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Francis M. Nevins

Francis M. NevinsWe zijn echt vereerd om Francis M. (Mike) Nevins als  West 87th Street Irregulars te mogen verwelkomen.

Mike is professor Emeritus aan de St. Louis University Law School, en studeerde met grootste onderscheiding af aan St. Peters College alsook aan de New York University School of Law. Hij doceerde menig jaren rechten, specifiek auteursrechten in St. Louis. Maar zoals velen die Queen genegen zijn reeds zullen weten, Mike’s interesses gaan de wettelijke zaken ver te buiten. Hij heeft menig standaardwerken en analyses geschreven over onderwerpen zo divers als daar zijn: Cornell Woolrich en Hopalong Cassidy. En, gelukkig voor ons, is hij zonder tegenspraak één van wereld's meest vooraanstaande autoriteiten op gebied van Ellery Queen en het samenwerkingsverband tussen Frederic Dannay en Manfred B. Lee. Mike mag dan wel Lee maar kort hebben ontmoet, hij was een goede vriend met Dannay, zijn mentor, die hij ooit omschreef als “the closest thing to a grandfather I have ever had.” Mike heeft ook zes boeken onder zijn naam gepubliceerd, twee verzameling van kortverhalen alsook diverse boeken over non-fictie. Hij stelde reeds meer dan 15 detective bloemlezingen samen; won twee maal de prestigieuze Edgar Allan Poe Award voor kritische werken, éénmaal voor een vroegere studie over Ellery Queen en éénmaal voor zijn werk over Cornell Woolrich. Ook de legendarische Ellery Queen pastiche “Open Letter to Survivors” is van zijn hand.

Mike’s opname in onze kleine vereniging van Queen adepten kan niet beter getimed worden. Immers in januari 2013, werd zijn meest recente kritische werk gepubliceerd: Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection. Het werk dat bestaat uit een volledige update van Mike’s voorgaande Ellery Queen analyse, Royal Bloodline, is het grote werk over het leven van zowel Dannay als Lee, hun creatie Ellery Queen, de volledige Ellery Queen bibliotheek, de radiohoorspelen, de televisieseries alsook de verfilmingen met Ellery. Met zijn boek voorziet Mike de lezer van de omnibus over alles te maken met Queen.

Mike was zo vriendelijk ons toe te staan om het artikel te herpubliceren dewelke hij schreef voor de EQMM blog, daarin weerspiegelt hij zijn levenslange affectie voor Queen. In zijn nieuwe boek stelt Mike dat hij hoopt dat zijn boek een heropleving van de interesse in Ellery zal helpen teweegbrengen. Kan men een betere reden bedenken om hem in dit genootschap op te nemen? Dat is, tenslotte, precies wat we hier proberen te bewerkstelligen!

Felicitaties, Mike, met dit prachtige nieuwe werk en welkom bij de West 87th Street Irregulars!

Kurt Sercu
Dale C. Andrews

A LIFETIME WITH ELLERY QUEEN

On January 6 of this year I turned 70. On January 15 a hefty tome of mine called Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection will be published. In a sense I’ve come to the end of a road: at my age it’s unlikely I’ll write about Queen again, certainly not at such length. Where did that road begin?

I was one of those strange children who somehow learned to read before they first set their little feet in a classroom. I was about four years old at the time. In one of the last conversations I had with my mother before her death, she insisted she hadn’t taught me and guessed that somehow I had taught myself by playing with a set of alphabet blocks.

I never saw my father reading much but he must have been an avid reader as a young man. At age nine or ten I discovered on his shelves The Benson Murder Case (1926), first of S.S. Van Dine’s once hugely popular Philo Vance detective novels. At the foot of the front cover was my father’s name (which was also mine) in tiny gold letters. Perhaps that was what led me to try reading the book. Big mistake. I gave up after a few chapters, skunked by Van Dine’s sesquipedalian ponderosity.

That abortive encounter was either my first or second experience with detective fiction. The other encounter, probably within a year before or after the Van Dine debacle, took place at the home of one of my uncles, a cardiologist. What I was doing at his house I have no idea, but one or both of my parents must have been with me. Somehow I discovered a bookcase and happened to pluck out a volume with a bright orange cover and began reading. It was the International Readers’ League edition of The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934) by Ellery Queen. If I didn’t get past the first few chapters, it was only because my parents were taking me back home. I was a precocious kid but too shy, I guess, to ask my uncle if I could borrow the book. My loss.

