reviewed by Gail Byrd
The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen is being re-released for the first time in thirty years. It was written in the golden age of mystery and remains one of the classic forms of “puzzle” mysteries that is currently in publication. As a style of writing, it is no longer as much in fashion; yet it still holds the reader’s interest in terms of setting a problem, providing all the clues, and letting the reader try and solve the puzzle before all is revealed.
In some ways, comparing this book to a modern-day mystery novel is a bit like comparing a black and white movie with one done in full color. There is much that is dated about this book, and yet there is something quintessentially classic at the same time. That classic aspect will appeal to those readers who want an intellectual challenge and an opportunity to match wits with the author.
For readers who enjoy visualizing the book as they read, it will be helpful if they have an image of Ellery Queen, the fictional detective of the book, along with his father Inspector Queen, the veteran Sergeant Velie, and Djuna, the Queen’s houseboy. While it isn’t necessary to the story, the image of those central characters will help create a picture of the action of this story.
I first read Ellery Queen when I was in my teens, primarily because the books were readily available in my house. Reading this novel was like a return to those early years of reading, when I liked nothing more than to have a challenge set in the form of a puzzle. For anyone who enjoys puzzles, be they crossword or logic puzzles etc., this book will offer the same type of opportunity.
The author Ellery Queen is scrupulous in providing all the information the reader needs to solve the murder. In the same fashion he has employed over multiple novels, he also stops the book at about the 90% read point and speaks directly to the reader. Here he takes the time to advise them that they now have all the information required and challenges them to solve the puzzle. This is the reader’s opportunity to go back, reread anything they want, and see if they can solve the mystery on their own before all is revealed.
Of course, it isn’t necessary for the reader to solve the problem. The final pages of the book have Ellery Queen, the detective, enumerating the facts and explaining how he arrived at the “correct” conclusion. It is a unique style that readers who like to match wits with authors, will appreciate. If you are looking for a fast-paced book, filled with tension and danger at the turn of every page, this is not the novel for you. However, if you enjoy puzzles and bringing an intellectual approach to reading and solving mysteries, look no further. Be prepared, Ellery Queen, the detective, is an exceptional intellect and, as such his conversation is urbane and, at times, quite academic. Your own vocabulary may be challenged at times, although not to the point of not being able to understand the book or the information provided.
I found this book a refreshing change. Certainly there is no danger of Ellery Queen, the author, underestimating the intelligence of his readers. Rather, reading this book can leave the reader little doubt that their intelligence is acknowledged, appreciated, and encouraged.
My thanks to Penzler Publishers American Mystery Classics and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy for this review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.