Ellery Queen is a pseudonym created in 1929 by crime fiction writers Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee and the name of their main fictional character, a mystery writer in New York City who helps his police inspector father solve baffling murders. Dannay and Lee wrote most of the more than thirty novels and several short story collections in which Ellery Queen appeared as a character, and their books were among the most popular of American mysteries published between 1929 and 1971. In addition to the fiction featuring their eponymous brilliant amateur detective, the two men acted as editors: as Ellery Queen they edited more than thirty anthologies of crime fiction and true crime, and Dannay founded and for many decades edited Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which has been published continuously from 1941 to the present. From 1961, Dannay and Lee also commissioned other authors to write crime thrillers using the Ellery Queen nom de plume, but not featuring Ellery Queen as a character; several juvenile novels were credited to Ellery Queen, Jr. Finally, the prolific duo wrote four mysteries under the pseudonym Barnaby Ross.
Adding another dimension of complexity to their relations, the two men were cousins, each born in Brooklyn, New York, who created the nom de plume Ellery Queen using their professional names. Frederic Dannay was the professional name of Daniel Nathan (October 20, 1905 - d. September 3, 1982 in New York), and Manfred Bennington Lee that of Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky (January 11, 1905 - d. April 3, 1971 in Roxbury, Connecticut ).
In a successful series of novels and short stories that covered 42 years, "Ellery Queen" served as a joint pseudonym for the cousins Dannay and Lee, as well as the name of the primary detective-hero they created. During the 1930s and much of the 1940s, that detective-hero was possibly the best known American fictional detective. Movies, radio shows, and television shows were based on Dannay and Lee's works.
Frederic Dannay, without much involvement from Lee, was founding and directing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, a crime fiction magazine. They were also prominent historians in the field, editing numerous collections and anthologies of short stories such as The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. Their 994-page anthology for the Modern Library, 101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories, 1841-1941, was a landmark work that remained in print for many years. Under their collective pseudonym, the cousins were given the Grand Master Award for achievements in the field of the mystery story by the Mystery Writers of America in 1961.
The fictional Ellery Queen was the hero of more than 30 novels and several short story collections, written by Dannay and Lee and published under the Ellery Queen pseudonym. Dannay and Lee also wrote four novels about a detective named Drury Lane using the pseudonym Barnaby Ross. They allowed the Ellery Queen name to be used as a house name for a number of novels written by other authors from outlines provided by Dannay, most of them published in the 1960s as paperback originals and not featuring Ellery Queen as a character.
Dannay and Lee remained circumspect about their writing methods. Novelist and critic H.R.F. Keating wrote, "How actually did they do it? Did they sit together and hammer the stuff out word by word? Did one write the dialogue and the other the narration? ... What eventually happened was that Fred Dannay, in principle, produced the plots, the clues, and what would have to be deduced from them as well as the outlines of the characters and Manfred Lee clothed it all in words. But it is unlikely to have been as clear cut as that."
According to critic Otto Penzler, "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 Poe, the most important American in mystery fiction." British crime novelist Margery Allingham wrote that Ellery Queen had "done far more for the detective story than any other two men put together".
Although Frederic Dannay outlived his cousin by eleven years, the Ellery Queen authorial name died with Manfred Lee. The last novel featuring the character Ellery Queen, A Fine and Private Place, was published in 1971, the year of Lee's death. However, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, now published by Dell Magazines, continues as a crime fiction magazine as of 2020, currently publishing six "double issues" per year.
Ellery Queen was created in 1928 when Dannay and Lee entered a writing contest sponsored by McClure's magazine for the best first mystery novel. They decided to use as their collective pseudonym the same name that they had given their detective. Inspired by the formula and style of the Philo Vance novels by S.S. Van Dine, their entry won the contest, but before it could be published, the magazine closed. Undeterred, the cousins took their novel to other publishers, and The Roman Hat Mystery was published in 1929. According to H.R.F. Keating, "Later the cousins took a sharper view of the Philo Vance character, Manfred Lee calling him, with typical vehemence, 'the biggest prig that ever came down the pike'."
