Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932)
On Christmas Eve, an eccentric schoolmaster in the little town of Arroyo, W. Va., was brutally murdered. He was found with his head cut off, crucified on a signpost at a crossroads near his house. In the course of the next year, three other men, in various places, were found with their heads cut off, crucified likewise in the form of a T. Everyone working on the case, including Ellery Queen, was completely baffled. But Ellery had the feeling that there was one clue he didn't possess which would suddenly bring the whole tangled and eerie puzzle into line and give him the solution. That clue came to him with the fourth murder.
This novel has justly been called "Ellery Queen's weirdest adventure." A good many fans have gone further; they consider it his very best story.
|"Another bull's eye for Ellery Queen" -- Philadelphia Inquirer
|Above left to right: The first books published sometimes had identical front covers. The spine of the books/dust cover differ only in the publisher's logo. Both dust cover and hard cover for Stokes, Grosset & Dunlap & Triangle Books. (Click on the covers to see the differences) *
|The Evening Star -
"New Books at Random" by M. G.
January 17. 1933
"For fantastic conception and design in the business of weaving the fabric for tales of mysterious murder the laurels go to Mr. Ellery Queen. When The Greek Coffin Mystery came along his readers felt that this time he had reached the high point of creating hair-raising episodes and weird situations, but apparently there is no such thing as a limit to the imaginative ability of this welcome narrator of gory events and the brilliant detection of their instigators or perpetrators.
'The Egyptian Cross Mystery' is distinctive enough in its very title to arouse the curiosity, and when the name of Ellery Queen is observed as its author—then that settles the question of "What shall I do tonight, or read?"
Down in West Virginia, where the mountains crowd upon each other in massive dignity, and where settlements of human habitation are few and far between Mike Orkins and Ol' Pete, riding in from the hills in the gray and eerie dawn of Christmas day toward the little village of Arroyo, come upon a gruesome find. From the weather beaten signpost at the crossroads, half a mile or so from the town, hangs the decapitated body of a man both arms outstretched with the hands nailed to the tips of the crossbar of the sign and the ankles nailed to the center post. Investigation brings identification of the body as that of the somewhat eccentric schoolmaster of the region, and also the knowledge that his slow-witted man-servant is missing. Ellery Queen is attracted to the case because of one startling feature which appears consistently in all phases of the affair. The conjunction of the road formed a huge letter “T"; the signpost to which the body was nailed presented to the eye a large "T”; the body of the crucified man, minus its head, resembled a "T,” and on the door of the schoolmaster’s house, not far from the crossroads, the letter “T” had been scrawled by the murderer in the blood of his victim.
Here is the groundwork for an Ellery Queen murder case which for baffling plot, fantastic design and elusive detection breaks the record. However closely the reader may apply that cold logic recommended by the author as the "analytico-deductive method" of detection, the solution of the West Virginia case and the two "T” murders which follow it remains as much of a mystery as the author himself—and, by the way, there is an interesting photograph of him on the inside flap—until his own brilliant application of his particular brand of logic brings the climax. A couple of hours of breath-taking shudders and chills for those who love them."
“Crucifixion on Christmas Day.” That’s what the
newspapers report when a small-town schoolteacher is discovered dead,
beheaded, and tied to a T-shaped cross on December 25th. It’s a murder
bizarre enough to pique Ellery Queen’s interest ― and
intriguing enough to lure him to the West Virginia village where it occurred
to take a closer look. But when he arrives, Queen is met with too few clues
and too little evidence to produce a satisfactory verdict, even for a master
sleuth such as himself, and so returns home to New York defeated.
The yuletide gore is a distant memory when the next such murder occurs, identical in every way, but now the location has moved to Long Island. When Ellery Queen learns that the sun-worshipping nudist cult he encountered down south has made the same relocation, it becomes clear that the group and the killings must be intertwined. But then several more crucifixion murders follow, drawing Queen deeper into a tangled and eerie puzzle unlike anything he’s encountered before. It will take all of his powers of deduction to uncover the killer.
Above left and right : Add for Stokes Mystery The Egyptian Cross Mystery - "Watch for the Queen of Diamonds on the Jacket!" with on the right the page size advertisement for The Publishers' Weekly from September 1932 (!)
Another masterfully constructed series of clues, although here one or two ideas that
have been used since by lesser writers will be familiar and possibly guessed by the astute
Some resemblances to Carr's Three Coffins since both involve three brothers of Eastern European background who committed a crime many years ago, fled their country, and took up other identities -- and are now facing revenge from a past enemy with a grudge. (Grobius Shortling)
A mass murderer who is truly insane and fiendishly clever. Beheads his victims (it turns out, for a very good reason). This contains nearly all the classic elements of an Ellery Queen novel, without hardly any presence of Inspector Queen nor Djuna.
One of the "national whatsis" series, which EQ gave up to go to Hollywood. It was only later that he got back into really bizarre situations, without an excess of whimsy - and those were sometimes ghostwritten by Avram Davidson (And on the Eighth Day is mind-blowing, and in a way complements this book). A conclusion not that far fetched as it becomes more and more clear that religious elements are more than abundant in all the great Ellery Queen classics. Still difficult to choose between this one and The Greek Coffin. It may come second ... but it great second it is!
Again with a challenge to the reader...
| America: A Catholic Review of
the Week -
January 14. 1933
"Ellery Queen has his troubles with 'The Egyptian Cross Mystery' (Stokes. $2.00). Within six months’ time, the bodies of two men are discovered, beheaded and crucified—one a school teacher in a small West Virginia village, the other a wealthy rug importer in New York. Ellery Queen discovers the connection between the two, and then directs the search for the murderer. The plot is well assembled, presenting an intricate problem to the armchair detective. And if he carefully follows the story, sufficient clues are given to enable him to answer the challenge of the author as to “ Who is the murderer?” and prove it as well—but it decidedly is not easy. A criticism that should be made is that the murders are unnecessarily gruesome. But perhaps this will not worry the modern reader accustomed to blood-curdling scenes in the modern movies."
|"Proof" of the keen commercial brain of the cousins. Pictured left: the publication of the story in the Spring of 1934 in Mystery Novels Magazine. Pictured right: the publication in Argentian Magazine Leoplan (March 1938)
Other articles on this book
(1) Reading Ellery Queen Jon Mathewson (Jul 2013)
(2) Mysteries Ahoy Aiden Brack (Jul 2018)
(3) Crucifixion of a Dead Man Ho-Ling (May 13. 2013)
(4) Nick Cordillo (Sep 6. 2021)
(5) Ramblings of the Golden Witch Umineko (Aug 28. 2016)
(6) My Reader's Block Bev Hankins (April 30. 2021)
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