Roman Hat Mystery (1929)
The drama at the Roman Theatre was the most popular show
in town that season. It was called Gunplay and was filled with the violence
and action and noises of gang warfare - a bit raw, a bit nasty and obviously
pleasing to the audience. Shortly after the curtain rose on Act II, there
was a slight commotion in the theatre. At first only a few noticed. Then
there was a scream and the lights snapped on. Near a closed exit, a large
policeman stood holding a slight, nervous man by the arm."Don't get out of
your seat, any of you!" The audience laughed, thinking it was part of the
play. But when a squad of bluecoats, headed by a tall man in plain clothes,
marched down the aisle, pandemonium broke out. "What's up, Doyle?"
Suit, cape and gloves
worn with a whisky flair...everything but the top hat. And he was dead. With
a characteristic display of intemperance, Monte Field had succumbed during
the Act II of the Broadway hit 'Gunplay'.
class A rating." -- H.V. O'Brien, Chicago Daily News
"Murder in the theatre... a knockout ... three hours of breathless bliss." -- Detroit Free Press
"Not only is his story really exciting but he himself plays absolutely fair - a fact which you may discover for yourself if, as you will probably want to do, you turn back after reading the last page and skim through the book again ... a worthy successor to Holmes... At the end too, a delectable 'surprise' is not lacking. The whole thing is most admirably done - the detective story de luxe." -- Ralph Straus, Sunday Times
|Above: The first books published sometimes had identical front covers. The spine of the books/dust cover only differ in the publisher's logo. Top left to bottom right: both dust cover and hardcover for Stokes, Grosset & Dunlap respectively ending with Mysterious Press' 50th birthday (Golden Anniversary) edition which had a new introduction by Frederic Dannay; International Readers League (hardcover only), dust and hardcover Triangle Books; dust and hardcover for the Tower/ World Publishing edition. (Click on the covers to see the differences) *|
|Buffalo Evening News, "Through the Hat" -
August 24, 1929
Offering as clever a problem in deductions as one may find in a year of browsing through mysterio-detective literature, Ellery Queen in his novel, "The Roman Hat Mystery." deftly twists the readers around his finger. This story is one of pure analysis, an entirely new mode in a popular type of fiction.
Disregarding the statement of the publisher that "The Roman Hat Mystery" is so outstanding in merit that the house of Stokes will publish no other detective novel this season, and appraising it in the cold light of skepticism, if not mistrust, we are compelled to admit that here is something of paramount importance in the field of literary endeavor where many have trod with more than average success. From the first to the last line Ellery Queen presents a novel that radically differs from the plethora of thrillers.
The plot is of fascinating complexity, the setting romantic, the style wholly pleasing and the deductive pattern most ingenious in weave. Ellery Queen's characterization Is superb. One feels that he knows intimately each one of the clearly-cut personages who figure in the solving of the hat mystery.
The story concerns a top hat, which at first seems an inconsequential clue, but about this elusive thread is spun the entire amazing yarn.
Amid the roar of stage gun fire in the Roman theater in New York the agonized whispers of Monte Field, a lawyer with a wide range of criminal associations, reveal a murder while the audience is engrossed In "Gun Play." The only clue to the murderer of Field is his missing top hat. But why the hat? It seems that Field, a blackmailer on a large scale, doted on using a top hat as the repository for papers which pried dollars from his victims. It also Is known that Field lettered the name of the victim on the band of the hat, so if once the hat is in hand so also is the name of the murderer. The hat then loads the likeable, elderly, snuff-taking Inspector Richard Queen, through a labyrinth of interesting, and at times, contradictory situations.
There are no spectacular scenes, no succession of murders, no rushing of detectives hither and yon at breakneck speed, no hocus pocus and no resort to the hackneyed formula of mystery tales. Instead, there Is a deep study of the case which is analyzed with remarkable psychological technique. The reader is given, every fact necessary to the solution of the case, but his is kept baffled to the startling denouement.
|The first EQ mystery, because they believed it to be in a class by itself, the original publishers of The Roman Hat Mystery chose it from more than 100 selected manuscripts as their contribution to mystery fiction of the year. The subsequent acclaim of the critics -- they called it "brilliant," "ingenious," "fascinating," "intriguing," "swift-moving" -- proved that the publisher's choice was a shrewd one. In The Finishing Stroke Ellery states that The Roman Hat Mystery had been well received by the critics. Following no hackneyed formula, this mystery offers a fool-proof plot of fascinating complexity, a theatrically romantic setting, and a most ingenious deductive pattern that is plausible, gripping throughout, and wholly original in weave. The essential clue is a missing top hat. On the surface it appears to be of minor significance, yet about this elusive thread the entire amazing tale revolves. Every fact necessary to the solution is given; yet we challenge the most ardent amateur criminologists to deduce the startling dénouement.|
The admiration Frederic Dannay had for Maurice Leblanc's Arsene Lupin surfaces and the more I look into this, the more I tend to believe that Ellery always has been more of a new Lupin than a new Sherlock Holmes as some covers tend to suggest.
