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Pietro De Palma: Ellery Queen in Italy

Pietro De Palma is from Bari in Apulia, Italy and founded an Ellery Queen group at the Anobii site, a group which also includes adepts of the S.S. Van Dine School. His is a passionate fan of early mysteries from the  '20s and '30s and especially likes locked room mysteries and stories involving impossible crimes.
He has written a novel with three seperate locked
room mysteries, called "Three Locked Room Mysteries for Commissioner Lessona" which is to be published soon, and another full-scale novel "Il Romanzo Ritrovato" (The Lost and Found Novel), also with a locked room mystery and two endings, in the manner of "The Bourning Court" of John Dickson Carr. He has also tried his hand at several pastiches with three Sherlock Holmes stories, one Clayton Rawson and one Ellery Queen pastiche.

As to articles and essays on mystery and crime novels go, on his blogs "La morte sa leggere", "the Blog del Giallo Mondadori.", and on The Sherlock Magazine Web (Italian) he wrote, among others: "The First Four Carr Tales" and "Meta-critique of The Third Bullet", both focusing on the works of Carr, a retrospective on Rufus King, and last but not least an article on "The Siamese Twins Mystery" by Ellery Queen.
To accomodate non-Italian readers Pietro has made a new blog available called "Death Can Read"
Pietro likes the work of Rémi Schulz and some of his articles reflect this.
We were very pleased when he agreed to offer his views as to wether Ellery Queen, is indeed very alive and well in Italy, as reflected in the prefaces attributed to the mysterious JJMcC in the early Queen novels.
 

Kurt Sercu
Dale C. Andrews

Q: What is the current importance of detective fiction in Italy?

As you mentioned before, Italy is one of the few countries in which publishers continue to publish classic mystery novels, and Ellery Queen novels are re-issued often.

One could say that in Italy only a few years ago, classic detective novel were published with only newsstands sales in mind. These “pulp” versions of mysteries were very much aimed at that market. In the past there were many publishing houses,  mostly gone nowadays, that each published a myriad of novels. Very few of these publishers have withstood the test of time, in fact only one, Mondadori, still publishes monthly newsstand editions -- two unpublished novels (hard-boiled, mystery, thrillers, etc.) and two Le falene assassinate e altri delitti - click for the indepth page...reprints of novels each month.  Last spring they introduced yet another monthly publication: "The Supergiallo Mondadori," a collection of short stories, sometimes from different authors, and other times a collection of stories by one author. Actually, one of the last collections of short stories by the same author published in 2006 featured Ellery Queen: The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Mysteries, translated into Italian as Le Falene Assassinate e Altri Delitti, which was also republished as part of a series of detective stories and available in bookstores. 



Q: Are there other current publishers active who focus on supplying mysteries to regular bookstores?

In bookstores in Italy for several years there has been a real explosion of "noir" crime fiction. It had seemed that interest in the classic mystery had finally disappeared, and only Mondadori continued to offer works in that  niche, publishing classic novels by writers such as Ellery Queen, C. Daly King, John Dickson Carr, Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Clayton Rawson, S.S.Van Dine, Edmund Crispin, Christianna Brand, Henry Wade, Patrick Quentin, Rex Stout, and Rufus King, among others.
Some of these novels published in newspapers, enjoyed a prolonged life, and were sold as series in bookstores. Then a few years ago Polillo, another publishing house, started a series of detective novels.  These  gradually took off and these publications are  now firmly established in all book stores. The publishing house now produces on average 10-15 novels a year, mostly unpublished work (for Italy).  The company focuses on the period from the 20s onward. Curiously, this series, which also features authors otherwise neglected or very hard to find in the USA, (e.g. Leslie Quirk & Horatio Winslow, F.G.Parke, Rupert Penny, Anthony Wynne), completely misses out on the novels of Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie and Rex Stout.  Some of the John Dickson Carr stories are contained within the collection.

Besides these two main resources for novels and tales of detective fiction, there are also others that, with less economic resources, from time to time issue new works by great writers of detective fiction.



Q: So there's a great interest in Italy for these kind of works?

In Italy, today, there is a deep economic crisis.  Unemployment is on the rise and there is just less money to spend.   People I know in the book trade, are deeply concerned about the future of these publications. This concern is fed by the large drop in sales figures for books. Economic concerns may hit the industry as a whole, with possible consequences for publisher, libraries and bookstores.

Some small publishing houses are active and are focusing on small catalogs of works: the works of Leblanc, Ngaio Marsh, Keeler, Stacey Bishop, McCabe, Norman Berrow. It is not known, given the deep economic crisis we are in, if these publishers can continue to further extend their catalogs. I most certainly hope they are able to do so.
So in essence, only large publishing houses, those that can rely on a predictably stable amount of readers, can reliably plan for the future.
As to Ellery Queen, currently a novel is published every six months, by Mondadori.




Q:
Is Ellery Queen one of the most popular mystery writers in Italy?

