Saturday, October 15, 2011

And on the Eighth Day, by Ellery Queen


And on the Eighth Day
by Ellery Queen
1964


Wow.

I'm not sure where to start. I should point out that I've read and enjoyed a handful of Ellery Queen novels thus far. I recently reviewed The Perfect Crime and gave it high marks.

So it's not that I have anything against Ellery Queen. Which is perhaps a bit beside the point, since this book was apparently ghostwritten by Avram Davidson (who is better known for his SF and fantasy), under the direction of Dannay and Lee, the writing partners who were Ellery Queen.

It took me a long time to get through this one, since I had to set it aside several times. The first hiatus was for several weeks. The second one was not quite as long. At no time did I actually fling the book across the room - though I probably thought about it. Which is to say that I really didn't like this book - not at all. I'm not going to go too deeply into my reasons, as a brief summing up should do it.

To put it in a nutshell, the book is set in World War II (though it was published in 1964) and Ellery has just finished some scriptwriting work to support the war effort. While driving home, he's stranded in the California desert and comes across a religious cult who have had little contact with the outside world for over a century and who all speak as though they've just stepped from the pages of the King James Bible. They've experienced almost no crime over the course of the last few decades, but within days of Ellery arriving someone is bumped off.

Which sounds like it could make for a pretty decent whodunit and perhaps it might have, if whoever had final cut had insisted that the major characters be something more than the most rudimentary cardboard cutouts. And if the arcane dialogue had been dispensed with. And if the completely overblown melodrama had been dialed back about 12-15 notches. And if the crime and solution had been something more than a fairly by the numbers snoozer. And if there hadn't been two fairly significant twists at the end of the book that were so dorky that I actually groaned aloud. And if Chapter Seven hadn't consisted of the following words and nothing more, "Ellery wept."

Ouch.

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