ellery queen lee

Ellery Queen


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, 1905September 3, 1982) and Manford (Emanuel) Lepofsky, alias Manfred Bennington Lee (January 11, 1905April 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 Character of Ellery Queen

Ellery Queen was created in 1928 when Dannay and Lee entered a writing contest sponsored by McClure's Magazine for the best first mystery novel. They decided to use as their collective pseudonym the same name that they had given their detective. Inspired by the formula and style of the Philo Vance novels by S. S. Van Dine, their entry won the contest, but before it could be published, the magazine was sold and the new owner awarded the prize to another entrant. Undeterred, the cousins took their novel to publishers, and The Roman Hat Mystery was published in 1929. "Later the cousins took a sharper view of Vance, Manfred Lee calling him, with typical vehemence, 'the biggest prig that ever came down the pike'."

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.

Story style

The Queen novels are examples of the classic "fair play", whodunit mystery, particularly during what became known as the "Golden Age" of the mystery novel. Because the reader obtains clues in the same way as the protagonist detective, the book becomes an intellectually challenging puzzle. Mystery writer John Dickson Carr termed it "the grandest game in the world." Other characteristics of the early Queen novels were intricately plotted clues and solutions. In The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932), multiple solutions to the mystery are proposed, a feature that showed up in later books, most notably in Double, Double and Ten Days' Wonder. Queen's "false solution, followed by the truth" became a hallmark of the canon. Another stylistic element in many early books (notably The Dutch Shoe Mystery, The French Powder Mystery and especially Halfway House) is Ellery's method of creating a list of attributes (the murderer is male, the murderer smokes a pipe, etc.). Then, by comparing each suspect to these attributes, he reduces the list of suspects to a single name, often an unlikely one.

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."

Novels as Barnaby Ross

Beginning in 1932, the cousins wrote four novels using the pseudonym "Barnaby Ross" about Drury Lane, a Shakespearean actor who had retired from the stage due to deafness and was consulted as an amateur detective. The novels also featured Inspector Thumm (at first of the New York police, then later a private investigator) and his crime-solving daughter Patience. For a while in the 1930s "Ellery Queen" and "Barnaby Ross" staged a series of public debates in which one cousin impersonated Queen and the other impersonated Ross, both of them wearing masks to preserve their anonymity. "People said Ross must be the wit and critic Alexander Woolcott and Queen S.S. Van Dine (real name Huntington Willard Wright), creator of the super-snob detective Philo Vance, on whom 'Ellery Queen' was indeed modeled." The Barnaby Ross novels were later republished under the Ellery Queen name.

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.

The cousins also allowed the "Barnaby Ross" name to be used as a house name for the publication of a series of historical novels by Don Tracy. (See Ellery Queen (house name).)

Ellery Queen in other media


On radio, The Adventures of Ellery Queen was heard on all three networks from 1939 to 1948. During the 1970s, syndicated radio fillers, Ellery Queen's Minute Mysteries, began with an announcer saying, "This is Ellery Queen..." and contained a short one-minute case. The radio station encouraged callers to solve the mystery and win a sponsor's prize. Once a winner was found, the solution was broadcast as confirmation.

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.


Helene Hanff, best-known for her book 84 Charing Cross Road, was a scripter for the television series version of The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1950-52), which began on the DuMont Television Network but soon moved to ABC. Shortly after the series began, Richard Hart, who played Queen, died and was replaced in the lead role by Lee Bowman. The series returned to DuMont in 1954 with Hugh Marlowe in the title role. George Nader played Queen in The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen (1958-59), but he was replaced with Lee Philips in the final episodes.

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.

Each episode of the 1975 television series featured a number of Hollywood celebrities. Eve Arden, George Burns, Milton Berle, Guy Lombardo, Rudy Vallee, and Don Ameche were among the guests.


  • The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) Donald Cook as Ellery Queen, Guy Usher as Inspector Queen (based on The Spanish Cape Mystery)
  • The Mandarin Mystery (1936) Eddie Quillan as Ellery Queen, Wade Boteler as Inspector Queen (loosely based on The Chinese Orange Mystery)
  • Ellery Queen, Master Detective (1940) Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen, Margaret Lindsay as Nikki Porter, Charley Grapewin as Inspector Queen (very loosely based on The Door Between)
  • Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery (1941) Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen, Margaret Lindsay as Nikki Porter, Charley Grapewin as Inspector Queen
  • Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring (1941) Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen, Margaret Lindsay as Nikki Porter, Charley Grapewin as Inspector Queen (loosely based on The Dutch Shoe Mystery)
  • Ellery Queen and the Perfect Crime (1941) Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen, Margaret Lindsay as Nikki Porter, Charley Grapewin as Inspector Queen (loosely based on The Devil To Pay)
  • Enemy Agents Meet Ellery Queen (1942) Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen, Margaret Lindsay as Nikki Porter, Charley Grapewin as Inspector Queen
  • A Close Call for Ellery Queen (1942) William Gargan as Ellery Queen, Margaret Lindsay as Nikki Porter, Charley Grapewin as Inspector Queen
  • A Desperate Chance for Ellery Queen (1942) William Gargan as Ellery Queen, Margaret Lindsay as Nikki Porter, Charley Grapewin as Inspector Queen
  • La Décade prodigieuse (1971) (English title, Ten Days' Wonder) directed by Claude Chabrol and starring Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles. There is no character named Ellery Queen but Michel Piccoli plays "Paul Regis," the investigator. (Based on Ten Days' Wonder)
  • Haitatsu sarenai santsu no tegami (1979) (English title, The three undelivered letters) a Japanese movie directed by Yoshitaro Nomura (based on Calamity Town but apparently not containing Ellery Queen or any detective character)

Comic books and graphic novels

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."

