-- a Foreword
One recurring character associated with the mysteries of Ellery Queen is
J.J. McC. Identified only by initials he appears in the early mysteries and then disappears for decades, only to re-appear in one of the last Queen books. And like Ellery, the biography of J.J. McC is full of contradictions. And it was J.J. himself who contributed some of the early (and eventually contradictory) biographical “facts” concerning Ellery and the Inspector.
Early on we are told that J.J. McC., was a stockbroker and a close friend to the Queens. We are also told that although he had only eventually moved to Italy he had met the Queens several times in totally different circumstances. How long ago it now seems since El asked him to write the foreword (and sometimes an afterword) for his first books. In The Roman Hat Mystery, J.J. McC even penned the "Challenge to the Reader".
Despite all of this, J.J. McC. has been largely forgotten by many Queen followers. In several translations his introductions were discarded as those of just another writer who wrote an “upbeat” intro to a detective story. At first his efforts as oracle to the Ellery Queen novels discouraged neither Ellery's publisher nor the protagonist detective himself. Thanks to J.J. McC. Ellery's fictionalized memoirs were published! J.J., in is introductions, explains that he carried the burden of keeping the Queen's secret with some difficulty. Queen père and fils he tells us, were major cogs in the wheel of N.Y. City's police machinery during the 20s and 30s. The secret of their real names was one they demanded must be preserved, a secret never revealed... .
f we are to believe J.J. McC’s introductions, it is a well known fact that Ellery together with a wife and his father eventually retired in a small villa in the mountains of Italy. According to McC some of Ellery’s adventures were written in this Italian recluse. The Roman Hat Mystery was the first of these, followed by The French Powder Mystery, and The Dutch Shoe Mystery. The basis for those mysteries may be obscure, but we know from J.J.’s introduction that The Egyptian Cross Mystery fictionalized one of Ellery's “last” cases. Apparently this was also true of The Chinese Orange Mystery, which was based on some of Ellery’s notes that formed the basis for a fictional narrative. J.J. also tells us that the Inspector retired after 32 years of intense police work and in retirement enjoyed writing monographs on "American Crime and Methods of Detection" for a German magazine, which is not that surprising since he once studied in Germany (Heidelberg).
And according to J.J.’s introductions Ellery eventually married. Ellery met his spouse, we are told, during the case following The Roman Hat Mystery, a case J.J. McC refers to as "The Mimic Murders". Ellery, we are told, married with his father's blessing and thereafter the family all moved to Italy. Ellery's beautiful wife ("glorious creature") became ill shortly after arriving in their quiet haven, but recovered quickly. Ellery also had a son, who looked a lot like his grandfather but had been shielded from any public attention, probably on purpose since the Queens chose to retire from public life. Together with his mother Ellery’s son collected stamps beginning at an early age, which, considering the fan mail Ellery received from around the globe, amounted to a delightful collection for any philatelist.
We are also told that Djuna followed the family to Italy and beside being in good health and occasionally falling in love with a local beauty that's about all we know of the faithful servant. And according to J.J. Ellery often visits New York where their home on West 87 Street has been maintained as a semi-private-museum.
Some of Ellery’s successes, we are told, were never written in book form.
Whilst J.J. was reading The Adventure of Ellery Queen, the great
detective found himself hunting down a serial killer in Minnesota, who cut
off his victims left finger. And J.J. mentioned, while meeting Ellery and
their mutual friend Judge Macklin in a Russian restaurant on the East side,
that Ellery had been extremely upset in not solving "The Tyrolean Case" last
summer. J.J.Fallacy, as Ellery sometimes called him, tells us these stories
never saw print. But we are also told that Ellery did write some stories
under his own name before The Roman Hat Mystery was published. Since
this was a real case J.J. explains that Ellery’s true identity had to be
hidden and so it was published under an alias... Ellery Queen.
In the foreword to Halfway House Ellery points out to J.J. McC that the book could have been titled The Swedish Match Mystery, but it was not. Halfway House did, however, keep the subtitle of its predecessors “a problem in deduction.”
