Miss Ypson had not always been dead; au contraire. She had lived for seventy-eight years, for most of them breathing hard. As her father used to remark, “She was a very active little verb.” Miss Ypson’s father was a professor of Greek at a small Midwestern university. He had conjugated his daughter with the rather bewildered assistance of one of his brawnier students, an Iowa poultry heiress.
I think I’ve intimated before that I’m adopting a policy of withdrawing – a bit – from contemporary fiction. We find ourselves in a new Victorian era, where quite a lot of things that are true can’t be said in polite company, and where every story is expected to genuflect, at least for a moment, toward the altar of the accepted pieties. It’s all very boring and annoying, and I need to stretch my legs on older, more gracious paths from time to time.
So I’m going to be checking out some literature of the past. As my tastes run to mysteries, that necessarily involves what’s called the stories of the Golden Age. Which will involve acquiring some new tastes. Golden Age mysteries are primarily puzzle stories, and that approach doesn’t excite me much. I like my stories character driven.
I downloaded Ellery Queen’s Calendar of Crime. Published in 1952, it’s not strictly a Golden Age book, but the approach is pretty much the same. It’s not a novel but a short story collection. The “calendar” of the title means that each of the twelve stories is set, chronologically and thematically, in a particular month of the year. The January story involves a New Year’s Eve party; the February story involves a legend about George Washington, etc. The main character, of course, is Ellery Queen, a sophisticated New York amateur detective whose father happens to be a police inspector.
It’s a good collection. The puzzles are clever, and the writing (by Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, who wrote under the Ellery Queen name) can be quite elegant, as witness the excerpt at the top of this review. These are puzzle stories, not character stories, but within the bounds of the form the authors did a good job of making them relatively plausible.
I’ll say this, though. Never hire Ellery Queen to protect either your life or your property. He will always fail, because if he succeeded there’d be no mystery for him to solve.
No cautions whatever are necessary for questionable content. As some mystery fan once said, “I like a good murder, without any immorality in it.”