By Ellery Queen
First published: US, Stokes, 1931; UK, Gollancz, 1931
The solution, which hinges on disguise, has a Chestertonian brilliance and simplicity, and, if it had been in a short story, would have been an undoubted classic. What makes the book weak is that the murderer is a plot function rather than a character: they appear in two or three scenes. Moreover, there is no indication of any relationship with their accomplice, and it is telling that the motive for the crime is revealed in a telegram; it is certainly not shown by any behaviour.
Times Literary Supplement (12th November 1931):
If anyone expects to find one of the picturesque but uncomfortable wooden shoes of Holland in this story he will be disappointed, for the title is a portmanteau description of one of “a pair of white canvas shoes—low-cut Oxfords”, found in the Dutch Memorial Hospital of New York and submitted to the two Queens, father and son. We read of a millionairess who has decided to alter her will in such a way that it will affect adversely the surgeon who is about to perform a very difficult operation upon her person, and of another surgeon who has a curiously inhuman outlook upon life and is working in a laboratory only a few yards from the operating-table on which the old lady is found strangled. Apart from them a repulsive relative also stands to gain from his kinswoman’s demise, but no reader is likely to take seriously the intrusion of an anaesthetised gangster and his bodyguard of gunmen into the story, even though the fellow knows that a large sum of money will be paid to him once the old lady is dead. The story is so carefully constructed and neatly dove-tailed together that it requires careful reading, and deserves to be savoured and thought over even by those who like to finish a thriller at a sitting.
It has everything needed to make it great.