Sunday, February 26, 2006

Death Spins the Platter, Ellery Queen

Title: Death Spins the Platter
Author: Ellery Queen
Rating: Neutral

Death Spins the Platter is the second Ellery Queen novel in a double that I was loaned by Ed Ting.

In my review of the first book in this double - Dead Man's Tale - I wondered aloud (so to speak) about what I had missed in my upbringing around Ellery Queen, since that book was not a whodunit, nor did it feature Ellery Queen.

Well, this second book is closer to what I thought Ellery Queen books would be; it is a whodunit, at least. However, it still doesn't feature Ellery Queen. Thus, I am still not at all clear on what the Ellery Queen franchise was all about.

In this book, the victim dies, and we follow a hard boiled reporter (if I can mash such terms together) through the process of determining who the killer is. The plot is reasonably believable, I guess, but there are problems here that significantly detract from the story.

The first is that the characters are still really wooden. None of them come alive for me, and I don't buy some of the dialog and interaction between them, since I have no background to go on. In a couple of cases the author attempts to provide some background, but it's given in such a ham fisted way that I never buy into it. In short, there are many character related obstacles to achieving the willing suspension of disbelief.

The other major issue with this volume - in my mind - is that the reporter is doing all the work for the police. I am perfectly willing to admit that such a thing could happen, but in this case it simply wasn't realistic. The single largest example would be a spoiler, and I won't do that, but I can say this: if you were a reporter who learned something interesting and technical about a murder case from one of the suspects, wouldn't you actually verify it before you used it in conversation with someone else? Particularly as an accusation?

How do you know that what you've been told is true? In fact you have good reason not to trust many things the suspects are telling you, and yet you trust this bit of information without checking it out first? No, sorry, I simply just don't buy it. If you learn of an accusation from one suspect about another, you either check it for validity yourself, or hand it over to the police and get them to verify it before you make use of it. So again, the willing suspension of disbelief just doesn't come easily here.

Finally, there was one more thing that bugged me about this, but I suspect that really is my problem, rather than the book's. Death Spins the Platter was originally published in 1962, and there are a few uses of language and servants that I just found difficult to swallow. Perhaps people really did talk that way back then, and perhaps some of the upper crust really still did have black children as servants, but it all feels so wrong now that it's hard for me to ignore. As I say, that is probably my problem, rather than the book's, but it annoyed me enough to reduce my enjoyment of the book.

On the whole, this was a major step up from the last Ellery Queen novel I read, but there are still several more steps to go before I hit something I'm really going to like. One left to try, and we'll see what comes of that.