The Roman Hat Mystery established a reliable template: a geographic formula title (The Dutch Shoe Mystery, The Egyptian Cross Mystery, etc.); an unusual crime; a complex series of clues and red herrings; multiple misdirected solutions before the final truth is revealed, and a cast of supporting characters including Ellery's father, Inspector Richard Queen, and his irascible assistant, Sergeant Velie. What became the best known part of the early Ellery Queen books was the "Challenge to the Reader." This was a single page near the end of the book declaring that the reader had seen all the same clues Ellery had, and that only one solution was possible. According to novelist/critic Julian Symons, "The rare distinction of the books is that this claim is accurate. There are problems in deduction that do really permit of only one answer, and there are few crime stories indeed of which this can be said."
The fictional detective Ellery Queen is the author of the books in which he appears (The Finishing Stroke, 1958) and the editor of the magazine that bears his name (The Player On The Other Side, 1963). As Van Dine had done earlier with Philo Vance, the creators of the Queen character gave him an extremely elaborate back story that was rarely mentioned after the first few novels. In fact, Queen goes through several transformations in his personality and his approach to investigation over the course of the series.
In the earlier novels, Queen is a snobbish Harvard-educated intellectual of independent means who wears pince-nez glasses and investigates crimes because he finds them stimulating. He supposedly derived these characteristics from his mother, the daughter of an aristocratic New York family, who had married Richard Queen, a bluff, man-in-the-street New York Irishman, and who died before the stories began. From 1938, Ellery spends some time working in Hollywood as a screenwriter (in The Four of Hearts and The Origin of Evil), and solves cases with a Hollywood setting. At this point, he has a slick façade, is part of Hollywood society and hobnobs comfortably with the wealthy and famous. Beginning with Calamity Town in 1942, Ellery becomes less of a cypher and more of a human being, often becoming emotionally affected by the people in his cases, and at one point quitting detective work altogether. Calamity Town, two sequels, and some short stories are set in the imaginary town of Wrightsville, and subsidiary characters recur from story to story; Ellery relates to the various strata of American society as an outsider. However, after his Hollywood and Wrightsville periods, he is returned to his New York City roots for the remainder of his career, and is then seen again as an ultra-logical crime solver who remains distant from his cases. In the very late novels, he often seems a near-faceless, near-characterless persona whose role is purely to solve the mystery. So striking are the differences between the different periods of the Ellery Queen character that Julian Symons advanced the theory that there were two "Ellery Queens" -- an older and younger brother.
Ellery Queen is said to be married and the father of a child in the introductions to the first few novels, but this plot line is never developed and Ellery is mainly portrayed as a bachelor. The character of Nikki Porter, who acts as Ellery's secretary and is something of a love interest, was encountered first in the radio series. Nikki's curiosity and her attempts to encourage Ellery to work as a detective are responsible for a number of radio and film plots from the early 1940s. Her first appearance in a written story is in the final pages of There Was An Old Woman (1943), when a character with whom Ellery has had some flirtatious moments announces spontaneously that she's changing her name to Nikki Porter and going to work as Ellery's secretary. Nikki Porter appears sporadically thereafter in novels and stories, linking the character from radio and movies into the written canon. The character of Paula Paris, an agoraphobic gossip columnist, is linked romantically with Ellery in one novel, The Four of Hearts, and in short stories during the Hollywood period, but does not appear in the radio series or films, and soon vanished from the books. Ellery is not given any serious romantic interests after Nikki Porter and Paula Paris disappear from the books. Late in the series, in the 1968 novel The House of Brass, Inspector Queen remarries after decades as a widower.
The Queen household, an apartment on West 87th street in New York City shared by the Queens father and son, also contains a houseboy named Djuna, at least in the earliest novels and short stories. This young man, who may be of Roma origin, appears periodically in the canon, apparently ageless and family-free, in a supporting role as cook, receiver of parcels, valet, and as occasional minor comedy relief. He is the principal character in some, not all, of the juvenile novels ghost-written by other writers under the pseudonym Ellery Queen, Jr.
The Queen novels are examples of the classic "fair play" whodunit mystery, and are textbook examples of what became known as the Golden age of detective fiction. Because the reader obtains clues in the same way as the protagonist detective, the book becomes an intellectually challenging puzzle. Mystery writer John Dickson Carr termed it "the grandest game in the world".
