Ellery Queen and his father are meandering through breakfast when their apartment is invaded. Without making a sound, 2 men appear in the Queens’ living room, guns drawn, and proceed to search the place. When they’re done, a 3rd man follows: a paunchy little professor-type who happens to be the brother of a king. King Bendigo doesn’t rule a country, but his control of the international arms trade has made him one of the richest men in the world. It’s not surprising that somebody wants him dead.
Bendigo’s brother comes to the Queens to ask them to save the tycoon’s life—but they fail. The king is found dead in a hermetically sealed room, a bullet lodged in his heart. The murder is impossible to solve—that is, for anyone but Ellery Queen.
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About the Author
Although eventually famous on television and radio, Queen’s first appearance came in 1928, when the cousins won a mystery-writing contest with the book that was later published as The Roman Hat Mystery. Their character was an amateur detective who uses his spare time to assist his police inspector uncle in solving baffling crimes. Besides writing the Queen novels, Dannay and Lee cofounded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, one of the most influential crime publications of all time. Although Dannay outlived his cousin by nine years, he retired Queen upon Lee’s death.
Ellery Queen was a pen name created and shared by two cousins, Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Manfred B. Lee (1905–1971), as well as the name of their most famous detective. Born in Brooklyn, they spent forty-two years writing, editing, and anthologizing under the name, gaining a reputation as the foremost American authors of the Golden Age “fair play” mystery. Although eventually famous on television and radio, Queen’s first appearance came in 1928, when the cousins won a mystery-writing contest with the book that would eventually be published as The Roman Hat Mystery. Their character was an amateur detective who uses his spare time to assist his police inspector uncle in solving baffling crimes. Besides writing the Queen novels, Dannay and Lee cofounded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, one of the most influential crime publications of all time. Although Dannay outlived his cousin by nine years, he retired Queen upon Lee’s death.
Read an Excerpt
The King is Dead
By Ellery Queen
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1952 Ellery Queen
All rights reserved.
The invasion of the Queen apartment occurred at 8.08 o'clock of an ordinary June morning, with West 87th Street just washed down three storeys below by the City sprinkler truck and Arsène Lupin in grand possession of the east ledge, breakfasting on breadcrumbs intended for a dozen other pigeons of the neighbourhood.
It was an invasion in twentieth-century style — without warning. At the moment it exploded, Inspector Queen was poising a spoon edgewise over his second egg, measuring peacefully for the strike; Mrs. Fabrikant had just elevated her leviathan bottom at the opposite side of the room, preparing to plug in the vacuum cleaner; and Ellery was in the act of stepping into the living-room, hands at his neck about to pull down his jacket collar.
'Don't move, please.'
There had been no noise at all. The front door had been unlocked, the door wedged back against the wall, and the foyer crossed in silence.
The Inspector's spoon, Mrs. Fabrikant's bottom, Ellery's hands remained where they were.
The two men were standing just inside the archway from the foyer. Folded topcoats covered their right hands. They were dressed alike, in suits and hats of ambiguous tan, except that one wore a dark blue shirt and the other a dark brown shirt. They were big men with nice, rather blank, faces.
The pair looked around the Queen living-room. Then they stepped apart and Ellery saw that they were not a pair but a trio.
The third man stood outside the apartment, straddling the landing to block the public hall. His motionless back was toward the Queen front doorway and he was looking down the staircase.
Blue Shirt suddenly parted company from his twin. He had to pass Inspector Queen at the dropleaf table, but he paid no attention to the staring old gentleman. He went through the swinging door to the kitchen, very fast.
His mate remained in the archway in an attitude of almost respectful attention. His brown shirt added a warm tone to his personality. His right hand appeared, holding a .38 revolver with a pug nose.
Blue Shirt came out of the Queen kitchen and disappeared in Inspector Queens bedroom.
The Inspector's spoon, Mrs. Fabrikant's bottom, Ellery's hands all came cautiously down at the same moment. But nothing happened except that Blue Shirt came out of the Inspector's bedroom, crossed to the doorway where Ellery stood, stiff-armed Ellery politely out of the way, and went into the study.
The third man kept watching the stairs in the hall.
