The French Powder Mystery
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“A new Ellery Queen book has always been something to look forward to for many years now.” —Agatha Christie
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Top Customer Reviews
I must admit that this is the first Ellery Queen (1905-71) book that I have ever read, and as such I cannot compare it to any other of his stories. But, that said, I found this to be a great book, and a fascinating mystery! I liked the illustrations of the crime scene and the way that the clues were laid out. I highly recommend this book to all mystery fans!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The French Powder Mystery concerns a dead body, discovered when the automatic window display of the French Department Store kicks into action one morning. The logic of the solution is rigorous, and the naming of the killer is literally the last two words of the book - even when the denoument is underway and all is being explained, the name of the bad 'un is still a surprise.
A better plot than Roman Hat and the Dutch Shoe Mysteries, I recommend it wholeheartedly!
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.
Each lunchtime a crowd has been gathering to watch a model conduct a live demonstration of some advante garde home furnishings in the window of a large department store. Today though the demonstration was not quite as 'live' as planned, the corpse of the wife of the owner became a part of the show. Inspector Queen was called in to investigate the case, and soon his son Ellery found himself involved when one of the suspects was revealed to be an old friend. Together father and son, assisted by the NYPD manage to solve the case despite a number of false clues. As always with this series all the clues are fairly presented for the reader to follow, and a challenge is issued for the reader to do so just before the reveal.
This series is contemporary to the period in which the story is written. This is different from a period novel in which the author is writing about a time in the past primarily because the author of a contemporary novel will assume the reader will understand the setting while the period novelist will explain many details. In this series the 21st century reader must keep in mind that besides the lack of modern day procedures and professionalism in the police force there were great differences in society in general. Household servants were the norm, jobs for middle class women were not. And rank had much more privilege then than it does now, allowing Inspector Queen to bring Ellery in on cases on a regular basis, even allowing Ellery to behave in an extremely arrogant manner to other members of the NYPD.
Despite these quirks these early novels are not without their charm. They offer a glimpse into life of nearly a hundred years ago while telling a challenging mystery story.
That plot line seems simple enough but things start to get more complicated when it seems that a drug ring is also involved. We get a good look at 1930s New York city and the way that people lived at that time. Inspector Queen still puts tobacco snuff up his nose, a women can go walking alone in Central Park at midnight, East 98th street is a slum area, and innocent witnesses are in fear and awe of the police. The reader is told near the end of the book that he now has all the clues needed to discover the murderer. It seemed very apparent to me who that was but then at the very end it was only one tiny clue that pointed to the real killer not his accomplice in crime. And, to my way of thinking that was a very weak clue.
I was surprised that so little was done to find the missing daughter of the murdered woman. It seemed that the detectives just assumed from the very beginning that she was also dead and any evidence they found concerning her was simply assumed to have been planted to set a .false trail. I found that to be a bit weak and also the fact that the murderer could move with impunity through a department store at night through several stories and not be seen by the strolling watchmen, or that he would even dare to attempt that. That also made the story weak but it was still a good mystery.