Hot on the heels of Halfway House came The Door Between. Both titles denote transitions, and perhaps the cousins were signaling changes in Ellery Queen. Like “The Hollow Dragon,” a short story published the same month, The Door Between features Japanese culture transplanted to New York, a writer’s past thought to have been left in Japan long ago comes back to murder her. The mystery asks, What is that Old World past, and why, as the world marched toward war, did it have effects on the New World?
The progression of better written novels certainly moved forward. The cousins became more removed as narrators, and able to turn phrases on a dime. For instance, describing the victim, “Karen Leith was what she was, everyone agreed; and what she was nobody knew…”
Later, writing about Inspector Queen: “The old man disliked people behind him; he specially disliked people who mounted creaky stairs without the least noise.” And really, who can blame him?
The cousins continued to insert humorous repartee:
“By the way, must you wear those atrocious shirts?…It seems to me that
recently you’ve taken to sporting an almost male-bird coloration. It’s September,
man, not spring!”
“You go to hell,” said Tony, flushing.
“You’ve made the wrong movie star your idol.”
The obvious racism in the novels of a few years earlier is by now tempered. At one point, for instance, Ellery expresses his views in a thoroughly racist rant. Another character, Terry, breaks in and asks, “How do you get away with that kind of stuff?” Ellery begins his response with, “Don’t be funny,” and continues merrily along. Terry’s seed, however, had been sown; Ellery’s theories based on racist views bore no fruit.
Later, when Ellery and Terry (with Eva) enter a Chinese restaurant, Ellery, obviously uncomfortable with the surroundings, interrupts Terry: “Shut up,” said Ellery irritably. “What on earth do you eat in a place like this?” Certainly not the pigs knuckles which Ellery thoroughly enjoyed in Halfway House.
The Ellery of the earlier novels was rarely seen outside of the murder scene, or of his apartment. Here, he seems to be seeing the world for the first time, and not really liking what he finds.
Another seeming change comes after the revelation of the culprit’s identity:
“And finally Dr. McClure said; ‘I’ve been trying to think of what your father would say if he’d been present here tonight.’ He smiled, shrugging, ‘Would he believe such a story? i wonder. For what proof exists? None at all.”
‘Nevertheless,’ said the doctor, ‘Our courts and our code of judiciary ethics perhaps unfortunately operate on a more tangible basis.
‘That,’ admitted Ellery, “is true.’”
Whether dealing with questions of ethics or ethnic food, Ellery is no longer omniscient. The question comes up, though: through these transformations, will Ellery Queen the writer, or Ellery Queen the character, be more likable than the other?