The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen (1929)

Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee were cousins from New York. After winning a magazine contest, the pair created the pen name Ellery Queen, who was also was of the main characters in the novel. In 1929, they published The Roman Hat Mystery.1 It was an immediate success and introduced the famous detecting duo, Inspector Richard Queen and his son Ellery Queen.

First edition cover, 1929 (Queen)

In The Roman Hat Mystery, readers are introduced to the crime in the very first pages. A crooked lawyer named Monte Field has been poisoned in the middle of a play at the Roman Theatre. It immediately becomes a locked room mystery because all of the doors are locked and every member of the audience is still present. Additionally, Field’s hat is missing and the Queens realize how important the clue is to solving the case.

The author was extremely talented because of his vivid settings, compelling characters and airtight plots. Readers can imagine themselves in the 1920’s, New York atmosphere exploring everything from the apartments of the elite to the grubby alleyways of the theater. Queen was also focused on providing their readers with detailed descriptions of every character involved. Inspector Richard Queen has a short, wiry build and analyzes every minuscule detail. Although his nose is buried in a snuff box on every other page, he is extremely gifted. His son, Ellery Queen, is his more youthful and witty side-kick. Together they create a flawless team that hunts down Monte Field’s killer.

From the very beginning of the plot, it is a whodunit and howdunit mystery. The Queens spend hours interviewing every suspect trying to discover not only who did it, but how they did it in a locked theater with dozens of witnesses. 

Like Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen was a master of intricate plotting. From the very first Queen novel, the Roman Hat Mystery, his cases are cunningly devised puzzles that the reader must work to assemble along Queen. Unlike some practitioners of the art, Queen is a believer in fair play; all the pieces to his puzzle are present, if the reader is observant enough to spot them.”2

At the very end of The Roman Hat Mystery, the Queens set a trap for Monte Field’s murderer and successfully catch him or her. Before they reveal the murderer’s identity, the author presents “A Challenge to the Reader.” Queen says he has now given the reader all of the clues and they should be able to guess the solution. I thought I had guessed correctly but I was distracted by the red herrings the author included. I was completely wrong. Although my ego was hurt, the reveal was extremely satisfying. Queen always promises an airtight plot and successfully delivers one.

The Roman Hat Mystery‘s popularity led to radio shows and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine that is still published today. Here is a short video further explaining the significance of the author Ellery Queen:

With more than 150 million copies wordwide, Ellery Queen is one of the mystery genre’s most popular authors.2 Readers who crave a challenging mystery will fall in love with Queen’s first novel, The Roman Hat Mystery. Not only does it include a father and son duo who engage readers with their wit and sheer brilliance, but it includes an intriguing murder mystery. And when readers are left wanting more, they will be thrilled to discover the other forty-eight Ellery Queen novels.



  1. World Heritage Encylopedia. “Ellery Queen .” Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press, Project Gutenberg ,
  2. Lorenz, Janet E. “Ellery Queen.” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017. EBSCOhost,
  3. “Meet Ellery Queen.”, 31 Jan. 2013,
  4. Project Gutenberg. “The Roman Hat Mystery.” The Roman Hat Mystery. World Heritage Encyclopedia, n.d.
  5. “University of Buffalo Libraries.” Gumshoes, Sleuths & Snoopers – George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection – University at Buffalo Libraries, 2014, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017

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