Board games and jigsaw puzzles

The name of Ellery Queen was attached to a number of games, including 1956's (Ellery Queen's Great Mystery Game) Trapped, 1971's The Case of the Elusive Assassin by Ellery Queen, a jigsaw puzzle in 1973 called "Ellery Queen: The Case of His Headless Highness" and a board game in 1986 called "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Game". There is also a VCR-based game from the early 1980s called "Ellery Queen's Operation: Murder" (loosely based on The Dutch Shoe Mystery).



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.

True Crime

Two collections of true crime stories (based on material gathered by anonymous researchers) written by Lee alone that had been originally published in The American Weekly were collected into volumes.

  • Ellery Queen's International Case Book (1964)
  • The Woman in the Case (1967)

Short story collections

  • The Adventures of Ellery Queen - 1934
  • The New Adventures of Ellery Queen - 1940 (Contains The Lamp of God -- see "Novels" above)
  • The Case Book of Ellery Queen - 1945
  • Calendar Of Crime - 1952
  • QBI - Queen's Bureau of Investigation - 1955
  • Queens Full - 1966
  • QED - Queen's Experiments In Detection - 1968
  • The Best Of Ellery Queen - 1985 (one previously uncollected)
  • The Tragedy Of Errors - 1999 (a previously unpublished synopsis written by Dannay)
  • The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Mysteries - 2005

Note that other short story collections exist, such as More Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940), which reprints stories from two previous collections.

As Barnaby Ross

  • The Tragedy Of X - 1932
  • The Tragedy Of Y - 1932
  • The Tragedy Of Z - 1933
  • Drury Lane's Last Case - 1933

Omnibus volumes

  • The Ellery Queen Omnibus - 1934
  • The Ellery Queen Omnibus - 1936
  • Ellery Queen's Big Book - 1938
  • Ellery Queen's Adventure Omnibus - 1941
  • Ellery Queen's Mystery Parade - 1944
  • The Case Book of Ellery Queen - 1949
  • The Wrightsville Murders - 1956
  • The Hollywood Murders - 1957
  • The New York Murders - 1958
  • The XYZ Murders - 1961
  • The Bizarre Murders - 1962

Novels attributed to Ellery Queen/Barnaby Ross/Ellery Queen Jr. but written by other authors

See Ellery Queen (house name).

Critical works

  • The Detective Short Story: A Bibliography - 1942
  • Queen's Quorum: A History of the Detective-Crime Short Story As Revealed by the 100 Most Important Books Published in this Field Since 1845 - 1951
  • In the Queen's Parlor, and Other Leaves from the Editor's Notebook - 1957


Anthologies and collections

  • Challenge to the Reader - 1938
  • 101 Years' Entertainment, The Great Detective Stories, 1841-1941 - 1941
  • Sporting Blood: The Great Sports Detective Stories - 1942
  • The Female of the Species: Great Women Detectives and Criminals - 1943
  • The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes - 1944
  • The Best Stories from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine - 1944
  • Dashiell Hammett: The Adventures of Sam Spade and Other Stories - 1944
  • Rogues' Gallery: The Great Criminals of Modern Fiction - 1945
  • To The Queen's Taste: The First Supplement to 101 Years' Entertainment, Consisting of the Best Stories Published in the First Five Years of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine - 1946
  • The Queen's Awards, 1946 - 1946
  • Dashiell Hammett: The Continental Op - 1945
  • Dashiell Hammett: The Return of the Continental Op - 1945
  • Dashiell Hammett: Hammett Homicides - 1946
  • Murder By Experts - 1947
  • The Queen's Awards, 1947 - 1947
  • Dashiell Hammett: Dead Yellow Women - 1947
  • Stuart Palmer: The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers - 1947
  • John Dickson Carr: Dr. Fell, Detective, and Other Stories - 1947
  • Roy Vickers: The Department of Dead Ends - 1947
  • Margery Allingham: The Case Book of Mr. Campion - 1947
  • 20th Century Detective Stories - 1948
  • The Queen's Awards, 1948 - 1948
  • Dashiell Hammett: Nightmare Town - 1948
  • O. Henry: Cops and Robbers - 1947
  • The Queen's Awards, 1949 - 1949
  • The Literature of Crime: Stories by World-Famous Authors - 1950
  • The Queen's Awards, Fifth Series - 1950
  • Dashiell Hammett: The Creeping Siamese - 1950
  • Stuart Palmer: The Monkey Murder and Other Stories - 1950

and many more

Books about Ellery Queen

  • Nevins, Francis M. Royal Bloodline: Ellery Queen, Author and Detective. Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1974. ISBN 0-87972-066-2 (cloth), 0-87972-067-0 (paperback).
  • Nevins, Francis M. and Grams, Jr., Martin. The Sound of Detection: Ellery Queen's Adventures in Radio. OTR Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-970-33102-9.

Awards and Honors

The writing team of Ellery Queen received the following "Edgar" awards from the Mystery Writers of America:

  • 1946 -- Best Radio Drama (tied with Mr. and Mrs. North)
  • 1950 -- Special Edgar Award for ten years' service through Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
  • 1961 -- Grand Master Edgar Award
  • 1962 -- Best Short Story ("Ellery Queen 1962 Anthology")
  • 1964 -- Best Novel (The Player on the Other Side)
  • 1969 -- Special Edgar Award on the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Roman Hat Mystery

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.


  • Wheat, Carolyn "The Real Queen(s) of Crime", CLUES: A Journal of Detection, 23.4 (Summer 2005): 86-90

External links

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