Mrs. Fabrikant's mouth was working up to a shriek. Ellery said, 'Don't, Fabby,' just in time.
Blue Shirt came back and said to his partner, 'All clear.' Brown Shirt nodded and immediately set out across the room, heading for Mrs. Fabrikant. She scrambled to her feet, creamier than the woodwork. Without looking at her, Brown Shirt said in a pleasant voice, 'Take the vacuum into one of the bedrooms, Mother, shut the door, and get it going.' He stopped at the window.
Arsène Lupin boomed and flew away, and Mrs. Fabrikant fled.
That was when Inspector Queen found his legs and his voice. Jumping to his full five feet four inches, the Inspector bellowed, 'Who in the hell are you?'
The vacuum cleaner began to whine like a bandsaw from Ellery's bedroom beyond the study. Blue Shirt shut the study door, muffling the noise. He wedged his back in the doorway.
'If this is a stickup —!'
Blue Shirt grinned, and Brown Shirt — at the window — permitted himself a smile that only briefly shattered his expression. His glance remained on 87th Street below.
'— it's the politest one in history,' said Ellery. 'You at the window. Would you get nervous if I looked over your shoulder?'
The man shook his head impatiently. A black town car with a New York licence plate was just swinging into West 87th Street from Columbus Avenue. Ellery saw its glittering mate parked across the street. Several men were in the parked car.
Brown Shirt's left hand came up, and two of the men in the parked car jumped out and raced across the street to the sidewalk below the Queen windows. As they reached the kerb, the car which had turned into 87th Street slid to a stop before the house. One of the men ran up the brown-stone steps; the other swiftly opened the rear door of the car and stepped back, looking not into the car but up and down the street.
A smallish man got out of the town car. He was dressed in a nondescript suit and he wore an out-of-shape grey hat. In a leisurely way he mounted the brownstone steps and passed from view.
'Recognize him, Dad?'
Inspector Queen, at Ellery's shoulder, shook his head. He looked bewildered.
'Neither do I.'
Brown Shirt was now at the door of the Inspector's bedroom, so that he and Blue Shirt faced each other from opposite sides of the room. Their foreshortened Police Positives dangled at their thighs. Their companion on the landing stepped up to the newel post, and now his right hand was visible, too, grasping a third .38.
Mrs. Fabrikant's machine kept sawing.
Suddenly, out in the hall, the third man backed away.
The smallish man's shapeless hat and undistinguished suit began to rise from the stairwell.
'Good morning,' said the smallish man, removing his hat. He had a voice like a steel guitar-string.
Seen close up, he was not so small as he had appeared. He was several inches taller than Inspector Queen, but he had the Inspector's small bones and the narrow face structure of many undersized men. His head broadened at the temples and his forehead was scholarly. His skin was bland and firm, with an undertinge of indoor grey, his hair mouse-brown with a tendency to scamper. His eyes, which were protected by squarish rimless glasses, had a bulgy and heavy-lidded look, but this was an illusion; his blinking stare was unavoidable. A growing pot strained the button of his single-breasted jacket, which could have done with a pressing. He looked as if he ought to be wearing a square derby and a piped vest.
He might have been fifty, or sixty, or even forty-five.
Ellery's first impression was categorical: The absent-minded professor. The rather high-pitched Yankee voice of authority went with examinations and blackboards. But professors, absentminded or otherwise, do not go about the city accompanied by armed guards in powerful cars. Ellery revised. A general, perhaps, one of the intellectual brass, a staff man who moved mountains from the Pentagon. Or an old-fashioned banker from Vermont. But ...
'My name,' twanged the visitor, 'is Abel Bendigo.'
'Bendigo!' The Inspector stared. 'You're not the Bendigo —' 'Hardly,' said Abel Bendigo with a smile. 'I take it you've never seen his photograph. But you see what I'm up against, Inspector Queen. These security people are members of my brother's Public Relations and Personnel Department, which is under the command of a very hard fellow named Spring. Colonel Spring — I doubt if you've ever heard of him. He tyrannizes us all, even my brother — or, I should say, especially my brother! And so you're Ellery Queen,' their visitor went on without so much as a glissando. 'Great pleasure, Mr. Queen. I've never got over feeling a bit silly about these precautions, but what can I do? Colonel Spring likes to remind me that it takes only one bullet to turn farce into tragedy ... May I sit down?'
