The Tragedy of Y

Queen, Ellery (as Barnaby Ross) - The Tragedy of Y


Couldn't finish this (but couldn't resist skipping to the end and confirming my guess as to the identity of the murderer). This is basically a poor pastiche of Van Dine's Greene Murder Case. Very complex but silly plot, and any standard police investigation would have solved it in a short time and not involved further victims. Also, the characters are excessively dysfunctional and depressing - so who cares?


Wyatt James


The Tragedy of Y (1932) is the second book in the trilogy. It shows the strong influence of SS Van Dine. Like Van Dine's The Greene Murder Case (1928), this story concerns the members of a single well to do family, all of whom live together in a gloomy mansion in New York City. In both books the family is under siege, with many of its members finding horrible fates. Both novels' most ingenious plot twists have a certain resemblance, although Queen's is original and much more surrealistic than Van Dine's. (In Queen's novel this twist occurs towards the start of Act III, in Van Dine's in XXX). There are other aspects of the book that recall Van Dine. The deduction of the identity of the killer here (in the "Behind the Scenes" finale) recalls a similar analysis Van Dine performed in The Benson Murder Case (1926) (Chapter 9). And the final fate of the killer at the end of the story recalls that of Van Dine's The Bishop Murder Case (1929).


Despite all these similarities, Queen's book ultimately contains a frightening originality. It is one of the most surrealistic of all Golden Age detective novels. Its surrealism is not so much in the details of the particular crimes themselves, but in the slow melt-down the book eventually employs on the conventions of detective fiction.


Francis M. Nevins has pointed out that much of The Tragedy of Y can be read as a political allegory. The book paints an extremely negative picture of almost all aspects of human society, including capitalism, science and ultimately detective fiction itself. We are used to seeing writers of both left and right depict promiscuous sexuality and the Family as polar opposites. The Tragedy of Y is unique in literature in condemning both of them, painting both sexuality and the Family in terms of absolute horror and disgust.


Typically, Frederic Dannay plotted the EQ books, and Manfred Lee wrote them from Dannay's outline. The recent publication of Frederic Dannay's outline for The Tragedy of Errors (2000) gives us a chance to compare Dannay's style with that of the Ellery Queen novels. The outline in Act III of The Tragedy of Y seems similar in style: this might be the direct work of Dannay. Most of the rest of the writing in Y seems to be in Manfred Lee's richest prose style. Lee especially excels at the depiction of Barbara Hatter's poetic work.


Mike Grost


See also