Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Days' Wonder Improbable and Fun

Continuing in our tradition of me reading to Sara, we recently enjoyed Ten Days' Wonder, by Ellery Queen.  Ellery Queen is the main character, a novelist with an uncommon mind and ability to solve mysteries in his head (similar in some ways to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot).  Ellery Queen is also the pen name of 2 cousins who collaborated together on several mysteries.

Written and set in the 1940s, Ellery is drawn to a mansion by, Howard Van Horn, an acquaintance who is suffering amnesic attacks and is very concerned about what he does during these episodes.  Howard, an aspiring sculptor, lives there with his step-mom (who is his age), his insipid uncle, and his magisterial father, Diedrich Van Horn.

The amnesic episodes recede a bit in the background when other troubling dynamics come to the fore and Ellery himself is implicated in a crime against the manor.  But even that recedes some when a murder is committed.

Ellery is Freudian in his thinking, and the plot, especially the whole scheme conceived by the murderer, is improbable.  But we enjoyed it, nonetheless.  Despite it's improbability, the story is not banal.  We read this one together rather quickly.

The book is filled with biblical allusions, and these become more obvious as Ellery begins to solve the mysteries of the Van Horn home.  I suspect a second read-through would find even more.  I say this because as I re-read the first line of the novel, I notice how it mimics the first verses of the Bible.  And the description of Diedrich Van Horn when Ellery first meets him (ch. 2) could almost be written by a devout theologian of God himself.

One other note: the vocabulary is delightful.  About half-way through the book, I started jotting down the words I didn't know.  Here's my list:
gawped
togged
perfidious
buncoed
sidereal
selvage
hypothecated
senescence
pertinacity
nip-ups
neophrastic

The vocab anomalies weren't really a challenge to reading the novel, but it did remind us of the 1940s setting.

First line: "In the beginning it was without form, a darkness that kept shifting like dancers."

Last line: "But he set his feet on the Van Horn driveway and began the long night walk into Wrightsville."

My rating (out of 5): 3 1/2

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