Homicide has never had a place in Shinn Corners. This backwater New England hamlet has seen three unlawful deaths in its 250-year history: infanticide in 1739, a political killing in the 1860s, and a forgettable murder some 15 years ago. In his long tenure on the bench, Judge Lewis Shinn has hardly seen any violent crime at all. His nephew, Johnny, is happy to settle in such a quiet place. After fighting in the Korean and Second World Wars, he’s seen enough bloodshed to last a lifetime. On returning to Shinn Corners, however, he learns that death has followed him home.
When the town’s only celebrity, landscape painter Fanny Adams, is killed with a fireplace poker, suspicion falls on a foreign stranger who recently passed through. As mob rule threatens to corrupt the stranger’s trial, Johnny will fight for justice—and learn the chilling truth about his Yankee neighbors.
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About the Author
Although eventually famous on television and radio, Queen’s first appearance came in 1928, when the cousins won a mystery-writing contest with the book that was later published as The Roman Hat Mystery. Their character was an amateur detective who uses his spare time to assist his police inspector uncle in solving baffling crimes. Besides writing the Queen novels, Dannay and Lee cofounded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, one of the most influential crime publications of all time. Although Dannay outlived his cousin by nine years, he retired Queen upon Lee’s death.
Ellery Queen was a pen name created and shared by two cousins, Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Manfred B. Lee (1905–1971), as well as the name of their most famous detective. Born in Brooklyn, they spent forty-two years writing, editing, and anthologizing under the name, gaining a reputation as the foremost American authors of the Golden Age “fair play” mystery. Although eventually famous on television and radio, Queen’s first appearance came in 1928, when the cousins won a mystery-writing contest with the book that would eventually be published as The Roman Hat Mystery. Their character was an amateur detective who uses his spare time to assist his police inspector uncle in solving baffling crimes. Besides writing the Queen novels, Dannay and Lee cofounded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, one of the most influential crime publications of all time. Although Dannay outlived his cousin by nine years, he retired Queen upon Lee’s death.
Read an Excerpt
The Glass Village
By Ellery Queen
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1954 Little, Brown and Company
All rights reserved.
"Now you take murder," said Superior Court Judge Lewis Shinn, putting down the novel his house guest had left lying on the porch. "Murder in New England is not the simple matter you furriners from New York and such places hold it to be. No back-country Yank would have reacted like this criminal."
"Fellow who wrote this, for your information," said Johnny, "was born twenty-eight miles from here."
Judge Shinn snorted, "Oh, you mean Cudbury!" as if the bench he had occupied there for the past thirty-two years had never raised the calluses he was currently sitting upon. "Anyway, he couldn't have been. I'd know him."
"He moved away at the ripe old age of eleven."
"And that makes him an authority, I suppose! Not that you've damaged my thesis." The Judge leaned over and dropped the book gingerly into his guest's lap. "I know Cudbury people who are as ignorant of the real New England as this fellow. Or you, for that matter."
Johnny settled back in one of the Judge's rush-bottomed rockers with a grin. The early July sun in his face was smoothing the wrinkles around his eyes, as the Judge had promised, and Millie Pangman's breakfast — consisting chiefly of their Peepers Pond catch of the day before — had accomplished the same feat for his stomach. He brought his feet up to the porch railing, sending a brittle paintfall to the warped floorboards.
"Cudbury," Judge Shinn was sneering. "Yes, Cudbury is twenty-eight miles northeast of Shinn Corners as those pesky crows fly — look at 'em over yonder in Mert Isbel's corn! — and just about ten thousand miles away from the Puritan spirit. What would you expect from a county seat? It's practically a metropolis. You'll never learn about the back-country Yankee from Cudbury."
