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From the Publisher“A new Ellery Queen book has always been something to look forward to for many years now.” —Agatha Christie
“Ellery Queen is the American detective story.” —Anthony Boucher, author of Nine Times Nine
In Which Are Introduced a Theatre Audience and a Corpse
The dramatic season of 192– began in a disconcerting manner. Eugene O'Neill had neglected to write a new play in time to secure the financial encouragement of the intelligentsia; and as for the "low-brows," having attended play after play without enthusiasm, they had deserted the legitimate theatre for the more ingenuous delights of the motion picture palaces.
On the evening of Monday, September 24th, therefore, when a misty rain softened the electric blaze of Broadway's theatrical district, it was viewed morosely by house managers and producers from 37th Street to Columbus Circle. Several plays were then and there given their walking papers by the men higher up, who called upon God and the weather bureau to witness their discomfiture. The penetrating rain kept the play-going public close to its radios and bridge tables. Broadway was a bleak sight indeed to those few who had the temerity to patrol its empty streets.
The sidewalk fronting the Roman Theatre, on 47th Street west of the "White Way," however, was jammed with a mid-season, fair-weather crowd. The title "Gunplay" flared from a gay marquee. Cashiers dextrously attended the chattering throng lined up at the "Tonight's Performance" window. The buff-and-blue doorman, impressive with the dignity of his uniform and the placidity of his years, bowed the evening's top-hatted and befurred customers into the orchestra with an air of satisfaction, as if inclemencies of weather held no terrors for those implicated in "Gunplay's" production.
Inside the theatre, one of Broadway's newest, people bustled to their seats visibly apprehensive, since the boisterous quality of the play was public knowledge. In due time the last member of the audience ceased rustling his program; the last latecomer stumbled over his neighbor's feet; the lights dimmed and the curtain rose. A pistol coughed in the silence, a man screamed ... the play was on.
"Gunplay" was the first drama of the season to utilize the noises customarily associated with the underworld. Automatics, machine guns, raids on night-clubs, the lethal sounds of gang vendettas—the entire stock-in-trade of the romanticized crime society was jammed into three swift acts. It was an exaggerated reflection of the times—a bit raw, a bit nasty and altogether satisfying to the theatrical public. Consequently it played to packed houses in rain and shine. This evening's house was proof of its popularity.
The performance proceeded smoothly. The audience was thrilled at the thunderous climax to the first act. The rain having stopped, people strolled out into the side alley for a breath of air during the first ten-minute intermission. With the rising of the curtain on Act II, the detonations on the stage increased in volume. The second act hurtled to its big moment as explosive dialogue shot across the footlights. A slight commotion at the rear of the theatre went unnoticed, not unnaturally, in the noise and the darkness. No one seemed aware of anything amiss and the play crashed on. Gradually, however, the commotion increased in volume. At this point a few spectators at the rear of the left section squirmed about in their seats, to assert their rights in angry whispers. The protest was contagious. In an incredibly short time scores of eyes turned toward that section of the orchestra.
Suddenly a sharp scream tore through the theatre. The audience, excited and fascinated by the swift sequence of events on the stage, craned their necks expectantly in the direction of the cry, eager to witness what they thought was a new sensation of the play.
Without warning the lights of the theatre snapped on, revealing puzzled, fearful, already appreciative faces. At the extreme left, near a closed exit door, a large policeman stood holding a slight nervous man by the arm. He fended off a group of inquisitive people with a huge hand, shouting in stentorian tones, "Everybody stay right where he is! Don't get out of your seat, any of you!"
The smiles were soon wiped away. For the audience began to perceive a curious hesitancy on the part of the actors. Although they continued to recite their lines behind the footlights they were casting puzzled glances out into the orchestra. People, noting this, half-rose from their seats, panicky in the presence of a scented tragedy. The officer's Jovian voice continued to thunder, "Keep your seats, I say! Stay where you are!"
