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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Vanishing Corpse

cover image By: Queen, Ellery (pseudonym of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) (male)
Publisher: Pyramid Books (R1799)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 357: PS3533 .U4 V36 1968
Contributor: G. Yavicoli

General

Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Ellery Queen Geographic Locale: New York City Date of Publication: 1968  |  Original Date: 1941 Setting: urban and suburban; health and fitness industry; a grandiose health spa located in a large Colonial mansion Motives: greed -- Dr. James Rogers intended to marry Barbara Braun in order to gain a share of her father's immense fortune. Greed and revenge motivate Claude Zachary who embezzles $40,000 from John Braun. Greed and revenge also motivate Rock Taylor and Cornelia Mullins who are upset because John Braun has left them out of his new will. John Braun's enormous ego and narcissism are the primary motivators behind his suicide because he does not want to see his body ravaged by cancer. Alternate Title: Ellery Queen, Master Detective

Plot Summary

During a visit with his father, Ellery Queen overhears Inspector Queen's conversation with Mrs. Lydia Braun, wife of the wealthy owner of a luxurious health spa. She requests Inspector Queen's assistance in locating her daughter, Barbara, who has run away from home. Ellery locates the missing Barbara before his father, and along with Barbara's friend, Nikki Porter, who has been hiding her, they return to Braun's Home of Health. John Braun, who has recently been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, calls a meeting of his family and employees to discuss his new will, making his wife the sole beneficiary. Shortly after Nikki Porter's arrival at the health spa, she discovers John Braun slumped dead over his desk with his throat cut, and Inspector Queen begins an investigation that points to Nikki as the prime suspect. Ellery manages to conceal Nikki from the police while sorting through a maze of clues and suspects in an attempt to clear her and solve the baffling crime. A stolen corpse and a pet raven provide important clues, and the final solution lies with finding and examining Braun's body.


Major Characters

Ellery Queen "El," adult male, tall, sharp silver-gray eyes, clean-cut face, broad shoulders, nice teeth and smile, mystery writer, amateur detective

Dr. James Rogers "Jim," adult male, early 30s, high forehead, dark eyes, sharp chin, tousled black hair, long fingers, resident physician at health spa, alcoholic

John Braun adult male, middle-aged, tremendous physique, narcissistic, wealthy, health spa owner/operator, publisher of health and fitness magazines, distributor of health foods

Barbara Braun "Babs," adult female, 21 years old, brown wavy hair, heavy dark eyelashes, deep voice, extremely attractive, natural complexion with high coloring, John Braun's daughter, dating Dr. James Rogers

Nikki Porter adult female, 21 years old, attractive, slender, curly blonde hair, vivacious, impulsive, aspiring mystery writer, best of Barbara Braun, becomes Ellery Queen's secretary

Claude L. Zachary adult male, shiny bald head, thin face, perpetually worried look, wears glasses, John Braun's lawyer and business manager

Rock Taylor "Rocky," adult male, marketing and publicity director

Amos elderly male, hollow-chested, chalky face creased with dark wrinkles, bright eyes, long hair, caretaker and gardener, owns a large black raven

Cornelia Mullins "Connie," adult female, statuesque blonde, full-bosomed, tan, attractive, athletic, exercise and fitness instructor, fiance of Rock Taylor

Mrs. Lydia Braun adult female, middle-aged, gray hair, timid, washed-out appearance, wife of John Braun

Inspector Richard Queen "Dick," adult male, middle-aged, short, gray mustache, quick birdlike motions, police inspector and father of Ellery Queen

Doctor Samuel Prouty "Doc," "Sam," adult male, middle-aged, gloomy, bad-tempered, assistant medical examiner

Thomas Veile adult male, large, long arms and legs, gorilla-chested, broad hard face, huge shoulders and feet, incredibly strong, police sergeant


Weapons

knife (used as a letter opener), gun, x-ray


Level of Violence

several violent situations result in two fatalities. Inspector Queen shoots out the tires of Dr. Rogers' car, sending Rogers plummeting to his death. John Braun kills himself by cutting his throat with a sharp paper knife, but neither this event nor his injuries are described in graphic detail. Nikki Porter is choked and taken hostage temporarily but she does not suffer any serious injuries.


Sexuality

no sexual situations are included; however Nikki Porter spends the night in Ellery Queen's bedroom while hiding from the police. Nothing sexual is suggested in the relationships of Rock Taylor and Cornelia Mullins despite the fact that they are engaged; Dr. James Rogers is courting Barbara Braun but nothing sexual is suggested in their relationship either.


Gender Roles

female characters are largely relegated to the background while the male characters are the central focus of the novel. Women do not hold any occupations or positions of authority; they hold menial positions that do not require creativity or intelligence. All of the top executives at the health spa are men; the sole exception is Cornelia Mullins who conducts exercise classes. Nikki Porter is a struggling mystery writer, but her work is continually belittled and rejected by editors.


Ethnicity

not a factor; all of the characters are presumably Caucasian.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

alcohol and tobacco are used heavily; Ellery Queen smokes both cigarettes and a pipe; Dr. Samuel Prouty smokes cigars. Dr. James Rogers is a heavy drinker. Officer Ryan drinks with Rogers while on duty, becomes inebriated and passes out. Ellery Queen and Sgt. Veile drink beer all night in the Queen's apartment after a tough day trying to solve the case.


Law Enforcement

the police are highly efficient and extremely adept at performing their duties. Inspector Queen is a model law enforcement officer who takes his duty and profession very seriously. His reputation as an honest, hardworking police officer is beyond reproach. He only uses his weapon as a last alternative. However, he often forms conclusions based entirely on circumstantial evidence and displays a stubborn unwillingness to listen to another point of view. The medical examiner, fingerprint team and police photographers perform their duties to the highest level of excellence. The police are made to look foolish when the murderer successfully steals the victim's body and replaces it with a statue. The murderer later steals the morgue wagon with the victim's body inside while Inspector Queen looks on. Sergeant Veile is a competent officer but lacks imagination and in most cases regurgitates Inspector Queen's theories and opinions.


Added Features

the health and fitness industry plays a large role in the story. John Braun operates a health spa that caters to wealthy, middle-aged idlers who are grossly out of shape. Braun preys on his guilt-ridden clientele and his primary concern is generating a large profit rather than the well-being of his clients. A large, black raven plays a role in the novel (not uncommon in the mystery genre). There are several instances of comic relief, most notably when Ellery Queen hides Nikki Porter from the police in the apartment he shares with his father, and convinces Inspector Queen that she is their new cook and housekeeper.


Subject Headings

Authors/ Police/ Murder/ Health resorts, watering places, etc./ Guilt/ Revenge/ Greed


Psychological Elements

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. Dr. James Rogers' actions are driven by greed. His plan to force Braun into suicide and subsequently marry his daughter is an act of desperation designed to secure his financial future. Ellery Queen shields Nikki Porter from his father because he believes she is innocent and intends to clear her. He puts his sense of righteousness above his loyalty to his father.