The early Queen novels were characterized by intricately plotted clues and solutions. In The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932), The Siamese Twin Mystery, and others, multiple solutions to the mystery are proposed, a feature that also showed up in later books such as Double, Double and Ten Days' Wonder. Queen's "false solution, followed by the truth" became a hallmark of the canon. Another stylistic element in many early books (notably The Dutch Shoe Mystery, The French Powder Mystery and Halfway House) is Ellery's method of creating a list of attributes (the murderer is male, the murderer smokes a pipe, etc.). Then, by comparing each suspect to these attributes, he reduces the list of suspects to a single name, often an unlikely one.
By the late 1930s, when Ellery Queen--author and character--moved to Hollywood to try movie scriptwriting, the tone of the novels began to change along with the detective's character. Romance was introduced, solutions began to involve more psychological elements, and the "Challenge to the Reader" vanished from the books. Some of the novels also moved from mere puzzles to more introspective themes. The three novels set in the fictional New England town of Wrightsville, starting with Calamity Town in 1942, even showed the limitations of Ellery's methods of detection. According to Julian Symons, "Ellery ... occasionally lost his father, as his exploits took place more frequently in the small town of Wrightsville ... where his arrival as a house guest was likely to be the signal for the commission of one or more murders. Very intelligently, Dannay and Lee used this change in locale to loosen the structure of their stories. More emphasis was placed on personal relationships, and less on the details of investigation."
In the 1950s and 1960s, the authors tried some more experimental work, especially in three novels written by other writers, all based on detailed outlines by Dannay. The Player on the Other Side, ghost-written by Theodore Sturgeon, delves more deeply into motive than most Ellery Queen novels. And on the Eighth Day (1964), ghost-written by Avram Davidson, was a religious allegory touching on fascism. Davidson also wrote The Fourth Side of the Triangle.
Toward the end of their careers, the cousins allowed some crime novels, mainly paperback originals, to be written by ghostwriters as part of the Ellery Queen franchise. These books did not feature the character Ellery Queen as the protagonist. They included three novels featuring "the governor's troubleshooter", Micah "Mike" McCall, and six featuring Captain Tim Corrigan, of the NYPD's Main Office Squad. The prominent science-fiction writer Jack Vance wrote three of these original paperbacks, including the locked room mystery A Room to Die In.
There are also several collections of Ellery Queen short stories. These were praised by Julian Symons as follows "in some ways the short story is better suited than the novel to this kind of writing... This is notable especially in the case of Ellery Queen. The best of his short stories belong to the early intensely ratiocinative period, and both The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934) and The New Adventures (1940) are as absolutely fair and totally puzzling as the most passionate devotee of orthodoxy could wish... (E)very story in these books is composed with wonderful skill."
Beginning in 1932, the cousins wrote four novels using the pseudonym Barnaby Ross about Drury Lane, a Shakespearean actor who had retired from the stage due to deafness and was consulted as an amateur detective. The novels also featured Inspector Thumm (at first of the New York police, then later a private investigator) and his crime-solving daughter Patience. The Drury Lane novels are in the whodunit style. The Tragedy of X and The Tragedy of Y are variations on the locked-room mystery format. The Tragedy of Y bears some resemblance to the later Ellery Queen novel There Was an Old Woman: both are about eccentric families headed by a matriarch.
In the early 1930s, before Dannay and Lee's identity as the authors had been made public, "Ellery Queen" and "Barnaby Ross" staged a series of public debates in which one cousin impersonated Queen and the other impersonated Ross, both of them wearing masks to preserve their anonymity. According to H.R.F. Keating, "People said Ross must be the wit and critic Alexander Woollcott and Queen S.S. Van Dine..., creator of the super-snob detective Philo Vance, on whom 'Ellery Queen' was indeed modeled."
In the 1960s, the cousins allowed the Barnaby Ross name to be used as a pseudonym for the publication of a series of historical romance novels by Don Tracy. From the 1940s, republications of the Drury Lane books were mostly under the Ellery Queen name.
On radio, The Adventures of Ellery Queen was heard on all three networks from 1939 to 1948. During the 1970s, syndicated radio fillers, Ellery Queen's Minute Mysteries, began with an announcer saying, "This is Ellery Queen..." and contained a short one-minute case. The radio station encouraged callers to solve the mystery and win a sponsor's prize. Once a winner was found, the solution was broadcast as confirmation. A complete episode guide and history of this radio program can be found in the book The Sound of Detection: Ellery Queen's Adventures in Radio, published by OTR Publishing in 2002. The Adventure of the Murdered Moths (Crippen & Landru, 2005) is the first book edition of many of the radio scripts.
