Friday, August 6, 2010

Forgotten Books: A Study in Terror by Ellery Queen (and Dr. Watson)

“This book is unique,” says the hype on the back. “You have never read anything like it before.”

That first statement may have been true in 1966, and I’m pretty sure the second one was. At the very least, this book is not without certain points of interest.

What it is, basically, is a pretty standard Sherlock Holmes pastiche with framing chapters featuring Ellery Queen at regular intervals. But it has the added attraction of pitting Holmes against Jack the Ripper, whetting my appetite for a reading of Gary Hobb’s new ebook, A Policeman’s Lot.

The Holmes story, via one of those lost manuscripts Dr. Watson was so prone to leave lying about, occupies 120 of the book’s 164 pages. It’s nicely done, though nothing exceptional. The book’s other 44 pages feature Ellery Queen. Most of that time, Ellery is trying (and failing) to resist the manuscript while he struggles to meet the deadline for his next novel. Finally, at the end, he ventures forth to do a little detecting on his own, discovering that while Holmes had successfully solved the Ripper case, he had allowed Watson to reach the wrong conclusion.

The cover above (the black one) is the paperback original, published in 1966. The cover says “Also a thrilling Columbia Pictures movie,” and inside is a list of the film’s leading cast and credits.

I at first assumed the movie was based on this book, but later learned this is actually a novelization (written by Paul W. Fairman) of the screen story with the Ellery Queen bits added by “Ellery Queen.” The Ellery Queen frame was not used in the movie, which was a straight Holmes adventure with a Batmanesque poster that likely embarrassed all concerned. For reasons unknown (to me) the book and film apparently reach different conclusions as to the identity of the Ripper.

I’m curious whether Misters Lee and Dannay actually had a hand in this book, or if their parts were ghosted (maybe by Fairman?). Does anyone know?

These two paperback editions offer points of interest as well. The first edition promotes Ellery Queen and Sherlock Holmes, mentioning the Ripper only the back, while the next printing (only a year later) hypes Ellery Queen vs. Jack the Ripper, with Holmes relegated to the back. Strange. It would seem to me they'd want all three names on the cover.

Friday's Forgotten Books, as usual, is a pattinase production.


David Cranmer said...

Hm.. not sure whether Lee and Dannay wrote that one. This was the period when they slowly turned the reins over to others.

Randy Johnson said...

I have a large print trade edition from 2001 that relegated Holmes to the back of the cover as well.

It has always been my impression(possibly in error)that Fairman did the whole book.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of one of the great lost Holmes movies: "Murder by Decree." It starred Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Homes and, I think, James Mason as Watson. I saw it in the theater when I was a kid and it never gets rerun that I've noticed but I thoght it was a better movie than "7 Percent Solution."

Dan Luft

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is frustrating not to know for sure who the author is. And I never heard of MURDER BE DECREE. Have to look for that.

Evan Lewis said...

I know I saw Murder by Decree (one of several Holmes vs Ripper battles) but don't remember what I thought of it. I do recall a pretty good novelization of the film by Robert Weverka.

George said...

Once again, great cover artwork!

Deka Black said...

wait, wait. The original caper crusader was not Holmes! (sorry, i feel an irresistibnle urge to say it)

Evan Lewis said...

Marketing Sherlock Holmes as a forerunner of TV's Batman has to be a low point in the history of movie advertising.

Tom K Mason said...

I think Murder By Decree is terrific. I'm surprised it's sort of fallen by the wayside in recent years (it's made by Bob Clark, the Porky's/Christmas Story director) and it's based on a book called The Ripper File. My memory says that Plummer's Holmes is a little more straightforward and less "quirky" than seen in later Holmes films. The 1979 production values look a little cheap today, but the screenplay was written by the guy who co-wrote Thunderball with Maibaum (I looked that up).

Anonymous said...

IIUC, Lee and Dannay wrote the wraparound sequence, and Fairman ghost wrote the Holmes vs. Ripper novel.