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Calamity Town (1942)

Wrightsville is a typical American town, buried in the great American heartland, up to its neck in good old American corn. No family in town is more respected than the one named, naturally enough, the Wrights. Daddy Wright is the town banker, Momma Wright is the town social lioness, daughter Patricia the town beauty, Nora the town recluse, Lola the town scandal. Ellery Queen likes sophistication, savoir faire, and all the swinging assets of Manhattan and its environs. So what in the world is he doing in this unearthly place? It is the job of the famous detective to find out which of the Wrights is the town poisoner. He must match his wits with a diabolically cunning and ruthless killer, while defending himself against a charge of murder.

It all starts when Ellery Queen goes to a small town, disguised as Ellery Smith, to write a novel. He moves into a little house originally built for Nora Wright, whose fiancé, Jim Haight, had left town on the eve of the wedding three years before. Then Jim comes back, and things begin to happen. There are the three post-dated letters, for instance, and the attempted arsenic poisonings, which convince Ellery that someone is going to be murdered - but who? and why? Then the poisoned cocktail at Nora's New Year's Eve party, and the trial by public opinion on the streets, and what turns out to be a mistrial in court. Two more deaths follow, from more-or-less natural causes, before Patricia, Nora's sister, supplies Ellery with the one fact he needs to make a perfect and logical whole out of what he calls "the oddest case of mixed-up people, emotions, and events I've ever run across." This is one of Queen's best.

Calamity Town - coverCalamity Town - Blackstone Audio BooksPan Books G386, 1960 Calamity Town - cover Pocket BooksCalamity Town - Signet Cover
Calamity Town - cover by Little & BrownCalamity Town - Little & BrownCalamity Town - cover Book Club Book by Little Brown & coCalamity Town - Triangle Blakiston Co - Philadelphia 1947Calamity Town - audio cover

Apparently the story grew out of a casual, one-sentence reference to predated letters which one of the partners ran across in reading a popular biography (Bainbridge).
The first Wrightsville story is a masterpiece of character and scene. But the key points of the mystery aren't that difficult to figure out. Still, a deservedly recognized classic.
Calamity Town is the best of the Wrightsville books. This tragic novel has a remarkable sense of structure. The whole novel seems to built on railroad tracks, with events leading on with powerful logic. In 1979 Yoshitaro Nomura made a Japanese film based on this EQ-novel and named it 'The Three Undelivered Letters/Haitatsu Sarenai Santsu no Tegami'.  

It’s 1940, and there is nowhere in the country seemingly more charming than Wrightsville. The Depression has abated, and the New England town is booming once again. There is hope in Wrightsville, but Ellery Queen has come looking for death. The mystery author is hoping for fodder for a novel, and he senses the corruption that lurks beneath the apple-pie façade. A jinxed house, poisonings and murder are all on the menu, as Queen sits back, waiting for crime to come to him.

On January 29. 2013 playwright and West 87th Street Irregular Joe Goodrich brought us a 'Calamity Town' reading!  Directed by Dan Winerman. Tony Award nominee John Cariani (Fiddler on the Roof) will play detective Ellery Queen in this reading of Calamity Town at the New Dramatists, NYC. The cast also included Farah Alvin, Jeffrey M. Bender, Stephen C. Bradbury, Julia Coffey, Katie Northlich, Jim Stanek, Dan Truman and Jennifer Dorr White.

Subsequently from January 23 to February 21 2016 the play was brought to the Vertigo theatre in Calgary, Canada. The play, a part of the BD&P Mystery Theatre Series, was co-directed by Hall and Pronyshyn.

Tyrell Crews plays Ellery Queen (Photograph credits Tim Nguyen, Calgary Herald) 
Tyrell Crews played Ellery Queen, Julie Orton played Nora Wright and Lindsey Angell her sister Patty who becomes Queen’s love interest and who talks him into solving the crimes in Wrightsville.

