William F. Deeck

ELLERY QUEEN – The Scarlet Letters. Little Brown, US, hardcover ,1953; Gollancz, UK, hc, 1953. Included in the omnibus volume The New York Murders, Little Brown, US, no date [1958]. Paperback reprints include Pocket Books #1049, 1955; Signet Q5362, 1973, with many later printings from each publisher.

ELLERY QUEEN The Scarlet Letters

   Dirk Lawrence, not too successful mystery writer and even less successful “serious” writer, and his rich wife, Martha, have a perfect marriage. Perfect, that is, until Dirk begins to suspect that his wife is cuckolding him and becomes drunken and violent.

   Nikki Porter, Ellery Queen’s secretary, is a friend of Martha’s. Despite his quite correct protests that he is no good at such things, she gets Queen involved in the domestic discord.

   Queen does a lot of running around and very little deducing. As a private-eye type, he’s futile, and he admits it. Private eyes “tail” people; Queen “trails” them.

   It is evident to anyone with the meanest intelligence — which this reader possesses on a good day — what the outcome of this case will be. So with vast anticipation the reader waits for Ellery Queen the author’s twist, the final surprise, the revelation that nothing is what it seems. Most surprisingly, the shock is that everything is indeed exactly what it seems.

ELLERY QUEEN The Scarlet Letters

   Those who have knowledge of the Queen saga may recall an earlier novel in which Biff Barnes or Barnes Biff or Beau Rummell or someone with a name like that, a partner with Queen in an investigative agency, pretended he was Ellery Queen.

   That, I believe, is what happened here, without Ellery Queen the author bothering to reveal it. Good lord, even Sergeant Velie could have figured out the dying message the moment it was written, yet this Ellery Queen dithers about it for days.

   Nonetheless, despite the obviousness of the plot and Queen the detective’s dimwittedness, there’s an engrossing novel here.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer 1988.