Will this get me thrown out of the fan club?

I read my first Ellery Queen novel to participate in the monthly book challenge run at Past Offences during October. At least I think it was my first Ellery Queen novel; surely I’d have remembered if I’d had such a wretched experience before.

thegreekcoffinmysteryTHE GREEK COFFIN MYSTERY starts out being about a missing will (belonging to the Greek in the coffin who is presumed to have died of natural causes) but there is soon a different dead body. Then some more. I lost count. The shenanigans surrounding the missing will and corpses piling up are investigated by a motley collection of New York Police, a district attorney and two members of the Queen family. In all honesty I didn’t have a lot to start with but by the time I came to the end of this dreary tome I had completely lost interest in who done what and how or why they bothered.

It is simply a preposterous book populated by pompous, implausible people talking endlessly about things no one could possibly care about. The hero of our story has about four goes at a denouement before finally stumbling upon a culprit, though why anyone, even a loving father, would be bothering to listen to him at that point is beyond me. But the ludicrousness of the plot twists and the inanity of the rabbit holes down which the story wanders (there are pages and pages devoted to a particular brand of typewriter’s upper row of keys for example and a very long and largely inaccurate description of colour blindness) all pale into insignificance next to the gobsmacking amount of bigotry on display. I know I have to make allowances for the thing being written in a different time but seriously…how much casual racism and sexism am I meant to make allowances for? And is there a limit on the excruciating physical descriptions of all and sundry that make it clear only people of a certain class are worth knowing I have to read? And when exactly did we stop thinking it was OK to poke fun at people with intellectual disabilities?

I know Ellery Queen (the fictional man and the two cousins who created him) has legions of devotees but you can count me out. And I don’t care if it does get me thrown out of the crime fiction fan club.

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16 Responses to Will this get me thrown out of the fan club?

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Let me guess: you didn’t quite like this book then? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who just didn’t get on with Ellery Queen. I never quite understood the fuss either.


  2. Bernadette – As far as I’m concerned, you’re a fully paid-up member of the crime fiction fan club no matter how you feel about Ellery Queen. That’s what’s so great about crime fiction: it’s a varied genre with lots to love. And if you don’t love everything in, that doesn’t matter.


  3. angelasavage says:

    Love a feisty review. Maintain the rage, Bernadette!


  4. scott says:

    I liked the TV series but did not really care for the books


  5. Norman Price says:

    Bernadette, what a great review!
    I do have a copy of The Greek Coffin Mystery but never attempted to read it as the font is so small. I have tucked it away in a box in the garage to be found and sold by my grandchildren in 30 or 40 years when it has become a rare and valuable classic. 😉

    I have just finished reading a book from the same period,1935, and someone rated it as one of the ten best of the Golden Age. Unfortunately it was nowhere near as good as the average Agatha Christie, and the dialogue and characters were of their time and screamingly upper class.
    I guessed the murderer about half way through the book, after all what can you expect from someone who does not keep a proper maid, and only has a charlady in to clean. Class is so important for the English in the Golden Age, which seemed to stretch into the 1950s.


    • I was thinking about Dame Agatha as I plodded through this one Norman…wondering if it is just familiarity that makes me think she is so much better or whether she really is just better. I think I decided she really is that much better…even her not great efforts beat the pants off this nonsense anyway


      • Norman Price says:

        Bernadette, I agree there is definitely a reason why Devon’s most famous writer has sold so many books.
        Some of her plot twists are brilliant, and the characters are so good. Every time I think of Dame Agatha I remember my mother in law at 98, when she could no longer read print, settling herself down in front of the TV for a Poirot and saying “I like a good murder especially PIRO.”


  6. I’ve quite enjoyed a couple of EQs, though not the one you read, and don’t seek them out. But I REALLY enjoyed your review. Intemperate is good! Keep them coming.


    • Thanks Moira. I suppose I was a little shocked at how awful I found this…there’s an award named after EQ so I figured it would at least be readable. But it did feel good to have a solid reaction to something after a few months of being unwell and generally fed up with the world.


  7. tracybham says:

    That is an entertaining, and thoughtful, review. Unfortunately, this is the only Ellery Queen book I have, so I guess I will have to look around for another one to start with. I will read this one eventually, just to see if it bothers me as much as it did you. I have read Ellery Queen years ago when I was much younger, and I liked some and not others, but really remember very little. And nowadays, I sometimes like vintage fiction and sometimes not.


    • I did do some research after having read the book Tracy and it seems like this book is generally not considered one of the best…I’m not convinced enough to give any more of them a go but it does seem like perhaps it’s not the best starting point.


  8. westwoodrich says:

    See? I always enjoy your negative reviews 🙂

    I’ve read only one Ellery Queen, The Egyptian Cross Mystery, which was published in the same year as this one. I must admit I quite enjoyed it and it didn’t really have any of the faults you describe above. At least not in noticeable quantities. Maybe they wrote Greek Coffin on the off-days?

    I believe the books took a more serious turn later in the series; at some point I’m going to see what I make of those.


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