Recently, Wildside Press published a long overdue anthology, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2018), edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, who collected sixteen pastiches, parodies and short stories inspired by the Dean of the American Detective Story, Ellery Queen – written by such short story luminaries as William Brittain, Edward D. Hoch and Arthur Porges. The anthology has three (short) introductions by the editors, Richard Dannay and Rand Lee.
In their introduction, Pachter and Andrews touched upon the ill-fated publication of The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (1944), edited by Queen, which was withdrawn when Conan Doyle's estate used "a minor permission snafu" for Sherlock Holmes material used in 101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories, 1841-1941 (1943) as leverage "to halt all further distribution." They also reveal that the idea for this anthology dates as far back as the early 1970s. Fredric Dannay apparently liked the idea, but it would take four decades before the first version of this anthology appeared in print.
Six years ago, the chairman of the Japanese EQ fanclub, Iiki Yusan, edited and published a 400-page, Japanese-language anthology consisting of parodies, pastiches and homes to Queen – appropriately titled The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2012). So the idea for an English edition was pulled out of cold storage in 2015 and was finally published in early March of this year.
Pachter and Andrews note that the publication of this anthology was their attempt "to close a circle that opened almost 130 years ago" with the publications of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934) and The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. I believe they succeeded.
Richard Dannay is the son of Fredric Dannay and a copyright lawyer, who briefly points out the legal perils that lay between parodies and pastiches, but ends his introduction with the remark that he welcomes both parodies and pastiches of Ellery Queen as long as they "represent affection and respect." Something I wholeheartedly agree with, because the way in which some alleged writers handles the literary legacy of actual writers borders on the criminal.
Rand Lee is the son of the other half of the EQ partnership, Manfred B. Lee, who very briefly wrote that his father liked pastiches and would have been greatly amused by this anthology.
So, now we got the background and introduction to this anthology out of the way, let's take a closer look at the stories.
Thomas Narcejac's "Le mystère des ballons rouge" ("The Mystery of the Red Balloons") was first published in Usurpation d'indentité in 1947 and has the honor of being the first Ellery Queen pastiche ever written and this is its first-ever publication in English – as well as being the only representative in this anthology of the genre's Golden Age. So we have an actual débutante opening this collection, but one with a hardboiled edge to it. The police of New York City are confronted with a series of murders, which appear to be unrelated on the surface, but a red balloon is found at each scene. One day, a policeman on the grounds of Jonathan Mallory's estate and this time they get to the victim before he can be murdered and they station themselves inside the house. Something that displeases the crusty Mallory immensely. The subsequent events nearly costs Sgt. Velie his life, who's critically wounded, before Ellery uncovers the murderer.
The murderer is rather obvious, but, as stated by the "Challenge of the Reader," detection is not "a matter of guessing" or "stumbling upon the answer by chance." You have to analyze all of the data and clarify issues that seemed unimportant. You might have spotted the murderer, but the next question is how and why these murders were committed. So this story is more of a why than a who-dun-it. Not an out-and-out classic, but I liked it. Solid, old-fashioned Ellery Queen.
I previously reviewed "Dying Message" by Leyne Requel in my 2011 review of Norma Schier's The Anagram Detective (1979).
Jon L. Breen's "The Gilbert and Sullivan Clue" was originally published in the double anniversary issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1999 and Breen tells in his introduction that Dannay and Lee always set their stories in the present-day. Ellery stayed "more or less the same age from decade to decade." So we get EQ in the nineties with references to Star Wars, Y2K and rap music. One of the suspects is even a rapper (Daddy Trash).
Ellery is invited by Gil Castberg to take a trip aboard the luxurious Sea Twin and cruise the Californian coastline. The headline entertainer is a former client of Castberg, Ozzie Foyle, who used be part of a comedy duo, but the partnership imploded and Foyle fully dedicates himself to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan – while his former partner, Jim Dugan, faded into obscurity. All of their grudges come bubbling back to the surface when they're reunited aboard the cruise ship and the result is murder.
