The Green Turtle Mystery by "Ellery Queen, Jr." (1944)
Portrait of Ambrose Bierce by Adolphe de Castro (1929)
Frank Belknap Long (1903-1994) is best known today as a friend (and fellow horror writer) of H. P. Lovecraft. Long was the first writer to contribute to Lovecraft's Cthuhu Mythos with the mention of the Necronomicon in a 1925 story and in his 1928 story The Space Eaters; many of Long's Lovecraftian stories are included in the classic collection The Hounds of Tindalos. Despite a loyal fan base, Long never found the commercial success that many of his contemporaries did. He served as associate editor (sometimes uncredited) for at least five fiction magazines, including The Saint Mystery Magazine and Mike shayne Mystery Magazine. He published a few small poetry books, a number of run-of-the-mill SF novels, a series of gothics written under his wife's name, comic books scripts, and at least one television play. He also ghost-wrote several books, including two in the Ellery Queen, Jr. series.
The Ellery Queen machine, at one time, seemed to be everywhere. Novels, short-stories, radio, movies, television, comic books, criticism, non-fiction, anthologies, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Most of these endeavors were undertaken by the two men who were Queen, Manfred Lee and Fred Danney. Some, like the Big Little Books, the various paperback originals, and some of the later novels, were ghost-written by others, usually following a detailed outline. In 1942, the first juvenile appeared under the name "Ellery Queen, Jr."
Between 1942 and 1966, there were eleven novels under the "Queen, Jr." by-line, nine of which featured young detective Djuna. In the Queen canon, Djuna was a young Gypsy orphan who was taken in by a lonely Inspector Richard Queen while son Ellery was off to college. Djuna's background and surname were never revealed. Djuna served as cook, housekeeper, and valet. His place in the series was always ambiguaous and he disappeared forever from the later books. In the Queen, Jr. novels, Djuna is about eleven years old and is staying with a Miss Ellery in a small town.
The Queen, Jr. books were contracted to writer James Holding. Holding's contribution to the series is questionable. He, without the knowledge of Lee and Dannay, sub-contracted the books to other writers. Six of these were written by Samuel Duff McCoy and two by Long. (Lee reported blew his stack when he found out some of the books we not written by "Queen-approved" writers.) Long's contributions were the second and third books in the series.
The Golden Eagle Mystery takes place in a fishing village. Djuna has been sent by Miss Ellery to spend the summer with a friend of hers who seemed troubled. Miss Ellery has asked Djuna to try to find out what the problem is. The detail on a fishing community and on boating is pretty good, the mystery is fair, and the characters are well-drawn. Djuna makes friends with a young boy who has trained his imaginary dog to do all sorts of tricks; Djuna's acceptance of this strained my credibility.
The Green Turtle Mystery takes Djuna to the city, where he earns some extra money by shining shoes. Djuna soon makes friends with a cocky newspaper reporter and with a copyboy his own age. The mystery involves a haunted house, counterfeiting, and a confidence game. Djuna does a credible job solving all this.
Djuna is in the mold of many juvenile heroes of the time -- just too good to be true. He just wouldn't make it in today's YA market. I can't recommend these to young readers, but adult readers of a certain age, such as myself, may find them charming and nostalgic.
The complete Djuna series is:
- The Black Dog Mystery (1942) *
- The Golden Eagle Mystery (1942)
- The Green Turtle Mystery (1944)
- The Red Chipmunk Mystery (1946) *
- The Brown Fox Mystery (1948) *
- The White Elephant Mystery (1950) *
- The Yellow Cat Mystery (1952) *
- The Blue Herring Mystery (1954) *
- The Purple Bird Myustery (1966)
Two additional books were published by "Ellery Queen, Jr." Again, authorship is uncertain; both featured Gulliver Queen, who is supposedly Ellery Queen's nephew:
- The Mystery of the Merry Magician (1961)
- The Mystery of the Vanished Victim (1962)
From Donald Tuck's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: "U.S. writer, poet and philosopher. He mastered 14 languages, and was the U.S. Consul General to Madrid in the adminstration of Theodore Roosevelt. He knew Mark Twain and H.P. Lovecraft"..."For 20 years he was a familiar figure in Los angeles fantasy circles, attending special meetings of the LASFS and the various conventions in the area. He died peacefully just after his 100th birthday."
Lovecraft "revised" several of his stories for Weird Tales and considered him an irritating humbug. Danziger's major claim to fame had been The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter, a novella supposedly written with Ambrose Bierce and included in many collections of Bierce's works. Actually, this turned out to be a poor translation by Danziger of a story by Richard Voss and which Danziger had convinced Bierce to rewrite. (My understanding is that Bierce had thought this an original work, not a translation.) In any event, when Danziger began to pester Lovecraft for another revision, HPL foisted him off on Long.
Portrait of Ambrose Bierce is Long's revision and is most likely completely ghost-written. The praise for Bierce is effusive and reminiscent of some of Lovecraft's praises of other writers. The book provides an interesting and inflated view of Bierce. Danziger is inserted in the book as an all-knowing, heroic figure. The section where he goes to Mexico and faces down Pancho Villa about his role in Bierce's death is priceless. (Bierce did vanish in Mexico and among the many theories of his death, being killed by [or, at least, on the orders of] Pancho Villa is the most likely.) This is a fun book to read, on several levels.
Long was a good writer who produced some remarkable readable stories. A good subject for a future Forgotten Book is his John Carstairs: Space Detective, a collection of stories featuring a future biologist. Long never made the big time, or even the not-so big time. He died in poverty, selling off pieces of his memorabilia to make ends meet. He deserves rediscovery.
The ever-delightful Patti Abbott has the round-up of this week's ever-delightful Forgotten Books at pattinase.com. Check it out.