Showing posts with label Joseph Goodrich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph Goodrich. Show all posts

29 November 2015

Ellery Queen in the Village of Good and Evil

by Dale C. Andrews (with much help from Kurt Sercu)
Escaping the glare and grime of summer in Manhattan, Ellery Queen, the celebrated novelist and gentleman detective, arrives in the small New England town of Wrightsville looking for a quiet place to write a new book . . . . 
                                       Playbill from Calamity Town 
                                       A theatrical presentation by Joseph Goodrich 
                                       New Dramatists New York City read-through
                                       January 29, 2013 
[Ellery's] exploits [in] Wrightsville [are always] likely to be the signal for the commission of one or more murders. 
                                        Julian Symons, 
                                        Bloody Murder (From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History) 
[The book] is a story of an actual murder . . . . The cast includes . . . the author himself, transplanted temporarily from the Upper West Side to Savannah's gossipy historic quarter.. . . [T]he murder happens in the middle of the book.
                                        John Berendt, 
                                        describing his best seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil                                                       September 28, 1997 interview 

     I am writing this on board Amtrak’s Auto Train, heading home to Washington, D.C. And that seems only appropriate. Just over ten years ago I was excitedly preparing to leave by train for New York City to attend the Ellery Queen Centenary Symposium hosted by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Kurt Sercu, proprietor of the seminal Ellery Queen website, Ellery Queen: a Website on Deduction, had flown to Washington, D.C. from his native Belgium so that we could take the train up to New York together. So excitement was in the air -- I had known Kurt for some years on-line, but given the distances between the District of Columbia and Bruges, the Belgian city where Kurt and his wife Martine reside, we had (understandably) never met in person before that trip to the symposium.

Kurt Sercu and me -- a photo pastiche
       In anticipation of the trip I joined in on a discussion thread among those who intended to attend that was unfolding on the old Readers’ Forum that EQMM and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines used to co-host. You know -- the online forum that, according to the EQMM website, has been “unavailable while we continue to address technical issues” for something like the last 7 years!

       Just before leaving for the train station I checked the thread one last time and found a question posed to Kurt and me by Doug Greene, well known to all of us as the brains (as well as brawn) behind Crippen & Landru, the preeminent publisher of all things mystery. Doug’s question was this: In the Ellery Queen novels we generally encounter Ellery feverishly working on his latest novel while he is also solving the mystery at hand. So, what were the books Ellery was writing? Were they other actual, i.e. published, Ellery Queen mysteries, or were these, perhaps, fictional references to works that do not, in fact, exist? 

Doug Greene, proprietor of Crippen & Landru
       At first blush I was surprised by the question. The issue had almost never occurred to me. To the extent that I had thought of it at all it seemed to me that Ellery must have been working on one of his actual novels, either previously or subsequently published, while he solved the mystery presented in the book I was then reading. This would pre-suppose that Ellery solved a mystery, wrote it up as a novel, and then moved on to solve the next mystery.

       But, as with all things Ellery Queen, the answer, on reflection, is not all that easy. Melodie Campbell's article yesterday focused on authors whose protagonist is modeled after themselves. Well, suffice it to say that things can get particularly complicated -- at times even surreal -- when the author’s name on the spine of the book and the detective solving the case between the covers are one and the same. In any event, I continued to ponder Doug’s question over the last ten years. 

       And as I pondered it became evident that no one answer is apparent. Ellery is often in the midst of writing a novel while he is solving a mystery, but rarely, if ever, are any clues given as to what novel our friend is in fact writing at the time. In fact, the Queen library contains very few references that even tie the various books together. There are, of course, shared characters -- Ellery, the Inspector, Sergeant Velie, Dr. Prouty, Djuna (early on), Nikki Porter (later) and Paula Paris (in Hollywood). Recurring characters are also and even more prevalent in the Wrightsville mysteries
-- Chief Dakin, and later Chief Anselm Newby, town gossip Emmeline DuPré, newspaper editor Frank Lloyd, to name a few. 

       While rarer, there are also instances where the Queen mysteries refer to earlier works -- The Finishing Stroke, for example, references The Roman Hat Mystery. And Last Woman in his Life begins precisely (same day, same locale) where the earlier Face to Face leaves off. Similarly, the Wrightsville books at times refer to previous mysteries solved by Ellery in that “calamitous” town. But these references, while tying books together, usually tell us nothing concerning the novels Ellery was working on while solving the depicted mystery. 

       In the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen series there are scattered references to Ellery Queen mysteries that do not in fact exist -- "The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party" episode, for example, references a non-existent Queen mystery entitled The Adventure of the Alabaster Apple, and "The Adventure of the Lover’s Leap" episode involves an equally non-existent Queen opus of the same name. But, again, all of these references, even those in the TV episodes drafted by others, are, in each instance, to already completed works, not to the works in progress, novels that Ellery is depicted as struggling to complete while he is also grappling with the mystery at hand. 