My Calamity Town is Our Town with murder. That’s not just a catch phrase", Joseph Goodrich insists pointing out the major comparisons of his and Thornton Wilder’s plays. “The are both set in a small New England town in the 1940s. They feature minimalistic settings to tell the story. There are no major sets and the actors bring in props and chairs and little set pieces. Both plays are completely, overtly theatrical. You know you’re watching a play at all times but you can still be drawn into these people’s lives, hopes, dreams and sorrows. Finally, in both plays, under what looks to be a peaceful, idyllic setting there are hidden sorrows.
They feature minimalistic settings to tell the story. There are no major sets and the actors bring in props and chairs and little set pieces ... (Photograph credits Tim Nguyen, Calgary Herald) 

The play got excellent reviews:

"Vertigo Theatre’s Calamity Town is my kind of town. It’s a dream destination for every fan of live theatre and especially fans of stage whodunits. I’m giving it five stars"           (Louis B. Hobson, Calgary Herald)

"It’s a fascinating way to stage a play and it works very well."
                                                                                           (Jenna Shummoogum,

"Contrary to its name, Calamity Town is anything but disastrous. What Vertigo Theatre has here is a real winner. Gifted with a stellar cast, Hall & Pronyshyn’s ingenious staging add layers of theatrical excitement to an already brilliant adaptation by Goodrich.  A must-see."      (Rodrigo Flores, Joyful Magpies)

In June 2016 the 5th annual Calgary Theatre Critics' Awards was brought to it's conclusion with the announcement of the winners. These were chosen from 95 nominees in 19 categories and 80 productions and Calamity Town got two awards: 'Best technical design' by Jamie Nebitt for his dazzling projections and 'Best new script' by Joseph Goodrich.

Calamity Town - cover Gollancz  First Edition, 1942Calamity Town - cover First Cheap Edition books, 1948.Calamity Town - cover Cheap Edition books, Third edition, 1949.Calamity Town - Armed Service Edition Book # 680 issued to service men in WWII.
Calamity Town - Cover Penguin BooksCalamity Town - Published by Impress Mystery (Reader’s Digest Association), 2003Calamity Town - Cover Large Print EditionCalamity Town - Cover eBook edition Road, October 25. 2011Calamity Town - cover audiobook Blackstone Audio, Inc., read by Richard Waterhouse, January 1. 2014

De Verliefde detective - coverDe Verliefde Detective - coverDe Verliefde Detective - cover Dutch Prisma-Detective N°519De Verliefde Detective - cover Hema pockets, 1987
La Ville Maudite - cover French edition Le LimierLa Ville Maudite - French edition N° 6 coll. Le Limier. P, Albin Michel, 1947La Ville Maudite - Swiss edition LA GUILDE DU LIVRE 1972, editions only available to subscribed readers
La Ville Maudite - cover French edition éditions J'ai lu, Paris, Nr.1445, 1983La ville maudite - cover French edition éditions J'ai lu, ParisLa ville maudite - cover French edition éditions J'ai lu, Paris, 1985La ville maudite - cover French edition éditions J'ai Lu, Paris, 1987Schatten über Wrightsville  - cover German edition, Ullstein, Nr.1809Vivenda Calamidade - cover Brazilian edition Livros do Brasil, 2nd edition, Vampiro Nr.8, 1983Um Crime de Encomenda - cover Portuguese edition, Editora Livraria do Globo, Coleção Amarela, 1944

Calamity Town Translations:  
Danish: Ulykkesbyen  
Dutch/Flemish: De Verliefde Detective  
Finnish: Salaperäiset varoitukset  
French: La Ville Maudite  
German: Schatten über Wrightsville  
Hebrew: הקוקטייל   
   Italian: Il Paese del Maleficio  
Japanese: 災厄の町 (saiyakunomachi)  
Korean: 재앙의 거리   
Mexican: La Casa Maldita  
Norwegian: Arsenikkmordet  
Polish: Przeklęte miasto  
Portuguese: Vivenda calamidade  
(aka Um Crime de Encomenda)
Russian:Несчастливый город  
Spanish: La ciudad desgraciada  
Swedish: Mr Queen har otur  
Czech: Město malérů   

