Showing posts with label Douglas Greene. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Douglas Greene. 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!)