Showing posts with label Arthur Vidro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arthur Vidro. Show all posts

17 January 2016

Old-Time Detection: Best Mystery Writers

Old-Time Detection: The Catalyst Club
featuring Arthur Vidro

I’ve been pestering Arthur Vidro to submit an article ever since he was kind enough to send me a copy of Old-Time Detection, which I read with my feet propped up in the waiting area of an old-time tire repair shop. Before me, Dale Andrews not only invited Arthur, but has written about him more than once.

Arthur lives in Claremont which, as Dale has noted, is the pattern for Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville. His address is on… Ellery Street.

Arthur hand-publishes
Old-Time Detection three times a year, a labor of love. As you might surmise, OTD eschews many of our modern means of publishing, but then its focus is not of this century. It harks back to when detectives used deduction and ratiocination rather than rely on electronic surveillance and CSI labs. That word ‘ratiocination’… I learned its definition as a kid reading golden age mysteries. When has anyone read that word in a novel in the past half century?

The following originally appeared in the Autumn 2008 issue of Old-Time Detection. [Mr. Vidro’s notes appear in brackets.]

For more information about subscribing, contact Arthur at oldtimedetection(at)netzero(dot)net

— Leigh Lundin

Anthony Boucher's 1951 List of 44
[42 novelists plus 2 short-story writers]
by Anthony Boucher
annotated by Arthur Vidro

    In June 1951, Ellery Queen asked his fellow crime writers:
“Would you care to nominate the ten best living detective-story writers? “For your convenience, why not use the back of this letter, and the stamped, addressed envelope enclosed.”
— Fred Dannay [of the Ellery Queen collaboration]
    Probably the most thorough reply to Fred Dannay's request for a top ten list came from mystery writer and critic Anthony Boucher. His response merits being quoted in full. The names he cites, by his merely citing them, give 21st century readers a dazzling roster of worthy authors to read. I don't know how much time Boucher spent in crafting his reply, but clearly he was enjoying himself; this was no mere annoying task for him, but a challenge he tackled with enthusiasm.
    Boucher's reply, from Berkeley, California, was among the earliest received; it was dated June 14, 1951 and typed on the letterhead of the Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, which was edited by Boucher and published by Spivak:
Dear Fred,

    You're a menace!
    You know I take my responsibilities seriously and can't just go jotting ten names down on the back of a letter – and you also know I never can resist such queries… and there goes a large chunk of F&SF's working day. Spivak should sue you.
    My list of ten is not just living writers – it's contemporary practicing professionals, not including those who happen to be alive but are not actively important; order is alphabetical:
Nicholas Blake
John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson
Agatha Christie
Erle Stanley Gardner / A.A. Fair
Michael Innes
Ngaio Marsh
Ellery Queen / Barnaby Ross
Georges Simenon
Josephine Tey
Cornell Woolrich / William Irish / George Hopley
    A major criterion in selection was not only quality, but individuality and distinction.
    [Always the completist, Boucher insisted on including each author's known pseudonyms – in Woolrich's case, more than one pseudonym. He also felt obliged to bestow honor upon top writers who no longer were adding much to their prior accomplishments.]
    Here's a supplementary list of twelve living writers of the first rank who have stopped writing (at least in our field) or made only a few insignificant contributions in recent years:
Eric Ambler
E.C. Bentley
Anthony Berkeley / Francis Iles
Raymond Chandler
Freeman Wills Crofts
Graham Greene
Dashiell Hammett
Ronald A. Knox
Philip MacDonald
A.E.W. Mason
Craig Rice
Dorothy L. Sayers
    These lists are, incidentally, based primarily on the novel – thus excluding such figures as T.S. Stribling, who's written only shorts, or Roy Vickers, whose novels are usually ghastly. [Vickers won much acclaim for his Department of Dead Ends police investigative short stories. Stribling, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel-length fiction, is well worth seeking out for his short stories featuring criminologist Dr. Henry Poggioli – some of which are in print, courtesy of Crippen & Landru Publishers.]
    You might also be interested in the list of also-rans. These are the people who only barely got squeezed off the first list:
Margery Allingham
Charlotte Armstrong
Manning Coles
Edmund Crispin
Elizabeth Daly
Cyril Hare
Matthew Head
H.F. Heard
Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
the Lockridges
Helen McCloy
John Ross Macdonald
Margaret Millar
Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin
Elliot Paul
Evelyn Piper
Mabel Seeley
Rex Stout
Lawrence Treat
Arthur W. Upfield
    [John Ross Macdonald would later become more famous as Ross Macdonald. The Lockridges refers to the husband/wife mystery writing team of Richard and Frances Lockridge.]
    Do keep me posted and Tell Me All about this poll.
    TIMES has decided to give me the whole mystery-review column for a four-month trial period starting July 1. I'll also be covering the science fiction field for the TRIB (as H.H. Holmes) … which is handy because I have to read all that for F&SF's reviewing column anyway.
    [TIMES and TRIB refer to the newspapers The New York Times and probably the New York Herald Tribune. H.H. Holmes was a pseudonym Boucher also used on two of his mystery novels, Nine Times Nine and Rocket to the Morgue.]
    It took me a while (complicated by commuting to Los Angeles for the Hammett trial) to get over the illness with which I so spectacularly left New York; and I'm only gradually getting untangled and back to normal operations. I'll try to write you a proper letter soon – meanwhile please proffer my warmest devotion to Hilda.


    Fred Dannay was married to Hilda Wisenthal from 1947 until her death in 1972. Boucher did not consider this list of authors to be a full-fledged letter, so he promises to provide one soon; he corresponded frequently with Fred Dannay. Dashiell Hammett in 1951 was convicted of contempt of court for which he served five months in jail. Boucher's “Criminals at Large” column in The New York Times would run from 1951 until his death in 1968.

Leigh again with a historical note:
Old-Time Detection: T.S. Stribling
The trial referred to grew out of the McCarthy hearings in which Congress demanded Dashiell Hammett brand friends as communists. The thought police ploy was nasty: If a respondent knew no communists or had the fortitude to not dime out acquaintances with different beliefs, the result was the same: imprisonment for contempt of court.

Punishment of six months in a federal prison wasn’t sufficient: Hammett was blacklisted, his radio program cancelled, his books taken out of print, and his financial resources drained by government fines and legal fees.
Subscribe to Old-Time Detection ($18US per year, slightly higher elsewhere) by writing Arthur at  oldtimedetection(at)netzero(dot)net

27 September 2015

Queen's Quorum

[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 
                                                          17 April 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!)