Ellery pulled the old leather chair forward, and the Inspector said, 'I wish, Mr. Bendigo, you had let us know in advance —'
'The Colonel again,' murmured Abel Bendigo, sinking into the chair. 'Thank you, Mr. Queen, my hat will do nicely on the floor here ... So this is where all the mysteries are solved.'
'Yes,' said Ellery, 'but I believe what's bothering my father is the fact that he's due in his office at Police Headquarters in about twelve minutes, and it's downtown.'
'Sit down, Inspector, I want to talk to both of you.'
'I can't, Mr. Bendigo —'
'They won't miss you this once. I guarantee it. By the way, I see we've interrupted your breakfast. Yours, too, Mr. Queen —'
'Just coffee this morning,' Ellery went to the table. 'Will you join us?'
From the side of the room Brown Shirt said, 'Mr. Bendigo.'
Bendigo waved his slender hand humorously. 'You see? Another of Colonel Spring's rules. Finish. Please.'
Ellery refilled his father's cup from the percolator and poured a cupful for himself. There was no point in asking this man questions; in fact, there was every point in not. So he stood by the table and sipped his coffee.
The Inspector gulped his breakfast, throwing side glances at his wristwatch in perplexity.
Abel Bendigo waited in silence, blinking. Blue Shirt and Brown Shirt were very still. The man on the landing did not move. Mrs. Fabrikant's vacuum cleaner kept buzzing in a helpless way.
The moment the Queens set their cups down, the visitor said, 'What do you gentlemen know about my brother King?'
They looked at each other.
'Got a file on him, son?' asked the Inspector.
Ellery went into his study. Blue Shirt moving aside. When he came back, he was carrying a large clasp envelope. He shook it over the table and a few newspaper and magazine clippings fell out. He sat down and glanced over them.
Abel Bendigo's prominent eyes behind the glasses blinked at Ellery's face.
Finally Ellery looked up. 'There's nothing here that amounts to anything, Mr. Bendigo. Sunday supplement stuff, chiefly.'
'You know nothing about my brother,' murmured the slender man, 'beyond what's in those clippings?'
'Your brother is rumoured to be one of the five richest men in the world — worth billions. That, I take it, is the usual exaggeration. However, the assumption may be made that he's a man of great wealth.'
'Oh, yes?' said Abel Bendigo.
'How great makes an interesting speculation. There is in existence an industrial monster known as The Bodigen Arms Company, munitions manufacturers, with affiliates all over the globe. This company is supposed to be owned lock and stock by your brother King. I say "supposed to be" because the only "proof" presented in evidence of his alleged ownership is the rather amusing one that Bodigen is an anagram of Bendigo. If it should happen to be true, I salaam. During World War II a single branch of The Bodigen Arms Company — just one branch out of the dozens in existence — showed profits after taxes of some forty-two millions a year.'
'Go on,' said Abel Bendigo, blinking.
'Your brother, Mr. Bendigo, is also said to be deeply involved in worldwide oil interests, steel, copper, aluminium — all the important metals — aircraft, shipbuilding, chemicals —'
'Anything, that is,' said Inspector Queen, dabbing at his moustache, 'relating to materials vital to war. I really must be getting downtown, Mr. Bendigo —'
'Not yet.' Bendigo crossed his legs suddenly. 'Go on, Mr. Queen.'
'Personal data,' continued Ellery, 'are almost as speculative. Your brother seems extremely shy. Little or nothing is known about his background. A photographer for a Kansas newspaper won a national spot-news photography award two years ago for snapping a picture of King Bendigo and managing to get away with an unbroken plate, although the decoy camera by which he pulled off the trick was smashed to crumbs — by these gentlemen here, for all I know. The photo shows a big man, handsome as the devil — I quote an eye-witness — at that time fifty-two years old, which makes him fifty-four today. But he looks little more than forty or so, and he carries himself — I quote again — "with an arrogant self-confidence usually associated with twenty." "Dressed to kill," it says here, and you'll forgive me if I wonder whether the reporter was trifling libellously with the English language when he wrote it.'
