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