The feuding duo behind one of America’s greatest (fictional) detectives
When I was in — 9th grade? — I loved watching Levinson & Link’s TV series Ellery Queen, which starred Jim Hutton as the detective author and David Wayne as his police inspector father. I think what most captured me was Queen’s direct address to the camera just before he revealed the murderer’s identity: “If you’ve been watching — closely — you have all the information you need.” I never guessed correctly, of course, but I enjoyed the period detail and that was a golden age for spotting character actors.
I moved on to actually reading the damn books through junior high and high school. I have no idea why, as they don’t have a lot of charm, the writing is workmanlike, and there are no thrills or action to speak of. (I was probably also reading Doc Savage reissues at that time, so, you know, forgive.) They didn’t have the sort of antique charm of the TV series or even of an Agatha Christie cozy. I do remember one of the “twist” endings: “He wasn’t John’s twin — he was John’s triplet.”
The most memorable thing about the Ellery Queen novel reissues in the ’70s were their covers — a series of absolutely lurid and ghastly “shadowbox” photos of semi-nude women. In my local DJ’s Books and News stores, the Queens were competing against Matt Helm, Shell Scott, Mickey Spillane, and others of that ilk, so maybe that drove the decision. The distasteful, sexist, and just plain ugly covers did not hint at the musty, tame, and unsexy murder mysteries hiding inside. Ellery Queen was part of that necessary landscape against which real genius or originality is compared.
The Smart Set article is a delightful little delve into the Ellery Queen brand, with its own share of colorful and eye-grabbing pulp covers.