My selection this week is DRURY LANE’S LAST CASE by Barnaby Ross which was first published in 1933.Fourth book in a series, no one at the time knew the author was really Ellery Queen(also unknown at the time was that EQ was actually two first cousins, Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay). In appearances, they liked to play off against each other as two competing writers, wearing masks and pretending to not like each other.
Drury Lane is a retired Shakespearean actor(because he went deaf at age sixty) who lives at a larg estate on the Hudson River. He learned to read lips and dabbles in the finest tradition of the “amateur” detective.
It starts with Inspector Thumm, retired and working as a private investigator now, receiving a client with a strange proposition. Obviously disguised, he wants Thumm to hold a sealed manila envelope for him. He won’t give a name, swears there is nothing illegal about it, and offers a new $1,000 dollar bill to seal the deal. The contents are a clue worth millions. The plan is to call on the twentieth of each month, with a code phrase to identify him. If, at end of that day, he hasn’t called, then and only then, is he to open the envelope in the presence of Drury Lane.
He calls on time the first month and the case is gradually forgotten as a new mystery pops up.
A young man, a bus driver for a tour group of teachers, comes to Thumm with a case. A special arrangement had been made for the group to see a museum temporarily closed. The driver counted nineteen people exiting the bus and only eighteen returning. He mentions it to a friend, a retired policeman who’s a guard at the museum, and then he turns up missing the next day.
Thumm and his daughter Patience question the teachers and learn there’s only seventeen of them at all. Who were the eighteenth and nineteenth persons and where have the three gotten to?
On the twentieth of the next month, the call doesn’t come and Drury Lane gets pulled into the case, things getting weirder then. When the envelope is opened, the two cases suddenly become one.
At the museum, a theft is discovered. A rare first edition, the 1599 The Passionate Pilgrim by W. Shakespeare, has been stolen. Only three are known to still exist. Left in its place to hide the missing volume is the even rarer second edition. None had previously been known. Then a week later, the stolen book is returned by messenger, the back cover slit open along the spine, accompanied by a $100 bill and a note saying “to cover repairs.”
As facts keep piling up, the whole case gets muddier.
!. The new curator arrives from England and it’s learned that he lied about his arrival time.
2. A suspect’s home is attacked with an axe, walls and furniture chopped up. Someone was looking for something.
3. The missing museum guard is found wandering dazed along a road weeks later.
4. The suspect’s house is blown up by a bomb and a body is found in the basement with three bullets in him.
As usual with an Ellery Queen mystery, the solution is there within the narrative if one pays close attention and has normal reasoning powers. That said, the ending completely floored me. I DIDN’T see it coming at all.
The copy I have, shown in the post, is a 1946 reprint. By then, of course as shown, everyone knew Barnaby Ross was really Ellery Queen. I’ve read the first book in the series as well, the middle two to go. I have read reviews that say the second was pretty bad. We’ll see.