The 1930 novel, "The French Powder Mystery", is a well-structured detective story that challenges the reader, is scrupulously fair, and makes good reading.
Cyrus French is the chairman of the eminently successful and stylistically influential French's Department Store in midsection New York. In recent weeks the store window has been opened precisely at noon each day to exhibit somewhat fantastical, European modern furniture. Today the waiting crowd is awestruck as a dead body tumbles from a wall bed. This second mystery by Ellery Queen, the follow-up to his remarkable first novel The Roman Hat Mystery, was proof positive that this new author was here to stay.
The French Powder Mystery foreshadowed the innovative mysteries that would follow in the next few years, classic deductive novels like The Tragedy of X (1932) and The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932) and The Tragedy of Y (1932) and The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935).
To me, much of the fascination with The French Powder Mystery was the recognition that the New York of 1930 now seems remotely distant. While drugs and drug addiction were not unknown, they were largely unfamiliar evils. A former college companion of Ellery Queen says, "Mightn't it be the same stuff? Heroin, I think you called it." Also, New York at night was more secure. For an alibi a young woman replies, "When I left the Zorns that evening, it was a little after ten. I walked and walked in the park (Central Park) until almost midnight." And the wealthy were indeed different: a cosmopolitan young woman had cigarettes, appropriately scented, made up especially for her by a custom tobacco manufacturer.
The French Powder Mystery is classic Ellery Queen and should appeal to all fans of deductive mystery stories. Good hunting.