Narrator: Mark Peckham
Series: Ellery Queen #26
Published by Blackstone Audio, Inc. on May 1, 2014 (first published 1958)
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Length: 9 hrs 18 mins
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At the tail end of the Roaring Twenties, a birthday bash for publishing heir John Sebastian, Jr., perfectly coincides with the twelve days of Christmas. Among the twelve invited guests is Ellery Queen, a newly published mystery writer planning to enjoy every last minute. But when an uninvited Santa Claus shows up on Christmas Eve and then mysteriously goes missing, the party takes a disturbing turn. Threatening clues masked as gifts begin to appear under the tree, and Queen - a novice crime fighter on his first solo case - must try to solve the killer's puzzle before someone gets murdered.
After a dead body turns up, Queen is no closer to stopping the killer. If he can’t anticipate the next clue before it shows up, John Sebastian’s birthday will end up his funeral.
The Finishing Stroke is set primarily at Christmas-time, but bookended by a prologue set twenty-some years prior to the main events and a wrap-up that takes place over twenty years later. The bulk of the story takes place at Christmas, 1929. John Jr. has put together an extended Christmas party at the home of his guardian, Arthur Craig. We’ve got an assortment of guests, including John’s girlfriend, Rusty Brown and a few of their friends. There is also the family doctor, the family lawyer, a pastor and a publisher. And, of course, Ellery Queen. Sebastian announces that some important events will happen during the party. First, his book of poetry is being published by the House of Freeman. Second, January 6th is his twenty-fifth birthday and he’ll come into the trust fund that his father set up for him in his will. Third, he’s going to marry Rusty. There’s a final item, but he’s keeping that a secret for now.
But someone else has some surprises. On Christmas Day when Sebastian leads them all to the Christmas tree in the living room for gifts, they find the presents have all vanished. As they are musing over this, suddenly a fully costumed Santa Claus appears from the hallway, hands them all gifts, and vanishes just as suddenly. Ellery becomes concerned when no one admits to being Santa, and even more so when laster a dead man is found under the Christmas tree, a man no one admits to knowing. Then the mystery gifts begin. Eachh night a gift appears with Sebastian’s name, with the tone of the gifts becoming more and more menacing. And then there’s a second murder.
In 1957, the case has reminded unsolved. Ellery receives a phone call the re-ignites his interest. Ellery is a bit too clever for my taste and a little too full of himself. I feel like he’s supposed to be charming and funny, but I just don’t love him. The solution is a bit convoluted and not something I could have guessed at- the knowledge you needed to put it all together was just too obscure.