Obviously, Breen had fun writing new lyrics for "I've Got a Little List" from The Mikado ("that superior freeloading detective novelist: I don't think he'd be missed, I'm sure he'd not be missed."), but this is not merely a comedic detective story. There's a clever, humorous dying message and an interesting alibi-trick, but I feel the short story format constrained the plot. The story ended rather abruptly and perhaps needed an extra clue or two, because the central clue (dying message) requires a more than passing familiarity with the work of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Still, this was a fun little story and only wished the editors had also included Breen's “The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery,” which I have wanted to read for ages.
Francis M. Nevins' "Open Letter to Survivors" was first published in the May, 1972 issue of EQMM and was written under the tutelage of Dannay, who ripped the original version of the story apart with "a surgical precision" that "was more than justified," and then they "began to build the story up again." Dannay always struck me as pillar of support to everyone who dared to pick up a pen, no matter who they were, and even published stories from teenagers in EQMM. And we'll get to two of those later on in this review.
|Contain "Open Letter to Survivors"|
"Open Letter to Survivors" is written around a line from Ten Days' Wonder (1942), "there was the case of Adelina Monquieux" and "the remarkable solution" that "cannot be revealed until before 1972," which is studded with Queenian motifs, but the detective in this story remains nameless – even though its obviously him. Ellery is in the middle of writing a book, but concludes that his plot is some vital element and decides to consult "the foremost political analyst of the generation," Adelina Monquieux (pronounced Mon-Q). Monquieux is the mother of three adopted sons, Xavier, Yves and Zachery, who are monozygotic triplets and completely identical right down to their fingerprints. A problem when their mother is murdered during Ellery's visit to their home. So who of the identical triplets committed the murder and what prevented the truth from coming out until 1972?
This is interesting story for sure and how the triplets are used is kind of brilliant, as are Ellery's deductions, but I think the ending makes this somewhat of an anti-detective story. However, Nevins did a good job making hay out of a throw-away reference.
I previously reviewed "The Reindeer Clue" by Edward D. Hoch in my 2011 review of Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of Errors (1999).
Dale C. Andrews and Kurt Sercu's "The Book Case" was originally published in the May, 2007 issue of EQMM, which I have read before, but my opinion of it remains unaltered. Generally, I'm not too big a fan of pastiches, however, "The Book Case" would make my best-of list of detective pastiches, because it feels like it could be part of the actual canon. This betrays that the story was written by two of the biggest EQ fanboys in the United States and Europe.
The story has a contemporary setting and the series-characters have aged or passed away. Ellery Queen is now a venerable, 100-year-old man, who seemed "to move only through the sheerest will power," but not old or helpless enough to look into the murder of Dr. Jason Tenumbra – an oncologist and an avid collector of mystery novels. Tenumbra appears to have left a dying message by throwing all of his Ellery Queen novels on the floor, but the case becomes a personal one when it becomes clear that the children of Djuna are involved. And one of them dies!
Andrews and Sercu not only succeeded admirably in placing their story snugly within the confines of the original series, but also has a very clever and tricky plot demonstrating (once again) that the wonders of modern forensic science has not made ingenious plots in detective fiction obsolete – which made this the standout story of this anthology. Loved it!
By the way, one of the detectives in "The Book Case" is the elderly Harry Burke, who's closing in on his retirement, and he had appeared previously in Face to Face (1967). And the ending tells us what became of Nikki Porter. Just a couple of the nods to the original series.
J.N. Williamson's "Ten Month's Blunder" is a silly, good-natured parody about a character named Celery Keen, who helps his father solve the murder of a pawnshop owner, which cements his reputation as an amateur sleuth across the world. However, when Keen returns from a world-tour of snooping, his father has some unpleasant news for him.
Arthur Porges' "The English Village Mystery" was originally printed in the December, 1964 issue of EQMM and is the first of only two parodies he wrote about a character named Celery Green.
