Although Z was actually written only one year after X and Y, ten fictional years have elapsed. The eccentric, retired Shakespearean actor, Drury Lane, has aged considerably and is in ill health. District Attorney Bruno is now Governor of New York State. Inspector Thumm has retired from the New York City police department and is now managing a private detective agency. His daughter Patience Thumm, not heretofore mentioned, is a young modern woman that not only plays a critical role in unraveling the mystery, but also "authors" or "narrates" The Tragedy of Z.
Patience Thumm is an unsatisfactory creation. Her characterization as a modern, independent, confident, well-educated, cosmopolitan, young woman failed. I found her to be tiresome and uninteresting. I found myself impatiently waiting for the arrival of Drury Lane.
The dazzling deductive fireworks so characteristic of most Ellery Queen novels seemed to fizzle and sputter a bit. I found myself unsatisfied with a convoluted medical analysis of the impact of injuries on right-handedness. Another clue that was slowly unveiled throughout the story proved to be a distraction, simply a way to introduce the letter Z, and was not significant after all. I may just be complaining as I made little progress in identifying the culprit.
The Tragedy of Z is not exceptional, but it is an Ellery Queen original and that alone ensures that it is worth reading. I always enjoy the early Ellery Queen mysteries not only for superb detective fiction, but also for their window on American culture in the 1930s. For example, this novel details the procedure for carrying out a death sentence by electrocution in New York state in 1932. It was chilling.
I highly recommend the first two Drury Lane mysteries, X and Y, and despite my disappointment with The Tragedy of Z, I am still looking forward to the fourth (and final) mystery, Drury Lane's Last Case.