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Creator / Ellery Queen

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Manfred B. Lee (l) and Fredric Dannay (r)

Half-Way House, By Ellery Queen

I can recommend to the lover of the detective novel (which must not be confused with the mere adventure novel or those of international espionage, inevitably inhabited by sumptuous female spies that fall in love and secret documents) this last book of Ellery Queen. I can say that it meets the first requirements of the genre: statement of all the terms of the problem; economy of characters and resources; primacy of the how over the whom; a solution necessary and wonderful, but not supernatural. (In detective stories, hypnotism, telepathic hallucinations, elixirs of evil operation, witches and warlocks, real magic and recreational physics, are scams.) Ellery Queen plays with the supernatural, as does Chesterton, but in a lawful way: he suggests it to make the mystery bigger in the problem statement, then forgets or denies it in the solution.

In the history of the detective genre (dating from April 1841, the date of the publication of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allan Poe), Ellery Queen novels import a deviation, or a little progress. I refer to his art. The novelist often proposes a vulgar clarification of the mystery, then dazzles his readers with an ingenious solution. Ellery Queen proposes, like all the others, a not so interesting explanation, suggests (at last) a very beautiful solution which the reader falls in love with, then refutes it and discovers a third solution, which is the correct one: always less strange than the second, but entirely unpredictable and satisfying. Other great novels of Ellery Queen: The Egyptian Cross Mystery, the Dutch Shoe Mystery, The Siamese Twin Mystery

Jorge Luis Borges. Revista Hogar, October 30, 1936

Golden age mystery writer, used as both a pen name for two authors, cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee (real names Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky), and as the eponymous character. Queen, the character, is a mystery writer and amateur sleuth, who solves crimes with the aid of his policeman father, Inspector Richard Queen.

For the television series featuring the character, see Ellery Queen.

Books by (and/or) featuring Ellery Queen:


  • The Roman Hat Mystery — 1929
  • The French Powder Mystery — 1930
  • The Dutch Shoe Mystery — 1931
  • The Greek Coffin Mystery — 1932
  • The Egyptian Cross Mystery — 1932
  • The American Gun Mystery — 1933
  • The Siamese Twin Mystery — 1933
  • The Chinese Orange Mystery — 1934
  • The Spanish Cape Mystery — 1935
  • The Lamp of God — 1935
  • Halfway House — 1936
  • The Door Between — 1937
  • The Devil to Pay — 1938
  • The Four of Hearts — 1938
  • The Dragon's Teeth AKA The Virgin Heiresses — 1939
  • Calamity Town — 1942
  • There Was an Old Woman AKA The Quick and the Dead — 1943
  • The Murderer is a Fox — 1945
  • Ten Days' Wonder — 1948
  • Cat of Many Tails — 1949
  • Double, Double — 1950
  • The Origin of Evil — 1951
  • The King is Dead — 1952
  • The Scarlet Letters — 1953
  • The Glass Village —1954 (neither Ellery Queen nor Inspector Queen in book)
  • Inspector Queen's Own Case — 1956 (Inspector Queen only)
  • The Finishing Stroke — 1958
  • The Player on The Other Side — 1963
  • …and on the Eighth Day…— 1964
  • The Fourth Side of The Triangle — 1965
  • A Study in Terror AKA Ellery Queen vs Jack The Ripper — 1966
  • Face to Face — 1967
  • The House of Brass — 1968 (A sequel to Inspector Queen's Own Case with a minimal appearance by Ellery.)
  • Cop Out — 1969 (neither Ellery Queen nor Inspector Queen appear)
  • The Last Woman in His Life — 1970
  • A Fine and Private Place — 1971

Short Story Collections

  • The Adventures of Ellery Queen — 1934
  • The New Adventures of Ellery Queen —1940
  • The Case Book of Ellery Queen — 1945
  • Calendar Of Crime — 1952
  • QBI: Queen's Bureau of Investigation — 1955
  • Queens Full — 1966
  • QED: Queen's Experiments In Detection — 1968
  • The Best Of Ellery Queen — 1985 (includes "Wedding Anniversary", otherwise uncollected, and a complete list of Ellery Queen short stories)
  • The Tragedy Of Errors — 1999 (a previously unpublished synopsis written by Dannay, which was to be a Queen novel, plus all the previously uncollected short stories)
  • The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Mysteries — 2005

As Barnaby Ross

  • The Tragedy Of X — 1932
  • The Tragedy Of Y — 1932
  • The Tragedy Of Z — 1933
  • Drury Lane's Last Case — 1933

Tropes used by Ellery Queen:

