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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Logical Successor to Sherlock Holmes

Shortly after his first appearance in the 1929 novel The Roman Hat Mystery, American amateur detective Ellery Queen was dubbed by a reviewer “the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes.” The connection between the two sleuths remained close in the decades that followed.

The authors of the Ellery Queen stories, also using Ellery Queen as a pseudonym, were two Brooklyn-born first cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. Dannay, a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, wrote a charming memoir about how he first encountered The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as a young boy stuck in bed with an ear abscess in 1917.

The account, “Who Shall Ever Forget?” appears in a book called In the Queen’s Parlor that I bought many years ago at a library sale. It ends this way:

Who could ever forget that gaunt, dynamic figure with his incisive speech . . . or the mysterious Victorian household appliance called a gasogene . . . or the Persian slipper in which The Master kept his cigars . . . or the patriotic bullet pocks on the wall and the scraping violin which produced such weird melodies . . . or the hypodermic syringe – what a shock that was to my fledging sensibilities! . . . or the ghostly handsome cab that loomed out of the London mist – with a twelve-year-old boy clinging by some miracle of literary gymnastics to its back as it rattled off to literary adventure . . .

Yes, who shall ever forget?

Certainly not Frederic Dannay. Almost 50 years after he picked up the Adventures for the first time, he and Lee wrote A Study in Terror. Based on a film of the same name, it may be the best of all the Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper pastiches.

Interestingly, the book doesn’t just stick to the screenplay. It involves Ellery Queen commenting on a long-lost Watson manuscript and in the end discerning a truth that Holmes withheld even from Watson.

The book, a paperback original, must have been reasonably successful – I own two editions published some years apart. The newer edition, from Lodestone Books, has a blurb on the back that recalls the idea of EQ as the logical successor to Sherlock Holmes.

Ellery Queen and Sherlock Holmes –
Undisputed masters of analytical deduction – their talents and methods strikingly, almost uncannily, alike. Through the strange interlocking of events past and present, the two celebrated detectives meet to focus their razor-sharp intellects, their brilliant powers of observation on the mystery of . . .
Jack the Ripper –

Hype aside, that's a good description of the tale. Ellery Queen is largely forgotten these days, I’m afraid. He shouldn’t be.


  1. Cool Post! I remember my Mom reading every Ellery Queen so I grew up with the name. And it's a TV show, too, they play reruns every Sunday. I can't compare the TV show with the stories, though - but Ellery Queen is not forgotten! Maybe just a little hidden in plain sight...

  2. Since I just came across your Post yesterday - and it was on my mind - I watched the TV 'Ellery Queen' this afternoon and it was thoroughly enjoyable and quite a clever plot and string of clues. I've got to get some copies of the stories and read them!