Keikakudoori vs Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery

This is an example of the type of reasoning I do when I pick up an actual mystery novel.

Ellery Queen’s “The Roman Hat Mystery” was a great “who dunnit”. When I read mystery books I don’t simply read them I try to solve them the moment I pick them up.  That’s the way I find them interesting, exploring the game of: who did it, why did the culprit it, and how the did culprit it. I find those types of things most interesting when reading them. The closer I get to the truth the better it is.

This is my reasoning and my theories on who the culprit was before the time was over and the truth was revealed in the Roman Hat Mystery when I first read it.

*Includes spoilers. It doesn’t include the culprit’s identity*

The mystery in a few words: A disreputable lawyer  is man is murdered via poison at a local theater while a famous play called “Gunplay” is on at night. Witnesses claim they didn’t see the victim with anyone on the audience. The investigation focus the disappearance of a pricey top hat the victim was wearing as the biggest clue to know the identity of the culprit.


Monte Field, an important personage indeed – the victim
Willaim Pusak, clerk. Cranially a brachycephalic.
Doyle, a gendarme with brains.
Louis Panzer, a Broadway theater manager.
James Peale, the Don Juan of “Gunplay.”
Eve Ellis. The quality of friendship is not strained.
Stephen Barry. One can understand the perturbation of the juvenile lead.
Lucille Horton, the “lady of the streets” – in the play.
Hilda Orange, a celebrated English character actress.
Thomas Velie, Detective-Sergeant who knows a thing or two about crime.
Hesse, Piggott, Flint, Johnson, Hagstrom, Ritter, gentlemen of the Homicide squad.
Dr. Samuel Prouty, Assistant to the Chieft Medical examiner.
madge O’Connell, usherette on the fatal aisle.
Dr. Stuttgard. There is always a doctor in the audience.
Jess Lynch, the obliging orangeade boy.
John Cazzanelli, alias “Parson Jonny,” naturally takes a professional interest in “Gunplay.”
Benjamin Morgan. What do you make of him?
Frances Ives-Pope. Enter the society interest.
Stanford Ives-Pope, man-about-town.
Harry Neilson. He revels in the sweet uses of publicity.
Henry Sampson, for once an intelligent District Attorney.
Charles Michaels, the fly – or the spider?
Mrs. Angela Russo, a lady of reputation.
Timothy Cronin, a legal ferret.
Arthur Stoates, another.
Oscar Lewin, the Charon of the dead man’s office.
Franklin Ives-Pope. If wealth meant happiness.
Mrs. Franklin Ives-Pope, a maternal hypochondriac.
Mrs. Phillips. Middle-aged angels have their uses.
Dr. Thaddeus Jones, toxicologist of City of New York.
Edmund Crewe, architectural expert attached to the Detective Bureau.
Djuna, a admirable Crichton of the new species.

_________________________The Problem Is

_____________________Who Killed Monte Field?

The moment the story started I started to take notes all the most important evidence and turn it into facts or something very close to them. Most of it was revealed in the first chapters.

The victim was certainly dead.
It must have been murder. It was without a doubt poison.
The Hat was the key to solving the mystery.

The top hat. The hat is emphasized to no end and its importance is made more than obvious.

Crime. Death of the victim at a theater at night. As the story progress little by little more information is given. The most important fact they mention is the disappearance of the hat of the victim. Did it matter? Yes it. What was in it inside of it? Something small. Maybe jewels, papers? The content weren’t known at that time, only that it was important. The only thing for sure was that it couldn’t have been anything that physically didn’t fit into a hat.

After the death of the victim the theater becomes a “closed room” and no one is allowed to leave the place until they got everything sorted out and everyone has been checked out.

The identity of the person is unknown only that there was a reason for someone to kill him. It could’ve been revenge, an assassin (hardly), a personal matter, maybe it just happened. More than anything I was compelled to believe the crime must have been personal.

Knox 3rd – Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

Fact I accepted – There were no secret passages that lead outside of the theater. Having a secret passage in a supposed closed room (I accept the theater as one) would make anybody a suspect. I reasoned that whoever went that night with the victim entered from a regular door. Why did I need to believe in it? Because it would also be possible for anyone to leave the theater before the police got in with the hat making in untraceable.The trick should be that the culprit left the place AFTER the police arrived, therefore the culprit left through the front door because there no secret passages for the culprit to escape to.

