Showing posts with label Manfred B. Lee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Manfred B. Lee. Show all posts

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!

15 January 2013

Numbers

by Dale C. Andrews

    If all goes according to schedule, the day before this piece posts we will have flown back to Washington, D.C. from the Caribbean, where we will have spent two days in St. Maarten and then one week aboard Sagitta, a tall ship run by some long time friends of ours at Island Windjammers.  So, while I am not one to plan far ahead with my SleuthSayers articles foresight is nevertheless called for here.

    I’m also not usually inclined to “re-gift” past columns, but I am going to make an exception there, also.

    Today, January 15, is the day after my younger brother Graham’s 60th birthday.  Attaining that age can be a rather shocking experience (although we should continue to remind ourselves that these “big” years are dictated only by the number of fingers we have on two hands.)  In wishing Graham a happy 60th I thought I would resurrect an article I did for Criminal Briefs celebrating, among other things, the birthday of Manfred B. Lee, one half of the team that gave us Ellery Queen.  As my friend Mike Nevins (who’s new retrospective on Lee and Dannay, Ellery Queen:  The Art of Detection, will be the subject of a column here in a couple weeks) has often observed, Lee can easily become the forgotten member of the Ellery Queen team because he had the unfortunate luck to die early.

   So, for Lee, for his birthday, for birthdays in general, for the somber air that often accompanies birthdays that are divisible by ten, and for my brother Graham, I resurrect the following article, which posted on Criminal Briefs just over four years ago, under the title:

January 11, 2009 – A Birthday Essay

    This year [i.e., 2009 when the article was written], as in many previous years, over the holiday season I re-read Ellery Queen’s The Finishing Stroke. As those of you who have read the novel already know, while The Finishing Stroke was written in 1957, the narrative is presented in three books and spans three different periods. The story principally takes place in “Book Two,” over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday in 1929, but it begins with “Book One,” set in 1905, and ends with “Book Three,” set in 1957. The three books comprising the story therefore span much of the lives of Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay, who created Ellery Queen.

    Like many Queen novels, The Finishing Stroke is best read on many levels. There are clues that have to do with the mystery at hand, but there are also clues that have to do with other things altogether. Expanding on this premise, it is a good rule of thumb in a Queen novel for the reader never to let a referenced date slide by without pausing to ponder whether the date has a hidden significance. A good example of this appears in the early pages of Book One of The Finishing Stroke, where we learn that the father of a central character died 104 years ago on this very date – January 11, 1905.

Doing the Numbers

    While an idle reader might brush past this, there is a significance to the date – on January 11, 1905, Manfred B. Lee, one half of the Ellery Queen writing team, was born. The other half of the Queen partnership, Frederic Dannay, was also born in 1905, but in the month of October. While Dannay remains, perhaps, the better known of the pair, it is Lee, the writer half of the collaboration, who I celebrate today, on what would have been his 104th birthday.

    Although Queen returned with a final series of books in the 1960s, it is common knowledge that The Finishing Stroke, the thirtieth Queen tome, originally was intended by Lee and Dannay to be the final Ellery Queen mystery. As such, it is a particularly interesting work, which can be read as a culmination of the series, at least as of 1957. The book spans the life of Ellery as well as his creators, and is, in many respects, a retrospective of Ellery Queen both as detective and as writer.

    As noted, The Finishing Stroke opens in 1905, the year that Lee and Dannay were born, but its narrative focuses on the year in which the first Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery was published. However this writing is hardly early Queen. Rather, The Finishing Stroke evidences a tight approach honed over many years, and in fact pokes fun at the early somewhat foppish Ellery and at the early more pompous Queen narrative style. This evidences a good deal of self awareness and self-deprecation on the part of both Lee and Dannay. While The Roman Hat Mystery may have opened the series with a flourish by winning a prize, it is the earliest of the Queen novels, and as such it simply can’t hold a candle to The Finishing Stroke and other late Queen works. It has been said that an author must either move forward or backward – staying the course is not an option. Ellery Queen’s novels got better and better as the series progressed.

Prior Significance

    In order to understand and appreciate the evolution of Ellery Queen’s writing, a little bit of detective work is required of us. We know the basics of how the Queen collaboration worked and evolved. We know, for example, that Dannay, in many respects, was the more public face of the Ellery Queen partnership. He performed the editorial tasks at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and, we are told, more readily assumed the role of public persona. But while Dannay crafted the intricate outlines for the Ellery Queen novels and stories, we also know that it was Manfred B. Lee who in fact provided the written words, who crafted the Queen novels and stories, and whose writing skills continued to evolve over the decades.

    Mike Nevins observed at the Ellery Queen Centenary hosted by EQMM in 2005 that Dannay’s more outgoing nature – together with the unfortunate fact that Lee died early, in 1971, while Dannay lived on until 1982 – may have lessened the world’s perception of Lee’s importance to the partnership. But the simple fact remains that when Lee, who began his life on this date in 1905, died of a heart attack on the dressing room floor of his Roxbury, Connecticut home on April 3, 1971, Queen also died. After Lee’s death, there would be no more words.

