Ellery Queen is both a fictional character and a pseudonym used by two American cousins from Brooklyn, New York: Daniel (David) Nathan, alias Frederic Dannay (October 20, 1905–September 3, 1982) and Manford (Emanuel) Lepofsky, alias Manfred Bennington Lee (January 11, 1905–April 3, 1971), to write detective fiction. In a successful series of novels that covered forty-two years, Ellery Queen served as both author's name and that of the detective-hero. Movies, radio shows, and television shows have been based on their works. The two, particularly Dannay, were also responsible for co-founding and directing Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, generally considered as one of the most influential English crime fiction magazines of the last sixty-five years. They were also prominent historians in the field, editing numerous collections and anthologies of short stories such as The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. Their 994-page anthology for The Modern Library, 101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories, 1841-1941, was a landmark work that remained in print for many years. Under their collective pseudonym, the cousins were given the Grand Master Award for achievements in the field of the mystery story by the Mystery Writers of America in 1961.
"How actually did they do it? Did they sit together and hammer the stuff out word by word? Did one write the dialogue and the other the narration? ... What eventually happened was that Fred Dannay, in principle, produced the plots, the clues and what would have to be deduced from them as well as the outlines of the characters and Manfred Lee clothed it all in words. But it is unlikely to have been as clear cut as that."
The cousins also wrote four novels about a detective named Drury Lane using the pseudonym Barnaby Ross, and allowed the Ellery Queen name to be used as a house name for a number of novels written by other authors. (See Ellery Queen (house name).)
"As an anthologist, Ellery Queen is without peer, his taste unequalled. As a bibliographer and a collector of the detective short story, Queen is, again, an historical personage. Indeed, Ellery Queen clearly is, after Poe, the most important American of mystery fiction.
Margery Allingham wrote that Ellery Queen had "done far more for the detective story than any other two men put together".
The Roman Hat Mystery established a reliable formula: an unusual crime; a complex series of clues; supporting characters including Ellery's father, Inspector Richard Queen, and his irascible assistant, Sergeant Velie; and what became the most famous part of Ellery Queen's books: the "Challenge to the Reader." This was a single page near the end of the book declaring that the reader had seen all the same clues Ellery had, and that only one solution was possible. "The rare distinction of the books is that this claim is accurate. There are problems in deduction that do really permit of only one answer, and there are few crime stories indeed of which this can be said."
The fictional detective Ellery Queen is the author of the books in which he appears (The Finishing Stroke, 1958) and the editor of the magazine that bears his name (The Player On The Other Side, 1963). In earlier novels he is a snobbish Harvard-educated intellectual of independent wealth who wore a pince-nez and investigated crimes because he found them stimulating. He derived these characteristics from his mother, the daughter of a rich aristocratic New York family who had married Inspector Queen, a bluff, man-in-the-street New York Irishman, and died before the stories began. His mannerisms in the first nine or ten novels were apparently based on those of the then-extremely popular Philo Vance character of the same era. As time went on, however, these mannerisms were toned down or disappeared entirely.
Beginning with Calamity Town in 1940, Ellery became much more human and often became emotionally affected by the people in his cases, at one point quitting detective work altogether. A number of novels of this time are set in the imaginary town of Wrightsville, and subsidiary characters recur from story to story; Ellery relates to the various strata of American society as an outsider. Ellery spends time working in Hollywood as a screenwriter (in The Four of Hearts and The Origin of Evil), and solves cases with a Hollywood setting. At this point, he has a slick facade, is part of Hollywood society and hobnobs comfortably with the wealthy and famous. But he soon returned to his New York City roots for the remainder of his career, and is seen mostly as an ultra-logical crime solver who remains distant from his cases. In the very late novels, he often seemed a near-faceless, near-characterless persona whose role was purely to solve the mystery.
Ellery Queen is said to be married and the father of a child in the introductions to the first few novels, but this soon becomes non-canonic after the ninth novel. The character of "Nikki Porter," who acts as Ellery's secretary and is something of a love interest, was encountered first in the radio series. Nikki's curiosity and her attempts to encourage Ellery to work as a detective are responsible for a number of radio and film plots from the early 1940s. Her first appearance in a written story is in the final pages of There Was An Old Woman (1943), when a character with whom Ellery has had some flirtatious moments announces spontaneously that she's changing her name to Nikki Porter and going to work as Ellery's secretary. Nikki Porter appears sporadically thereafter in novels and stories, linking the character from radio and movies into the written canon. The character of Paula Paris, an agoraphobic gossip columnist, is linked romantically with Ellery in novels and short stories during the Hollywood period, but does not appear in the radio series or films, and soon vanished from the books. Ellery is not said to have had any serious romantic interests after Nikki Porter and Paula Paris disappear from the books.
The Queen household, an apartment in New York shared by the Queens father and son, also contains a houseboy named Djuna, at least in the earliest novels and short stories. This young man, who may be of gypsy origin, appears periodically in the canon, apparently ageless and family-free, in a supporting role as cook, receiver of parcels, valet, and as occasional minor comedy relief. He is the principal character in some, not all, of the juvenile novels as written by Ellery Queen, Jr.