If we try to figure out J.J. McC’s actual identity, and the basis for his friendship with the Queens, we must, at least at first, turn back, once again, to the introductions to those first ten mysteries. We are told, for example, that J.J. lived in Rye, N.Y. for a while where he had an office. He owned a motorboat, was a backstroke-swimming champion at college and he rowed stroke-oar. Some believed that perhaps J.J. was a lawyer, and that he originally knew the Queens through connections to the New York Police.
He occasionally flew to Europe during the early days of commercial aviation. It was on one of these trips that J. J. ran into the Queens in their small Italian mountain village. Through this encounter J.J. began his quest to persuade Ellery to gather his notes on the murder of Monte Field, which led eventually to the publication of The Roman Hat Mystery. Ellery averred that as reward he could write the introduction to every Queen opus.
That did not quite happen -- J.J. McC’s introductions, as noted, appear in the first ten mysteries of Ellery Queen. But after that -- J.J. disappears. There were no more forewords. From J.J.’s perspective we could speculate that perhaps Ellery may have succumbed to pressure from his publishing company, which may have thought it better to drop J.J. McC. The publicity concerning a certain Barnaby Ross may have contributed since McC is also fleetingly referenced in one of the Barnaby Ross mysteries. But in any event, J.J. McC departs, leaving his true identity as mysterious as Ellery Queen's. The introductions that we do have end with his initials, followed by a location -- e.g., Rye, N.Y. , Claremont, N.H. or Northampton, Massachusetts.
In which we are reminded where J.J. first appeared
As we have noted, the first ten Ellery Queen books each contained a foreword (sometimes even an afterword) by J. J. McC. Notwithstanding the ruminations set forth above in our own “Foreword,” the character, like Ellery himself, in fact originated from the cousins' minds. We are told much about the inspector and Ellery in those early forewords, including the "fact" that the two retired Queens eventually resided in a little Italian mountain village... . Again this was part of the "staged confusion" surrounding the identity of Ellery Queen. But in later Queen mysteries, basically from Halfway House on, Ellery himself begins to change and earlier details, such as the Queens' residency in Italy, disappeared from the books. J.J.’s introductions were gone, but J.J. himself did not completely disappear.
One Ellery Queen anthology, Challenge to the Reader (1940, Blue Ribbon Book) in fact had J.J. McC. in a starring role. The anthology contains 25 short stories by famous writers where both author and main characters are disguised. The reader ultimately is provided with a Challenge to identify both. Each story is read to J.J. by Ellery himself and is followed by an afterword in which the two of them provide the solution. The first part of the book "In Which Mr. Ellery Queen Invents a New Kind of Detective Story Anthology" is a nine-page explanation of the device and has an amusing interaction between Ellery (complete with pince-nez) and J.J. (basically a "self-interview" with Dannay on detective fiction). The discussion also includes some additional information on the Queen apartment (!). On one occasion Ellery's friend J.J. McC. "dropped in to find shelter from the cold gray rain that was blurring 87th Street and Mr. Queen was properly grateful since he was fatigued from his herculean labors in the case of the Whistling Mouse (in which, if you will recall, he traced the clue of a sound from Mott Street to the International Settlement in Shanghai)." J.J. and Ellery proceed to discuss several possibilities for a new form of an anthology and even describe one that would later be the basis for the "Puzzle Club" stories!
Later, toward the end of the Queen canon, there a character J.J. Mc Cue appears in a small but crucial role in Face to Face. McCue is identified as a judge, and is described as a friend of Ellery and the Inspector. It seems reasonable to conclude that Dannay and Lee are telling us, finally, that this is the person who wrote the early forewords.
Julian Symons, in his book Great Detectives disagrees, however, concluding that Judge McCue knew the Queens but never wrote a foreword of any kind.
