101 Years’ Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories of Over A Century Edited by Ellery Queen (Post 1 of 6)


101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories of Over A Century

I’m not big on short stories, mysteries excepted since about ten years ago when I met one Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, this anthology includes a selection of “mystery” stories that are more like horror, or fairy-tales gone amok; so I can’t recommend the whole batch of 50. That said, I did find this very interesting from a historical perspective. There are too many stories for one review: this is review 1 of 6, the introduction and an overview of the anthology with some commentary on the commentary J.

PLOT: This is basically a short history lesson on mysteries in general and short stories in particular. In case you wondered, yes, Sherlock Holmes is mentioned, but no, he’s not in any of the stories. I think the editor’s hope is to introduce people to the lesser-known detectives of short story, and get mystery fans to stretch beyond their traditional limits in Doyle’s work. I love that idea, though as we’ll see, I’m not fond of the direction Ellery Queen takes us. The effects of that idea are lots of historical facts (detective short stories in history 101: dates of characters, the first detective story ever, etc), and fun editorial commentary on each story that give some historical background or maybe just hints at the plot twists. The introduction throws a lot of names and titles at you, while comparing them to Doyle’s work. It’s quite fun, and makes you think (especially since there are no Doyle stories in the thousand-plus pages that follow. The editor doesn’t mention why or even forewarn the reader that there will be nothing by Doyle). If anything, it shows how much an author expected of their readership fifty years ago; we’re expected to think it through and draw our own conclusions, a rarity in short story anthologies of my experience.

GOOD: Only two or three detectives are featured more than once, making a veritable smorgasbord of non-Doyle stories. Information about each detective, author, and story time-period provide opportunities to explore new serials for the interested reader. While only about a third of the stories are exceptionally good mysteries, roughly half are good stories overall, and very entertaining. The most worthwhile part of this book is the introduction, which describes the history of mystery. The only comparably interesting part is the first chapter, especially the very first mystery story ever written (by Edgar Allen Poe). The introduction is a crash course in the famous people and detectives of the mystery genre, and gave me countless names to look up for future reading. I enjoyed the categorizations of mystery stories (comedy, female detectives, Holmesians – Doyle imitators – and Comedic-Holmeisans, great detectives, and clever mysteries), and there is at least one good story in each category, all put into context by this introduction.

BAD: Roughly half the following stories are either boring or unacceptably non-mystery-like. So the book as a whole is not recommended, despite the cool introduction. The editor clearly feels that mystery includes the horror genre. Also, the standard for “best” is pretty low, despite the intellectual commentary.

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED: The introduction is worth every word. The rest of the book varies greatly in quality, but that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with 101 years and so many different authors. Why do you think the editor would spend most of his introduction comparing different authors to Holmes, and then omit all stories featuring the famous detective? Any ideas?

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2 thoughts on “101 Years’ Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories of Over A Century Edited by Ellery Queen (Post 1 of 6)

  1. I don’t know, that is an interesting question.
    Maybe he likes Holmes, but he doesn’t want US comparing them, only himself, so only the other peoples mystery’s are in there.
    That was a wild guess, don’t mind me.
    Anyway, great review.

  2. Because the Queen assumed everyone had read the Holmes stories and was trying to show a large number of great detective stories (and they were, at the time they were written).

    He used Holmes as a touchstone, but really wasn’t comparing other authors to Holmes as much as he was showing all the major detectives and mystery stories (some of the best involve no detectives at all) of his time.

    Don’t get caught up in Whiggery. This was a major compilation of the time, and is required for anyone who wants to get an overview of the history of the genre.

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