The Dragon’s Teeth aka The Virgin Heiresses by Ellery Queen

The Virgin HeiressesI’ve had a few threads going on my blog – Original Sins, Medieval Miscreants, a Henry Merrivale bibliography, Sherlockian Shorts all of which start off as grand ideas and then fizzle into occasional visits. (Don’t mention the Mystery Tour of the USA – that didn’t get very far!) But the most shamefully neglected is the Ellery Queen bibliography. Oddly abandoned just as I got to some of the books that I’d yet to read, the last entry, The Four of Hearts, was over nine months ago. Just as I got a mention, citing this bibliography in particular in the Blog Bytes section of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

There is something resembling a rationale this time for the break – I bought a copy of The Dragon’s Teeth and promptly lost it. After waiting an age for it to turn up, I bought a copy of the book under its alternate title, only for the original to materialise (in a very silly place) when I was packing for the recent move. The reason you’re looking at the alternate title to the left? I’ve lost the original again!

So, what to expect from The Dragon’s Teeth? Ellery as an official private eye! A second Ellery Queen! Romance! Murder! Strange clauses in wills! A burst appendix! Mysterious millionaire recluses dying at sea! Chewed pencils! This one has it all!

OK, to try and summarise this a little more clearer. Ellery is asked by his chum Beau Rummell (honest – it’s a weird joke, but somehow works) to be the figurehead of a detective agency. But when approached by millionaire Cadmus Cole to investigate… something in the future – that’s not me being spoiler-free, Cole himself won’t admit what’s happening, Rummell for plot reasons has to pretend to be Ellery. Cole promptly dies mysteriously at sea leaving a will setting up his two grand-daughters for life – provided they live in the same house (they hate each other on sight) and never get married (Rummell promptly falls in love with one of them). And it would seem that living in sin isn’t an option. It’s love or money! Oh, and if one of the women dies – take a look at the cover to see if that might happen – then the other gets her money too.

Clearly Cadmus Cole had a bit too much time on his hands when writing his will…

This is another episodic novel, presumably published in a magazine as the previous books were. Ellery takes something of a back seat at times to Beau but the really Mr Queen is never far from the action. It’s a really fun read, to be honest, with the romance plot feeling part of the narrative rather than being tacked on as in some of the others in the series. There are a couple of problems – notably Beau making some bizarre choices in trying to protect his lady love (and by the way, was “funny face” really a term of affection in 1939?) and one other character who’s convoluted antics serve to cloud the plot. While the murderer can be deduced logically, this character’s behaviour is pretty bizarre and just gets in the way. Not the most subtle way to misdirect the reader.

Oh, and the choice of murderer, while logical, seemed a little dull to me. There seemed to be a couple of more interesting candidates in the story… I guess the misdirection was supposed to be the “clever” bit.

So, I’m kicking myself now for leaving this book so long to read. I do promise that the next book, Calamity Town will arrive before the next nine months have passed. If I can find which box I packed it in. In the meantime, this one is Recommended.


  1. Really enjoyed this review (and my goodness Steve, truly “the adventure of the missing novel”). TEETH is definitely a fun read and was clearly aimed at publication in slick magazines before coming out between hard covers. CALAMITY TOWN, published three years later, is a very different kind of book, much more substantial and ‘Queenian’ – and our first introduction to Wrightsville too – can’t wit to see what you make of it.


      • Having only unpacked my last box last weekend and with huge piled of books and DVD s everywhere I look, you have all my sympathy – hope you find it soon. Not quite as bonkers as your face THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN and notably sober and reflective after America’s entry into war.


  2. “(and by the way, was “funny face” really a term of affection in 1939?)”

    Apparently so. Listen to ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’, which came out about then.

    Thanks for the review — I have this on my ereader and will move it up the list of things to be read.



  3. This was the first Queen novel I read (followed by “Calamity Town,” which is very different, as noted). I found it quite enjoyable. Great opening line: “Meet Beau Rummell.” You are right, it somehow works as a hook!


    • It’s a shame that the end of the mystery doesn’t live up to the enjoyment of the rest of the book but it’s very readable which helps a lot. Currently struggling through a much less fun Golden Age novel and it’s making me appreciate the light tone and readability of this one even more.


  4. Glad to hear you liked this one. I have not read an Ellery Queen book in ages and need to remedy that. This is a very good review.

    I am doing a mystery tour of the US (as is my husband) but very leisurely, just when we run into a book from a state we haven’t read about yet. Too bad so many mysteries set in the US are set in either California, New York or Florida.


  5. By the way, “Funny Face” was a hit Broadway musical from about 1927 by the Gershwins with the title song performed by the star, Fred Astaire. So it indeed would be a common phrase a decade later.


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