The story takes place in the tiny village of Tottering-on-the-Brink, which only has fourteen inhabitants, but twelve of those have been shot, stabbed, strangled and blown to pieces. Inspector Dew East has been given 48 hours to close the case and, out of desperation, turns to a gifted and well-known amateur detective, Celery Green – who happened to be visiting England at the time. You would expect the solution to be as ridiculous and silly as its premise, but there's a trace of reason to all of this madness. I think this shows, even with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Porges was one of the masters of the short detective story. Only overshadowed by the King of the Short Story, Edward Hoch.
Dennis M. Dubin was a high-school senior when his short story, "Elroy Quinn's Last Case," appeared in the July, 1967 issue of EQMM and took a similar route as Andrews and Sercu by casting the title-character as an old man. And his last case is precariously balanced on international politics that could set the world ablaze.
The king of Ubinorabia has arrived in the United States "to begin talks about on the huge oil deposits recently discovered in his country," but one of his royal bodyguards has been shot and later an attempt is made on the king himself – who's critically wounded. A bizarre array of clues consist of a Roman helmet, a statuette of two seemingly identical Thai cats, a wooden shoe and a small replica of a mummy case. So Inspector Thomas Valie, Jr. turns to the old maestro for help and the solution takes its cue from a famous EQ short story and one of their lesser-known mystery novels. A story that will delight every reader who loves EQ.
James Holding's "The Norwegian Apple Mystery" is the first of ten stories about King Danforth and Martin Leroy, originally published in the January, 1961 issue of EQMM, who are mystery writers and the creators of the Leroy King series. Apparently, the stories take place during a round-the-world cruise, but they encounter more murderous plots on their extended holiday than when they were writing detective novels back home. I think this first story has a really novel way of telling a detective story.
Danforth and Leroy become intrigued by the "perfectly natural accidental death" of one of their fellow passengers, Angela Cameron, who had choked to death on a piece of apple while reading in bed. They find it an intriguing premise for a detective story and, together with their wives, speculate how this accidental death could have been a cleverly disguised murder. Only to discover in the final sentence that their ideas were spot on. A good and original variation on the how-dun-it.
William Brittain's "The Man Who Read Ellery Queen" appeared together with "The Man Who Read John Dickson Carr" in the December, 1965 issue of EQMM and is a detective with a warm, beating heart.
Arthur Mindy is an old man living at the Goodwell Home and took a complete collection of Ellery Queen novels with him. Mindy has always dreamed of solving a mystery "just the way Ellery does" and finally gets an opportunity when another resident, Gregory Wyczech, had his precious 1907 ten dollar gold piece stolen, but he caught the thief, Eugene Dennison, in act – only problem is that the coin is not found on him. Even after Dennison stripped naked. Mindy deduces where the gold piece is hidden based on a shaving cut and why Dennison preferred to take the stairs instead of the elevator. The way this theft is resolved gives the story a warm, sweet and sugary ending. And to top it all off, the solution showed this was also a (borderline) impossible crime! What more do you want?
Josh Pachter was sixteen when he wrote "E.Q. Griffin Earns His Name" and seventeen when it was published in the December, 1968 issue of EQMM.
Ellery Queen Griffin is the 16-year-old son of Inspector Ross Griffin, of the Tyson County Police Force, who had grown up on "a rich diet of detective fiction" and had named all of his eleven children after a famous detective character. A Griffen child earned his name by solving "a criminal problem in the manner of his namesake," but Ellery had yet to earn his name. There are two problems in this story that could provide that opportunity: who stole the apple pies from Leora Field's windowsill and how was a precious necklace stolen from a locked jewelry shop. This is only nominally a locked room mystery and the solution to the locked shop problem is a bit of a cheat, but the real point is that Ellery (logically) deduces the identity of the thief. And thereby earning his name.
I really liked this story and it should have been the start of a juvenile mystery series with each story concentrating on one of the Griffin children. A missed opportunity, because eleven of those stories would have made for a wonderful collection. If you're reading this, Pachter, I want a Gideon Fell Griffin story. I want it, I want it, I want it!!!
