“They found (in the safe containing the cashbox; the other had guarded the aged IOUs and the box of fourth-rate pearls) several booklets of Masonic ritual in code, which produced excitement that died a horrible death when the Inspector decoded them and stated that they were Masonic rituals in code.”
Some of these last novel’s in the Queen’s empire seem to pair up, or at least, connect with, each other. The Player on the Other Side and Face to Face were mirror images of each other, and The House of Brass is the sequel to Inspector Queen’s Own Case. Although it came out in 1968, it was probably plotted much earlier by Frederic Danny and written by Avram Davidson, perhaps in 1966.
Jessie Sherwood and Richard Queen met in Inspector Queen’s Own Case, and are now freshly married. Either this was a twelve year courtship, or this book was intended for publication in 1957, before Manfred Lee’s famous decade long writer’s block. Regardless, Ellery is off gallivanting in Turkey, and the elder queens receive an invitation to a mysterious gathering in upstate New York. Cue the strangers arriving at the old mansion, the bizarre butler, the eccentric, obviously soon-to-be-murdered host, the odd will, the greed, the false accusation. Surprisingly, there is no dying clue, just a hint that the old man had millions of dollars of treasure hidden somewhere in the house, and so, the search is afoot.
The highlights of the book are the revelations about the whereabouts of the treasure, and how it got there. Especially the part of how it got there. That part is worth the price of admission, and is one of the finest details in the Queen canon.
Davidson is certainly coming into his own as a writer with The House of Brass, and gives the tale some interesting features. For instance, Richard, just back from the honeymoon, asks Jessie, “What are we going to do with Ellery?” Jessie says Ellery will continue will continue living in the apartment, “You haven’t lost a son, you’re gained a wife,” Jessie explains.
The changing shapes of Time has always tickled my fancy, and there are a couple of points Davidson makes that I found amusing.
“Being an old fashioned man, he was taking an old-fashioned route, the Saw Mill River Parkway to the Tappan Zee Bridge. There was probably a shinier way to go, but the old Saw Mill had served him lo these many years, and by God it would serve him now.”
The Saw Mill Parkway was built between 1929 and 1955. Its cousin, the Taconic Parkway, was built between 1925 and 1963, so “old-fashioned” meant driving on a 35 or 11 year old road instead of Interstate 87, built from 1957 – 1971. When I drive in that area, I prefer the Taconic Parkway. If Richard Queen was “old-fashioned” for driving a road completed 13 years before, as opposed to a “shinier” road still under construction, what does that make me for preferring the now even older drive?
On a similar note, he later talks of ancient musical recordings dating back to the teens and twenties, played on a hand-cranked (non-electric) Victrola. When you consider that rural electrification was only 20 years old at the time, you have to wonder at Davidson’s temporal perspective.
Perhaps these books themselves are truly ancient. They are, after all, printed on actual paper.