Showing posts with label Francis Nevins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Francis Nevins. Show all posts

21 May 2013

On Holiday . . . And the Pastiche, Revisited

by Dale C. Andrews

SummerSalt, Smuggler's Cove, Tortola
      I am sort of taking a flyer this week.  Things have been pretty busy around here.  My younger son, Colin, graduated from law school on Sunday and, in celebration, on Monday morning the four of us in our family -- Pat, me, Devon and Colin -- took off for the Virgin Islands, accompanied by Colin’s significant other Kyle.  We met my brother Graham and his wife Nikki in St. Thomas, ferried over to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, and on the day of this posting we are all ensconced in a rental villa, SummerSalt, situated just above Smuggler’s Cove.   Nice thing about traveling with 7 people -- renting a villa turns out cheaper than staying in a hotel!  Where are we?  well, if you have never been to Tortola, it is just across Drake’s Passage from St. John's, which was the setting for David Edgerley Gates’ last article, The Beachcomber.
        Anyway, rather than throwing something together for SleuthSayers this week I am “on holiday.” So, instead, I am posting the article I wrote last summer for Something Is Going to Happen, the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog.  The article reviews the history of Ellery Queen pastiches that have appeared in EQMM over the years, and as such, is a bit of an introduction to my next Queen pastiche, Literally Dead, which (Janet Hutchings advises) should be included in the December, January or February issue of EQMM.  You can rely on the fact that I shall keep you posted as to the exact issue!
The Misadventures of Ellery Queen
by Dale C. Andrews
        Last May 25 a new anthology of Ellery Queen stories was published.  Before stalwart Queen fans, especially those in the English speaking world, set their hopes too high, this volume, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, published by Ronso-Sya, has been released in Japan and contains stories that have been translated into Japanese.
It is worth a pause, here at the beginning, to reflect on how popular the works of Ellery Queen remain in Japan.  Iiki Yusan, the editor of the new anthology, is the president of the Ellery Queen fan club in Japan and has also authored book-length Japanese critiques of the works of Ellery Queen, including Ellery Queen, The Perfect Guide (2004) and Reviews of Ellery Queen (2010).  Unlike the United States, where it has been virtually impossible to find a newly published Ellery Queen novel or anthology, in Japan the entire Ellery Queen library is readily available in current editions.  
The Misadventures of Ellery Queen also contains no stories by the creators of Queen, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  Rather, it is comprised of Ellery Queen pastiches, that is, mysteries that have been written by other authors, myself included, who have attempted to emulate the Queen style and formula in new stories featuring Ellery.    
        It is not unusual to find popular detectives re-born in stories penned by authors other than the original creator of the character.  The classic example is Sherlock Holmes, who has lived on over the years under the supervision of a host of authors other than Arthur Conan Doyle.  Indeed, in 1944 The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by none other than Ellery Queen, collected in one volume various Holmes pastiches.  While we still do not have a definitive English language companion collection of Ellery Queen pastiches, it is fitting that notable  Queen pastiches have at least now been collected in Japan, where there is a devoted following.  

Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
        Let’s pause again here to reflect on what a pastiche is, and what it is not.  If you Google “pastiche” looking for a definition, one of the first you will find is this: “a work of art that intentionally imitates other works, often to ridicule or satire.” As seems true of a lot of internet research, to my mind the definition comes close but ultimately misses the mark.  Not surprisingly the definition I prefer is one penned originally by Frederic Dannay, writing as Ellery Queen. According to Dannay “a pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.”  The readily apparent distinction between these two definitions is that the former includes the parody – since it invites “ridicule or satire.”  In the latter, Dannay correctly excludes both.   Nothing against parodies – by all accounts Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee liked parodies as well, and many Ellery Queen send-ups have appeared in EQMM over the years.  But while the parody can easily bring forth a laugh, it is the pastiche that has the potential to tug at the heart by offering up new life to beloved literary characters who we feared were lost to us forever.  