The Hat disappeared.

The police couldn’t find anyone having an extra hat and they couldn’t find the hat no matter how much they looked. It banished from the theater meaning that it could either be very well hidden or that it has already left the place and the police didn’t notice anything suspicious. It didn’t to believe they could’ve missed it seeing they were paying much attention to anything out of the ordinary. Since I accepted there were no secret passages or places where the hat could be hidden it could only left with somebody or it was hidden in a way normally one wouldn’t notice.

Next was who was at the theater and who wasn’t.

I expected the story to tells us who was actually there on that night and those who weren’t and who had a valid alibi. More to the point, whoever was present was a suspect, whoever wasn’t probably wasn’t the culprit.  The latter either had an actual solid alibi  or the witnesses / people from the theater were lying about not seeing this person on the theater that night.

However, the big problem with believing that someone who “wasn’t supposed’ to be there “was in fact there”, was that the police appeared swiftly at the crime scene and closed the place up therefore there was little chance (though not impossible) of the culprit escaping.  As I mentioned it was going to be extremely difficult to pinpoint the culprit’s identity if this person both entered and left the theater without no one noticing. The detective would’ve surely mentioned who was there and who wasn’t and they didn’t mention certain characters therefore it was likely they weren’t present on that night.This likely implied they weren’t the culprit, but once again those who “attended” the theater that night.

How was the victim murdered?

It was poison. First I imaged that whoever did it couldn’t have killed the person normally either because the culprit thought the culprit would outdo them. I figured it could be a  woman based on that, but that was just as thought. It could be also be man but why couldn’t the culprit killed him in some other way? Why poison?

Why poison? and why the theater?

More of backstory of who the victim was revealed and his history as a crook  is revealed ((not to a full extend) Certainly whoever killed him had it in for him otherwise there’ d be no point in having him dead. As I see most crimes, I believed it should be personal. The victim had enemies because of his scheming, this was clear. The culprit wanted him. The culprit needed him dead.

Suspects/other reasoning

There weren’t initially many. The police put their hands on the most suspicious guy in the theater who also had some connections to the victim IARCC and had to say the least a bad reputation. The emphasis is great on his culpability but nothing outside of being suspicious. Is he the culprit? Likely not. It was too obvious the police would get the wrong person first as usual. The possibility of him as the culprit was decreased by a great number by this reasoning. Could this assumption be wrong? Possible. It wouldn’t be the first time that something like that happens,

Moving on.

The “gangster” girlfriend turns out to work that day on the theater and that’s how and why this guy attended the theater that day. both of them were suspicious. Could she have done it? Possible. There was little motive for her that way I saw it. Maybe she was being threaten by the victim and was forced to take action? A possibility, but why not have her gangster boyfriend take care of the victim instead? Seeing his record he’d probably be up for it. I saw little point in her carrying out the crime herself.

The other evidence was that she isn’t mentioned to be leaving the theater with (if any) top hats either. At any rate the hot was mentioned to be a male’s item and it’d be easy to notice in a woman. I took a strong note of that fact. They didn’t mention any woman leaving with it therefore probably she wasn’t it. Maybe she left and put it in a safe place using the secret passage? I assumed secret passages in a closed room shouldn’t exist. The possibility of her being the culprit decrease. Added to the fact that I believed the one doing everything was the culprit and had no accomplices, it made little sense for the gangster’s girlfriend to be the culprit. One more person who attended the theater was crossed out.

The “orangeade boy”. Another worker. He sells drinks and had a stand where he should be keeping watch on things (of course he doesn’t always) Once the story starts it’s stressed how his involvement of getting him a drink they didn’t sell there and the man dying was connected. There are more speculations.

The boy may not lie but he is afraid to tell the facts to the police, possibly because he didn’t want to lose his job.  Could he have been paid/forced by somebody else to give the victim the poison? That was a probability. Maybe the boy did it himself? I doubted the simple boy in the stand was the culprit. Later proof proved this point.

The rest of the cast was put under suspicion after.

Was there an accomplice?