Yes, sure. Perhaps not 'the' most popular, but surely he is up there with the three most popular mystery writers in Italy: Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen.




Q:
How many works of Ellery Queen were translated into Italian?

That's simple, all of them, except “Tragedy of Errors and Others”.  This includes all the original stories of Ellery Queen, in various collections, a selection of radio plays, novels and all the short stories.

 


Q:
So there's an established reading public.

Certainly! But it would be even greater if there were more room for critiques. Currently, the only forum for literary criticism and essays about the detective fiction, is on the web (blogs). Presently, from the publishing houses viewpoint there appears to be no interest in publishing this kind of work.




Q: Why is that?

In my opinion, if they would allow such works to be published the full catalogue should be available fro readers. In this niche market (Agatha Christie - Ellery Queen - John Dickson Carr) this is a problem, with only Agatha Christie as a possible exception. In fact, unique in Italy, all her work is available to the reading public. Not surprisingly, the last critical essay devoted to an author in Italy was John Curran’s Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks published at the end of 2010. I sincerely hope that his other study "Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making" will be translated into Italian soon.

When we shift focus to Carr, we find that neither of the two most famous critical studies, those by Doug Greene and S.T. Joshi, have, in fact, been translated.   For Van Dine, there is an introduction in Italian written by Edoardo Ripari. As for Ellery Queen, thirty years ago, "Royal Bloodline, Ellery Queen Author and Detective" by Francis M. Nevins Jr. was published in installments in volumes comprising a series dedicated to Ellery Queen.  These studies have been sold out for many years.  Given the non-availability of the work of some authors author critiques are limited to those available on the internet.  There is still an article on the web by Luca Conti focusing on Queen's short stories, my short essay on The Siamese Twins Mystery, and a somewhat longer article, in the form of presentation by Oreste del Buono, written thirty years ago.
In print there is an
essay by Mauro Boncompagni in which he writes about Queen, Carr and Stout separately.  This essay originally was prepared for a study conference some years ago at the University of Trieste; In another essay by Boncompagni, which he wrote as an introduction to a collection, "Speciale del Giallo Mondadori n.64: Relazioni Pericolose (Dangerous Liaisons) - Ellery Queen, Chaz Elliott, Charles B. Child," in July 2011 he analyzes Queen's short stories, more specifically those from  the 'Wife or Death' collection. Finally there is also an important critique entitled “Preface and Afterword Welcome, by Stefano and Giovanni Rizzoni, to "The Siamese Twins Mystery," published in an edition of the novel dating back to 1976 (thirty-five years ago!).

I do not know of any other. 



Q: This reluctance to publish critical works, is not only the case for critical works on Ellery Queen, but all other authors as well?

Yes, of course.  But it is more pronounced in the case of Ellery QueenIn the case of Carr, in fact, not even the most important essays I mentioned earlier, have been translated. There is a wealth of important essays and articles, available on the internet.  And, as stated earlier, Agatha Christie remains the exception to the rule.



Q: So how do you explain this lack of critical works on Ellery Queen, where, in terms of number of translations and/or publications, Ellery Queen remains perhaps one of the best-selling authors in detective fiction?

This is a discussion not confined to Italy, I think, but is also true for all nations where Ellery Queen novels are published.  For both John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie,  important biographies have been published .  These have dispelled  the veils cloaking the authors’ works and especially the lives of the authors. These works were followed by several essays and critical studies. For Ellery Queen there is currently no authorized biography. Various essays that do exist are mere reconstructions and hypotheses, related to what is known of the two cousins and their rivalry, which resulted in hidden references in some of their works such as The Siamese Twins Mystery.  The scholar Remi Schulz has written an interesting essay on the subject, on which I have made some additional remarks in an essay of my own, two years ago.




Q: Do you think there is a possibility that in future someone will publish a Italian translation of "The Tragedy of Errors and Others," which would then again lead to the ​​availability of the entire work of Ellery Queen?

New things sometimes happen due to successes in other media and the influences of other media on the market,.  An example could be the success of a television series or feature film. Years ago, for example, a famous Italian publishing house began to re-publish several volumes of short stories and one of the novels of Maurice Leblanc's Arsene Lupin, after the release of an Italian film based on Arsene Lupin.  An acquaintance of mine, a rather famous critic, Mauro Boncompagni, told me some time ago that in his opinion, to spark a renaissance of Ellery Queen, leading to the publication of  The Tragedy of Errors, we would likely need to have something like a movie on the history of Ellery Queen.



Q:
What is your view on the matter?

I would go as far as stating that perhaps a full Italian dvd-set of the NBC Ellery Queen series, with Jim Hutton, absent for many years on Italian television screens, might do the trick.




Q: With the American release of the series just behind us in 2011, we can still hope for this to happen?

We must. There is nothing else we can do.




Links to related articles
"Il doppio” comune denominatore ne “Il caso dei fratelli siamesi” Pietro De Palma
La Morte del senatore Banner Pietro De Palma


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