Showing posts with label Kurt Sercu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kurt Sercu. 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) 
                                        1972 
[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!”
“Finished.”
"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!)

04 February 2014

Ellery Queen and the Mystery of the Hidden Name

by Dale C. Andrews (and Kurt Sercu)

       As I guess is evident, for most of my life I have been an Ellery Queen fan. I read Queen as a kid, and I trace my published mystery writing back to the Ellery Queen Centennial Symposium that EQMM hosted back in 2005. I attended that symposium in New York City, along with Kurt Sercu, the proprietor of the preeminent Ellery Queen website -- Ellery Queen: A Website on Deduction, and we both left the symposium with the inspiration that eventually led to our Ellery Queen pastiche The Book Case (EQMM, May 2007). While that weekend was the first time Kurt and I had met in person, we had already known each other for years on-line.

       It was sometime around 2000 that I first stumbled onto Kurt’s internet homage to Queen, and while I became a regular visitor there our email friendship did not really blossom until two years later when, in a thread on the Ellery Queen sub-forum of the Golden Age Detectives website discussing Queen’s And on the Eighth Day, I posted a pastiche epilogue to the book, offering a “further explanation” to Ellery’s solution that attempted to tie up some of the novel’s loose ends. Those loose ends had always troubled me -- there are a lot of hidden clues in And on the Eighth Day that are never explicitly addressed in the pages of the book. After reading my conjectured epilogue, Kurt, who oversees the Queen sub forum, responded with some thoughts and we were off and running. 

       And a strange email exchange it has, at times, been over the years. Early on Kurt asked me if I knew the name that arguably tied together a large number of the Ellery Queen mysteries. I replied that I did not and Kurt responded with the following. “The name is ‘Andrews’.” 

       Well, as you can imagine, that sort of floored me for very personal reasons. I had read Queen for years, but this was before I had begun to look behind the stories into the strange and largely inexplicable patterns and clues that Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee wove into the fabric of the Queen library. But even so , , , my own name? In any event, Kurt proceeded to reveal a list of references to names closely associated with the name “Andrews” that appear in Queen, and the list stunned me -- I hadn't even noticed the multitude of characters who bore the name “Andrews,” or who answered to a closely related name. The list included: 

     Rima Anderson                       Double, Double 
     Ann Drew                               The Player on the Other Side 
     Van Andrew                           The Egyptian Cross Mystery 
     Andrea Borden                       Halfway House 
     Andrew Gardiner                    The Finishing Stroke 
     Andrew Hamilton                    The Glass House 
     Judge Andrew Webster          The Glass House 
     Old Soak Anderson                 Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox (Rima’s father) 
     Doctor MacAnderson              The Fourth Side of the Triangle 
     Mrs.Anderson                        The House of Brass 

       Hidden patterns in Ellery Queen mysteries, I now know, are rampant. One of the best examples of this is the recurrence of references to Easter, a topic discussed at some length in a previous post. Other examples involve the use of dates that are either of personal importance to Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who were Queen, or that are of historical interest. Those, too, have been explored in a previous article. Were these multiple references to the name “Andrews,” some of which, after all, are only associated with minor characters, enough to be classified as similar intentional patterns? As Kurt pointed out to me in our correspondence, French Queen scholar Remi Schulz certainly thinks so.

       Remi Schulz has devoted years, and much effort, to the study of the Queen mysteries, plumbing analytical depths that most of us would never even suspect existed. One underlying thesis set forth in Remi’s website is that the Ellery Queen novels are replete with hidden patterns that are premised on recurring dichotomies. Thus, Remi argues, a series of later Queen novels involve murderers with the recurring initials M and W, that switch back and forth chronologically novel to novel. M and W, Remi points out, are a short-hand for one of life’s great dichotomies: men and women. Similarly, there are references to 1 and 2, and to “A” and “B” that recur in Queen mysteries. As an example, Remi focuses on the 1936 Queen mystery Halfway House, and points out that it involves two families, Angell and Borden, and secret relationships between Andrea Borden and Bill Angell (AB and BA). These are but examples -- Remi points out many other hidden dichotomies in the mysteries Ellery solves.


