14 November 2011

Ellery Queen - Back in the (Ebook) Mix

One of the little bits of housekeeping a blogger sometimes does is updating old posts so they reflect the current state of affairs. I usually put these revisions in brackets, beginning with the word 'update' and the date of the revision. For example, in a post from last May about free German-language ebooks, I mentioned the absence of any ebook edition of Das Kapital in the original German. Then, when I saw last week that there is now such an edition, I added links to bring the post up to date.

In the last week or so, however, I've discovered a number of 'new' ebooks, most of them in the genre of crime fiction, that call for a fresh post (or two) to herald their appearance, especially given the neglect to which their authors have been subjected in the ebook era and earlier. (True, something similar might be said about Marx himself; that's one reason I mentioned Das Kapital in the previous paragraph.)

The three Ellery Queen mysteries already available in Kindle and other eformats are now joined by The Roman Hat Mystery and Calamity Town.

The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) was the first Queen novel, written under the joint Queen pseudonym by cousins Manfred Lee and Frederic Dannay as a contest entry. It's very much in the 'problem in deduction' mode, a memorable investigation of a murder in the seats of a Broadway theatre, during a performance. The last time I read it (in the late 1980s) I could see it both as the springboard for the cousins' long career and as a typical book from a phase of that career that would soon be superseded by the more 'psychological' phase that attracted me to Queen and his creators in the first place.

Calamity Town (1942) may have been the first Ellery Queen novel I read; it has always been one of my favorites, and it definitely stands up to rereading. It was the first of the Queen novels set in the fictitious New England town of Wrightsville, and much of its humor comes out of interactions between visiting New York sophisticate Ellery Queen (the character) and the tradition-bound townspeople. In retrospect, however, it's clear that what Queen was to find in Wrightsville, in the five novels that would eventually be set there (including Ten Days' Wonder, later memorably filmed by Claude Chabrol), had less to do with country-mouse-city-mouse humor than with psychological depth and new explorations of guilt and innocence: after a couple of trips to Wrightsville, Queen is not even recognizable as the pince-nez - wearing prig of the early 'problems in deduction'.

One of the intriguing things about blogging is that you really have no idea how far your 'voice' may reach. But, since my earlier post about Ellery Queen, one of the all-time most read at Jascha Writes, mentioned, in addition to the three Queen novels that had just appeared as ebooks only two more, and those two were precisely The Roman Hat Mystery and Calamity Town, let me mention here a few additional Queen novels as worthy of your attention and certainly of future release in eformat. In addition to Ten Days' Wonder (1948), I'd single out Cat of Many Tails (1949), The Finishing Stroke (1958) and Face to Face (1967). Of course, as I always say, you really don't have to choose....

Coming: the curious trio of Erle Stanley Gardner, Christianna Brand and Patricia Highsmith.

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