If you had to gather the world’s best-known literary detectives in one room, who would you pick? Hercules Poirot? Miss Marple? Sherlock Holmes? Jessica Fletcher? Nancy Drew? Albert Campion?
There’s quite a few literary detectives out there for making your choices. Some of them come from children’s literature, such as Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown. Other detectives for an older audience come from various countries and cultures.
But there is one “whodunit” detective who belongs in that room of literary detectives too: Mr. Ellery Queen.
Ellery Queen was an amateur New York detective and mystery writer created by writers Daniel Nathan (alias Frederic Dannay) and Manford Lepovsky (Manfred Bennington Lee). Ellery’s father was a New York City police detective who would often seek the help of his son’s keen mind in order to solve mysterious crimes.
Although a bit on the obscure side now, Ellery was a busy guy. There’s books, short stories, movies, a magazine, radio shows, comic books, graphic novels, board games, jigsaw puzzles and a website about him.
And Ellery keeps up with social media too. I saw sites about him or that mentioned him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
The books are sometimes hard to find, but good to read when you get them. My favorite Ellery Queen story is The Lamp of God, where the house next door disappears as if it’s never existed and Ellery has to figure out what happened.
There was also an Ellery Queen TV show, which ran on NBC from 1975 to 1976. I used to watch reruns of the show, which featured Jim Hutton (yep, Timothy’s dad; you can really see the family resemblance) as Ellery Queen.
My favorite feature of the show: Toward the end of the show, Jim Hutton would face the camera and give a short but challenging speech directly to TV viewers. The gist of the speech was, “Well, you have all the pieces of this mystery now. Have you figured out the solution yet?” (My unheard answer was usually: “I think so but let’s see.”)
Theater people call this action “breaking the fourth wall” when an actor directly addresses an audience. It’s rare for TV or theatrical actors to do this (unless they’re making a public service announcement) but it’s popped up in other shows such as “Moonlighting”, “Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother”.
I wish they’d bring “breaking the fourth wall” back to a TV mystery. It would be fun to see it on “Castle” or some other TV show some day.
So here’s a short “Ellery Queen” so you can see Jim Hutton for yourselves. There’s some famous actors in the clip; see how many you can identify!