Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Chinese Orange Mystery

The 22nd floor of the Chancellor Hotel includes both the Kirk family's suites and the office of Donald Kirk's Mandarin press. In a waiting room of said office a man is found murdered by a poker smashed over his head and with two african spears pushed through his clothes. The just as strange fact about his clothes however is, that they are entirely reversed - just as everything else in that whole room has been turned backwards! On top of that, all the people living or working on that floor claim to have never seen this man before...

I get why the opinions on this work can differ so significantly. Especially considering the solution. Personally, I think the setting and plot for themselves are awesome and I had just as much fun reading this one as was the case with The Siamese Twin Mystery. The way the backwardness of the crime scene leads to a seemingly endless cycle of secrets being revealed was written brilliantly and felt quite engaging. The characters are also the most lively bunch I've read from Queen so far and even though compared to the previous book in the series no second murder happens, I constantly felt the urge to read on.

For anything beyond these aspects of the novel, writing about it without spoiling becomes rather difficult, which is why I decided to keep it short around here to avoid getting risky and move spoilers to the bottom. So just mark the part below if you already read this novel.

Just a few things: While it's not assured that you automatically get the murderer when you know beforehand what kind of mystery this novel is, it certainly increases the likeliness. Meaning: Do NOT gather too much information on the significance, reputation or whatever of this novel, just read it, if that's possible at all. Though even if you get the murderer's identity, that's only one part of a huge puzzle. You still have to figure out the identity of the man (even though it's not really required or even stated in its entirety), the issue about the backwardness and the spears... and the solution, while complicated and certainly not badly invented, is a little hard to swallow. It's not even like Ellery's train of thought proves the victim's identity and the culprit's motive in a totally logical and definite way, but it all comes together in the end. I just wondered how the reader should come up with all that and connect it accordingly...

Personally, I liked the novel and the solution as well, considering the puzzle as a whole and the way the clues were placed... and the time this was written. It's just a tad too ingenious for its own good and maybe illustrations would have helped here. However, as neat as the plot is written, the solution might screw this book up for you, which is why I (as I guess many others would) can not really recommend this as a first Queen experience, but once you tasted something a bit more solid and less... queer, I think you should be fine with this.

Next up: Egyptian Cross or French Powder. And Dutch Shoe and Ten Days' Wonder are on their way.

!!!!!SPOILERS BELOW!!!!! (select to read)

While I do admit that I'm still not sure whether I really figured out that pseudo locked room trick (the door to the corridor wasn't locked after all) and it might have been more guessable when you actually had an illustration of that crime scene and how the murder was committed, I can not say I disliked the solution. I don't know if it's a good or a bad thing, which shows just how queer this novel is, but you don't even have to come up with that trick to guess the whodunnit. As long as you get the whole thing about the missing necktie, which is not impossible since A) it was hinted at through the backwardness of the crime scene once you think it might conceal something rather than point at it and B) the content of the valise was the last essential hint before Ellery's flash of genius and the Challange To The Reader, you could theoretically deduce the victim's occupation and where he came from. For what reason he came is a different thing, but as Ellery points out the possibilities are rather limited considering that it's true that everyone saw the man for the first time on that day. Once you figure that out and add the observation point of Mrs. Shane, you could at least figure out who would benefit from that pseudo locked room trick, even if you don't know the exact method.

The method itself though... the feasibility certainly is questionable, but then again it did not bug me as much as let's say... Carr's The Hollow Man! *gasp* Yes, I have to say as much as one simply has to like that novel, when you actually think about it, you begin to wonder why that exact method had to be used and more importantly whether that trick could be realized successfully. And seriously, in that case I found the clues to be even more elusive and my disbelief was suspended to its maximum. I think the thing with the spears and the cord is just as, or even less improbable (disregarding the fact that somebody would definitely notice the culprit doing all that...). But of course Carr is the master in that field (The Judas Window is the best example for that) and strictly speaking in Queen's case this can not even be considered a locked room as the other door was unlocked all the time and the more the attention is drawn from the other locked door on the office side, the better it turns out for the misdirection in this novel. Really queer business... but queer enough for me to like it.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the plot and setting quite a bit, with typical Queenian (Van Dine) characters like the connoisseur and the simply bizarre murder scene, but the final part of the book (the solution) kinda overshadows the rest of the book for me. I think I'm still not precisely sure what happened in that room :P It's just too ingenious for its own good.