This was a personal pick. I was expecting the culprit to have done it himself or herself. The main reason for this was that it’d be difficult to pin the culprit if this person were to hire somebody. Any X characters not mentioned is the story was something I wasn’t going to fully accept because I’d have no way of knowing of their existence in the first place. This accomplice if it were to exists had to be one of the characters mentioned in the mystery.  Also there’s the S.S. Van Dine 12 rule for who were putting their trust on it. I figured that assuming there was an accomplice in the story it’d mean that the police had to caught the accomplice then get his confession out of that person in order to get to the culprit. It seemed that by this method the job of the detective would be reduced to finding the accomplice = find whoever sent him instead of the detective finding the culprit. My theory that there must’ve been one culprit in this mystery was strengthened. By this process I was expecting that the culprit was on that theater on that day and the culprit and no other was responsible for the victim’s death.

Any other possibility still existed but this sounded more logical to ensure there was an actual investigation.

The purse.

The drunken victim approached one of the actresses minutes prior to his death. The police finds the purse in his pocket. The actress is horrified when the police reveals it to her. Boyfriend, another actor, and her friend comfort her. The police is forced to leave her alone. The contradicting evidence that she could be the culprit was why would the culprit left an incriminating item on the victim’s possession? It made little sense she did it on purpose. The culprit took top hat because it was incriminating. It’d be also be incriminating to leave something such as purse behind so why do it? Unless there was some reverse psychology involved this move was illogical and pointless for the culprit. So possibly she wasn’t the culprit I imagined.

Was she completely not involved in his murder?

That I did not know. The reasoning that there wasn’t a direct accomplice led me to believe there wasn’t one so her importance should be something else, however, I wasn’t making the connection yet other than “the victim approached her for a reason” when he was drunk prior to his death a couple of minutes later.

Then the biggest revelation is given later when they state the victim was a blackmailer then a bit later that he was a forger. As usual the police got the (now 2nd time) suspicious character with a connection to the victim. This was similar to the gangster character who was suspicious only that more evidence piles against this new character. How he threatens the victim not so long ago was like a flag that – this character didn’t do it. It was a trick. Too classic. To obvious to openly buy it. I needed a stronger evidence of why he did it and why it was also impossible for him to do it. IARCC, he isn’t mentioned to have attended the threater the night of the murder. The chances of him being the culprit were lower by this.

Who dunnit?

The major point of the victim being a blackmailer was that he had people pay him so he wouldn’t reveal the dirt on them. By this fact many characters started to be eliminated. The gangster guy was eliminated because of what was already mentioned here. He was rough type and the type who appeared to lacked imagination. Poison almost seemed too much trouble for him when there were ways he could’ve committed the crime more easily instead of a theater. Also he was a criminal himself he’d probably look use another and better method to get rid of the victim. A casual drive up sounded like him. Few witnesses at night, effective, violent, and simple. It sounded like him to me.

The girlfriend as mentioned was already clear.

The actress – I saw her as a major culprit. Her motive was likely the culprit extorting money out of her and threatening her to destroy her career. Again, why was she incriminating herself with the pursue? Her behaviors was suspicious.

The orangeadeboy – even though I hardly saw as a possible culprit, he was average to, I assumed, poor. The victim would see little out of extort him as he’d rather spend his time fishing for bigger fish. A possibility that it was somebody he knew that was being extorted wasn’t impossible, but here once again I thought of the culprit must’ve done it himself and it was personal, thus the boy was dismissed completely as possible culprit.

Obviously, Knox 7th The detective must not himself commit the crime.

Many other characters in the story which are mentioned and I dismissed many of them as being the culprits on the grounds that most of them were not present that time which meant either they had somebody else do it for them or they weren’t the culprit. I believed the culprit did it himself therefore I discarded the possibly of an accomplice who carried out the murder for him. The culprit was present that night without a doubt and this person was the the one who killed the victim.

