I will, of course, no doubt find myself reaching for the next book at some point soon. I’ve already paid for it and while Queen can be tedious, I can see the bright spots and the potential. But I will be much more careful about letting those expectations rise again.

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: Set in a hospital/nursing home (Where)

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11 thoughts on “The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen”

  1. Seems like I’ve had the better time in our recent mirroring of each other — this one had me losing interest by chapter 3 so I skipped over it and will come back at some later date. Perhaps. Still, here’s hoping things improve for you soon!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I certainly hope so. I bought several of these in a rush of enthusiasm after finishing the French Powder Mystery and I am beginning to wonder if that was a big mistake…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I can believe there may be worse in store… Fortunately my non-series Agatha Christie marathon is proving more positive and keeping my spirits up!

      On Thu, Jan 11, 2018 at 5:22 PM, Mysteries Ahoy! wrote:

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  2. Do you actually have the Pocket Book edition pictured above? As much as I like my 1952 yellow Pocket edition, I think that the one that you have pictured above may be the best.

    I’ll be the first to gripe about The Dutch Shoe Mystery, but you have to admit there’s a nice touch of misdirection in terms of how the murder was actually executed. Having also approached Queen in order, this is the first time that I really saw that type of misdirection that I so enjoy in authors like Carr and Brand. Not enough to make up for the rest of the book, and yeah, the rest of the explanation was a bit mediocre.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly not but I loved this one so much I had to use it. I listen to these on audio. Strangely though after using Robert Fass for the first two who I really loved, the narrator they picked for the next two didn’t work for me. I may have fared better with this one reading the physical book.

      I do agree that EQ was trying something a little more complex and refined with this book in its structure and elements of the solution. Sadly I couldn’t get past the mediocrity of the other elements of the novel.

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