Showing posts sorted by relevance for query art of deduction. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query art of deduction. Sort by date Show all posts

21 May 2013

On Holiday . . . And the Pastiche, Revisited


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.

20 September 2011

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be . . . An Introduction


            Introductions, awkward always, remind me of the opening lines of Emily Dickinson’s poem:  I’m nobody, who are you?  Are you nobody too?  While I am in august company on SleuthSayers, I am still pretty new to this game.

            I came to fiction writing later in life, near the end of my stint as a Deputy Assistant General Counsel for Litigation at the U.S. Department of Transportation.  There I wrote and (even more) edited the writings of others for over twenty years.  But those writings were not narratives, worse still, they were legal briefs!  I left all of that behind when I retired in 2009.  Since then I list my occupation as “recovering attorney.”

            Although I have some stories “making the rounds,” and others solidifying in outline form on the hard drive of my lap top, my published mystery fiction (as of this writing) numbers two stories.  “The Book Case,” EQMM May, 2007, was written with the assistance of Kurt Sercu, proprietor of “Ellery Queen, a Website of Deduction.”  (More on Kurt and his great website another week.) The story won second place in the 2007 EQMM Readers’ Award competition (missing first place by one vote) and was nominated for the 2007 Barry Award for best short story.  “The Mad Hatter’s Riddle,” a prequel of sorts, was published in the September/October 2009 issue of EQMM.  Both stories are pastiches, tributes if you will, to a character with whom I literally (pun intended) grew up – Ellery Queen. 

            In a November 2010 column in Criminal Brief, James Lincoln Warren, during the course of commenting on his own efforts to write a Nero Wolfe tribute, said this of my stories:

But is it really a good idea to write these tributes, to put one’s own spin on someone else’s idea?
Well, in the case of Dale Andrews, the answer is a resounding yes, because if he didn’t write an Ellery story or two, he probably wouldn’t have published anything at all in terms of fiction, and the stories are very good. 

I love the reference, and not because it is one of the rare comments addressing my writing.  Rather, I love it because it is quintessential James.  It is a compliment surrounding a cold, hard truth.   For he is correct – at least at this stage my fiction is comprised solely of pastiches.

Ellery Queen --  Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay
            As I pointed out some years back in a guest column I wrote for Criminal Brief, if you Google “pastiche” looking for a definition, the first one you will find is this: “a work of art that intentionally imitates other works, often to ridicule or satire.” You might guess, if you have been following this, that the definition I will offer up instead is one penned originally by Frederic Dannay, writing as Ellery Queen. Dannay wrote that “a pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.” The readily apparent difference between the two definitions is that the former includes the parody – since it invites “ridicule or satire.” The latter, I would argue, correctly excludes both.

            My belief is that you have to approach characters created by other authors with reverence and with care.  My own rule for writing pastiches is also the basic cardinal principle for the practice of medicine: “first, do no harm.” To me this means that the protagonist who enters at the beginning of the story, and the one who emerges at the end, should be recognizable as the protagonist that you, the reader, expected.  Liberties can be taken, and I have done so in my stories, but it seems to me the author must always ask whether each of those liberties should be taken.  Constrained by Dannay’s definition, the writing style, the characters, and the plotting should, to the extent possible, emulate the original. As such, a strict pastiche is an homage, or as James Lincoln Warren notes in his aforementioned article, a tribute.  The pastiche, or tribute, is therefore a brittle form that calls for a deferential approach.

By contrast, liberties are taken regularly with Sherlock Holmes (a favorite subject of imitation since the Conan Doyle stories are now in the public domain).  Some of these I cannot read, and certainly would not write.  I remember as a teenager trying to read a Sherlock Holmes story that ultimately cast Holmes as Jack the Ripper and ended with Watson killing him.  I hurled the book across the living room and only picked it up again to deposit it in the trash.  Harm had clearly been done.

Benedict Cumberbatch as BBC's Holmes?
Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson?
Other transformations of Holmes are more difficult, perhaps, to judge.  Should Holmes be relegated to the role of secondary character to his “wife” (who isn’t even Irene Adler!) as Laurie King envisions the character in her very popular Mary Russell mysteries?  And what about the new BBC series, which cuts and pastes Holmes into 21st century London, relying on blackberries and laptops?  Inevitably it is up to the writers of pastiches to determine how far the rubber band can be stretched, and then up to the reader (or viewer) to determine whether the rubber band has, in fact, been snapped.

Jennifer Garner as Miss Marple??
            A new battle is currently brewing concerning the further adventures, if you will, of Agatha Christie’s timeless sleuth Miss Marple.  Christie (famously) did not like the portrayal of her character as envisioned by Margaret Rutherford in the 1950s. She reportedly complained in one letter: “[w]hy don’t they just invent a new character? Then they can have their cheap fun and leave me and my creations alone.”  One can only suspect the reaction Dame Christy might have to recently announced plans by Disney to cast Jeniffer Garner as a re-invented young, hip and sexy Miss Marple.  Seems to me harm may well ensue!

