The Dragon Murder Case is kicked off when weekend house-guests on the Stamm estate decide to go for a nocturnal swim during torrid weather. All of them have been imbibing too much alcohol and when one of the men dives into Dragon Pool...he vanishes.
The estate itself is an oddity, being situated in a heavily wooded rocky area of Manhattan and yet more or less cut off from the busy city. Mine host is exotic fish fancier and semi alcoholic Rudolph Stamm. Also present is his sister Bernice, fiancee of Montague, the man who went missing. Then there is stockbroker and family financial advisor Alex Greeff, dissipated man about town Kirwin Tatum, widowed Mrs Teeny McAdam, who may have been a past flame of Montague's, Ruby Steele, an artiste much enamoured of dramatic gestures, and the level-headed Mr Leland, who lives in a cottage on the estate and is routinely insulted by certain guests for his Native American blood. Most of them have reason to wish Montague ill and none seem particularly upset about his death. In addition, Rudolph Stamm's ailing mother, given to oracular announcements and mentally unwell, lives under the care a nurse on the top floor of the mansion and tells the investigators rambling stories of the strange sights she has seen, such as the flying dragon who protects the family.
Once Philo Vance and company are called in, events unfold in sometimes startling fashion, most notably when Dragon Pool is drained. The operation discloses a trail made across its silt floor by l4" long feet, accompanied by prints from a three-clawed beast. Could the latter be the dragon of local and family legends?
My verdict: It's always fun trying to work out how a seemingly impossible crime is carried out. My theory on how a body could be removed from the pool without other guests noticing was nothing like the solution advanced by Vance -- and mine was (of course) wrong. Bizarre as it is, Vance's explanation is workable in the scene as given, even though it must be one of the most outrageous methods to remove a corpse without being discovered in the act ever utilised in a mystery. An aside: readers will learn Vance bred exotic fish as well as Scotties. Is there nothing Vance can't undertake?