Publisher Otto Penzler’s fourth visit to the Queen vault resurrects a tale of four crucifixions originally published in 1932.
Ellery and his father, NYPD Detective Richard Queen, happen to be passing close enough to Arroyo, West Virginia, to merit a detour to the scene of the first crime: the beheading of schoolmaster Andrew Van, who’s been celebrating Christmas morning by getting nailed to a T-shaped cross. Although circumstantial evidence casts suspicion on Harakht, a self-avowed Healer of the Weak, and Velja Krosac, a limping man, the local authorities, dismissing the first and unable to find the second, remain baffled by the outré savagery of the crime. So does Ellery, who’s “never run across anything as baldly lunatic as this,” until he runs into it again six months later, when professor Yardley, his old teacher, invites him to visit. Yardley’s new home in Nassau County gives him a ringside seat to the Bradwood estate, whose owner, wealthy carpet importer Thomas Brad, has been beheaded and crucified across the bay from a nudist colony operated by Harakht and his chief disciple, Paul Romaine. Returning from a yearlong trip, Brad’s partner, yachtsman Stephen Megara, immediately informs the police that the killer is Velja Krosac, who’s still carrying a grudge over a family feud. A nationwide dragnet fails to capture the suspect or prevent two more crucifixions. Although Ellery and Yardley both display endless (and in the end irrelevant) erudition on Egyptology at the expense of the forgettable secondary characters, the canny inferences the hero draws from a pipe, a checker, and a bottle of iodine are still impressive.
The most extroverted of Ellery’s early cases and the least dominated by the relentlessly brainy sleuth.
Pub Date: yesterday
Page Count: 312
Publisher: Penzler Publishers
Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020