Skip to content

Buddy Read with JJ: The Siamese Twin Mystery

the siamese twin mystery

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.


PART 1


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.”

Duhn-duhn-duuuuuuuuuuhn!

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.


PART 2


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.


PART 3


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!


PART 4


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?”

RR: ROFL

(had to include this πŸ˜€ )

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!! πŸ˜› Buddy reads are super fun, aren’t they? If you want to do a buddy read with me, get in touch. πŸ™‚

33 thoughts on “Buddy Read with JJ: The Siamese Twin Mystery Leave a comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading this review. You and JJ make a great reviewing team! I’m not a Queen enthusiast and I don’t see this review changing that any time soon lol Thanks for taking one for the team!

    • Six-part rebuttal??? 😱😱😱 (trying to be as dramatic as Mrs Xavier here) Waiting to read it, Neil.😁😁

      • I’m willing to forgive you, Rekha. It’s only your second EQ and while I’m disappointed you didn’t like this one, you at least enjoyed Roman Hat and I’d urge you to try Greek Coffin, Tragedy of Y, Calamity Town or Cat of Many Tails.

        As for you, JJ, I’m seeing this as a declaration of war. You’ve villified one Queen too many, buddy, and you don’t know what’s coming to you!

      • I guess it was you who suggested The Siamese Twin, along with Chinese Orange Mystery and others. Maybe, I will give EQ a try again next year.

  2. My first comment doesn’t seemed to have work, or I might have ended up spammed.
    Anyways here’s hoping this one will work…
    I really enjoyed reading your review. You and JJ make a great team.
    I am no big fan of Queen, so I prefer my experience of their work to be vicarious. Can’t see me turning to this one any time soon. Thanks for taking one for the team!

    • Sorry, Kate, both of your comments were spammed. Reverted them back to approved list. πŸ™‚
      Neil’s recommended some more books this time. Let’s see. πŸ˜‰ He’s also going to do a six-post rebuttal so maybe it’s time to use my invisibility cloak. Lol πŸ˜›

  3. This was a lot of fun, especially making ourselves reflect on each section in turn — how often as a reader do we really stop to think about what’s happened? For me at least, I’m usually too eager to plough on and find out what’s coming.

    But, yeah, me ‘n’ Queen are clearly not happy bedfellows; honestly, but for e alot of people recommending this as *the* EQ to read, I don’t think it would have made any impact on me at all — I think Chinese Orange (their next novel) is a better book, and Halfway House is far, far superior. Thankfully there are a) plenty of authors in the genre and b) enough perspectives allowable that everyone can just get on with their lives.

    Apart from Neil, of course. I’m not leaving the house until I know I’m safe from Neil πŸ˜†

    • I know right, this is no way ‘the’ best EQ… Maybe, I will read Chinese Orange next… and if I don’t like it, I need to don my invisibility cloakπŸ˜‚

      • I’m legitimately curious what the fans of this one feel it does differently to everything else around it — even among the early Queens there’s better writing, better plotting, more rigorous (which is to say, any) detection and deduction. Its fairly spry, I suppose, but Chinese Orange is too and more happens along the way…for how talked up this is, it’s really just a lot of the same.

        But, then, EQ fails to move me in the way they do others. Given their apparent plot-centric skill and my plot-obsessed preferences, I’ve been wildly disappointed by this early tranche. Thankfully there’s plenty else to be reading instead…

  4. Fans of this book (which is basically everybody apart from you and JJ) like it because it builds a sense of atmosphere and drama like none of the previous ones did. And while it is not as rigorous, it is still pretty clever.

    And yes, JJ, you should probably go back to reading third-string authors such as Crofts and Penny who never wrote anything half as good as this! 😜

  5. I can agree with you both that the solution of this novel isn’t the best ever, I too felt a bit let down when the culprit was revealed.

