All of a sudden, twenty-four mysteries by Ellery Queen popped up in my library's ebook collection. There couldn't be too many mystery lovers who have not heard of Ellery Queen. But perhaps many, like me, have not actually read any of the books written under the pseudonym of Ellery Queen by the American cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee.
Ellery Queen helps solve the mysteries alongside his father, police Inspector Richard Queen. The Queens share a fourth-floor apartment in New York City and are tended to by a house boy, Djuna. (I have a certain fondness for stories in which the characters have a manservant, house boy, or valet. Think Wooster's Jeeves or Wimsey's Bunter.)
The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) is the first of the 40 or so mysteries in the series. It is a locked theater mystery. The murder of Monte Field takes place during a production of "Gunplay" in the Roman Theater. After his body is found, it is discovered that his top hat is missing (those being the days when men dressed in evening clothes and top hat for the theater). The mystery hinges on the Queens finding out what happened to his hat which they think will lead them to the identity of the murderer.
Here is what I didn't like about the book. The authors must have gotten paid by the word and double the price for each adverb. No one just 'said' anything. Everything was said "wryly" or "laughingly" or "enthusiastically". That wears thin in a 400-page book. I almost gave up on it, but due to a bout of insomnia this past week (which I blame on having to change to daylight savings time) I was up in the middle of the night a couple of times and resorted to reading.
What I did like were the details of the Queens' apartment and offices and the clothing that the characters wore that enlivened the atmosphere of the era. Ellery is always polishing his pince-nez and would rather be in a book shop hunting out first editions. His father is addicted to snuff and never leaves the house without his little box full of the stuff.
The mystery itself was very puzzling. The clues and the solution to the murder were complicated but, in all fairness, the reader knows what the Queens know so there is not a 'rabbit pulled out of the hat' to explain what happened.
But for me, the denouement just took too long to get to. Maybe I should try out the short stories. Wikipedia lists ten collections and my library shows one volume, The Adventures of Ellery Queen, in its ebook collection. I have just now put it on hold.