In the week Johnny had hung about Cudbury waiting for the Judge to clear his docket he had heard Shinn Corners referred to with snickers, like a vaudeville joke — Cudbury asserting its cultural superiority, the Judge had said. Johnny had grasped the reason on the drive down Wednesday evening. They had taken a chewed-up blacktop road out of Cudbury, bearing southwest. The road ran through flat tobacco farmland for a few miles, worsening as low hills appeared and the farms petered out. Then they were in scrubby, burned-over-looking country. The boy at the wheel of the Judge's old Packard, Russell Bailey, had spat repeatedly out his window ... not very tactfully, Johnny had thought, but Judge Shinn had seemed not to notice. Or perhaps the Judge was used to it. While court was in session he lived in Cudbury, in Bessie Brooks's boarding house next to the County Lawyers' Clock and within a hundred yards of the County Court House. But on occasional weekends he had Russ Bailey drive him down to Shinn Corners, where Millie Pangman would open the old Shinn house, air the beds and dust the ancient furniture, and cook his meals as if the Pangman farm across the road had no connection with her at all. Perhaps — Johnny remembered thinking — the fact that the road Millie Pangman had to cross to reach the Judge's house was named Shinn had something to do with it. Not to mention the Shinn Free School, which had graduated her Merritt and her Eddie, and which little Deborah was to attend in the fall. Powerful name, Shinn. In Shinn Corners.
Twenty miles out of Cudbury the scrub had changed to second-growth timber as the hills thickened, to degenerate a few miles on into a land of marsh and bogs. Then at the twenty-five mile mark they had skirted Peepers Pond with its orchestra of bull fiddles, and suddenly they had topped the hill named Holy and seen Shinn Corners in the wrinkled valley a mile below, looking like a cluster of boils on an old man's neck. Everything in the shifty dusk had seemed poor — the untidy land, the dried-up bed of what his kinsman said had once been a prosperous river, the huddle of once-white buildings. When Russ Bailey deposited them in the heart of the village on the uncut lawn of the Shinn house and drove the Judge's Packard away to be garaged in Cudbury at 'Lias Wurley's for the week of their stay, Johnny had felt an absurd sinking of the heart. It was different from Cudbury, all right. And Cudbury had been bad enough. It was the last place in the world a man could find an answer to anything.
Johnny smiled at himself. All hope was not dead, then.
The thought tickled him in a lazy sort of way.
"But you mentioned murder," Johnny said. "I suppose you're prepared with an impressive list of local homicide statistics?"
"Well, you've got me there," admitted the old man. "We had one gaudy case in 1739 — infanticide by a seventeen-year-old girl who'd made the two-backed animal with a deacon of the church — that church there on the north corner, where your grandfather was baptized, married, and buried from. Then there was a regrettable corpse during the Civil War, the result of an argument between an Abolitionist and a Vallandigham Democrat. And we had a murder only about fifteen years ago. ... I suppose you wouldn't say that three in two hundred and fifty-some years constitute much of a statistic, no. For which, by the way, the Lord be praised, and may He continue to stay the hand of Cain ad finem." And Judge Shinn glowered at his village, a panorama of sunny emptiness. "Where the dickens was I?"
"The complexity of murder in re the back-country Yank," Johnny said.
"Exactly. You have to understand that the Puritan spirit lies heavy within us, like gas on a troubled stomach. None of your New York or even Cudbury melting pots for us, to reduce us to some watery soup with a furrin handle. We're concentrated in our substance, and if you set your nose to the wind you'll get the whiff of us."
"Not me," said Johnny. "I'm all scattered to hell and gone."
"Who said anything about you?" demanded the Judge. "Your disease is as about as close to Shinn Corners as Asiatic cholera. Don't let your name fool you, my boy. You're a heathen ignoramus, and it's historical fact I'm preaching. Let me tell you about the Puritan nature that's somehow been bred out of you. The Puritan nature boils down to just one thing — privacy. You let me be, neighbor, and I'll do likewise. Unless and until, of course, the community is threatened. That's a different pack of pickles. That's where the contradiction starts operating."
"Murder," reminded his New York kinsman.
"I'm getting there," said Judge Shinn, warming to it. "Murder to folks hereabout is more than a legal indiscretion. We've been taught with our mush that killing is forbidden by the Bible, and we're mighty set on it. But we're also all wrapped up in the sacred rights of the individual. Thou shalt not kill, but thou hast a powerful hankering sometimes, when your personal pinkytoe's been trod on. Murder being a crime that wantonly destroys a man's most precious piece of assessable property, we're pulled back and forth like Rebecca Hemus trying to decide between her waistline and that extra helping of gravy and potatoes. It makes us sure of one thing: it's got to be punished, and quick. Puritan justice doesn't delay.
