Born during intermission in a seedy New Orleans playhouse, Drury Lane has spent the better part of his life in the theater. A majestic old-fashioned ham, he made his name in London, where his record-breaking run as Hamlet defined the role for a generation. When hearing loss forces him to retire, he turns his attention to human drama—specifically crime. Using his powers of disguise, knowledge of human nature, and an occasional dash of theatrical combat, Lane is the most fantastic detective of all time—onstage or off.
In The Tragedy of X, a man is poisoned in the middle of a crowded New York streetcar, and not one of the dozens of witnesses can provide any useful evidence. The police are stumped until they receive a letter from Lane, claiming to have solved the crime by reading newspaper reports. He knows the killer’s name—but now he has to catch him.
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 Tragedy of X
A Drury Lane Mystery
By Ellery Queen
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1932 Barnaby Ross
All rights reserved.
Act I: Scene I
The Hamlet. Tuesday, September 8. 10:30 A.M.
Below, shimmering in a blue haze, was the Hudson River; a white sail scudded by; a placid steamboat waddled upstream.
The automobile pushed its way along the narrow winding road, rising steadily. Its two passengers looked out and up. Far above, framed in cloud, were unbelievable medieval turrets, stone ramparts, crenelated battlements, a queerly ancient church-spire. Its needlepoint rose out of a sturdy forest of green.
The two looked at each other. "I'm beginning to feel like the Connecticut Yankee," said one, shivering slightly.
The other, large and square, growled: "Knights in armor, hey?"
The car slammed to a stop at a quaint rude bridge. From a thatched hut near by stepped a ruddy little old man. He pointed wordlessly at a swinging wooden sign above the door which said, in old English characters:
The large square man leaned out of the automobile window and yelled: "We want to see Drury Lane!"
"Yes, sir." The little old man hopped forward. "And your admission cards, gentlemen?"
The visitors stared and the first man shrugged. The large man said sharply: "Mr. Lane expects us."
"Oh." The bridgemaster scratched his gray poll and disappeared into his hut. He returned in a moment, briskly. "I beg your pardon, gentlemen. This way." He scuttled forward to the bridge, manipulated a creaking iron gate, stood back. The car rolled over the bridge, picking up speed on a clean gravel road.
A short drive through the green oak forest and the car emerged into a spacious clearing. The castle, a sleeping giant, sprawled before them, staked to the Hudson hills by puny granite walls. A massive iron-hasped door swung back groaning from the wall as the car approached; and another old man stood aside, tugging at his cap and smiling cheerfully.
They were on another road winding through a riot of cultivated gardens, guarded from the driveway by mathematically precise hedges and punctuated by yew trees. To right and left, off side lanes, gabled cottages rose from the gardens, dipping into gentle swales like houses out of fairyland. In the center of a flower garden near by water dripped from a stone Ariel. ...
They came at last to the stronghold itself. Again, on their approach, an old man anticipated their coming and a monstrous drawbridge clanked forward over the sparkling waters of a moat. The immense oak-andiron door beyond the drawbridge, twenty feet high, opened on the instant; an astonishingly rubicund little man attired in twinkling livery stood there, bowing and smiling and scraping as if he were enjoying a vast secret jest.
The visitors, eyes wide with amazement, scrambled from their vehicle and thundered across the iron bridge.
"District Attorney Bruno? Inspector Thumm? This way, please." The pot-bellied old servitor repeated his calisthenic welcome and trudged cheerfully before them into the sixteenth century.
They stood in a manorial hall of a vasty awesomeness. Hugely beamed ceilings. Winking metal-armored knights. Pegged old pieces. On the farthest wall, dominating even that Valhalla, leered a gargantuan mask of Comedy and on the opposite wall frowned a twin mask of Tragedy; they were carved out of time-bitten oak. Between them, from the ceiling, hung a prodigious candelabra of wrought iron, its giant candles outwardly innocent of electrical wiring.
Out of a door set in the farthest wall now stepped a queer figure from the past, a hunchbacked ancient — bald, bewhiskered, wrinkled, wearing a tattered leather apron like a blacksmith. The District Attorney and Inspector Thumm looked at each other and the Inspector muttered: "Are they all old men?"
