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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Tragedy of Z

cover image By: Queen, Ellery (pseudonym of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (355)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 357: PS3533 .U4 T75 1946
Contributor: C. Monaghan


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Ellery Queen Geographic Locale: upstate New York; mid-Hudson region Date of Publication: 1946  |  Original Date: 1933 Setting: small town, countryside, and a wealthy residence Motives: money, greed

Plot Summary

After a lengthy stay abroad, Patience Thumm returns to New York City and teams up with her father, a retired NYPD homicide detective hired to investigate the activities of a wealthy businessman's silent partner. When they discover that a murder is involved, Inspector Thumm solicits the aid of his long-time friend, former actor and renowned crime solver, Drury Lane. Together the three are led down a path where they uncover several people who are also interested in the activities of the murdered senator, including the F.B.I. Aaron Dow, who ironically, is released from prison the day the senator is murdered, is hastily arrested and convicted. Back in prison, Dow manages to escape, and is again suspected of a second murder. With the help of the district attorney who was the victim's running mate for the senate seat, Dow is again arrested, convicted of a second murder, and sent back to prison. As Inspector Thumm, Patience, and Drury Lane attempt to prove Dow's innocence, they discover some unusual happenings at the prison. Inspector Thumm and Drury Lane seek help from their long-time friend, the governor of New York, but despite their efforts, destiny is the ultimate winner.

Major Characters

Drury Lane adult male, age 70, tall, slow-moving, broad shoulders, thinning white hair, wrinkled hands and face. He has a hearing loss, but compensates by reading lips; sophisticated, charming, retired Shakespearean actor now internationally famous for his genius in solving crimes, detective.

Inspector Thumm adult male, widowed, in his late 60s, father of Patience Thumm; with a nose that looks smashed. Formerly a detective with NYPD homicide, tough and rough around the edges, currently working as a private detective.

Patience Thumm adult female, early 20s, sophisticated, well-educated, well-traveled, honey blonde hair, blue eyes, size 16 figure, daughter of Inspector Thumm; over-confident at times which she later regrets.

Warden Magnus adult male, prison warden at Algonquin State Prison

Father Muir adult male, chaplain and librarian at Algonquin State Prison

Joel Fawcett adult male, middle-aged, big and beefy with an unhandsome obesity, New York State Senator, embezzler

Ira Fawcett adult male, physician, middle-aged, tall, cadaverous marked facial features like that of his dead brother, yellowed teeth, horsy smile, black van dyke beard, heavy smoker, womanizer; brother of Senator Joel Fawcett.

Aaron Dow adult male, small build, marked deformities are the result of an accident while in prison; one eye is permanently shut; right arm is atrophied and dangling

Fanny Kaiser adult female, middle-aged, carmel colored hair, tall, large Amazon-like build, involved with both the senator and the doctor


paper knife (letter opener); a bistoury (medical term for lancets used to treat minor incisions)

Level of Violence

stabbing/execution of prisoner


brief, subtle inferences of sexual activities, but no direct mention of what happens regarding the strong physical attraction between Patience and young handsome Jeremy Clay, son of a wealthy businessman who hires Patience's father to investigate his partner. There are several fleeting remarks about Patience sexually luring Dr. Fawcett by deceiving him into believing she was attracted to him when her only motive was to obtain information from him to perhaps use against her.

Gender Roles

the women seem strong and intelligent; not easily swayed or frightened; self-sufficient and somewhat aggressive.


most characters are of European-American descent.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

heavy alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking. Patience indulges in both drinking and smoking, as does Dr. Fawcett. Inspector Thumm never seems to be without his cigar.

Law Enforcement

the local police force is headed by Chief Kenyon, the district attorney, state troopers, the prison warden, guards and an F.B.I. agent.

Subject Headings

Murder/ Murderers/ New York (State)/ Prisoners and prisons