Once again, Ellery has a fun romp out of the city, this time at a militarized private estate on the Hudson River. A string of pearls have gone missing, and Ellery concocts a group treasure hunt to find them and to capture the thief. It works, and everyone has a jolly time.
A Treasure Hunt is the game where a person creates clues which are hidden around a location. Each clue leads to the next clue, and eventually to the final “treasure,” whatever it may be. Think of it as an early version of Dungeons and Dragons or even of geocaching.
This is a rare early example of a Queen story where the characterizations are more detailed, and even more interesting and important, than the actual mystery\, which is rather thin. The cousins even have some interesting insights into their characters. The retired military man, strutting around like a peacock in his hermetically controlled world, changes physically after the theft. “There was nothing martial in Major-General Barrett’s bearing now: he was simply a fat old man with sagging shoulders.” The other characters, in their turn, show themselves to be more than mere suspects. At one point . for instance, Ellery declares, “This game puts a premium on brains.” One person quickly retorts, “’That, said Mrs. Nixon ruefully,” lets me out.” Not great characterization, but certainly a step better than what has gone before.
The sad state of wealth also rears its head. There is no need to call the police and have the thief arrested, because “ ‘He’s punished enough,’ said Leonie gently. ‘Almost as much as if we’d turned him over to the police instead of sending him packing. He’s through socially…’”
The man is spared jail because he won’t new invited to the right parties anymore. The horror, the horror. Talk about false equivalencies: social exile “almost” as bad as splitting rocks in a chain gang for five to ten years. Some of these characters need to get off their estates every so often.
So, no, not a great short story, but that’s okay. The next novel, Halfway House, I remember as one of their best.