Reprint of the Year #2: The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen
While I had a really easy job thinking of my first nomination for Reprint of the Year, I had a much tougher time settling on a second pick. I had put The American Gun Mystery down as a placeholder early in the process and while I had trailed that I might make a last minute change, I ultimately decided to stick with my first instinct.
Let me start by addressing the cause of my hesitancy: while some reprints are welcome because they are bringing a long-lost title back onto shelves, that is clearly not the case with Ellery Queen. An ebook version of this book has been available in the North American market for close to a decade and while it may have been a little while since there were new print editions available, secondhand copies were hardly difficult to find.
My reasons for nominating this book then are not that it restores access to a long lost title but one of accessibility. The American Mystery Classics series have managed to find their way onto the shelves of libraries and bookstores, reacquainting a broader audience with some of the key figures from the Golden Age of Detection.
There were, of course, a number of titles I could have picked from. One of the things I like most about this range is that, as with the British Library Crime Classics reprints, there is an effort made to select a variety of different types of mystery novels. Ride the Pink Horse was a superb read and I am very excited to read Odor of Violets and The Bride Wore Black very soon. The book I picked though is from one of the key figures of the American Golden Age of Detective Fiction – Ellery Queen.
For those unfamiliar with my own history with this author, I have not always had the best relationship with his work. Queen was the subject of my rashest promise: to read and review one of his books each month. I quickly realized the folly of that plan and three years on I have yet to reach the end of Phase One, though I was happy to find that I started to enjoy them significantly more as I worked forwards.
The American Gun Mystery is the book that I credit as marking the turning point in my relationship with the author. While there were some previous titles I had enjoyed overall, I struggled with the pacing and finding the puzzle elements often a little dry and drawn out. This book, in contrast, is an absolute riot with bold, lively characters and a fun premise – a murder taking place during a rodeo witnessed by a crowd and also filmed from multiple perspectives.
The crime is really well described in spite of the numerous moving parts at play within the arena. I never had any difficulty recalling where the key players were in relation to one another during the event or visualizing the crime itself. It makes for a really engaging way to start the case and I think it showcases some of the authors’ best action writing from this period.
Another aspect of this one that I appreciate is the amount of time we get to spend with Inspector Queen, Ellery’s father. What I like most about this character is the way he pricks and pokes at Ellery, needling him as they each try to figure out the solution to the mystery.
Sure, I think that the case is perhaps less complex than was generally the case with the series at this time and there is at least one aspect of the solution that is rather contrived. Still, even when this book fails it does so in a lively, colorful and entertaining way making it hard to hold those faults against it.
While I went on to like the next Queen novel even more (the superb The Siamese Twin Mystery, also reprinted as part of this range), I have really fond memories of this one as the one that finally saw me understanding the authors’ appeal.