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Ellery Queen: The Amateur Detective Solves Bizarre Crimes

Readers won't be able to stop thinking about these twisted and thrilling tales.

the adventures of ellery queen excerpt
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  • Photo Credit: Matteo Catanese / Unsplash

Amateur detective Ellery Queen has taken on some of the strangest cases—from Hollywood to New York City. As the son of a NYC police inspector, he’s the go-to guy for the department’s most unsolvable mysteries. Written by the fictional detective himself—a pseudonym for cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee—The Adventures of Ellery Queen is a collection of crime-solving adventures involving the sharp sleuth. It carries the elements of the detective stories we love, while offering a series of bizarre cases that inspire a surrealist tone. 

Explore the streets of 1940s New York City with Queen as he solves 11 of the oddest cases. From a body that won’t stay in one place to a circus that is filled with intrigue, these mysteries puzzle and delight. Can you figure out who did it before Queen does? 

Read on for an excerpt of “The Adventure of the Mad Tea-Party," and then download the book. 




The Adventures of Ellery Queen

By Ellery Queen

The tall young man in the dun raincoat thought that he had never seen such a downpour. It gushed out of the black sky in a roaring flood, gray-gleaming in the feeble yellow of the station lamps. The red tails of the local from Jamaica had just been drowned out in the west. It was very dark beyond the ragged blur of light surrounding the little railroad station, and unquestionably very wet. The tall young man shivered under the eaves of the platform roof and wondered what insanity had moved him to venture into the Long Island hinterland in such wretched weather. And where, damn it all, was Owen?

He had just miserably made up his mind to seek out a booth, telephone his regrets, and take the next train back to the City, when a lowslung coupé came splashing and snuffling out of the darkness, squealed to a stop, and a man in chauffeur’s livery leaped out and dashed across the gravel for the protection of the eaves.

“Mr. Ellery Queen?” he panted, shaking out his cap. He was a blond young man with a ruddy face and sun-squinted eyes.

“Yes,” said Ellery with a sigh. Too late now.

“I’m Millan, Mr. Owen’s chauffeur, sir,” said the man. “Mr. Owen’s sorry he couldn’t come down to meet you himself. Some guests—This way, Mr. Queen.”

He picked up Ellery’s bag and the two of them ran for the coupé. Ellery collapsed against the mohair in an indigo mood. Damn Owen and his invitations! Should have known better. Mere acquaintance, when it came to that. One of J.J.’s questionable friends. People were always pushing so. Put him up on exhibition, like a trained seal. Come, come, Rollo; here’s a juicy little fish for you!…Got vicarious thrills out of listening to crime yarns. Made a man feel like a curiosity. Well, he’d be drawn and quartered if they got him to mention crime once! But then Owen had said Emmy Willowes would be there, and he’d always wanted to meet Emmy. Curious woman, Emmy, from all the reports. Daughter of some blueblood diplomat who had gone to the dogs—in this case, the stage. Stuffed shirts, her tribe, probably. Atavi! There were some people who still lived in mediœval…Hmm. Owen wanted him to see “the house.” Just taken a month ago. Ducky, he’d said. “Ducky!” The big brute…

The coupé splashed along in the darkness, its head-lights revealing only remorseless sheets of speckled water and occasionally a tree, a house, a hedge.

Millan cleared his throat. “Rotten weather, isn’t it, sir. Worst this spring. The rain, I mean.”

Ah, the conversational chauffeur! thought Ellery with an inward groan. “Pity the poor sailor on a night like this,” he said piously.

“Ha, ha,” said Millan. “Isn’t it the truth, though? You’re a little late, aren’t you, sir? That was the eleven-fifty. Mr. Owen told me this morning you were expected tonight on the nine-twenty.”

“Detained,” murmured Ellery, wishing he were dead.

“A case, Mr. Queen?” asked Millan eagerly, rolling his squinty eyes.

Even he, O Lord….“No, no. My father had his annual attack of elephantiasis. Poor dad! We thought for a bad hour there that it was the end.”

The chauffeur gaped. Then, looking puzzled, he returned his attention to the soggy pelted road. Ellery closed his eyes with a sigh of relief.