       Ellery Queen novels do, at times, refer to other cases solved by Ellery that have not appeared in print -- such as the reference in Ten Days Wonder to “the case of the spastic bryologist, in which Ellery made the definitive deduction -- from a dried mass of sphagnum no larger than his thumbnail
-- and reached into the surgery of one of New York’s most respectable hospitals to save a life and blast a reputation . . . .” Nowhere is that mystery set forth in published form. And Ten Days’ Wonder also contains a reference to “the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972.” That mystery was never recorded in a Queen work, though it did provide the premise for Francis Nevin’s 1972 Ellery Queen pastiche “Open Letter to Survivors.” (In "Open Letter" Ellery is working on a novel that clearly is "Cat of Many Tails," but this does not progress our analysis here since the story was written by Mike Nevins, not by Dannay and Lee!)

       Similarly The French Powder Mystery and The Dutch Shoe Mystery mention, respectively, the Kingsley Arms Murder and The Murder of the Marionettes, and Dutch Shoe goes so far as to state that the latter mystery was recounted in a manuscript authored by Ellery. But none of these mysteries is in fact the basis of an Ellery Queen manuscript. Moreover, these references, again, are all to mysteries, or manuscripts, already completed, not to novels that are in the process of being drafted. 

       In an email exchange I had with Joe Goodrich, author of the theatrical version of Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, Joe mentioned that from various clues in Ten Days’ Wonder one could conclude that the novel Ellery toiled on during the course of solving that mystery might well have been Cat of Many Tails, actually published two years later. But other than that one possible example, and it is premised on fairly obscure clues, there is nothing that directly answers Doug Greene’s question. 

       Nothing that directly answers. But what about indirectly? 

       After first despairing that there is no good answer to Doug’s question, I took another look at Calamity Town. And when I did so it struck me that this mystery’s structure is remarkably similar to John Berendt’s “true crime” bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The quote at the head of this article really says it all. 

        In Garden of Good and Evil the author, John Berendt, is a character in his own story. Berendt uproots himself from his hometown (New York City) to another locale (there, Savannah) for the sole purpose of secluding himself while writing a book about the characters that populate that locale. Berendt's tale purports to be written in real time, but the narration begins before the story itself has transpired.  Then, in mid-book, a murder takes place. And the murder -- seemingly unanticipated at the beginning of the book -- becomes the book’s backbone by mid-narrative. So, the surreal aspect of the book is that it’s narrative, based on actual events, begins before the crucial events of the story have even occurred. In other words, the book that John Berendt is “writing” during the narrative of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is in fact Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. And he is writing this as the story unfolds.
       With that in mind, and being careful, as always, to stear clear of “spoilers,” let's compare Calamity Town to Garden of Good and Evil.

       First, and most obvious, we are confronted with one of the stranger quirks of the Ellery Queen mysteries.  Ellery, like John Berendt, is both the author and the protagonist.  Each tale opens with the arrival of the author, in our case our friend Mr. Queen, in a town where the author intends to stay for a prolonged period. Thus, Calamity Town opens with Ellery disembarking from the train in Wrightsville. He immediately seeks rental accommodations and is asked: 
"[W]hat kind of work are you planning, . . ?” 
“A novel," said Ellery faintly. "A novel of particular sort, laid in a typical small city . . . ."
       Ellery then, like John Berendt, settles in, and waits for events to occur. And for Ellery that wait is not without a degree of impatience. When, at first, town life in Wrightsville proceeds without incident, that is, without murder, this coincides with grumblings on Ellery’s part that his novel is progressing slowly. Thus, a ways into the book we encounter the following: 
So Mr. Queen decided he had been an imaginative fool and that [any mystery in the town] was buried beyond resurrection. He began to make plans to invent a crime in his novel, since life was so uncooperative. And, because he liked all the characters, he was very glad.
       This, in itself, is an interesting (and doubtless tongue-in-cheek) aside by Ellery. There have been a lot of jokes over the years to the effect that if you value your life you shouldn’t hang around with Ellery Queen since someone in his immediate ambit always ends up murdered. And here we have it --  the proof: Ellery expects a murder in Wrightsville. And, while grumpy, he is also heartened since he likes the folks he has encountered in Wrightsville.   Important to our current analysis is the fact, then, that like John Berendt Ellery purports to be writing his book in anticipation of a murder happening. Also like Berendt he is not disappointed. 

Wrightsville as depicted in the front-piece of Calamity Town
       There are other similar references. Like this one, for example: 
"It’s a queer thing," grumbled Ellery, " . . . Something’s been annoying me for weeks. Flying around in my skull.  Can’t catch it… I thought it might be a fact—something trivial—that I’d overlooked. You know, I… well, I based my novel on you people—the facts, the events, the interrelationships. So everything’s in my notes that’s happened." He shook his head. "But I can’t put my finger on it.” 
       And finally, when the mystery of Calamity Town is ultimately solved, eo instante the novel Ellery has been drafting is also completed.  Listen to Ellery when he returns, to Wrightsville, in the final pages of Calamity Town
“But tell me! What brings you back to Wrightsville? It must be us—couldn’t be anyone else! How’s the novel!”
"Oh, grand! Ellery, you never let me read a word of it. How does it end?” 
“That,” said Mr. Queen, “is one of my reasons for coming back to Wrightsville.” 
       So, if you are reading either Calamity Town or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and someone wanders over and poses that question Doug Greene asked Kurt and me ten years ago, specifically what is the book the author purports to be writing at the same time he is telling his story, the answer in each case is the same. Surreal as it may seem, the book each author was writing is the book that you are reading! 