        The pastiche, then, consistent with Frederic Dannay’s definition, requires a more structured approach than does the parody.  My own rule for constructing a pastiche is also the cardinal principle of the medical profession – “first, do no harm.”  If you are writing new stories carrying forth someone else’s character, that character should be recognizable and ring true throughout the story.

        Frederic Dannay was a huge fan of the pastiche and did much to popularize the genre.  It should therefore surprise no one that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has a long history of publishing pastiches, including salutes to Sherlock in EQMM’s annual Sherlock Holmes edition. Equally unsurprising is the fact that EQMM over the years has provided a continued life to Ellery himself in a variety of pastiches that offer new adventures featuring the magazine’s namesake. This has provided the opportunity for a number of noted mystery writers to step up to the plate.  

Francis M (Mike) Nevins
Jon L. Breen
        Francis M. Nevins, who knew Frederic Dannay well (and has, in fact, described him as the grandfather that he never had) contributed one of the earliest Ellery Queen pastiches, the classic Open Letter to Survivors (EQMM May, 1972).  In Nevins’ story the entire plot derives from the following obscure sentence that appears in the 1948 Ellery Queen novel Ten Days' Wonder:  “There was the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972 by agreement with that curious lady's executors."  In Nevins’ pastiche, which plausibly spins out the story hinted at in Ten Days’ Wonder, the young detective is never identified by name.  But it is evident that Nevins’ hero is Ellery.   Jon L. Breen has authored both parodies of Ellery Queen – his The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery" (EQMM March, 1969), featuring E. Larry Cune is an example – but has also penned true Queen pastiches, such as the Gilbert and Sullivan Clue (EQMM September, 1999), where Ellery uses his intellect to outsmart a murderer while at sea.  That same issue of EQMM, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the publication of the first  Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, also offers an Ellery Queen pastiche by Edward D. Hoch, The Circle of Ink, which features Ellery and the inspector confronted with a murder in a university setting.  In his final Ellery Queen pastiche Edward Hoch revisited one of Ellery’s favorite locales in The Wrightsville Carnival (EQMM September/October 2005), a story offered as part of the magazine’s celebration of the centenary of the births of Dannay and Lee.  
       
Ed Hoch
       In each of these stories Ellery rings true:  we encounter him as we would an old friend.  To the reader he is the same character created by Dannay and Lee.  
 It has been one of the great joys of my life that I have had the privilege to meet and visit with Mike Nevins, Jon Breen and the late Ed Hoch.  In knowing them I feel that I have known Ellery as well.  

        As to my own involvement in the quest to keep Ellery alive, The Book Case (EQMM May, 2007), written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen, a Website on Deductionfeatures an elderly Ellery solving one last case involving many characters from earlier Queen novels, including principally the 1967 mystery Face to Face.  My other contribution to the Queen pastiche library, The Mad Hatter’s Riddle (EQMM September/October, 2009), finds characters from the 1938 Queen novel The Four of Hearts, reunited, along with Ellery for the filming of an episode of the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen television series.  [And my latest pastiche, the upcoming Literally Dead, is a Wrightsville mystery, with Ellery once again engaged in a duel of wits with Wrightsville Chief of Police Anselm Newby as they each struggle to solve a locked room murder.]  

        With the exception of The Mad Hatter’s Riddle (which is premised, in part, on a poem that would lose a lot in the translation) and the then-unpublished Literally Dead, all of the foregoing Ellery Queen adventures (and more) are now available together in hardcover, at least in the Japanese market.  The rest of us just have to continue to wait and hope!

        What do each of the stories have in common, and what separates them, as pastiches, from parodies or satires?   The answer has already been suggested.  Further hints can be gleaned by examining some of the synonyms commonly used to define the word “pastiche.”  James Lincoln Warren, who has also authored pastiches, in his now-retired Criminal Brief blog often referred to this genre of fiction as “tributes.”  Another commonly used synonym for “pastiche”  is “homage.” These words, I think, help to add the requisite heart to the matter.  We who have chosen to write Ellery Queen pastiches are not parodying the Queen formula.  Perish the thought!  In fact what we do is reverential -- we are striving to emulate Queen, and thereby keep Ellery and the inspector around for just a little while longer.  Those of us who labor trying to bring back Ellery, or Sherlock, or Nero for new adventures do so because we simply can’t stand a world without them.  

