04/07/2017

Golden Dozens

The April 1950 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine deserves a place in the magazine's own hall of fame for introducing the world to John Dickson Carr's classic The Gentleman from Paris but the rest of the contents is equally impressive, boasting big names like Graham Greene, Rufus King, Margery Allingham or Lawrence G. Blochman. Anthony Berkeley is in too, with a reprint of The Avenging Chance, arguably his masterpiece in the short form and the matrix for his best-known novel, The Poisoned Chocolates Case. The story appears as part of a series devoted to the best mystery short stories ever - the Golden Dozen - as chosen by a "panel of perfectionists" composed among others  of James Hilton, Howard Haycraft, John Dickson Carr, Anthony Boucher, Vincent Starrett, August Derleth, Viola Brothers Shore, Ellery Queen (of course) and James Sandoe. Queen's introduction provides us with both the official list of the "Lucky Twelve" and Sandoe's personal picks. Both lists overlap at times, but also bear some differences as we shall see.

The "official" Golden Dozen

The Hands of Mr. Ottermole (Thomas Burke)
The Purloined Letter (Edgar Allan Poe)
The Red-Headed League (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
The Avenging Chance (Anthony Berkeley)
The Absent-Minded Coterie (Robert Barr)
The Problem of Cell 13 (Jacques Futrelle)
The Oracle of the Dog (G.K. Chesterton)
Naboth's Vineyard (Melville Davisson Post)
James Sandoe
The Gioconda Smile (Aldous Huxley)
The Yellow Slugs (H.C. Bailey)
The Genuine Tabard (E.C. Bentley)
Suspicion (Dorothy L. Sayers)

James Sandoe's Golden Dozen

The Avenging Chance
The Hands of Mr. Ottermole
The Other Hangman (Carter Dickson)
The Red-Headed League
The Gioconda Smile
Suspicion
Sail (Lester Dent)
The Yellow Slugs
The Honour of Israel Gow (G.K. Chesterton)
Death on Pine Street (Dashiell Hammett)
The Man Who Murdered in Public (Roy Vickers)

To a modern reader the most striking features of both lists are the heavy bias towards traditional detective stories and the strong showing of now comparatively obscure plot-spinners like Post, Futrelle, Bailey or Bentley. Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich are nowhere to be seen. Hardboiled, noir and psychological suspense despite their popularity at the time with the reading public don't seem to exist (though Sandoe departs by including two hardboiled stories in his list) 

This is not to say that their choices aren't good, for most of them are (don't get me started with Ottermole whose appeal I'll probably never understand) but they're typical of a mindset firmly stuck in the pre-WW2 years. A 2017 list would probably be more inclusive - but it would also lack most of the items listed here, which would be a pity. It would be interesting to know the other jurors's personal picks; I'm most curious as to Boucher's and of course Carr's (no risk of having him picking up a Chandler story!) 

What would be your own Golden Dozen? Feel free to post it in the comments section or on the blog's FB page - maybe I'll post mine if someone's interested. 

3 commentaires:

Mike Gray a dit…

Xavier - Synchronicity strikes again. It just so happens that I've been researching a post on Huxley's "The Gioconda Smile" and couldn't help noticing it made both "Golden Dozen" lists. EQ would be publishing the Huxley piece in the September 1950 issue, but like several of the stories in the lists it seems better suited to ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE than EQMM. (Of course, AHMM's debut was still six years in the future.) Keep on blogging; it would be a shame to lose all of the beneficial reading experience that you've acquired over the years. — Mike at ONTOS

Xavier a dit…

Mike - Thanks for your comment and the kind words.
I too have noticed how closer Gioconda Smile was to AHMM than EQMM; it can be seen as the godmother of the twist-in-the-tail stories that the former magazine would later be famous for.
Speaking of that kind of stories the absence of Stanley Ellin, then a relative newcomer but already with a juggernaut under his belt with his instant classic The Specialty of the House, is another surprising omission to the modern reader. Maybe the relative paucity of contemporary tales and writers has to do with not bruising colleagues's egos; it was after all the main reason for the long-delayed creation of the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

P.S.: You seem to own a larger EQMM collection than I do so maybe you could tell me which issues have Carr's and Boucher's own lists and what stories they chose.

Mike Gray a dit…

Xavier - I wish I did own a larger EQMM collection, but it's actually only a small number scattered over the '60s, '70s, and '80s; most of the time I get bibliographical data from FictionMags and not my own collection, such being the case with "Gioconda."

Man, I'd love to have copies of all—or just some—'40s and '50s EQMMs; alas, the Carr and Boucher list issues aren't among the ones that I do have. Sorry I couldn't be of more assistance; perhaps in the future. — Mike