"Take that case I mentioned a minute ago," said the Judge. "The one that happened just before the war — not the Korean business, but the big war."
"Funny thing about wars," said Johnny. "I was in both of them and I couldn't see much difference in scale. The one you're in is always the biggest one ever was."
"I s'pose," said the Judge. "Well, in those days Hubert Hemus's brother Laban helped work the Hemus farm. Laban was a slowpoke, not too sha'p, mostly kept his mouth shut. But he never missed a town meeting or failed to vote right.
"The Hemuses employed a hired hand by the name of Joe, Joe Gonzoli, a cousin of 'Squale Gonzoli's of Cudbury. Joe made a real good hand for the farmers who didn't have modern equipment. Back on the farm in Italy, Joe used to say in his broken English, if you needed a new sickle or a hoe handle, why, you just made it. He had curly hair and black eyes like a woman's, and he always had a joke and a snatch of Italian opera song for the girls.
"Well," said the Judge, "Joe and Labe had trouble from the start. Labe would make out he couldn't understand Joe's English, and Joe would poke fun at Labe's slow ways. I guess Labe didn't like being outplowed and outworked; that Joe was a working fool. They got into quite a competition. Hube Hemus didn't mind. He had a real brisk farm in those days.
"Now Labe had never looked at a woman twice, far as any of us knew," continued Judge Shinn, "till Adaline Greave grew up to be a strapping fine woman with the build of a Holstein. Then Labe took to taking baths regularly and hanging about the Town Hall square nights, or at church socials when Adaline would be helping out. She kind of led Labe on, too. At least Labe thought so, and everybody said it was working out to something. But one night Laban went looking for Adaline after a church supper, and he found her in the hayloft of the Farmers' Exchange Feed and Grain barn across from the church, that Peter Berry runs. She was lying in Joe Gonzoli's arms."
The Judge squinted through the V made by his shoes on the porch rail as if it were a gunsight. "There was a pitchfork sticking in a bale, and Labe went crazy mad. He pluck that fork out and made for Joe with a roar. But Joe was too quick for him. He rolled Adaline aside and like a cat came up under the fork with the knife he carried in his belt. There was a terrible fight. It ended with Joe's knife sinking up to the haft between Laban Hemus's ribs."
Through his pedal sight Judge Shinn fixed on the flagpole which stuck out of the wedge of village green fronting his property like an anniversary candle. "I'll never forget the hullabaloo that night on the green there. The men buzzed around the flagpole and cannon and your forebear Asahel Shinn's monument as if war'd been declared. Burney Hackett was constable then, too — that's the Hackett house across Shinn Road there, on the south corner — and Burney had quite a time getting Joe into his house, which he figured was the safest place to wait for the state police. Labe's brother Hubert tried to get at the prisoner with his bare hands. Hube is a skinny fellow, but that night he was all puffed out and vibrating like a frog. Earl Scott and Mr. Sheare, the minister, had to sit on him till Burn Hackett got Joe Gonzoli behind locked doors. Nor was Hube the only one het up. Everybody's sympathy was with the Hemuses. If this had been down South ...
"But it was New England back-country, Johnny. Vengeance is mine, saith the minister, speaking for the Lord; but the Puritan's always torn between his sovereign individuality and the 'Thou shalt nots.' I don't deny it was a narrow squeak, but in the end we compromised. We signed over our personal interest in Joe Gonzoli to the community. And that's where we made our mistake."
"Mistake?" said Johnny, bewildered.
"Well, we'd liked Labe. But more important, he was one of us. He belonged to the town and the land, and no Papist furriner with tricky furrin ways and Italian songs had a right to come between a Shinn Corners Congregationalist Republican member of a founding family and the girl he was fixing to marry. Justice was what we wanted, meaning that if we couldn't light fires under Joe Gonzoli with our own hands, we could at least see to it he fried in that Chair up at the Williamston prison practically immediately.
"So we let the state police come, and they took Joe from Burney Hackett's custody, and they shot out of Shinn Corners followed by most of the village in cars and buggies going lickety-split, which is not the way your New England farmer usually goes. They just about got Joe safely locked up in the county jail. Judge Webster sat in the case, best fly-fisherman in Cudbury County. At least, he used to be. You remember, Johnny — I introduced you to Andy Webster last week."
