The Adventure of The Mad Tea Party by Ellery Queen
Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners
Source: The Adventures of Ellery Queen, The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 72
The Edgar category for the Best Short Story was started in 1947 and the first winner was none other than Ellery Queen.
Richard Owen has invited Ellery Queen to his son’s birthday party. The theme for the party is Alice in Wonderland and all the major characters of the story are busy rehearsing for the next day’s event. Ellery spends a restless night, stumbles into a strange room during the night when he is looking for the library, an event which helps him later to solve the case of the missing mad hatter.
Richard is found missing the next day along with his mad hatter costume. Ellery, while inspecting all the rooms, notices one peculiar thing in the room which he had visited as part of his nocturnal jaunt. He sees the reflection of the cuckoo clock in the mirror as soon he opens the door; the clock has a radium dial which should have been reflected in the mirror when he had opened the door in the night but wasn’t – which compels him to arrive at the conclusion that something fishy was going on in the room when he had entered. Somebody must have moved the clock after his visit or someone was standing in front of the mirror or the mirror was absent. He shuts himself in that room to investigate and what he does find doesn’t please him.
Bizarre events follow – they start finding mails and messages addressed to each of the individuals in that house, each mail having one of the articles worn by the missing man. Ellery is able to display his deductive capabilities by piecing together a message from the sequence of the artifacts which have arrived in the mail – which turns out to be a rhyme from Alice in Wonderland, the significance of which is the hiding place of the dead body of the missing host! Who is sending the messages? How exactly is anyone able to send it as all the residents were under watch? Who is the murderer? A very clever and cunning psychological trap awaits the poor villain as does a few surprises for the reader!