In the merry month of May,
Ellery Queen made a trek to Gettysburg to witness an annual celebration--and an annual
murder. February found the ingenious Ellery locked in a furious battle of wits with a dead
US President. These are but two of the 12 appointments with crime that make up Queen's
baffling calendar of conundrums. Each elegant enigma ticks off all the surprise and
excitement that have made Queen the dean of American detective fiction.
Herald, Jun 18,1950 abridged as "The President's Coin"; reprinted in
Adventure Magazine, 2/1959)
in True Adventures, 12/58
and Ellery Queen's Eye Witnesses, 1982)
Many of EQ's previous stories had elaborate quasi-historical backgrounds, based in a family history, or an earlier crime. In "The President's Half Disme" (1946), EQ takes the plunge into fiction involving actual historical characters, solving a mystery involving George Washington.
"The Three R's" (1946) mentions Anthony Abbot, G.K. Chesterton, Doyle, Poe, and Israel Zangwill. It also is EQ's take on an R. Austin Freeman style plot. Like several stories in Calendar of Crime, it has elements of parody of standard mystery approaches. Like "The Inner Circle" (1947) and "The African Traveller" (1934), it has a University setting, something that always results in sophisticated wit and satire in EQ's work.
"The Inner Circle" is especially satisfying as a work of storytelling. The whole Tontine insurance/ last survivor policy at the heart of "The Inner Circle" would also provide the basis for the radio story "The Last Man Club" which can be found in The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Plays (2005)
But it's in
"The Gettysburg Bugle" we find a last survivor theme
which could well be based on Death Points a Finger
by Will Levinrew. Queen's three Civil War veterans have a yearly ritual at
Memorial Day and a last-survivor-takes-all scheme of themselves. In
story there's a reunion of fourteen Civil War veterans, the last members
of a group of two hundred and thirty seven Confederate and a few Union
soldiers. This group is held together and gathers every Fourth of July by a
Tontine insurance policy, giving the last surviving members the pot, and
after more than sixty years that amounts to several million dollars.
- "A Union of Rivals" - Tom Cat)
"The Medical Finger" (1951) refers to Frederick Irving Anderson's The Notorious Sophie Lang. It is one of the last and least of EQ's minimalist poisoning tales and features the same sort of perverse personal relations as "The Bleeding Portrait" (1937). The pirate tale "The Needle's Eye" (1951) has an island setting, just like "Portrait", but otherwise it seems far more similar in its detailed enjoyable storytelling to "The Treasure Hunt" (1935). "The Dead Cat" (1946) is not a great mystery plot, but it does have an intriguing background of a crime committed in near darkness, reminiscent of "The House of Darkness" (1935) and "The Adventure of the Mouse's Blood" (1946). The last is a radio play with some good storytelling, and a sports milieu like the Paula Paris stories of 1939. Its mystery plot recalls Melville Davisson Post's "The Straw Man".
The radio plays and Calendar include a new character, Ellery Queen's secretary and gal Friday, Nikki Porter. She only shows up here and in a few novels, such as the excellent The Scarlet Letters (1953), but she seems an important part of the EQ saga. These "typical" American detective short stories give a typical portrait of EQ as a detective. He is helpful, responsive, flexible, with a full support team of Nikki, the Inspector, Sgt. Velie, and so on. He is open minded, intelligent, investigatory, exhaustive in his searches, fertile in coming up with new ideas, and deductive in his solutions
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