| And on the Eighth Day by Ellery Queen,|
Last spring I received a completely unexpected email asking for permission to publish The Book Case in a new anthology. The volume is to be titled The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, and will include a number of Ellery Queen pastiches including, in addition to The Book Case, Mike Nevin’s classic Queen pastiche Open Letter to Survivors.
There is sort of a surprise ending to all of this, but like most surprise endings if you think about it that revelation should have been anticipated: The anthology will be published in Japan. The stories will all be translated into Japanese.
When last I posted on SleuthSayers it was back in September, and I began by mentioning my lunch with Mike Nevins, emeritus professor of Law at St. Louis University Law School and noted mystery writer, critic and author of the fore-mentioned Open Letter to Survivors. As mentioned then, Mike and I spent a good deal of time reminiscing about the writings of John D. MacDonald. As our conversation turned to the growing lack of availability of MacDonald mysteries, even the Travis McGee series, Mike observed that with the exception of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle publication of a mystery writer’s work usually begins to disappear shortly after the author’s own demise. I mentioned the complete lack of newly-published Ellery Queen mysteries in the United States and Mike shook his head dolefully and cautioned me not to expect any turn-around.
Not in the United States, that is.
But surprisingly the taste among readers for newly-published Golden Age mysteries varies drastically around the world. My Belgian friend and sometimes collaborator Kurt Sercu, in his website Ellery Queen, a Website on Deduction, has noted that there have been new editions of Ellery Queen mysteries published in Russia, Spain and Italy during the last decade. But the best exemplar of this is Japan, where the Golden Age fair play whodunit is alive and well, and where Ellery thrives.
First, by way of amazing statistics, Iiki estimated during the course of the interview that the percentage of books in print for Golden Age mystery writers in Japan looks something like this:
Agatha Christie: 90-100%
Ellery Queen: 80-90%
John Dickson Carr: 60-70%
Rex Stout: 10-20%
While I do not know the relevant percentages in the United States, I do know that there are virtually no Ellery Queen works currently in print, and if you gave me $5.00 and required me to bet with it my wager would be that there are substantially more Rex Stout volumes available in the United States than there are Queen mysteries. So what augurs a different result in Japan? Why is Agatha Christie still popular in the United States while Ellery Queen has virtually disappeared? Apparently there is something about fair play detective stories, and particularly those of Queen, that continues to resonate in Japan in a way that these stories no longer call out to the reading public in the United States.
|Frederic Dannay and Ed Hoch|
Modern detective stories written by Japanese writers also continue to reflect the works of Queen. In his on-line article Ellery Queen is Alive and Well and Living in Japan author Ho-Ling Wong reports that the new wave of fair play whodunits in Japan is referred to as the "new orthodox" detective story -- a story that hearkens back to Golden Age mysteries but does so by incorporating the fair play formula into modern settings. And, as Ho-Ling Wong references, Ellery Queen's presence continues in these works.
Other popular writers of the New Orthodox School are Norizuki Rintarō and Alice Arisugawa. Both writers are strongly influenced by Ellery Queen. Both of them have named their protagonists after themselves, like their great example. Both writers often insert a Challenge to the Reader in their stories. As one can derive from his first name, Arisugawa often delves into imagery of Alice in Wonderland, just like Ellery Queen, while Norizuki Rintarō’s characters mimic Ellery Queen almost exactly. In fact, his protagonist is a writer, also called Norizuki Rintarō, who helps his father, a police inspector, mirroring the Ellery Queen – Inspector Queen dynamic.
Ellery, the slim handsome young man says:
To me, detective fiction is a kind of intellectual game. A logical game that gives readers sensations about detectives or authors. These are not to be ranked high or low. So I don't want the once popular “social sect” realism. Female employee murdered in a deluxe suite room; criminal police's tireless investigation eventually brings in the murdering boss-cum-boyfriend--All cliché. Political scandals of corruption and ineptness; tragedies of distortion of modern society; these are also out of date. The most appropriate materials for detective fiction, whether accused untimely or not, are famous detectives, grand mansions, suspicious residents, bloody murders, puzzling situation, earth-shattering schemes . . . . Made up things are even better. The point is to enjoy the pleasure in the world of reasoning. But intellectual prerequisites must be completely met.
All of this makes me wish that I could read Japanese! Be sure to check Kurt’s website in the next week or so for the full interview with Iiki.
(Clip art courtesy of Kurt Sercu and Ellery Queen: a Website on Deduction except as noted.)