Ellery is playing messenger. He needs to bring a ledger from New York to Washington, D.C., by train. His essential kidnappers strip search him on the ride, to no avail.
As I read the story, it struck me how even a few years later the police would not have relied on the safe passage of a courier, whose “life expectancy dwindled to the vanishing point,” to deliver the one copy of an important document. By the 1960s, they could have photocopied the document. Today, they could have scanned and e-mailed the document directly to FBI headquarters. Reading this story, it struck me how antiquated this story was, or at least the technology of the time.
Surprise, surprise! It turns out that this is a story about technology. The drug dealers are searching for a book, when they should have been looking for microfilm, the micro storage device of the day.
Also surprising is Ellery’s attitude to the drug dealing kingpin, who made money off of “the spreading epidemic of dope-addiction which was plaguing the forty-eight states,” a “genius of withered soul, with immense power, resources, and connections, who had raised vicious crime almost to the level of respectable big business.” In the novels written around this time, Ellery has had enough sympathy for the murderers to not make their identities public. Here, he expresses nothing but distain, disgust, and, yes, even disapproval for the drug dealers.
Interestingly, this story from 60 years ago may seem as relevant today as then, but it is actually 70 years old, originally appearing on the radio in 1942 as “The Yellow Ledger.”