Forgotten? The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen, original (c) 1934, this review 2018 Penzler Publishers trade paperback, mystery novel.

I’ve read several Ellery Queen novels over the years. I started with Cat of Many Tails (1949) on recommendation of a mystery-reading friend. I liked it well enough, but didn’t seek more.

Years later I decided to try another, The Spanish Cape Mystery which I enjoyed. I later – upon strong insistence from other readers – read the three Wrightsville novels: Calamity Town, The Murderer Is a Fox, and Ten Days’ Wonder, which I liked considerably less, primarily for the many endings that were not endings, followed by yet another ending and so forth.

Recently, I decided to give another of the older books a try, and this is the one I picked.

The Plot
A wealthy publisher and collector of jewelry and postage stamps has a luxurious suite in the Chancellor Hotel that serves as home and offices. When an anonymous little man arrives and refuses to state his business, no one is surprised; he is shown into a waiting room until the man he has come to see is available. In the comfortable room are chairs, lamps and a table with a bowl of fruit (including tangerines, also known as Chinese oranges) and left to await the publisher’s arrival. Later when the door is unlocked a truly bizarre scene is displayed.

The man’s skull is crushed, his clothing is reversed, back to front, all the furnishings of the room have been turned backwards — and two African spears which had been mounted over a fireplace have been inserted between the body and its clothing, stiffening it into immobility. The circumstances are such that someone has been observing every entrance to the room, and no one has apparently entered or left. The situation is further complicated by some valuable jewelry and stamps, the publisher’s business affairs and some sort of connection with “backwardness” for seemingly every character. It takes the considerable talents of Ellery Queen to sort through the motives and lies and arrive at the twisted logic that underlies every aspect of this very unusual crime.

My Take
As unlikely and unconventional as the situation in this mystery is, I enjoyed the way the puzzle was laid out and the subsequent steps both Inspector Richard Queen and amateur Ellery Queen took to discover the motive and means of the crime. This was a pretty good one.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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14 Responses to Forgotten? The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

  1. Cap'n Bob Napier says:

    I read it a long time ago and my recollection is that I couldn’t wait until the final reveal so I could be done with it. The territory between the setup and conclusion dragged for me.

  2. Steve Oerkfitz says:

    Can’t say I’ve read much of Queen. Back in my teens I read a couple of his later novels such as The Player On the Other Side. It turns out his later novels were ghostwritten by such writers as Avram Davidson and Theodore Sturgeon. I remember liking them well enough. Tried Cat of Many Tails about ten years and couldn’t finish. I thought it was poorly written with especially bad dialogue. Glad you liked this though. Queen obviously has some appeal as people are still reading him.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    This was one of the later ones in the first group of Queens that I read. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but it was certainly an interesting setup. I don’t remember the solution, though

    • One of the later early ones, yes, but that’s the period I prefer if I’m going to read Queen. Not that he’s, as I said above, a favorite. Yet now and then I get the urge.

  4. I read the first dozen or so Ellery Queen mysteries as a kid in the 1960s. I’ve read a handful of Ellery Queens since then, but as Cap’n Bob points out, they were written by Ghost Writers. I’m glad Otto Penzler is reprinting these mysteries although I suspect younger readers might not find them as entertaining as we did.

  5. Jerry House says:

    I like the early EQs.

  6. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I think I liked the one with the fire on the mountain (SIAMESE TWIN) and EGYPTIAN CROSS.

  7. tracybham says:

    I read a good number of Ellery Queen books when I was younger, and in no particular older since I just read what they had at the library. In the last few years I have wanted to try more of them and see how I like them now but never have actually done that. (Loved the TV show which we watched again in the last year or so.) I may try some from different periods.

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