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The Madman Theory

The Madman Theory cover image Cover Artist: not identified
By: Queen, Ellery pseudonym of John Holbrook Vance
Publisher: Pocket Books (50496)
Place of Publication:New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 356: PS3533 .U4 M33 1966
Contributor: G. Yavicoli


Era: 1960s
Author as on Cover: Ellery Queen
Original Date: 1966
Setting: urban and rural; ranges from rugged outdoor terrain to the mansions of the super rich, honky tonk clubs featuring country western music, and lower income housing of the working class. Individual characters range from extremely wealthy upper class elite in the pharmaceutical industry to laborers and waitresses involved in the local country music scene.

Plot Summary

Inspector Omar Collins of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department investigates the brutal shotgun slaying of Earl Genneman, owner of the pharmaceutical giant Genneman Laboratories. Genneman had been on a hiking trip in General Grant National Park when he was ambushed and killed. Collins questions the four remaining members of the hiking party, but they provide little insight into the murder. He then surveys the murder scene, collects evidence, and obtains a list of all vehicles that have entered the park within the three previous days. The list leads him to Steven Ricks, a laborer at Sunset Nurseries and a musician in a country western band, who is found bludgeoned to death. Collins' supervisor, Captain Bigelow, believes that a homicidal maniac murdered Genneman, but Collins does not agree. Collins eventually puts the pieces of the puzzle together, and investigates the murder scene once again. He locates the murder weapon, and knows who committed the crime and why, but must obtain damning evidence. Hoping to draw the killer into action, he states that a massive search will take place around the murder scene. The killer takes the bait, returning to the scene of the crime to dispose of the shotgun, but Collins has him photographed while in the act and solves the case.

Major Characters

Inspector Omar Collins "Omar", adult male, tall, thin, coarse black hair, broken nose, gloomy eyes, police inspector with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department

Buck James adult male, late 20s, blue eyes, curly light brown hair, clear skin, lanky, muscular, pharmaceutical salesman, on/off engagement with Earl Genneman's stepdaughter Jean, already has a wife in Wisconsin, completing graduate work at Stanford, wanted for embezzling funds from her father's company

Earl Genneman adult male, middle-aged, tall, heavy, large-featured, brown-blonde hair, owner of the pharmaceutical giant Genneman Laboratories, experienced outdoorsman, extremely wealthy, model train enthusiast

Steven Ricks "Steve" adult male, nearly 40, average height, overweight, cheerful face, snub nose, sandy hair combed in sweeps and waves; laborer at Sunset Nurseries, guitar player in country western band, small time bookie and gambler, womanizer, braggart

Molly Wilkerson adult female, tall, lean, big nose, clever face, bleached hair, waitress, ex-wife of Redwall Kershaw, married five times, two children, girlfriend of Steven Ricks

Myron Retwig adult male, middle-aged, short, large upper torso, weathered, round face, owlish eyes, gray-cropped hair, research director for Pacific Chemicals, avid model train enthusiast

Robert Vega "Bob," adult male, black hair, sallow skin, long face, fragile bone structure, gold tooth, manager of Westco Supply, married numerous times

Redwall Kershaw "Red" adult male, tall, loose-jointed, slight limp, moony face, mouse-colored hair; assistant track secretary, alcoholic, gambler, lengthy criminal record, former husband of Molly Wilkerson

Sergeant Rodney Easley "Rod," adult male, bald, police sergeant

Roy Phelps adult male, ginger mustache, park supervisor

Captain Bigelow adult male, tall, large body and upper torso, handsome, captain with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department, domineering personality, takes credit for his underlings' work and blames them for failures, immediate superior of Inspector Collins

J.K. Mansfield "Jake," adult male, tall, heavy, flashy dresser, leader of a country western band

Mrs. Belva Didrick adult female, red hair, plump, attractive, involved in an affair with Steven Ricks

Opal Genneman adult female, tall, attractive, dark hair and eyes, married to Earl Genneman, gambler

Jean Genneman adult female, 22 years old, tall, blonde, fresh-faced, attractive, supple figure, college student, stepdaughter of Earl Genneman, on again/off again fiancée of Buck James

Earl Genneman, Junior "Little Earl", "Junior", "Earl Junior", adolescent male, very thin, sharp chin, big nose, partial beard, small red eyes, high school student, son of Earl Genneman

Lorna Collins adult female, attractive, wife of Inspector Collins, terrible cook, accompanies her husband on undercover assignments

Lieutenant Loveridge adult male, blue eyes, bristling mustache, personable, youthful appearance, police lieutenant


12-gauge double barrel shotgun, hammer

Level of Violence

graphic and detailed; Earl Genneman is shot at close range; Steven Ricks' skull is crushed by a hammer and the killer hacks off his hands and knocks all of his teeth out with an axe or hatchet to prevent his body from being identified. Molly Wilkerson is likewise bludgeoned with a hammer. The killings are extremely violent.


no explicitly sexual situations, however several characters have been married more than once and Steven Ricks is having an affair with Belva Didrick (nothing sexually explicit is mentioned about their relationship).

Gender Roles

the female characters cannot handle major responsibilities and are largely relegated to the background while male characters control the action. The female characters do not hold any jobs requiring a high level of expertise. Jean Genneman is completely fooled by Buck James, an experienced womanizer, and has a complete breakdown when she learns he was only after her stepfather's money.


the Gennemans have a Japanese gardener and Filipino houseboy. Asian-Americans only play the part of domestic servants. No other racial groups are mentioned, and presumably all the main characters are Caucasian.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

virtually all characters smoke and drink heavily. Inspector Collins even drinks while on duty. Earl Genneman, Junior smokes and has previously been arrested for driving while intoxicated. Redwall Kershaw is an alcoholic.

Law Enforcement

There is no mention of any corruption within the police department. Collins is a highly capable and efficient officer, but drinks very heavily. Captain Bigelow runs his department efficiently, but is extremely self-interested and often takes credit for his men's work. The lab technician, coroner, fingerprint team, and police photographer are all highly competent.

Added Features

the pharmaceutical and country western music industries both play prominent parts in the story. Two characters have large and expensive model train setups. The divorce rate of the characters is extremely high (several have been married more than three times). Gambling plays a part in the novel. Both Opal Genneman and Redwall Kershaw are heavy gamblers. In an interesting sidelight, Inspector Collins' wife accompanies him on two undercover assignments.

Subject Headings

Police/ California - Fresno/ California - San Jose/ Greed/ Murder/ Pharmaceutical Industry/ Country Music

Psychological Elements

Buck James is driven by greed and is an experienced womanizer who has brought Jean Genneman under his spell for the sole purpose of gaining access to her stepfather's vast fortune. James is not a psychopath, but has carefully planned his crime. He is forced to murder a second and third time in order to cover his tracks. Molly Wilkerson is also motivated by greed. She has vital information on the case, but instead of cooperating with Inspector Collins, she attempts to blackmail James. This in turn causes James to kill her. Earl Genneman, Junior is driven by a need to rebel against authority. His relationship with his parents is highly strained because of his rebellious nature. He also possesses information about his father's murder, but will not share it with Inspector Collins because of his disrespect for authority.