A schoolteacher is killed, beheaded and nailed to a signpost on Christmas Day in a small town in West Virginia. The circumstances intrigue Ellery Queen sufficiently to take a look but although a bizarre case there isn’t a lot for him to work with. He returns to New York where his father tells him:
“The moral is: Murder is murder, and ninety-nine and nine-tenths per cent of the murders committed anywhere on the face of the globe, you young idiot, are as easy as pie to explain. Nothing fancy, you understand.”
Inspector Queen couldn’t be more wrong, although it isn’t until the following summer that a second decapitated corpse turns up, this time tied to a totem post, but unmistakably once more in the T-shape of the Egyptian Cross. Who will be the next target of this brutal killer and can Ellery prevent them fulfilling their mad plan?
Despite the first murder taking place at Christmas and the cover of this edition, this is not a Christmas mystery, but I’d already decided on the title of this pair of posts, so tough. Also, despite some of the more lurid covers of the 1970s, it’s only a little bit more a mystery about nudists, so you may be disappointed on a number of levels!
It is however classic first period Queen. Ellery starts with a nice deduction about a pipe shaped in the form of Neptune which starts to unlock the case and later discourses on the precise significance of the draughts piece held in the hand of one of the victims to prove that why something that seems so obvious must be the truth.
I spotted the murderer for once, possibly for the wrong reason, but did not follow that through to explain everything that had been going on. Having read no Queen for some time, it will be two in a month – come back soon for Part Two and see what I make of The Finishing Stroke, which I believe is definitely Christmassy.