Meet Cornelia Potts. She is fabulously wealthy, having made a fortune through the sale of shoes which she has designed - the Potts Shoe for Women, at $3.99 a pair. She lives in a peculiar mansion on Riverside Drive in New York City, in front of which is the giant statue of a shoe. Yes, she's the embodiment of that nursery rhyme character, the old woman who lived in a shoe. She is also one of the least pleasant people you are likely ever to meet. Married twice, she has had six children, three by each husband. The first three, to put it politely, are mentally disturbed in the extreme, and there is very little love lost among the family members. Sounds like the perfect set up for a murder, doesn't it? You'll find the whole story in the 1943 novel There Was an Old Woman, by Ellery Queen. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
I'm pretty sure that most visitors to this blog already know about Ellery Queen the author and Ellery Queen the character. Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee were cousins who wrote their mystery novels as "Ellery Queen," novels which featured as their detective a character named Ellery Queen, the son of a New York City police inspector.
In There Was an Old Woman, Ellery becomes involved in trying to avert bloodshed when one of Cornelia Potts's sons challenges one of his stepbrothers to a duel. When Ellery's plan fails spectacularly, the detective finds himself trying to solve a murder where everyone saw what happened - but nobody can tell who the real killer was. And, somehow, much of what seems to be happening to the Potts family appears to be linked to the words of that classic nursery rhyme.
It certainly seems as if Ellery Queen – the author – was having a ball putting this one together. Of all the Queen books that I’ve read, this is really one of the most surreal, requiring a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief in order to accept the increasingly outrageous personalities of most of the characters, not to mention their behavior. It’s also typical of Ellery Queen in terms of providing the reader with clues about what’s really happening – clues that the astute reader may follow to uncover that reality. And the book also features another plot gimmick that is a trademark of this author, in that there are several apparent solutions to the mystery, offered sequentially, with each building on the previously offered solution while adding a twist which may change quite suddenly the apparent meaning of a clue. It’s well constructed and lively, and it’s available in paper and as an e-book from the Langtail Press.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, There Was an Old Woman is my entry for the square (sixth row, second column) calling for one book with a woman in the title.