In 2018, when I took part in the ROY awards, that annual celebration by crime bloggers of republished classic mysteries, one of the books I entered for consideration was a The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, collection of stories about the great American detective Ellery Queen that had been compiled by two of his greatest fans, Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews. Both of these gentlemen have expended much of their creative energies in spreading the Gospel According to Queen; likewise, both of them have had several original tales featuring the great detective published in none other than Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine!
Pachter, in particular, shares my love of pastiches (stories that go to great effort to emulate the qualities of the original author) and parodies (stories that spoof these same qualities for humorous effect.) Among other works, Pachter is responsible for editing collections of stories inspired by Nero Wolfe and the Man Who Read tales of William Brittain.
The Queen collection was my favorite, and so it pleases me no end to announce that Pachter and Andrews have put out a follow-up, The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen. Fifteen authors, including the late, great team of Fred Dannay and Manfred B. Lee – Ellery Queen himself – have provided material. One of the earliest comes from 1955: it is from Marion Mainwaring’s parodic gem, Murder in Pastiche, which features parodies of nine of the greatest fictional sleuths, including one Mallory King. I own that novel, but since I haven’t read it yet, I did not read this chapter and will not review it here. But Lord knows my appetite has been whetted, and I imagine I will tackle Mainwaring‘s novel soon.
The collection begins with a delightful prologue by J. Randolph Cox, a mystery scholar and editor. “The Adventure of the Logical Successor” imagines a meeting on the Sussex Downs between young Ellery and . . . well, who do you think? Not a mystery itself, the piece functions as a charming and sentimental introduction for fans of more than one great detective. The stories are then divided into three main categories: pastiches, parodies, and “Potpourri” for those tales that don’t quite fit into either of the first two sections. At the end, we find a perfectly apt postscript written by none other than the “real” Ellery Queen!
In the “Pastiche” category, we begin with “Once Upon a Crime” by playwright, songwriter and novelist Maxwell E. Siegel. The author’s introduction reveals the sheer chutzpah of the 17-year-old boy who wrote this “simple love letter disguised as a good-natured spoof” in 1951. The story references a whole bunch of cases, but more than that it finds logical conclusions to certain historical facts contained in the Queen-verse, including poking fun at the fact that Lee and Dannay kept reinventing the guy. And if the mystery here turns out to be more adorable than mysterious, it pokes great fun at the original’s penchant for crimes that fit specific motifs. I offer nothing more to spoil it.
Next comes the aforementioned Mainwaring excerpt, followed by “The Circle of Ink” by the late, great Edward D. Hoch, who was actually one of several distinguished authors who served as ghost writers for Queen at the end (The Blue Movie Murders, “The Reindeer Clue”). This story is a cool riff on Queen’s career-long penchant for series killers (as opposed to “serial” killers), and while the pattern aspect of the case seems all too overt (at least, it did to me), Hoch has some surprises up his sleeve at the end . . . just like Queen usually did!
If Queen’s long-held reputation during the Golden Age as “the American detective story” has taken a recent hit from some recalcitrant mystery bloggers, his reputation remains untarnished in the Far East where he has inspired multiple practitioners of shin honkaku and its variations. Chinese author Ma Tian, who our editors inform us “is considered to be one of the most important writers in Chinese detective fiction,” counts Ellery Queen as his favorite author. “The Japanese Armor Mystery,” Ma Tian’s story included here and translated by Steve Steinbock, is a complex Period One-style novel crammed into fifteen fast-paced pages. Set in Montreux, it begins as a snowbound country-house tale, complete with ailing patriarch, his four adopted children and the family doctor and quickly evolves into an impossible crime double murder with the novel twist that one of the victims is encased in a set of samurai armor . . . carved from wood! Even the reason for Ellery’s presence is complicated. There are even footprints in the snow, to satisfy the most pig-headed bloggers I know!!
