The Chinese Orange Mystery

Ellery Queen

“The detection - or rather the solution of crime - calls for a combination of scientist and seer in the completest development of the detective. The genius for prophesying from events is a very special endowment of Nature and has been granted in its highest form only to a favored few . . . .

“I might paraphrase that interesting observation in Schlegel's Athenaeum goes:

Der Historiker ist ein riickwarts gekehrter Prophet/ by pointing out that: ‘The detective is a prophet looking backwards' Or Carlyle’s more subtle observation about history by agreeing that: The process of detection (as opposed to History ) is ‘a distillation of rumor.’”

?Excerpt from an Anonymous Article

in Esoterica Americana, Attributed

by Some to Matsoyuma Tahukiy

the Noted Japanese Authority

on the Occident.


I am naturally prejudiced in favor of my friend Mr. Ellery Queen. Friendship aborts the critical faculties; especially friendship which has been invited to partake of fame. And yet, ever since those ancient days when I was first persuading Ellery to whip his notes into fiction form?through all the exciting novels that followed that first adventure?I cannot recall being more genuinely impressed than I was as I read the manuscript of The Chinese Orange Mystery.

It might well have been subtitled: The Crime That Was Backwards. With a further addendum: The Most Remarkable Murder-Case of Modern Times. But, as I say, I am prejudiced and perhaps that is a modest overstatement. The point is that if the crime itself was extraordinary, the mentality that went to work upon it was gigantic. Even now, knowing the answer, I sometimes disbelieve. And yet it was all so simple, indeed so inevitable . . . . The trouble is, as Ellery likes to point out, that all puzzles are irritatingly cryptic until you know the answer, and then you wonder why you were baffled so long. But I cannot quite subscribe to that; it took genius to solve the crime that was backwards, and I will stick to that opinion tho’ Hell freeze over and I lose my friend?which is a potent possibility.

Sometimes, too, I feel secretly glad that I had nothing to do with that case. Ellery, who is in many ways a thinking machine, is no respecter of friendships when logic points an accusing finger. And it might very well have been that had I been in some way involved?if even as, let us say, Donald Kirk’s attorney?Ellery might have caused good Sergeant Velie to clap the cuffs on my poor wrists. For it is remarkable that when I was at college I achieved a definitely fleeting fame in two athletic fields: I was my class backstroke swimming champion, and I rowed stroke- oar on the crew.

How these innocent facts would have made me a potential?no, no, a very active?suspect in the murder with which these pages are concerned I shall leave you to discover?unquestionably with pleasure?for yourself.

J. J.


New York


Miss Diversey fled Dr. Kirk’s study followed by a blistering mouthful of ogrish growls. She stood still in the corridor outside the old gentleman’s door, her cheeks burning and one of her square washed-out hands pressed to the outraged starch of her bosom. She could hear the angry septuagenarian scuttling about the study in his wheel- chair like a Galapagos turtle, muttering anathemas upon her white-capped head in a fantastic potpourri of ancient Hebrew, classic Greek, French, and English.

The old fossil,” thought Miss Diversey fiercely. “It’s?it’s like living with a human encyclopedia!”

Dr. Kirk made Jovian thunder from behind the door: “And don’t come back, do you hear me?” He thundered other things, too, in the argot of strange tongues which filled his scholar’s brain; things which, had Miss Diversey been possessed of the dubious advantages of a higher culture, would have made her very indignant indeed.

Slush,” she said defiantly, glaring at the door. There was no reply; at least, no reply of a satisfactory nature. There’s nothing, she thought with dismal consternation, you can say to a ghostly chuckle and the slam of a dusty book dug out of somebody’s grave. He was the most exasperating old-She almost said it. For a moment, in fact, it trembled upon the brink of utterance. But her better nature triumphed and she closed her pale lips sternly. Let him dress himself if he wanted to. She had always hated dressing old people, anyway . . . . She stood irresolute for a moment; and then, her color still high, clumped down the corridor with the firm unhurried steps of the professional nurse.

The twenty-second floor of the Hotel Chancellor was pervaded, by inflexible regulation, with the silent peace of the cloister. The quiet soothed Miss Diversey’s ruffled soul. There were two compensations, she thought, to playing nurse to a creaking, decrepit, malicious old devil afflicted?thank heaven there was justice!?with chronic rheumatism and gout. One was the handsome salary young Donald Kirk paid her for the difficult task of taking care of his father; the other was that the Kirk menage was situated in a respectable hotel in the heart of New York City. The money and the geography, she thought with morbid satisfaction, made up for a lot of disadvantages. Macy’s, Gimbel’s, the other department stores were only minutes away, movies and theatres and all sorts of exciting things at one’s doorstep . . . . Yes, she would stick it out. Life was hard, but it had its compensations.

Not that they weren’t a trying lot at times. Lord knows she had crawled to the whims of plenty of nasty people in her day. And that old Dr. Kirk was nasty; there was no pleasing him. You’d think a body would be pleasant and human and grateful sometimes; give a person a “please” here or a “thank you” there. But not old Beelzebub. A tyrant, if ever there was one. He had eyes that gave a person the shivers; and his white hair stood on end as if it were trying to get as far away from him as it possibly could. He wouldn’t eat when you wanted him to. He refused massages and threw shoes about. He would totter around the suite when Dr. Angini said he mustn’t walk and refuse to budge when Dr. Angini said he must exercise. About the only good thing about him was that when his purple old nose was buried in a book he was quiet.

And then there was Marcella. Marcella! Snippy little fluff she was; in fifty years she’d be the feminine counterpart of her father. Oh, she had her good points, reflected Miss Diversey grudgingly; but then so have criminals. Adding her up, good and bad, you wouldn’t have much. Of course, conceded Miss Diversey, who had a strong sense of justice, she couldn’t really be as worthless as all that; not with that nice tall pink-cheeked Mr. Macgowan so crazy about her. It certainly did take all kinds of people to make a world! Now, Miss Diversey was sure that if Mr. Macgowan had not happened to be Mr. Donald Kirk’s friend there never would have been an engagement between Mr. Macgowan and Mr. Kirk’s young sister. That’s what comes of having a brother and pots of money, thought Miss Diversey darkly. You go out and snare just about the best catch?Miss Diversey read the society-gossip columns critically?in the social whirl. Well, maybe when they were married he’d find out. They generally do, thought Miss Diversey, who possessed among other admirable qualities a decided strain of cynicism. The stories she could tell about these society people! . . . As for Donald Kirk, he was all right in his way; but his way was not Miss Diversey’s way. He was a snob. That is, he treated people like Miss Diversey with a certain good-humored, absent tolerance.

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