But Millan’s was a persevering soul, for after a moment of silence he grinned—true, a trifle dubiously—and said: “Lots of excitement at Mr. Owen’s tonight, sir. You see, Master Jonathan—”

“Ah,” said Ellery, starting a little. Master Jonathan, eh? Ellery recalled him as a stringy, hot-eyed brat in the indeterminate years between seven and ten who possessed a perfectly fiendish ingenuity for making a nuisance of himself. Master Jonathan….He shivered again, this time from apprehension. He had quite forgotten Master Jonathan.

“Yes, sir, Jonathan’s having a birthday party tomorrow, sir—ninth, I think—and Mr. and Mrs. Owen’ve rigged up something special.” Millan grinned again, mysteriously. “Something very special, sir. It’s a secret, y’see. The kid—Master Jonathan doesn’t know about it yet. Will he be surprised!”

“I doubt it, Millan,” groaned Ellery, and lapsed into a dismal silence which not even the chauffeur’s companionable blandishments were able to shatter.

Richard Owen’s “ducky” house was a large rambling affair of gables and ells and colored stones and bright shutters, set at the terminal of a winding driveway flanked by soldierly trees. It blazed with light and the front door stood ajar.

“Here we are, Mr. Queen!” cried Millan cheerfully, jumping out and holding the door open. “It’s only a hop to the porch; you won’t get wet, sir.”

Ellery descended and obediently hopped to the porch. Millan fished his bag out of the car and bounded up the steps. “Door open ’n’ everything,” he grinned. “Guess the help are all watchin’ the show.”

“Show?” gasped Ellery with a sick feeling at the pit of his stomach.

Millan pushed the door wide open. “Step in, step in, Mr. Queen. I’ll go get Mr. Owen….They’re rehearsing, y’see. Couldn’t do it while Jonathan was up, so they had to wait till he’d gone to bed. It’s for tomorrow, y’see. And he was very suspicious; they had an awful time with him—”

“I can well believe that,” mumbled Ellery. Damn Jonathan and all his tribe! He stood in a small foyer looking upon a wide brisk living room, warm and attractive. “So they’re putting on a play. Hmm….Don’t bother, Millan; I’ll just wander in and wait until they’ve finished. Who am I to clog the wheels of Drama?”

“Yes, sir,” said Millan with a vague disappointment; and he set down the bag and touched his cap and vanished in the darkness outside. The door closed with a click curiously final, shutting out both rain and night.

Ellery reluctantly divested himself of his drenched hat and raincoat, hung them dutifully in the foyer-closet, kicked his bag into a corner, and sauntered into the living room to warm his chilled hands at the good fire. He stood before the flames soaking in heat, only half-conscious of the voices which floated through one of the two open door ways beyond the fireplace.

A woman’s voice was saying in odd childish tones: “No, please go on! I won’t interrupt you again. I dare say there may be one.”

“Emmy,” thought Ellery, becoming conscious very abruptly. “What’s going on here?” He went to the first doorway and leaned against the jamb.

An astonishing sight met him. They were all—as far as he could determine—there. It was apparently a library, a large bookish room done in the modern manner. The farther side had been cleared and a home-made curtain, manufactured out of starchy sheets and a pulley, stretched across the room. The curtain was open, and in the cleared space there was a long table covered with a white cloth and with cups and saucers and things on it. In an armchair at the head of the table sat Emmy Willowes, whimsically girlish in a pinafore, her gold-brown hair streaming down her back, her slim legs sheathed in white stockings, and black pumps with low heels on her feet. Beside her sat an apparition, no less: a rabbity creature the size of a man, his huge ears stiffly up, an enormous bow-tie at his furry neck, his mouth clacking open and shut as human sounds came from his throat. Beside the hare there was another apparition: a creature with an amiably rodent little face and slow sleepy movements. And beyond the little one, who looked unaccountably like a dormouse, sat the most remarkable of the quartet—a curious creature with shaggy eyebrows and features reminiscent of George Arliss’s, at his throat a dotted bow-tie, dressed Victorianishly in a quaint waistcoat, on his head an extraordinary tall cloth hat in the band of which was stuck a placard reading: “For This Style 10/6.”

