Rediscovered: Digging Out the Dannay

I’ve never been interested in the fiction of author “Ellery Queen” nom de guerre for the cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. The only Queen titles I ever recall reading were some of the 1960s novels ghost written under contract by writers such as Avram Davidson and Jack Vance, better known for fantasy and science fiction. Hardly vintage Queen, if intriguing for other reasons.

But I’ve always liked Dannay’s little intros and notes for stories, even for stories I’m not going to read, like John Dickson Carr.

(A few years ago I had an exchange in a set of letters — yes, old timey epistles, folks — in which a guy argued that Carr was the most influential mystery writer of his era.

(Jeez, no way, said I — that would be Chandler.

(No, said the guy, Carr.



(Turned out the pinhead making the Carr argument had not even read Chandler, and sure as hell didn’t know what he was talking about. . . .)

I may be doing a disservice to the memory of old Manfred, but I think of Dannay as writing all the notes to stories, whether he did so exclusively or not. And I know that Dannay was the one who hung out some with Hammett, and dropped in on classes he was teaching for the Jefferson School of Social Science.

Inspired by all the chatter about Danny-as-editor we’ve been doing lately, I pulled my copy of In the Queen’s Parlor (1957) off the shelf — one of my favorite books-about-books, right up there with various studies by Vincent Starrett. I guess I’ve read it two or three times over the years, and am breezing through once more. Got to love the opening of the mini-essay “The Sex Life of a Gentleman Detective:”

Dashiell Hammett once introduced us to a class of adults studying “The Mystery Story,” and to start the ball rolling he fired this question at us with a perfectly straight face: “Mr. Queen,” he asked, “will you be good enough to explain your famous character’s sex life, if any?”  

I suspect that some people who surf into this site must think that Terry Zobeck and I are the only people on the planet who are thinking about Dannay, much less about how Dannay was editing Hammett’s short stories decades ago. Well, we’re not alone. Terry found a recent post by Mike Nevins on the Mystery File blog which concerns “Dannay’s editing of ‘The Tenth Clew.’ Apparently the last paragraph of the story as it appears in EQMM was edited by Dannay, but when collected in The Return of the Continental Op it appeared as originally published. Strange.”

Yet another wrinkle, although I don’t think even Terry is going to sit down and compare the micro-editing variants Dannay may have done between the magazine and the final books — get us as close to the Hammett originals as possible, and leave the Dannay editing variants for future Dannay scholars.

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