Saturday, July 7, 2012

"All the Queen's Men"

暗い霧のただ中
求め捜せ
真実(まこと)の道
神話の中で繰り返される戦い(バトル)
『女神の戦士 ~PEGASUS FOREVER~』(Marina Del Ray)

In the middle of the dark mist
Look and search for
The road of truth 
The battles that have been repeated in legends

I like how I never seem to do what I say I'll do in my posts (like I mentioned here). So I might say that it is a bit silly to read English fiction in Japanese and that I should read more in English, but I'll still read English fiction in Japanese. Short story: I am not to be trusted.

Though I have a semi-excuse for today's review. For The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (or Ellery Queen no Sainan), an anthology featuring Ellery Queen pastiches, parodies and homages is actually not available in English! Sure, all but one of the stories collected here were originally written in English, but this is the first time they have been collected in a neat single release. In Japan! Been able to read Japanese, I've been able to get my hands on some (translated) English novels rather easily, but I had never expected that I would come across a Japanese-exclusive, English-based Queen volume! So I had actually been waiting for the release of this volume for quite some time now as a Queen fan. In fact, I had been waiting for so long, that I had actually forgotten about it! Which explains why I'm a month late with my purchase. And review.

Anyway, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen is a handsome (and also very expensive) hardcover release and is edited by Iiki Yuusan, chairman of the (Japanese) Ellery Queen Fanclub. Iiki wrote introductions to every story, explaining his reasons for selected the story in question and presenting all kinds of story regarding the original publication, the writer(s) and the relations to Queen-dom.  Iiki also added a probably fairly complete list of (English) Queen pastiches at the end of the volume, which might suggest a future volume? But back to the current volume. The Misadventures of Ellery Queen is divided in three sections: pastiches, parodies and homages, with the pastiches definitely the highlight of the volume. I wasn't too big a fan of the parodies, as they became a bit too silly at times and the homages were a hit or miss too for me, but I had quite some fun overall with this volume. Though I will admit this right now: there are just too many stories here, so I'll discuss most stories only briefly.

Part I: Pastiches

We all know about those undisclosed cases mentioned in Dr. Watson's stories. Queen himself addressed the disappearence of Mr. James Phillimore in his radio-play Mr. Short and Mr. Long. Francis M. Nevins Jr.'s Open Letter to Survivors [1975] in turn is based on a undisclosed case mentioned in Ten Days' Wonder regarding the will of Adelina Monquieux. Our unnamed detective visits the infamous Adelina, who has three sons, a triplet, who look exactly the same (and who are convieniently named Xavier, Yves and Zachary) and a niece. According to Adelina's will, they will all inherit a great sum of money if she is to die and another great sum of money is to go a hospital to treat the victims of the atomic bombings in Japan. But if her safe is opened within 24 years after her death, the money intended for the victims is to go the Flat-Earth society

And of course Adelina is killed. The story is distinctly Queen-ish, with several plot-devices often used by Queen utilized here (though I am not mentioned them by name for a reason) and a logical explanation of the events by the unnamed detective as if by Queen himself. Also funny is the way the suspects are named, as Queen, in his Puzzle Club stories, also often gave his suspects easy to understand names (initial letters ABC, or XYZ etc).

I have to admit that this is the first time I've ever read a story by Edward D. Hoch. Which seems like almost impossible, seeing his output. But still. The Circle of Ink [1999] concerns a series of seemingly indiscriminate murders, with the murderer leaving an ink circle on the hands of his victims. What connects these victims and will the police be able to stop this serial killer? The search for a missing link in a serial murder case. Yes, this should sound familiar. The result? A very entertaining short story that reminds of the latter period Queen. Those in the know, should be able to guess some of the plot twists coming, but that doesn't make this story less fun. A lot happens actually in this story, but it never feels too rushed and I really love the way the murders are connected (in a way).

I was less a fan of Hoch's Wrightsville Carnaval [2005]. Maybe because it was set in Wrightsville, maybe because the story was a bit too easy and not really... Queen-ish. Though in my mind, a lot of the Wrightsville stories don't feel Queen-ish, so that might be right. Anyway, Queen has not visited Wrightsville for years now and is surprised to see how much has changed (and to hear how many of his acquaintances have died). But one thing hasn't changed: people die when Queen visits Wrightsville. I would usually write more detailed about the story, but I have the feeling that the solution would become rather clear if I were to do that. At any rate, the story is set in a very modern world (everybody uses mobile phones), which might feel a bit strange at times, but if I allow Columbo to use one...

