Brad has threatened to drum me out of the GAD Club Members’ Bar for my lack of kow-towing to the work of Ellery Queen. In fairness, I really rather enjoyed Halfway House (1936), but here I am fighting for my rights. And I think he’s timed this deliberately, being well aware that The Door Between (1937) was up next for me, because Gordon’s beer is Eva MacClure, the heroine who finds herself at the centre of an impossible murder plot, one of the most frustrating perspective characters I’ve yet encountered. Goodness, she makes one positively ache for the company of Noel Wells from The Saltmarsh Murders (1932) by Gladys Mitchell.
But, well, think positive. The plot honestly feels a little slim, but at least the situation is an interesting one: Eva’s stepmother-to-be, the reclusive author Karen Leith, is writing in her study while Eva waits for her in the sitting room next door. It is not possible to get to Karen without passing through the sitting room, yet when Eva goes to investigate a phone ringing unanswered she finds Karen with her throat slit. No-one went past Eva, no-one could get into the room by its other door — leading up to Karen’s private attic — since that was bolted shut and the bolt was too stiff to hoax, so, uhm, howdunnit? There’s an economy of setup here, coming, alas, after a lot of Eva flouncing around, thinking about her life with her dreamy, dull, doctor fiancé Richard ‘Dick’ Scott, and generally being an over-privileged pain.
We’re clearly in a new phase of Queenian writing, and not just because Ellery himself is far, far less of a prig here than he was in the Nationality Noun books. This seems to mark a move away from detection and into crime for the cousins — witness how for all the very entertaining developments that emerge once Ellery is finally a) brought up to speed and b) on the scene of the crime, not a single one was presented in advance for us to ruminate over. There’s nothing you see in advance that Dannay and Lee come back to and up-end your expectations over, you’re simply told “Here, look at this handwriting, this means X” and “Good heavens, because of this dump of backstory we can deduce Y”. It’s entertaining, and it’s smartly constructed, but the gamesmanship has gone (so has the Challenge to the Reader, because no way in hell do you have the information to solve this) and it feels rather rushed as a result.
The writing is very smooth, and it goes down easily in places, such as Eva’s father, the cancer specialist Dr. John MacClure, described early on as:
[A]n unkempt, absent man. No one could remember the time when he had not worn a certain ancient brown suit, unpressed, depilated, and edged with fuzz, which clung to his shoulders plaintively. He was a strong man, and a tired man, and while he did not look his age he nevertheless contrived to seem a hundred.