The old hunchback came spryly forward to greet them. "Good day, gentlemen. Welcome to The Hamlet." He spoke in clipped and creaking tones, grotesquely as if he were unaccustomed to speaking at all. He turned to the old man in livery and said: "Whisht, Falstaff," and District Attorney Bruno opened his wide eyes even wider.
"Falstaff ..." he groaned. "Why, it's simply impossible. That can't be his name!"
The hunchback ruffled his whiskers. "No, sir. He used to be Jake Pinna, the actor. But that's what Mr. Drury calls him. ... This way, please."
He conducted them back across the booming floor to the same little portal from which he had come. He touched the wall; the door slid open. An elevator in this courtier-haunted place! Shaking their heads, they entered the cubicle followed by their guide. They were whisked upward; the elevator softly stopped; another little door popped open at once, and the hunchback said: "Mr. Lane's private apartments."
Massive, massive, old. ... Everything was old and flavored and redolent of Elizabethan England. Leather and oak, oak and stone. In a fireplace twelve feet wide, topped by a solid beam bronzed by age and smoke, a small fire was burning. Bruno, his brown eyes alert, was suddenly grateful for the heat; the air was slightly chill.
They sank into great old chairs at their guide's gnomish gesture, crossing glances of wonder. The ancient stood very still near the wall, grasping his beard; then he stirred and said, quite clearly: "Mr. Drury Lane."
Involuntarily the two men rose; a tall man stood regarding them from the threshold. The hunchback was bobbing his head now, a weird grin on his leathery old face. In spite of themselves, and to their own helpless consternation, the District Attorney and the Inspector found themselves bowing too.
Mr. Drury Lane strode into the room and extended a pale muscular hand. "Gentlemen. I'm delighted. Please sit down."
Bruno looked deeply into gray-green eyes of utter quietude; he began to speak and was startled to observe the eyes drop sharply to his own lips. "Good of you to receive Inspector Thumm and myself, Mr. Lane," he murmured. "We — well, we don't know quite what to say. You have an amazing estate, sir."
"Amazing at first glance, Mr. Bruno, but only because it presents to the twentieth-century eye, surfeited with severe angles, an anachronistic quaintness." The actor's voice was serene, like his eyes, but richer, it seemed to Bruno, than any voice he had ever heard before. "On closer acquaintance you will grow to love it, as I do. The Hamlet, one of my colleagues once said, is a backdrop, a scenic effect with the proscenium arch of these lovely hills as a frame. But for me it lives and breathes, a chunk out of the best of old England. ... Quacey!"
The hunchback stepped to the actor's side. Lane's hand strayed to the ancient's hump. "Gentlemen, this is Quacey, my inseparable familiar and, I assure you, a genius. He has been my make-up man for forty years."
Quacey bobbed again and in some manner mysteriously warm the two visitors sensed the link of mellow kinship between these completely antitypical individuals. So Bruno and Thumm began to speak at once; and Lane's eyes flickered from the lips of one to the lips of the other, and the expressionless lines of his face curved into the merest smile. "Separately, please. I am quite deaf, you see. I can read only one pair of lips at a time — a latter-day accomplishment of which I am very vain."
They stammered apologies and while they settled themselves in their chairs Lane pulled another, surely the great-grandfather of all old chairs, from before the fire and sat down facing them. Inspector Thumm noticed that Lane had set his chair so that the firelight fell on his visitors' faces, leaving his own features in shadow. Quacey had effaced himself; out of the corner of his eye Thumm barely saw that he was crouched, motionless, a gnarled brown gargoyle, in a chair against the farthest wall.
Bruno cleared his throat. "Inspector Thumm and I both feel, Mr. Lane, that we're presuming a bit in coming to you this way. I should never have sent my telegram, of course, if you hadn't solved the Cramer case for us in that really astounding letter of yours."
"Scarcely astounding in its essence, Mr. Bruno." The slow resonant voice came from the depths of the coronal chair. "My action is not entirely unprecedented. You will recall the series of letters Edgar Allan Poe sent to the New York newspapers offering a solution of the Mary Rogers murder. The truth, it seemed to me on analysis of the Cramer case, was obscured by three facts which had nothing at all to do with the solution. Unfortunately, you gentlemen went off on these tangents. You wished to consult me on the Longstreet murder?"