Um Crime de Encomenda - cover Portuguese edition, 1983Um Crime de Encomenda - cover Portuguese edition, 1984Il Paese Del Maleficio - italian coverIl Paese Del Maleficio - italian coverIl Paese Del Maleficio - Italian cover, I Gialli Mondadori, Nr. 133 , 1951Il Paese Del Maleficio - cover Italian editionCalamity Town - cover Italian edition I Classici Del Giallo N°626, June 1991
Il Paese Del Maleficio - cover Italian edition Amelibri Oscar varia N°1827, 2002.Il Paese Del Maleficio - cover Italian edition, 2008La Casa Maldita - cover Spanish edition, Colección Caimán, nº 93. Ed. Diana, 1957, MexicoLa Casa Maldita - cover Mexican edition, 1971, Ed. DianaLa ciudad desgraciada - cover Spanish edition, editorial Maucci, Las Novelas de la Palma, Barcelona, 1948La ciudad desgraciada - cover Spanish edition, G.P.Policiaca, Plaza & Janes, Barcelona, 1958La ciudad desgraciada - cover Spanish edition, G.P.Policiaca, Plaza & Janes, Barcelona, 1961
Vivenda calamidade - cover Portuguese edition, book/e-book,  Vampiro, Livros do Brasil, July 2016Salaperäiset varoitukset - Cover Finnish edition, Pellervo, 1948Salaperäiset varoitukset - Cover Finnish editionUlykkesbyen  - cover Danish edition, Lademann 1979Ulykkesbyen - cover Danish edition, 2015, Rosenkilde & BahnhofMr Queen har otur - softcover Swedish edition Bonniers,  1964Mr Queen har otur - hardcover Swedish edition Bonniers 1964
Mr Queen har otur - cover Swedish edition, Bonniers, 1943Mr Queen har otur - cover Swedish edition Acacia 1990הקוקטייל - Cover Hebrew edition (Israel), 1965Przeklęte miasto - Softcover Polish edition, SKRY Warszawa 1972Przeklęte miasto - Softcover Polish edition, Zysk i S-ka, 31 maart 2014Město malérů - Cover Czech edition, Odeon, 1976Město malérů - Cover Czech edition 2007
Město malérů - Cover Czech edition, 2012, Naše vojskoZáhada troch listov - Cover Slovenian edition, Smena Bratislava, 1967Несчастливый город - cover Russian edition 2005 (together with The Murderer is a Fox)Calamity Town - cover Japanese edition, Arakisha Publishing, Black Book Selection, 1950Calamity Town - cover Japanese edition, Arakisha Publishing, Black Book SelectionCalamity Town - cover Japanese edition, Hayakawa, July 15. 1955 (first edition)Calamity Town - cover Japanese edition, Hayakawa Pocket Mystery Book, 1975

Calamity Town - cover Japanese edition, Hayakawa Publishing (full cover), January 30. 1977Calamity Town - cover Japanese edition, 1979Calamity Town - cover Japanese edition, Hayakawa Bunko, (e-Book) December 5. 2014Calamity Town - cover Taiwanese edition, December 20.1995Calamity Town - cover Chinese edition, Masses Press, January 1. 2000Calamity Town - cover Taiwanese edition, Face Press, August 31. 2005
Calamity Town - cover Taiwanese edition, Yuan Liu Publisher, 2007Calamity Town - cover Chinese edition, New Star Press, January 2009Calamity Town - cover Chinese edition, Chemical Industry Press, August 1. 2013재앙의 거리(Calamity Town) - cover South-Korean edition, Sigma Books, May 1. 1994재앙의 거리(Calamity Town) - cover South-Korean edition, Dongsuh Mystery Books, 검은숲, Jan 1. 2003재앙의 거리(Calamity Town) - cover South-Korean edition,  검은숲, Ellery Queen Collection, May 20. 2014

Other articles on this book
(1) Reading Ellery Queen - Calamity Town Jon Mathewson (Feb 2015)
(2) Famed author to live in Wrightsville Ho-Ling (Sep 2016)

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