Ellery Queen Video: Master of the Whodunit Mystery

Thursday, February 07, 2013 by Emma

ellery queenWe are thrilled to announce the release of twelve ebooks by the great Ellery Queen, as well as a new mini-documentary in which the authors’ family members and mystery master Otto Penzler speak about the lasting influence of Queen’s work.

According to Otto Penzler, the renowned critic, publisher, anthologist, editor, and owner of the Mysterious Press and Mysterious Bookshop, “as an anthologist, Ellery Queen is without peer, his taste unequalled. As a bibliographer and a collector of the detective short story, Queen is, again, a historical personage. Indeed, Ellery Queen clearly is, after Edgar Allen Poe, the most important American in mystery fiction.

Ellery Queen was the pen name used by two cousins from Brooklyn, New York—Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Manfred Bennington Lee (1905–1971)—as well as the name of their famous fictional character. It was said that Dannay devised the plots and clues of the novels, and Lee would write them. Ellery Queen, the author and protagonist, lasted until Lee’s death in 1971.

Ellery Queen debuted in 1928 with The Roman Hat Mystery, in which the amateur sleuth and mystery writer helps his father, a New York City police detective, solve crimes. The Ellery Queen books quickly won a huge fan base, and the character leaped into radio, television, comics, board games, and film, becoming the most famous fictional detective of the 1930s and 1940s.

These Golden Age mysteries are considered “fair play” or “whodunit” mysteries, meaning that readers are given all the clues to crack the case themselves. Furthermore, the early Ellery Queen mysteries contain a “Challenge to the Reader” near the end of the story—a passage that tells the reader all the clues have been presented and only one possible solution remains. More often than not, these mysteries follow a “locked room” formula, with all clues described for a seemingly impossible crime.

chinese orange mystery The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934) is one such example. A mysterious visitor is bludgeoned to death in the waiting room of a New York City publisher’s office. The anteroom’s single door had been locked from the outside, and no one was seen entering or exiting the room before or after the crime was committed. To confuse matters, everything in the room has been reversed—picture frames are backwards, the victim’s clothing is front-to-back, and a bowl of Chinese oranges (tangerines) is found upside down. The dapper, brilliant Ellery Queen is called in to set things straight.

You can find the complete list of Ellery Queen ebooks on the profile page here. Be sure to check out the new video about the legendary authors below!

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Mystery Thursday

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