I exonerated suspects and jotted down the culprit’s identity based on these grounds:

  • The victim was a blackmailer thus had enemies
  • One of his victim was likely to be the culprit and so expected to this be an act of revenge.
  • The crime took place at a designated “public” place therefore there was intent of negotiation assuming it was a person being blackmailed.
  • The culprit didn’t attempt to kill the victim outdoors or hide the body therefore the theater was probably part of the plan.
  • The method of killing indicated the victim knew the culprit or that the victim was fooled into drinking the poison.
  • The theater was a closed room where no secrets passages existed.
  • The culprit must’ve attended the theater on that day to meet the victim.
  • The culprit, and not an accomplice, must’ve been the one who murdered the victim.
  • The culprit must have left the theater only after he/she killed the victim. This was only possible after the police came in and inspected everything.
  • No one was seen leaving with a mismatching wardrobe (the hat + street clothes i.e) or doubles hats, etc. This implied everything was “normal”.
  • Because the police couldn’t find the missing hat and didn’t find anyone suspicious it meant that there wasn’t anyone who dressed out of the ordinary after the crime scene.
  • It was, of course, a man who wore the hat. A woman leaving with such hat would be far too noticeable. Assuming there were no accomplices this was unlikely.
  • No hat was found at the theater and no one was found suspicious, this meant nothing out of the ordinary occurred.

Further evidence I gathered. In other words:

The culprit had a grudge
The culprit could’ve murdered the victim in the streets and hide the body, yet didn’t.
The culprit thought of poison to be the most effective.
The culprit didn’t fear that it was a public place.
The culprit, for the little amount of time, knew the place enough. Either attended them often or was a worker there.
The culprit needed to attend that day to that meeting on the theater.
The culprit had business with the victim on that day (otherwise why meet?)
The culprit managed to poison the victim. Either they trusted each other or the culprit tricked him.
The culprit was either: a partner in crime, an attendant, or one of the culprit’s “clients”.
The culprit was someone at the theater.
The culprit didn’t leave the theater until the police let everyone go.
The culprit found the top hat crucial after he murdered the victim.
The culprit hid the hat because he needed its contents because it inculpate him or it was something of value.
The culprit was not suspected by the police and was let go to go home same with the rest.
The culprit’s wardrobe wasn’t found to be suspicious/inconsistent by the police.
The culprit was a man. On the basis that out of few women mentioned in the story one works at the theater, one is an actress, the others aren’t present that night. The top hat was a  man’s hat. It’d been easy to detect and their presence known.
The culprit didn’t carry a double hat with him when he left meaning he either didn’t bring one or managed to get rid of it successfully.
The culprit dressed formally to go with such pricey top hat.

  • In other words, the Culprit was limited to the people who attended the theater on that night, was a man, didn’t dress informally, knew the victim, had a grudge, had business with him on that day, needed the hat, was one of the theatergoers on that night, was not found suspicious by the police. That person is the culprit.

Further reasoning explained

Ellery Queen did not disappoint. Most of the most valuable clues are presented in the first chapters so one is able to easily form theories about the motives and making a profile for the culprit.

I had to heavily rely on Knox and believe that once the victim had been murdered the culprit didn’t leave the crime scene until he was let go by the police. My reasoning behind this as explained is that it’d become too intricate for the culprit to not be mentioned to attend that night. Which leads me to the second point, it was possible that there were characters who attended that day but weren’t mentioned – that posed a huge problem. Alibis cleared up some doubts but if the culprit was “seen” yet he “attended” and killed the victim this reasoning was going to suffer.

Initially I thought the culprit was a woman because of the method chosen “poison”. Two of them were present and the other werent’ so I was down to doubt the famous actress of the gangster’s girlfriend. Attendant girl could be the culprit but I figured that it’d make more sense for her to get her boyfriend to do the deed for her instead. Big actress was left. Her motive was likely to be extortion or having her career ruined. I couldn’t think of clearing her until much later. She was suspicious but I could neither exonerate nor declare her as the culprit.

Once the culprit was revealed to be blackmailer it was clear the culprit was being extorted. Everyone who wasn’t rich was dismissed as culprits since the victim had a gambling problem and needed large amounts of money. I worked under the premise that everyone who wasn’t rich was likely not responsible for the victim’s death. Regular worker were greatly exonerated of being the culprit. The idea of them being an accomplice was present, though as mentioned I had already decided the culprit did it all himself.

