Book Review : The French Powder Mystery

Reviewed by – Abhishek Goswami

Golden Age of Mysteries (1920-55)
A series to pay tribute to the golden age mystery authors, by attempting to provide reviews on some of their books which I highly admire. Golden age of mysteries is generally defined by that period where the mystery stories had a central, strong puzzle plot and the detective/police/amateur investigator goes through all the clues, the suspects and finally solves the mystery (murder/theft/disappearance). More often than not, the big “reveal” is in a closed setting with all the suspects around. Readers then express, “Oh, that was so clever, I did not see this coming”! Authors from UK and USA generally dominated this period.
Review 1
Book : The French Powder Mystery
Author: Ellery Queen (USA)
Original Year of Publication : 1930

About the Author: Ellery Queen is a crime fiction pseudonym created in 1929 by Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, and later used by other authors under Dannay and Lee’s supervision. Dannay and Lee’s main fictional character, whom they also named Ellery Queen, is a mystery writer in New York City who helps his police inspector father solve baffling murders. Most of the more than thirty novels and several short story collections in which Ellery Queen appeared as a character were written by Dannay and Lee and were among the most popular American mysteries published between 1929 and 1971. Source : Wikipedia
Plot: The story centers around the French department store in New York city, where a woman is found dead, tumbling on the floor from a wooden bed whose features are being demonstrated to the customers. The case is then investigated by Inspector Richard Queen and his son Ellery. While investigating the upper story apartment of the owner, Ellery is perplexed by an odd assortment of clues, including not only bloodstains but grains of fingerprint powder and an unusual assortment of books. Also, an ashtray full of half-smoked cigarettes might be important along with how the shoes are kept. The suspects include the wealthy victim’s family and friends, some employees of the store, and possible members of a drug ring.
Suspense: Throughout the story, E.Q maintain a high level of suspense by giving the readers various clues and building a sense of apprehension and excitement, along with many red-herrings. The dialogues between the characters are sometimes quite witty and interesting. Though a few chapters do lack pace, especially when the Inspector and Ellery interview the suspects, but the pace is quickened up when newer facts emerge, especially the time tables of all the store employees and how Ellery deduces important facts by applying sound logic and reason to the case. Just before the climax, the authors put a “Challenge to the Reader”, stating that the reader should be able to solve the case now with all the given facts. But, can the reader do it? I certainly could not.
Climax: At the finale of the novel, Ellery does a detailed piece of deduction by creating a list of conditions that the murderer must meet (involving, among other things, the possession of keys). He clears all suspects except one, whose identity is revealed in the last line of the novel, bringing a satisfying and entertaining end to the story.

My Rating and Recommendation: 4/5. Highly recommended for readers who like mysteries by Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and Ngaio Marsh. Not recommended for readers who are more into hard-boiled crime thrillers where action and chase is paramount, leaving little to the grey cells. This book provides lot of scope for readers to figure out the clues and will be liked by those who prefer the puzzle and it’s resolution as the most important component in a mystery story.

About the Reviewer : 
Born and brought up in New Delhi, Abhishek Goswami did his graduation in Science from the Delhi University and later on did PGDBA in HR. He has 17 years of work experience in reputed MNC firms and is currently working in Gurgaon. He has a keen interest in reading suspense/mystery books and mythological fiction. He has won 
the “Top 100 Inspiring Authors” and “Swami Vivekanand Seva Youth Guild” award for his first book, “The Lonely Drummer and Other Poems”. His poems have been a part of Asian Literary Society and United by Ink anthologies and also published in newspapers like The Hans India and News Now. Available as free shipping on AmazonFlipkart

Leave a Reply