"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, October 13, 2006

How to Bring Back Ellery Queen

The Roman Hat Mystery original cover artEllery Queen is the American mystery.

Who?, you ask.

Ellery Queen.

Still doesn't ring a bell?

The first line of this article is from the great mystery and sci-fi author and critic Anthony Boucher, and it is absolutely true. Yet Ellery Queen, whose heyday was the 1930s and '40 but wrote until the early 1970s, is all but forgotten today.

He was one of the greatest American mystery writers, creating maddengly complex puzzles that were fully explained in the end. His books were read by millions, and his character was adapted for the movies (poorly), TV (brilliantly in the case of the 1970s TV show Ellery Queen, produced by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link), and radio (also brilliantly).

But as I noted in my National Review article on the 70th anniversary of the publication of Queen's first novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, that anniversary passed by with little fanfare and no prominent reprints of Queen's novels, as did the 75th anniversary last year.

Queen is well worth bringing back, however, and an interesting article from Queen's diamond anniversary year on one of the best Ellery Queen websites suggests how this might be done, pointing out the impressive popularity Ellery Queen's works still enjoy in Japan, China, Taiwan, Germany, and elsewhere.

Ten Days' Wonder pb cover artI know this popularity well, as people from both China and Japan asked me for permission to translate my NR article on Queen when it appeared (which of course I granted).

The authors of the article, Kurt Sercu and Dale C. Andrews, suggest some very good ideas: one, that an enterprising publisher reprint the best five or six Queens in high-quality paperback editions with the original maps, introductions, casts of characters, and the like, and two, that a publisher work with the Queen rights holders to license a series of new novels featuring the main characters from the classic series.

These are both excellent ideas, and I encourage you to read the article and contact your favorite publishers with the request that they follow up on these suggestions. And if you have not yet read any Ellery Queen books, please head to your local used book store or online sources and pick up Calamity Town, The Adventures of Ellery Queen, The New Adventures of Ellery Queen, The Egyptian Cross Mystery, The Greek Coffin Mystery, The Chinese Orange Mystery, Halfway House, The Finishing Stroke, Cat of Many Tails, Ten Days' Wonder, The Player on the Other Side, and any others that strike your fancy. These are fine novels that should reach a much larger audience.

For a further introduction to Ellery Queen, see my National Review article here.

From Karnick on Culture.

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