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The 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?"
"Look's like this man's been murdered, Sergeant."

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'.
"Foul play!" cried the local constabulary. It was clearly a case for the Queens - father and son. A case of shadowy death, an unsavory victim, and a lengthy list of suspects whose tarnished pasts has made them prime targets for blackmail.
Someone had enacted the performance of the year: the perfect murder.

"Gets our class A rating." -- Chicago Daily News

The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Stokes, 1929The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Stokes first edition, 1929The Roman Hat Mystery - dustcover Tower Books, 1946The Roman Hat Mystery - hardcover Tower Books, 1946The Roman Hat Mystery - cover 50th birthday (Golden Anniversary edition) with new introduction by Frederic Dannay, Mysterious Press
The Roman Hat Mystery - cover reprint International Readers League, 1930.The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Franklin Library Edition, 1989The Roman Hat Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road, October 25, 2011.The Roman Hat Mystery - cover audiobook Blackstone Audio, Inc., read by Robert Fass, September 15. 2013

The first EQ mystery, because they believed it to be in a class by itself, the original publishers of March 1931 Publication in Detective Book Magazine N°12The 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.

"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)

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.
"Rufus 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 E.Grost) 
Dannay recalled, "...Van Dine influenced us because he made so much money; and then, the kind of thing he did appealed to us in those days. It was complex, logical, deductive, almost entirely intellectual..." (Nevins)
When the cousins entered the McClure contest Van Dine was at his peak of success. The influence their idol had is obvious. As JJMcC pointed out Ellery Queen retires to Italy: exactly where Van Dine had said Philo Vance had retired. Ellery Queen is a pseudonym to conceal the real identity of the sleuth as was Philo Vance. They both like to use pompous literary references. Vance got access to the crimes through his friend Markham while Ellery's connection to the investigation was given by his father. Sergeant Velie, Doc Prouty and even Djuna all had a counterpart in the Van Dine novels as respectively Sergeant Heath, Dr. Doremus and the butler Currie.          

The Roman Hat Mystery - dustcover  Gollancz-Triangle reprint 1948The Roman Hat Mystery - coverThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Triangle booksThe Roman Hat Mystery - Pocket Books #77  13th printing August 1947The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Signet #77, October 1941 8th Printing
The Roman Hat Mystery - hardcover TriangleThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Jonathan Mystery DigestThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Signet, 1967The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Penguin Books, 1956The Roman Hat Mystery - coverMystery of the Roman Hat - Its reissue in 1969 represents a remarkable numerical concatenation:it is 40 years since the book was first published; now reissued on the same date as ellery queen's 40th novel, Cop Out, is published - Victor Gollancz Ltd

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 lornget 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.

In the Franklin Library reprint (1989 part of the Mystery Masterpieces series) a frontispiece by artist Norman Walker was created.

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)


Het mysterie der Hooge Hoeden - dutch cover Zilvermeeuw Nr.8 1935Het mysterie der Hoge Hoeden - Zilvermeeuw Nr.24 Het mysterie van de Hoge Hoeden - dutch cover Prisma 919Het mysterie van de Hoge Hoeden - coverHet mysterie van de Hoge Hoeden - coverLe Mystère de Chapeau de Soie - French edition Un MystèreLe Mystère romain - cover French edition, Limier, 1948
Le Mystère romain - cover French edition, Limier nr14, 1948Le Mystere du Chapeau de Soie - Cover French edition Garnier Classiques De L'enigme, 1981Le mystère du théâtre romain - cover French edition J'ai Lu N°2103, 1986Schön is ein Zylinderhut - cover German edition Ullstein, BerlinSchön is ein Zylinderhut - German cover Ullstein Krimi 782Schön is ein Zylinderhut - German cover Ullstein KrimiDer Hut des Toten - cover German edition  Mitternachtbücher N°63

