Ellery Queen, hoping for anonymity and some quiet time for writing, has rented a house in Wrightsville under the name Ellery Smith. The town, Wrightsville, appears ideal - attractive homes, friendly people, and little crime. The writer Ellery Smith is quickly embraced by the community, especially by the founding family of Wrightsville. All is tranquil, that is, until a series of arsenic poisonings earns Wrightsville the name Calamity Town.
Calamity Town (1942) falls chronologically in the middle phase of the Ellery Queen canon and differs considerably from his earlier mysteries. The setting is far from New York City, although the exact location of Wrightsville remains unclear. Several chapters are devoted to an extended courtroom scene that, I believe, is unique to this EQ story. Ellery himself even takes the stand.
Ellery's somewhat one-dimensional character is now more fully developed, more complex, more realistic. Unexpectedly, Ellery even becomes romantically involved with an attractive, quick witted, and independent young woman.
Most noticeably, the characters and the plot, possibly because the setting is a typical small town, are more conventional than is found in Ellery Queen's more imaginative earlier stories such as The Greek Coffin Mystery, The Egyptian Cross Mystery, and The Siamese Twin Mystery. It is not hard to imagine this story, repackaged somewhat, transformed into a British manor house mystery.
This atypical Ellery Queen mystery makes good reading. Calamity Town has often been reprinted and should not be difficult to locate.