The slopes of Bald Mountain looked as if they had been set on fire and everywhere you went in town you breathed the cider smoke of leaves burning. ... The stars were frostbitten, and the nights had a twang to them. Out in the country you could see the pumpkins squatting in mysterious rows, like little orange men from Mars. -- Ellery Queen, Calamity Town
Mr. Queen found it harder and harder to work on his novel. For one thing, there was the weather. -- Calamity Town
The leaves are down by now, and all we have are skeleton trees and dull lawns. Crisp air. Overcast afternoons. ... I think that means it's time for another mystery, don't you?
I'd heard of the writing team Ellery Queen before, but never read one of their mysteries. I was surprised to find that Mr. Ellery Queen is the name of the protagonist--he's a novelist who also happens to solve mysteries. How brilliant is that? I'm a sucker for any writer appearing in a book, but the self-referential aspect of this one completely delighted me.
And this is the perfect mystery for this season. All the main events happen on holidays (including a wedding on my birthday--that was unexpected!)... Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's... I love reading books in their season! So it's the right time to pick up Calamity Town.
It's the kind of puzzlish mystery that I love... gently-paced, but as it unfolded, I found it harder and harder to put down. I read the last fourth in a rush. I do want to give you a taste of the mystery itself, but I don't want to give anything away... Hmm. I'll need to tread carefully...
There's the mysterious house, nicknamed Calamity House, which split up a couple a day before their wedding. Another man died just taking a look at it. So Mr. Ellery Queen rents Calamity House and gets to know the family who owns it, and hears the story of their jilted daughter. And then, one day, the runaway groom returns...
Three cryptic letters. Arsenic. Poisoned drinks. A love triangle or two. Blackmail. A complicated trial. The enigmatic Mr. Queen himself. You'll be guessing till the very end...
It's all that good stuff you wanted in your December! After all, what's Christmas Eve without a little murder attempt?
Recommendation: Apple cider, definitely. Some warm socks. And a window seat. ... Have fun!