The audience suddenly realized that the incident was not play-acting but reality. Women shrieked and clutched their escorts. Bedlam broke loose in the balcony, whose occupants were in no position to see anything below.
The policeman turned savagely to a stocky, foreign-looking man in evening clothes who was standing by, rubbing his hands together.
"I'll have to ask you to close every exit this minute and see that they're kept closed, Mr. Panzer," he growled. "Station an usher at all the doors and tell 'em to hold everybody tryin' to get in or out. Send somebody outside to cover the alleys, too, until help comes from the station. Move fast, Mr. Panzer, before hell pops!"
The swarthy little man hurried away, brushing aside a number of excited people who had disregarded the officer's bellowed admonition and had jumped up to question him.
The bluecoat stood wide-legged at the entrance to the last row of the left section, concealing with his bulk the crumpled figure of a man in full evening dress, lying slumped in a queer attitude on the floor between rows. The policeman looked up, keeping a firm grip on the arm of the cowering man at his side, and shot a quick glance toward the rear of the orchestra.
"Hey, Neilson!" he shouted.
A tall tow-headed man hurried out of a small room near the main entrance and pushed his way through to the officer. He looked sharply down at the inert figure on the floor.
"What's happened here, Doyle?"
"Better ask this feller here," replied the policeman grimly. He shook the arm of the man he was holding. "There's a guy dead, and Mr."—he bent a ferocious glance upon the shrinking little man—"Pusak, W-William Pusak," he stammered—"this Mr. Pusak," continued Doyle, "says he heard him whisper he'd been croaked."
Neilson stared at the dead body, stunned.
The policeman chewed his lip. "I'm in one sweet mess, Harry," he said hoarsely. "The only cop in the place, and a pack of yellin' fools to take care of.... I want you to do somethin' for me."
"Say the word.... This is one hell of a note!"
Doyle wheeled in a rage to shout to a man who had just risen three rows ahead and was standing on his seat, peering at the proceedings. "Hey you!" he roared. "Get down offa there! Here—get back there, the whole bunch o' you. Back to your seats, now, or I'll pinch the whole nosey mob!"
He turned on Neilson. "Beat it to your desk, Harry, and give headquarters a buzz about the murder," he whispered. "Tell 'em to bring down a gang—make it a big one. Tell 'em it's a theatre—they'll know what to do. And here, Harry—take my whistle and toot your head off outside. I gotta get some help right away."
As Neilson fought his way back through the crowd, Doyle shouted after him: "Better ask 'em to send old man Queen down here, Harry!"
The tow-headed man disappeared into the office. A few moments later a shrill whistle was heard from the sidewalk in front of the theatre.
The swarthy theatre manager whom Doyle had commanded to place guards at the exits and alleys came scurrying back through the press. His dress shirt was slightly rumpled and he was mopping his forehead with an air of bewilderment. A woman stopped him as he wriggled his way forward. She squeaked,
"Why is this policeman keeping us here, Mr. Panzer? I've a right to leave, I should like you to know! I don't care if an accident did happen—I had nothing to do with it—that's your affair—please tell him to stop this silly disciplining of innocent people!"
The little man stammered, trying to escape. "Now, madam, please. I'm sure the officer knows what he is doing. A man has been killed here—it is a serious matter. Don't you see.... As manager of the theatre I must follow his orders. ... Please be calm—have a little patience...."
He wormed his way out of her grasp and was off before she could protest.
Doyle, his arms waving violently, stood on a seat and bellowed: "I told you to sit down and keep quiet, the pack o' you! I don't care if you're the Mayor himself, you—yeah, you there, in the monocle—stay down or I'll shove you down! Don't you people realize what's happened? Pipe down, I say!" He jumped to the floor, muttering as he wiped the perspiration from his capband.
