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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Greek Coffin Mystery

cover image By: Queen, Ellery (pseudonym of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (Cardinal Edition C-390)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 356: PS3533 .U4 G73 1960
Contributor: J. Vourgourakis


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Ellery Queen Geographic Locale: New York City Date of Publication: 1960  |  Original Date: 1932 Setting: urban; primarily Manhattan, but also in Brooklyn Motives: murder

Plot Summary

This novel presents the earliest sleuthing days of Ellery Queen, a cocky college graduate who helps his father and the New York Police Department solve a murder mystery. The novel begins with the funeral of a rich Greek art dealer, Georg Khalkis. When his will is found to be missing, Ellery deduces that the will must have been slipped into Khalkis's coffin, but when the coffin is exhumed, what they find instead is a second body. This leads Ellery and the NYPD down various wrong paths until Ellery finally solves the mystery. Stolen art, ex-cons, millionaires and secret pasts all play a part in this convoluted plot. Ellery's female double is Joan Brett, a British detective sent by the Victoria and Albert museum to find a missing Leonardo da Vinci painting. Where Brett fails, Ellery succeeds in locating the missing artwork and solving the crime.

Major Characters

Ellery Queen adult male, recent college graduate, assists his father, the police investigator, with solving crimes

Assistant District Attorney Pepper adult male, assistant district attorney

Richard Queen adult male, Ellery's father, famous inspector with the New York police department

Georg Khalkis adult male, art dealer, Khalkis family patriarch whose death sets up events for the novel

Delphina Sloane adult female, blonde, sister of Khalkis

Gilbert Sloane adult male, runs the Khalkis art galleries

Alan Cheney adult male, son of Delphina Sloane by a previous marriage

Demetrios Khalkis "Demmy," adult male, Khalkis's "idiot" cousin

Joan Brett adult female, Khalkis's secretary, also works undercover for the Victoria and Albert Museum

Albert Grimshaw adult male, ex-convict and art thief

James J. Knox adult male, millionaire, art connoisseur, Khalkis's executor

Jan Vreeland adult male, Khalkis's traveling representative

Lucy Vreeland adult female, wife of Jan Vreeland

District Attorney Sampson adult male, eager, district attorney

Miles Woodruff adult male, Khalkis's attorney

Dr. Wardes adult male, English eye specialist

Level of Violence

Grimshaw is found murdered, but the reader does not see the action of this violence. Gilbert Sloane is found in his office with a bullet through his head. What first appears as a suicide is discovered to be a murder. Toward the end of the novel, the one depiction of violence has Ellery and some police detectives hunting down Pepper in the basement of the Knox residence. The scene is built up with tension and explodes when Pepper shoots at Ellery, nicking him in the shoulder, and with the police, en masse, shooting Pepper dead.


sexuality does not play a major role in the novel. Everyone is assumed to be straight and the five female characters are each described in sexually stereotypic form, from the busty blonde Lily Odell, to the prim, intelligent Joan Brett.

Gender Roles

gender roles are most obviously played out in contrast by Joan Brett and Ellery Queen. Though they are both sleuths on the case, Joan is ready to quit the case and return to England because of her frustration, while Ellery perseveres and solves the murder. At the end of the novel, Ellery teaches Joan a "stern lesson" by reprimanding her for being taken in by the killer's ruse.


racism is not explicit in the novel, although there is one scene of an interrogation of a black elevator page who is characterized in stereotypical fashion. The Greeks in the novel are also similarly stereotyped as greasy, conniving, or stupid.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

alcohol plays a very minor role. Alan Cheney is a drunk, which works to characterize him as a no-good spoiled heir to Khalkis.

Law Enforcement

the murderer is an assistant district attorney and the person who solves the murder mystery is not officially on the police force. Though Ellery is not a police officer, he is closely associated with the law, having studied criminology and having a police inspector as a father. Though the killer is an assistant district attorney, which implies a certain amount of corruption of the law, the rest of the characters representing the law act in noble and upstanding fashion.

Added Features

in a fictitious forward to this novel, a certain "J.J. McCoy" tells the reader that this story is one that Ellery Queen never told because it caused him so much embarassment, but after much cajoling he finally agreed to publish it. This novel is not the first in the Ellery Queen series to be published, but it serves to create a background story to explain some of the quirks of Ellery's mystery-solving technique. According to this forward, it was "the Khalkis case that set Ellery's feet in that path that was to lead him to such brilliant victories later."

Subject Headings

New York (N.Y.)/ Murder/ Wealth/ Police/ Theft

Psychological Elements

this novel introduces the circumstances behind the modus operandi of Ellery Queen. The novel takes place early in Ellery's career as an amateur criminologist. He has just graduated from college, and in the beginning of the novel he acts very cocky. With self-assurance he prematurely proclaims that he has solved the case. When he is proven wrong, he feels great embarassment, and vows never to jump to conclusions until he has analyzed all the facts and possibilities. The authors set up this story to explain why, in subsequent novels, Ellery never lets the other characters in the novel (and the reader) know what he is thinking until the final scenes when he solves the mystery.