"Are you sure, Mr. Lane, that the Inspector and I — — Well, we know how busy you are."
"I shall never be too busy to dabble in the most elemental form of drama, Mr. Bruno." The voice was colored now with the faintest animation. "It was only after my forced retirement from the stage that I began to realize how theatrical life itself can be. The boards are restrictive, cramping. The creatures of a play are, in Mercutio's evaluation of dreams, 'children of an idle brain begot of nothing but vain fantasy.'" The visitors stirred at the magic that had leaped into Lane's voice. "Creatures of life, however, in their moments of passion present the larger aspects of drama. They can never be 'as thin of substance as the air and more inconstant than the wind.'"
"I see," said the District Attorney slowly. "I see now. Yes, it's quite clear now."
"Crime — the crime of violence induced by mastering emotion — is the highest refinement of the human drama. Murder is its own peculiar climax. All my life, in company with my distinguished brothers and sisters of the fraternity" — he smiled sadly — "Modjeska, Edwin Booth, Ada Rehan, and all those glorious others — I have been interpreting synthetic emotional climaxes. Now I intend if I can to interpret the real thing. I think I can bring to this pursuit a rather unique equipment. I have murdered on the stage countless times; emotionally I have suffered the agony of plotting, the torture of conscience. I have been, among others perhaps less noble, Macbeth, and I have been Hamlet. And, like a child viewing a simple wonder for the first time, I have just realized that the world is full of Macbeths and Hamlets. Trite, but true. ...
"From obeying the jerk of the master's strings, I now have the impulse to pull the strings myself, in a greater authorship than created drama. Everything fits so nicely; even my unfortunate affliction" — a lean finger touched his ear — "has contrived to sharpen my powers of concentration. I have only to close my eyes and I am in a world without sound and therefore without physical disturbance. ..."
Inspector Thumm looked bewildered; he seemed immersed in an emotion foreign to his practical nature. He blinked and wondered if this was — and scoffed inwardly — hero-worship.
"You see what I mean," the voice drove on. "I have understanding. I have background. I have insight. I have observation. I have concentration. I lay claim to deductive and detective powers."
Bruno coughed. Those disturbing eyes fastened themselves on his lips. "I'm afraid, Mr. Lane, I'm afraid that our little problem is quite beneath the — well, the dignity of your detective ambitions. It's really just a plain case of murder. ..."
"I'm disposed to think that I haven't made myself clear." The voice was brimming with humor now. "'A plain case of murder,' Mr. Bruno? But — exactly! Why should I require a fantastic one?"
"Well," said Inspector Thumm suddenly, "plain or fancy, it's a puzzler, and Mr. Bruno thought you'd be interested. Did you read the newspaper stories on the case?"
"Yes. But they're confused and meaningless. I prefer to approach the problem with an unetched perception. Please give me a scrupulously detailed account, Inspector. Describe the people involved. Relate the surrounding circumstances, no matter how apparently irrelevant or insignificant. In a word, tell me everything."
Bruno and Thumm exchanged glances; Bruno nodded and Inspector Thumm's ugly face screwed itself into a narrative expression.
The vast walls faded away. The fire, as if operated by a cosmic rheostat, dimmed. And The Hamlet, Mr. Drury Lane, the tang of old things and old times and old people fused and were submerged under the gruff tones of the Inspector.
A Suite IN THE Hotel Grant. Friday, September 4. 3:30 P.M.
On the previous Friday afternoon (ran the story from the facts related by Inspector Thumm and interpolations occasionally contributed by the District Attorney), two people sat closely embraced in the sitting-room of a suite at the Hotel Grant, steel-and-concrete hostelry on the corner of Forty-Second Street and Eighth Avenue, in New York.
They were man and woman — the man, Harley Longstreet, tall, middle-aged, of powerful body ravaged by years of dissipation, unhealthily crimson face, dressed in rough tweeds; the woman, Cherry Browne, musical comedy star, a brunette with Latin features, black flashing eyes, arched lips; a woman bold and passionate.
