tragedy-of-errors-dustjacketSeventy years after the publication of The Roman Hat Mystery, the two men who created Ellery Queen were dead, but one last manuscript was left unpublished. The Tragedy of Errors was outlined by Fred Danny, and sent to Manny Lee to expand into a novel shortly before he died. Apparently, Danny could not conceive of anyone else writing the novel, so the outline remained unpublished until 1999.

The outline shows the usual Queen traits, most notably references to Shakespeare. Ellery is in Hollywood to work on a modernization of Othello, and becomes involved in a case with a character who lives secluded in a castle named Elsinore, reminiscent of Drury Lane’s estate, The Hamlet. The Tragedy of Errors would have been a typical Queen story: wealthy and eccentric characters are introduced, murders happen, suspects are found not entirely guilty, until Ellery finally uncovers the true murderer, in this case a true Iago, complete with odd compulsions, motives and philosophies which led to their crimes.
The philosophical reasons for the murder are presented in the outline, but they remain fairly obscure. Obviously, Lee’s job was to take these obscure gems and make them shine, to show, in this case, just how an insane world makes an insane act seem sane.

There is one part of the novel that is sheer genius. The will of the victim is made out to “the person who murdered me.”  So, the murderer confesses, generates false exonerating evidence, and plans to collect the inheritance, knowing that he cannot be tried twice for the same crime. He is oh, so triumphant for about five seconds until he learns that the law does not quite work that way, a tragic error he has made. I loved that part!

There is at least one borrowed item: the main character’s name is Morna Rictragedy-of-errors-facsimilehmond, an aging star of the silent screen, nearly exactly the same as Norma Desmond, the leading character in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard. Morna, and the others in the book, have come to the creative ends of their lives. Morna, unable to adapt to a world where films have sound, retreats into her mansion, unchanging, living in the past. Same with the actor Buck, who lives off a trust fund, going on occasional drunken benders, and doing nothing else with his life.

This outline shows that the only thing that kept Lee and Danny from writing more novels Lee’s death. Oh, the novels we may have enjoyed if he had lived, how we can all grow, change and continue creating as long as we breathe.

3 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Errors (1999)

  1. Finally purchased this, and enjoyed it tremendously. Lee might well have had his work cut out for him to make this novel not only fly but avoid comparisons, as you mention, to “Sunset Boulevard”; but if anyone could have done it, he could. I wonder why someone like Edward D. Hoch or Francis Nevins hasn’t turned it into a “new” Ellery? Is it that the estate still holds the rights and won’t release them?

    I’ve read all the EQ shorts included here except for “Reindeer Clue” — and “Terror Town,” though I have watched that “Alfred Hitchcock” episode twice, decades apart, and found it very entertaining.

    The essays and tributes are grand as well. It’s neat to read, as one essayist tells us, that the Japanese love EQ and the grand old puzzle story. And after reading Mike Barr’s overview of the EQ comics and how some elements of the original stories found their way into other venues (like Batman!), I’ve ordered a copy of Barr’s comic “The Maze Agency” No. 9, with EQ guest-starring in “The English Channeller Mystery”!

    Any EQ fan should grab a copy of “Tragedy of Errors.”

  2. Update: I’ve read Mike Barr’s comic, “The English Channeler Mystery.” It captures much of the EQ flavor, with a commitment to revealing all the clues necessary for Ellery’s solution, and sports great artwork to boot. And the final scene alone is worth the purchase price: It echoes a similar one at the end of the novel Cat of Many Tails. If you can find a copy of this — I picked mine up on eBay, I think — it’s worth the time of anyone who calls himself a Queen fan.

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