JJ and I decided to do a buddy read on the ‘most talked about’ Ellery Queen novel – The Siamese Twin Mystery.
The story is divided into four parts so we had decided to discuss once we finish reading a part. We both agree that the story started on an interesting note. But we cannot say the same about the ending. The Siamese Twin Mystery was a disappointing read for both of us. So, if you have read The Siamese Twin Mystery and liked it, take this post with a pinch of salt.
Since we have discussed the whole story, the post contains spoilers.
RR: I was checking a couple of reviews on Goodreads. The ones who have given it a low rating have complained about the poorly constructed story/characters.
JJ: Well, let’s see what happens, eh? Still a bit early to judge yet.
RR: As my second Ellery Queen read, I found the introduction to be pretty good. (Better than Roman Hat Mystery) Ellery and Queen being stuck in the forest fire, followed by Ellery’s panic attack (poor thing sees his life flash by…can I say LOL here? I found his drama to be hilarious) and the weirdos at the manor. The Xaviers sounded like Adam’s family. I also got a Dr Jerkyll and Mr Hyde-ish feelings here. (crab man????)
JJ: It feels like a deliberately more atmospheric opening than the earlier EQ novels, which always seemed a bit starched of any fun. Seems like Dannay and Lee are having a nice time building up the tension, rather than over-bearingly hammering character after character down upon the reader until they’re left insensible. I enjoyed the stark drama of that opening flight for the fire: ” In other words, there was only one way down the mountain – and that was by the road they had just climbed. They had run headlong into a blind alley.”
RR: The first part ends with Dr Xavier being murdered – four chapters to get to the murder seemed like a drag. Name-calling was frustrating – Mr Bones being referred to as ‘the thing’ because of his physical structure. *eye roll*
JJ: Oh, Bones was “The Thing”. Yeah, I missed that. Man, two nicknames. Poor guy.
Whenever a body is discovered by one person off-page, I always have a moment of “Oh, man, I sure hope the person who found the corpse doesn’t turn out to have killed them as they went to ‘find’ them”. If Holmes is the killer here — and with the Sherlock parallel that’d be just like Dannay and Lee — I want my money back.
RR: If I have to compare, I would say part 2 seemed a little off track. The doctor is found dead with a torn 6 of spades in his hand. Queen puts two and two together (or should I say, 3 and 3 in this case) and ‘concludes’ that Mrs Xavier is the perp. The man is supposed to be a famous detective, how can he make such a blunder????!!!! Unless, this was his plan all along… Call an innocent a perp and make them a bait or something.
JJ: The whole “he’s right-handed so the ripped half would be in his left hand” is good reasoning in principle, but surely there’s a case that the man has been shot and is weakened so so might — might — hold the card down with his left hand, rip it with the stronger right, and so end up with the ripped half in his dominant hand. It’s also overlooked that the whole card would stand as a clue for the initials of Mrs. Xavier just as readily as half of one. It’s for reasons like this that I can understand a lot of readers disdaining the dying clue…
RR: Mrs Carreau makes an appearance and Mrs Xavier accuses her of having an affair with the doctor. She screams, “Shall I? Shall I?” – I thought the missus caught them together or something and before she says anything further, the twins make an appearance. Wrongly constructed red herrings? Or deliberate mistakes to put the reader off track??
JJ: Ha, yeah, the sudden appearance of something as striking as the Siamese twins does rather feel like what Carr called “blood on a white handkerchief”, doesn’t it? We’re so surprised by their appearance — no doubt a less common experience in 1933 — that it diverts attention immediately. I’m also curious about those animal experiments that Dr. Holmes hints at before a similarly-abrupt subject change.
RR: Since I had already read the cast of characters, when Ellery says “don’t forget the crab man” I kinda knew he was talking about the Siamese twins – conjoined and they do appear as a crab when walking. (Trying to imagine this in my mind …)
JJ: I’m with you — to young men joined at the chest doesn’t immediately scream “Crab!” to my visual imagination, either. But I guess Richard Queen saw an outline he couldn’t place and his mind filled in the rest. Now I’d love to see him complete a Rorschach test just to see what else his subconscious has to offer…!
RR: I wonder how the twins fit in though. I hope they don’t end up as the murderer(s).
JJ: I reckon the twins are about the only people who couldn’t be the murderers. I guess there’s some sort of animal experimentation going on — are there Siamese twins in the animal world? — and the idea was to see these two separated without one or both dying. Smith has to feature heavily, too, since otherwise he makes no sense; the conventions of detective fiction suggest that he and Mrs. Carreau have some sort of relationship since they’re possibly the further apart in terms of society.
NOTE: Next part onward, JJ’s discussion comes first.
JJ: It starts to feel now that we’re getting a couple of incidents separate out by lots of padding — the trip down the mountain to look for a way out is simply a way to introduce the connection between Smith and Carreau (yay me!), then we get the long-winded “test” to establish who’s left-handed and…that’s it. This feels like half a step towards the middle period likes of Halfway House (1935) due in a few books time — less of the density of The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932) and less drawn out than The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932), but something in between.
RR: Um… the trip down the mountain was to identify the connection between Smith and Carreau?? There were other ways to find out, right? The whole drama about the fire, smoke and ash was to find out a silly connection? Ugh!
