he Origin of Evil
Ellery Queen is probably
the only detective story writer in the world who could have conceived and
written this novel.
"If you're unfamiliar with
Queen, try this one - and find yourself ensnared by a master of fascination
inherent in the grandly fantastic, even improbable, but compellingly
constructed murder problem."
"Ellery Queen in fine
"Ellery Queen is in
tremendous form... First rate."
"Even this master of plot, surprise and the bizarre has never done anything better... For sheer ingenuity and the piling on of new surprises when one feels that the story is over, this is a winner... The maestro excels himself." -- Joseph Taggart The Star
"Doubtful he will ever write a more teasing mystery than 'The Origin of Evil', but doubtless he never has." -- Daniel George
"The old fascination is as strong as ever. The narrative suspends not only disbelief but everything else except attention." -- Punch
"Nearly incredible ingenuity." -- Manchester Evening News
"Fiendish ingenuity... Of world-championship class." -- Birmingham Post
as inventive as usual, but more sexy."
|Above left to
dust and hardcover for Little, Brown &
co., April 1951; dust and hardcover Book Club edition
Below left to right: dust covers for Gollancz editions (1951, 1953, 1953 and 1976) (Click on the covers to see the differences) *
|The Advertiser, Adelaide - November 3. 1951
"A THREATENING note of 99 words, in which the writer failed to use a single letter 'T,' starts the sequence of fantastic happenings that make 'The Origin of Evil' one of Ellery Queen's better mystery stories.
Warnings that follow, in turn, are:— A dead lamprey, a dead fish, dead frogs and toads; a dead alligator — in the form of a wallet — a mutilated and burnt book, with the title of 'The Birds,' and, finally, valueless stock certificates, known colloquially as 'cats and dogs.'
All these sinister' warnings, leading right up the ladder, of evolution, are the outward indications of a diabolically clever murder plot which only a detective of the ability of Ellery Queen could solve.
The action takes place in Hollywood, and gives writer — or writers — Ellery Queen plenty opportunities for some picturesque asides on the more bizarre aspects of the movie capital, and the introduction of a few of the odd characters that only Hollywood produces.
There's also a provocative, sophisticated beauty who almost lures detective Ellery from the straight and narrow."
The Sun, Sydney - October 21, 1951
"Mr. Queen probably would class his latest novel 'The Origin Of Evil', as a fundamental in deduction. It is a good story until Ellery begins to untie the knots — which takes too long and leaves us still unconvinced.
Indeed, Mr. Queen, only because we hesitate to spoil the pleasure of many of your followers, do we refrain from exposing a piece of trickery so blatant that it would topple you forever from the connoisseur's bookcase."
|Ellery Queen was sun-bathing in the doorway of his Hollywood bedroom when the pretty young girl appeared. She was dressed in zebra-striped culottes and bolero over a bra-like doodad of bright green suede. "I don't think there's anything funny in a dead dog, do you?" she asked. "Dogs die all the time," Ellery said in a kindly voice. The girl stared down at her cigarette. "He was a gift, and it killed my father." "How exactly did a dead dog 'kill' your father?" "It murdered him."|
|EQ returned to Hollywood for a third novel."The book is filled with
fairly unlikable characters, and once again, like
The Devil To Pay, it deals with crooked businessmen in L.A., not the movie industry. The plot
rings every possible change on a single detective theme (the avenger from the past) as if
it were a Jack Ritchie short story swelled to giant size. There is some ingenuity here,
but as a whole the novel seems pretty minor.
The book expresses pessimism over the arms race, and describes Yugoslavia and Iran and Korea as possible places where war could break out: 48 years later this seems frighteningly prophetic. The name of the young hero, who lives in a tree house like Tarzan, Crowe Macgowan, seems to be inspired by Cro-Magnon Man, suggesting he is an evolutionary throwback; an appropriate enough choice in a novel whose title derives from Darwin's The Origin of the Species. Although this suspect (as in The Chinese Orange Mystery) named Macgowan (with a small g) could also be a reference to Kenneth Macgowan, who edited the anthology Sleuths (1931). (Michael E.Grost)
Several references to Hollywood stars and movies e.g. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) (Laughton), The Beachcomber, (1938) (Laughton),...
Ellery takes up his smoking habits with cigarettes and pipe. Also he drives a rented Kaiser which ties in with Ellery's 1950-51 appearances on TV's The Adventures of Ellery Queen (aka "'a Kaiser-Frazer Adventure in Mystery"). Ellery is a sexual being!
|The Mail, Adelaide - by A. R. McElwain,
October 20, 1951
"The calculated scaring to death of a victim is, I am relieved to report, a form of homicide not generally favored by competent contemporary murderers. It is, you see, uncertain and, as such, wastes time. People don't scare that easily. But a highly, original killer in this new Ellery Queen offering brings it off by the simple yet effective method of sending his potential victim a dead dog. The dog, naturally, is more than dead. It is also an evil symbol, in the sense that it reminds the recipient so violently of something in his past life that he passes out, there and then from shock.
The grim humorist doesn't stop at this. He sends a series of grotesque warnings to another fellow — each warning involving an animal — and each animal being dead.
I doubt whether all the fantastic premeditation, all the symbolism, all the caperings of someone resembling a crackpot naturalist add up to much in the way of plausible crime or convincing detection.
'The Origin of Evil' does, however, add up to a devilishly ingenious and complicated thesis which I should not like to see attempted by anyone less adroit than our learned Mr. Queen. I commend it to the critical attention of advanced students. (If anyone wants to scare me to death, just creep up on me and cry 'boo!' No dead dogs — please!)"
|Above: The Origin of Evil was published in Toronto Star Weekly as a "complete novel", January 5. 1952. This was more likely a "condensation".|
Other articles on this book
(1) The Rap Sheet - The Book You Have to Read: The Origin of Evil J. Kingston Pierce (Mar 2017)
(2) Reading Ellery Queen - The Origin of Evil Jon Mathewson (Jul 2015)
(3) The Passing Tramp - Wicked Gifts The Origin of Evil (July 9.2014)
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