cover image The American Gun Mystery

The American Gun Mystery

Ellery Queen. Penzler, $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-61316-252-1

First published in 1933, this so-so fair play whodunit from Queen, the pen name of Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Manfred Lee (1905–1971), offers a tantalizing setup. Manhattan amateur sleuth Ellery Queen and his father, NYPD Insp. Richard Queen, are attending a rodeo at a sports arena, along with more than 20,000 others, when the star attraction, movie cowboy Buck Horne, is shot in the side just as he and 40 other riders are shooting their guns into the air. Horne is fatally trampled after toppling from his horse. A firearms expert determines the murder weapon to have been a .25 caliber, but despite everyone in the arena being thoroughly searched by the police, no matching gun is located. Even film footage of the killing doesn’t help, as Ellery explores potential personal and professional reasons for someone to want Horne dead. This entry lacks the clever plotting and more fleshed-out characterizations of later books in the series, and the solution, while it logically explains a seeming impossibility, is a letdown. Not everyone will consider this an American mystery classic. (Oct.)