The next time I encountered the Queen name was in the public library of Roselle Park, New Jersey. I was still too young to be allowed into the grown-ups section, but among the juvenile fiction I found and checked out Ellery Queen, Master Detective (1940), which wasn’t a genuine Queen novel but a “novelization” based on the movie of the same name---which itself was more or less based on a genuine Queen novel! (The Door Between, if you want to get technical about it.) This novelization I read straight through. Almost sixty years later I still remember one line. It’s dinnertime and Ellery is “sawing manfully at his steak” which has been prepared for him by his culinarily challenged new girlfriend Nikki Porter. That and two other novelizations of movies about Ellery were not written by the cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, as the genuine Queen novels and stories were, but were farmed out---or, as we say nowadays, outsourced ---to ghosts. As chance would have it, I learned the name of one of those ghosts recently, in a document containing the vast majority of the letters Manny wrote to Fred while they were living on opposite coasts. The true author of Ellery Queen, Master Detective was Laurence Dwight Smith (1895-1952), a long-forgotten hack who also wrote mysteries (some for adults, some for kids) and nonfiction books under his own name. Whether he wrote the other EQ novelizations remains unknown.

On turning 13 I was given access to the adult sections of the library. It was there that, with chance or fate as the wind at my back, I found the mystery fiction shelves and discovered Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan and was hooked for life. Exactly when I started reading Ellery Queen I can’t recall but I can still see myself sitting in a creaky old green-painted rocking chair in front of my grandmother’s house during the heat of the 1957 summer, lost in ecstasy as I wandered with Ellery through the labyrinths of The Greek Coffin Mystery. I was fourteen at the time and had just completed my first year of high school. Before graduating from college seven years later I had read most of the Queen novels, several of them two or three times apiece. I had also watched both of the Queen TV series from those years---the low-budget 30-minute films (1955-56) starring Hugh Marlowe, the first actor to play Ellery on radio, and the more elaborate hour-long program (1958-59), originally live and later on tape, with George Nader and then Lee Philips in the title role---but neither was remotely in the same league with the Queen novels and stories.

One Saturday afternoon during my senior year in high school I was returning to Roselle Park after taking the College Board entrance exam. Changing trains at Newark’s Penn Station, I passed a newsstand, saw the current issue of EQMM (April 1960), and plunked down 35 cents for it. By that time I must have bought many back issues at the secondhand bookstore I passed every day on the way home from school, but this was the first issue I had bought new. I still remember the occasion vividly.

After college I was offered a scholarship by New York University School of Law. The academic work was a thousand percent harder than anything I had encountered before, and for the three years of law school I all but stopped reading for enjoyment. A year or two after graduation and admission to the New Jersey bar came one of the great moments of my life, my first meeting with Fred Dannay. I can still see myself stepping off the train at Larchmont and being greeted by Fred and his then wife Hilda and being driven to their home on Byron Lane. Fred was in his early sixties at the time, several years younger than I am today. Since EQMM had a policy of publishing in every issue a story by someone who had never written a mystery before, he almost had to encourage everyone he met to try to write for the magazine. He certainly encouraged me.

I had exchanged a few letters with Fred’s cousin and collaborator, Manny Lee, but I only met him once. It was in April 1970, just before the annual Mystery Writers of America dinner. We had arranged to meet “under the clock” in the lounge of New York’s Biltmore Hotel. Just as we were shaking hands a young man sitting nearby jumped up like a jack-in-the-box and shouted “Manfred B. Lee! I think you’re the greatest writer that ever lived!” To which Manny replied: “That doesn’t say much for your taste.” I would have given much to have known him longer but he died less than a year later.

A few years passed between my first meeting with Fred and my first fiction sale, but when the May 1972 issue of EQMM hit the nation’s newsstands, there was my name on the cover along with those of Agatha Christie, John Creasey, Edward D. Hoch and other luminaries. It was all I could do to keep myself from shouting HEY!!! THAT’S ME!!! whenever I went into a store that carried the magazine. Until his death in 1982 Fred bought many more stories from me, as did his successor Eleanor Sullivan and her successor Janet Hutchings.

My book Royal Bloodline: Ellery Queen, Author and Detective was published 1974 and received an Edgar award from Mystery Writers of America. I was in my early thirties then. As I write these words I’ve just turned 70. Perhaps Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection should have been called Royal Bloodline 2.0. It’s certainly more comprehensive than my earlier book, and better written (I hope), and does justice to Manny Lee as Royal Bloodline, I’m afraid, didn’t. What I wish most of all is that my hefty tome will return the name of Ellery Queen, author and detective, to the minds and hearts of the mystery-reading public where it belongs.

Francis M.Nevins

Other articles by this West 87nd Street Irregular
(1) On Ellery Queen at Mystery File (01-11-2013)
(2) On Ellery Queen at Mystery File (12-07-2012)
(3) Blood Relations: Frederic Dannay & Manfred B. Lee at Mystery File (01-31-2012)
(4) Ellery Queen on radio at Mystery File (04-12-2008)

Page first published on Feb 1. 2013 
Last updated Jul 17, 201
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© Original text 2013 Francis M. Nevins Used by permission

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