King's first Lt. Valcour novel, Murder by the Clock, had a
simple plot idea involving men's hats. It was apparently serialized in
magazines in 1928, before its book publication in 1929. It is possible that
EQ used King's work as a jumping off point and subsequent works. One wonders
if the name "Rufus King" affected EQ's choice of the pseudonym
Ellery Queen." (Michael
Clever plot development, but with several points too difficult to swallow. EQ is rather a stuffed shirt. It is clearly very much in the same pattern as the works to follow. Although a pretty ordinary mystery, it contains a number of things that laid a foundation for later Queen novels: it creates most of the continuing characters of the EQ books. We get to know Ellery as a stiff shirt wearing his lorgnette and falconer, a gray costume and walking stick. He addresses his father "My dear Watson". Richard appears for the first time and uses a snuffbox. We even meet some other new friends in the gypsy boy Djuna, brigadier Velie, detective Flint, police officers Doyle, Hesse, Pigott, Ritter and Hagstrom. Henry Sampson makes his first appearance with the substitute Timothy Cronin.
The story unfolds in N.Y. in the Roman Theatre on West
47nd Street. Monte Field, a lawyer, is murdered by drinking poison.|
As ever, all references to years have been removed and we only know the story taking place between Monday, September 24. and Wednesday, October 3. We suspect it to be 1928. A challenge to the reader is present.
Its early chapters contain the first of the exhaustive searches so prominent in the Queen saga; its finale is of the deductive type, like most of the great Queen works; the deductions include a sequence investigating a large cast of characters, explaining why one and only one could have the properties of the guilty party, similar to later passages in The Dutch Shoe Mystery, Halfway House, and above all The Tragedy of Z. The chief plot idea in the solution is one that will pop up in variations throughout his 1930's works: e.g. The Spanish Cape Mystery. (Michael E.Grost)
Above: In the Franklin Library reprint (1989 part of the Mystery Masterpieces series) a frontispiece by artist Norman Walker was created.
|Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, "Matter
of Deduction" - September 22. 1929
"THIS is a problem in deduction. It is not one of those hair-raising tales of mystery.
The only murder in ths book has just been committed when the story is begun. A man in evening dress is found dead in a seat in the back row of a crowded New York theater. Who killed him? He had an unsavory reputation and numerous enemies who undoubtedly would prefer to have him dead, but who, unnoticed, could have committed this crime?
The author gives us a floor plan of the theater and most of the facts as they are uncovered. Inspector Queen and his discerning son, Ellery, work before the eyes of the reader. The chief clue is the fact that the silk top hat which had been a part of the murdered man's costume is missing when his body is discovered.
How could such an article completely disappear in a theater — and why? You are challenged to deduce the denouement before you reach the end of the book."
Above left: March 1931
Publication in Detective Book Magazine
Above right: French magazine Mon Magazine Policier (Revue Moderne) published in Montreal, Canada, September 1944. It featured Le mystère du chapeau soie.
The Roman Hat
Other articles on this book
(1) The Green Capsule Noah Stewart (Jun 2017)
(2) Mysteries Ahoy! Aiden Brack (Nov 2017)
(3) Reading Ellery Queen Jon Mathewson (Feb 2013)
(4) In which the Queens go the theatre Ho-Ling (May 10. 2013)
(5) The Grandest Game in the World Nick Fuller (Aug 2021)
(6) Dead Yesterday (April 2019)
(7) The Invisible Event - The Underwhelming Origins of Ellery Queen in The Roman Hat Mystery JJ (June 2016)
(8) In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel Puzzle Doctor (May 15. 2011)
(9) Davy Crocketts' Almanac Evan Lewis (Mar 1. 2013)
(10) AQ's Reviews (November 12. 2014)
(11) Alligators and aneurysms! (July 29. 2023) James Weber
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