The Mad Hatter’s Riddle,” co-editor Dale C. Andrews’ contribution, achieves joyous double duty in the pastiche department, utilizing the surviving characters from the late 30’s Hollywood screwball mystery, The Four of Hearts, and plopping them down in the final episode of the 1970’s Adventures of Ellery Queen, a lovingly-rendered period series that unfortunately never found its audience and lasted only one season. Ellery, now 70, is invited to serve as script consultant, which means that all hell must break loose. Andrews manages to pack in a lot: a murder that echoes the past, a dying message, and one of those complex Queenian clues that, like origami, folds and refolds within itself to reveal multiple layers of meaning! Good stuff, sir!
Rounding out the pastiche section is “Change of Scene” by Janet Hutchings who, for twenty-nine years has been the editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Ms. Hutchings was challenged by the editors to craft a tale putting Nikki Porter, Ellery’s secretary, in the lead role of sleuth. The mystery she solves is rather slight, but I did enjoy that while most of the other stories here are set in relatively present times, Hutchings places her version of Ellery and Company in Chicago in 1934 and utilizes the social milieu very well.
It’s not surprising that four of the five stories included in the “Parodies” section poke fun at all those Period One international titles. The best news the inclusion of “The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery” by parodist extraordinaire Jon. L. Breen. I remember reading this one in EQMM when it first appeared in 1969 and loving its setting (the world of musical theatre), its dying message (quite clever), and best of all the way it plays on Ellery’s personality and his penchant for running into murders wherever he goes, a fact of which the public is both well aware and terrified!
Arthur Porges created my favorite parody name for the sleuth – Celery Green – and sends him to England to solve “The Indian Diamond Mystery,” where the easily solved mystery is more than made up for by the comedy, not the least of which lies in the names of people and places (I would stay in a village called Tottering-on-the-Brink!) In “The Little Sister in Crime, or The American Gumshoe Mystery, Theodore B. Hertel, Jr. manages to cram not only Ellery but a dozen or so more fictional sleuths into a Bouchercon convention, where murder hits all too close to home for Ellery and he finds himself in competition to solve the crime with his . . . sister??? Then Breen returns to co-write “The German Cologne Mystery” with collection co-editor Josh Pachter, stealing the name Celery from Porges in order to justify the 3,271 celery jokes this story contains. (And yet, my favorite pun involves the name of the victim’s daughter!) And finally, we have Manfred B. Lee’s own son Rand delivering a mash-up short-short called “The Polish Chicken Mystery,” which acknowledges the strong influence that Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie had upon the Queen career by having Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and Ellery tackle the mystery of why the chicken crossed the road.
Two of the three tales in the “Potpourri” section are aimed for the young at heart. “E.Q. Griffen’s Second Case,” Josh Pachter’s second story featuring Ellery Queen Griffen, one of the eleven children of a homicide inspector (all of them named after famous sleuths) was written when the author was only 17. Like many of the other tales, it riffs on Queen’s propensity for including dying messages, but this one was less convincing than usual; Pachter himself discusses its problems in a postscript. My bigger issue with the tale is the idea that a kid like E.Q. Griffen could be so conversant with the grown-up issues presented in this case and receive carte blanche from the Homicide team to solve it the way he does. Ah, fiction!
Next, Jeffrey Marks provides a charming take on the Ellery Queen Jr. mysteries, here called “The Pink Pig Mystery,” featuring the Queen’s servant Djuna and a Scottish terrier named Champ. And then we are treated to an interesting “true life” mystery by Arthur Vidro about an error on the first cover of EQMM. I happened to read this a few years ago on the EQMM website in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the magazine. Good thing, too: the photo of the cover included here is, alas, pretty much illegible.
But heck! That’s a mere quibble. (But in case you want to play along, you can find the cover at the end of this post.) I’m incredibly grateful to Wildside Press for providing a sequel to the first set of Queenian misadventures. To be honest, I have tried several times to write such a parody/pastiche myself about Ellery. Perhaps I will get cracking on that and press Mr. Pachter and Mr. Andrews to shoot for a third set. Meanwhile, I had intended to make this one of my entries in the 2020 ROY awards, but you need to come back in early December when Kate Jackson hosts the Awards to see my two nominees – and to VOTE FOR THEM!!) Meanwhile, I want to get the word out about The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen sooner rather than later! This would make a great holiday gift for the Queen fan in your life! I mean . . . between this and The Crown, who doesn’t have one of those???