french power

Title: The French Powder Mystery (Ellery Queen #2)

Author: Ellery Queen

Reader: Robert Faas

Category: Mystery

Audio published: September 15, 2013 by AudioGo (First published 1930)

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars

Add: Goodreads

Purchase: Audible | Amazon

The windows of French’s department store are one of New York’s great attractions. Year-round, their displays show off the finest in fashion, art, and home décor, and tourists and locals alike make a point of stopping to see what’s on offer. One afternoon, as the board debates a merger upstairs, a salesgirl begins a demonstration in one of the windows, showing off French’s new Murphy bed. A crowd gathers to watch the bed lower from the wall after a single touch of a button. But as the bed opens, people run screaming. Out tumbles a woman—crumpled, bloody, and dead.
The victim was Mrs. French, wife of the company president, and finding her killer will turn this esteemed store upside down. Only one detective has the soft touch necessary—debonair intellectual Ellery Queen. As Queen and his police inspector father dig into French’s secrets, they find their killer is more serious than any window shopper.

Ellery Queen the author is the pseudonym used by two American cousins from Brooklyn, New York—Daniel Nathan, alias Frederic Dannay and Manford (Emanuel) Lepofsky, alias Manfred Bennington Lee —to write, edit, and anthologize detective fiction. It’s also, obviously, the name of their series character, who is appropriately a mystery writer and amateur detective who helps his father, a New York City police inspector. I think it’s kind of neat that the “author” and main character are the same person, gives the stories a unique flavor.

When I reviewed The Roman Hat Mystery, the narrator, Robert Faas, stopped by and left a comment. In part he said, “I can tell you that the series definitely evolves. (#2 is cut from the same cloth as #1, and features a great opening: the discovery of a body in a Murphy bed that unfolds in the display window of a 5th Avenue department store. The Devil to Pay [#13] takes place in Hollywood, was written nearly a decade later and is much sharper, with a touch of social satire.” At that point, I was already listening to #2, The French Powder Mystery. If I had read his comment earlier, I may have skipped a little ahead in the series, because #2 was not that great, at least for me.

I like how the story opens, with the body being found in one of those large department store windows. We’ve got suspects galore, from family to the Board of Directors, and plenty of clues, both planted and actual. It’s fair, I’ll give it that. We have all the information, even though I didn’t make the connections before the grand revelation, even when Queen steps out of the story and directly encourages the reader to make his/her guess.

It’s a large cast of characters and Faas does a good job keeping them all distinct. He especially makes the older Queen changes in tone noticeable, like when he goes out of his way to speak gently to a young woman but yells in frustration at other times.

But-

The French Powder Mystery is not quite what I’m looking for in a good story. The clues and solution are almost too complex. Ellery, the amateur, is quite obviously in charge of the investigation and almost make his father, the actual detective, seem old and incompetent. And I’m not quite sure what’s up with their houseboy, cook, butler, Djuna, who occasionally sits on the floor like a monkey and may have Gypsy blood. Just seems racist and makes me a little uncomfortable. Also, I didn’t buy the whole reason behind the crime, even though I liked how all the clues worked together, it still didn’t feel real. Maybe that’s in part because I’m looking at it from 2013 and not 1930.

The Ellery Queen series is one of the classic mystery series. I think I’ll give it one more chance, maybe try one of the later ones.

Ellery Queen Series

  1. The Roman Hat Mystery
  2. The French Powder Mystery
  3. The Dutch Shoe Mystery
  4. The Greek Coffin Mystery
  5. The Egyptian Cross Mystery
  6. The American Gun Mystery
  7. The Siamese Twin Mystery
  8. The Chinese Orange Mystery
  9. The Spanish Cape Mystery
  10. The Lamp of God
  11. Halfway House
  12. The Door Between
  13. The Devil to Pay
  14. The Four of Hearts
  15. The Dragon’s Teeth AKA The Virgin Heiresses
  16. Calamity Town
  17. There Was an Old Woman AKA The Quick and the Dead
  18. The Murderer is a Fox
  19. Ten Days’ Wonder
  20. Cat of Many Tails
  21. Double, Double
  22. The Origin of Evil
  23. The King is Dead
  24. The Scarlet Letters
  25. The Glass Village
  26. Inspector Queen’s Own Case
  27. The Finishing Stroke
  28. The Player on The Other Side
  29. …and on the Eighth Day…
  30. The Fourth Side of The Triangle
  31. A Study in Terror AKA Ellery Queen vs Jack The Ripper
  32. Face to Face
  33. The House of Brass
  34. Cop Out
  35. The Last Woman in His Life
  36. A Fine and Private Place

RIP8main200

This was my fifth book for R.I.P. VIII, a reading event embracing the ghastly and ghostly, mysterious and grim, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

Sign Up

Review Site