By 1940, when Ellery Queen – author and character – moved to Hollywood to try his hand at scriptwriting, the character of the novels began to change along with the detective's character. Romance was introduced, solutions began to involve more psychological elements, and the "Challenge" vanished from the books. The novels also moved from mere puzzles to more introspective themes. "The great detective is confronted with romance just because the critics said he needed that little bit of spice. It's fair to admit that Nikki Porter brought some charm to the series. And it's fair to say that the Hollywood novels made a pleasant read, but nothing more. Tinseltown didn't treat Dannay and Lee very well. They felt their talent was wasted on small pictures. Burdened by the lack of success they let their feelings get through in the novels. Without those they could have been better books.
Ten Days' Wonder (1948), set in the New England town of Wrightsville (a backdrop for several Queen novels during the 1940s), even showed the limitations of Ellery's methods of detection. "Ellery ... occasionally lost his father, as his exploits took place more frequently in the small town of Wrightsville ... where his arrival as a house guest was likely to be the signal for the commission of one or more murders. Very intelligently, Dannay and Lee used this change in locale to loosen the structure of their stories. More emphasis was placed on personal relationships, and less on the details of investigation."
The 1950s and 1960s showed more experimental work, especially three novels written by other writers, all three based on detailed outlines by Dannay. The Player on the Other Side, ghost-written by Theodore Sturgeon, delves more deeply into motive than most Ellery Queen novels. And on the Eighth Day (1964), ghost-written by Avram Davidson, was a religious allegory touching on fascism. Davidson also wrote The Fourth Side of the Triangle. Toward the end of their careers, the cousins also allowed novels, mainly original paperbacks, to be written by various people under the Ellery Queen name. These did not feature the character Ellery Queen as the protagonist, and included three novels featuring "the governor's troubleshooter" Mike McCall and six featuring private eye Tim Corrigan. The prominent science-fiction writer Jack Vance wrote three of these original paperbacks, including the locked room mystery A Room to Die In.
There are also a number of Ellery Queen short stories, many featuring a puzzle format called the "dying clue," where a dying person leaves a clue to their murderer's identity which must be interpreted by the detective. "The writers of short stories between the Wars attempted no more than the statement of a puzzle and its solution by decent detective work. Within these limits the short stories, particularly of Queen ... give a great deal of pleasure. Indeed, in some ways the short story is better suited than the novel to this kind of writing. ... This is notable especially in the case of Ellery Queen. The best of his short stories belong to the early intensely ratiocinative period, and both The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934) and The New Adventures (1940) are as absolutely fair and totally puzzling as the most passionate devotee of orthodoxy could wish. ... (E)very story in these books is composed with wonderful skill. Some of the later Queen stories are interesting, but generally they do not come up to those in the first two collections, because the structure is looser, and there is not much compensation in the way of greater depth."
The Drury Lane novels are in the whodunnit style. The Tragedy of X and The Tragedy of Y are variations on the locked room mystery format. The Tragedy of Y bears some resemblance to the Ellery Queen novel There Was an Old Woman: both are about eccentric families headed by a matriarch.
A complete episode guide and history of this radio program can be found in the book "The Sound of Detection: Ellery Queen's Adventures in Radio" from OTR Publishing, 2002.
Peter Lawford starred in a television movie, Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You, in 1971. Veteran actor Harry Morgan played Inspector Queen, but in this film he was described as Ellery's uncle (perhaps to account for the fact that Morgan was only eight years Lawford's senior, or for Lawford's English accent). This film is loosely based on Cat of Many Tails.
The 1975 television movie Ellery Queen (a loose adaptation of The Fourth Side of the Triangle) led to the 1975-76 Ellery Queen television series starring Jim Hutton in the title role (with David Wayne as his widowed father). The series was done as a period piece set in New York City in the late 1940s. Sergeant Velie, Inspector Queen's assistant, was a cast regular in this series; he had appeared in the novels and the radio series, but had not been seen regularly in any of the previous TV versions. Each episode contained a "Challenge to the Viewer" with Queen breaking the fourth wall to go over the facts of the case and invite the audience to solve the mystery on their own, immediately before the solution was revealed.
Ellery Queen stories appeared in issues of Crackajack Funnies beginning in 1940, a four-issue series by Superior Comics in 1949, two issues of a short-lived series by Ziff-Davis in 1952, and three comics published by Dell in 1962. Mike W. Barr used Ellery as a guest star in an issue of his Maze Agency #9 in February 1990, published by Innovation Comics, in a story titled "The English Channeler Mystery: A Problem in Deduction."
† The Lamp of God is a long short story or a short novella, originally published in Detective Story magazine in 1935, first collected in The New Adventures of Ellery Queen (see below) and published separately (alone) as #23 in the Dell Ten-Cent Editions (64 pages) in 1951.
Note that other short story collections exist, such as More Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940), which reprints stories from two previous collections.
and many more
The Mystery Writers of America established the Ellery Queen Award in 1983 "to honor writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.
Ellery Queen was featured on a postage stamp issued by Nicaragua as part of a series of "Famous Fictional Detectives" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Interpol in 1973 and a similar series of famous fictional detectives from San Marino in 1979.