     So what do these “either or” patterns have to do with the also recurring references to the name “Andrews?” Well, first of all, Remi’s view is that you can’t view the references to that name standing alone -- you have to look at all of this in the context of those other clues and patterns. Remi argues that the term most commonly used for the recurring literary dichotomy device that he identifies as prevalent in Queen mysteries (A’s and B’s, 1’s and 2’s) is a chiasm, a word that derives from the Greek letter 'Chi', or 'X.' An X, he points out, is also the basic design of the Saint Andrew cross -- a cross, in effect, laid on its side. Thus, it is argued that frequent use of number and letter pairs, and frequent use of the name “Andrews,” are employed to show that chiasms -- and underlying dichotomies -- are a hidden theme in the Ellery Queen mysteries. 

       And what, in turn, could this pattern of dichotomies be intended to convey to the reader? Well, the most obvious chiasm “secret” behind the works of Ellery Queen is, of course, the fact that there are two aspects to Ellery as author -- Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. Up to here I find Remi’s theories a bit far fetched, although still plausible. But from this juncture on Remi and I tend to part ways, forming, perhaps, our own chiasm. 

       Remi’s overarching thesis is that Dannay was the mastermind behind Queen, and that various hidden clues in Ellery Queen mysteries are meant to convey this, as well as the “fact” that Manfred Lee had (in Remi’s view) little or no role in the writing process. I’m not going to delve too deeply into Remi’s theory since it really cannot be articulated without revealing spoilers for many of the Queen mysteries. However, those interested in the theory can pursue Remi’s thesis at his website. (A warning -- Most of Remi's website is written is in his native French. However the Google translate function works fairly well on the site. Some of his theories concerning Ellery Queen mysteries are explained in a shorter English version of his website here.  Remi’s theories are also summarized on Kurt’s website here and here.) 

       My own view as to what this all might mean, while also a bit complicated, is a simpler one. (Warning -- even mine involves one “spoiler.”)

       I share Remi’s view that a plausible explanation of the recurring use of chiasms, as well as the references to “Andrews” as a clue to point the reader to the Cross of St. Andrews, is that all of this evidences (in a manner subliminal to the actual clues needed to solve each individual mystery story) the fact that two authors, Dannay and Lee, were Ellery Queen. The duality of Queen, as author, is also evidenced by the fact that both Dannay and Lee followed the consistent practice of using a “Q” with two, rather than one, line through it whenever autographing a book as Ellery Queen. 

       But it seems to me that it is ultimately self-defeating to argue that these hidden references were somehow meant to demean Lee’s role. After all, but for the few later Queen mysteries written by ghostwriters when Manfred Lee battled writer’s block, it was Lee who penned the actual drafts of the Ellery Queen mysteries from Dannay’s outlines. And even in the ghostwritten works it is acknowledged that Lee edited the final drafts. Can we really expect that Lee would be a party to a scheme intended to demean his own role? 

       In fact, there is at least some evidence that Lee could be a bit of a prankster himself, and was not above sneaking references into the Queen mysteries behind Dannay’s back. The best example of this is one particular late Queen novel (that’s all I’m going to say!) in which the name of the murderer appears only twice -- on the opening and closing pages. When asked about this literary device in a televised interview Dannay reportedly was taken aback, rather obviously surprised by the literary trick. So if that response by Dannay was honest, then the trick was by Lee. A trick that involved a secret cleverness -- a cleverness involving a name. 

Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
       The issue of employing “cleverness” with chosen names also brings us back to both Lee and Dannay -- each of whom chose their own names. Frederic Dannay was born Daniel Nathan, and Manfred Bennington Lee was born Manford Lepofsky. Lee, like his cousin Dannay, was of Russian-Jewish ancestry, but (unlike Dannay) eventually converted to Episcopalian. As Dannay’s notes in The Tragedy of Errors indicate, the cousins referred to each other throughout their lives as “Man” and “Dan,” evocative of both their given names and their chosen names. 

       And what do we know of the name “Andrews?” Well, in the Bible Andrew was the brother of Peter, and was himself a disciple. Legend has it that Andrew preached in Russia, in the Black Sea area of the Ukraine, and that his remains were eventually carried to Scotland, where he became the patron saint of the country and inspired that cross of St. Andrew, which graces the Scottish flag. Lee and Andrew, therefore, had a shared background, in a sense:  roots that involved Jewish Russia, and relocation to an English speaking locale. Each was born Jewish; each died Christian. So there is a credible basis to hypothesize that Lee could have personally identified with Andrew. Could the recurring usage of Andrews, and names closely related to Andrews, constituted Lee’s “signature” to the Queen mysteries? Are any of the foregoing similarities enough to deduce anything? The question still remains: What does Manfred Lee, as a name, have to do with Andrews? 

