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The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) next indepth review...

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." -- 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
 
The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Stokes, 1929The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Stokes first edition, 1929The Roman Hat Mystery - dust cover Grosset & DunlapThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Grosset & DunlapThe 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 - Dust cover edition Triangle books, January 1, 1942The Roman Hat Mystery - hardcover edition TriangleThe Roman Hat Mystery - dust cover edition, Tower Books, 1946The Roman Hat Mystery - hardcover edition Tower Books, 1946
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 Roman Hat Mystery - cover Jonathan Mystery DigestThe Roman Hat Mystery - coverThe Roman Hat Mystery - Pocket Books #77  13th printing August 1947
The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Signet #77, October 1941 8th PrintingThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Signet, 1967The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Signet. In 1979, Signet put out this Special 50th Anniversary Edition. Signet 451-E8470 is the 3rd printing of their 1967 paperback. To the confusion of booksellers and collectors everywhere, they failed to update the third printing date on the copyright page.  Confusingly it looks like it is saying “1929, 50th Anniversary Edition, 1967”The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Penguin Books, 1956

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. 

 

Mystery of the Roman Hat - kaft Gollancz uitgaveThe Roman Hat Mystery - dustcover Gollancz Re-set January 1935 [5th Gollancz issue]The Roman Hat Mystery - dustcover Gollancz-Triangle reprint 1948The Roman Hat Mystery - dustcover Gollancz (Blue hardcover), Twelfth Impression 1949.Mystery 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
The Roman Hat Mystery - hardcover edition, Zephyr Books, N°49, Stockholm/London, 1945 & 1947The Roman Hat Mystery -  cover pocket edition (normally with dust cover) The Continental Book Company, Zephyr Books, N°49, Stockholm/London, 1945 & 1947The Roman Hat Mystery -  cover paperback edition, The Continental Book Company, Zephyr Books, N°49, Stockholm/London, 1949The Roman Hat Mystery - cover English edition, Ulverscroft Leicester, Large Print edition, March 1. 1981

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

 
March 1931 Publication in Detective Book Magazine N°12
Above left: March 1931 Publication in Detective Book Magazine N°12
Above right: French magazine Mon Magazine Policier (Revue Moderne) published in Montreal, Canada, September 1944. It featured  Le mystère du chapeau soie.
 


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) 
Greek: Φόνος στό θέατρο 
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 
Persian: کتاب راز کلاه رومی 
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 edition, February 1934La 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, 1984
La Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian edition, Mondadori - De Agostini Prima Edizione I Maestri del Giallo,1990La 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.La Poltrona N.30 - cover Italian edition, Mondadori Nero, 2015El 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, 1944
El Misterio del Sombrero de Copa - cover Spanish edition, coleccion Caiman, Ed. Diana, MexicoEl Misterio del Sombrero de Copa - cover Spanish edition, coleccion Caiman, Ed. Diana, MexicoEl 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, 1971O 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, 2009Φόνος στό θέατρο - cover Greek edition, Viper, 1977Φόνος στο ρωμαϊκό θέατρο - cover Greek edition, Public, Noir, 2019Doden på sidste række - cover Danish edition, Lademann, 1974Doden på sidste række - cover Danish edition, Rosenkilde & Bahnhof June 2015
Hall I Hatten - Swedish editionSilinteri Hatun Arvoitus - Cover Finnish edition, K.J.Gummerus,  1965Silinterihatun Arvoitus - cover Finnish edition, 1977Silinterihatun Arvoitus - cover Finnish editionZlocin v divadle - Cover Czech edition, 1937Zlocin v divadle - Cover Czech edition, 1937
Zlocin v rímském divadle - Cover Czech edition, 2016תעלומת הצלינדר - Cover Israelian editionЭллери Куин в 3-х тт. - cover Russian edition, Ellery Queen omnibus with "The Roman Hat Mystery", "The French Powder Mystery" and "The Dutch Shoe Mystery", edition Терра - Книжный клуб, 2001ТАЙНА РИМСКОЙ ШЛЯПЫ - Cover Russian Edition, 2004 (Also includes The Siamese Twin Mystery)کتاب راز کلاه رومی - cover Persian edition from 2018 by ویدا (Vida)The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition
The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, Tokyo SogenshaThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanse edition Somatosha, 1957The 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 Bunko, 1963The Roman Hat Mystery - cover Japanese edition, Hayakawa Bunko, June 1982
The 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 (?) editionThe Roman Hat Mystery - cover Chinese edition (Hong Kong), January 2003
The 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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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)
 
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