 *     *     *    *     *     *     *     * 

        This winter is a great occasion to re-visit Calamity Town, Ellery Queen’s first Wrightsville tale and one of Ellery's greatest mysteries. As recounted earlier in the article and in previous posts, Joe Goodrich is the author of the new theatrical version of Calamity Town.

       The play had a public reading in New York in 2013, was first produced in 2014 in preview in Claremont, New Hampshire (a town that in all likelihood provided the model for Wrightsville) under the staging hand of Arthur Vidro.

       It will now have its official world premiere this coming January 23 through February 21 at the Vertigo Theatre in Calgary, Canada. If you are anywhere near Calgary, try to catch it. I only wish I could!

27 September 2015

Queen's Quorum

by Dale C. Andrews
[T]he only rule . . . I know, [for writers] is that they write and they write some more and then they write still more and they keep on writing . . . . 
                                                          Frederic Dannay 
                                                          Carroll College, Waukesha, Wisconsin 
                                                          April 17, 1979 
                                                          Quoted in My Life with Ellery Queen 
                                                           by Rose Koppel Dannay 
 [A] pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.
                                                          Frederic Dannay (writing as Ellery Queen) 
A picnic is more than eating a meal, it is a pleasurable sate of mind.
                                                          DeeDee Stovel
                                                          Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus

Josh Pachter, Francis (Mike) Nevins
and Yours Truly (animation courtesy of Google+!)
      Last week, with the marriage of our younger son Colin just behind us, we waved good-by to family guests, turned on our heels, sorted out the guest room, and welcomed Francis (Mike) Nevins into our home for a three day visit. I first met Mike, an emeritus professor at St. Louis University Law School, author and scholar of all things Ellery Queen, back in 2005 at the Ellery Queen Centennial symposium hosted by EQMM. Since that time we have shared a few meals together, but never a prolonged visit. This time Mike was passing through Washington, D.C. enroute to Massachusetts to attend a memorial service for Rose Koppel Dannay, the third (and last) wife of Frederic Dannay, whom we all know as one-half of the Ellery Queen writing duo. 

       In his own blog First You Write, Mike has summed up the importance of Rose Dannay’s influence on Frederic Dannay succinctly: “It’s not going too far to say that Rose saved Fred’s life.” Dannay’s second wife had just died when he met Rose. Mike writes that at that meeting Rose found a broken man winding down his life, and Mike concludes that “[t]hat is what Rose saved him from.” Their marriage endured until his death, over the Labor Day weekend of 1982, at age 76.  

       In her later years Rose Dannay penned a memoir, originally privately published, entitled My Life with Ellery Queen chronicling her years with Dannay. The slim volume necessarily offers little insight into the early years of Ellery Queen, or into the life of Manfred B. Lee, the other half of the Queen duo, since Lee was gone by the time Rose entered Dannay’s life. But the book, which I read during Mike’s visit, is nonetheless a rich narrative of Dannay’s final years. And -- lucky us -- while the book has long been unavailable to the general public, within days all of that will change when it is re-issued together with a new (and lengthy) introduction written by Mike. 

       But enough of the past (well, sort of). One of the great things about the on-line age in which we live is the ease with which we can each reach out and connect with those whose interests we share. Those of us who are still Ellery Queen fans may be few in number, but among us the interest in Queen runs deep. And Mike’s short swing through Washington, D.C. afforded an opportunity for three of us to spend a great evening together in my backyard. 

       I knew of Josh Pachter before last week but we had never met, even though he lives in nearby Herndon, Virginia and teaches communications and human studies at equally nearby Northern Virginia Community College (where he is also an Assistant Dean). Josh is, however, an old friend of Mike’s and that proved the only catalyst needed in order to complete a "three musketeer" gathering. All three of us have not only read and studied the works of Ellery Queen, we have also each contributed our own works featuring, or inspired by Ellery. 

       Josh had his first short story published in EQMM at the tender age of 16, and has authored several Ellery Queen parodies, including "E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name" (EQMM December 1968), "E.Q. Griffen's Second Case" (EQMM May 1970) and "The German Cologne Mystery," co-written with Jon L. Breen and featuring Celery Green and his father, Inspector Wretched Green, (EQMM September/October 2005). Josh hints that he is working on yet another E.Q. Griffen story and hopes to share it with the reading world in 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his first E.Q. Griffen escapade. His most recent work is the short-story collection The Tree of Life (Wildside Press, 2015), available in paperback and (as The Mahboob Chaudri Mystery Megapack) in e-book format

       Mike Nevins has authored four novels, many short stories, and a number of non-fiction works offering up his take on mysteries and mystery writers. He has edited countless mystery anthologies and has won two Edgar awards, one for Royal Bloodlines, his first biography of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, and the second for First You Dream, Then You Die, focusing on the literature of Cornell Woolrich. And Mike is also famous, among other things, for his seminal Ellery Queen pastiche, “Open Letter to Survivors,” (EQMM May, 1972), which spins its narrative riff from the following passage that appears in Ellery Queen’s Ten Days’ Wonder: “. . . there was the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972 . . . .” In addition to his upcoming introduction included in the newly re-published Dannay biography referenced above, Mike’s next work, They Called the Shots, a retrospective on Hollywood directors he has known, will be published by Ramble House within the next few weeks. Among his most recent works is the 2013 retrospective Ellery Queen -- The Art of Detection, an updated and definitive companion piece to Royal Bloodlines. 