King Bendigo's brother smiled, but then the corners of his mouth dropped and snuffed the smile out.
'I have in my possession,' he said slowly, 'two letters. They were addressed to my brother. They're threat-letters.
'Now a man in my brother's position, no matter how careful he is to avoid publicity, can hardly avoid cranks. Colonel Spring's PRPD takes all the necessary precautions against that sort of thing as a matter of routine. These letters, however, are a different run of shad.'
Bendigo took two folded sheets of paper from his inside breast pocket. 'I want you to examine these, please.'
'All right,' said Ellery, and he came over.
The Inspector rose, too. 'Where are the envelopes?'
'King's secretaries discarded them before their importance was appreciated. My brother's staff opens all his mail for sorting and distribution — all, that is, except letters marked "confidential" or under special seal. These two letters, I understand, were in the ordinary mail.'
Ellery made no move to unfold them. 'Was no attempt made to recover the envelopes, Mr. Bendigo? From the waste-basket, or wherever they were tossed?'
'There are no waste-baskets at our offices. Each secretary has beside his desk a chute which leads to a central macerating machine. Discarded paper goes down the chute and is chewed to pulp. The pulp feeds automatically into an incinerator.'
'Since smoke,' murmured Ellery, 'can't be yanked out of a file?'
Abel Bendigo's lips pursed. 'We have no use, Mr. Queen, for mere accumulations.'
'Let's see those letters, Ellery,' said the Inspector.
The two sheets of paper were identical. They were creamy single sheets, personal letter size, of a fine vellum-type stationery, unmarked by monogram or imprint. In the centre of each sheet there was a single line of typewriting.
'The six-word message was the first,' said Bendigo.
The six-word message was:
You are going to be murdered —
The dash was not casual. It was impressed into the paper, as if the key had been struck at that point with force.
The message on the second sheet was almost identical with that on the first. The only difference was the addition of two words:
You are going to be murdered on Thursday —
As in the first message, the dash had been physically emphasized.
The Queens studied the two messages.
Finally, the Inspector looked up. 'Where in these notes does it say that your brother King is going to be murdered, Mr. Bendigo? I don't see any name on these. Anywhere.'
'The envelopes, Inspector Queen.'
'Did you see the envelopes?'
'No, but the staff —'
'Did anyone but the secretaries who opened them — and threw them down the chute to be destroyed — see the envelopes?'
'No. But they are reliable people, thoroughly screened. Of course, Inspector, you'll have to take my word for that. The envelopes were addressed to King Bendigo.' Bendigo was not irritated; if anything, he seemed pleased. 'What do you think, Mr. Queen?'
'I see what's bothering you. Threatening letters are usually hand-printed on cheap paper — the block-lettering, commonly in pencil, is almost always unidentifiable, and the cheap paper untraceable. These letters are remarkable for their frankness. The writer did not try to cover his tracks. He used expensive, distinctive notepaper which should be easy to trace. Instead of printing capitals in pencil, he typed his message on a Winchester —'
'Winchester Noiseless Portable,' snapped the Inspector.
'— virtually inviting identification. It's almost,' said Ellery thoughtfully, 'as if he wanted the letters to be traced. Of course, they could be a practical joke.'
'No one,' said Abel Bendigo, 'jokes about the death of my brother King.'
'Then they make no sense,' said Ellery, 'at least to me. Do they make sense to you, Mr. Bendigo?'
'It's your opinion, then, that these are the work of a crank?'
'No, indeed,' murmured Ellery. 'They make no sense because they're obviously not the work of a crank. The letters are unfinished: the first ends with an emphasized dash, the second adds a fact and ends with another emphasized dash. There is a progression here. So there will be more letters with more information. Since the first letter promises murder and the second promises murder on a Thursday, logically a third letter will specify on which of the fifty-two possible Thursdays the murder is planned to take place. It adds up to cold calculation, not aberration. Why, then, leave an open trail? That's why I say it makes no sense.'
Excerpted from The King is Dead by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1952 Ellery Queen. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I just couldn't get into this book. I tried but I gave up....it didn't hold my attention.
I thought this was a terrible book. You have to read half the story before anything happens, and then it is not so hard to figure out who the culprit(s) is/are. Stupid ending too.
Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!