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The Four of Hearts (1938)

It was a script that could only have come from Hollywood: the spectacular wedding of two superstars after a scandal-filled courtship...a wild trip by private plane to an exclusive hideaway... a deadly double overdose of drugs... But these corpses weren't play-acting. And once again Ellery Queen was cast in the role of master detective, as he found nothing was quite what it seemed in the never-never land of moviedom - except sudden, violent death
Here is a grand mystery with an extremely ingenious, intricate, and watertight plot. The setting is Hollywood, and something is happening all the time. It's fantastic and uproarious, and full of Hollywood patter at its lushest. It's expertly solved, with an effective extra turnover at the end resulting in a surprising and thrillful finish.


The Four of Hearts - Reader's League Of America Books ##NN9 ,1942The Four of Hearts - cover Mercury Mystery Book number 47, 1948The Four of Hearts - cover SignetThe Four of Hearts - Signet Cover
The Four of Hearts - cover Avon booksThe Four of Hearts - cover Avon  #T-242, 1958. Cover art by ReeseThe Four of Hearts - cover Harper Perennial, 1994The Four of Hearts - cover Penguin Books, 1958The Four of Hearts - cover eBook, JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc, Feb 15. 2017


"The Four of Hearts is a neatly turned mystery story if there ever was one. So well-fed are its characters, so flip is its dialogue, it almost justifies the Stokes Company's brag of "destined to be ranked as a classic." Classic or no, the Messrs. Stokes have an uncommonly good book on their hands.
Never having read an Ellery Queen novel before, we don't know whether Mr. Queen is in the habit of injecting himself into the story as omniscient sleuth or not. But the author's shrinking violet trick was no mistake. Mr. Queen, Detective, is a person well worth meeting. He certainly get around, and the presence of his humorous acuteness in almost every scene is no small factor in keying the tale up to its 4.500 R.P.M. pace.
And when Mr. Queen, Author, brings a character to life, he of she stays alive - that is, until some one happens to dope her Martini or his Sidecard with a little morphine. We mean Jack Royle and Blythe Stuart, feuding first families of the screen, who were murdered. And Bonnie Stuart and Ty Royle (Jack's son and Blythe's daughter), Paula Paris, Lew Bascom, Jacques Butcher and company - who weren't.
We don't know why Ellery Queen called his book The Four of Hearts, and not "The Eight of Spades" or "Two of Clubs" or "Jack of Spades" - which are all more important in the story. But he could have named it after one of Slim 'n' Slam's records and it would have been just as good. It's in the cards.
("As you like it" by Walter Sidney in The Brooklyn Eagle, October 16, 1938)

The Four of Hearts - dustcover Triangle Books, New York,1941The Four of Hearts - cover Triangle Books, New York,1941The Four of Hearts -  coverThe Four of Hearts - hardcover Tower Books Edition 1st Printing Oct. 1946The Four of Hearts - cover Tower Books World Publishing 1946 Cleveland New York


Page in "Cosmopolitan" October 1938: first publication of this story. Click for cover."Ellery Queen's latest novel is his weakest. His previous one Devil to Pay wasn't up to his usual standard but now he has sunk below par. It all happened we believe when he moved to Hollywood to write for a film company. Evidently the influence of Hollywood wasn't wholesome. And as Ellery Queen states: "It is a well-known fact that any one exposed to Hollywood longer than six weeks goes suddenly and incurably mad " We agree: Go East Mr. Queen go East!" (The Charlotte Observer - October 9, 1938)

Above right: Page in Cosmopolitan October 1938: first publication of this story. Click for cover.

The Four of Hearts - cover Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1938.The Four of Hearts - cover Cheap War Edition, 1940The Four of Hearts - coverThe Four of Hearts - cover Gollancz, London, 1973The Four of Hearts - cover audiobook Blackstone Audio, Inc., read by Mark Peckham,January 1. 2014

By contrast, this second Hollywood book, shows more of Queen's plotting artistry. It is also the only one of his Hollywood books to have a setting within the film industry itself. Agatha Christie and S.S. Van Dine are mentioned by name in Chapter 1 of The Four of Hearts. Ellery Queen makes clear who his closest literary relatives are by referring to the imaginary mystery writer Ellery Van Christie.