Writing

    What do we know of Manfred Lee’s approach to wordsmithing? Rand Lee, in his essay “The Temple of his Words: Growing up with Ellery Queen,” which comprises one chapter of the Queen centenary volume The Tragedy of Errors, offers an invaluable insight into his father’s approach. Rand lists Lee’s “rules for budding authors” as follows:
1.    Read everything you can lay your hands on.
2.    Write what you know.
3.    Edit ruthlessly.
4.    Don’t bother with writing courses. You learn to write by writing.
Rand also expands on rule (3). “The editing advice Dad gave me was explicit, and I still try to follow it, however imperfectly: When you finish your first draft of a story, go back and cross out every adjective and adverb. Then put in only those adjectives and adverbs you feel you really need.”

    Lee’s writing, by his own admission, continued to evolve and mature. Rand writes that in his father’s view, the Queen novel Halfway House “marked the transition from his and [Dannay’s] youthful excesses to their first hint of writing maturity.” Rand also notes that his father, with some embarrassment, tried to dissuade his then-young son from reading the early Queen works, remarking that they were not all that good. This, again, is reflective of the fact that Ellery Queen’s writing never stood still – it always evolved. As a Queen fan, it is for me the second half of the Queen library – the books following the aptly-named Halfway House – that are the gems of the series. The writing is spare, the plotting is ingenious, and the cluing is scrupulously fair.

Collaboration

    Collaboration is always a difficult task, and by all accounts the Ellery Queen partnership was a contentious one. Had the partnership been a marriage, it would have been a rocky, yet enduring marriage. Lee was said to have resented the fact that his role, as the writer in the partnership, was to breathe life into the more convoluted Queen plots concocted by Dannay. The bickering between the two cousins became famous. Rand recalls in his essay that the two “had fallen into the routine of working long-distance between Connecticut and Larchmont, New York. And frequently I would pick up the extension phone to hear them arguing with one another.”

   At the Queen Centenary Symposium, Mike Nevins regaled the audience by reading the angry letters sent back and forth between the two cousins as they battled their way through drafts of various Queen novels. Jon L. Breen, in his essay “Ellery Queen,” also comprising a chapter of The Tragedy of Errors, similarly observes that a “casual reader of their correspondence would marvel that they managed to work as a team for over forty years, and might even conclude the two cousins hated each other.”

    Despite this, what is obvious to the fans of the series is that the cousins needed each other, and that but for the collaboration, however contentious, there could have been no Ellery Queen. Tellingly, when Frederic Dannay’s papers were exhibited at Columbia University’s Butler Library in 2005 to mark the Queen centenary, they contained a legal agreement, signed by Dannay and Lee, committing each of the cousins, on threat of damages, never to leave the partnership.

    Amazingly, through all their bickering, the Ellery Queen collaboration not only hit its stride early, it also continued to produce and improve for over forty years. Doubtless this success was anchored on the fact that each cousin found in the other that which he himself lacked. Rand writes that “by his own admission”, Lee “could not plot to save his life.” But, as a master of the written word, he excelled. And as already noted, when Lee was gone, so, too, was Queen: without him the writing stopped.

    This is not to say the process of writing was easy for Lee. We are told that he brooded over the fact that he wrote only mysteries, and (again, according to Rand) hoped that he could “elevate the mystery genre to the ranks of serious literature.” By all reports he battled recurring and, at times prolonged, bouts of writer’s block. But even when some later Queen novels were completed with the help of ghost writers, Lee’s hand is still apparent and integral to the crafting and editing process, and before his untimely death he returned as the writer of the final Queen volumes.

    It was perhaps because of all of this that The Finishing Stroke was to have been the final Ellery Queen mystery. Rand and others have written of how Lee wished that he could achieve success on his own and in a different genre. While this never happened, the evolution of Lee’s writing throughout the Queen series, including the volumes that eventually followed The Finishing Stroke, instead raised the mystery writing bar within the genre. Rand reminisces that “[i]n Kabbalah, God creates with Word. Words were worlds to my father.” The worlds he created he left to us in the Queen novels.

    But as I noted at the outset of this piece, Ellery Queen novels are often also about numbers. Numbers, and dates, are used cleverly to set up surprise endings, or to hint at an unsuspecting order that may lie just below the surface of perception. The significance of numbers and dates often extends beyond the plots of the books themselves. In keeping with this, it is interesting to note that from the beginning of The Finishing Stroke until its conclusion 52 years elapse, and from that date in 1957 until today, yet another 52 years have gone by.

Dates and Plums

Graham and me at the Bomba Shack beach bar in Tortola
    For my own reasons (which will yet become painfully apparent), over the last few months I watched the days march down toward this particular January 11. Now that the eleventh day of the first month of 2009 has arrived, let us celebrate Manfred B. Lee who was born 104 years ago today and who wrote the Queen novels from Frederic Dannay’s plot outlines. I offer this celebration to Lee, to his writing, and to Ellery Queen on a day that, like the reference to January 11, 1905 in The Finishing Stroke, has, at least for me, a secondary significance that has little to do with the main theme of this essay but much to do with a secondary theme and with the underlying order of things. There are only a finite number of days in the year, and birthdays therefore are often shared events. Today, for example, is my 60th.

    At the beginning of Book Three of The Finishing Stroke, Ellery tells us “with some alarm he realized that he was getting old.”

                                              *          *          *          *         *         *          *

     By way of postscript, and as a testament, once again, to the cyclical nature of time, and to the order in the universe that often defies inclusion within the definition of "random," today, January 15, 2013, it turns out, has become the birthday of our newest niece -- Taytum Grace Connor, born at 8:03 this morning.  Welcome!  Notwithstanding the foregoing, this is YOUR day!

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.