The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) by Ellery Queen

The first step on my attempt to read and review the entire Ellery Queen back catalogue, and also provide the letter S in the Alphabet of Crime Fiction – it’s The Spanish Cape Mystery from 1935. It’s the ninth book in the series and the last with a title of the form The “NATIONALITY” “OBJECT” Mystery, although the next book, Halfway House does mention in the foreword that it could have been The Swedish Match Mystery.

The setting is a North Atlantic headland known as, surprise, the Spanish Cape, whereon John Marco, a serial philanderer and possible blackmailer is plying his trade. A local thug, the giant one-eyed Captain Kidd is hired by persons unknown to kidnap him, but manages to grab two other people by mistake. The mistake is apparently corrected when Marco is found on a terrace, having been bashed on the head and then strangled. What is less clear is why the victim is found propped in a chair, completely naked apart from a cape draped over his shoulders… Never mind though, as guess who has chosen this spot for a holiday – lucky old Ellery.

Nine books in, and Ellery is already a warmer character than in his debut. Here we see him without his usual supporting cast, but he has no problems ingratiating himself with both the local police and with the Godfrey household and their guests, of whom the late Marco was one. It’s another book with a “Challenge to the Reader” break near the end where the reader is encouraged to muse over the facts and try and put two and two together.A More Appropriate Cover

I mentioned in the review of The Roman Hat Mystery that nothing much happened between murder and resolution apart from much interviewing – not that it was a problem. More is going on dramatically in this one and again, my attention was gripped throughout. It’s the sign of a great detective book that after each chapter, you put the book down for a bit of a think, and that certainly happened here.

There are a few niggles – Ellery shows almost psychic powers to anticipate a 2:30 in the morning phone call, and there are a couple of convenient “Basil Exposition” –style conversations that Ellery conveniently stumbles upon, and, more importantly, the murderer is extremely guessable. Similarly it seems that no-one is particularly concerned for the missing kidnap victim throughout the book, despite his sister and his favourite niece being important characters in the book.

As I said though, these are niggles, nothing more. This is a fun, gripping read and one that has encouraged me to focus my bibliography – I had said that I wasn’t going to necessarily read the books in order, but with the stylistic changes between the first and ninth books, I think it would be more interesting to go back to the start and do them chronologically.

Oh, and by the way, the phrase “making love” meant something else in the 1930s. Otherwise the film made of two characters “making love in Central Park” puts an entirely different picture in one’s head. And I presume that when the naked body is found and the first thing Inspector Moley utters is “Nuts!”, that phrase wasn’t being used in its popular British euphemism either!

There is a film of this book, by the way. Anyone know how easy it is to track down?


  1. Good review; a nice way to kick off your plan for total Ellery Queen dominance in the blogosphere. 😉

    Actually, I haven’t got this one on my shelf. Of the “national” titles, I’ve got “Chinese Orange”, “Egyptian Cross”, “Greek Coffin”, “Dutch Shoe”, “Roman Hat”, and “French Powder”- but no “Spanish Cape”. (On the bright side, I’ve got the complete Drury Lane series- but the character struck me as a psycho in the making.) Your review interests me in this book, and I’m urged to go find a copy. But I can hold my urge in. No, honest! Really! *twitch*


  2. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since I read this book, but I recall stumbling across the solution very early on in the story – and shows that Ellery Queen was transitioning from one period into another. It’s one of their most transparently plotted stories and not all what you’d expect from the otherwise brilliant, sometimes exceedingly complex international series. Still, it’s a pretty good and solid enough read and it’s always a treat when they pull out a challenge to the reader. I love ’em! 🙂

    Good review, and I’m eagerly awaiting your other dissections of EQ, particularly of The American Gun Mystery. It’s one of my personal favorites, putting a neat spin on an old trick, and, IMHO, a near classic, but ultimately shoots itself in the foot by offering a ludicrous solution as to how the titular gun could’ve vanished.

    By the way, it’s not just Halfway House that’s, more or less, an unofficial entry into the international series, but also The Door Between – which easily could’ve have had the title The Japanese Scissor Mystery on its cover.


    • THE DOOR BETWEEN for me is the highlight of their ‘second period’ although I think most people prefer THE FOUR OF HEARTS – all greta fun either way – for me there simply aren’t any duff Ellery Queen books from the 30s and 40s.


  3. Interesting – as I recall, I wasn’t particularly impressed with The Door Between. Most of the books that I’ve read, I cannot recall the details at all, although I can remember something crucial about The American Gun Mystery which may colour the review a bit. One thing that I want to try and put my finger on is why I seem to have forgotten these books so much.


  4. A very fine choice for “S.” I’m glad you mentioned the way language is used in that novel. Things certainly do have different connotations now to what they used to do, and modern readers can get some – er – interesting mental pictures if they don’t keep that in mind. You’ve done a solid review here, too – thanks.


  5. I haven’t read this in years, but I remember it with great fondness because it’s the only EQ mystery I ever figured out as I was reading it. Not from the clues in the story, but from the way the beginning was written (I’m avoiding spoilers).


  6. […] Other reviews::‘As I said though, these are niggles, nothing more. This is a fun, gripping read and one that has encouraged me to focus my bibliography – I had said that I wasn’t going to necessarily read the books in order, but with the stylistic changes between the first and ninth books, I think it would be more interesting to go back to the start and do them chronologically.’ (In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel)  […]


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