Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The King is Dead, Ellery Queen

Title: The King is Dead
Author: Ellery Queen
Rating: Good

The King Is Dead is the last Ellery Queen novel in the set Ed Ting loaned me. Ed called it "one of the most patently absurd pieces of fiction I have ever seen" in response to my earlier review of Death Spins the Platter.

I am happy to report that my assessment of the book is different than Ed's. I admit it is absurd, but of the three I have on loan it is far and away the best in terms of writing and character development. It is also the only one of the three to actually feature Ellery himself. It lacks the "CHALLENGE TO THE READER" that Ed has described in other EQ novels, but there is a pretty obvious point it could have been inserted had the author wanted to do so.

I had no trouble with the contents of the story. It centers on a family owned, multi-national business (mostly in arms), and the assassination of it's CEO, though that isn't the title he goes by. As the back cover states, though, the assassination is announced in advance, and the culprit confesses before the event even happens.

The assassination initially appears impossible, and the eventual explanation is interesting both as to how it happened as well as why the solution wasn't seen from the beginning. I did note one minor plot hole, but I cannot describe it without spoiling the book for others, so I won't do that. If you want to know about it, you'll have to email me asking about it.

The end of the book is a bit mellow dramatic, and there is a moralistic twist on it, but it holds together reasonably well.

The King Is Dead was originally published in 1952, and as a result there are some interesting uses of language that I hadn't anticipated. Airplanes for example, are regularly referred to as "ships" - shortened from "airships" I assume - which sounds odd to my 2006 based ears. There were other similar things, but they were minor in comparison to that. The other two EQ books I reviewed had more significant language problems that I had to get over. That's really interesting, as they were written ten years later than this one.

In another "time changes expectations" issue, the lone major female character here is portrayed as a wall flower most of the time, though there is one interesting twist in her actions. But still, she has very little to say, and she never stands up for herself on the pages we read. That's the case in all three of these Ellery Queen books and I really wanted some female character to come right out and clobber someone, swear like a sailor, or something - anything - that wasn't just sitting around barely able to answer questions and/or fainting. By way of counter example, I liked The Matrix precisely because it had a very strong female lead, and I prefer the company of women that can take care of themselves. (Consider my wife, for those that know her.)

Regardless, this one was a fun read. I don't have a huge desire to read more Ellery Queen at this time, but at least I know some of them are worth spending time on. Thanks to Ed for sharing some from his collection and letting me figure that out.