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You know how when authors try something different, it almost never works? This is one of those cases. The books is 80% setup, and 20% actual case, with Ellery trying to figure out a dying man's message written in blood (literally scarlet letters). The trouble here is that the setup is long and dull, and it's hard to care about Dirk, who's an utter bastard, and even Martha. Why does she stay with this guy? SPOILER ALERT:
Dirk's plot is way too complicated, and it's a wonder Martha didn't ruin the whole thing by going to Ellery, who's her friend, and saying, "Hey, I'm being blackmailed by some guy who says my husband commited murder. Can you prove Dirk is innocent?" After all, this is the sort of thing Ellery DOES.
The ending does nearly make up for the long, boring setup, but I'm leaving the 3 stars out of the frustration I felt listening to all the whining.