ELLERY QUEEN – Ten Days’ Wonder. Little Brown & Co., hardcover, 1948. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover & paperback. Film: La décade prodigieuse; French, 1971. Released in the US as Ten Days’ Wonder. Anthony Perkins, Michel Piccoli, Marlène Jobert, Orson Welles. Director: Claude Chabrol.

   I tried Ellery Queen back in High School and quickly tired of him/them because it wasn’t Raymond Chandler. But when someone hereabouts recommended Queen’s 1948 mystery Ten Days’ Wonder, I decided to give it a look.

   Well, Queen-as-author doesn’t exactly sparkle, and Queen-as-character never really comes alive on the page, but I found Wonder a pretty well crafted thing: something about a friend of Queen’s with a god-like father, sexy young step-mom, desire-under-the-elms, blackmail, blackouts and criminous suspicions.

   Given that Queen’s friend/suspect is a sculptor, the overall pattern of the thing (and hence the killer) is pretty transparent, but — given that pattern and the morality it references — there’s something sort of subversive in the way Queen-the-character keeps morphing: from sleuth to accomplice, from celebrity to pariah, then back to celebrity, all without himself changing.

   And there’s an odd sub-text flirting with the nature [**WARNING**] of a God who imputes our fall to sin. Lenny Bruce put it more succinctly when he observed that if man is sinful, the fault lies with the manufacturer, and Fredric Brown put it more sharply with the God-as-comic-punster ending of The Screaming Mimi, but Queen’s handling of the notion has its merits.   [**END OF WARNING**]

   In 1972 Claude Chabrol did a pretty faithful movie version of Ten Days’ Wonder; Michel Piccoli plays a suitably colorless detective (here a philosopher, but for the French it’s pretty much the same thing); Anthony Perkins is neatly cast as the unstable sculptor; Marlène Jobert the cute step-mom; and Orson Welles, in the fakiest fake nose of his career, simply perfect as God-the-Father.

   Like most Chabrol films, it’s thoughtful rather than gripping, definitely watchable, but damn! that schnozz they stuck on Orson; I’ve seen better noses on a pair of Groucho glasses.