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previous indepth review... There was an Old Woman  (1943) next indepth review...
                 aka T
he Quick and the Dead

Before the last echo of the shot had trailed down Riverside Drive, Ellery Queen realized that he had just witnessed a murder. Robert Potts lay shot through the head and not only had Ellery Queen been a witness, but also inspector Queen and Sergeant Velie. Yet not one of them knew who committed the murder.

This is the story of the Old Woman (Cornelia Potts), who lived with all her children (six) in the incredible Potts "palace" on Riverside Drive - on its front lawn a great, bronze Oxford complete with trailing bronze shoelaces. Over the household hovers a ruthless killer who fits his cold-blooded crimes into the pattern of a Mother Goose rhyme. Here is murder - with amusing and queer characters galore - as weird and baffling as Ellery Queen has yet encountered.

Hunting a masterful murderer poses a starker challenge than super sleuth Ellery Queen realized.

Cornelia Potts is a wicked old witch of a woman with millions of dollars, a henpecked husband, and six miserable children. When, one by one, the inhabitants of the Potts household are visited by death, Cornelia watches with delight. During a visit, Ellery Queen finds himself supervising a duel between Thurlow Potts and his half brother Robert, so he makes sure the guns are loaded with blanks. But when one of the brothers really dies, Ellery realizes he's up against a very cunning murderer.

 
"Verdict: Suspects and clues all over the place - so many that even Ellery Queen is almost stumped. One of the very best of Ellery Queen mysteries."-- New York Times

"Ellery is as superbly self-assured as ever, as much given to those intuitive flashes."
-- Book Week

"Ellery is in good form from the moment one discovers him thinking ungrammatical thoughts in the first paragraph until he emits his final whimsy on the last page. His mental gyrations are masterly."
-- Weekly Book Review

"... tells in the best Queen manner, of two murders in a wealthy, but mentally off centre family, it has three climaxes, and is, as usual, most ingeniously worked out."
-- The Telegraph,
Sydney
 
There was an Old Woman - dust cover Little, Brown & co. edition, March 1943There was an Old Woman - hardcover Little, Brown & co. edition, March 1943There was an Old Woman - hardcover Little, Brown & co. edition, March 1943 (variation, green cover)There was an Old Woman - hardcover
There was an Old Woman - dust cover Grosset & Dunlap, Collector's edition, 1943There was an Old Woman - hardcover Grosset & Dunlap, Collector's edition, 1943There was an Old Woman - dust cover Sun Dial Press, 1946 reprintThere was an Old Woman - hardcover Sun Dial Press, 1946 reprint
Above left to right: dust and 2 hardcover variations for Little, Brown & co. edition 1943; ; unknown hardcover edition
Below left to right: dust and hardcover Grosset & Dunlap 1943 Collector's edition, dust and hardcover for Sun Dial Press 1946 reprint
(Click on the covers to see the differences) *
 
The Advertiser, Adelaide, June 24. 1944 - "Latest Fiction"

"TWO other interesting collaborators are Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, cousins who have made a fortune for themselves with their detective novels by, and about Ellery Queen.
They have also written a number of critical works — on crime detection and detective fiction— juvenile mysteries, and other crime novels under the pseudonym of Barnaby Ross.
Before they took to their profitable writing occupation Dannay was art director of an advertising agency, and Lee was a movie publicity man.
Their latest Ellery Queen detective story, 'There Was an Old Woman' is a fantastic affair about the Potts family of Potts Shoe fame and more particularly about Thurlow Potts, a "tubby little troglodyte," who is "the world's most insultable man."
The Potts family, six grown-up children and the Old Woman, live in a fantastic New York palace— with a giant illuminated Potts Shoe on the front lawn. Thurlow's libel actions always make the front page of the newspapers, and when be shoots one of his brothers in a duel on the lawn under the shoe statue there's a tremendous hullabaloo.
Ellery Queen is well in the picture, of course, and has his work cut out unravelling two almost fairy tale murders, with faked confessions, forged signatures and a variety of crazy trappings.
As in all Ellery Queen mysteries, red herrings abound, and the secret of the murderer is well and truly kept to almost the end."


 
After the powerful Calamity Town the cousins were unsure that the novels radical departures from earlier Queen novels would be a success and deliberately planned the next book to be a return to the old manner. Although most of the plotting was probably done in the summer of 1942 (whilst the radio series was on hiatus) Nevins believes there's reason to believe that part of the plot dates back to the novel Fred and Manny were working on in 1939. If Howard Williamson art for the abridged version of "There was an Old Woman" published in "LIBERTY magazine" July 3, 1943.nothing else, this would also explain the absence of World War II home front ambiance from a novel published in the second full year of war. However the proposed novel employed the same basic plot as Agatha Christie's And then there were none (1939) and had to be scrapped. Not entirely as it was put in the "freezer" to be published at a later date. Although it has been known that they often elaborated on themes and ideas by others this was clearly a coincidence. It was Christie's intention of publishing the book as Ten Little Niggers quickly changed into Ten Little Indians but of course in the USA even this had to become And then there were none - the exact title of the final chapter in Queen's book. In April 1939 Van Dine died and the book was probably a tribute to their first great "teacher"... Certainly there is more than a passing resemblance with Van Dine's The Bishop Murder Case.