The Japanese Armor Mystery (日本木製鎧甲之謎) [2005] by Ma Tian is the only story here not originally written in English. Iiki notes that the story feels a bit like a Japanese New Orthodox story, which I sorta understand. And sorta don't understand. Anyway, the problem for Queen to solve: why was there a man dressed in a complete Japanese war armor in the garden? And why would one murder a elderly sick man who was going to die soon anyway? The somewhat weird murder scene of man in armor reminds a bit of the early Queen novels, but yes, there is something distinctly New Orthodox to this story. Which is actually not a bad thing, nor a strange thing as the New Orthodox school was originally a direct offspring of the Kyoto University Mystery Club's Guess the Criminal short stories, which in turn were often inspired by Queen-ish stories. The Japanese Armor Mystery is a bit easy to solve though and might have been better in a novelette form, I think.

The Book Case [2007] (Dale C. Andrews and Kurt Sercu) is the most recent story collected in The Misadventures of Ellery Queen and the most meta of the pastiches. An elderly Queen has to solve the death of Djuna's son and his colleague. The latter was found murdered in his room, with a pile of Ellery Queen novels on the floor keeping him company. Is this a dying message that means Queen himself did it? Of course not and there is an absolutely good reason why there's a pile of Queen novels besides the victim. Besides the meta-reason of course that the writers are clearly Queen-fans who wanted to mention all the Queen novels in their story. I am not too big a fan of the super-elderly Queen described here (the elderly Queen described in Nishimura Kyoutarou's Great Detectives series feels a bit less physically helpless), but this is a great story overall. It gets kinda modern near the end of the story though and the solution kinda asks for specialist knowledge, or expects you have read the Detective Conan volumes that were released a bit before the release of this story that surprisingly enough feature a similar plot point, but this is great meta-fun.

Part II: Parodies

Ten Month's Blunder [1961](J. N. Williamson) features detective Celery Keen in a dying message story. What does the word FAN written in blood indicate? The set-up is a classic, three suspect, elimination-style story, but as this story is filed in the parody section and not in the pastiche section, you can bet that this is not a straight serious story. It's actually reasonably entertaining, but as often is the case, the interpretation of a dying message can be troublesome, if it refers to somewhat specialist knowledge.

The strongest impression Arthur Porges' The English Village Mystery [1964] made on me was when it mentioned that twelve of the fourteen inhabitants of the titular village were murdered in a serial murder case. That doesn't leave many suspects for Celery Green to investigate! The solution is a playful take on a Queen staple trope, but one that really doesn't work in a Japanese translation, sadly enough.

Dying Message [1966] does not really feel like a Queen parody, in my mind, except for the fact that Norma Shier wrote this story under the name Leyne Requel (an anagram of Ellery Queen), who is also the detective in the story. Schier plays a lot with anagrams here and Ellery Queen (Dannay) himself added an editor's note at the time of this story's publication in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM) explaining all the anagrams Schier hid in the story. I don't really like this story as a meta-mystery, as it features the kind of meta-solution I don't like (not even in meta-fiction!), but it might be of interest to someone else.

Jon Breen's The Idea Man - C.I.A. Cune's Investigatory Archices Plagarism Department [1969] is a somewhat surreal dying message story starring E. Larry Cune, but the main attraction of this story is the way Breen manages to insert many, many references to Queen and (mystery) fiction in general in just a few pages. Once again, something that might be of interest to others.

Oh, I already used 'surreal' for Breen's story. Not sure what to use for David Peel's The Cataloging on the Wall [1971] then, as this story is even more bizarre. Grotesque maybe. It features Quellery Een, a librarian/drug addict/writer/editor/detective/and more who has to find a replacement for his dead secretary (whom he himself killed). The story was written for the April Fool's edition of Wilson Library Bulletin and despite having a Challenge to the Reader, probably unsolvable unless you're as crazy as Quellery here. Not my cup of tea, but I can understand why one would like this story though.

Whodunit? [1976] (J.P. Satire = Peter David and Myra Emjay Kasman) is my favorite of the parody section. Not because of the solution or something like that, because that wasn't that surprising or original (it might have been at the time though). No, this story is fun because it's a crossover between Star Trek (the original series) and Ellery Queen. The TV show of Ellery Queen, starring Jim Hutton. James T. Kirk is found murdered (burnt to death by a phaser and margarine!) in his quarters, leaving only the dying message Uhu and Ellery, inspector Queen and Velie have to find the murderer among the crew of the USS Enterprise! The setting is bizarre, but it is definitely written as an 'episode' of the Ellery Queen TV show, complete with the story beginning with several dialogue cuts featuring all the suspects and a Challenge to the 'Viewer' (?)! Near the end, the story becomes more relient on Star Trek-fandomania (and this is still a parody story, so don't expect it to be too serious), but this was still an entertaing story. But weird. Definitely weird.

