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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Quick and the Dead

cover image By: Queen, Ellery (pseudonym of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (2326)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 357: PS3533 .U4 Q53 1956
Contributor: D. Hartman


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Ellery Queen Geographic Locale: New York City Date of Publication: 1956  |  Original Date: 1943 Setting: urban; upper-class; most scenes take place at the residence of Cornelia Potts on Riverside Drive Motives: greed (obtaining a piece of the Potts' fortune), murder Alternate Title: There Was an Old Woman

Plot Summary

Ellery Queen finds himself mixed up with the barmy bunch of cuckoos that inhabit the Potts "palace" on Riverside Drive. At the head of this flock is Cornelia Potts, the seventy-year-old woman who runs the Potts shoe dynasty. Trampled under Cornelia's shoes are her six children, three by each of her two husbands. Cornelia's three oldest children: Thurlow, Louella, and Horatio are all several bricks short of a load, while her three youngest children: Robert, Maclyn, and Sheila are all sane. Over this nutty household hovers a ruthless killer who fits his cold-blooded crimes into the patterns of a Mother Goose rhyme.

Major Characters

Ellery Queen adult male, writer and detective

Richard Queen adult male, police inspector and father of Ellery Queen

Cornelia Potts elderly female, 70 years old, owner of Potts shoe dynasty, married twice -- three children with each husband; first husband was Bacchus Potts, second husband is Stephen Brent (Cornelia forces him and his children to be named Potts)

Thurlow Potts adult male, 47 years old, Cornelia's eldest son (father was Bacchus Potts); described as "the world's most insultable man," spends most of his time suing people for slander

Louella Potts adult female, 44 years old, eccentric daughter of Cornelia Potts (father was Bacchus Potts); believes herself to be a great inventor

Horatio Potts adult male, 41 years old, third child of Cornelia (father was Bacchus Potts); child who never grew up, has the emotional maturity of a nine-year old

Robert Potts adult male, 30 years old, Maclyn is his identical twin brother (father is Stephen Brent); vice-president in charge of sales for the Potts Shoe Company

Maclyn Potts adult male, 30 years old, twin brother of Robert (father is Stephen Brent); vice-president in charge of advertising and promotion for the Potts Shoe Company

Sheila Potts adult female, 24 years old, youngest child of Cornelia Potts (father is Stephen Brent); engaged to Charlie Paxton (Sheila Potts changes her identity at the end of the story -- she becomes Nikki Porter, Ellery's secretary)

Charles Hunter Paxton adult male, lawyer for the Potts family and Sheila Potts' fianc; not the nice guy he appears to be

Sergeant Thomas Velie adult male, police officer working with Inspector Queen on Potts case

Dr. Waggoner Innis adult male, Cornelia Potts' doctor



Level of Violence

two people are shot to death (Robert and Maclyn Potts); also Ellery Queen is shot, but a bullet-proof vest saves his life.


the novel contains no sex scenes. There are allusions to Stephen Brent and Major Gotch's "companionship" that could be read as homosexual in nature. Thurlow and Horatio are also characterized as somewhat effeminate. The authors seem to use implied homosexuality to characterize eccentricity. Louella is described as asexual, yet she likes to watch rats fornicating in her laboratories -- another characterization that seems to be used to bolster the notion of eccentricity.

Gender Roles

typical gender roles for a novel written during the 1940s. Sheila is prized by both Charles and Ellery Queen. By unmasking Charles as the mastermind behind the Potts murders, Ellery "gets" Sheila by suggesting that she escape her weird family by changing her name and becoming his secretary.


not a factor

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

constant drinking of Scotch; most characters smoke cigarettes.

Law Enforcement

Inspector Queen is a competent policeman, and Sergeant Velie is a loyal, but somewhat confused public servant. The law is depicted as rationality itself in contrast to the irrationality of the Potts family.

Added Features

Sheila Potts changes her name to Nikki Porter. Nikki Porter is a recurring character in Ellery Queen novels. The meeting of Ellery Queen and Nikki Porter is told in several different ways in various Ellery Queen novels, movies and radio plays.

Subject Headings

New York (N.Y.)/ Authors/ Murder/ Eccentrics and Eccentricities

Psychological Elements

the whole story is built around the lunacy of the Potts family; Sheila Potts is reluctant to marry Charlie Paxton because she is afraid insanity runs in her family. The eccentricity of the Potts family verges on insanity and is juxtaposed with the cleverness of both Ellery Queen and the villain.