    But I feel that the rest of the book more than makes up for it. It’s a wonderful setting with the forest fire adding a lot of suspense and EQ gets to be a bit more physical. I think the different shenanigans with the dying message were good as well.

    • Trapped on a mountain retreat did sound like a locked mystery of sorts. But the ‘blunders’ that Queen makes was off putting. I also felt that there was more drama and less mystery.

    • The dying message is nonsense, though — half a card is just as good as a whole card in either case — so the effort of ripping it, which should be significant, plays no part. Why have a dying clue where solidly 50% of the clue isn’t mentioned or alluded to or relevant? Because intrigue, I suppose, and that’s not good enough. Not in this genre, not in 1933.

  6. Of course we all have different tastes, and it is silly to castigate one another over a difference of opinion. This is one of my favorite Period One titles, the other being Greek Coffin – and yet I like them for completely different reasons. TGCM is a puzzle-lover’s delight and its unofficial title of “Ellery Queen’s Comeuppance” works within the canon to slowly soften the detective’s character from “insufferable prig” to “wry egotist.” (That, too, will change!) TSTM is a radical shift from these cold puzzles to straight melodrama with a mystery wrapped inside. Plus, – at least as a kid – I loved dying message mysteries. I can totally see the argument against them now, but they still give me much pleasure, and this is a fun example of one. I also enjoyed the ending: Ellery essentially proves that Mrs. Xavier was the killer, AND SHE CONFESSES!!! Then he proves she’s NOT the killer and moves us in other directions until the final irony.
    I respectfully disagree with you, Rekha, about the fire creating any sense of a locked room. It DOES create a closed circle, but really it’s all about setting, and I think the Queens create a great deal of atmosphere and suspense around it. James Byrnside was going for the same thing in his first book, using a real life flood, and I enjoyed it there as well.
    What strikes me about your joint review here isn’t that you hated the book is that so many of your joint criticisms place the novel in the context of a modern mystery rather than a product of its time. The portrayal of conjoined twins as freaks, the preoccupation by a sensual woman of her looks via make-up, the casual violence by a cop, even a heroic one like Richard Queen . . . therse all disturb us like the prevalence of casual racism, sexism and other dated attitudes do throughout GAD, but it seems like a waste of time to list them as reasons not to like something. I give more credence to your feeling that the last half of the novel feels padded; I, too, think this was a problem with Queen’s early work; that, and a writing style that has not dated well may make it hard for the author to collect new readers used to an easier style.
    Rekha, as a confirmed preferrer of Period Three Queen, I think the books of the 1940’s are superior to the earlier work. The Wrightsville novels, There Was an Old Woman and Cat of Many Tails are highly enjoyable – to me! But as JJ said above, there are a million writers out there, and if after two novels you find the Queens not to your taste, please move on! I’d rather read about the joys of GAD than hear a favorite author trashed again and again! πŸ™‚

    • Brad, I agree with what you say. As I read your comment, I felt this actually makes sense – I have been comparing these mysteries with the modern ones. Although I have read Christie, Bellairs and others which did not have casual sexism, racism and stuff but I guess American Mystery Classics are different. (My dad reads Perry Mason and others, he finds British mysteries boring)
      Maybe I will give EQ another try. I found Roman Hat Mystery to be okayish so perhaps I will be third time lucky?? And when I do, I will keep in mind not to compare it with modern day mysteries πŸ™‚
      Let’s not discuss about the fire , eh? πŸ˜‰

    • Byrnside’s evocation of the flood was, like, good, though. And that was a debut novel, where this is their eighth or something.

      Also, I take issue with being told that I can’t appreciate this book in the context in which it was written — I, er, have read quite a lot of this stuff, you know, and if pointing to things that happen in the text as reasons not to like it is “a waste of time” then I’m not sure how else to raise the difficulties the book gave me to point out why I didn’t enjoy it in preparation for the inevitable onslaught of being told how wrong I was. πŸ™‚

      If the straight up shooting of an unarmed, fleeing man when it’s already been established at tedious length and beyond any reasonable doubt that there’s nowhere for him to run is somehow acceptable because I’ve failed to consider the context of puzzle fiction in 1933, I’d love to hear a justification for it.