Symons claims to have followed a Northampton lead, through a professor of Romance Languages at Smith and a Professor Emeritus at nearby Amherst College to discover the actual identity of the elusive J.J. Mc C. He had, according to Symons, not been a lawyer, but instead was the vice-president of a large New York-based insurance company. He was a bachelor, fascinated by crime, and all his spare time had been occupied recording the Queen cases. His connection with Northampton came through his sister, who had lived in the town for more than thirty years. J.J. Mc C., according to Symons, died in 1975 ("six years ago"). Symons claimed to have visited his sister who knew little of her brother's hobby ("as she called it"). Symons used this visit as a lead-in to his own Ellery Queen pastiche, included in the book. So it might well be that this investigation is a "J.J. Mc C touch" in itself. ( 1 )
In Which the true J.J.Mc C. reveals himself to the public
All of this is amusing but where does it take us in our investigation into the real J.J. Mc C.? Symons’ theories as to J.J.’s true identity are offered with no real reference to any of the writings of Dannay and Lee. So, while interesting, there is little basis to conclude that they are anything beyond speculation and creativity on the part of Symons.
What we DO know is that in Face to Face Dannay and Lee, writing as Queen, introduced a character named J.J McCue. J.J. McC is itself an abbreviation, and the clearest evidence of who that abbreviation identifies is likely the inclusion of this character. The "McC" cannot have been his last name in full -- who has a name without a vowel? Certainly not the Scots or the Irish, which are the two nationalities that use "Mc," originally meaning “son of”, at the beginning of surnames. So "J.J. McC" was always meant to be an identity whose full name was hidden from the reader. (Remember that in one of he early Queen books there is a note from the publisher at the beginning saying that many have asked who J.J. McC is and the publisher professes to have no idea of the true identity.)
Given this, when a character is finally introduced in Face to Face who has the initials "J.J." and a final name of "McCue," there can, we submit, be little doubt that the Queen writers are (finally) revealing the true identity of the author of the forewords. As Cathy Akers-Jordan (1989) put it: "...such a reference would have been recognized and enjoyed by long-time readers"
So what else can we learn in Ellery Queen's Face to Face about this Judge J.J .McCue, described as "friend-of-the-family type" ? Here is what is said in the book:
“And I know just the man,” the Inspector said,
setting the plate down.
“The coffee’s perking.” He explored the sideboard for napkins, plates, and cutlery, and began passing them around. “J.J.”
“The Judge,” Ellery said damply.
“The Judge?” Burke asked in a suspicious tone. “Who’s the Judge?”
“Judge J. J. McCue, an old friend of ours,” the Inspector said, and went for the coffee pot.”
J.J. plays golf on a crowded municipal Palm Sunday golf course and is married!
“The Judge says he can’t do it at his house—his wife comes from a long line of High Church ministers and she thinks Holy Week marriages are made in hell. Besides, he’s in enough trouble with her because he’s playing golf today. So he’ll slip over to our place this evening. Is that all right with you two?”
And for the first time we're treated to a physical description of J.J.
“Judge McCue arrived at seven, a tall old party with a white thatch, a bricklayer’s complexion, a nose like a prizefighter’s, and blue judge-eyes. He towered over Inspector Queen like Mt. Fujiyama. The jurist was glancing at his watch even as the Inspector let him in, and he glanced at it again during the introduction of the unhappy couple, both of whom were beginning to exhibit the classic symptoms of premarital jitters. “I don’t like to hurry matters,” Judge McCue said in his Chaliapin voice, “but the fact is I had to tell Mrs. McCue a white lie about where I was going, and she’s expecting me back home practically at once. My wife doesn’t hold with Lenten weddings.”
Also in "Four Words," Dale C. Andrews' Ellery Queen pastiche which appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of EQMM J.J. Mc Cue appears as a main character.
Several other pastiches similarly concluded that the judge is the same person who wrote the forewords.
In Which a device gets dissected
Finally, why did the cousins use the device of J.J. McC's foreword in the first place? At least one critic has called it "a clumsy and superfluous framing device". None of the functions these forewords fulfill are actually necessary for the story. You can skip the forewords in the early EQ books and your reading experience will arguably lack nothing except some clutter. As we mentioned earlier many translations didn't even include the forewords.
