One of the books I picked up at the BOUCHERCON in New Orleans was Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen 1947-1950. During this time period, four Ellery Queen novels were published: Ten Days’ Wonder (1948), Cat of Many Tales (1049), Double, Double (1950), and The Origin of Evil (1951). When I first discovered Ellery Queen back in the 1960s, i binged on the early mysteries reading about a dozen of them before moving on to Agatha Christie and “carter brown.” Afterwords, I read an Ellery Queen novel about every decade. So, in order to read Blood Relations I had to read the four books Frederic Danny and Manfred B. Lee (the cousins who worked together as “Ellery Queen”) discuss in these letters. I found them fascinating with the detail both men go into about their writing process. The letters share personal information: neither man was particularly healthy. Both seem to suffer from bouts of depression. And there’s a undercurrent of anger and antagonism in these letters. Money problems and family problems enter into the mix. I learned a lot about the approach these men took toward their work. GRADE: A

As far as the four novels, I found Ten Days’ Wonder very clever with multiple plots swirling under the surface. A friend of Ellery Queen fears he committed a crime while suffering from amnesia. Ellery accompanies his friend to Wrightsville and becomes involved in a blackmail plot. I found the conclusion surprising. GRADE: B+

A serial killer called the Cat sends New York City into a panic. Ellery Queen, in a funk over the events in Wrightsville in Ten Days’ Wonder, is reluctant to get involved, but when his father is put in charge of the investigation, Ellery plunges into solving the murders. The 10 murders seem completely unconnected and random, but Ellery finally discovers the common element. Cat of Many Tales is one of the best mysteries Dannay and Lee ever produced. GRADE: A

Ellery Queen finds himself back in Wrightsville for a series of deaths that follow the “rich man, poor man, begger man, thief” rubric. I found this mystery very very contrived. GRADE: B-

Origin of Evil is one of the Ellery Queen “Hollywood” mysteries. Ellery is in California to write a book, but he’s immediately drawn into a convoluted crime involving a dead dog, eels, dead frogs, and a guy who lives in a tree house. If you’re in the mood for a wacky puzzle novel, The Origin of Evil will fit the bill. GRADE: B

What’s your favorite Ellery Queen mystery?

36 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOKS #412: BLOOD RELATIONS: THE SELECTED LETTERS OF ELLERY QUEEN 1947-1950 Edited by Joseph Goodrich

  1. Sergio (Tipping My Fedora)

    I did find the book alternated between fascinating detail about the writing but also information that was really very depressing about their lives and relationship. But there you go. I would have to agree with CAT is the best, a real masterpiece with the admittedly much stranger TEN DAYS just behind.

    1. george Post author

      Sergio, I was surprised about the financial struggles of Frederic Danny and Manfred B. Lee. You would think two best-selling writers wouldn’t have money problems. But they did!

    1. george Post author

      Dan, that is a very good review of 10 DAYS’ WONDER! I had the same experience as you did with Ellery Queen in High School. I binged on about a dozen Ellery Queen mysteries and then moved on.

  2. wolfi

    I must have read some of these books – but I don’t remember them.
    Re ” before moving on to Agatha Christie and “carter brown.” ”
    I had to chuckle – just remembered that as a student in the early 60s I also bought a few of Carter Brown novels , they were relatively cheap and they helped me with learning slang …
    There was a bookstore that I passsed on my way to university and they had ” a lot” of Englsih/American books and magazines – so when I could afford it, I’d buy a novel for my train ride home, was stillliving with my parents the first semesters.

    PS:Had to chuckle too at the picture of “The origin of evili” – it must have been a British edition, the price is 2/6 aka a half crown!
    That was the price of a cheeseburger when I came to England in 1965, a regular hamburger was 2 shillings …

    Paperbacks were really cheap then, 25 or 35 cents – in Germany it was 1.50 Deutsche Mark!

  3. Bill Crider

    Great choice. CAT OF MANY TAILS and CALAMITY TOWN are two of my favorite Queens, but there are others I like a lot, too.

  4. maggie mason

    I think I’ve read all of the Queens, but can’t remember which ones I preferred. I do remember liking the drury lane/xyz ones, if I”m remembering correctly.

      1. Jeff Meyerson

        I’ve read and enjoyed the first two. They are like the early Queen books with the atmosphere and outre touches.

  5. Art Scott

    CAT is the best of late period Queen, and one of the best of the many find-the-hidden-pattern-in-the-seemingly-random-series-of-killings books that many mystery writers have produced. But in general, I prefer the early pure puzzle plot novels to the later books of the Wrightsville Era, when their approach became a lot more “psychological”. GREEK COFFIN is my favorite.

      1. Art Scott

        Mike Nevins is in my camp on this one. In ROYAL BLOODLINE he writes,, “…the GREEK COFFIN MYSTERY is probably the most involuted, brain-crushing, miraculously well-constructed detective novel published in the United States during the Golden Age.”

  6. Jeff Meyerson

    Nice one. I read it some time ago, and also read the four books (the Hollywood one was the weakest). CAT OF MANY TAILS is one of my favorite Queens. I like the Wrightsville books, and THE GLASS VILLAGE (non-series) and their various short story collections.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, I’ll probably be reading THE SPANISH CAPE MYSTERY later this year. The “late” Ellery Queens that were ghosted by other writers are mostly weak. The only one that really interested me was FACE TO FACE which might have been ghost-written by Jack Vance.

  7. Rick Ollerman

    Loved this book of letters. Learned so much about how these two men collaborated and it was eye-opening. The fact that they were able to work together for as long as they did is remarkable.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, you’re right. Frederic Danny and Manfred B. Lee had a complicated relationship. Financial factors and health concerns were a big part of the letters.

  8. Cap'n Bob

    I tried one many years ago and wasn’t tempted to try another! I’ve always felt I should try another but haven’t! The ones I’ve been tempted to try were ghosted!

  9. Art Scott

    Is there something to be deduced from the fact that FACE TO FACE and TAKE MY FACE are both books ghosted by Jack Vance? (The latter as “Peter Held”)

      1. wolfi

        I really enjoyed that Demon Kings series! Much more than the mysteries …

        Vance’s SF was more than brilliant.

        Why did Vance ghostwrite for Ellery Queen – did he need the money?

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, oops! It’s the DEMON PRINCES series. Not KINGS. I suspect Jack Vance ghosted those “Ellery Queen” mysteries for money. Vance loved to travel so I’m sure whatever he made for writing the EQs for a trip somewhere.

  10. wolfi

    George, I fell into your trap – mixed them up too!

    Of course it was because the first novel was The Star King – brilliant!


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