Above right: Howard Williamson art for the abridged version of There was an Old Woman published in Liberty magazine July 3, 1943.
There was an Old Woman - cover pocket book edition, Pocket Books #326, February 1946 (2nd) (See full cover top of the page)The Quick and the Dead - cover pocket book edition, Pocket Book #2326, 1956 (4th Pocket printing) (Cover painting by Clark Hulings)The Quick and the Dead - cover pocket book edition, Great Pan editions, Pan G431, 1961There was an Old Woman - cover pocket book edition, Penguin, 1970
There was an Old Woman - cover pocket book edition, Signet T4935, 1972There was an old woman/The Origin of Evil - cover pocket book edition, Signet Double Mystery, N° 451-J9306, January 1, 1980 (Red cover with red letters for There was an old woman)There was an old woman/The Origin of Evil - cover pocket book edition, Signet Double Mystery, N° 451-J9306, January 3, 1984 (Browncover with white letters for There was an old woman)
The cousins set out to merge a complex puzzle with the kind of way-out wacky mystery which more or less paralleled Hollywood's cycle of screwball comedies. In the plot you always seem to think you're one move ahead of EQ. Then it appears that the first solution just isn't. Or is it? First of a series of multiple twist endings. Introduces Nikki Porter (for the second time in print, as the novelization of the movie Ellery Queen, Master Detective had already done the honors - counting radio and movies she first met EQ in four different ways!).  Lee felt that this was his worst book.
There was an Old Woman - dust cover Gollancz edition, London. 1944There was an Old Woman - dust cover Gollancz edition, London, 1946 (had a blue hardcover)There was an Old Woman - dust cover Gollancz edition, London, 1949 (3rd)There was an Old Woman - dust cover Gollancz edition, London, April 1949 (4th printing, had a red hardcover)There was an Old Woman - dust cover Gollancz edition, London, 1974
There was an Old Woman - cover Harper Perennial edition, Harper Collins, 1992 reprintThere was an Old Woman - cover paperback Large Print edition, Thorndike Press/G K Hall & Co, 1998
There was an Old Woman - cover paperback edition, Langtail Press, May 9, 2013There was an Old Woman - cover audiobook Blackstone Audio, Inc., read by Mark Peckham, February 1. 2014There was an Old Woman - cover eBook JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc, Feb 15. 2017
 
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;
And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Source: The Dorling Kindersley Book of Nursery Rhymes (2000)

 


Er was eens een oude vrouw - cover Dutch edition Zilvermeeuw Nr.54Dood in de Schoenen - coverDe dood in de schoenen - coverIl etait une vieille femme - cover French edition J'ai Lu, 1979Il était une vieille femme - cover French edition Editions Albin Michel, July 1948 (photo Robert Doisneau)Il etait une vieille femme - cover French edition
Il etait une vieille femme - cover French edition éditions J'ai Lu, Paris, Nr.1489, 1983Das Mordduell - cover German editionDas Mordduell - cover German editionDas Mordduell - German edition Ullstein Krimi nr.1831Blut im Schuh - cover German edition Dumont, 2002Blut im Schuh - cover German edition, e-book DuMonts Digitale Kriminal-Bibliothek, March 27. 2014

There was an old woman  
(aka The Quick and the dead)  Translations

Czech: Zelezná dáma 
Danish: Sko-mordene 
Dutch/Flemish: Dood in de schoenen (aka Er was eens een oude vrouw) 
Finnish: Murha kengässä 
French: Il était une vieille femme 
German: Das Mordduell (aka Blut im Schuh) 
Greek: Μονομαχία στό Ρίβερσάϊντ  
Hebrew:
תעלומת האקדח הכפול 
Hungarian: Volt egyszer egy öreg hölgy 
Italian: Una volta c'era una vecchia 
Japanese: 生者と死者と (seisyatosisyato) 
(aka なぞのゆうれいやしき) 
Korean: There Was An Old Woman 수수께끼의 038사건 
Portuguese: Era Uma Vez Uma Velha 
Russian: ЖИЛА-БЫЛА СТАРУХА
 (Zhila-byla starukha) 
aka Старуха 
Spanish: Habia Una vez una vieja...
(aka Esta era una anciana)
 
