Greek Coffin Mystery (1932)
From the very
beginning, the Khalkis case struck a somber note. It began, as was peculiarly harmonious
in the light of what was to come, with the death of an old man. Georg Khalkis,
internationally famous art dealer and collector, died of heart failure. After his funeral,
his attorney found that the will was missing and immediately called in the district
|"The Greek Coffin Mystery is a lively and
well -constructed yarn containing unusual setting, ingenuity of plot, a surprise solution
and legitimate use of the analytical deductive method."
"All I do know is that he has long seemed to me one of the very best detective authors now writing, and that I always grab every new story of his that comes along." -- J.B. Priestley - Evening Standard
"Had me baffled but fascinated."-- Franklin .P. Adams
|Above: The first books published sometimes had identical front covers. The spine of the books/dust cover differ only in the publisher's logo. Top left to bottom right: Both dust cover and hardcover for Stokes, Grosset & Dunlap, International Readers League (hardcover only), Triangle Books, Triangle Books (blue), Center/Sun Dial Press Books (with 2 variations for the hard cover) and finally the dust cover for the Tower/ World Publishing edition. (Click on the covers to see the differences) *|
|The Saturday Review, "Thrillers" by William C.
June 18, 1932
"Ellery Queen in 'The Greek Coffin Mystery' by throwing on all the lugs tries to be ultra intelligent and succeeds in becoming a bit soggy. Frankly, this impression is not given so much by the book itself as by a pompously ridiculous little leaflet inserted in each copy wherein the author (or authors) tells how the story should be studied, etc. Throw away this circular, destroy it utterly, and then you can enjoy the strange circumstances surrounding the death and burial of George Khalkis."
|According to JJMcC this case precedes the earlier
publications and dates back to the years when Ellery was just graduated from college.
The most confounding, brilliantly plotted EQ of them all. More twists and
turns than the Mississippi River. EQ's first recorded investigation is a
high point in the detective literature, and with
The Finishing Stroke our favorite
of all the novels. The latter only has a more human Ellery for it but in
terms of surprising twists this book beats them all.
Ellery Queen investigates the murder of a man who was found mysteriously buried in another man's coffin. There are many suspects, and as the story progresses the plot just gets more and more complex (for most mysteries it's the reverse). It is notable for its four separate solutions, that gradually emerge at the four separate climaxes of the novel, one at the end of each major section. The book demonstrates how much more complex life can be than one originally figures. It also shows how ideas can grow out of each other, gradually leading to more complex ideas. The real and final solution impresses by being "deeper" than the others, containing some very startling surprises. The final solution comes as a genuine shock--when I found out who the murderer was, I was momentarily tempted to throw down the book in disbelief. But Ellery Queen's careful deductive processes show that only (blank) could possibly have committed the crimes. This is an absolute tour de force, a must-read for mystery readers like myself who have, until this point, lived under the illusion that only English writers can construct ingenious plots. Ellery Queen has more than proven that the quality can be an American one as well.
Above: Add in The New Yorker, April 23, 1932. "Behind that mask... Ellery Queen concocts such ingenious murder mysteries that leading reviewers call him "the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes"... His new one "The Greek Coffin Mystery" has every type of suspect in one story, including the "logical" one - and yet you can't guess the murderer! By the author of "The Dutch Shoe Mystery," etc. $2.00 F.A. Stokes Company New York"
early years there was an unsurpassed urge for symbolism in the
work of Ellery Queen. The example most widely used to
illustrate this is the fact that first letter of each chapter spelled the
title of a book, but only in the Greek Coffin Mystery this was actually so. It
does, however, illustrate the playfulness and attention the cousins took to detail.
EQ is not an absurdist. The solutions
seem logical and well developed, unlike Anthony Berkeley's multiple solution novel, The
Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929).The novel is derived from E.C. Bentley's
1 Trent's Last Case
(1913) which has two
solutions, and shows its detective failing to solve the mystery, with the true solution
being only revealed by chance after the detective offers a false (if ingenious)
explanation. Berkeley used this plot pattern repeatedly in his books, with numerous
variations: both multiple solutions and failed detectives abound. Berkeley seems most
interested in writing an anti-detective story, showing how each situation can be twisted
to express a multitude of interpretations, mocking the idea of detective stories in
general, and the ability to understand anything through reason. This sort of absurdism is
very far from EQ's approach. EQ is instead interested in showing how reason can go deeper
and deeper in a situation, uncovering profounder and profounder ideas. The closest analogy
or model for EQ is scientific discovery, wherein a Tycho Brahe will make thousands of
factual observations, a Kepler will then group them into laws, and a Newton will finally
explain these laws through a system of universal gravitation. EQ's book is a
fictionalization of this process, an attempt to create an imaginary situation that fully
demonstrates the complexities of human reason.
There is a challenge to the reader included.
|Ramapo Valley Independent - "Cover to cover"
June 24. 1932
"Ellery Queen who, by the way attended the big "Candida" opening in Nyack last week, was one of our favorite writers of detective stories until we read his latest book, "The Greek Coffin Mystery." In it he plays what we consider one of the lowest tricks that a mystery scrivener can put on his readers.
We can't tell you what that trick is without giving away the solution of the story and, mad as we are at Ellery, we don't sink as low as that, and it isn't just because we couldn't solve the riddle that we're angry.
Many times before we have been fooled by Master Queen's tangles. "The Roman Hat Mystery", "The Dutch Shoe mystery" are two of the best puzzlers in the business. And "The Greek Coffin Mystery" is excellent in its early stages.
The beginning is particularly auspicious. A gentleman by the name of Khalkis - a wealthy Greek gentleman who is head of an internationally-famous art gallery - dies. With long faces, his friends, relatives, and business associates gather in his gloomy old house for the funeral. Khalkis is buried in the graveyard of the church next door (the scene is New York City) and the mourners go back to the house to read the will. But the will has disappeared from the wall safe where it was seen a few moments before the funeral!
So the police come in and there is a search of several days for the will. High and low, it cannot be found. Ellery Queen, the master sleuth come into the case with his father, Inspector Richard Queen. It is decided to exhume the body of Khalkis and make sure that his death was a natural one.
The ornate coffin is dug up and opened, and to the consternation of all, it now contains two bodies - that of Khalkis and another of an unknown man. This starts the case off in earnest, and the chase is thoroughly absorbing until the final chapters, when the above-mentioned trick is played at the expense of the reader.
We don not propose to read any more of Queen's books if he is going to act like this. Probably in his next one he will make Ellery Queen himself the murderer. That would be no worse than the individual who is used in the present book."
The Greek Coffin
Other articles on this book
(1) The Green Capsule Noah Stewart (Jan 2018)
(2) Mysteries Ahoy! Aiden Brack (Feb 2018)
(3) Reading Ellery Queen Jon Mathewson (Jun 2013)
(4) Elleryana Ho-Ling (May 12. 2013)
(5) The Grandest Game in the World Nick Fuller (Dec 20. 2017)
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