Kurt Sercu and me last year
(doing a pictorial "one-off" of the cover of
Mike Nevin's The Art of Detection)
       Completing the trio assembled in my backyard on that Tuesday evening was, well, me. Accomplishments? Well, not all that many. But the Ellery Queen pastiches that I have authored include “The Book Case” (EQMM May, 2007), written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen, a Website on Deduction, and featuring an elderly Ellery pulled from retirement to solve one last case involving many characters from earlier Queen novels, including principally the 1967 mystery Face to Face, “The Mad Hatter’s Riddle” (EQMM September/October, 2009), where characters from the 1938 Queen novel The Four of Hearts, reunite for the filming of an episode of the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen television series, and “Literally Dead” (EQMM December 2013), featuring a return, once again, to Wrightsville. 

       So the dinner cast was set and the evening was predictably great.

       But let’s be greedy. Who else could have been added to make that back yard dinner even better? Well my list of wished-for attendees would include the following: 

       Kurt Sercu, my friend, erstwhile collaborator and the proprietor of the aforementioned Ellery Queen website where, incidentally, you can read about all of the actual attendees in Kurt’s section discussing Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies. Kurt, who I first met on the internet in 2002, has three times made the trip across the pond from his native Belgium and knows my backyard well. Had he been here this time he could have shared stories with Josh in Flemish -- among his other accomplishments, Josh is fluent and has frequently translated mysteries from Dutch to English. 

Joseph Goodrich
       Joe Goodrich, author of Blood Relations, the collection of the 1940s correspondence between Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, and also the author of the play Calamity Town, which had a sneak preview for two days in Claremont, New Hampshire in 2013 and will have its official world premier at the Vertigo Theatre, Calgary, Canada next year.  (It will play there from January 23 through February 21, 2016.)

Douglas Greene
       Doug Greene, professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ellery Queen scholar, proprietor of Crippin and  Landru publications, and publisher of both The Tragedy of Errors, collecting previously unpublished Queen stories and essays, and featuring the outline of what would have been the final Ellery Queen mystery, and The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Mysteries, a 2005 collection of previously-unpublished Ellery Queen radio plays. Doug just had a birthday, so we would have added a cake to the menu!

Jon L. Breen
       John L. Breen, emeritus book review editor for EQMM, who has twice been awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Award, first in 1982 for What About Murder?: A Guide to Books About Mystery and Detective Fiction, and then in 1985, for Novel Verdicts: A Guide to Courtroom Fiction. He has written several novels and over 100 short stories, including several Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies, one of which, “The Adventure of the Disoriented Detective,” is available on Kurt’s website and another of which, “The German Cologne Mystery,” (see above) was co-authored with Josh. 

Arthur Vidro
       Arthur Vidro, yet another Queen scholar, author and publisher of (Give Me That) Old-Time Detection (a wonderful periodical dependably offering up Ellery Queen nuggets).  Arthur was the director of the first presentation of Joe Goodrich’s theatrical version of Calamity Town, and appeared in the production in a supporting role.  He is also the literary detective who (to my mind) has definitively established that Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville is modeled after Arthur’s hometown -- Claremont, New Hampshire.  Arthur has his own short Queen pastiche on-line on the EQMM website.  It can be read here.

Jeffrey A. Marks
       Each of these folks I have had the honor to meet and get to know in person over the years. And to the list I would add at least one more Ellery Queen expert and aficionado -- mystery writer and biographer Jeffrey A. Marks, an author who, thus far, I have met only on the internet. In addition to his many works, including his mystery series featuring Ulysses S. Grant, Jeff has penned biographies of famous mystery writers including Earl Stanley Gardner and Anthony Boucher.  His latest project?  Well, in the next year -- or perhaps a bit more -- Jeff will be releasing his new, and I will bet definitive, biography of the lives of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.   (Working title -- The American Detective Story.)

       Now THAT would have been a party!

(Most of the links and some of the graphics, above, are courtesy of Kurt's website Ellery Queen -- A Website on Deduction.  Always worth a visit, folks!)

07 May 2013

Day Trip to New York, May 2, 2013

by Dale C. Andrews
On May 2, 1952, the era of commercial jet passenger service began as a BOAC de Havilland Comet carrying 36 passengers took off on a multi-stop flight from London to Johannesburg, South Africa. 
                              Associated Press
                              Today in History
                              May 2, 2013

           Fast Enough to get there,
           Slow enough to see,
           Moderation seems to be the key.

                              Jimmy Buffett
                              Barometer Soup
The reception:  Mystery writers everywhere!
     What better way to celebrate the anniversary of jet passenger service than to follow Mr. Buffett's advice and take a train trip?