         We are, after all, still in love.

29 January 2013

The Art of Detection

by Dale C. Andrews

    When I was in high school, back in the 1960s, I stumbled onto a paperback book entitled Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.  The book, which was published in 1962, was not written by Arthur Conan Doyle.  The author of this “biography" of Holmes was W.S. Baring-Gould.  As a mystery fan I immediately purchased and then devoured the volume.

   Baring-Gould, as I later found out, was a Baker’s Street Irregular who had devoted much of his life to the study of Sherlock Holmes.  Among the things that interested me about the book were “facts” set down by Baring-Gould concerning the life of Holmes that were not elsewhere reflected in the Arthur Conan Doyle canon.  To wit, Holmes, according to Baring-Gould, was born on January 6, he lived to the ripe age of 108, and in his 108th year he completed an omnibus retrospective on his own life and work, The Art of Deduction

    As I have discussed at some length previously, I am a big fan of hidden alignments that seem to pop up in the world around us, facts that square up in ways that break the boundaries of coincidence and thereby hint at an underlying order.  And we now have yet another example of exactly such an alignment. 

    According to Ellery Queen’s 1957 novel The Finishing Stroke, Queen was born in 1905, the same year that his creators Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee were born.  So this year, 2013, would be Ellery’s 108th year.  And commemorating that event Professor Francis M. Nevins, the world’s preeminent Queen scholar (and a man whose own birthday, January 6, is the same as Holmes’) has published a true magnum opus on Ellery, entitled Ellery Queen:  The Art of Detection.  

     I shared a cup of coffee with Mike Nevins in St. Louis over Christmas (well, actually he drank soda) and he laughed off all of the Holmes/Queen alignments set forth in the previous paragraphs as mere coincidence.  The most he will get from me on this is a wink and a smile.  Unwitting or not, to my mind it is kismet that is playing with us here.

    Of course, the comparisons between Holmes at 108 and Queen at the same age, and between the works of Baring-Gould and Nevins, are not perfect.  For one thing, while Holmes’ The Art of Deduction never in fact existed, Nevins’ The Art of Detection, by contrast, is wonderfully real, all 351 pages of it.  But before getting to this encyclopedic tribute to all things Queen, let’s tarry just a moment and talk about Mike. 

Mike in St. Louis, December 23, 2012
    Mike Nevins  is Professor Emeritus at St. Louis University Law School, and is a magna cum laude graduate of St. Peters College and a cum laude graduate of New York University School of Law.  For many years he taught law, specializing in copyright law, in St. Louis.  But as all Queen aficionados know, Mike’s interests run well wide of legal matters.  He has written definitive literary analyses on subjects as disparate as Cornell Woolrich and Hopalong Cassidy.  Mike has also published six novels, two collections of short stories, several books of non-fiction and has also edited more than 15 mystery anthologies and collections.  More importantly, and, luckily for us, he is, without question, one of the world’s leading authorities on Ellery Queen and the collaborative team that was Queen:  Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  Mike has twice won  Edgar Allan Poe Awards for critical works, once for an earlier study of Ellery Queen and once for his volume on Cornell Woolrich.  Mike is also the author of one of the finest Ellery Queen pastiches ever written, Open Letter to Survivors. Who better to offer the reading public the definitive analysis of the works of Ellery Queen?

