When we talk about America's contributions to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, those years between the two world wars, I know too many readers who begin to stifle yawns. Traditional, puzzle-oriented American mysteries, they say, were so dull, so cerebral, and so on and so forth. No blood. No guts. Ho hum.
Have I got a book for you.
Beheadings. Crucifixions. Cults. Nudists. An apparent multiple murderer. No apparent rhyme or reason - or so you are led to believe.
And a detective who, in order to figure out whodunit, must first figure out why...
Welcome to The Egyptian Cross Mystery, by Ellery Queen, the pen name used by Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee for their books about a detective who is also named Ellery Queen - two authors who really helped define the traditional American detective story and whose puzzles even today (especially the ones in their earliest mysteries) continue to amuse and delight readers who enjoy a challenge. It was the fifth Ellery Queen novel, originally published in 1932, and it is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.
In The Egyptian Cross Mystery, Ellery Queen is intrigued when he hears about the gruesome murder in West Virginia of a local schoolmaster, whose body is found hanging from a T-shaped signpost, his head missing. Ellery thinks that there might be a connection to Egyptian mythology and religion – a belief nurtured by the presence near the murder scene of a sun-worshipping cult.
Months later, there is a similar murder, this time at an estate on New York’s Long Island. The victim has been murdered in the same horrifying manner as the man in West Virginia. Ellery Queen gets involved in the investigation, and the case quickly becomes even more complex and bizarre – and, once again, that cult of sun-worshippers is on hand. There are plenty of red herrings, and more murders – and plenty of clues for the reader to follow. And, of course, it all ends with a challenge to the reader: the authors tell us that we have all the clues Ellery Queen needed to solve the case - can the reader do it first?
I couldn't. Could you?
The Egyptian Cross Mystery is one of several Ellery Queen mysteries recently re-published as e-books by The Mysterious Press and Open Road Media. It's a terrific - if gory - read. For another spoiler-free take (and a very good analysis of the book), check out this review by author Tony Hays, written for The Rap Sheet blog a few years ago.
As part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for one book set in the U.S. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.
Also this week, Rich Westwood, who blogs about crime fiction at Past Offenses, has challenged other book bloggers, myself included, to review a book during the month of October that first appeared in 1932 - which just happens to be the year when The Egyptian Cross Mystery was published. He even let me help pick the year. So...challenge accepted and completed...