Helene Hanff, best known for her book 84, Charing Cross Road, was a script writer for the television series version of The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1950-1952), which began on the DuMont Television Network but soon moved (in 1951) to ABC. Shortly after the series began, Richard Hart, who played Queen, died and was replaced in the lead role by Lee Bowman. The series returned to DuMont in 1954 with Hugh Marlowe (who had played the role on the radio series) as the title character. George Nader played Queen in The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen (1958-1959), but he was replaced with Lee Philips in the final episodes.
Peter Lawford starred in a television film, Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You, in 1971. Veteran actor Harry Morgan played Inspector Queen, but in this film he was described as Ellery's uncle (perhaps to account for the fact that Morgan was only eight years Lawford's senior, or for Lawford's English accent). This film is loosely based on Cat of Many Tails.
The 1975 television movie Ellery Queen (a.k.a. "Too Many Suspects"--a loose adaptation of The Fourth Side of the Triangle) led to the 1975–1976 television series starring Jim Hutton in the title role (with David Wayne as his widowed father). The series was done as a period piece set in New York City in 1946-1947. Sergeant Velie, Inspector Queen's assistant, was a cast regular in this series; he had appeared in the novels and the radio series, but had not been seen regularly in any of the previous television versions. Each episode contained a "Challenge to the Viewer" with Ellery breaking the fourth wall to go over the facts of the case and invite the audience to solve the mystery on their own, immediately before the solution was revealed. Each episode of the 1975 television series featured a number of Hollywood celebrities. Eve Arden, George Burns, Joan Collins, Roddy McDowall, Milton Berle, Guy Lombardo, Rudy Vallée, and Don Ameche were among the guests. Richard Levinson and William Link, the creators of the series had won a Special Edgars Award for creating the Columbo and Ellery Queen TV series.
The name of Ellery Queen was attached to a number of games, including 1956's (Ellery Queen's Great Mystery Game) Trapped, 1967's The Case of the Elusive Assassin by Ellery Queen, a jigsaw puzzle in 1973 called "Ellery Queen: The Case of His Headless Highness" and a board game in 1986 called "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Game". There is also a VCR-based game from the early 1980s called "Ellery Queen's Operation: Murder" (loosely based on The Dutch Shoe Mystery).
American playwright Joseph Goodrich adapted Calamity Town into a stage play which he described as "Our Town with murder," in its New England setting and spare stage work. The play had its premiere at the Vertigo Theatre in Calgary, Alberta on January 23, 2016.
The writing team of Ellery Queen received the following Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America:
They were also runners-up for the Edgar in the following categories
The Mystery Writers of America established the Ellery Queen Award in 1983 "to honor writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry."
Ellery Queen was featured on a postage stamp issued by Nicaragua as part of a series of "Famous Fictional Detectives" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Interpol in 1973 and a similar series of famous fictional detectives from San Marino in 1979.
(unless noted, all feature Ellery Queen and/or Inspector Richard Queen as characters.)
+ The Lamp of God is a long short story or a short novella, originally published in Detective Story magazine in 1935, first collected in The New Adventures of Ellery Queen (see below) and published separately (alone) as #23 in the Dell Ten-Cent Editions (64 pages) in 1951.
All ghostwriters are identified where known. Post-1961 novels are usually paperback originals. All titles were edited and supervised by Lee except The Blue Movie Murders, which was edited and supervised by Dannay after Lee's death. Unless noted, these novels do not feature Ellery Queen as a character.
These novels were edited by Lee and ghosted by various authors, including Frank Belknap Long (who admitted writing two without mentioning the titles), Samuel Duff McCoy, and James Clark Carlisle, Jr., who "aroused the ire of Lee by farming out the writing of some of the books to a 'sub-ghost', which has made establishing authorship even worse". All the "Junior" novels with a colour in their title starred Djuna (see Ellery Queen), the Queens' houseboy. The Mystery of the Merry Magician and The Mystery of the Vanished Victim starred "Gulliver Queen", Ellery's nephew.
Two collections of true crime stories (based on material gathered by anonymous researchers) written by Lee alone, which were originally published in The American Weekly.
All written by Dannay and Lee.
Other short story collections exist, such as More Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940), which reprint stories from two previous collections.
and many more