In the turmoil and excitement, with the orchestra boiling like a huge kettle, and necks stretched over the railing of the balcony as the people there strove vainly to discover the cause of the confusion, the abrupt cessation of activity on the stage was forgotten by the audience. The actors had stammered their way through lines rendered meaningless by the drama before the footlights. Now the slow descent of the curtain put an end to the evening's entertainment. The actors, chattering, hurried toward the stagestairs. Like the audience they peered toward the nucleus of the trouble in bewilderment.
A buxom old lady, in garish clothes—the very fine imported actress billed in the character of Madame Murphy, "keeper of the public house"—her name was Hilda Orange; the slight, graceful figure of "the street waif, Nanette"—Eve Ellis, leading-lady of the piece; the tall robust hero of "Gunplay," James Peale, attired in a rough tweed suit and cap; the juvenile, smart in evening clothes, portraying the society lad who had fallen into the clutches of the "gang"—Stephen Barry; Lucille Horton, whose characterization of the "lady of the streets" had brought down a shower of adjectives from the dramatic critics, who had little enough to rant about that unfortunate season; a vandyked old man whose faultless evening clothes attested to the tailoring genius of M. Le Brun, costumer extraordinary to the entire cast of "Gunplay"; the heavy-set villain, whose stage scowl was dissolved in a foggy docility as he surveyed the frantic auditorium; in fact, the entire personnel of the play, bewigged and powdered, rouged and painted—some wielding towels as they hastily removed their make-up—scampered in a body under the lowering curtain and trooped down the stage steps into the orchestra, where they elbowed their way up the aisle toward the scene of the commotion.
Another flurry, at the main entrance, caused many people despite Doyle's vigorous orders to rise in their seats for a clearer view. A group of bluecoats were hustling their way inside, their night sticks ready. Doyle heaved a gargantuan sigh of relief as he saluted the tall man in plainclothes at their head.
"What's up, Doyle?" asked the newcomer, frowning at the pandemonium raging about them. The bluecoats who had entered with him were herding the crowd to the rear of the orchestra, behind the seat section. People who had been standing tried to slip back to their seats; they were apprehended and made to join the angry cluster jammed behind the last row.
"Looks like this man's been murdered, Sergeant," said Doyle.
"Uh-huh." The plainclothes man looked incuriously down at the one still figure in the theatre—lying at their feet, a black-sleeved arm flung over his face, his legs sprawled gawkily under the seats in the row before.
"What is it—gat?" asked the newcomer of Doyle, his eyes roving.
"No, sir—don't seem to be," said the policeman. "Had a doctor from the audience look him over the very first thing—thinks it's poison."
The Sergeant grunted. "Who's this?" he rapped, indicating the trembling figure of Pusak by Doyle's side.
"Chap who found the body," returned Doyle. "He hasn't moved from the spot since."
"Good enough." The detective turned toward a compact group huddled a few feet behind them and asked, generally: "Who's the manager here?"
Panzer stepped forward.
"I'm Velie, detective-sergeant from headquarters," said the plainclothes man abruptly. "Haven't you done anything to keep this yelling pack of idiots quiet?"
"I've done my best, Sergeant," mumbled the manager, wringing his hands. "But they all seem incensed at the way this officer"—he indicated Doyle apologetically—"has been storming at them. I don't know how I can reasonably expect them to keep sitting in their seats as if nothing had happened."
"Well, we'll take care of that," snapped Velie. He gave a rapid order to a uniformed man nearby. "Now"—he turned back to Doyle—"how about the doors, the exits? Done anything yet in that direction?"
"Sure thing, Sergeant," grinned the policeman. "I had Mr. Panzer here station ushers at every door. They've been there all night, anyway. But I just wanted to make sure."
"You were right. Nobody try to get out?"
"I think I can vouch for that, Sergeant," put in Panzer meekly. "The action of the play necessitates having ushers posted near every exit, for atmosphere. This is a crook play, with a good deal of shooting and screaming and that sort of thing going on, and the presence of guards around the doors heightens the general effect of mystery. I can very easily find out for you if ..."
"We'll attend to that ourselves," said Velie. "Doyle, who'd you send for?"
