Two old houses, one white, one black, stand face to face in the middle of nowhere. Ellery Queen finds himself staying with in the white house, finding himself involved in a treasure hunt. But things take a sinister twist, when, once everyone is stranded in the locale due to a snowstorm, they wake up to find the black house has vanished without trace…
This and eight other stories of murder and theft make up the New Adventures of Ellery Queen, the second main collection of short stories from Fred Dannay and Manfred Lee. I have very fond memories of these when I first read them – but have they stood the test of time?
Wow. And that’s not a good wow. How the memory cheats…
The problem with these stories – with all of these stories – is the level of unreality that the writers inject into them. Everyone seems to be an exaggeration of a real person, rather than a real person, which I suppose is a reflection of the plots which generally don’t seem particularly grounded in reality either.
Let’s take a look at The Lamp Of God, the story of the disappearing house which kicks off the collection, a 100 page novella, compared to the remainder of the short stories. The central idea of the disappearing house only works one way practically – a way that is heavily hinted at in the blurb on the back – and justifying the creation of that situation requires levels of eccentricity that beggar belief. There’s an additional twist to the tale which helps distract from the nonsense, but one that does make the reader question Ellery’s powers of observation… All in all, it’s an atmospheric tale, but undermined by the logic in the characters’ actions.
And that goes for a lot of the other tales. The House of Darkness is probably the highlight, concerning a murder in pitch darkness, but overall, this isn’t a particularly inspiring collection of mysteries – the final four were written later than the others, featuring the Paula Paris character from the EQ Hollywood stories, but unfortunately centre around various sports, which doesn’t really interest me much.
So, can’t really recommend these. The Lamp Of God is fine, but even that’s not great… overall, a bit of a disappointment.
This collection is an excellent way to see EQ’s transition from Period 1 to Period 2.
The first three stories – at least chronologically, I think they may be jumbled in the print edition – are firmly in Period 1 and are generally enjoyable for someone who enjoys that period. Then, over “The Hollow Dragon” and “Bleeding Portrait” the transition into Period 2 is being made, and as you say, the final four stories are firmly ensconced in the later period.
I enjoy parts of the sports stories, but they are overall much slighter than what comes before in this collection, which makes for a somewhat disjointed reading.
And “The Bleeding Portrait” is the worst Ellery Queen short story, hands down. Completely pointless.
It has been about 40 years since I read this. I remember liking the collection considerably less than the first Adventures. Christian’s comment might explain why. I have generally found rereading EQ such a shock that I no longer recommend him to people. And I used to do that all the time!
So despite having a lovely 1940s paperback I think I will skip rereading this one …
Interesting topic for a blog post (I might do one): who holds up to a rereading and who does not.