With Holmes there is no one to object when things go too far (as in the case of Holmes as the Ripper) since copyright protections have long since expired.  Recognizable or not, Holmes and Watson are now afoot in the public domain; not yet the case for Christie or Queen. 
 
 Thus, with Ellery even if I did not follow to the best of my ability the constraint of “doing no harm,” that constraint could nevertheless be imposed externally since each pastiche featuring Ellery as a character – whether by me, by Jon Breen, or by the late and truly lamented Ed Hoch –  must be read and approved by the surviving children of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee before it is allowed to see print.  I did not include Francis Nevins, author of “Open Letter to Survivors,” surely one of the greatest Ellery pastiches of all time, in this list since Nevins never explicitly identifies his detective as Ellery.  I suspect, however, that that story also only saw print after Frederic Dannay, then still very much with us, gave it his seal of approval.

So much for this Tuesday.  What to expect in future weeks?  Well, I like Golden Age mysteries, whodunits that are "fair play" detective stories.  I also like to discuss how everyday events (and funny mistakes) can be re-cycled into ideas for stories and clues.  However, I am not certain exactly where Tuesdays are headed since I have yet to hear anything from my partner in crime (fiction) TBA who, I am sure, is “TB” to his or her friends.  I’d certainly like to hear from him or her by next week since I didn’t sign on to be the only “weekly victim” in this particular whodunit!

16 July 2021

A Sherlock Holmes Canon for Kids


In the summer before the pandemic, my wife and I went to a local minor league game with another couple and their three kids. When the youngest daughter, who was barely ten back then, announced she wanted to sit near good ol’ Joe, I thought nothing of it. Like Archie Goodwin, I am convinced that dogs and children find me irresistible. It wasn’t long before she spotted me paging through an ebook on my device.

“What are you reading?

“A book.”

“What kind of book?”

“Uh, it’s a Sherlock Holmes story.”

“Really? Is it a mystery?”

“Well, yeah—they’re all mysteries.”

“What’s the story? Can you tell me? Because, you see…” she said, her voice rising, “I like MURDER!”

One of the guys sitting in front of us—a total bro in sunglasses, Croakies, and a 20-ounce microbrew sloshing away in a flimsy paper cup—whirled around. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but this conversation suddenly got very interesting!”

Which was a hoot.

Except I didn’t quite know how to quickly summarize the plot of the Holmes tale I was reading in language suitable for a child. Especially someone else’s child. If the tale had been the Red-Headed League, for example, I might have focused my description on the strangeness of hiring gingers to copy the encyclopedia. Or, if it was the story of Silver Blaze, I would have treated her to Holmes’s deductions regarding the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

But this story, the Crooked Man, if I remember correctly, was a little too adult. Sexual jealousy and spousal manipulation is not something you want to delve into with a kid unless you’ve got parental consent forms filled out in triplicate. I was not going there. Instead, my little friend and I talked about about Holmes and Watson and sweet, sweet murder in the abstract.

Many of us grew up reading those stories. I loved them, but I also remember that many of them went over my head because I didn’t have the maturity to understand what these grown-ups were yammering on about. When you couple that with archaic language, mores, customs and behaviors, it’s not hard to see that the best Holmes for kids may well be cherry-picked Holmes.

Since I’m not going to be able to do that for everyone’s kid, I’ve compiled the following list of children’s book series that I think would make good introductions to the Canon. Understand: I don’t propose these as a substitute for Canonical Holmes. Rather, I see them as a bridge to Holmes.

I recently read the first books of all the series I mention here. Incredibly, all of them are/were written by American authors. 

Two caveats: 
* The recommended age ranges are the suggestions of the publishers, not me. The child you have in mind may read at a higher or lower level. 

* If you’re buying for birthday or holidays, keep in mind that many of these books are available in boxed sets. It might be smarter to splurge on the set.


The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg (The Great Shelby Holmes Series, Bloomsbury, $7.99).

John Watson is an 11-year-old Black kid who has just moved with his mom to New York City for the first time, after years of growing up on US Army posts. John, a budding writer, is starved for friends in his new city. (John’s parents are divorced, and his dad is bad about calling or visiting.) Their landlady Mrs. Hudson introduces John to the strange 9-year-old girl who lives across the hall of their Harlem apartment building, in apartment 221B. 

Within seconds of meeting the Watsons, this girl deduces that John’s mom is a doctor who sustained a hip injury while serving in Afghanistan. The girl, of course, is the brilliant, titular Shelby Holmes, who has made a name for herself cracking cases in her Harlem neighborhood, befriending the local shopkeepers and bookies, and irritating Detective Lestrade of the NYPD. 

The plots of these charming series, currently in its fourth book, are loosely inspired by the original Holmes stories, and feature kids of all races and economic backgrounds. Illustrations here and there break up the text.

Since the character names are drawn so directly from the Canon, readers have to pretend that the original Sherlock and Dr. Watson never existed, since people would be referencing them any time they met our heroes. 

But I assure you that as soon as I learned that Shelby has a smarter, lazy brother named Michael, that she was studying violin in school, and that she has for a pet an English bulldog named Sir Arthur, I was thinking, “Sherlock who?” Ages 8-12 years.


Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus/Cathy Hapka (The Great Mouse Detective series, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, $5.99).

I adored the first two books of this series when I was a kid. The first one still holds up. 

Basil, a mouse who lives in the basement at 221B Baker Street, learns deductive techniques by eavesdropping on the great sleuth himself. Basil’s adventures are narrated by his mouse companion, Dr. David Q. Dawson. Together, the two battle crime in a Victorian “underworld” teeming with vicious cats, rats, and other threatening creatures. 

The first Basil title was published in 1958, and inspired the 1986 Disney film, The Great Mouse Detective. Eve Titus, who conceived and wrote the first five books, died in 2002. The series—now eight books strong—was continued by Cathy Hapka. It warms my heart to see that the first five titles retain the original art by the late Paul Galdone. Really fun. Ages 6-9.
Basil in a Box!



The 100-Year-Old Secret, by Tracy Barrett (The Sherlock Files series, Macmillan/Square Fish, $6.99).

Growing up in 21st Century Florida, 12-year-old Xena and her 10-year-old brother Xander play an unusual game. They study strangers and deduce their occupations based on clues gleaned from these people’s manner of dress and behavior. They’ve learned how to play the Game from their father, whose family has apparently “played” it for generations. 

But when Dad, whose name just happens to be Mr. Holmes, is transferred to London for a year, the children discover the shocking truth: they are the great-great-great-grandchildren of a certain violin-playing denizen of Baker Street. When Dad’s elderly Aunt Mary Watson presents them with a handwritten notebook of Sherlock’s unsolved cases that the Watson descendants have carefully preserved for a century, the children become embroiled in the mystery of a precious stolen painting. It seems that Sherlock abandoned this case, as he cryptically notes in his casebook, “to pursue intriguing case of lion’s mane.” 

Four books thus far in this series. They are much shorter than the Shelby Holmes books above, but have no illustrations. Ages 8-12.


The Case of the Missing Marquess, by Nancy Springer (Enola Holmes Mystery series, Puffin Books, $7.99).

Springer’s knack for telling detail and research give us a marvelous rendering of Victorian England and the plight of women, young and old, during that period. 

Her heroine, Enola, is Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger sister. In the first book, Enola awakes the morning of her 14th birthday to discover that her mother—the only surviving Holmes parent—has disappeared. Wonderful bits of deduction, code-breaking, and the use of the language of flowers throughout the first book. 

This series is the basis of the hit 2020 Netflix film, which as you might know attracted some bad attention from the Doyle estate for giving Sherlock “too many feelings,” as one journalist cheekily put it. (The parties settled out of court.) 

I’ll talk about the film in a future post. Spoiler alert: I loved it. Solid family entertainment, though its plot departs significantly from the text of the first book. A second film is in the works, but get those kids reading the series now.

Short books, with no illustrations. PRH/Puffin pubs the first six books in the series; Macmillan pubs the seventh next month. Ages 8-12.


* * *

See you in three weeks!

Joe

11 December 2014

The 8th of November, 1951


    Sometimes when I settle down in the evening in front of the television I think back to the origins of this strange little device that we have welcomed into our homes over the past 65 or more years.

    Television actually got its start even earlier, in the 1920’s, and for several years what was the first television station sending out commercial broadcasts, WGY – broadcasting out of a General Electric plant in Schenectady, New York -- contented itself with showing Felix the Cat riding around on a turntable for two hours a day.  But regular commercial broadcasting likely dates from 1948, the year that Texaco Star Theater starring Milton Berle became the first “must see” TV.

    The early years of television saw an avalanche of new programming hit the airwaves, some original series and some transplanted from the about-to-be-supplanted radio airwaves.  Mysteries were a staple of radio and many moved readily to this new medium as well.  Included in this rush to offer televised entertainment were three different series featuring my personal favorite, Ellery Queen, making the jump from radio.  Ellery Queen series variously aired on the old Dumont network, as well as on ABC and NBC.  These early television attempts at conquering the whodunit were a far cry from NBC’s 1975 Ellery Queen series that graced the Thursday and then Sunday night schedule for one short year.  The 1975 series is now available in a great DVD collection, but most of these early Queen televised adventures are now lost to us – they were either performed live, or on lost kinescope tapes.  You can read about them, and their radio predecessors, either in Francis Nevins magnum opus Ellery Queen:  The Art of Detection, or on Kurt Sercu's website Ellery Queen:  A Website on Deduction.  But watching those early shows, that's another matter.  Well, maybe . . . .  There are always exceptions, bits of the past lurking out there ready to be discovered (or re-discovered) by the intrepid detective.

    So step with me, now, into Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine, as we set the dial for November 8, 1951.  When we get there, get comfy on the couch, or on the floor with a pillow.  Pull the popcorn bowl up close.  All eyes on that magnificent 9 inch black and white screen as we eagerly await tonight’s Ellery Queen adventure -- “Murder to Music.”




Note that Dale Andrews returns to SleuthSayers the last Sunday of the month, commencing 25 January 2015.