      Hmm, this all reads much more combatative than it’s meant to — here are some emojis so you know we’re still friends: πŸ€“ πŸ† πŸ¦› πŸ₯’

      • I agree with JJ on this one – shooting Mark Xavier was over the line. Poor chap didn’t have to be shot at. Also, the trek to the mountain – waste of their time and the reader’s too.
        Anyhoo, chopsticks, hippo, trophy and emoji with glasses from me too. πŸ™‚πŸ™‚

  7. Of course we all have different tastes, and it is silly to castigate one another over a difference of opinion. This is one of my favorite Period One titles, the other being Greek Coffin – and yet I like them for completely different reasons. TGCM is a puzzle-lover’s delight and its unofficial title of “Ellery Queen’s Comeuppance” works within the canon to slowly soften the detective’s character from “insufferable prig” to “wry egotist.” (That, too, will change!) TSTM is a radical shift from these cold puzzles to straight melodrama with a mystery wrapped inside. Plus, – at least as a kid – I loved dying message mysteries. I can totally see the argument against them now, but they still give me much pleasure, and this is a fun example of one. I also enjoyed the ending: Ellery essentially proves that Mrs. Xavier was the killer, AND SHE CONFESSES!!! Then he proves she’s NOT the killer and moves us in other directions until the final irony.
    I respectfully disagree with you, Rekha, about the fire creating any sense of a locked room. It DOES create a closed circle, but really it’s all about setting, and I think the Queens create a great deal of atmosphere and suspense around it. James Byrnside was going for the same thing in his first book, using a real life flood, and I enjoyed it there as well.
    What strikes me about your joint review here isn’t that you hated the book is that so many of your joint criticisms place the novel in the context of a modern mystery rather than a product of its time. The portrayal of conjoined twins as freaks, the preoccupation by a sensual woman of her looks via make-up, the casual violence by a cop, even a heroic one like Richard Queen . . . therse all disturb us like the prevalence of casual racism, sexism and other dated attitudes do throughout GAD, but it seems like a waste of time to list them as reasons not to like something. I give more credence to your feeling that the last half of the novel feels padded; I, too, think this was a problem with Queen’s early work; that, and a writing style that has not dated well may make it hard for the author to collect new readers used to an easier style.
    Rekha, as a confirmed preferrer of Period Three Queen, I think the books of the 1940’s are superior to the earlier work. The Wrightsville novels, There Was an Old Woman and Cat of Many Tails are highly enjoyable – to me! But as JJ said above, there are a million writers out there, and if after two novels you find the Queens not to your taste, please move on! I’d rather read about the joys of GAD than hear a favorite author trashed again and again! πŸ™‚

  8. I like the review in stages where you both discuss what may happen next. It may just be me but as I try to avoid blurbs I was genuinely surprised by the twins appearance – I’m not sure what I was expecting but given there was no actual Roman Hat or French Powder so to speak, I wasn’t expecting actual conjoined twins. The visit to see the animals in the laboratory was properly creepy and the pressure and real danger of the fire lets Ellery off the hook for some of his faulty reason.

    • I read the kindle version of this book. There’s an introduction of characters before the story starts – which I thought was the trend in EQ. My last discussion in Part 1 was ‘I hope the twins make an appearance in the next part.’ Jim too wasn’t expecting actual twins in the story.
      Though Ellery played a larger role in the story, it was always Queen who made the ‘wrong’ arrests. The fire did set a scene but I felt it was hyped.πŸ™„

      • I normally ignore the cast list at the beginning as well, but glad it wasn’t just me who was surprised by the twins.

        I’d definitely be up for doing a buddy read in the New Year on something that neither of us have read before.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: