|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.
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 a cliff.
"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 full-fledged 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 tradition. (Michael E.Grost)
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)
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.
The Chinese Orange
Other articles on this book
(1) Reading Ellery Queen - The Chinese Orange Mystery Jon Mathewson (Feb 2014)
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