“One of the greatest riddles in Golden Age detective fiction . . . the unbridled ingenuity of its central puzzle has never been surpassed” (Kirkus Reviews).
Mandarin Press is a premier publishing house for foreign literature, but to those at the top of this enterprise, there is little more beautiful than a rare stamp. As Donald Kirk, publisher and philatelist, prepares his office for a banquet, an unfamiliar man comes to call. No one recognizes him, but Kirk’s staff is used to strange characters visiting their boss, so Kirk’s secretary asks him to wait in the anteroom. Within an hour, the mysterious visitor is dead on the floor, head bashed in with a fireplace poker, and everything in the anteroom has been quite literally turned upside down. The rug is backwards; the furniture is backwards; even the dead man’s clothes have been put on front-to-back. As debonair detective Ellery Queen pries into the secrets of Mandarin Press, every clue he finds is topsy-turvy. The great sleuth must tread lightly, for walking backwards is a surefire way to step off a cliff.
One of the most bizarre puzzles in crime fiction distinguishes this mystery, first published in 1934, from Queen, the pseudonym for Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, as well as the name of their gifted amateur sleuth. Book publisher Donald Kirk invites Ellery Queen to meet at Manhattan's Hotel Chancellor, where Kirk maintains an office. On their arrival, Kirk learns that a stranger is in his waiting room. Since the door between Kirk's office and the waiting room is locked from the inside, Queen and Kirk must use the door from the corridor to gain access. Inside they find the man bludgeoned to death and wearing all his clothes backwards. Furthermore, all the furniture in the room has been rearranged to face backward, and two African spears have been inserted under the dead man's coat. No one in Kirk's circle has any idea as to the corpse's identity, let alone a motive for the unusual killing. The solution is a perfect, fairly clued match for the setup. If this creates a new audience for a genre giant, Penzler, editor of the American Mystery Classics series, will have done yet another service for whodunit lovers.