Patricia McGerr was no stranger to turning the conventions of the detective story upside down (e.g. Pick Your Victim, 1946) and "The Last Check," a short story first published in the March, 1972 issue of EQMM, can only be described as a parody-pastiche – as it lands somewhere between the two. A gray area not often frequented by mystery writers. The story is about the murder of Stephen Coleman, a collector of Ellery Queen, who was shot to death in his study, but left a dying message by scribbling his name on a blank check. A clue that appeared either meaningless or implicate every single suspect. Luckily, the policeman on the case, Captain Rogan, is also an avid reader of Ellery Queen.
So who's better fitted for the job of deciphering a dying message, left by a dying EQ reader, than a policeman who also reads EQ? Once again, I liked this story, but the murderer was a little too obvious.
Lawrence Block's "The Death of the Mallory Queen," originally published in Like a Lamb to the Slaughter (1984), is actually more of a Nero Wolfe pastiche than a take on Ellery Queen. Block wrote two novels about a Nero Wolfe wannabe named Leo Haig, Make Out With Murder (1974) and The Topless Tulip Caper (1975), who's assisted by Chip Harrison – a young lad was reinvented as a private detective after appearing in two coming-of-age novels, No Score (1970) and Chip Harrison Scores Again (1971). Reportedly, Rex Stout was not amused with the result.
This short story has Mavis Mallory of Mavis Publications consulting Haig, because she fears being murdered, which happens in the most extraordinary circumstances imaginable. During a panel discussion at Town Hall, held in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Mallory's Mystery Magazine, the lights go out. And when they turn back on, Mallory has been stabbed, shot, bludgeoned and poisoned. The explanation is about as credible as anything you'll see on Monty Python, but that didn't made the story any less fun to read. I really have to look further into this series.
Arthur Vidro's "The Ransom of EQMM #1" was first published online on the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine website and is a story that'll be especially appreciated by collectors of (pulp) magazines.
Homer Slocum is an avid collector of EQMM from Shinn Corners (The Glass Village, 1954) and owns a complete run of the magazine, up to the latest issue, which attracts the attention of the Shinn Corners Courier, but their article attracted locals to his house – who all wanted to see The Collection. But when he finally got around to putting his collection back in order, Slocum noticed that the Fall 1941 issue of EQMM was missing! The first of more than 800 issues. A $500 dollar ransom note soon follows, but Slocum notices something slightly off about the photograph that accompanied the note. A short, simple, but fun, story.
Finally, Joseph Goodrich's "The Ten-Cent Murder," published in the August, 2016 issue of EQMM and follows the tradition of the modern historical detective story by casting two real-life persons in the role of detectives – namely Fredric Dannay and Dashiell Hammett. According to the introduction, everything in this story is true with the exception of "a slight case of murder." Hammett taught a class of mystery writing at the Jefferson Institute in Manhattan and Dannay used to be an occasional guest lecturer. So why not take this situation and throw in a good murder? It makes sense.
The school registrar, Morris Rabinowitz, was stabbed to death and a closely guarded list of students was missing. The political climate of days plays a role in this story, but, in order to solve this case, Dannay has to figure out why the victim was clutching a dime. And all of the suspects have names that can refer or sound like coins. The explanation to the dying clue a bit of a pun, but acceptable and believable enough in the circumstances of the story.
On a whole, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen is an excellent anthology without any duds. Practically every short story collection or anthology has one, two or three duds, but this anthology has a well-balanced selection of stories and this becomes a real accomplishment on the part of the editors when you realize all of the entries are parodies or pastiches – which are not always known for their high-standard or quality. There were some stories I liked more than others, but not a single one I really disliked. So, if you like Ellery Queen, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen comes highly recommended.
On a last note, I want to direct your attention to a story that was omitted from this anthology, but would have snugly fit in the potpourri section: Donald A. Yates' "The Wounded Tyrolean" (c. 1955), which was based on a Watsonian reference from The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935).