Swedish: Mord i andra hand 
Turkish: Mor İzler 

Una volta c'era una vecchia - cover Italian edition, Collana I Gialli Mondadori, Milan, 1950Una volta c'era una vecchia - cover Italian edition, 1979Una volta c'era una vecchia - cover Italian edition I Classici del Giallo N° 333, October 30.1979Una volta c'era una vecchia - cover Italian edition, 2002Una volta c'era una vecchia - cover Italian edition, 2002Habia Una vez una vieja - Cover Spanish edition, Hachette, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1946
Esta era una anciana - cover Spanish edition, Ed. Diana, Collecion Caiman, MexicoEra Uma Vez Uma Velha - cover Portuguese edition, Livros de Bolso / Serie Clube do Crime, Publicações Europa-AméricaSko-mordene - cover Danish edition, Martin KobenhavnMor İzler - cover Turkish edition, 1964Mor İzler - cover Turkish edition, 1964Mord i andra hand - cover Swedish edition, B. Wahlströms - BW deckare, 1952
Murha kengässä   - cover Finnish edition, Gummerus, 1962Murha kengässä   - cover Finnish edition, Gummerus, 1972Μονομαχία στό Ρίβερσάϊντ - cover Greek Edition, (Viper) Βιπερ Νο. 694., 1977Μονομαχία στο Ριβερσάιντ - Cover Greek edition, 2009, Δημοσιογραφικός Οργανισμός Λαμπράκη (Lambrakis)תעלומת האקדח הכפול - Cover Hebrew edition (Israel), 1966За занавесью - cover Russian compilation, contains Ellery Queen's "There was an old woman" (Жила-была старуха…), Earl Derr Biggers' "Behind that Curtain" (За занавесью), Viola Brothers Shaw's "The Mackenzie case" ( Дело Мак-Кензи) & Thomas Sigismund Stribling's "The Resurrection of Chin Lee" ( Воскрешение Чина Ли), Publisher Sanan (Санан), 1992.Остросюжетный детектив (Action detective) - cover Russian compilation, contains "The French Powder Mystery" (Тайна белого порошка), "Inspector Queen's Own Case" (Дело о кружевной наволочке) & "There was an old Woman" (Старуха), Publisher  Фемида (Themis), 1993
Женщина в озере - cover Russian compilation contains three stories, Richard Stark's "Lemons Never Lie" (Лимоны никогда не лгут), Raymond Chandler's "The lady in the lake" (Женщина в озере) & Ellery Queen's "There was an old woman" (Жила-была старуха... ), Bestseller series published by CKS, 1994.Сердца четырёх - cover Russian compilation, includes "The Four of Hearts" (Сердца четырёх) & "There was an Old Woman" (Жила-была старуха...), publisher Centrograph (Центрполиграф), 2005.The Quick and the Dead - cover Japanese editionThe Quick and the Dead - cover Japanese edition, 1959/2000The Quick and the Dead - cover Japanese edition, Tokyo Sogensha, December 2. 1960 なぞのゆうれいやしき (There Was An Old Woman) - cover Japanese edition, educational publication, Oct 1962
靴に棲む老婆 - cover Japanese edition (There was an old woman), Hayakawa publishing, 1956 (?)靴に棲む老婆 エラリイ - cover Japanese edition "There Was An Old Woman", Hayakawa Pocket Mystery Book靴に棲む老婆 エラリイ - cover Japanese edition "There Was An Old Woman", Hayakawa Pocket Mystery Book, Mar 31. 1977There was an old Woman - cover Japanese edition, Ellery Queen Mystery 038 Case (Deduction  Detective Masterpiece Series 20), Shobu editions, 1988 (Illustration Masamichi Yokoyama & Yokoyama Productions)The Quick and the Dead - cover Japanese edition, Tokyo SogenshaThere was an Old woman - cover Chinese edition, Inner Mongolia People's Publishing House, January 2009There was an Old woman - cover Chinese edition, Chemical Industry Press, October 2013
There was an Old woman - cover Taiwanese edition, April 1997There was an Old woman - cover Taiwanese edition, April 20. 1997There was an Old woman - cover Taiwanese edition, Face Press, 2005There Was An Old Woman (수수께끼의 038사건) - cover South-Korean edition, Haemun Publishing, Jul 5. 2002There Was An Old Woman (수수께끼의 038사건) - cover South-Korean edition, Panda Mystery, Haemun Publishing, Jul 7. 2009There Was An Old Woman (수수께끼의 038사건) - cover South-Korean edition, Panther Mystery Masterpiece Series, Haemun Publishing, Dec 2015 


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Other articles on this book

(1) Reading Ellery Queen Jon Mathewson (Mar 2015)
(2) The Green Capsule (Jan 25. 2019)
(3) ahsweetmysteryblog Brad (Nov 16. 2017)
(4) In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel Puzzle Doctor (Jan 30. 2011)
(5) One Two Buckle My Shoe Ho-Ling (Aug 24. 2013)
 
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