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Thursday, April  28th 2005

Last April EQMM organized a special Symposium which, strangely enough, I only heared about one week before hand. The symposium marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of both EQ-writers and would be held in NY. Doug (Crippen & Landru) gave a hint and after some correspondence I was made aware of the event. In the end I made my first trip to the States. Thanks to the hospitality of Dale Andrews and his family I not only attented the symposium but also got to visit the Library of Congress in Washington DC, which holds several audiotapes of EQ radioshows.
A report on the symposium itself will follow at a later date, and we also will make some more pictures available. But a much stronger feeling developed in the weeks following the event... . I like to share this with you...

The Butler did it! Challenge to ...
 

The Butler Library at Columbia University, April 28th 2005

 


Jimmy Buffett yells "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore." That about sums up my sentiment when I decided to write this article.

I had just read the 'Gumshoe Who Wore Pince-Nez'*
(New York Times, May 6, 2005) by Janet Maslin, an article inspired by the symposium that preceded the opening of "The Quintessential Ellery Queen: Celebrating the Centennial of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee," an exhibition at the Butler Library at Columbia University in New York City. When I found the article I was at first glad that at least some coverage was given to this event. After all, I made my first trip to the United States inspired by the possibility of attending the Symposium. The fact that I only came to know the symposium was being held a short week beforehand proved no obstacle either. So if someone went to so much 'trouble' why wouldn't there be media coverage? I'm sure the author meant it in the nicest possible way when she pointed out in the article that the symposium was attended by only a small circle of people. From her perspective this small turnout was expected. Hence her remark that "[e]veryone at the small symposium sponsored by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine undoubtedly knew the following: that Dannay and Lee wrote their first book, The Roman Hat Mystery, to win a $7,500 prize in a magazine contest" But how did we find ourselves in a world where it is expected that only a few stalwarts would be interested in the Queen opus?

This reminded me of another article by S.T. Karnick, "Mystery Men - authors behind pseudonym Ellery Queen have enduring influence" * (National Review, March 6, 2000). The article opened by noting that "[t]he fact that hardly anybody reads Ellery Queen today indicates the depths to which American mystery fiction-has fallen" The article -- prompted by the 70th anniversary of The Roman Hat Mystery - went on to observe that "the first Ellery Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, appeared 70 years ago, and it's no exaggeration to say that Queen set the standard and form of the modern American crime story." Yet the anniversary otherwise passed with little fanfare. EQMM dedicated an issue to its founder and namesake, and a small publisher released the outline of a final, unpublished Queen novel together with essay recollections by family and friends, but that was about it. Almost none of Queen's books are now in print in the United States, and the few that are, are very hard to find. This is a shame. Ellery Queen was the single most important figure of the Golden Age of the American mystery, which ran from the 1930s through the '50s. Ellery Queen, as critic Anthony Boucher put it, "is the American detective story." Karnick's article concludes by saying "his writings merit a revival and serious reassessment. Such a revival might also be our best hope for a renewal of the genre that Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee did so much to build and sustain."


The observations from the New York Times article and the near disappearance of the works of Queen are self-evidently true. But are they necessarily inevitable? Is it inevitable that the Queen works can only be sustained in the minds of a dwindling number of devotees?

Steve Steinbock brought some visual attributes to let things come full circle...Richard Dannay whilst making some wonderful points at the Symposium...Sarah Caldwell made some moving recollections...

It is hard to describe the thrill I felt at the symposium when I met all of the Queen scholars and family members in attendance. But standing in that room full of devotees I also remembered an anecdote recounted by Professor Nevins in "Sound of Detection". In the 70s, Nevins wrote, a fan approached Manfred Lee and told him that he believed Lee was one of the greatest writers who ever lived. Lee replied that this didn't say much for his taste.
Such self-deprecation is amusing and perhaps endearing, but it is not warranted. I experienced this "need to apologize" a bit myself when trying to explain to friends why I decided, on three days notice, to fly across the Atlantic to attend the EQ centenary symposium. What could merit this behavior? Although I can hardly deny my fascination with the Queen-works, I am also not blind to their faults. But in balance I appreciate their merits. And the fact remains that this fascination brought me all the way to New York City. The merits of the Queen works are clearly there! Logic, linear analysis, Socratic dialogues and playing fair with the reader.

So imagine with me, if you will, a slightly different world. A world where you can go to a neighborhood bookstore and find ten or twelve recent editions of Ellery Queen works, all with matching covers. A world where the back cover of each and every one of those volumes promises the publication of more works soon. Books with cover art so wonderful that it is almost collectible. Imagine a world where you could go to the theatre to see a new production of The Roman Hat Mystery. Imagine looking at a list of popular writers as reported by customers and finding that Ellery Queen has several books in the top 10. Imagine, if you will, not having to explain who Ellery Queen was.
Well this is not, in fact, an imaginary world. What I have just described exists, just not in the United States. Everything I have just described is taking place, in 2005, in Italy, Japan, China, Taiwan, Germany and elsewhere. Only last year The Roman Hat Mystery was staged in Italy (see the picture, below, from an Italian newspaper with a 'tip of the hat' to our website!)
So the 'imaginary' scenario I sketched is really only imaginary in the United States, ironically, the country most associated with Queen. While Ellery Queen is still read by many people throughout the world, and by new generations who seem to enjoy it as much as their predecessors, that is no longer the case in the United States. Are Americans that different? - I think not.

