|he Chinese Orange Mystery (1934)
Inspector Richard Queen wanted to know the identity of the
murdered man. How could he solve a murder mystery without knowing who was murdered? The
body was found in a private room of the Hotel Chancellor; no one connected with the
investigation had ever seen the man before. His name, where he came from, why he was
there, remain a mystery to the end. Yet all who were enmeshed in the web of the tragedy
found their lives changed by the death of the nameless nobody.
But even more baffling was the amazing scene of the crime. Everything had been turned
backwards: the victim's clothing had been turned backwards, the rug was upside down, the
pictures were facing the wall. And what was the explanation of the ramrods stuck up the
A puzzling publishing murder
attracts the eye of Ellery Queen.
Mandarin Press is a premier
publishing house for foreign literature, but to those at the
top of this enterprise, there is little more beautiful than
a rare stamp. As Donald Kirk, publisher and philatelist,
prepares his office for a banquet, an unfamiliar man comes
to call. No one recognizes him, but Kirk’s staff is used to
strange characters visiting their boss, so Kirk’s secretary
asks him to wait in the anteroom. Within an hour the
mysterious visitor is dead on the floor, head bashed in with
a fireplace poker, and everything in the anteroom has been
quite literally turned upside down. The rug is backwards;
the furniture is backwards; even the dead man’s clothes have
been put on front-to-back. As debonair detective Ellery
Queen pries into the secrets of Mandarin Press, every clue
he finds is topsy-turvy. The great sleuth must tread
lightly, for walking backwards is a surefire way to step off
The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934) has one of EQ's most baroque and inventive puzzles. It is none too realistic, and
the storytelling sags badly between the murder and its solution, but its finale shows the
tremendous imagination of the Golden Age mystery tale. It is similar to The Dutch Shoe Mystery in that it
depends on a floor plan, but is even better as a complex plot. In some ways, it is the
fulfillment of the promise of that early novel, one that blossoms out into
surrealism and splendor. Both books seem Chestertonian. Maybe this book is the
most John Dickson Carr
like of Queen's novels, and it is regarded as an experiment by its author in
writing a John Dickson Carr book.
However, a comparison of the dates suggests that it was written before Carr became
"himself", and if there were influence here it would be in the other direction.
The technique of the book is closely related to the "impossible crime", although
EQ does not actually use it to create an impossible crime situation in the novel. Despite
this, many historians of the locked room story seem to (falsely) remember it as a
"locked room" book; it appeared on the poll of the top ten impossible crime
books, for example, conducted by Edward D. Hoch
for the Mystery Writers of America. This false memory is a remarkable case of collective
amnesia. On a deeper level, the mystery writers who told Hoch that it was one of their favorite locked
room stories were essentially right: it does come straight out of the impossible crime
Above right: Issue of Redbook
from June, 1934 with the complete book-size novel The Chinese Orange
The nurse is named Diversey ; one wonders if this is in homage to
MacKinlay Kantor's first novel, Diversey (1928).
Hammett is also mentioned by name in this book. The suspects named
Macgowan (with a small g) could be a reference to Kenneth Macgowan
(as in The
Origin of Evil), who edited the anthology
Sleuths (1931). (Michael E.Grost)
Boucher's Nine Times Nine, indulges in the "noblest pursuits
possible to characters in a book": chapter fourteen features a
discussion of the book's locked-room problem in terms of fiction, and
specifically in terms of Carr's famous analysis "The Locked-Room
Lecture" in The Hollow Man (aka
The Three Coffins). Which is putting the
cards on the table with a vengeance, since in retrospect you can see
that the whole impossible-crime trick of Nine Times Nine is a clever
fusion of (a) a stage property from The Hollow Man itself and
(b) a throwaway line in that book, concerning Ellery Queen's
Chinese Orange Mystery: "Ellery Queen has shown us still another method [of tampering
with bolts], entailing the use of the dead man himself -- but a bald statement of this,
taken out of its context, would sound so wild as to be unfair to that brilliant
Ellery again with pince-nez, bachelor who has his own view on marriage.
He smokes cigarettes and uses an wooden stick. No mention of the Duesenberg.
Richard studied in Heidelberg, he used to be captain in an outside N.Y.
district. He solved
a case in 41 St. where cocaine-pusher Dippy Mc Guire got a bullet in the belly.
Djuna and Dr.Prouty (with a cigar) reappear. The NYPD is represented by Ritter, Hesse,
Pigott, Johnson and sergeant Velie.
The story is set during one week in N.Y. where Donald Kirk is beaten to death in the
There is a challenge for the reader present and in it Ellery apologizes about having
nearly forgotten a challenge to the reader in the last
book and to have forgotten it in the previous book as well. (There was no
challenge in The Siamese Twin
Movie (more or less):
The Mandarin Mystery.