And on the Eighth Day (Ellery Queen)

  • By Ellery Queen
  • First published: US: Random House, 1964; UK: Gollancz, 1964

Rating: 5 out of 5.

And on the Eighth Day was ghost-written by science fiction author Avram Davidson (1923–1993), whom some critics consider better than Borges or Calvino. In Ten Days’ Wonder, Ellery Queen was a fervent atheist; here, he suffers a nervous breakdown and is mistaken for John the Baptist by an isolated religious community living in the Nevada desert – a community that has known no crime for half-a-century… Until Elroi Quenan appears out of the wasteland.

This is a work of great power and imagination; tragic, profound, and uplifting. It is Queen at his most phantasmagorical and exhilarating, as much science fiction and religious parable as it is detective story. It falls into what British author Lance Parkin terms ‘the Grey Tradition’, “a strain of literature … that borders on fantasy, borders on satire, borders on philosophical enquiry”, including writers like Borges and Eco. (Borges was first published in English in EQMM in 1948. Borges also invoked Queen’s Siamese Twin Mystery in his ‘Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain’ (1941); presciently, he reads Queen into existence before Queen became Queen.)

The mystery of the first half is understanding how this society works, and how its inhabitants think – a science fictional approach. (There is nothing quite like it in this genre until Peter Dickinson.) Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) may have inspired the desert community, but the concern with language and philosophy – its Crownsil of 12, Sanquetum, Wor’d, and Holy Book of Mk’h – suggests Ursula Le Guin.

A crime is committed, and there are detection and deductions; the trial scene and Ellery’s epiphany have all the inexorable power and urgency of the classic detective story … but the murder and investigation are secondary. The murderer is known almost 30 pages before the end; that is not its point. It is, as Boucher said, not a mystery but a Mystery; it is not ‘Christian’, although Christian parallels occur, but certainly numinous.

ROT13: Gur Inyyrl bs Dhrana vf n hgbcvna pbzzhavgl, ohg nyfb erpnyyf Funatev-Yn naq gur rppragevp pbzzhavgvrf bs gur Bm obbxf. “Jr erirer gehgu, ohg Dhrana zhfg erznva uvqqra sebz zra’f zvaqf,” gur Grnpure gryyf Ryyrel. Vg vf “n jbeyq hagb vgfrys, frpher va vgf chevgl sebz bhgfvqr pbagnzvangvba” – ohg abj vgf chevgl vf guerngrarq ol pbagnzvangvba sebz jvguva. Xabjyrqtr bs gur bhgfvqr jbeyq frrzf gb qrfgebl guvf Rqra; Fgbevpnv gur grzcgre pbeehcgf gur Pebjafvy. Gur Gevny bs gur Grnpure cnenyyryf gur gevnyf bs Wrfhf naq Fbpengrf; Ryyrel (gur zna bs ernfba, nf va Jbaqre) orpbzrf urer Cbagvhf Cvyngr, gur Qrivy’f Nqibpngr, naq Fngna. Gur fnvagyl Grnpure senzrf uvzfrys gb gnxr hcba uvzfrys gur fvaf bs gur pbzzhavgl; ur vf cbvfbarq yvxr Fbpengrf; naq qvrf ba n Sevqnl. Fngheqnl: “Naq Ryyrel jrcg”. Ur oynzrf uvzfrys sbe uvf cbjreyrffarff gb fgbc gur Grnpure, naq ur vf nccnyyrq gb yrnea gung gur ‘fnperq obbx’ vf (haorxabjafg gb gur pbzzhavgl) n obbx bs rivy: Zrva Xnzcs. Gur Grnpure unq “fbyq uvf snvgu bs crnpr naq oebgureubbq sbe n zrff bs pneantr”. Guvf vf uvf qnexrfg ubhe – ohg ba Fhaqnl, gur Grnpure vf frrzvatyl erfheerpgrq yvxr Puevfg, be ervapneangrq yvxr gur Qnynv Ynzn. Gur terng naq snzbhf erphe “npebff gur fuvsgvat cynarf bs fcnpr-gvzr”.

It’s too much, the other Ellery insisted wildly in his head – too much, too much, too much; it’s more than reason can bear. Aquina, Quenan. Too much, an infinite complexity beyond the grasp of man. Acknowledge. Acknowledge and depart.


A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): A marked departure from the complex and mundane mysteries previously favoured by the ingenious authors.  In this new-style tale, E.Q. blunders into the desert retreat of a religious-utopian community unknown to the rest of the world.  Motives, characters, and practical arrangements are all unfamiliar, yet Ellery detects and solves a more than uncommon violation of the exotic norm.

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4 thoughts on “And on the Eighth Day (Ellery Queen)

  1. This is indeed “a work of great power and imagination” and one I remember vividly, but the inclusion of a murder was (IMHO) a mistake. The mysteries of the hermit society and its sacred book made for a much more compelling mystery. I particularly disliked that one of the characters instinctively knew about modern fingerprinting, which undermined and detracted from Ellery Queen’s position as an outsider from the modern world. It cheapened the whole story to the point where the book became a curiosity instead of a series/genre standout. That being said, I think And on the Eighth Day shows that even with a long-standing series-characters, an author can still color outside the lines.

    You should seriously consider reading Arthur W. Upfield’s Man of Two Tribes as a followup. It’s the only mystery novel that can be compared to And on the Eighth Day.


    1. Thanks, TomCat! I think the murder is integral; it’s the catalyst for the trial, execution and resurrection. But a murderless detective story exploring an unusual setting would be original and effective.

      I’ve read two or three of the early Upfields, and found them very tedious. (I’m an urban Australian.) But I’ll keep an eye out for Man of Two Tribes.


  2. I think I agree with TomCat here: the murder mystery is a piffle compared to the (not-at-all-subtle) sock in the jaw Queen bestows upon the reader at the end. And yet . . . . this is not a book I have any hankering to re-read. Too bad because, given the way the world has been operating over the past five years (especially here in America), this book should probably be republished and studied fervently.

    Liked by 1 person

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