Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Tuesday Night Club: Ellery Queen & the art of the short story


The Tuesday Club Queen


Our Tuesday Night Bloggers Club is featuring Ellery Queen this month, and the entries are being collected and collated over at Noah’s Archives. Today I am looking at a collection of his short stories.
 
 
 
 



The New Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery Queen
published 1940
 
‘A short story can aim either at atmosphere or at an anecdote’ – that’s Edmund Crispin, introducing his own book of short stories, Beware of the Trains. He goes on to explain that he likes his stories to embody the ‘increasingly neglected principle of fair play to the reader – which is to say that the reader is given all the clues needed to enable him to anticipate the solution by the exercise of his logic and his common sense.’

I’ve always remembered that paragraph as being, first, an interesting and useful distinction, and second, a good description of fair play. I often apply his criteria to stories, and the book The New Adventures of Ellery Queen gave me a good opportunity – I read it for the novella The Lamp of God featured in last week’s entry, and then carried on.

Many crime short stories – the anecdotes, roughly, according to Crispin’s division – are based on a single idea, a clever trick. You can almost see the writer thinking it out, and then deciding it wouldn’t support a whole novel, but would make a nice quick story, perhaps with not too many questions asked.

But I would say that Queen does very well in combining the two Crispin ideas. The writers plainly prided themselves on the fair play aspect, but were also very good at creating an atmosphere.

A number of these stories are set at sports events, which is always a disadvantage so far as I am concerned, because of having little idea of the rules. The boxing one was clever, and l liked the way we got the news that a boxer was dead: ‘the long count’. There was also horse-racing, college football and baseball. And despite my ignorance, I would say the feel of attending a sports event was used very carefully and well in the stories. (Incidentally, I am trying very hard not to use the word ‘atmosphere’ too much, get some elegant variation, but it is very hard to find a synonym…)

There were some nice phrases in the collection: someone says Ellery Queen (in a particular situation) shows ‘an air of omniscience covering a profound and desperate ignorance.’ A weird historical tradition is described as ‘Typical British symbolism, you know – mysteriously dull’ and you know exactly what he means.

I was left wondering who exactly Djuna was, and the nature of Queen’s relationship with Paula Paris.

I’ve picked on one story to illustrate, mostly because of the chance to show swimwear of the era (pictures below from fashion adverts of the late 1930s).


 
Queen week 3 b
 

The Adventure of the Treasure Hunt – first published 1935 - resembles the 1922 book I covered recently, The Vanishing of Betty Varian by Carolyn Wells. The setting – the house by the sea and on the rocks, with only one means of access – was very very similar.

But this time there is a swimming pool inside the enclave, and I very much enjoyed this description of the behaviour and clothes of the bright young things forming the houseparty (incidentally the Lieutenant below is not a policeman but an army officer - a distinction it's not necessary to make in the UK):

Ellery sauntered over to the pool, which churned with vigorous bodies, and sat down on a bench to watch.
 [Queen and Leonie are looking for a lost pearl necklace. Leonie says:]

‘That was a long, six-stranded rope. If you think Dorothy Nixon has it on her person now, in that bathing suit…’ Ellery glanced at Mrs Nixon.

‘I can’t say,’ he chuckled, ‘that any of you in your present costumes could conceal an object larger than a fly’s wing.’..

Mrs Nixon slapped Harkness’s face, brought up her naked leg, set her rosy heel against the man’s wide chin, and shoved. Harkness laughed and went under.

‘Swine,’ said Mrs Nixon pleasantly, climbing out.

‘It’s your own fault,’ said Leonie. ‘I told you not to wear that bathing suit.’

‘Look,’ said the Lieutenant darkly, ‘who’s talking.’


Queen week 3


Tremendous stuff.




















26 comments:

  1. Love the picture of the hunk and the bathing beauty!

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    1. I know! So redolent of its time in so many ways. What IS she wearing on her head - is it one of those reflectors to focus the sun's rays? How very different from our times...

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  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed this collection, Moira. I love that description of 'fair play,' too. And I think that one of the skills the 'Queen team' had was to engage the reader in a mystery that would interesting even if you aren't one for a given sport or other context. As to Djuna, he is Ellery and his father's houseman/servant. You can read about him a mit more in The Roman Hat Mystery. Paula Paris was Ellery's love interest, beginning in The Four of Hearts. She's rather interesting, actually. She's a well known gossip columnist who is also agoraphobic. But she doesn't need to go out; people come to her with their news. It's fascinating!

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    1. Thank you for the info Margot - why am I not surprised you know the facts? I feel like a dabbler in Queen, but I am enjoying getting to know him and his friends and household.

