The roman hat mystery

Title: The Roman Hat Mystery (Ellery Queen #1)

Author: Ellery Queen

Reader: Robert Faas

Category: Mystery

Audio published: September 15, 2013 by AudioGo (First published 1929)

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars

Add: Goodreads

Purchase: Audible | Amazon

A murder in a crowded theater leaves a pack of suspects, but only one clue.

Despite the dismal Broadway season, Gunplay continues to draw crowds. A gangland spectacle, it’s packed to the gills with action, explosions, and gunfire. In fact, Gunplay is so loud that no one notices the killing of Monte Field. In a sold-out theater, Field is found dead partway through the second act, surrounded by empty seats. The police hold the crowd and call for the one man who can untangle this daring murder: Inspector Richard Queen. With the help of his son Ellery, a bibliophile and novelist whose imagination can solve any crime, the Inspector attacks this seemingly impenetrable mystery. Anyone in the theater could have killed the unscrupulous lawyer, and several had the motive. Only Ellery Queen, in his debut novel, can decipher the clue of the dead man’s missing top hat.

I read a lot of “vintage” mysteries and enjoy them. The Roman Hat Mystery, however, was just not that good, but it’s the first in the series, so I’m willing to give the Queens another chance. I liked Ellery, even if he is a bit in the background here, mostly observing, and his dad is an interesting man. One of the problems with this mystery is that it could only have taken place in the 20s, which is good and bad at the same time. It gives us a picture of a bygone era, complete with bootleg liquor, gents who have to have a top hat when attending the theater, and way too much snuff. The women are either over-looked or not quite honest.

Inspector Queen moves quickly between angry and cheery, depressed and “on the hunt.” It’s a little disconcerting, but the reader, Robert Faas, pulls it off well.  He made me feel the differences between the two Queens and also his intonation made the dated phrases work without sounding cheesy to the modern listener.

I liked how the whole mystery was put together, although the reader was given all the clues. Once we knew the whole story it made perfect sense, even why the top hat was so important. It wasn’t quite fair though, especially when we are asked during an interlude who we believe the culprit is.

I guess it’s expected but the story is pretty racist, including the solution to the whodunnit, and sexist, overly so. It’s too much grounded in the 20s attitudes to be thoroughly enjoyable. Or maybe it’s not a good enough mystery to overlook the issues.

The Ellery Queen series is one of the classic mystery series. I’m thinking maybe this first was not a good example of the books.

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


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

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It also counts for the Vintage Mystery Challenge. Inspector Queen and his son Ellery qualify as a Dynamic Duo, I believe.


  • I have a few of these lying around, waiting to be read, but I haven’t done so yet. I’m actually thinking I’m on mystery burnout right now, and I don’t want to push it. I think I may get to them next year.

  • Hi Carol,

    Thanks for the fine review and your kind words about my reading. I’m honored to have been the first narrator approved by the Ellery Queen estate (there are now a handful) to record the series. There are apparently over 80 books – and, having recorded the first two in the series and now preparing to record #13, THE DEVIL TO PAY, 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 takes place in Hollywood, was written nearly a decade later and is much sharper, with a touch of social satire.) It’s a wonderful challenge to juggle such a large and colorful cast of characters and to sink into the world of the books. I hope you’ll keep listening!

    Robert Fass

    • I’m actually listening to the second one now and while I’m enjoying it, I’m not loving it. Since you say they do evolve maybe I’ll ahead a little and see if later ones are more to my taste.

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