The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen

Buck Horne, Wild West superstar of the silver screen, is making a comeback at a rodeo event in New York. As he rides out into the arena, a shot rings out and he falls from his horse, dead. Seems straightforward enough, as there were forty cowboys galloping towards him with guns at the time – except he’s been shot by a .25 caliber bullet, and despite the stadium being searched from top to bottom, no such gun can be found.

The sixth Ellery Queen novel is, in some ways, the most interesting of “The Something Something Mystery” subseries – but unfortunately not for the right reasons…

You may be wondering why there has been a break in the Ellery Queen bibliography – well, apart from finding a number of new authors to obsess over, there’s a couple of what I consider significant problems with this book that have delayed me picking it up. The first is partly my own making, as I’ve read it before, years ago, but can remember the plot in detail. And the plot is stupid. Really, really stupid.

This is, of course, a spoiler free blog, so it is rather difficult to state the problems without giving the game away. It seems to me that Dannay and Lee misunderstood a certain aspect of Hollywood films and this misunderstanding makes the whole plot into a complete pile of nonsense. I mentioned in my review of The Headless Lady that you shouldn’t have to page reference your solution (as in “I mentioned on p123 that the murderer spoke French”) but the first two clues here could really do with such an indicator as I didn’t remember any significant discussion of the facts. On the other hand the mystery of the angle of the bullet is so obvious that you wonder why Inspector Queen doesn’t retire on the spot for not realising where the assassin was. And I know it’s a standard complaint for a Queen novel, but given that Ellery has solved everything bar where the gun went, he really should have told his Dad, rather than inadvertently letting someone else be murdered.

Hope that didn’t give too much away. There’s another issue here as well – the early Queen novels are fairly verbose, but this one goes to extremes. Some of the descriptive passages are incredibly overblown and how one character talks – the reporter – has to be read to be believed! It seems to be an unfortunate step-up from the previous books and it does make parts of the book (like chapter one) very hard to get through for a tiny brain like me. The pacing is off too – when you read books where the impossibility of a situation is summed up in a couple of lines, you find the fifty-plus pages spent looking for the gun fairly tedious, especially when you can guess the outcome.

Anyway, it’s made me look more favourably on The Egyptian Cross Mystery – this is by far the weakest book so far, both in plot and in writing style. Luckily The Siamese Twin Mystery and The Chinese Orange Mystery are coming next – and if I remember correctly, the standard is set to rise dramatically again.


Out of print, so go to the second hand shops – but don’t make it your first Queen, or you might not come back…


  1. I think I have to go back and revisit this novel, because I remember it being an excellent story – except for the mind numbing method in which the murderer spirited away the gun.


  2. Like you, it’s the central daft error that Queen makes about how films are made that I tend to remember about this book and which pretty much spoiled it for me way back wehn too. SIAMESE is a corker however!


    • Jim, I presume you’re referring to my attempt in a comment to explain my central issue with the book in unsubtle hints. My sincerest apologies if I’ve spoiled the book for you. I’ve gone back and deleted the comment in question for damage limitation.


  3. Just finished this tonight. Somewhat overwritten, but I could put up with that. The final expository chapter just blew my mind…not in a good way. What do you think about the Nobel prize for literature? Bad, bad, bad.


    • There are a couple of other books that use the same basic central idea – the one that makes no sense at all. Even Dame Agatha had a go in… better not name it, for fear of spoilers, and she couldn’t make it work either. Certainly the worst of The Something Something Mystery books but there’s a couple of stinkers further down the canon as well.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to An Ellery Queen Bibliography, or, A Challenge To This Reader | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.