When I read it on the tv listings I feared that looking at it would have resulted in a disappointing experience and that maybe Ellery Queen was best left where it was, among cherished memories.
Fortunately that Sunday morning I braved it and sat in front of the telly and watched "the adventure of Colonel Niven's Memoirs" from start to finish.
It was a cold-war-soaked story where each characters was a cliché carved out of wood.
The episode started with a portrait of a retired British officer that was so nauseating that I clapped when he was almost immediately killed sparkling the plot into action and leaving the stage for even bigger stereotypes.
These stereotypes became so extreme that they started looking almost like original characters. It was so good that at one point I started to take down some notes.
Here's the dialogue between Alexsei Dobrenskov, the Russian diplomat about to defect to America, his wife Sonja and Major George Pearson of the FBI:
AD: "I trust you have no listening devices in this room"Seeing this episode left me disoriented and with two big questions: when was it all supposed to happen and when was it shot, in fact it's a costume drama and although I had seen it as a child in the seventies it could have been produced quite some years before.
GP: "I beg your pardon, this is America!"
AD: "I dream of it every day...a small house with a lawn, a small car, nothing fancy..."
SD: "...and a washer."
Fortunately we now have the internet so here's the answer, the action is supposed to happen in 1947 and it was shot in the seventies, this particular episode was first broadcasted in 1975.
At this point a big lightbulb appeared over my head and on it there was written "Watergate".
So I typed it in the Wikipedia search and here's the result:
The term Watergate scandal refers to a series of events, spanning from 1972 to 1974...This means that the dialogue above contains a large dose of sense of humor and that the script is more sophisticated than what it looks. In fact I liked it.
I still think that Ellery Queen is the greatest detective of all times and I hope that Scotland Yard would call him over here in London. With his experience of cold war plots he would surely solve the incredible case of the radioactive poisoning of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
It's a difficult case, many have pointed the finger at the Russian secret services calling this a "signature murder". This seems to me to be as much of a cliché as the characters that populated Ellery Queen's life. Maybe things are slightly more complex and sophisticated than that.
As we saw Ellery Queen's environment was also stereotyped and simple, but often only on the surface. This is a case for him.