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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Finishing Stroke

cover image By: Queen, Ellery (pseudonym of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (Cardinal edition C-343)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 355: PS3533 .U4 F56 1959
Contributor: M.A. Moran


Era: varied -- Book One: 1905; Book Two: Christmas Eve, 1929 - January 6, 1930; Book Three: Summer, 1957 Author as on Cover: Ellery Queen Geographic Locale: Alderwood, New York (fictional town in rural Westchester) Date of Publication: 1959  |  Original Date: 1958 Setting: small town (population 6,000) 40 miles from New York City. Literature and literary figures of the time are mentioned. One character expresses some of the "Bolshevik" sentiment of the time and comments about the revolution to come. Motives: attempted cover-up of financial mismanagement; minor motives on the part of John I and John III include jealousy, greed, envy and blackmail

Plot Summary

In 1905, an automobile accident results in the pregnant Claire Sebastian's premature delivery. In 1929, this fact is a key ingredient in Ellery Queen's first independent murder investigation, but it isn't until 1957 that Queen actually solves the mystery. Centering around the twelve days of Christmas, twelve house guests, intricate clues, and two dead bodies, there are several twists to this case that even the most discerning reader may have trouble following.

Major Characters

Ellery Queen adult male, 25 years old, intelligent, fairly good looking, son of a police detective, mystery novelist ("How young Ellery was may be judged by the fact that he took his reviews seriously."); describes himself as having a "certain brashness."

Arthur B. Craig adult male, "a mountain of a man, a sort of cross between President Hoover and Henry the Eighth - huge, square-faced and bearded." owns a printing company, guardian of young John Sebastian, seemingly genial, affectionate toward John and the young niece he has also raised

John Sebastian (John I) adult male, "dilettante poet of great charm and....some talent....piercing-eyed, lank-haired, Byronic model." Cynical, patronizing, with a streak of meanness

John III adult male, one of John Sebastian's triplet brothers; none of the other guests are aware of his existence, much more grasping and mean-spirited than John I

Others the house guests are, for the most part, there to provide suspects and to confuse the reader. The minister offers a touch of morality, the clairvoyant provides a little humor, Valentina and Marius display unrequited love and the accompanying jealousy



Level of Violence

there is a fist fight between John and Marius. Rusty and Valentina have a "cat fight." The deaths of Dr. Hall and John III are not described; we only see the result.


John Sebastian and Rusty Brown are engaged to be married; Valentina is in love with John, while Marius is in love with Rusty. Ellen is attracted to Ellery, who at first seems to return the affection, but later changes his attitude. There is no overt sexuality described in the novel.

Gender Roles

typical for the time period in which the story is set. There is a male detective (and police officers), a male doctor, clergyman, lawyer, printer, publisher, poet, composer/musician and butler. Female characters include an actress, jewelry designer, Wellesley student, clairvoyant, cook and kitchen maid. No one acts other than would be expected in 1929/30.


not an element. The publisher is Jewish, but this is not used in any derogatory way. Perhaps the fact that Marius Carlo, of Italian heritage, is the character who expresses the more anti-establishment sentiments and is the heaviest drinker, may be attributed to racism.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

social drinking during the holidays. Marius drinks more than the others and shows signs of being alcoholic. Craig smokes a pipe.

Law Enforcement

the police do not come in for any criticism, nor for any praise, and are portrayed as rather ordinary people. All seem resigned and frustrated, but no one is blamed for failing to solve the case. A young officer on the case is instumental in getting Ellery back into the case in 1957. Sergeant Devoe has gained over 200 pounds in those years.

Subject Headings

New York (State)/ Authors/ Murder

Psychological Elements

What Ellery perceives as the villain's attempt to frame an innocent person is actually the villain's knowledge that Ellery would indeed see it as just that. There are indications that the author was trying to work with psychological motivations for interaction among the characters, but it appears rather superficial. The attempts to involve the reader in figuring out just what the numbers, verses, and doodles mean is not worth the effort. The solution involves an esoteric knowledge of ancient alphabets and printing terminology to an extent that seems to take all the fun out of a mystery novel.