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  3. I did a SleuthSayers blog a whiile back that focused on one of the lesser known Ellery Queen short stories and a joke that was played on me regarding it. Here is the entry for anyone interested in a discussion and a chuckle:
    http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2013/10/a-back-story.html

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    1. Thanks so much Dale - that's a great story, I really enjoyed reading it, and I hope other readers will go over and take a look. A most surprising story....

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  4. Djuna was named for 'Djuna Barnes' but pretty much disappeared from the series in the later books from the 1930s as the influence of SS Van Dine faded. Great pictures as ever Moira!

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    1. Thanks Sergio for the info. But wasn't Djuna Barnes a woman? Isn't Ellery's Djuna male or have I got that wrong?

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  5. Hi,it is your Lamp of God commentator here again. This collection is really part of two periods. The first are the last days of the early puzzle oriented period while the sports mysteries are during the late 30s brief middle period. Ellery is much more of a normal fellow and less snobbish in these stories. It is hard to imagine the early Ellen as a baseball or football. Also note the glasses and walking stick are gone. So are the obscure quotations in Latin and other languages. Paula Paris disappeared after these stories. One thing that is really sexist about the story says Paula is cured of her phobia because Ellery slept with her. Words fail me.

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  6. As for the stories here I did not do a great job of solving them. Lamp of God you know about. For Mind over Matter the boxing story I guessed that the identity depended upon whomever was taller than Ellery because of the coat. The Football story was not hard to solve. If you know where the gem was hidden then you can deduce the culprit. For the horse racing I figured the boyfriend did not do it so the Jockey himself was involved but was not sure how or with who. The rest I did not figure out. Two fully solved and two partially solved. How did you do?

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    1. Thanks for both these comments - most helpful and informative, you are such an expert! I looked through again and tried to convince myself that I sort of solved some of them, but I think really I just got partway or got it late on just before EQ announced. So didn't get the coat completely and so on. The more I think about them the more I liked the sports ones, they were relaxed and fun and very atmospheric.
      Did you send a FB request, do you have the same initials I have?

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    2. Yes,I think that was me. Did you do a post about this blog entry. It would have been sent to you yesterday.

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    3. Thanks. You can see all the Queen books I have read. It is about 17 or 18. Do you read science fiction too? Or just detective fiction?

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    4. No, science fiction is just about a closed book to me, though I read almost anything else.
      Which is your favourite EQ book, the one you would most recommend? I want to read some more.

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    5. A lot of people think Greek Coffin is one of the best. Ellery goes through four solutions until the right one. This is supposed to be his first case. Personally some of it is too far fetched. Would you move a body at night to put it in a coffin?

      Calamity Town was the only book picked in 100 best mysteries of H Keating. It is the first Wrightsville story considered the begining of the third period of the Queen series. More interest in character. It is pretty good. Have you read any of the Duary Lane books? The second series form the early mid 30s?

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    6. Actually if you want a good early book try Dutch Shoe Mystery. It is clever and very fair play. You can figure it if you carefully follow clues. It was the third Ellery Queen book right before Greek Coffin. Still have quite a few of the first period Ellery to read. They all have national titles. Some include Halfway House as part of that. Inlcuding that it is 3 down 7 to go. Have you tried the Queen website?

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    7. I tried to get hold of a Drury Lane, but there were only very expensive copies! Will make a note of the ones you suggest, and will look at website, but always like personal recommendations.

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  7. Moira, I'm not a fan of stories set in and around sports or sports events unless they are mentioned in passing. I guess, I'd skip a story where the crime and the subsequent investigation revolves around football or cricket. I liked the illustrations you chose for this post.

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    1. Prashant, I would expect to feel like that, but actually - as I explain to the commenter above you - really enjoyed these. But the rules and running of a baseball game are still quite beyond me.

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  8. I suppose I ought to try Queen at some point, but he's probably not going to be someone I happen upon by chance these days. I'm going to have to be a bit more pro-active I think. I'm not totally sold on him yet......mabye a few more weeks and you'll have twisted my arm sufficiently...

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    1. The one I did called Cop Out actually would be your kind of thing Col, honest.... heist gone wrong, bad boys, sexy women....

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    2. Col should try Ellery Queen, but I don't know enough about his books to make any suggestions. I read a lot when I was younger, but can't remember them.

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    3. I've got an idea for him Tracy...

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  9. I love, love, loved the images you picked for this one.

    And I loved the Crispin quote about short stories. So two wins here.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words! I loved the images too, and was glad to look at the Crispin, which has been in my memory for years.

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