    The beginning of May is many things to many people. To mystery writers there is a special anticipation that comes with the first Thursday in May, this year May second, since that is the day when the annual Edgars award celebration takes place in New York City. And for a smaller subset of mystery writers, those whose passion is the mystery short story, the day offers up a related treat -- the annual authors cocktail party hosted by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

     I’ve never been a fan of air transportation. it is a necessary evil when my family heads off to favorite vacation spots in the Caribbean, and sometimes one surrenders to the indignities of air transportation when held hostage by time constraints. But I fail to understand anyone who travels between Washington, D.C. (my home) and New York City by any means other than rail. And that is why this piece begins as I find myself  signed on to Amtrak’s wifi service, comfortably ensconced in a window seat and typing away on Amtrak’s Acela headed north. The trip is 2-1/2 hours each way, and deposits me a pleasant 30 minute walk from the Andrew Haskell Braile and Talking Books Library where the cocktail party takes place at 3:30.
Janet Hutchings
   Now that walk in Manhattan is not as easy as it sounds -- 14 Manhattan short blocks followed by 2-1/2 Manhattan long blocks is exercise, but it should otherwise be pretty simple.  New York City, however, has always been a little daunting fot me. So the walk is always just long enough to convince me that my chances are equally divided between finding the party and roaming forever on the streets of Manhattan. (At least Charlie got to sit down on the MTA.)
Janice, Liz, R.T.
     But, as always, I get there. And, also as always, the party makes up for all of the investment. The EQMM/AHMM pre-Edgars parties have descended a notch from the glory days of yore, when they were held at the Manhattan Club and other storied locales, with several full bars and waiters hovering with platters of shrimp. But the wine bar, served up by magazine employees, and the table of hors d'oeuvres is just fine.  And it is also not why we are here.  What this occasion offers is the opportunity to visit with those who share common interests in mystery short story writing, to connect with people who otherwise are known only on-line.   Janet Hutchings meets me at the door, and a few minutes visiting with her, and then with Linda Landrigan, is itself worth the price of admission.

      At last year’s reception SleuthSayers was represented by David Dean and me, but this year we are out in force. R.T. Lawton and his wife Kiti are standing near the window as I enter, and within a short time Janice Law Trecker, Liz Zelvin, David Dean, R.T. and me are together for the first time in the non-cyber real  world.
Liz, me, David and R.T.
     Another great thing about the reception is getting that first lead on  things mystery-related that are about to happen. This year Peter Kanter, who presides over Dell publications, announced a pending major re-vamp of the Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock websites, which promises a new level of interaction among writers and readers.  This could be fun!

     Awards, of course, were announced, including the second place Readers’ Choice award won this year by our own David Dean for his story Mariel, which appeared in the December issue of EQMM.   David also reports that he is making good progress on his new novel, which has kept him away from SleuthSayers for some time now.

Joe Goodrich
     Some of the best tidbits I picked up during this year's party were from Joe Goodrich, who, as SleuthSayer readers will recall, is the author/editor of Blood Relations, the recent volume collecting the letters of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  Joe recently adapted the first  Ellery Queen Wrightsville novel, Calamity Town, for the stage.  The work, as previously reported, had a read-through performance last January at the New Dramatists Playhouse in New York City.  This summer Joe reports that the play will have its first full-stage production, under the directorial hand of fellow Queen scholar Arthur Vidro.

     Equally interesting is the locale for that presentation:  the play will be performed by the Off Broad Street Players in Claremont, New Hampshire.  The Off Broad Street Players are no stranger to the works of Ellery.   In fact, beginning tomorrow the company is presenting an on-stage production of two classic Queen radio dramas.  But the claim to fame of Claremont itself runs even deeper. Those familiar with some of the more obscure clues in the Queen backstory may recall that Claremont has been rumored to be the model for Queen’s New England town of Wrightsville.  What better site for the world premier of Calamity Town? The troop's production of Calamity Town is likely to run only two nights, probably this coming September 7 and 8.

    On other fronts, Joe also spent time this last year adapting a Rex Stout mystery, The Red Box, for the stage.  The play has already been scheduled for an extended run next summer at the Park Square Theater in St. Paul.

     Oops.  It’s 5:00. Time for me to see if I can find my way back to the train station!

29 January 2013

The Art of Detection

by Dale C. Andrews

    When I was in high school, back in the 1960s, I stumbled onto a paperback book entitled Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.  The book, which was published in 1962, was not written by Arthur Conan Doyle.  The author of this “biography" of Holmes was W.S. Baring-Gould.  As a mystery fan I immediately purchased and then devoured the volume.

   Baring-Gould, as I later found out, was a Baker’s Street Irregular who had devoted much of his life to the study of Sherlock Holmes.  Among the things that interested me about the book were “facts” set down by Baring-Gould concerning the life of Holmes that were not elsewhere reflected in the Arthur Conan Doyle canon.  To wit, Holmes, according to Baring-Gould, was born on January 6, he lived to the ripe age of 108, and in his 108th year he completed an omnibus retrospective on his own life and work, The Art of Deduction

    As I have discussed at some length previously, I am a big fan of hidden alignments that seem to pop up in the world around us, facts that square up in ways that break the boundaries of coincidence and thereby hint at an underlying order.  And we now have yet another example of exactly such an alignment. 

