Queen's Bureau of Investigation (1955)
Queen’s Bureau of Investigation is
now open for business – and in each department of this new enterprise
Ellery finds ample opportunity to exercise the brilliant, ingenious, and
at times startling talents of his crime-laboratory mind. For to the bureau
come some of the most plaguy cases in Queen’s career, including:
From: The Queen's Bureau of Investigation
In the closely guarded record room of the Q.B.I. is a top-secret file marked Special. This file contains the most unusual cases I have ever worked on- cases that are memorable because of an unusual clue, a unique criminal, a surprising situation or a shocking crime. From these special cases of murder, blackmail, kidnapping and narcotics, I have chosen eighteen that posed the most mystifying problems I have ever encountered.
All short stories, except were noted, are © 1949 to 1954. All are copyright to the United Newspaper
Magazine Corporation and were apparently published in This Week.
"The little stories collected in QBI show EQ's storytelling ability. Some of them involve very clever puzzle plots by any standards, such as "My Queer Dean!" and "Snowball in July". But even in minor pieces like "Cold Money", the reading is surprisingly satisfying."(Michael E.Grost) In this story, the bad guy keeps renting Room 913 of a hotel; as Francis M. Nevins pointed out, this recalls a similar situation in Cornell Woolrich's "The Room With Something Wrong" (1938), which also involves mystery in Room 913. The house dick of the hotel plays a major role in both tales, as well. This is clearly a homage to Woolrich and one of his best stories. One suspects that EQ has added little homages and in jokes to many of his works, playful references to other mystery writers' stories; maybe they are as numerous as Alfred Hitchcock's cameo appearances in his movies.
"In EQ, there is a situation, then some event occurs, and one is in a logical variation of that situation, and then another event takes place leading to a logical variation of the preceding, and so on. Even little pieces that are not triumphs of puzzle plotting can show this kind of unfolding in EQ. Maybe that is why many of EQ's short pieces are so much fun. EQ's radio play "The Adventure of the Mark of Cain" is a good example of this. Its use of a kind of logical analysis of a situation through progressive plotting is especially striking.
The stories in QBI deal more with the underworld than is typical of EQ. The stories move very fast and are quite compressed. Often this is done by humorously invoking clichés of underworld stories, films, and news accounts. The invocation is often done with wit and clever phrasing. Events are often more synopsized than dramatized, usually considered a second rate approach, but one that works beautifully here, partly due to EQ's skill with 'le mot juste'. This allows tremendously complex stories to be told in a small space. Even the detection often gets ingeniously summarized."(Michael E.Grost)
Many of the tales focus not on murder, but on crimes such as robbery or impersonation. Three stories of 1951, "Driver's Seat", "Double Your Money", and "The Gambler's Club", all deal with ingenious swindles. "Double Your Money", and "Money Talks" (1950) portray poor, ethnic, working people in New York City, whereas "The Robber of Wrightsville" (1953) shows class conflict in the "typical" American town of Wrightsville. This is one of the most left wing of EQ's tales. Most of Q.B.I. strives for relative sociological realism. There is little overt surrealism, although the disappearances in "Double Your Money" (1951) and "Snowball in July" (1952) have their moments of magical strangeness. This realism might not have been entirely a matter of EQ's personal preference. By the 1950's, when these tales were published, Golden Age flamboyance was considered old-fashioned by most mystery critics. Realism was regarded as the most important trait of a detective story, and EQ obliged here. The series probably was modeled on William MacHarg's1 The Affairs of O'Malley (collected 1940), which is a similar series of brief tales set against authentic New York City backgrounds, with "ordinary people" as characters. Some of MacHarg's tales, such as "Broadway Murder" and "Murder Makes it Worse", include swindles as well as murder, although EQ's approach to swindles is far more mathematical than MacHarg's.
1 MacHarg, William (Briggs) (U.S. journalist and mystery writer, 1872-1951) His major contribution to crime fiction was The Achievements of Luther Trant (1910), written in collaboration with Edwin Balmer. Thirty years after the cerebral Trant book, MacHarg approached the hard-boiled school with The Affairs of O'Malley, a collection of short stories about a cop who isn't as dumb as he says he is.
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