    As noted above, Mike’s 1974 Royal Bloodlines has already garnered an Edgar for its treatment of the Dannay and Lee writing team.  In the introduction to The Art of Detection the basis for his new second take on the same subject is explained by Mike as follows:
I think I just heard a question.  “Hey, didn’t you do that book already, back in the Watergate era?  Well, sort of.  But as I got older I became convinced that I hadn’t done all that good a job.  Fred Dannay was the public face of Ellery Queen, and in the years after we met he became the closest to a grandfather I’ve ever known, but I never really got to know the much more private Manny Lee.  He and I had exchanged a few letters, and we met briefly at the Edgars dinner in 1970, but he died before we could meet again.  Because of his untimely death, Royal Bloodlines . . .  inadvertently gave the impression that “Ellery Queen” meant 90% Fred Dannay.  One of the most important items on my personal bucket list was to do justice to Manny.
    That concern (notwithstanding that prior Edgar award) is completely addressed and fully remedied in The Art of Detection, which painstakingly traces the lives, times and collaboration of the two cousins who invented Ellery the detective and Ellery the writer and editor.  No matter how familiar you are with Queen, you will take away new knowledge when you finish reading The Art of Detection.  

    Like Joe Goodrich’s excellent volume from earlier this year, Blood Relations, which focused on the drafting of three of the best Queen novels in the late 1940s, much of the background material in The Art of Detection, notably including the legendary feuding between Dannay and Lee, is premised on the words of Dannay and Lee themselves, as forth in their letters, which are extensively quoted throughout the new Nevins work.  Also included are correspondence between Nevins himself and Dannay, and between Lee and legendary critic and writer Anthony Boucher, who famously opined that "Ellery Queen is the American detective story," and who contributed plotting to the Ellery Queen radio shows during times that family illnesses kept Dannay from performing that task.  The resulting narrative of the lives of these two writers, much of it in their own words, and of Queen, is a wonderfully detailed portrait.

    As already noted, The Art of Detection is encyclopedic in its coverage.  Beyond biography, the reader finds detailed discussions of all of the Queen books, as well as the various ventures into other media, including  the various radio shows featuring Ellery, the (often unsatisfying) Ellery Queen movies of the 1940s, the early television series, and the 1975 NBC series featuring Jim Hutton.  Mike has even offered detailed analyses of the infamous “ghosted”  Queen paperbacks, farmed out to other authors and then edited by Lee, which were commonplace on the paperback shelves of the 1960s.  In short, there is basically nothing about Ellery that is not addressed and answered by this fine work. 

    As any Ellery Queen fan is well aware, the Queen library, at least in the U.S., has teetered on the edge of extinction over the last few years.  Near the end of his book Mike comments on this as follows:
When the author dies, the work dies.  That is almost always the reality, and certainly it’s the rule in genre fiction.  There are always a few exceptions, like Agatha Christie and Louis L’Amour, but those authors are rarae aves.  I took it for granted that Ellery Queen was one (or two) of them.  I never thought I’d live to see the falling off into near oblivion of what had been a household name for more than a decade before I was born and for at least the first thirty years of my life.
    It is certainly true that it takes an historical perspective such as that provided by The Art of Detection to fully appreciate how much a part of mystery fiction Ellery was in the past, and how diminished his role is today.  But hopefully there is still time and space for resurgence.  Certainly excellent works such as The Art of Detection and Blood Relations, each of which has been offered to the reading public in the course of the past year, and Jeffrey Marks’ projected biography of Dannay and Lee, which should be out in 2015, contribute toward resurrecting the works of Queen.

    And speaking of kismet, another real indication of renewed interest in the works of Ellery Queen is evident on the very day this article is being posted.  Today, January 29, Calamity Town, a new play written by Joe Goodrich and based on the 1942 Queen novel that first introduced the upper New York State town of Wrightsville, has a "first reading" performance at the New Dramatists playhouse on West 44th Street in New York City.  Let's hope this is just the beginning for this latest Queen opus by Joe.

   There is also a new Ellery Queen pastiche (modesty compels me to not include the author in the foregoing list) coming out in EQMM sometime in the coming year.  And particularly eagerly awaited is the imminent re-issuance of 23 original titles in the Ellery Queen library, as reported by Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM, in her editorial note following publication of Mike Nevin’s article End Time for Ellery? In the January 2013 issue of EQMM.  As Janet observed there, thanks to efforts such as Mike’s “Ellery Queen may soon enjoy a renaissance.”

    The once and future Queen?