One thing that bugged me was how it was mentioned that the victim wasn’t seen with anybody numerous times. This claim was contradicting with the idea of the culprit poisoning the victim directly. I could only interpreted it as the witnesses either lying (why?) or being wrong. The fact that the place was dark was likely to be answer to why they believed so. The manager was a suspect the whole time and everyone who attended was but there were little motive and how they could’ve pulled it off under the premises I was working on.

Lastly, relied on the information given that only the people mentioned attended the theater on that day and that it was impossible to leave the theater after the crime was committed. The crime was personal. The culprit and the victim knew each other. The hat was invaluable, the culprit was the only responsible, and the culprit was a man.  And there it was the answer.

Closing thoughts:

This was the first Ellery Queen book I read and I was impressed. I’d like to say that it was a full victory but it wasn’t completely one. I managed to jotted down the possibilities and made a satisfactory profile for who was the culprit, but I had no idea about the motive other than the victim was going to ruin the culprit. The how dunnit was no where near what I figured it was. The facts I gathered I made were right therefore I should’ve been able to know the culprit’s identity but the name of the culprit was buried under the long list of “possible” suspects that were impossible to cleared of, which ultimately led to the author’s victory.

What I liked the most was that after everything was explained it made complete sense , though I didn’t suspect much the culprit until much later therefore it wasn’t very obvious who the culprit was. I also made a lot of assumption which most of them turned out to be correct and seeing all the evidence I gathered I was very close to the truth despite the fact I didn’t quite pin the culprit. TRHM wast the first game (followed by The Cat of Many tails) I played against Ellery Queen and being familiarized with his style I was satisfied with the result. Of course, whatever mistakes I made on TRHM I’ll make sure to correct them. Practice. Practice.

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2 Responses to Keikakudoori vs Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery

  1. Van Dine says:

    Very interesting analysis. I had a similar experience with it, although I ended up solving everything before I was done with it. I should note though, that while it was also my first Ellery Queen novel, I had a lot of experience with Christie and Van Dine at the time I read it, which probably helped me a lot.

    Queen is perhaps the most fair of all mystery writers, so a little tete-a-tete with him is always very interesting, though I find him, as a detective, frankly lacking when compared to the likes of Poirot and Van Dine.

    Leaving that aside, since you like having showdowns with writers, allow me to share an experience with you. I was visiting when to my surprise, I found an Umineko fanfic surprisingly free from fangirls writing it and that included a fair play locked room mystery.

    It’s a simple and short mystery, but if you are bored, you might want to give it a go. It’s refreshingly simple and logical.

    Ellery Queen is (in my opinion) the third best of American writers, but still amazing. The only reason he seems lacking is because his competition is made of S.S Van Dine, whose prose and mystery joined seamlessly, and John Dickson Carr, who created locked rooms that the likes of Ryuukishi will never be able to copy.

    I must ask, have you read any John Dickson Carr novel yet? If you were ever satisfied or even mildly baffled by Umineko’s locked rooms, you’ll be absolutely amazed at his genius. His skill with locked rooms is peerless, and once you’ve read them, 07’s locked rooms will seem trivial in comparison.

    • keikakudoori says:

      That reminds me that I’m due for Van Dine’s 3rd novel The Greene Murder Case. Either that or read Calamity town by EQ to put that Queen’s Ransom book away. I’ve aiming to read 2-3 novels of the best mystery writers then see where I go from there.

      EQ’s mystery was fair from the start I didn’t find it particularly difficult except for the last details of putting everything together. I liked his writing or rather the reasoning in the TRH. It was as a detailed, step by step type of reasoning. I’m interested in seeing more of that reasoning in future novels of his. Ellery was great but I did find Poirot and Van Dine as detectives to be more interesting to read. So peculiar about things. The little grey cells, the tricky foreign detective who plays with his mustache, the whimsical detective who focuses on the human psyche to solve crimes and irritates old Markham at the same time. They’re all great.

      Shortly after I was done with the TRH. I purchased a copy of “Locked Rooms: The Three Coffins; To Wake the Dead; The Skeleton in the Clock” and The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. both should be arriving in a couple of days. I’ll probably start with The Three Coffins, for what I’ve read is one of the best there are. Looking forward to what type of mystery J.C. Carr’s are, for what I’ve read they’re highly detailed and difficult.

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