Italian newspaper article announcing the play The Roman Hat Mystery (La poltrona nr 30 or 'seat Nr 30') with some 'lended' art from this website...  picture of another 'Italian' EQ play 'The House of Brass'.
(L) Italian newspaper article announcing the 2004 play 'The Roman Hat Mystery'
 (La Poltrona n°30 or Chair N°30) and (R) a picture of another
 'Italian'  EQ play 'The House of Brass' (
La febbre dell'ottone).

No U.S. publisher seems to have the foresight to do precisely what the two nephews would have done: market the Queen works. If only one American publisher would have the prescience to publish three to five works at the same time, with engaging cover art, quality binding, enhanced with all the Queen paraphernalia (Challenge to the Reader, Map, Introduction) and helped by 21st century printing techniques, the imaginary world could, again, be real in the U.S. The genre is far from dead. Witness the success of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, a novel whose strained denouement cannot hold a candle to a classic Queen story. We already have had isolated initiatives (such as Otto Prenzler's edition of the Roman Hat Mystery) but no series. Once you get readers hooked into a series they're sold, as was I, and as I and I'm pretty sure you were (or you would not have read this far!)
An even bolder plan would be licensing a promising writer to write new Queen stories. We have hosts of Sherlock Holmes novels published every year - Laurie King's excellent (and continuing) series is but one example. Why must the man who "is the American detective story" disappear while Holmes is allowed to live on? Perhaps even a contest could be held by a magazine to inspire new Queen works - are you out there EQMM? (I might even enter, and if I won I promise to swap pipes with my co-writer.)
With marketing and creativity the classic Queen novels can be reborn. And with even more creativity perhaps new Queen stories can find their way to the market as well.

There's a clear challenge ... for a(n) (American) publisher!

Kurt Sercu/Dale C. Andrews



(Above) A small selection of current Chinese/Taiwanese editions
(Below)
All of the following Russian Ellery Queen editions were published
between 2004 and 2007! Each book has up to three Queen stories.

Cover Russian edition, 2004 (Chinese Orange Mystery together with The Egyptian Cross Mystery)Cover Russian edition, 2004 (The Door Between and The Dragon's Teeth)Cover Russian edition, 2004 (The Spanish Cape Mystery together with The Dutch Shoe Mystery)Cover Russian Edition, 2004 (The Roman Hat Mystery & The Siamese Twin Mystery)Cover Russian edition, 2004 (Four of Hearts & There was an Old Woman)Cover Russian edition 2005 (Calamity Town together with The Murderer is a Fox)Cover Russian Edition, 2005 (Cat of Many Tails together with The Origin of Evil)Cover Russian edition, 2005 (The French Powder Mystery & A Study in Terror))
Cover Russian edition, 2005 (The American Gun & The Halfway House)Cover Russian edition, 2005 (The King is Dead & The Player on the Other Side)Cover Russian Edition, 2005 (Double, Double & Ten Days' Wonder)Cover Russian edition, 2005 (The Penthouse Mystery, The Vanishing Corpse & Scarlet Letters)Cover Russian edition, 2005 (The Greek Coffin Mystery and The Devil to Pay)Cover Russian edition, 2006 (Fourth Side of the Triangle together with the New Adventures of Ellery Queen)Cover Russian edition, 2006 (A Fine and Private Place together with The Last Woman in his Life)Cover Russian edition, 2006 (Lamp of God and Calendar of Crime)
Cover Russian edition, 2006 (The Finishing Stroke & Face to Face)Cover Russian edition, 2006 (Inspector Queen's Own Case & On the Eight Day)Cover Russian edition, 2006 (House of Brass & The Adventures of Ellery Queen)Cover Russian edition 2007 (Q.E.D. together with the Glass Village)Cover Russian edition, 2007 (includes Cop Out, The Last Man Club & Drury Lane's Last Case) Cover Russian edition, 2007 (The Tragedy of X & Stories from Queens Full)Cover Russian edition, 2007 (The Tragedy of Y & stories from Queens Full)Cover Russian edition, 2007 (The Tragedy of Z & Q.B.I.)

* Links to referred articles (free login might be required to read full article)
"
Gumshoe Who Wore Pince-Nez"(New York Times, May 6, 2005) by Janet Maslin
"Mystery Men - authors behind pseudonym Ellery Queen have enduring influence"

                                      
(National Review, March 6, 2000) by S.T. Karnick

       More information and pictures of the Centenary Symposium at the EQMM website... -

Update 2013 February

it seems Otto Penzler, critic, publisher, anthologist, editor, and owner of the Mysterious Press and Mysterious Bookshop stepped up to the plate and so we are thrilled to announce the release of twelve ebooks by the great Ellery Queen by MysteriousPress.com/Open Road.

 The Roman Hat Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (October 25, 2011)Calamity Town - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (October 25. 2011)

The 12 e-books released Feb 5. 2013 are given the same look as the previous editions (October 25, 2011) of Calamity Town and The Roman Hat Mystery making up a lovely series to read and collect!

The French Powder Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)The Dutch Shoe Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)The Greek Coffin Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)The Egyptian Cross Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)The American Gun Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)The Siamese Twin  Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)
The Adventures of Ellery Queen - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)The Chinese Orange Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)The Spanish Cape Mystery - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)Ten Days' Wonder - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)Cat of Many Tails - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)On the Eight Day - cover eBook edition MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (February 5, 2013)

 

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