"Hang Andy Webster," said Johnny. "What was the verdict?"
"With Adaline Greave to testify that it was Laban attacked Joe first with the pitchfork?" said Judge Shinn. "Why, that Cudbury jury never hesitated. Brought in an acquittal.
"And Shinn Corners," said the Judge, "never did get over that verdict, Johnny. We still slaver about it. It shook our Puritan sense of justice to the crosstrees. In our view Laban had been defending his hearth and our community from the dirty depredations of an opera-singing furriner. The fact that Labe Hemus didn't happen to have a hearth at the time he was defending it we dismissed as the puniest technicality; Adaline'd practically been promised. We made it so hot for the Greaves that Elmer Greave had to sell his place off and move downstate. Joe Gonzoli wisely never came back to pick up his satchel. He just ran, and to this day not even 'Squale Gonzoli's heard from him.
"That verdict," said the Judge, "taught us we were living in a hostile, new sort of world, a world which didn't understand beans about the rights of God-fearing, taxpaying Shinn Corners property owners. We'd been betrayed and corrupted and shamed. It was just about the last straw."
"I can understand that," said Johnny. "Maybe I'm not so much of a furriner as you think."
But Judge Shinn ignored that. "'Cause things hadn't been going well with us for a long time. A hundred years ago Shinn Corners was bigger than Comfort is today. You can still see the ruins of houses and barns and mills on the Comfort road past the Hemus farm and up beyond the Isbel and Scott farms on Four Corners Road. That three-story red brick building across from the firehouse is the remains of the Urie Cassimere Factory —"
"The what kind of factory?" asked Johnny.
"Cassimere, what they used to call cashmere. Around 1850 the Urie factory employed over two hundred people, made as fine a line of woolens as you could find in New England. Then Comfort and Cudbury and other towns around drew off a lot of our working people with a spurt of new mills, eventually the river dried up, and what with one thing and another all that's gone. We're reduced to a total population of thirty-six."
"And that includes fifteen minors. Thirty-six, going to be thirty-seven in December — Emily Berry's fifth is on the way. Thirty-seven, that is, if nobody dies. Old Aunt Fanny is ninety-one. Earl Scott's father Seth is in his eighties ... might just as well be dead, he has senile obesity and lives in a wheelchair. For that matter, so does Earl. He's helpless, too, had a stroke five-six years ago that left him paralyzed. Hosey Lemmon — nobody knows how old Hosey is. I'll tell you about old man Lemmon sometime; it's an interesting story.
"Twelve families," murmured Judge Shinn. "That's what we're down to. If you leave out the unattached ones — me, Prue Plummer, Aunt Fanny, Hosey, and Calvin Waters — there's only seven families.
"We're down to four producing herds, in an area that during the last century had some of the best dairy farms in this section of the state. Hemus, Isbel, Scott, Pangman. And there's a question how long they can keep going, with milk fetching eight cents a quart from the Association out of which they have to pay for cartage and rental of the cans.
"Only store left is Peter Berry's over there on the east corner, and the only reason Peter makes out is he gets the trade of the Comfort people who happen to live closer to Shinn Corners than to their own stores. ... So you might say," said the Judge dryly, "we have nothing left but fond memories and a tradition. Let the rest of New England welcome the durn New Yorkers and the rest of the furriners. We want none of 'em."
"Except you," said his guest.
'Well, I'm sort of on the sidelines," grinned Judge Shinn. "Privileged character. I and Aunt Fanny, that is."
"That's the third time you've mentioned Aunt Fanny," said Johnny. "Just who is Aunt Fanny?"
"Aunt Fanny?" The Judge seemed surprised. "Aunt Fanny Adams. That's her house t'other side of the church. That hewn overhang, one of the few left in this part of the state."
"Fanny Adams ..." Johnny sat up with a thump. "The painter of primitives?"
"Aunt Fanny Adams comes from Shinn Corners?"
"Born here. It's this valley most of her painting's about. Aunt Fanny's pretty good, I'm told."
"Good!" Johnny stared across Four Corners Road, past the little church. He could just make out the old New England house, with its flowering garden.
Excerpted from The Glass Village by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1954 Little, Brown and Company. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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