Cape Mystery (1935)
Memo from Ellery Queen
Subject: The Case of the Naked Gigolo
1. Why was John Marco at Spanish Cape?
Women? Money? Vacation?
2. Why did everyone hate him?
His good looks? Blackmail?
3. Who killed John Marco?
4. Why was his corpse completely naked?
Above right: Redbook
pre-publication of The Spanish Cape Mystery.
The were the questions Ellery Queen asked when he found
John Marco's body. At first, the answers seemed simple. But Queen soon realized that no
case in his brilliant career had prepared him for the shocking events that followed this
John Marco, handsome despoiler of women, is found
murdered on the beach of Spanish Cape. This piece of land and rock juts out into the
Atlantic like some sleeping monster. It is owned by an eccentric millionaire, Walter
Godfrey. At the time of Marco's death a number of ill-assorted people are visiting at
Spanish Cape. Marco seemed to have some kind of an evil hold over these desperate women.
But strangely enough, of all the people gathered there, his was the only face that did not
wear the tense mask of dread.
When Marco's body was discovered, he was sitting naked in a chair on the beach. His corpse
was completely naked with the exception of a long opera cape draped about him.
Fortunately, Ellery Queen was vacationing nearby....
Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) contains an ingenious solution. The strange facts about
the corpse's nakedness parallels the book's predecessor,
The Chinese Orange Mystery, and its reversal of
everything about its corpse and crime scene. The solution also shows EQ's admirable use of
logic: once EQ figures out the method of the murder, he can deduce from it the identity of
the murderer, in a way that seems paradigmatic for the use of deduction in the mystery. The
Spanish Cape Mystery shares a family resemblance in its plotting to
The Roman Hat Mystery
(1934), parts of The Devil to Pay
(1938), and "Mind Over Matter"
(1939). However, the solution
is fairly simple, the plot is not especially complex, and the body of the book is way over
long for the substance of the plot. The whole thing would be much better as a short story.
Above right: a "Sunday Novel" from the Chicago
Herald and Examiner. May 16, 1937. It is a 16 page insert, 15 pages of
novel and back page advertising the next weeks novel.
The book shows EQ's ability to create a natural landscape, and integrate it into a
story. It seems unusual for EQ, after the urban setting and delightful floor plans of so
much of his fiction. "The Treasure Hunt"
(1935) of the same year also has a dramatic, isolated
natural location. Such lonely buildings in inaccessible settings are a
tradition in 1930's mysteries. Several were made into movies, and the lonely
mansion near the sea on a dark and stormy night is a staple of the 1930's
Hollywood whodunit. (Michael
Ellery still smokes, wears his pince-nez and uses a knife. Djuna briefly appears and
his father is only referred to.
Last summer Ellery didn't solve "The Case of the Wounded Tyrolean". Ellery emphasizes that
research on cancer in laboratories is being stepped up. He also points out the use of
secret passages in the works of Wallace* and Oppenheim**.
The story is set during a week on a Spanish cape on the East Coast, situated 10 miles of
Waylands amusement park, 50 miles of St-Maartens, 2 miles north of Wye. Close to
Challenge to the reader included.
Wallace (Richard Horatio) Edgar
(1875-1932) English journalist,
and thriller and mystery writer.
** E(dward) Phillips Oppenheim,
(1866 - 1946) the prince of storytellers,
wrote 115 books and 39 anthologies, and
became famous with The
Amazing Quest of Mr. Ernest Bliss.