 The Roman Hat Mystery Translations:
Brazilian: O Mistério do Chapéu Romano 
(aka
Um morto na platéia) 
Czech: Zlocin v rímském divadle  (aka Zlocin v divadle) 
Danish: Døden på sidste række 
Dutch/Flemish: Het mysterie van de hoge hoeden 
(aka Het mysterie der Hooge Hoeden) 
Finnish: Silinterihatun Arvoitus 
French: Le mystère du théâtre romain 
(aka Le mystère du chapeau soie) 
(aka Le Mystère romain) 
German: Der mysteriöse Zylinder (aka Schön ist ein Zylinderhut) 
(aka Der Hut des Toten) 
Hebrew:
תעלומת הצלינדר 
Hungary: A római kalap rejtélye 
Italian: La poltrona N. 30 
Japanese: ローマ帽子の謎 (roumabousinonazo) 
Korean: 로마 모자 미스터리 
Russian: ТАЙНА РИМСКОЙ ШЛЯПЫ 
Spanish: El Misterio del Sombrero de Copa 
(aka El Sombrero Romano) 
Swedish:Håll i hatten 

Der Mysteriose Zylinder - cover DuMont's Kriminal Bibliothek 2000Der Mysteriose Zylinder - cover DuMont's Kriminal Bibliothek La Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian editionLa Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian edition Il Capolavori Dei Gialli mondadori, 1959La Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian edition I Classici Del Giallo, 1975La Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian edition Sfida Al Lettore, 1984La Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian edition, Mondadori - De Agostini Prima Edizione I Maestri del Giallo,1990
La Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian edition, I classici del Giallo Mondatori 'Volume Oro' Nr 1020, July 29. 2004La Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian edition, Oscar scrittori del Novecento, 2004.El Misterio del Sombrero de Copa - Cover Spanish edition,  Librería Hachette. Biblioteca de Bolsillo nº 46. Serie Naranja Novelas Policiales, 1944El Misterio del Sombrero de Copa - Cover Spanish edition,  2nd edition, Librería Hachette. Biblioteca de Bolsillo nº 46. Serie Naranja Novelas Policiales, 1944El Misterio del Sombrero de Copa - Cover Spanish edition, Coleccion Caiman (Editorial Diana), 1970El Misterio del Sombrero de Copa - Cover Spanish edition, Caiman, 1987Um morto na platéia - Brazilian edition Cultrix, 1971
O Mistério do Chapéu Romano - cover Brazilian edition, Editorial Minerva, Coleção XIS, 1959.O Mistério do Chapéu Romano - cover Brazilian edition, Livros do Brasil, 2003.El Sombrero Romano - Argentinian edition, 2009Doden på sidste række - cover Danish edition, Lademann, 1974Doden på sidste række - cover Danish edition, Rosenkilde & Bahnhof June 2015Hall I Hatten - Swedish editionSilinteri Hatun Arvoitus - Cover Finnish edition, K.J.Gummerus,  1965
Silinterihatun Arvoitus - cover Finnish edition, 1977Silinterihatun Arvoitus - cover Finnish editionZlocin v divadle - Cover Czech edition, 1937Zlocin v divadle - Cover Czech edition, 1937Zlocin v rímském divadle - Cover Czech edition, 2016תעלומת הצלינדר - Cover Israelian edition
ТАЙНА РИМСКОЙ ШЛЯПЫ - Cover Russian Edition, 2004 (Also includes The Siamese Twin Mystery)The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese editionThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, Tokyo SogenshaThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, Tokyo Sogensha, Dec 2. 1960The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, Kadokawa Bunko, June 30. 1963The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, Kadokawa Shoten, 1975
The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, Hayakawa Bunko, June 1982The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, 1998The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, Kadokawa Bunko, May 19. 2011The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, 2011 (?)The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, November 25. 2012, artwork by TakenakaThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Chinese (?) edition
The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Chinese edition (Hong Kong), January 2003The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Taiwanese edition, January 10. 2004The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Chinese (Mongolian) edition, Inner Mongolia People's Publishing House, January 1. 2010The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Chinese edition, New Star Press, April 2014로마 모자의 비밀(The Roman Hat Mystery) - cover South-Korean edition,  Sigma Books, Sep 1 1994로마 모자의 비밀(The Roman Hat Mystery) - cover South-Korean edition,  Dongsuh Mystery Books, May 5 2003로마 모자 미스터리(The Roman Hat Mystery) - cover South-Korean edition,  검은숲, Ellery Queen Collection, Dec 1 2011
 


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