Fri 25 May 2012
ELLERY QUEEN – Calamity Town. Little Brown, hardcover, 1942. Pocket 283, paperback, 1945. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft.
When I first started reading Mysteries, back in the mid-60s, I pretty much devoured the earlier titles of the acknowledged “masters” of the Classic Detective Story (except for Erle Stanley Gardner, whom I ignored until the late 70s) so I probably first read this about a quarter-century ago. I turned to it again, just recently, because it was the only Ellery Queen selected by H. R. F. Keating in his 100 Best Books of Crime and Mystery.
Ellery “Smith” comes to the New England town of Wrightsville to work on his new novel, and stays — due to Wartime housing shortages — in a house built by Mr. Wright for his daughter Nora, when she was going to be married … only just before the Wedding, her fiance, one Jim Haight, disappeared.
Shortly after Ellery takes up residence, however, the missing Haight returns, and it isn’t long before he and Nora are re-betrothed and then married. Ellery gives up the house, but as he and Nora’s sister are moving some of Jim’s things in, they discover three letters, dated for the forthcoming Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, in which he describes Nora’s illness and death.
Sure enough, on Thanksgiving and Christmas Nora is ill, but come New Year’s Day, it’s someone completely else who buys the farm, a victim of Arsenic poisoning.
Hard to say whether I figured out the solution of this one or just remembered it from my Salad Days, since the idea has been used since. The characters are credible, if not terribly deep, and the prose serviceable. Not as memorable as the three Queen novels on my list, but pretty good nonetheless.
Editorial Comment: The top image is that of the hardcover First Edition. The lower one is one of the later Pocket reprints. I chose it because of the rare split-screen effect, one that I don’t believe was used very often by paperback publishers, then or now.