Longstreet kissed her with wet lips and she cuddled in his arms. "I hope they never come."
"So you like the old boy's lovin'?" The man disengaged himself and flexed his muscles with the pride of the athletic male gone to seed. "They'll come, though — they'll be here. When I tell Johnny DeWitt to jump, believe me, sister — he jumps!"
"But why drag him here with that frosty bunch of his if they don't want to come?"
"Because I like to see the old buzzard squirm. He hates my guts, and I love it. To hell with him."
He dumped the woman unceremoniously from his lap, crossed the room, and poured himself a drink from one of an array of bottles on a sideboard. The woman watched him with feline laziness.
"Sometimes," she said, "I can't figure you out. What you get out of tormenting him is beyond me." She shrugged her white shoulders. "Well, that's your affair. Drink hearty!"
Longstreet grunted, threw his head far back, poured the drink down his throat. For the fraction of an instant his head remained that way when the actress continued in an indifferent voice: "Is Mrs. DeWitt coming, too?"
He tossed the whisky glass to the sideboard. "Why not? Now don't go harping on her again, Cherry. I've told you a hundred times there's nothing between us and there never was."
"Not that I care." She laughed. "But it would be just like you to steal his wife, too. ... Who else is coming?"
He grimaced. "A prize bunch. God, how I love to see DeWitt pull that long pious face of his! There's his side kick out in West Englewood, this fellow Ahearn — regular old woman, always complaining about his belly. Belly!" he regarded his own slight paunch in a bleary way. "These straight-living preachers always seem to have floating guts; none of that for Longie, darling! Then there's little Jeanne DeWitt, and she hates me, too, and her daddy'll make her come, and it will be one sweet party. Especially when her Frank Merriwell boy-friend, Kit Lord, shows up."
"Why, he's an awfully nice boy, Harl."
Longstreet glared. "Sure. Nice boy. He's a prig, that's what he is. Nosey busybody. Can't stand that milk-faced kid around the office. I should have made DeWitt kick him out that time. ... Oh, well." He sighed. "Then there's another — he'll give you a laugh. A Swiss cheese-eater." He laughed unpleasantly. "Louis Imperiale. I've told you about him. Friend of DeWitt's in the States on business. ... And, of course, Mike Collins."
Cherry jumped up at the sound of a buzzer and hurried to the door.
"Pollux, old-timer! Come in!"
The arrival, a flashily dressed, oldish man with a dark face, carefully pomaded thinning hair, and a sharply waxed mustache, put his arms around the woman. Longstreet struggled to his feet and made a threatening noise in his throat. Cherry Browne blushed, pushed the newcomer away, and began to fuss with her hair.
"Remember my old pal Pollux?" Her voice was gay. "Pollux, the Great Pollux, Master Mind-Reader of the Age on the two-a-day. Shake hands, you two."
Pollux limply complied and made at once for the sideboard. Longstreet shrugged and returned to his chair, but rose immediately as the buzzer sounded again and Cherry opened the door to admit a small party of people.
A little slender middle-aged man with gray hair and a brush-gray mustache came in first, hesitantly.
Longstreet's face brightened; he strode forward, exuding cordiality. He boomed greetings, squeezed the little man's hand. John O. DeWitt colored and half-closed his eyes with pain and nausea. Physical opposites, they were in striking contrast: DeWitt reserved, lined with worry, and apparently in a constant state of fluctuating determination and apprehension; Longstreet heavy, assured, arrogant, masterful.
DeWitt shrank from Longstreet as the big man brushed by him to receive the other members of the party.
"Fern! This is a nice surprise." — This to a faded stoutish woman of Spanish type, with the barest traces of a vanished beauty on her lacquered face; DeWitt's wife. Jeanne DeWitt, a petite brownish maid, nodded coldly; she pressed closer to her escort, Christopher Lord, a tall blond young man. Longstreet ignored him completely and pumped the hands of Ahearn and Imperiale, a middle-aged Latin of large physique meticulously dressed. "Mike!"
Excerpted from The Tragedy of X by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1932 Barnaby Ross. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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