Sure, laugh it up. Just a few short months ago I stated my intention to read the entirety of the output of Manny Lee and/or Frederic Dannay under the Ellery Queen nom de plume, and here I am — some struggles later — jumping ahead to a more warmly-perceived title. I’m not happy about it myself, I much prefer to do these things chronologically, but equally I want to want to read their books again. I’ve loved some, been unaffected by others, and abominated a handful, and as such Queen remains a problem child for me. So here I am, back on the horse in a different town, mixing metaphors with the best of ’em. And the result…?
I was pretty much goaded into this, you should know. Ben at The Green Capsule is diversifying his blogging to extend beyond the works of John Dickson Carr, and the first book he chose was Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger. In the comments, conversation turned to other Brand titles and Brad had the temerity to doubt my fortitude: I don’t think JJ should read Tour de Force either. I couldn’t bear to think what he would make of it! Well, challenge accepted. Now, true, Brand and I didn’t get off to the best of starts — Green for Danger made her very much the new stepmother trying too hard to replace Agatha Christie in my affections — but we’ve had some great times since then, and so I came to this with an open mind.
Contrary to what the books may tell us, the father of Ellery Queen, detective, is not Inspector Richard Queen but instead Philo Vance, the dilettante amateur wise-arse detective created by S.S. van Dine. I’m not claiming this is an original observation — far from it — but reading the second novel to feature the Queens and the first in which Ellery actually solves the case (he has a very small hand in their debut, The Roman Hat Mystery) it’s interesting to realise just how heavily Dannay and Lee were leaning on van Dine at this point of their careers.
Summoned by a distant relative to a secluded family pile, a young(ish) man finds himself isolated with a fixed cast of closely-related characters as money-hungry relatives, murder, and all other sorts of puzzle plotting chicanery inveigle themself onto the scene. Yes, in many ways No Flowers By Request takes the exact same ingredients as The Search for My Great-Uncle’s Head — vast swathes of it will appear ominously familiar — and plays perfectly in the 1937 tradition that Rich has got us investigating this month for Crimes of the Century. But does the rest of the book hold up past these fundamentals? And is it any good, after the failure of Jonanthan Latimer’s stirring of these same ingredients?
Summoned by an elderly relative to their secluded family pile, a young man finds himself isolated with a fixed cast of closely-related characters as murder, missing documents, an escaped lunatic, and all other sorts of puzzle plotting chicanery inveigle themself onto the scene. Yes, in many ways The Search for My Great-Uncle’s Head is a vade mecum for the Golden Age of detective fiction — vast elements of it will appear achingly familiar — and plays perfectly in time with the tattoo of 1937 that Rich has got many of us investigating this month for Crimes of the Century at Past Offences. But does the rest of the book hold up past these fundamentals?
Apologies for my recent blogging absence; a combination of what I understand are referred to as ‘IRL’ circumstances and the fact that everything I picked up and tried to read was absolute dreck put something of a kibosh on things. The sensible thing seemed to be just to write off September and move on. So now I’m back with the oft-cited classic — and so inevitably hard-to-find outside of the USA, where the lovely Mysterious Press have published it — locked room mystery Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand. Why this one? Well, it’s supposed to be awesome and I’m trying to get into Brand, having been thoroughly meh’d by Green for Danger (1944) and slightly more taken with Suddenly at His Residence (a.k.a. The Crooked Wreath) (1946). So, how did I fare?
General summer unavailability is resulting in the Tuesday Night Bloggers having August off (that’s what they’ve told me, anyway…) and so this final week of ‘Poison’ posts is an opportunity to right a wrong and launch on a new undertaking in my reading life. In short, to restart the Ellery Queen canon — all 40 (by my count) novels that had input from Dannay and/or Lee — from the very beginning, starting here with their first novel, the poisoning tale The Roman Hat Mystery.
Following my torrent of Sherlock Holmes I was tempted to do a ‘Five to Try’ on the short story collections, picking my favourite story from each. But it’s not as if the Holmes canon doesn’t have enough words dedicated to it already, and thus I thought I’d opt for collections by other authors instead.
So, the rules: collections of short stories by a single author (no compendiums, wherein the quality always varies horrendously), readily available today…that just about covers it. And so, alphabetically by author, we have:
Fen Country (1950-79) by Edmund Crispin
The second of Crispin’s two short story collections, published posthumously. My choice of the two because of the way a lot of the stories hinge on a very simple core idea – homonyms, for example – that might come across a gimmicky but manage in about six or seven pages to communicate setting, setup, event, outcome and misdirection. Frankly no small feat! Yes, consequently the characters tend to suffer (the ebullient Fen is a curiously neutered presence in the stories in which he features) but for sheer inventive interpretation after inventive interpretation this is hard to beat. And as an example of Crispin’s tight hold on the reins of his plots (which could, let’s face it, get a bit beyond him in his novels) this reinforces his reputation in a form that has often proved the undoing of lesser talents. [Available in ebook and thoroughly unattractive print form from Bloomsbury]
Recommended reading: ‘Death and Aunt Fancy’, ‘The Hunchback Cat’, ‘Outrage in Stepney’ Continue reading →