The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen (1933)

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.

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen (1933)”

  1. I’m really glad you liked it as this is one of my all-time favourite GAD books! I read it years ago and I still remember being blown away by the cleverness of the solution and the central misdirection.

    Are you reading EQ chronologically too or are you just picking up the highly-regarded ones?

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    1. I’m reading chronologically what I have picked up in the last year. So the first four, then this one, followed by Chinese Orange, Calamity Town, Old Woman, Fox, and 10 Days.

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      1. I found Chinese orange’s solution to be a bit meh but I’ll put all the rest in the first tier of Queen.

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  2. Whenever I give the first era Queen novels another chance, this is definitely going to be the one that I read first. It is amusing that the Queens fled a fire by going uphill, since that’s notoriously the direction forest fires go. I suppose I know that though since I live in an area that gets its share of them.

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      1. I was bursting with excitement when I first approached Queen. Here was a well regarded golden age author with a library deep enough to rival Christie or Carr. I decided to tackle the books in order and kicked things off with The Roman Hat Mystery. At first I was loving the set up of the crime with its map and a seeming impossibility. But then the investigation went on and on and on and on. Interview after pain staking interview all culminating in a “why didn’t you mention that detail” finale.

        I hoped The French Powder Mystery would be better, as I’d seen several lists promoting it as one of Queen’s best. Nope, same exact issue – interview after interview, search after search, but no real meat on the bone. I tried to mix things up by branching out to The Tragedy of X, but man, that novel is almost awesomely bad. The Dutch Shoe Mystery didn’t prove to be much better, although I thought the misdirection was clever.

        What really broke me was The Greek Coffin Mystery. It wasn’t bad, in fact it was much better than all that came before it, but it didn’t wow me. This was the book that I had been tempted to kick things off with, as it seems to be regarded as Queen’s best. If that’s his best, then I’m just not interested.

        Of course, I’ve moved on since then. I skipped ahead to The Four of Hearts and enjoyed it even if the Hollywood bit isn’t my thing. The Tragedy of Y was jaw droopingly superb, even though I went in with the key twist spoiled for me (you’ve got to be careful what you read in comments on these sites). And of course I’ve since read Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox and really loved the Wrightsville motif.

        So, early Ellery Queen – not for me (with the exception of Tragedy of Y). Later Ellery Queen – seems fine, although I still haven’t seen anything that rivals the likes of Brand, Christie, or Carr.

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      2. I too struggled with Roman Hat and French Power but then had a breakthrough with Dutch Shoe when I figured out that I needed to take Queen on their own merits and style and not expect it to be an American Christie. I’m interested to see how Ellery changes in the later books and glad that you are recommending Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox.

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  3. I have been meaning to comment on this post for months, John! While Greek Coffin was my first Queen read and made my jaw drop to the floor, I re-read it a few years ago and was a little more put off by it. The Siamese Twin Mystery is a different kettle of fish, though: the co-existing threats of a murderer and the fire meld beautifully together and make Ellery a really human figure for the first time. Plus, I fell for the traps laid for me, and I love when that happens.

    Still, I am a Period Three Queen enthusiast through and through, and I think you will like the Wrightsville tales and Cat of Many Tales (my favorite Queen in many ways). I also loved There Was an Old Woman, which comes at an odd point in his career and is sort of their homage to screwball mysteries.

    Can’t wait to hear what you make of all of them!

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    1. When I started reading I didn’t think the fire was going to be that dangerous, just a plot device to get them to the house, but then it gradually becomes more and more serious. Although I wonder if even readers at the time without knowing that there were plenty more books to come seriously thought that an established series character was really going to be killed off – I suppose that’s why Holmes death at Reichenbach was so shocking!

      I liked the way the fire and its attendant pressures is used to excuse Ellery’s accepting something second time round that he had already proved impossible first time round.

      I’ll be reading Old Woman this month, and I recently picked up a job lot of Queen as it included The King is Dead, which I know JJ and Dan have slagged off but I do want to read all 15 of Ed Hoch’s Impossible Crime list, New Adventures and Face to Face, plus another five later titles (all for a very reasonable price which you know is important to me!)

      And I love a serial killer story so I’ll definitely get hold of Cat at some point.

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