The audience was composed of two women: an old lady with pure white hair and the stubbornly sweet facial expression which more often than not conceals a chronic acerbity; and a very beautiful young woman with full breasts, red hair, and green eyes. Then Ellery noticed that two domestic heads were stuck in another doorway, gaping and giggling decorously.

“The mad tea-party,” thought Ellery, grinning. “I might have known, with Emmy in the house. Too good for that merciless brat!”

“They were learning to draw,” said the little dormouse in a high-pitched voice, yawning and rubbing its eyes, “and they drew all manner of things—everything that begins with an M—”

“Why with an M?” demanded the woman-child.

“Why not?” snapped the hare, flapping his ears indignantly.

The dormouse began to doze and was instantly beset by the top-hatted gentleman, who pinched him so roundly that he awoke with a shriek and said: “—that begins with an M, such as mousetraps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness—you know you say things are ‘much of a muchness’—did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?”

“Really, now you ask me,” said the girl, quite confused, “I don’t think—”

“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter tartly.

The girl rose in open disgust and began to walk away, her white legs twinkling. The dormouse fell asleep and the hare and the Hatter stood up and grasped the dormouse’s little head and tried very earnestly to push it into the mouth of a monstrous teapot on the table.

And the little girl cried, stamping her right foot: “At any rate I’ll never go there again. It’s the stupidest tea-party I was ever at in all my life!”

And she vanished behind the curtain; an instant later it swayed and came together as she operated the rope of the pulley.

“Superb,” drawled Ellery, clapping his hands. Brava, Alice. And a couple of bravi for the zoological characters, Messrs. Dormouse and March Hare, not to speak of my good friend the Mad Hatter.”

The Mad Hatter goggled at him, tore off his hat, and came running across the room. His vulturine features under the make-up were both good-humored and crafty; he was a stoutish man in his prime, a faintly cynical and ruthless prime. “Queen! When on earth did you come? Darned if I hadn’t completely forgotten about you. What held you up?”

“Family matter. Millan did the honors. Owen, that’s your natural costume, I’ll swear. I don’t know what ever possessed you to go into Wall Street. You were born to be the Hatter.”

“Think so?” chuckled Owen, pleased. “I guess I always did have a yen for the stage; that’s why I backed Emmy Willowes’s Alice show. Here, I want you to meet the gang. Mother,” he said to the white-haired old lady, “may I present Mr. Ellery Queen. Laura’s mother, Queen—Mrs. Mansfield.” 

The old lady smiled a sweet, sweet smile; but Ellery noticed that her eyes were very sharp. “Mrs. Gardner,” continued Owen, indicating the buxom young woman with the red hair and green eyes. “Believe it or not, she’s the wife of that hairy Hare over there. Ho, ho, ho!”

There was something a little brutal in Owen’s laughter. Ellery bowed to the beautiful woman and said quickly: “Gardner? You’re not the wife of Paul Gardner, the architect?”

“Guilty,” said the March Hare in a cavernous voice; and he removed his head and disclosed a lean face with twinkling eyes. “How are you, Queen? I haven’t seen you since I testified for your father in that Schultz murder case in the Village.”

They shook hands. “Surprise,” said Ellery. “This is nice. Mrs. Gardner, you have a clever husband. He set the defense by their respective ears with his expert testimony in that case.”

“Oh, I’ve always said Paul is a genius,” smiled the redhaired woman. She had a queer husky voice. “But he won’t believe me. He thinks I’m the only one in the world who doesn’t appreciate him.”

“Now, Carolyn,” protested Gardner with a laugh; but the twinkle had gone out of his eyes and for some odd reason he glanced at Richard Owen.

“Of course you remember Laura,” boomed Owen, taking Ellery forcibly by the arm. “That’s the Dormouse. Charming little rat, isn’t she?”

Mrs. Mansfield lost her sweet expression for a fleeting instant; very fleeting indeed. What the Dormouse thought about being publicly characterized as a rodent, however charming, by her husband was concealed by the furry little head; when she took it off she was smiling. She was a wan little woman with tired eyes and cheeks that had already begun to sag.”

Want to keep reading? Download The Adventures of Ellery Queen now. 

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