In 1965, the illustrious Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine began publishing a series of standalone detective stories under some of the most astonishing bylines: Handon C. Jorricks, Leyne Requel and Rhoda Lys Storey. The puzzle solving brains among us will at once notice that this outré collection of names have a coded quality to them and will have figured out by now that they are anagrams of names of some renowned mystery writers, however, these stories weren't jotted down by John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen and Dorothy L. Sayers.
Norma Schier was the brain behind these puzzling conundrums, in which she paid homage to her favorite mystery writers by burlesquing them in a humorous and clever manner – and most of them perfectly captured the heart of soul of the originals. They also have the added bonus of being anagram puzzles. You can solve a case in two different ways: by correctly interpreting the clues she provided or scrambling the anagrammatic names in the right order to learn which role which character plays in a story. A truly unique interpretation of the sacred rule of playing fair with your readers.
These risible pastiches easily stand up against those gathered in Agatha Christie's Partner in Crime (1929) and Leo Bruce's satirical masterpiece, Case for Three Detectives (1936), and when they were collected in a book, entitled The Anagram Detectives (1979), the result was an excellent collection of short stories that can boost that it doesn't have a single real dud among its fourteen stories – a rarity for an anthology.
Of course, some tales are more interesting or better constructed than others, but I wouldn't apply any such labels as poorly plotted or badly written to any of them – which really show how remarkable these stories are.
Gramana Aragman Anagram Detectives
The Adventure of the Solitary Bride by E. Aldon Canoy
In case the title wasn't a dead giveaway, the story was written down by Hoskell Chomers' chronicler, Sandwort, who relates a singular problem that was brought to them by a newly wed woman – whose husband abruptly fled the house on account of pressing business matters. But the curious behavior of the butler, a skulking, weak-chinned stranger dilly-dallying around the house and mysterious coded messages makes her mighty suspicious and prompts her to consult the great detective himself.
This proved to be one of the most delightful Holmesian pastiches I have ever read, and Chomers' chain of deductive reasoning in the story's opening pages is spot-on! He also doesn't fail to deliver a satisfying solution, that's both logical and charming. A perfect start to a great collection.
The Object Lesson by W.H. Geurnon
It seems only logical that after a reading from the casebook of one of the greatest detectives who never lived, we learn of the exploits of one of the most notorious cat burglars in popular-fiction – the audacious L.A. Jeffars. The infamous gentleman burglar has set his sights on a greedy, disagreeable old hag, who drips with diamonds, and plans on cleaning out her burglar proof safe to teach her a well deserved lesson.
Unfortunately, Murphy's Law rears its ugly head and nearly upsets his carefully plotted scheme, but a twist of fate provides his suffering companion in crime, Namby, with an unexpected opportunity to upstage his lawbreaking buddy. A def caper. In fact, I found this story to be better than most of the stuff Hornung wrote himself, and more praise than that can't be given to someone who specializes in writing pastiches.
If Hangman Threads by Norma Haigs
The seasoned mystery readers will immediate recognize who are hidden behind the anagrammatic names of Carroll Dikeyne, chief inspector of police, and his artistic wife Thora Gatay – and anagrams are the key to solving the murder of on unpopular artist at an art exhibition. The mechanics of the plot are actually more interesting than the mystery itself, which, sadly, is an unexciting one, but that's a minor complaint as Schiers obviously had a lot of fun writing this story – and that rubs off on the reader.
The Teccomeshire Fen Mystery by Cathie Haig Star
A successful pastiche of the Queen of Crime, in which the celebrated detective, Pierre Choulot, and his dense friend Stangish visit a quaint little village and unhesitatingly get themselves involved in a murder case. A local gentleman, who was fond of out door painting, was shot while playing around with his brush, and the murder may have something do with the village beauty. Choulot does a neat job of tying the psychological and physical clues together and provides a bang-up solution for this little mystery.
Hocus-Pocus at Drumis Tree by Handon C. Jorricks
Drumis Tree is a restaurant of great repute and not the kind of place where you suspect poisonous glasses of champagne to be passed around, but that's exactly what happened – and what's worst, there seems to be an impossible angle as to how the poison was slipped into the glass. Enter Sir Marvin Rhyerlee! Who's a bit miffed that he can't enjoy a peaceful lunch without someone keeling over in a manner that seems to defy the reality of natural law. Guess who's being spoofed? If you don't know already, here's a hint: he's my favorite mystery writer.
