Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ellery Queen's Challenge to the Reader

Ellery Queen's Challenge to the Reader (1938) edited by Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay & Manfred Lee) contains twenty-five short stories by "famous" mystery authors featuring "famous" detectives. The challenge here is that Queen has left the authors' names off the stories (until the end where all is revealed) and has given the detective in question a pseudonym throughout the story. I use quotes around famous for two reasons--some of the illustrious detectives and authors are no longer common knowledge in mystery circles. In fact, I only came across some of them through The World's Best 100 Detective Stories (1910)--a ten-volume set edited by Eugene Thwing (and to my mind--overflowing with obscure authors). The second reason I put famous in quotes is that Queen's friend J.J., who represents the average reader of 1938 and makes his guesses at the end of each story, doesn't know some of the more recognizable detectives on offer. I'm rather proud of myself that I correctly identified about half and have Thwing's set and a couple of recently-read short story collections to thank for the more obscure ones that I spotted.

This was a clever idea and on the whole I enjoyed trying to figure out who the celebrated sleuths were. I'm not sure if Queen included both Holmes and Poirot so the reader could be guaranteed to have identified at least two detectives or if they really thought they might stump somebody. Even in 1938, I would think it would have been a bit absurd to suppose that mystery readers would be fooled by the name change in either case--even having gone the extra mile with Holmes and changing Watson's name as well. Both gentleman are quite distinctive. But then most detectives have their quirks and characteristics and it wasn't difficult to identify most of the sleuths that I had acquaintance with. Of those I had met before on the printed page, there was only one that fooled me--and that might not have happened if I hadn't been reckless and guessed too soon (and peeked at the end to see if I was right). ★★ and 3/4.

Deaths = 19  (one drowned; five poisoned; eight shot; two stabbed; three suffocated/strangled)

1 comment:

reese said...

What a wonderful quirky idea! I've never heard of this--now I'll have to keep an eye out.