Harten vier - dustcover Dutch edition AW Bruna, Balken seriesHartenvier - cover Dutch edition AW Bruna, Balken seriesHartenvier - coverHartenvier - coverLe Quatre de Coeur - cover French edition Collection de l'empreinte N° 173, 1939Le quatre de coeur - cover French Edition Opta 1967,collection du club du livre policier
Le Quatre de Coeur - cover French edition J'ai Lu, 1985Das Goldene Hufeisen - German edition Ullstein KrimiDas Goldene Hufeisen - cover German edition, Ullstein, BerlinQuattro di cuori - cover Italian editionQuattro di cuori - cover Italian edition, Mondadori,series 'Il Classici del Gialli Mondadori' N°648, November 26. 1991El Cuatro de Corazon - cover Catalan edition, Hachette, 1941.

The Four of Hearts Translations:  
Czech: Srdcová čtyřka   
Danish: Hjerter fire   
Dutch/Flemish: Hartenvier   
Finnish: Kuolemanlento Hollywoodissa   
French: Le quatre de coeur   
German: Das goldene Hufeisen (aka Herz 4 )  
 (aka Trauung in der Luft)   
Greek: Το τέσσερα κούπα   
משחק קלפים   
Italian: Quattro di cuori   
Japanese: ハートの4 (haatonoyon)   
Korean: 트럼프 살인 사건    
Norwegian: Hjerter fire   
Portugese: Misterio em Hollywood   
Russian: Сердца четырёх   
aka Смерть в Голливуде
Spanish: El Cuatro de Corazon
(aka El Cuatro de Corazones)
Swedish: Hjärter fyra   
Kupa dörtlüsü   

El Cuatro de Corazon - cover Spanish edition, Hachette, 1953El Cuatro de Corazones - cover Spanish edition, 1973Misterio em Hollywood - cover Portugese edition, Colecçao XIS N°88, ed. Minerva, Lisbon, 1959Το τέσσερα κούπα - cover Greek edition, Viper, 1973Kuolemanlento Hollywoodissa - cover Finnish edition, Otova 1942Kuolemanlento Hollywoodissa - cover Finnish edition, Otovan Taskuromaani, 1963
Hjerter fire - cover Danish edition, Lommeromanen, 1970Hjärter fyra - cover Swedish edition,Tema, 1968Kupa dörtlüsü - cover Turkish edition, 1963משחק קלפים - Cover Israelian edition, 1960Смерть в Голливуде - cover Russian edition, 1994Сердца четырёх - Cover Russian edition, 2004 (Also contains There was an Old Woman)
The Four of Hearts (ハートの4) - cover Japanese edition, Somoto Reasoning, 1959The Four of Hearts ('haatonoyon') - cover Japanese edition, Sogensya Tokio, May 1979The Four of Hearts (ハートの4) - cover Japanese edition, Hayakawa editions, Feb 26. 2004Four of Hearts - cover Taiwanese edition, Face Press, November 15, 1995Four of Hearts - cover Taiwanese edition November 20. 1995
Four of Hearts - cover Taiwanese edition, Face Press, August 31. 2005The Four of Hearts - cover Chinese edition, New Star Press, October 2008The Four of Hearts - cover Chinese edition, New Star Press, October 2008The Four of Hearts - cover Chinese edition, Chemical Industry Press, August 1. 2014 트럼프 살인 사건(The Four of Hearts) - cover South-Korean edition, Sigma Books, Mar 1. 1995

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Other articles on this book
(1) The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - Ellery Queen's The Four of Hearts
     Margot Kinberg (Feb 2011)
(2) Reading Ellery Queen Jon Mathewson (Jan 2015)
(3) The Grandest Game in the World Nick Fuller (Aug 16. 2021)
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