Schier freely admits in the editors' note that her little pastiche doesn't do fully justice to his plotting technique and knack for coming up with impossible situations, but the endeavor is definitely appreciated.
Dying Message by Leyne Requel
Leyne Requel looks into the murder of shady lawyer, whose dying message, initials scribbled on a crossword puzzle, implicates one of his friends. It's not a bad story, but this is the first one in which she failed to fully capture the essence of the detective and author she was trying to satirize. But then again, Ellery Queen isn't the easiest character to lampoon. He's had so many different incarnations over his career, that its easy to fall into the trap of just loading the story with familiar trademarks – like the dual-use of the name and the dying message.
You know, now that I think of it, if you unscramble the names, this story would fit snugly in The Calendar of Crime (1952) – a collection of non-canon short stories.
Sir Ordwey Views the Body by Rhoda Lys Storey
A short-short story, in which Sir Ordway Temple, his wife and manservant come across a smashed up Rolls-Royce – containing the body of an old woman with a knife protruding from her chest. A competent and fun little take-off on that other famous Queen of Crime.
Lament for a Scholar by Neil McNeish
This scholarly mystery, set at an eminent and normally quiet college, where one of the faculty members is murdered on the archery range, an arrow drilled through his heart, hits once again the bulls-eye in terms of accurately parodying one of the genre's most erudite mystery writers – right down to Shakespearean allusions. It's also a clever inverted detective story, in which the reader is pretty sure from the start who bloodied his hands, but not how the trick was pulled-off. And no, the solution doesn't offer the banality of using an arrow as a knife.
Mr. Copable, Criminologist by Amy M. Graingerhall
The titular criminologist helps the police in nabbing a couple of clever and elusive shop lifters, and figures out how one of the thieves could've left the store unseen while carrying away a valuable and bulky silver mink coat. This is the second imitation in the collection that I enjoyed more than the original.
The Frightened Man by O.X. Rusett
The stout, orchid growing private detective, Owen Foler, and his legman, Woodie Charing, are hired by a man who's in mortal fear for his life ever since he received a ominous letter informing him that his end is nigh. But when Woodie goes to his home to collect their clients scheming relatives, he stumbles over the body of a petty criminal in the foyer. The plot thickens!
I guess that this must have been the most taxing story of the lot to write, because it's very difficult, if not impossible, to mimic Archie's distinct and crackling narrative voice, and to be honest, she didn't exactly nailed it down. Not a bad story, but a bit off the mark.
F as in Fraud by Walter Cantree
I wasn't able to fully appreciate this story as I'm not familiar with the work of the author being poked fun at, but he was apparently a notable writer of police procedurals and his thinly disguised policemen investigate a murder at a diner that is connected to a fraudulent business. A good enough story, but I missed the connection I had with most of the other stories.
The Weapon from Nowhere as by Conway Lonstar
Maître Glenthier, illusionist extraordinaire and proprietor of the magic shop, is asked by his journalistic friend to accompany him to the abode of a rising oracle – whose latest prophecy tells of a murderer that will strike at exactly ten that night. After the tenth stroke of the clock a shot rang out and man drops dead with a knife handle projecting from his chest – and the only way that blade could have ended up there if it was either a bizarre suicide or if someone manipulated it with telekinetic powers.
The solution to the highly improbable stabbing is actually pretty disappointing, but it's such a perfect caricature of Clayton Rawson's plotting technique (c.f. No Coffin for the Corpse, 1942) that I didn't mind the weak conclusion.
The Incredulity of Br. Faneworth by H.T. Greenstock
This is the most imaginative story of the collection, in which a little friar dispels the legend of a cursed painting that turns everyone in stone that casts eyes upon its bedevilled canvas and consequently apprehends a hellacious murderer. The friar isn't nearly as delightfully paradoxal as the good father, but they are indubitably cut from the same cloth – and the plot almost sparkles with the same richness as the original.
The Adventure of the Boing! Ritual by Rif H. Lobster
A parody of a parody? Norma Schier was either a genius, mad or both – and that's all I'm going to divulge about this slightly twisted story!