“Dad, have I ever steered you wrong?”
“Thousands of times,” the Inspector replied, “thousands.”
“Sure. There was the time—“
“Never mind,” Ellery said.
The Fourth Side of the Triangle is the second novel by Frederic Danny and Avram Davidson. It is well-paced, but with potholes deep enough to sink a truck. This book combines the hermetically-sealed components of a 1930s Ellery Queen novel with the socially conscious aspects of a 1950s novel. Meanwhile, Ellery has broken both legs in a skiing accident, and is, therefore, quite literally an armchair detective.
So, the plot is full of wholes and predictable. The lengthy descriptions, as usual, are what make the novel enjoyable. For instance, this segment of a yet longer description about the New York heat-wave:
…when those New Yorkers who owned no air conditioners used fans and those who owned no fans slept on kitchen floors before open refrigerators, so that the overloaded circuits blew out, nullifying refrigerators, fans, and air conditioners alike…
And this description of the ubiquitous cricket-less Cricket Club:
Cricket itself no longer occupied the energies of the club, which had been founded in 1803…For who was left for the Metropolitan Cricketeers to play? The puberts of the Riverdale Country School? No British team would stoop to play them; and if the club membership could have brought themselves to step out onto a bowling pitch against the supple West Indian immigrants who still played cricket up in Van Cortlandt Park, the result would have been mayhem…It was a club, like other exclusive clubs, whose principal virtue was exclusivity. And indeed Dane gazed up at his elderly cousin twice removed, Colonel Adolphus Phillipse, who sat seemingly growing out of the floor, in his window, withe the New York Times, doubtless growling over the dangerous radicalism of Senator Barry Goldwater.
Which brings us to the social consciousness aspect of the novel, which, in this case, is the idea that a women can be sexually active yet not interested in marriage. The woman in question, fashion designer Sheila Grey, puts it: “My notion of love doesn’t require marriage to consummate it, that’s all.” Even as recently as 1965, this was a radical notion.
Of course, it is the inability of some people to accept this lifestyle choice that leads to Sheila’s murder.
Davidson does not draw this out much, nor does he dwell on it, but he does subtly allude to it throughout the novel, as one former lover after another is accused and acquitted. Eventually, the real culprit confesses, and the novel ends. In a rare turn of events, Ellery turns the culprit over to the proper authorities, but at least does it off-stage. The actual arrest is left entirely to the reader’s imagination.
Have you seen the Jim Hutton pilot to the Ellery Queen series. It was based on this. It was called “Too many suspects” This is one time when television did better than the books regarding translation of a mystery plot. The book violates fair play. Is it not also the only one other one that ends with somebody getting the right solution? Doesn’t Ten Days Wonder also do this?
No, in “Ten Days Wonder” Ellery does come up with the right solution — after, that is, someone has died who need not have. Here, he is just plain wrong. Which disturbs me on a lot of levels. The TV pilot actually improved on this.
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This mystery is awful the whole situation of the family involved is cringey in the extreme. The culprit’s actions and reactions and motives are as idiotic as they are disturbing.