This article is my contribution for this week to Tuesday Night Bloggers, a weekly event conceived by Curtis Evans of The Passing Tramp and hosted by Noah Stewart of Noah's Archives. After being on Agatha Christie for all of October, the group's focus is now on Ellery Queen.
As I said in my previous article on the subject, Ellery Queen is one of three writers who inoculated me with the mystery bug - but it hardly was love at first sight. It took a physician and a TV series to make me a fan.
The first EQ book to enter my home was The Roman Hat Mystery, bought by my mother who loved the cover art (she put a great emphasis on such matters) I didn't express much interest for it - I had never heard of Ellery Queen and 14-year-old me didn't care for anything that wasn't written by Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr. On my mother's insistance I started reading it, only to stop circa page 20. The book just wasn't for me: it had no impossible crime and the detective was nothing like Hercule Poirot.
Things could have stayed there had not my then otorhinolaryngologist chimed in. I had severe asthma back then and had to see him regularly but it was not too much of a chore as he was a very erudite man who happened to be an avid mystery reader, much better-read and eclectic than I was at the time. We often took time to discuss our respective reads and one day he mentioned Ellery Queen as one of his favorites: Had I tried him yet? No? Well, I should. I was intrigued and back home tried again to read The Roman Hat Mystery, to no avail. But I was curious enough to go to the local bookshop and buy another book of theirs (there was a batch of them, paperback imprint J'ai Lu having undertaken to reprint the whole catalogue) this time A Fine and Private Place. EQ scholars regard this one as minor but to me it was a revelation. The plot and its solution floored me, the characters were more modern than Christie's or Carr's and Ellery Queen was really a great detective. I went back to the bookshop, bought all the other Queens they had in store and read them ravenously. Move over, Agatha and John! There was a new kid in town.
Some time later the French TV channel FR3 (now known as France 3) began airing a new* series in its afternoon slot. I missed the first two or three episodes and caught the fourth by sheer chance. Imagine my surprise when I found that the series's protagonist was none other than Ellery Queen himself! I became a faithful viewer at once, never again missing an episode. Ellery and his father now had faces - and even today I still imagine the former as Jim Hutton and the latter as David Wayne - and the plots were great (my only experience with mystery shows at the time was Murder, She Wrote which may account for my enthusiasm) I remember I was very disappointed when the series ended and was replaced by Poirot.
Since then my tastes have broadened if not dramatically changed and A Fine and Private Place is no longer my favorite Queen (though I keep a soft spot for it) but the Brooklyn cousins remain key figures in my personal pantheon - and I look forward to reading those books of theirs that I haven't yet read. It's the French equivalent of Veterans's Day tomorrow and I may do my own celebration by finally reading The Player on the Other Side which I've postponed for years as I wanted to be in the right mood. Or maybe The Siamese Twins Mystery? Queen fan forever.
* As you've probably figured out if you did the math the series took a long time (15 years!) to cross the Atlantic. It first aired here in 1989 and I didn't know at the time that Jim Hutton had died in the meantime. I was very sad when I learned about it.