Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Thinking alike

I’ve just acquired a signed copy of a memoir of Ellery Queen by Eleanor Sullivan. Eleanor was for many years the editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and not too long before her untimely demise, she purchased my first short crime story, 'Are you sitting comfortably?' – on the generous recommendation of Robert Barnard, who’d been a guest speaker at the writing seminar where the story won the prize. That acceptance was one of the highlights of my early writing career.

Eleanor’s memoir is short but full of interesting anecdotes. For instance, she says that one of the major reasons that the cousins who wrote as Ellery Queen went quiet between 1939 and 1942 was that they had been working on a book whose plot was anticipated by Christie’s And Then There Were None. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that Christie herself was beaten to it, in some respects, by an American mystery called The Invisible Host. But it’s certainly depressing if one comes up with a superb idea, only to find that someone else, quite independently, has got there first. (Incidentally, in a comment on this blog, John Morris drew my attention to a novel which seems to have anticipated Roger Ackroyd and which I've just managed to obtain - thanks, John!)

A few years ago, Crippen and Landru published The Tragedy of Errors by Ellery Queen. The title story is, in fact, the very detailed outline for a novel that was never actually written. I was startled when I read it – because the central plot device was similar to that in my novel Take My Breath Away. And ironically, I’d consciously modelled the plot on an idea from another novel – not by Queen, though, but by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie… Her book, Curtain, is in my opinion one of her most fascinating, and yet it has had relatively little attention, perhaps because it appeared at such a late date (though it was written when she was at the height of her powers.) I felt, though, that the idea was capable of being developed in a very different way, and that's what I tried to do with Take My Breath Away.


j. morris said...

Is Eleanor Sullivan's memoir commercially available? I'd love to read it.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, John. I came across a copy on eBay and subsequently on Abebooks.