The Roman Hat Mystery is the first book in the Ellery Queen Detective series.
A man is found dead in the Roman Theater. He reeks of alcohol and it seems that the poison was mixed in his drink. The seats next to and in front of him are empty and the ticket stubs for the same aren’t found anywhere. Meanwhile, well-known socialite’s purse is found in the dead man’s coat. Also, the dead man’s silk hat is nowhere to be found. Inspector Queen and his son Ellery are called to the scene of the crime.
The Roman Hat Mystery is my first Ellery Queen read and surely won’t be the last. This also happens to be my first American Mystery read! Having heard a lot of praises about this detective series, I decided to give it a try with the first book in this series and I am not disappointed. Though this is a bit out of my comfort zone, I really enjoyed the story.
Queen and Ellery, the father-son duo are way different from Holmes-Watson or Poirot-Hastings pair. Their logic of deduction is different and so their method of sleuthing. It took me some time to get used to their ‘antics’ but as the story ended, I was pretty much impressed by pappa Q’s deductive skills.
Coming back to the story, the dead man is a lawyer named Monte Field. Thomas Velie calls Field “One of the crooked-est lawyers in town.” So, who would have wanted to kill this man and why? A theatre might be a good place for murder – with low lighting and no witnesses – but why did the murderer take the dead man’s hat?
There’s quite a hullabaloo with the hat – pappa Q is frustrated. He cannot seem to get the mystery of the missing hat off his mind. The father-son duo hit roadblocks, one after the other, and as the story ends, they almost give up! Since this is the first book in this series, I will not comment more on the characters. I might read a book or two more and then decide if the father-son duo make it to my list of favourite sleuths.
Pappa Q is strict and a tad boring. His deductive skills are pretty appreciable but I liked Ellery better. The lad seemed so obsessed about acquiring a rare Falconer’s and this makes his dad annoyed at times. There’s a bit of racism in this book and I did not like it! Djuna, Queen’s servant/butler is called an imp or a monkey and his Turkish traits are made fun of – nope, not acceptable! (Given that the book was first published in 1929, was this to be expected?)
Overall, The Roman Hat was an okay-ish story.The mystery of the missing hat is annoying at times! The duo search high and lo for the hat and yet … no hat!!! The identity of the killer made me go “eh? Who?” If you haven’t read Ellery Queen before then you might not want to start with this book. Also, if you are on GR, you might see a lot of 2-star ratings for this book. It isn’t that bad – not 2-star worthy bad. A well-concocted yet slow plot might have made this book a tad boring but other than that, I found this to be a good read.
The Puzzle Doctor says “a strong debut novel that still stands the test of time”. Read his review here.
Aidan found this story to be “quite uneven and poorly paced with lengthy blocks of dialogue and a dull array of suspects”. Read his review here.
JJ has a lot of things to say about this book. Read his review here.
The Green Capsule says “The writing itself is fine, although it lacks flourish.” Read his review here.
Dead Yesterday says ” The Roman Hat Mystery is a disappointing effort from Ellery Queen, king of crime. But it would have been a promising debut for the new author Ellery Queen, two young cousins from Brooklyn with high hopes for their first novel.” Read his review here.
John says ” So, overall, while this isn’t a novel I could get enthusiastic about, I can quite see why I continued to read whatever EQ I came across until, in due course, I hit the really good stuff.” Read his review here.
Writing Style: 3.5/5
Character Development: 3/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Title: The Roman Hat Mystery (Ellery Queen Detectives #1)
Authors: Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
First Published on 7th June 1929
Genre: American Mystery Classics/GAD/Crime
Featured Image Credits: Goodreads