The Dutch Shoe Mystery (1931) by Ellery Queen

Abigail Doorn lies on a trolley in the Dutch Memorial Hospital, waiting to be anaesthetised. A highly recognisable doctor, due to his mannerisms and his limp, yet wearing a full facemask and head covering, appears to check up on her and leave, only for the nurse to find Mrs Doorn has been strangled on the trolley. Why would someone impersonate Dr Janney in order to commit the crime? Luckily Ellery Queen was on site when it happened.

The third Ellery Queen novel, The Dutch Shoe Mystery shows similarities with its predecessors but begins to make Ellery the clear protagonist in the story, relegating his supporting cast to the sidelines. We begin to see a little more into his thinking and the character benefits from this. How odd that given such character development, however slight, this novel is set before The Roman Hat Mystery and The French Powder Mystery, although goodness knows why this information (appearing in a foot-note) is important, as it seemed completely unimportant to me. Did I miss something? Anyway, we see for the first time some frustration on Ellery’s part as the solution seems to be eluding him and this attempt to humanise him a bit extends the novel beyond the basic puzzle of the earlier/later two books.

Again, it’s a fairplay mystery, but, for the first time, something actual happens between the beginning and the end – a second murder. Yippee!! And while the set-up has echoes of other books by other authors, notably Lord Edgware Dies aka Thirteen At Dinner by Agatha Christie, the possibly-expected solution is not the case – that’s not really a spoiler, as this is established beyond reasonable doubt halfway through the book. Some of you know what I’m talking about, those who don’t, please don’t think about it too hard. The trend that I mentioned about the overlooked suspect continues here, but, as with the earlier books, there are many people who are potentially overlookable, so this doesn’t really help the armchair sleuth.

So, another well put together exercise in logic, with added character thrown in. Just don’t think too carefully about the fact that one character clearly must know who the murderer is and I’m pretty sure a bunch of New York cops from the 1930’s could have got the info out of him before the second murder.

Oh, no obvious dated phrases that I noticed this time, but there is one cracking Dutch accent – “Abigail was a funny womans – a wery funny womans”. How come no-one writes accents phonetically any more? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way).


  1. Fascinating to see how the series is developing, especially the character of Ellery and the strategies of deception especially the classic use of the ‘Birlstone gambit’ from VALLEY OF FEAR – thanks very much for doing these chronologically – it’ll be a great reference source when it’s done mate. Can’t wait to see if your considered opinion of the Kalkis affair as it’s one of my favourites.


  2. Like most of Ellery Queen’s novels, I read this one back when my fandom was still in its primordial days and I remember enjoying this book, but there were some fair-play issues concerning the motive. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but something was withheld from the reader that made it impossible to confirm your deductions because you can’t pin a motive on the guilty party.

    Good book, though, showing the series progressing and I’m looking forward to your other reviews. I might do another Ellery Queen review myself in the upcoming weeks/months – Inspector Queen’s Own Case has been lingering on my pile of unread books for far too long.


  3. Spot on about the motive, but that’s common of all the first three books – the facts point to only one possible killer, but the motive is barely given a second thought. I suppose in The French Powder Mystery and The Roman Hat Mystery, the basic motive is established about 2/3 through the book, but tying it to anyone in particular is impossible. In this case, if a certain fact was revealed, or even hinted at, i.e that A CERTAIN PERSON had a CERTAIN THING, it would probably cast too much suspicion on the killer, given that the CERTAIN PERSON clearly isn’t the murderer but must be involved. I’ll keep a close eye on the motive for the next review and see if more thought is given to it.


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