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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Perfect Crime

cover image By: Queen, Ellery (pseudonym of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) (male)
Publisher: Pyramid Books (R-1814)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 356: PS3533 .U4 P47 1968
Contributor: G. Yavicoli

General

Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Ellery Queen Geographic Locale: New York City (specifically Manhattan) Date of Publication: 1968  |  Original Date: 1942 Setting: urban; ultra-wealthy neighborhood and surrounding city areas, involving individuals from upper-class social strata involved in financial speculation Motives: revenge, greed, shame, guilt, remorse, murder

Plot Summary

While working in his office, Ellery Queen is approached by Walter Mathews, a friend of several years. Mathews has just had a major row with his Uncle John, a notorious Wall Street swindler. Apparently John Mathews has cheated Raymond Garten, the father of Walter Mathews' fiance Marian, out of his life's savings, and Garten will be forced to auction off his prized collection of rare books to settle the debt with his creditors. Walter Mathews enlists Ellery Queen's aid to buy the books back at the auction, but shortly after the auction, John Mathews is found dead in his library. Walter, who was in the house at the time of the shooting, claims that his uncle has committed suicide. The medical examiner, who can find no powder burns near the wound, proclaims that Mathews was murdered. Ellery Queen believes that Walter is innocent, and he decides to assist the police in investigating the crime. This proves to be no simple task, but Ellery Queen conducts a painstakingly thorough and rigorous analysis of the suspects and evidence. After sifting through the evidence and deciphering the clues, he stages a reenactment of the crime, proving that Henry Griswold, Raymond Garten's librarian and fellow investor in John Mathews' crooked business deal, fired the lethal shot. Griswold had suspected Garten of being John Mathews' accomplice in the stock market swindle, and in order to gain revenge against both men, he disguised himself as Garten and then shot John Mathews. Walter Mathews was protecting his fiance's father. Griswold writes a letter of confession and commits suicide by taking poison.


Major Characters

Ellery Queen "El", adult male, tall, mystery writer, amateur detective/sleuth

Henry Griswold adult male, mid 50s, gray hair, pale, hollow-chested, looks like an "absent-minded professor," Raymond Garten's librarian, swindled out of his life savings by John Mathews

John Mathews adult male, middle-aged, left-handed, Wall Street tycoon and swindler, estimated worth over 50 million dollars, had lots of enemies

Walter Mathews "Walt," adult male, tall, black hair, dark "Charles Boyer eyes," social idler who came into a large trust fund at the age of 21, heir to his uncle's fortune

Raymond Garten adult male, mid 50s, wears dark, thick glasses, gray pouches beneath eyes, investor of rare books, ruined financially through a crooked stock market scheme run by John Mathews; forced to sell his vast book collection

Marian Garten adult female, early 20s, extraordinarily attractive, trim, blonde hair, dark eyes, daughter of Raymond Garten and fiance of Walter Mathews

Arthur F. Rhodes adult male, tall, large man with black hair, handlebar mustache, attorney for John Mathews, accomplished in swindling schemes

Carlotta Emerson "Horsy," "Aunt Carlo," adult female, late 30s, flaming red hair, large "Amazonian appearance," feminine voice, square shoulders, large hands, phony Southern drawl, Walter Mathews' maiden aunt and heir to John Mathews' fortune, has a pet chimpanzee

Nikki Porter adult female, trim, golden brown hair, extremely attractive, Ellery Queen's secretary, infatuated with Ellery Queen

Inspector Richard Queen "Dick," adult male, middle-aged, gray mustache, short with a wiry build, police inspector, Ellery Queen's father


Weapons

automatic pistol equipped with a telescopic sight


Level of Violence

while in his library, John Mathews was shot to death by someone in the Garten house. The wound inflicted by the shot is described in detail, including the massive bloodstain on the rug and the gaping hole in Mathews' neck, but the violence is largely implicit and the act of the shooting itself is not discussed.


Sexuality

there are no sexual situations. However, Ellery Queen does mention the attractiveness of Marian Garten and Nikki Porter attempts to conceal the momentous crush she has on Ellery Queen. Arthur Rhodes courts Carlotta Emerson to gain a share of the Mathews' fortune, but nothing sexual is suggested in their relationship.


Gender Roles

the female characters are submissive and generally remain in the background while the male characters dominate the action. Women hold secretarial jobs that do not require a great deal of responsibility or intelligence. Nikki Porter offers comic relief as a stereotypical secretary who is more concerned with beauty appointments than doing her job. She almost spoils the auction by creating a disturbing ruckus, and she fails miserably when attempting to aid Ellery Queen in solving the murder. After botching both situations, she proceeds to faint, implying that women do not have the constitution or fortitude to handle stressful situations and should remain in the background, content with their traditional roles. There are some sexist notions expressed. John Mathews objects to the marriage of his nephew Walter to Marian Garten because she attended college and he believes that women should not have an education.


Ethnicity

there is no blatantly racist language, but there are two situations of racial stereotyping and labeling from the period. Caesar Jones, the elevator and telephone operator at Raymond Garten's apartment building, is stereotyped and labeled as a Negro who is barely able to handle his limited duties. John Mathews' valet is Chinese, and is characterized as something of a simpleton who cannot handle any job responsibilities beyond those of a domestic servant.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

most characters smoke; Ellery Queen smokes cigarettes and Arthur Rhodes constantly smokes cigars. Raymond Garten, Walter Mathews, and Carlotta Emerson smoke cigarettes. Dr. Prouty, the medical examiner, smokes cigars. Alcohol is not consumed, but Lee, the Chinese valet, mentions that one of his duties is to provide his employer with a decanter of sherry each day before dinner.


Law Enforcement

the police are hard-working, diligent individuals with impeccable reputations. There are no incidents of bribery or other misconduct on their part. Inspector Queen is a very efficient and capable police officer who takes his duties very seriously. He is honest and non-corruptible. However, he often cannot see past the circumstantial evidence and lacks imagination in solving the crime. Sergeant Veile is an efficient officer, but he also lacks imagination and has few deductive reasoning capabilities. He tends to jump to conclusions based entirely on circumstantial evidence. The medical examiner is very competent, as are the police fingerprint team and photographer. Detective Flint is portrayed as a buffoon who allows Walter Mathews to trick him and escape.


Added Features

the novel reflects the interest and passion that people have for investing in the stock market. Financial speculation and business dealings play a major role in the novel and in the motivations of the characters. An element of comic relief is provided by the inclusion of a trained chimpanzee, adding an interesting sidelight and subplot to the story.


Subject Headings

Authors/ New York (N.Y.)/ Murder/ Swindlers and swindling


Psychological Elements

diverse and powerful emotions such as revenge, guilt, shame, and greed comprise the mindsets of the main characters. The murderer is not a psychopath, but instead has carefully planned out his actions and fully understands the consequences. Ellery Queen is very cold and calculating in his sleuthing and remains aloof from the emotions displayed by the central characters. Even during the most intense parts of the story, Queen is able to "keep his wits about him." The police are cynical and hard-boiled. The novel tends toward the melodramatic and includes numerous instances of moralistic overtones.