       Well, perhaps this: The name “Andrew,” “Andrea” in Greek, is translated as “manly.” Or, phonetically, “Man Lee.” In other words, the joke here, once again, may have been on Dan!

08 November 2011

If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium -- or, "The Dutch Website Mystery"

by Dale C. Andrews

    Several times in the course of past articles on SleuthSayers I have referenced my Belgian friend and occasional collaborator Kurt Sercu and his remarkable website Ellery Queen  --  A Website on Deduction.  In fact, in my first post I promised more about Kurt in the future.  No time like the present!

    I stumbled on to Kurt’s site sometime in 2000, when it had been on-line for about a year.   As an Ellery Queen stalwart over the years I had frequently used internet search engines to look for on-line articles about Queen.  Invariably those searches yielded rudimentary lists of books, or abbreviated discussions on the lives of Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay, who were Queen.  My expectations  were therefore already low when I ran the search again in mid-2000.  I was surprised when  Kurt’s then-new site appeared at the top of the search list and was awed when I then visited the site.  Even if you are not an Ellery Queen fan you have to be amazed by Kurt’s website.  It goes on forever.   But before embarking on a short tour of the site, let’s delve a bit deeper into the background of its author and proprietor

Brugge, Belgium
    It is a sort of poetic symmetry that Kurt is superficially a wholly unlikely candidate to preside over the world’s foremost collection of facts pertaining to the Queen canon – after all, in Ellery Queen mysteries it is often the least likely character who is in fact the murderer!  How unlikely?  Well, Kurt is a head nurse at a large hospital in Belgium.  He and his wife Martine and their two children Dries and Astrid reside in the picture-perfect town of Brugge, Belgium.  His native language is Dutch, and his website offers up both an English language and Dutch version.  One might perhaps have expected Hercule Poirot from Kurt, but Ellery Queen?


Dale Andrews and Kurt Sercu,
2005

In the amazing world of the internet – where everyone can be everyone else’s virtual neighbor – Kurt and I first became friends during the course of an exchange of messages on the Golden Age Detective Forum, where Kurt presides over the Ellery Queen section.  Since then Kurt and I have corresponded by email, often several times per week, and we have visited in person twice – once in 2005 when literally on the spur of the moment he flew to D.C. and together we attended the Ellery Queen Centenary Symposium hosted by EQMM in New York City.  Thereafter, two years ago Kurt and his family vacationed in the United States and stayed with us in Washington, D.C. for one week.

But back to that website.  Kurt explains there that he first became interested in Ellery Queen when he read Queen mysteries, in Dutch translation, in the 1970s.
[Then, Kurt explains,] in 1997 the net came to my house.  After some time I wanted to start a website of my own. Not one with personal [reflections] but with content, content useful to the visitor.   If all webmasters would do the same the net [it seemed to me could become an] interesting place to spend some time.  My first idea was to start a website on Tolkien.  But several sites on the subject already existed and had done a great job! So what other subject I could talk about? Well, there was [my then] small collection Queen-stories.
Those stories, together with some articles Kurt had collected concerning Ellery Queen, formed the early foundation for Ellery Queen – A Website on Deduction.  
[At first I] tried to "cut and paste" my way through what grew into a large volume of information. Too few sites, in my opinion, do justice to [Queen], who started off in the late twenties and [continued to write] into the seventies.  He made maximum use of the media at that time and is now, I feel, grossly neglected. I hoped the site [would] fire up more interest in the Ellery Queen stories.
The result of Kurt’s efforts has now grown into a near-Byzantine website.  In fact, I know of no other site that is as complex, or that offers up deeper insight into its subject matter.

     A word of caution – as noted above, Kurt has published two versions of the site, one in his native Dutch language and one in his second (or perhaps third or fourth) language – English.  My second language is Spanish, and I do well if I can order from the menu in a Mexican restaurant.  So expect a few translation difficulties, and just marvel that someone can produce such a source of information in a language that is not their native tongue.

     Just as it is the best practice not to reveal “spoilers” when discussing detective fiction, so too I want to be careful not to reveal too much about Kurt’s website since, like Ellery Queen’s stories, there is much just below the surface that is best discovered by the reader working through the site at his or her own pace.