    According to Ellery Queen’s 1957 novel The Finishing Stroke, Queen was born in 1905, the same year that his creators Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee were born.  So this year, 2013, would be Ellery’s 108th year.  And commemorating that event Professor Francis M. Nevins, the world’s preeminent Queen scholar (and a man whose own birthday, January 6, is the same as Holmes’) has published a true magnum opus on Ellery, entitled Ellery Queen:  The Art of Detection.  

     I shared a cup of coffee with Mike Nevins in St. Louis over Christmas (well, actually he drank soda) and he laughed off all of the Holmes/Queen alignments set forth in the previous paragraphs as mere coincidence.  The most he will get from me on this is a wink and a smile.  Unwitting or not, to my mind it is kismet that is playing with us here.

    Of course, the comparisons between Holmes at 108 and Queen at the same age, and between the works of Baring-Gould and Nevins, are not perfect.  For one thing, while Holmes’ The Art of Deduction never in fact existed, Nevins’ The Art of Detection, by contrast, is wonderfully real, all 351 pages of it.  But before getting to this encyclopedic tribute to all things Queen, let’s tarry just a moment and talk about Mike. 

Mike in St. Louis, December 23, 2012
    Mike Nevins  is Professor Emeritus at St. Louis University Law School, and is a magna cum laude graduate of St. Peters College and a cum laude graduate of New York University School of Law.  For many years he taught law, specializing in copyright law, in St. Louis.  But as all Queen aficionados know, Mike’s interests run well wide of legal matters.  He has written definitive literary analyses on subjects as disparate as Cornell Woolrich and Hopalong Cassidy.  Mike has also published six novels, two collections of short stories, several books of non-fiction and has also edited more than 15 mystery anthologies and collections.  More importantly, and, luckily for us, he is, without question, one of the world’s leading authorities on Ellery Queen and the collaborative team that was Queen:  Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  Mike has twice won  Edgar Allan Poe Awards for critical works, once for an earlier study of Ellery Queen and once for his volume on Cornell Woolrich.  Mike is also the author of one of the finest Ellery Queen pastiches ever written, Open Letter to Survivors. Who better to offer the reading public the definitive analysis of the works of Ellery Queen?

    As noted above, Mike’s 1974 Royal Bloodlines has already garnered an Edgar for its treatment of the Dannay and Lee writing team.  In the introduction to The Art of Detection the basis for his new second take on the same subject is explained by Mike as follows:
I think I just heard a question.  “Hey, didn’t you do that book already, back in the Watergate era?  Well, sort of.  But as I got older I became convinced that I hadn’t done all that good a job.  Fred Dannay was the public face of Ellery Queen, and in the years after we met he became the closest to a grandfather I’ve ever known, but I never really got to know the much more private Manny Lee.  He and I had exchanged a few letters, and we met briefly at the Edgars dinner in 1970, but he died before we could meet again.  Because of his untimely death, Royal Bloodlines . . .  inadvertently gave the impression that “Ellery Queen” meant 90% Fred Dannay.  One of the most important items on my personal bucket list was to do justice to Manny.
    That concern (notwithstanding that prior Edgar award) is completely addressed and fully remedied in The Art of Detection, which painstakingly traces the lives, times and collaboration of the two cousins who invented Ellery the detective and Ellery the writer and editor.  No matter how familiar you are with Queen, you will take away new knowledge when you finish reading The Art of Detection.  

    Like Joe Goodrich’s excellent volume from earlier this year, Blood Relations, which focused on the drafting of three of the best Queen novels in the late 1940s, much of the background material in The Art of Detection, notably including the legendary feuding between Dannay and Lee, is premised on the words of Dannay and Lee themselves, as forth in their letters, which are extensively quoted throughout the new Nevins work.  Also included are correspondence between Nevins himself and Dannay, and between Lee and legendary critic and writer Anthony Boucher, who famously opined that "Ellery Queen is the American detective story," and who contributed plotting to the Ellery Queen radio shows during times that family illnesses kept Dannay from performing that task.  The resulting narrative of the lives of these two writers, much of it in their own words, and of Queen, is a wonderfully detailed portrait.

    As already noted, The Art of Detection is encyclopedic in its coverage.  Beyond biography, the reader finds detailed discussions of all of the Queen books, as well as the various ventures into other media, including  the various radio shows featuring Ellery, the (often unsatisfying) Ellery Queen movies of the 1940s, the early television series, and the 1975 NBC series featuring Jim Hutton.  Mike has even offered detailed analyses of the infamous “ghosted”  Queen paperbacks, farmed out to other authors and then edited by Lee, which were commonplace on the paperback shelves of the 1960s.  In short, there is basically nothing about Ellery that is not addressed and answered by this fine work. 