Part III: Homages

The Case of the Stuttering Sextant [1974] is a parody on a true crime story by Baynard H. Kendrick, with Clayton Rawson having added an introduction and footnotes in the spirit of Ellery Queen (Dannay), the EQMM editor. The story itself was not that funny, but I loved Rawson's take on Queen, the editor, complete with very, very detailed footnotes questioning Kendrick's style of writing.

The African Fish Mystery [1961] (James Holding) takes it cues from Author, Author, the radio program where Dannay and Lee acted as Mr. Ellery and Mr. Queen. Guests were presented with an enigmatic situation, for which they were supposed to think of (deduce) an explanation for. Martin Leroy and King Danforth are our replacement Dannay and Lee here, who are on a world trip. In Africa, they are told by their driver that a previous customer became a wealthy man after being driven by him, as his customer was told that he inherited a fortune when they came back from their tour. Martin and King however think the story sounds too great to be true and they start to come up with their own explanations for the sudden increase of wealth of the man. Great fun if you're familar with Author, Author!

Dear Mr. Queen, Editor [1963] (Marge Jackson) is written in the form of a letter to Queen, the editor, like the title suggests. The author tells Queen about the murder of a husband and hints at a future murder, with the editor Queen not sure what to think about the letter. It's a short story and the conclusion is rather predictable, so it hardly leaves an impression, to be honest.

E.Q. Griffen's Second Case [1970] by Josh Pachter is a story in a series featuring the family Griffen, with all the children of the household being named after famous detectives. And like the name suggests, this story features the second case starring Ellery Queen Griffen. And as a Queen homage, we naturally have a dying message. What is the meaning of the message 123 the hippie-cum-children's book writer murder victim left behind? As a dying message story, it is pretty fun and fairly clued at, and the idea of having all these 'famous detectives' running around in one house is actually quite interesting, so I might want to read more stories of the Griffen series.

But the greatest story of the homage section has to be Drury [???] (Steven Queen), which is also a very effective Misery parody. One of the Queens cousins gets involved in a car accident and is found by Annie, who also happens to be Barnaby Ross's greatest fan (and she hates Ellery Queen). Having found the name card of Barnaby Ross among her patient's possessions (thus finding out that he is Ross), she tells 'Ross' that she is not happy with the conclusion of Drury Lane's Last Case and forces him to write a continuation that suits her taste.

This is really a funny story, because it plays perfectly with the confusion that arised from having the two cousins playing both Ellery Queen and Barnaby Ross in radio shows and the moment Annie begins to think that her patient Ross is actually Queen is both terrifying and hilarious at the same time! The continued stories of Drury Lane are also good for a great laugh, and while Drury does contain heavy spoilers for Drury Lane's Last Case, I can only recommend this story!

Like I said, not too much a fan of the parody section, but I loved the pastiche section and some of the homages stories were very good too. Overall though, this is a very nice release and a must-read for Queen fans. If they can read Japanese. That might prove tobe a small problem to some though. In the afterword, Iiki gives a bibliography of more (English) Queen pastiches and I really hope that the future will bring another volume!

Original Japanese title(s): 編訳: 飯域勇三 『エラリークイーンの災難』

5 comments :

  1. Not quite sure what to say about this volume, except that it should be available to a much, much wider audience.

    One small correction: it's Norma Schier (she also has a collection of short parodies to her credit, entitled The Anagram Detectives).

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    1. Thanks for the correction!

      It makes one wonder how such a volume would fare in the English-reading world. I mean; all but one of the stories were originally written in English, so there is a market for them somewhere.

      It also makes me wonder why there were no Japanese pastiches included in this volume. Not (good ones) available? Maybe just an editorial choice? I really should read the introduction a bit more carefully one of these days...

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    2. It could've been a conscious decision to keep the anthology as authentic as possible (i.e. American writers) and writers like Hoch, Porges and Breen continued the pure detective story approach of EQ in their own short stories.

      Otherwise, you would have run the risk of Ellery investigating nothing but locked rooms in which the killer cut-up the bodies, rearranged the limbs, heads and torsos, stitched the bodies back together and redresses them – clothes inside out and put on backwards. ;)

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  2. I posted a link to this review on the GADetection Group.

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  3. This is an excellent review. I thought I knew all the Queen parodies, pastiches, and homages in English, but they came up with some I'm not aware of. For my own contribution, they picked my most obscure Queen parody. It came from an excellent but shortlived fanzine. I agree with you that Norma Schier's story is more pastiche than parody, despite the absurd character names. The same is true of the other stories collected in THE ANAGRAM DETECTIVES.

    Jon L. Breen

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