In many respects the site is half Wikipedia, half computer game.  For those of you somewhat removed from the “gaming community,” there is a device used quite often in games that is referred to as the “Easter Egg."  Easter Eggs are hidden messages or "in" jokes or references hidden in the course of a game.  Kurt’s site is full of Easter Eggs -- click-able words that the reader will miss unless care is taken, and that, once found, will lead the reader to hidden pages from which you can tunnel deeper and deeper into the subject matter.  As an example, if you dig really deep you can find my very first Ellery Queen pastiche, never published elsewhere.  But it will take a lot of looking.  I barely remember how to get there myself!  You can also find hidden goodies such as an essay on the Queen Centenary Symposium, one click away but otherwise not referenced on the site’s menu.

      It would be easy to spend a rainy day entirely entertained by Ellery Queen -- A Website on Deduction.  The homepage for the site gives you most of what you need to know in order to begin your journey.  While some guidance is offered below, explore the page with your cursor.  Like a good fair play mystery the site holds lots of twists and turns, just awaiting discovery.

That promise aside, here is a sort of beginner’s guide to the site.


    “List of Suspects” takes you to detailed essays on recurring characters in the Queen library – Ellery, the Inspector, Sergeant Velie and, among others that infrequent Secretary and almost love interest, Nikki Porter. You will also find essays on Djuna, a character in early Queen mysteries (who also figures prominently in The Book Case pastiche), and lesser luminaries -- like coroner Dr. Samuel Prouty.

   “QBI” unlocks an amazing sixteen pages in which every Ellery Queen book ever written – and not just those in which Ellery appears – is discussed in detail.  Kurt even provides the history of each of the works that Dannay and Lee “farmed out” to other writers in a perhaps ill conceived attempt to keep the Queen name before the reading public.  (Some, including Frederic Dannay’s son Richard, have argued that this in fact hastened the demise of Queen since these later volumes are generally inferior to the works actually authored by Dannay and Lee.)  While perusing these essays be sure to click on the covers of the various volumes – this will take you to even more in-depth discussions of each work.

     “Kill as Directed” offers up essays on every Ellery Queen movie, comic book and television series.  Clicking through the list of episodes of the first EQ television series, which aired on the ancient and largely forgotten Dumont television network, will lead you to a select few episodes that Kurt has uncovered that can be watched, in their entirety, through the website.   The section also contains a full and affectionate guide to the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen series, a personal favorite, now (finally) available in a re-mastered DVD collection, and surely one of the finest fair play detective series to ever grace the small screen. 

     “Whodunit” contains essays chronicling the lives of Dannay and Lee.  But you will also find biographical notes on every other author who  ever authored a Queen work as a ghost writer.  These comprise those farmed-out volumes, the Ellery Queen Jr. juvenile mystery series, and some later Ellery works that, while outlined by Dannay, were written by others during the period in which Manfred B. Lee famously suffered from writer’s block.  In "Whodunit" you will also find descriptions of every Ellery Queen pastiche ever written.

     This all just scratches the surface.  And the site continues to grow.  In addition to the interview with Iiki Yusan, which prompted my SleuthSayer’s article on October 25, Kurt has also recently devoted a growing number of pages to the “West Eighty Seventh Street Irregulars,” comprised of individuals who have been active in keeping alive the Queen name.  There you will find essays by Joe Christopher, Janet Hutchings, Jon Breen and (blushing) me!

     Enough guidance!  Go forth.  And be warned – there is a lot more clicking to be done before you even get beyond the site’s introduction page.  If you are a Queen fan, or potential Queen fan, well, read and enjoy.  But even if you are not, take a look around the website and marvel at how much sheer information is imparted through this grandly designed portal.


David Dean, right, with his Readers' Choice award.  (Runner-up on left)
A note to Tuesday readers -- as you may have noticed, there has been a little bit of disarray getting our Tuesday rotation of authors up and running.  For that reason you have had me lurking around here for several weeks in a row.  Next week, however, we welcome aboard a new SleuthSayer -- David Dean.  

David is a well known author of mystery stories, who will doubtless offer up his own introduction next week.  I have some (grudging) praise that I will proffer first, however.  David's short story Ibrahim's Eyes came in first place in the 2007 EQMM Readers Choice survey, thereby edging out -- by one vote -- The Book Case, which placed second.   Welcome, David!