Once more to Wrightsville, to a mansion owned by a man obsessed with mums. Godfrey Mumford is an expert on chrysanthemums. He also has three children with eyes on their inheritance, most of which is kept in a hidden, custom-made safe. No surprise, then, that after he is killed, his last dying message is “MUM.”
This is a novella, which means Ellery takes a while to solve the mystery while we get to know the characters a little bit. But that is not the interesting part of the story. Manfred Lee had been suffering from writer’s block for a number of years, and seems to be emerging from it, finally, here. I wonder if part of the reason for the block was his realization that Ellery Queen stories had become rather repetitive, with nothing new to say. Twice in this tale, characters comment on this. The Wrightsville Police Chief exclaims, “Damn it, Ellery, every time you come to Wrightsville a major crime is committed,” in a rare sense of self-consciousness for a fictional character. In the same sort of self-consciousness, Ellery later reflects, “What quality in Wrightsville is this, he thought, that it must cast in every murder melodrama at least one ingenue with a special talent for touching the heart?” Not just in Wrightsville, Ellery: you fall for and then forget a femme fatale in every story!
Turns out, the decade-long dearth of good Ellery Queen stories is coming to an end.