Ellery and Inspector Queen are returning cross-country from a holiday when a forest fire forces them up a mountain to seek shelter. They meet another car coming down but despite their warning the driver presses on. Finally they arrive at the mountain top and find what initially seems to be a deserted house. After much banging at the door they are welcomed in by Dr John Xavier who introduces the Queens to his wife, brother, assistant, and a lady guest. There is a tension in the air and this is not helped when the Inspector briefly glimpses a strange Thing in a corridor.
Having gone to bed fully expecting the fire to be dealt with by the authorities, father and son instead wake up to a corpse with a clue in its dead hand, and the realisation that the flames may engulf them, if a killer doesn’t get to them first…
It is one thing to be trapped on an island or to be snowed in with a killer because at least you can try to take precautions whilst awaiting rescue. In this scenario physical room for manoeuvre becomes increasingly more difficult and the suffocating heat is not conducive to clear thought. It definitely makes me glad to live in a place where such a conflagration is unlikely when such tragedies appear to be coming more frequent in Australia and the USA.
I fell into most of the traps that Queen lays for the reader and the solution was definitely a surprise to me.
Again, this was an example of where a chronogical reading of the entire GAD canon would be advantageous because by chance I recently read a book – not reviewed on the blog – that must have been inspired by this story.