The left-handed right-handed ‘test’ was an utter waste of time!
JJ: I am deeply discomfited with Richard Queen’s attitude on shooting Mark Xavier, I have to say. That excessively casual “Well, he ran and so I shot him” is…uncomfortable. Especially as we’ve just spent a very long time establishing that there’s nowhere for them to go. Swap those two events and I’d be slightly more okay with it, but it leave a very, very sour taste in my mouth being done this way.
RR: I agree! The poor chap was shot for no fault of his. Not to mention, he’s killed in a brutal way – he might have blackmailed the killer but he didn’t have to die a painful death. I kinda felt that Queen is a tad cold-hearted. As an Inspector, maybe he is supposed to contain his emotions but shooting a fella for no reason – uh-huh. Nope.
JJ: Also, good heavens did Dannay and Lee really not know how to deal with women, hey? “Remarkable, Any female who cries her eyes out and then neglects to powder the ravaged countenance…” Because, of course, trapped in the house with your husband’s murdered corpse and his murderer, and trapped there by a fire that might very well kill you all, of course, and self-respecting woman would worry about her make-up. All told, this section of the book has undone a lot of the good feeling built up in the first half.
RR: There’s another incident that proves this point, I suppose. Ellery enters Mrs Carreau’s room without knocking. Mark Xavier is dead and Ellery’s only intention is to inform her about the murder. When Mrs Carreau screams and all, he blushes. I do not remember who (one of the ladies – Ms Forrest?) – she says something like “they are fully clothed so nothing happened” – I was like LOL! Useless information + unnecessarily dragging the story. And, why couldn’t he knock??? Or, at least clear his throat or something. Duh! (when there is too much drama in the story, why can’t the reader add some more drama eh? )
I completely agree with you – the first part of the story had a lot of tension and suspense built-up. Part 3 onward, it’s just eh, meh and everything else!
JJ: There will be a general eye-rolling and expelling of breath at this, but I really did not enjoy at all how this concludes. Fine, I cast myself as an outlier in the GAD community by failing to fall over the Queens in delight — the truth it that they just don’t engage or convince me with this sort of plotting. C’mon there are so many frame-ups by substituting cards here that how can we be expected to read it with a straight face? And if the logic and reasoning was that good, would we also need the killer to be a kleptomaniac just so she can incriminate herself? Early Queen’s just not for me, but Halfway House was very good, and The Door Between was fine until the solution, so maybe I need more than their early writing offers.
RR: I wanted to throw the story out of my window! ( I cannot do that now, can I?) Did the story really end the way it did? What on Earth was it? They are almost dying and yet the killer doesn’t want to be caught. (So what? How does it matter?) But Queen wants one last test. – what is it with Queen and his ‘tests’?!! Uff!
Was there a plot/story to begin with? The killer is caught, then proved innocent, then again accused… like, what now???
Kleptomania – they find the husband’s drawer filled with trinkets that are of no value or use to him. Yet the ‘best detectives’ couldn’t connect the dots and catch the perp until the fire burned down the house.
JJ: If I had to sum this book up, I’d use a quote from the book itself: “I have never heard such unmitigated and cruel nonsense in my whole life, Mr. Queen! Do you realize what you’re insinuating on the basis of such — such flimsy evidence?”
(had to include this 😀 )
JJ: And I know that other writers use flimsy evidence and bad psychology and lazy shortcuts to get their solutions in; I’d argue that the difference there is that with EQ there’s this sort of aura of infallibility surrounding their work that’s entirely unearned. As I say, if it was set up so we could actually reason this out, we wouldn’t need the “kleptomaniac tries not to steal Ellery’s ring” incrimination — something more out of a Victorian shocker than a serious novel of detection.
RR: I know, right. This is my second EQ read and I really have second thoughts about reading their other books. From what I heard, Siamese twins is supposed to be one of their best works – say what now? There was no detective work at all in this story. There was just drama, drama and more drama! Sounded more like a telenovela than a murder mystery!
JJ: What did I like about it? Honestly, not much. Their prose is certainly less clumsy than in the earlier books, and the setup benefits from being pretty simple and easy to follow. Alas, they’re not quite adept at filling out a plot with a small cast — the fire feels added on as an afterthought, to give some scenes that make this into a novel rather than a novella — and some of what unfolds takes a long time to reach (the later chapters especially, in which very little in accomplished so that the final line can be a Shocking Development).
RR: I gave this book a 2 in GR and I feel I have overrated it! The freaking fire! FIRE!!! They totally hyped the fire issue! They start to dig that evening and continue until next noon – without food or water – is it even possible? Part 3 and 4 were unnecessarily dragged. There was no suspense, story or anything whatsoever. Utter bore! That is what it was. As they ‘caught’ the killer and experienced a ‘miracle’, I was like, thank god, the story’s over! Phew!
Maybe, just maybe, the fire was initially introduced into the plot to give the story a locked-room mystery feeling. But for me, it turned out to be a suffocating read!
If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations!! 😛 Buddy reads are super fun, aren’t they? If you want to do a buddy read with me, get in touch. 🙂