|he Roman Hat
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,
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'.
"Gets our class A rating." -- Chicago Daily News
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.
"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
been more of a new Lupin than a new Sherlock Holmes as some covers tend to suggest.
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,
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.
The Roman Hat