From 1975-1976, NBC television aired Ellery Queen, a short-lived series based on mysteries written by Ellery Queen about a fictional detective named Ellery Queen. The author’s name was a pseudonym used by a pair of cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, which were in turn pseudonyms for what their parents called them, Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky. The family doctor had given them further pseudonyms, David and Emmanuel, respectively. But, I digress.
The show was the fourth Ellery Queen television series, which in turn had followed a radio series and several motion pictures. The 70s show failed, I believe, because of the strained, formulaic gimmicks which defined each episode: the murder victim would leave some imponderable clue pointing to the killer’s identity, and Ellery Queen, played by Jim Hutton, would break the fourth wall and invite the viewer to solve the mystery.
Young enough not to know better, I enjoyed the show, and began reading the novels of Ellery Queen. The first Ellery Queen novel I bought was a paperback edition of The Finishing Stroke. I bought it in 1975 at the Norwalk, Ct. Caldor Department store. The cover featured a human skull in an opened Christmas present box, perfect gruesome for a twelve-year-old. Over the years, I have borrowed EQs from libraries, bought copies from local bookstores, chain bookstores and various used bookstores. The odd thing is that I continued buying the books long after I stopped reading them. One day I realized I owned a complete library of EQ books featuring EQ. And there they sat, on a secluded bookshelf, while I told myself that someday I would read them straight through, from The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) to A Fine and Private Place (1971).
One day recently something clicked, and I realized this is the time to read them, and, for some reason, I developed the strange notion that I would blog about the experience of reading them.
So, here are my ground rules: I plan on reading books by Ellery Queen about Ellery Queen. During the 1960s, several ghost writers were hired to write mysteries under the Ellery Queen imprint without the Ellery Queen character. These included books like Death Spins the Platter and The Madman Theory, and I do not plan on subjecting myself to these books again. Nor am I planning from the outset on re-reading the Ellery Queen, Jr. mysteries. I will be reading (finally!) The “Barnaby Ross” novels written by Dannay & Lee. I will be writing about the novels and the cousins, to be sure, but I envision those topics will serve as springboards for other, perhaps not-entirely-related topics.
This is a journey down a well-defined path, with spurs and intersections, twists in the plot not quite detectable from the outset. I hope we enjoy it.