  • Asshole Victim: Particularly in the television adaptation, the victims often were involved in underhanded dealings, had some sinister secret or were revealed to treat others by anything other than the Golden Rule.
  • Autopsy Snack Time: Doc Proutie has been known to do this.
  • Barely-There Swimwear: In "The Adventure of the Treasure Hunt" Ellery declines searching some people in bathing suits after a reasonably large item goes missing, stating "you couldn't conceal anything larger than a fly's wing in those costumes."
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: In "No Place to Live", one suspect is found standing over the body holding a pistol. It is later revealed that she picked the gun up because she recognised it as her husband's.
  • The Boxing Episode: "Mind Over Matter" and "A Matter of Seconds".
  • Canon Discontinuity: The first novel The Roman Hat Mystery supposedly describes an event that happened some time in the past, and mentions that Ellery now lives in Italy with his wife and daughter. The wife, daughter and retirement to Italy are never mentioned in any of the subsequent books that establish that Ellery is a bachelor who lives with his father in New York (apart from a brief period of living in Hollywood).
  • Canon Immigrant: Ellery's secretary Nikki Porter was originally created for the radio show, but went on to appear in two of the novels and several short stories.
  • Character Name Alias: In The Origin of Evil, there is a character who calls himself Alfred Wallace. Recognising the connotations of the name (Wallace was a naturalist and contemporary of Darwin who independently proposed a theory of natural selection) is what starts Ellery down the path to the solution of the mystery.
  • Christmas Episode: The Finishing Stroke
  • Cigar Chomper: Sgt. Veelie
  • Clear Their Name: In Calamity Town Ellery tries to help Patricia Wright clear her brother-in-law Jim Haight when he is accused of the attempted poisoning of his wife Nora and the Accidental Murder of his sister Rosemary. Not only does all available evidence work to convict Jim, but he flat out refuses to testify on his own behalf.
  • Comic-Book Time: Ellery goes through numerous changes during his run, but he stays at about the same age from 1929 to 1971. Some books (like The Finishing Stroke) acknowledge the passage of time, and Inspector Queen eventually retires, but Ellery is certainly not in his 60s (or older) by the time of A Fine and Private Place.
  • Connect the Deaths: Averted in Cat of Many Tails; while the deaths are plotted on the map, the pattern is irrelevant.
  • Corruption of a Minor: The Tragedy of Y
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: In The Scarlet Letters, a dying man uses his own blood to write XY on a wall in an extremely cryptic Dying Clue.
  • Cramming the Coffin: In The Greek Coffin Mystery, the Queens search a dead man's man coffin for a missing will, and find two bodies inside instead of one.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: The murderer in The Last Woman is His Life is one. It is the reveal of him being this (and a Depraved Homosexual) and the victim's reaction that drives him to murder.
  • Dead Man's Chest: What appears to have happened to the victim in "The Three Rs" in Calendar of Crime.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The murderer in The Last Woman in His Life. Also a Creepy Crossdresser. Disturbingly for many modern readers, the novel (and the solution to the mystery) hinges heavily on now discredited ideas regarding the nature and causes of homosexuality.
  • Derailing Love Interests: Danay and Lee used this trope in their mystery novels, most blatantly in There Was an Old Woman. In that one, two of the main characters are engaged throughout the whole book, only getting married after Ellery provides a sensible solution. Of course, Ellery interrupts the wedding to reveal that the fiancé was the true mastermind of the whole murder scheme, playing Iago towards the culprit of the previous solution. In a bizarre final-chapter extra twist, the fiancée, now left behind by both lover and family, decides to change her name and become Nikki Porter, the secretary and love interest of Ellery Queen in his spin-off radio show!
  • Direct Line to the Author: In a foreword to The Roman Hat Mystery, the Fictional "J. J. McC." explains that Ellery and Inspector Richard Queen are pseudonyms picked out by the real man who inspired Ellery, and further that the "real" Ellery is married. Subsequent books drop the roman à clef conceit, and Ellery remains a bachelor throughout the series. The reason for the discrepancy is probably that this novel was written for a whodunit contest, and Dannay and Lee rethought some things when they chose to continue the series.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: At one point in The Tragedy of Y, the York family doctor lets amateur detective Drury Lane read the family medical history, specifically all the parts that talk about the positive Wasserman tests. The book never uses the word "syphilis". Not even when Lane gets access to those medical files by proving to the doctor that he already knew the York children had been born with the disease.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Murder, She Wrote
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Ellery sometimes smokes one. It appears to be another of his affectations that comes and goes according to his mood.
  • Driven to Suicide: Howard van Horn in Ten Days' Wonder.
    • Karen Leith in The Door Between.
  • Dying Message: Many, many variations.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the earliest titles, Ellery's origins as a Philo Vance expy are much more apparent; he wears a pince-nez and is prone to Gratuitous French.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Ellery is prone to these. For example, in The Scarlet Letters he is watching some wet paint run in the rain when the meaning the victim's Dying Clue suddenly becomes apparent to him.
  • Faked Kidnapping
  • Finger-Licking Poison:
    • The Three Widows had a victim being slowly poisoned even though everything she ate and drank was carefully screened beforehand. It turned out the would-be killer was her doctor and the poison was on the thermometer with which he took her temperature each day.
    • In "Man Bites Dog" the murder weapon was a pencil dipped in cyanide; the victim had a habit of licking the points of pencils he was writing with.