    As any Ellery Queen fan is well aware, the Queen library, at least in the U.S., has teetered on the edge of extinction over the last few years.  Near the end of his book Mike comments on this as follows:
When the author dies, the work dies.  That is almost always the reality, and certainly it’s the rule in genre fiction.  There are always a few exceptions, like Agatha Christie and Louis L’Amour, but those authors are rarae aves.  I took it for granted that Ellery Queen was one (or two) of them.  I never thought I’d live to see the falling off into near oblivion of what had been a household name for more than a decade before I was born and for at least the first thirty years of my life.
    It is certainly true that it takes an historical perspective such as that provided by The Art of Detection to fully appreciate how much a part of mystery fiction Ellery was in the past, and how diminished his role is today.  But hopefully there is still time and space for resurgence.  Certainly excellent works such as The Art of Detection and Blood Relations, each of which has been offered to the reading public in the course of the past year, and Jeffrey Marks’ projected biography of Dannay and Lee, which should be out in 2015, contribute toward resurrecting the works of Queen.

    And speaking of kismet, another real indication of renewed interest in the works of Ellery Queen is evident on the very day this article is being posted.  Today, January 29, Calamity Town, a new play written by Joe Goodrich and based on the 1942 Queen novel that first introduced the upper New York State town of Wrightsville, has a "first reading" performance at the New Dramatists playhouse on West 44th Street in New York City.  Let's hope this is just the beginning for this latest Queen opus by Joe.

   There is also a new Ellery Queen pastiche (modesty compels me to not include the author in the foregoing list) coming out in EQMM sometime in the coming year.  And particularly eagerly awaited is the imminent re-issuance of 23 original titles in the Ellery Queen library, as reported by Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM, in her editorial note following publication of Mike Nevin’s article End Time for Ellery? In the January 2013 issue of EQMM.  As Janet observed there, thanks to efforts such as Mike’s “Ellery Queen may soon enjoy a renaissance.”

    The once and future Queen?

13 March 2012

Blood Relations

by Dale C. Andrews
If the situation between us were put into a book, it would be damned as utterly incredible

                                                            Frederic Dannay to Manfred B. Lee
                                                            Letter dated May 12, 1949

                                                            Quoted in Blood Relations by Joseph Goodrich

    It is a rare event for Ellery Queen fans to have a new publication to enjoy,  While Queen novels continue to be published around the world – notably in Japan, Italy and Russia –  Ellery’s adventures, and other Queen-related works, can be found in the United States virtually only in used bookstores.  On line you will be searching ABE, not Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

    Swimming against that current, however, Joseph Goodrich has just offered up Blood Relations, the Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950, a slim but thoroughly engaging volume collecting the letters exchanged by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee during the plotting and writing of three Ellery Queen mysteries – Ten Days Wonder, Cat of Many Tails and The Origin of Evil

    The book is a great read on at least three levels:  first, it provides a fascinating background on the writing of three of the strongest Ellery Queen mysteries, second it is a great teaching exercise on how mysteries are plotted, including how the suspicions of the reader can be deflected away from the true culprit, and third it is a revealing, and often troubling, insight into the rivalries that festered between two cousins, Dannay and Lee, who collectively were Ellery Queen.

    Throughout their long literary partnership Dannay and Lee were famously at each others' throats.  Lee described the partnership as a “marriage made in hell.”  The friction in the “marriage,” as well as its long-term survival, was borne of necessity -- each cousin depended on Queen for the economic livelihoods of their respective families.  And Ellery's survival could only be assured if the partnership between Dannay and Lee continued.

    As mystery writer, professor and Queen scholar Francis M. Nevins has noted, neither Dannay nor Lee could complete a work of fiction alone.  Rather, each of the Queen novels and short stories followed the same pattern:  Frederic Dannay would supply a detailed outline of a proposed book or story – often running to 75 to 80 pages for a novel that would eventually ring in at around 300 printed pages.  Then it would be left to Manfred Lee to transform the outline into a complete novel, building believable characters and a compelling narrative flow.  According to Nevins, Lee could not plot out a story to save his life, and Dannay was equally incapable of writing a narrative from an outline.  And so, bound at the wrists, and each damned by a resentment fueled by that which only the other could do, the cousins fought their way through over 40 Ellery Queen books.

    Much of this acrimonious writing process was completed through the exchange of letters, particularly in the late 1940s when Lee was on the west coast supervising the production of the Ellery Queen radio show and Dannay was on the east coast editing EQMM.  At a time when long distance telephone calls were unreliable and exorbitant, the cousins plotted (and bickered) in exchanges of very long special delivery letters.  It is these letters that comprise  Blood Relations.

    The book reads as compellingly as good fiction, and offers up a fascinating insight into the minds of Dannay and Lee.  A spoiler alert is warranted, however.  Anyone reading Blood Relations will come away knowing all there is to know about Ten Days Wonder, Cat of Many Tails and The Origin of Evil.

    The bitter and accusatory tone of the letters that comprise Blood Relations is not a complete surprise to Queen fans.  Frederic Dannay’s papers, which contained copies of most correspondence between the cousins, were donated to the Columbia University Butler Library in 2005, the centennial year for Dannay and Lee, and therefore Ellery, as well.  At that time Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine held a centennial Queen symposium at Columbia and Francis Nevins delivered a keynote lecture taken completely from the letters exchanged between the two cousins.  But while the angry exchanges quoted by Nevins during that speech left a lot of the audience wide-eyed in 2005, reading the text of these exchanges in full provides even more of an eye opener. 

