With the Stroke of a Pen

"'Come, we shall have some fun now!' thought Alice. 'I'm glad they've begun asking riddles — I believe I can guess that,' she added aloud.
'Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?' said the March Hare.
'Exactly so,' said Alice."
- Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
The May issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine from 2007 contains an Ellery Queen pastiche from the hands of two collaborating fans, Dale C. Andrews and Kurt Sercu, entitled  "The Book Case," in which a near centenarian Ellery attempts to curtail the ravages of time by solving sudoka puzzles and the occasional, locally committed homicide.

Ellery Queen was drawn out of retirement in “The Book Case” when a shady collector of rare, hardcover mystery novels was found murdered in his study, but in his death throws was able to leave the police a clue by sweeping a row of Ellery Queen novels from one of the shelves – implicating the children of the late Djuna. The story works perfectly as a final salute to the Ellery Queen legacy similarly to Charles Ardai's pastiche "The Last Story," from The Return of the Black Widowers (2003), but it was only the first adventure for this twenty-first century incarnation of EQ. In September/October 2009, "The Mad Hatter Riddle" appeared and has Ellery Queen as a consultant on the set of the 1975 TV-series Ellery Queen! Unfortunately, that's a story I missed, but I have just read the third installment, "Literally Dead," which inclusion would not have shamed Queen's Full (1965) – a collection of original short stories by Dannay and Lee.

A native of Wrightsville, a twin town of Cabot Cove, Jennifer Rothkopf taught English at the local high-school and worked on her literary career with kids' verses, however, it was the publication of The Lemon Sand of Abrillion that put her name among the other stars of fantasy fiction. The five succeeding chronicles also made Rothkopf financially independent, but, after the seventh one, The Black Night of Scythallon, she decides that Jonathan Dellerworth's journay has come to an end. Literally and permanently! Rothkopf rescinds the deal she was negotiating to farm out the character and her determination looks to be Dellerworth's Waterloo Reichenbach.

Not long thereafter, Chief Anselm Newby is tasked with finding Jennifer Rothkopf's murderer and, as to be expected, there's a dying message: a colored napkin was pinned to a piece of fruit with a paring knife. But that isn't even the most puzzling aspect of the murder. The doors were locked from the inside and could only be locked from the inside with the sole key fastened to a bracelet, which still clutched to Rothkopf's wrist, and the windows were bare of any traces of tampering.

As the consulted Ellery Queen remarked, "I have encountered more than my share of dying messages over the years, but locked rooms are a bit of a rarity."

However, Queen shows more interest for the locked room angle than Newby does, because he expects to get the answer from the murderer, but it's Queen who, naturally, gets it right – even though the basic gist of the locked room trick is older than EQ himself at this point. Still, it was nicely presented and well clued, as were all three major aspects of this story (whodunit, locked room and dying clue). There were clues for all of them, but only in the EQ universe can a victim, seconds before dying, have all the materials within reach to create a perfectly logical, if often needlessly cryptic, clue for the police. Personally, I would've let Rothkopf (who was, by the way, found slumped over her desk) cradle those three items in an enclosing embrace, which would've given the clue a double meaning (if you have read the story, you should know what I mean), but that's nitpicking from my side. 

Generally, I'm not a fan of pastiches and I echo Stout's sentiment to "let them roll their own," but it's a bit different with Ellery Queen, isn't it? Dannay and Lee infamously worked with ghostwriters themselves and allowed the character to reflect the changing times. Ellery Queen has even known a short, angst-ridden period! So I can't complain if the original authors clearly wouldn't have had a problem with farming out their character – especially when done well and within the pages of their own magazine. Granted, if Dannay had still been alive today, he probably would've altered the titles, but they would've been published.

Briefly put, "Literally Dead" has everything you expect from a proper detective story and more than that from a pastiche.

One last observation on the story (I couldn't wriggle-in anywhere else) is that "Literally Dead" also felt as a wink at Anthony Boucher. The legacy of a fantasy writer recalled Fowler Foulkes creation of Dr. Garth Derringer, an Americanized version of Arthur Conan Doyle's Dr. Challenger, from Boucher's Rocket to the Morgue (1942) and a Gregory Hood radio-play from the late-1940s, "The Derringer Society," collected in The Casebook of Gregory Hood (2009).


  1. Sounds like great fun TC - I've never subscribed to the EQ magazine but love the sound of the contents! Cheers mate. I'm not a huge fan of pastiches generally, but when they work they work - and this certainly sound slike an exception - and I htink you make a good case given the 'elastic' authorship behins some of the Queen material.

    1. I think these stories are the exception that proves the rule on pastiches and EQ is in safe hands... for now. I hope they'll eventually add up to a new collection of stories. The Final Adventures of Ellery Queen? Yes, please!

  2. will it sound like self-aggrandizement if I say, "Wow. Great article!"?

    Dale Andrews

    1. Thanks, Dale, but the praise is well deserved!

  3. I've heard of The Book Case by this due - it's a novella, not a full novel, right? But haven't actually read it. Added it to my TB shelf since it's mystery and I can't pass up on one of these books (my fav. genre)

  4. Argh meant to say 'duo', not due... doh...

  5. The only place that The Book Case (which was novella length) can be found other than in the original May, 2007 issue of EQMM is in the anthology The Misadventures of Ellery Queen -- but it is published their in Japanese!

  6. Thanks for the interesting review. I usually don't buy EQMM, but I bought it for this story, which turned out to be rather good. I hope there are more stories in this series.