“Frederic Dannay Revisited” (by Francis M. Nevins)

Earlier this year, on this site, Laird Blackwell talked about the inspiration for his latest scholarly work, Frederic Dannay, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and the Art of the Detective Short Story. This week, mystery-fiction scholar Francis M. Nevins reviews the book. The author of six mystery novels and about forty published short stories, Francis M. Nevins (whom we know as “Mike”) has won two Edgars for his critical work in our field (Royal Bloodline: Ellery Queen, Author and Detective and Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die). He knew Frederic Dannay personally and has approached Laird Blackwell’s work focused on the magazine Dannay founded from the viewpoint of a devoted fan.—Janet Hutchings

In recent years—no, make that recent decades—it seems that I’ve either written or edited or had some connection with just about every book having to do with Ellery Queen. This is no longer the case, thanks to Laird R. Blackwell’s Frederic Dannay, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and the Art of the Detective Short Story (McFarland, 2019), a title so unwieldy it won’t all fit on the book’s spine, which omits THE ART OF. Blackwell aims to encompass in a relatively short book “the true impact of Ellery Queen on the detective-crime short-story genre.” By Ellery Queen of course he means Frederic Dannay, the scholarly-bibliophilic-editorial half of the Queen partnership, who as founding editor of EQMM labored feverishly, between the magazine’s birth late in 1941 and shortly before his death in 1982, both to revive the best short stories of the distant and recent past and to encourage the creation of equally fine stories in the present and future. Blackwell knows the 40-odd Dannay years of EQMM backward and forward and writes insightfully of the milestone authors and stories that Fred had a hand in developing or preserving. We traverse the entire range of the genre from Poe through Conan Doyle and Chesterton to then-newcomers like Stanley Ellin and Edward D. Hoch (who wound up having more than 500 stories published in the magazine) to a few like Jon L. Breen and Josh Pachter and myself who began appearing in EQMM when we were young and Fred was well along in his editorial career and who carry on today like old warhorses continuing, perhaps more gently, to smite the earth.

If I had had a hand in the book I would have pushed for Blackwell to include the birth and death years of the dozens of authors he covers, giving readers a more vivid sense of the scope and flow of detective-crime fiction in its short form. But I would have fought much more loudly for the removal of the superabundant typos which pockmark the book. So many authors’ names are given incorrectly, including luminaries like “Cornel” Woolrich and “George” Simenon and even that old standby Edgar “Allen” Poe. So many story titles get the same treatment, such as “The Adventure of the Blue Carbunkle” which will lift every Sherlockian’s eyebrows to the sky. Book titles fare no better, as witness 101 Midnights, which eliminates a whopping 900 witching hours. A number of significant dates are also off, for example the death of Ed Hoch, which occurred in 2008, not 2018. (If only Ed had enjoyed the extra ten years of life with which Blackwell gifts him!) And more than one protagonist of a single story is listed as a series character. But all these gaffes—which, if I had a magic wand, I’d erase forever—don’t seriously detract from what Blackwell has accomplished in this book. With these reservations, I recommend it.

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2 Responses to “Frederic Dannay Revisited” (by Francis M. Nevins)

  1. Josh Pachter says:

    Thanks for the shoutout, Mike — although is there any chance I can be a late-middle-aged warhorse instead of an old one?! I’m looking forward to reading Laird’s book … but not to the errors and typos, from which I’m sorry to learn it suffers. Perhaps there’ll be a second and more accurate edition? Hope springs eternal….

  2. Jon L. Breen says:

    I’ll second Mike’s recommendation–and his reservations. For me the most serious problem of the book is confusing Edgar Award winners with Edgar nominees. There are five or so nominees in most categories each year but only one winner…Josh, thanks for pointing out that you are a little bit (not that much) younger than Mike or me. I myself was a middle-aged warhorse as recently as five or so years ago.

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