Francis M. Nevins at the Centenial
    One of the documents that was on display at the Butler Library in 2005 during the Queen centennial symposium was a legal agreement between Dannay and Lee forbidding either cousin from ever leaving the Queen partnership.  The document seems superficially strange since it is hard to imagine how it could ever be enforced.  But the need for some sort of definitional boundary understanding between Dannay and Lee  becomes evident when the reader has the opportunity to review the cousins’ actual correspondence.  The partnership set forth in the contract between Dannay and Lee is premised on dividing the task of writing Ellery Queen works into two “zones,” each of which was envisioned to be the domain of one, and only one, of the strong-willed cousins.  Under the terms of this arrangement Dannay was to be given complete control over the plot outlines of Queen works, and Lee was to have complete control over the final written work product bringing to life the story set forth in each outline.  Predictably this arrangement was tinder waiting to be ignited.  How could this division of labor work given the fact that plotting and drafting overlap, and that each cousin had very different views as to what any given Ellery Queen project should ultimately should look like?  

    The following exasperated passage from a 1948 letter from Lee illustrates this.  Dannay has asked for a change of one sentence in Ten Days Wonder.  Lee responds as follows:
You say [that the phrase] is “out of key,” “ineffective,” and “tends to spoil the very good stuff that surrounds it.”  I’ve reread the line in context and I don’t agree.  I could take the line out to please you, certainly; but this very minor, unimportant example – by admission on both our parts – raises a major, important question:  Is pleasing you, in the face of my strong affirmative opinion that the  line is in key, effective and helps the stuff that surrounds it, to be my rule-of-thumb?  We divided ourselves into rigid-boundaried “zones” just because our differences of opinion on basic matters of both plot and writing were so strong that we found it impossible to reconcile them either in principle or in practice.  In the face of this, pleasing each other is pointless.  We can only do, in our respective provinces, what pleases ourselves. . . .
    When pages are spent arguing over one sentence in a draft, the reader is left to ponder how the finished products were ever produced.  As Lee notes in a subsequent 1948 letter, “[w]hat began as friendly competition wound up as active and bitter hostility . . . our history as a ‘team’ is a series of explosions.”  The marvel is that even given this the cousins in fact produced over 40 novels, anthologies and critiques.

    On at least one level reading Blood Relations is therefore a bit like watching a rather steamy soap opera.  The reader becomes enthralled, almost against better judgment, by angry tirades that normally would take place only behind closed doors.  In that sense the experience of reading the book is a little akin to the natural tendency to slow down, even when we do not mean to, as we drive past a grisly automobile pile-up.  Dannay and Lee mercilessly pick at each other, neither wanting to give an inch on a point, until the result becomes unbearable to both.  And they do it all before our eyes.  This from Lee, again in 1948 and addressing the drafting of Cat of Many Tails:

I now have the mere job of finishing this story.  What in the good God’s world is the use of anything?  What, I ask you?  Why am I writing to you?  Why do you write to me?  We are two howling maniacs in a single cell, trying to tear each other to pieces.  Each suspects the other of the most horrible crimes.  Each examines each word of the other’s under a lens, looking, looking, looking for the worst possible construction.  We ought never to write a word to each other.  We ought never to speak.  I ought to take what you give me in silence, and you ought to take what I give you in silence, and spit our galls out in the privacy of our cans until someday, mercifully, we both drop dead and end the agony.
    Whew! Time for the reader to take a deep breath. 

    The quotes provided here are but the tip of the iceberg that is Blood Relations.  But the book also offers lessons on other planes.  Beyond the vituperations that erupt in many of the letters of Dannay and Lee one finds two headstrong writers, each working to make the final product believable.  Every writer already knows  that despite what we may say, we do not particularly enjoy criticism.  Strong criticism  makes for a better final product, but each of us carries that silent wish that those who read our works will say “Perfect.  Wouldn’t change a thing.”  What Dannay and Lee subjected themselves to was just about the most rigorous barrage of literary criticism imaginable.  Every single thing was subject to debate.  But beyond the pent up hostility they each harbored, their arguments always have the purpose of furthering the written product.  And the differences of approach that were at the core of each man fueled debates during the writing of the Queen novels that are illustrative of the struggles that all good writers go through, although more normally not in dialogue, when a book or story is devised and then executed. 

    The nature and end result of the process that brought about the Queen oeuvre  is summarized by Dannay, also from a 1948 letter.  Dannay's observations offer a denouement  finally concluding the cousins’ blistering special delivery exchanges concerning Cat of Many Tails:

Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay
[A]s I sit in front of the typewriter this morning, I feel extraordinarily calm; and in the calmness I see clearly – [even] without having read your [most recent] letter – that surely the answer is very simple:  I must have misunderstood you, and you must have misunderstood me, and we both keep misunderstanding each other – and probably will keep right on.  And perhaps that really isn’t too bad a thing, wearing as it is on our nerves and lives; it keeps both of us doing the best we possibly can, and while we are eternally suspicious of each other, and eternally hypersensitive to each other, the resultant work – coming out the hard way – is strangely enough, the better for it  . . . [even though] the price is high . . . .
    Blood Relations is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.    It is a must read for Ellery Queen fans, and it should also be a must read for writers interested in the meticulous plotting and drafting of mysteries.