Friday, 21 February 2014

Forgotten Book - Calamity Town

Ellery Queen was one of the great American exponents of the classic whodunit, and Calamity Town, first published in 1942 is a book that marked a departure from his elaborate mysteries of the Thirties. Here he is aiming for a more realistic style, reflected in the setting of Wrightsville, the small town where Ellery arrives incognito one day. He rents a house in order to write in peace and quiet. But of course he becomes involved at once in mysterious goings on.

The Wright family gave their name to Wrightsville,but mystery surrounds Nora Wright, a woman who was mysteriously abandoned by her husband-to-be just before her wedding. Three years later, he turns up again, and they are happily reunited. This time the marriage does take place, and for a while, all seems to be well. But is it? I must say that if I'd been in Wrightsville at the time, I'd have wanted to know more about the reasons for Jim Haight's absence, but even Ellery seems relatively incurious....

The discovery of some rather odd letters seems to suggest that Nora's life is at risk. In due course, murder follows. It appears that the wrong person was killed, but the finger of suspicion points firmly at Jim Haight. There is a lengthy and enjoyable trial scene, and more than one twist. Queen the author manages to juggle suspicion neatly, and the result is a satisfying mystery.

Although this book marked a new direction for Ellery Queen, there is no doubt that he owed quite a debt to the leading British Golden Age writers, whom he much admired. I spotted plot devices used previously by that trio of giants Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley and Dorothy L. Sayers. But Queen was clever enough to blend the ingredients in a new and satisfying way. The result is a tasty dish, and I'll be coming back for more Ellery Queen before long.

6 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I haven't read as much Queen as I should have, but this my favorite of those I've read.

Tony Renner said...

I find myself generally immune to the charms of Ellery Queen but I did enjoy Calamity Town and it's follow-up The Murderer Was a Fox. I still haven't read the last in the Wrightsville trilogy.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

On first reading, some 25 years ago, I rermember being both impressed with the atmosphere and tone and slightly disappointed by the plot which felt a lot simpler than the Queen books of the 30s - nowadays I think this would be less of a problem - I think that's one of the benefots of growing older and getting more interested in modd, place and people and less about plot mechanics!

Nan said...

I really liked it. And 'our' Arthur Vidro was in the play, put on in the town on which Queen based Wrightsville. We went and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wrote a little bit about it here:
http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2013/11/september-reading.html
You have to scroll down a bit to get to it.

Kelly Robinson said...

I have a vintage copy of this that I bought mainly for the cover art. Sounds like I need to nab a reading copy.

dfordoom said...

I thought this book had one of the weakest plots I've encountered in a golden age novel. It relies on Ellery missing blindingly obvious clues. I was very very disappointed by this one.