Why were these forewords written and included? One reason might be that the popular S.S. Van Dine (pseudonym for Willard Huntington Wright), who was greatly admired by Dannay and Lee and whose mysteries greatly influenced Queen's early works, employed a similar device. Van Dine’s first Philo Vance story The Benson Murder Case began with a Publisher's note followed by a foreword by S.S. Van Dine himself. Both pieces take a decidedly J.J. like approach... ( 2 )
So Van Dine may have provided the idea for the device and Dannay, who at one point in his career was a typography consultant, surely must have been partial to look-alike/sound-alike J.J. McC. variation of S.S. Van Dine... Of course in the Queen stories author and detective were the same person, so Ellery Queen couldn't write the introductions. In came J.J.
Advertising agents Dannay & Lee went to great lengths to package their detective, to define Ellery as a crime-solver head and shoulders above the others. The inclusions of J.J.’s forewords helped to accomplish this. Writer Sarah Monette ("Packaging the Detective", 2011) dissected the accomplishments of the J.J.Mc C. foreword in The Roman Hat Mystery as follows:1. It offers third-party authentication of the veracity of the book and of the reality of Ellery himself. (The fact that the third party is himself just another sock-puppet for Dannay & Lee is another layer in the meta-game of Ellery Queen's identity).
2. It’s a vehicle to introduce Ellery’s post-detective life (an idea which, by the way, will sink quietly and without a trace about the same time J. J. McC. himself does): the villa in Italy, the happy retirement of both father and son, the son’s marriage to the unnamed wife, the progeny, etc. etc. etc.
3. It allows Ellery to seem modest and self-effacing; the story, we are told, saw the light of day because J. J. McC. beat down Ellery’s resistance, and moreover, did all the hard work himself.
4. It allows Dannay & Lee to hype their hero without putting him in the uncomfortable position of hyping himself. When J. J. McC. tells us about Ellery’s genius, about his remarkable crime-solving record, about the museum of mementoes “reverently preserved by friends” (xv), we may or may not buy what he’s selling, but we don’t blame Ellery the character for J. J.’s excesses of hero worship.
5. It also allows Dannay & Lee to hype the ingenuity of the murder we’re about to watch Ellery solve, without having to come right out and praise themselves.
6. It adds another layer of pseudonymity, and another twist in the reality/artifice progression, as J. J. tells us that “‘Richard Queen’ and ‘Ellery Queen’ are not the true names of those gentlemen. Ellery himself made the selections; and I might add at once that his choices were contrived to baffle the reader who might endeavor to ferret the truth from some apparent clue of anagram” (xiv). ... The announced artificiality of the names is used to increase the illusion of reality wound about the characters
Nowhere is point 4. more embarrassingly obvious than in Challenge to the Reader (1940, Blue Ribbon Book) where J.J.Mc C. explains he is solely responsible for including an Ellery Queen story to the anthology (see below)
Perhaps Sarah's most astute remark would be that Dannay & Lee might have thought they needed J.J.'s forewords to boost Ellery Queen, not yet realizing that that’s one thing you can always count on Ellery to do for himself!
Dale C. Andrews
(1) Face to Face Ellery Queen, 1967
(2) The Benson Murder Case S.S. Van Dine, 1926
(3) Challenge to the Reader Ellery Queen anthology, 1940
(4) Packaging the Detective, Sarah Monette, 2011
(5) Great Detectives, Julian Symons, 1981
(1) While the notes in Julian Symons's book Great Detectives seem to
conclude that J.J. Mc Cue was "Ellery's younger brother" (see below).
"P.70 Judge J.J. McCue appears in Face to Face. 'Ellery's
younger brother'. It is said in The Finishing Stroke that..."
The main text only concludes that there were 2 Ellery's
in the Queen canon. Julian named one Dan Queen, Ellery's
"Along notes of several cases clearly related to Ellery I found
a fragment of a different kind. The central character is named
only as Dan, but I have no doubt that he was Ellery's young
brother, Dan Queen..."
(2) Below: Publisher's Note to The Benson Murder Case by
S.S. Van Dine (1926)
Below: S.S. Van Dine's introduction to The Benson Murder Case
(click for full text)