The Four of Hearts
First US edition
|Series||Ellery Queen mysteries|
|Genre||Mystery novel / Whodunnit|
|Preceded by||The Devil to Pay|
|Followed by||The Dragon's Teeth|
At the end of the previous Ellery Queen novel, The Devil to Pay, he's in Hollywood and about to meet studio head Jacques Butcher. At the beginning of this novel, he does so and is asked to work on a movie script about the lives of "the fightin', feudin', first families of Hollywood", actors John Royle and Blythe Stuart. Years ago, these tempestuous thespians had been romantic partners, but quarrelled violently and had become the central figures in a famous feud. The feud extended to Blythe's daughter Bonnie and John's son Ty, both young movie actors—and Jacques Butcher is now engaged to Bonnie. The perpetually broke elder actors are persuaded to accept roles in a biographic picture about their lives which garners great publicity because of their long-standing feud—whereupon they promptly make up and decide to get married. Hollywood's publicity machine kicks into high gear and the pair are married on an airfield in front of huge crowds, then fly away in a private plane for a honeymoon. But a masked person has forced his/her way onto the airplane and left two poisoned flasks of cocktails, and John Royle and Blythe Stuart are dead at the end of the flight. Ty and Bonnie vacillate between feuding and a sudden romantic interest, and Ellery takes a hand to investigate the case. It seems that the murdered pair had been receiving anonymous mailings of playing cards that had a mysterious significance. Ellery's suspicions fall upon the households of John and Blythe, and Ty and Bonnie become suspicious of each other. It's only when Ellery learns the true meanings of the cards that he solves the case. In the process, he has formed a romantic attachment of his own with prominent and lovely gossip columnist Paula Paris, who is agoraphobic—as the final act of the novel, he persuades her to accompany him out to dinner.
Literary significance & criticism
(See Ellery Queen.) After many popular mystery novels and a number of movies, the character of Ellery Queen was at this point firmly established. This period in the Ellery Queen canon signals a change in the type of story told, moving away from the intricate puzzle mystery format which had been a hallmark of earlier novels, and takes him to Hollywood, where he becomes involved with both screenwriting and romance. "It's fair to say that the Hollywood novels made a pleasant read, but nothing more. ... Marvellously twisted plotting a throwback to the earlier Queens, with the final revelations fairly deducible from the clues."