Everything about this novel is predictable. Of course more than one person is murdered, of course the young wife and the young secretary fall in love, any conscious reader knows who the murderer is before the first death even occurs, and, of course, Ellery solves the mystery. Everything about this mystery is predictable, yet the writing style is so well-developed that there reader doesn’t really care.
Danny and Lee had been writing together for forty-two years, and they had written quite a few good novels, short stories, and radio shows. They knew how to recycle mystery cliches and make them shine. A Fine and Private Place, their last finished novel, shows that clearly.
By 1971, though, the cousins may have been feeling old. The turmoil of the baby boomers coming-of-age cast anyone over 30 years old as uncool, unfit, untrustworthy, and Ellery Queen, hero of the Jazz Age, radio, comic books, film and television was certainly over 30. The EQ tropes were ancient, and the cousins were still self-aware enough to realize it and even mock it:
“A button and a footprint,: Ellery said, marveling. “In the year 1967! Well, I suppose anything’s possible. A time warp, or something…”
The attempt to frame someone for the first murder is painfully obvious as a frame, hence the button and footprint.
Another, less often remarked upon aspect of the Ellery Queen novels is the frequent mentioning of awful foods. A Fine and Private Place is no exception. Here, medical examiner Doc Prouty is discovered in the morgue eating a peanut butter and tuna sandwich. Ellery’s disgust isn’t with the sandwich, rather the ambience of the dining establishment.
Surprisingly, for when it was published, this is one of the cousins least overtly political novels. The space which politics would have taken is filled with the third victim’s obsession with the number 9. He legally changed his name for numerology, as well as the street address for his home, his birth date, whether or not books in his study were shelved upside down or not, and on and on. The cousins were obviously enjoying finding more and more ways of obsessing over the number 9. Perhaps they had listened to side four of the White Album a little too much.
So, this was the end. What began in 1929 ended with this novel, and yet there was still more to come. The Ellery Empire , Queen’s Kingdom, was not quite dead.
The culprit would have been ingenious had they not been the only suspect left by book’s end. The writing was excellent, especially the cat-and-mouse by mail, which could be wonderfully repurposed in any modern adaptation making use of social media.
Pingback: A Fine and Private Place (Ellery Queen) – The Grandest Game in the World