"Inspector Queen," answered Doyle. "I had the publicity man, Neilson, phone him at headquarters."
Velie allowed a smile to crease his wintry face. "Thought of everything, didn't you? Now how about the body? Has it been touched at all since this fellow found it?"
The cowering man held in Doyle's hard grasp broke out, half-crying. "I—I only found him, officer—honest to God, I—"
"All right, all right," said Velie coldly. "You'll keep, won't you? What are you blubbering about? Well, Doyle?"
"Not a finger was laid on the body since I came over," replied Doyle, with a trace of pride in his voice. "Except, of course, for a Dr. Stuttgard. I got him out of the audience to make sure the man was dead. He was, and nobody else came near."
"You've been busy, haven't you, Doyle? I'll see you won't suffer by it," said Velie. He wheeled on Panzer, who shrank back. "Better trot up to the stage and make an announcement, Mr. Manager. The whole crew of 'em are to stay right where they are until Inspector Queen lets them go home—understand? Tell them it won't do any good to kick—and the more they kick the longer they'll be here. Make it plain, too, that they're to stick to their seats, and any suspicious move on anybody's part is going to make trouble."
"Yes. Yes. Good Lord, what a catastrophe!" groaned Panzer as he made his way down the aisle toward the stage.
At the same moment a little knot of people pushed open the big door at the rear of the theatre and stepped across the carpet in a body.CHAPTER 2
In Which One Queen Works and Another Queen Watches
There was nothing remarkable in either the physique or the manner of Inspector Richard Queen. He was a small, withered, rather mild-appearing old gentleman. He walked with a little stoop and an air of deliberation that somehow accorded perfectly with his thick gray hair and mustaches, veiled gray eyes and slender hands.
As he crossed the carpet with short, quick steps Inspector Queen was far from impressive to the milling eyes that observed his approach from every side. And yet, so unusual was the gentle dignity of his appearance, so harmless and benevolent the smile that illumined his lined old face, that an audible rustle swept over the auditorium, preceding him in a strangely fitting manner.
In his own men the change was appreciable. Doyle retreated into a corner near the left exits. Detective-Sergeant Velie, poised over the body—sardonic, cold, untouched by the near-hysteria about him—relaxed a trifle, as if he were satisfied to relinquish his place in the sun. The bluecoats guarding the aisles saluted with alacrity. The nervous, muttering, angry audience sank back with an unreasoning relief.
Inspector Queen stepped forward and shook hands with Velie.
"Too bad, Thomas, my boy. I hear you were going home when this happened," he murmured. To Doyle he smiled in a fatherly fashion. Then, in a mild pity, he peered down at the man on the floor. "Thomas," he asked, "are all the exits covered?" Velie nodded.
The old man turned back and let his eyes travel interestedly about the scene. He asked a low-voiced question of Velie, who nodded his head in assent; then he crooked his finger at Doyle.
Excerpted from The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1929 Ellery Queen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 23, 2013
I believe this is the first Ellery Queen story, and the Ellery is not the primary character or the story, his father is. The story takes great pains to walk through the process of investigation and deduction, almost to the point of excess, and the conclusion is logical and satisfactory, although the motive is something totally out of date and there for somewhat disappointing. The narrative is enjoyable and moves along well, there are many memorable characters and locations. It is very much a product of it's time, and
the one thing that stood out as far fetched to me was the crime itself, but I suppose you should expect that from a classic who-dunit. The Nook version was generally a good conversion, with only one or two typos, probably due to the OCR process.
Posted February 3, 2012
A lawyer murdered in the middle of a play's debut on Broadway and yet not a SINGLE witness.
One of the best author's of the mystery genre and I always enjoyed how he challenged the reader to see if they had come up with the same answer at the point in the book when he... challenges you the reader.
If you like locked room mysteries try John Dickson Carr or Carter Dickson.
Posted September 30, 2013
No text was provided for this review.
Posted February 14, 2012
No text was provided for this review.