  • Friend on the Force: Ellery's father, Inspector Richard Queen.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The novels started in this period.
  • Gentleman Detective: Ellery was this is the early novels (being essentially an Expy of Philo Vance), with his late mother having been the daughter of a New York society family. However, as the series went on, his character developed and he lost most of his snobbishness (except on intellectual matters) and developed an interest in some decidedly blue collar pastimes such as boxing and baseball.
  • Going by the Matchbook: In Halfway House, Ellery points out that most matchbooks are far too common for one to be incriminating. Then it turns out that one is, anyway.
  • Hiding Your Heritage: In The Roman Hat Mystery, a blackmailer has been going after several of the novel's characters. One of them was being threatened with this trope; the character in question had a black ancestor (but appeared Caucasian).
  • Iconic Item: Ellery's got pince-nez glasses in the early books. In the TV series he's always wearing or carrying a Bear Bryant fedora.
  • Impostor Forgot One Detail: In The Lamp of God, The false Alice ignores the photograph of the real Alice's mother which the real Alice had made a huge fuss over as it was only the second one she'd ever seen, tipping Ellery off that she's a phony.
  • Informed Flaw: Drury Lane's deafness.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: The Roman Hat Mystery
  • Jury Duty: The radio show had an episode where Ellery and his secretary Nikki both ended up on the same jury, and Ellery ended up solving the case and revealing the true killer who was also in the courtroom.
  • Kangaroo Court: The Glass Village
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Ellery does this with the murderer at the end of Ten Days' Wonder.
  • Let Off by the Detective: In The Finishing Stroke, Ellery is stumped by the murder for a couple of decades. When he does finally solve the case the killer, who was an older man when he committed the murder, is truly elderly and infirm. Since Ellery doesn't want to see him spend the last few years of his life in prison, he keeps his identity secret.
  • Lights Off, Somebody Dies: Happens during a game of Murder in the Dark in the short story "The Dead Cat" in Calendar of Crime. The fact that the murderer was able to commit the crime in a pitch black room is what clues Ellery in to the solution.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Several including The King is Dead.
    • The Chinese Orange Mystery is a locked room mystery with exceedingly weird clues, including the fact that the murder victim is found with his clothes on backwards.
  • Lost Will and Testament: The Greek Coffin Mystery starts when Ellery and his father Inspector Richard Queen are called in to locate the missing will of a wealthy art collector. Ellery narrows down the possible location of the will to a single location: the dead man's coffin. When it is exhumed, however, it contains no will but the surprising addition of a strangled ex-convict.
  • Murder by Mistake: In The Finishing Stroke, the murderer kills the wrong victim because he was an identical triplet of the intended target whom the murderer did not know existed.
  • Murphy's Bed: Not the murder method, but in The French Powder Mystery the body is hidden in a Murphy Bed that was part of a department store window display. When the demonstrator got to "see how easy this is to open?", the corpse popped out.
  • My Greatest Failure: In Ten Days Wonder Ellery concludes that a son killed his stepmother out of twisted resentment of his sainted father. Only after the son's execution does he realize that the father committed the murder and framed his son. In the fallout he resigns from investigative work and in the next novel Cat of Many Tails he only reluctantly comes out of retirement to help stop a Serial Killer.
  • Mystery Magnet: While some of Ellery's cases come to him via his father, it also seems that Ellery cannot travel anywhere without stumbling across a mystery. This even gets lampshaded in the novella "Mum is the Word" when the chief of police comments that Ellery can't visit Wrightsville without a major crime taking place.
  • Mystery Writer Detective: The Trope Maker
  • Never Suicide: In The Greek Coffin Mystery, the second solution involves a "suicide" not meant to convince the reader.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: In There Was an Old Woman, one man challenges his brother to a pistol duel, so friends replace all the bullets with blanks, but somebody else puts bullets back in the gun before the duel.
  • Pass Fail: The "One-Drop Rule" gets blackmailer Monte Field killed in The Roman Hat Mystery.
  • Phantom Thief: Comus in "The Dauphin's Doll" in Calendar of Crime.
  • Ponzi: Used in one of the short stories in the collection QBI - Queen's Bureau of Investigation.
  • Serial Killer: Cat of Many Tails
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target
  • Shed the Family Name: In There Was an Old Woman, Sheila Potts sheds "Potts" because it's tied to her controlling mother and three mad siblings from her mother's first marriage. She takes her father's maiden name of "Brent". At the end of the novel, she further changes her name to "Nikki Porter", becoming Ellery's secretary.
  • Significant Anagram:
    • The Fourth Side of the Triangle / Too Many Suspects: The victim named her clothing lines after her boyfriends.
    • Ten Days' Wonder: Salmonia (Mona Lisa) and H. H. Waye (Yahweh)
    • The Blue Movie Murders: The director used an anagram of his real name.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Ellery breaks up two weddings at that line because one of the parties is a murderer. One of them is Face to Face.
  • Spinning Paper: Used in the TV series.
  • The Summation: A staple of both the novels and the TV series.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: There Was An Old Woman
  • Theme Serial Killer:
    • In Ten Day's Wonder, the theme was :the Ten Commandments.
    • Double, Double used :the children's rhyme Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggarman, Thief.
  • Tontine: Last Man To Die.
    • And "The Inner Circle" in Calendar of Crime.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: In Ten Days' Wonder, Howard Van Horn suffers blackouts. He will wake up days or weeks later with no idea where he is or what he has done in the meantime.