John's Reviews > A Fine And Private Place

A Fine And Private Place by Ellery Queen
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Jun 29, 2017

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I hadn't realized this as I was reading it (in reality, rereading it after a period of decades) but this was not only the last "proper" Ellery Queen novel -- i.e., with its authors being Dannay and Lee -- but also the last novel to feature the fictional detective Ellery Queen. To be honest, it'd be hard to claim that the Queens went out in glory -- although at least this is not so much a step as a whole flight of stairs above the previous year's abysmal The Last Woman in His Life; I see I was rather kinder than I should have been when I talked about the latter here.

When global plutocrat Nino Importuna is brutally murdered on the day that's not just his (official) birthday but also the (real) fifth anniversary of his wedding to the far younger and totally dreamboat Virginia Whyte, the obvious suspects are Virginia and her supposedly secret boyfriend Peter Ennis, Nino's private secretary. But Ellery Queen is not so sure, especially when he perceives how the case is covered in references to the number nine -- nine having always been the dead man's supposed lucky number because he'd been born with two of his fingers fused together. The connection seems ever-stronger as a stream of nine-related communications arrive on Inspector Queen's desk. Can Ellery -- or anyone else? -- sort it all out?

All the old EQ love of language -- of wallowing in language -- is here, so in that respect reading the novel was a complete delight. And Lee's ability to pinpoint character in a matter of a few words is evident, too: even the minor characters were very clear in my mind.

Where the novel fell down was in its plotting. Essentially this is a tale of red herrings, and the distraction of Ellery thereby: he believes that the solution to the murder lies in identifying and eliminating all the false clues to focus on the real one. The trouble is that the tale itself follows the same rules: as soon as you, the reader, realize you should follow Ellery's example -- i.e., step back and ignore the flimflam -- everything becomes pretty obvious . . . a lot more obvious than it is to the supposed superdetective Ellery!

At a guess, at least seven out of ten Golden Age detective novels were not as good as this one and certainly, as noted, the prose is a joy to read, so possibly I'm being a bit cruel in dismissing A Fine And Private Place as a bit mediocre.

On the other hand . . . well, Calamity Town.
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June 29, 2017 – Shelved
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