Seventy 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publication of The Roman Hat Mystery, the two men who created Ellery Queen were dead, but one last manuscript was left unpublished.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 Apparently, Danny could not conceive of anyone else writing the novel, so the outline remained unpublished until 1999.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 Richmond, 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.