Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950, edited by Joseph Goodrich (2012)
I'm stretching things by calling this a forgotten book: it's a niche book, neither known to many nor read by many. And it's fascinating.
First off, let me say that I have always been a fan of Ellery Queen. The writings and the character developed and changed over the years but, to me, always remained crisp, well-plotted, and ingenious. Queen, of course, is the pseudonymn of two cousins -- Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee -- and their partnership is legendary for locked horns, arguments, and hurt feelings. As Dannay put it in one of his letters to Lee, "If the situation between us were put into a book, it would be damned as utterly incredible."
The cousins were both born in Brooklyn in 1905. Dannay grew up in a small town atmosphere in Elmira, New York, while Lee remained in the tough streets of Brooklyn. Both cousins were highly competitive and both were prone to feel under appreciated. Dannay loved mysteries and was a student and a collector of the genre; Lee was not a big mystery fan and preferred a more realistic and "literary king of writing. Their collaboration was split was meant to be strictly divided with Dannay devising detailed plotting and Lee doing the actual writing, but Dannay resented when Lee would deviate from his instructions in order to produce his manuscript, and Lee resented Dannay for insisting the outline not be deviated. Each thought the other undervalued his work in the partnership. Thus, the fireworks.
Truth be told, both were too sensitive, reading things into their interactions that were not there or blowing things out of proportion. They were the old married couple who fought bitterly but, at heart, loved each other. The letters reveal their hypersensitivities and their jealousy while also reveling their deep respect and concern for each other.
The letters included in this volume were culled from the Frederic Dannay Papers in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University. The years covered are from the middle years of their so-called Third Period (1942-1958), which began with the publication of Calamity Town and ended twelve books later with The Finishing Stroke. The letters specifically cover the plotting and writing of Ten Days Wonder, Cat of Many Tails, and The Origin of Evil, with very brief mention of Double, Double. During most of this time the cousins were separated by a continent, with Lee living in California while Dannay lived in New York. Both cousins were undergoing health problems that they either downplayed or tried to hide from the other. Dannay, a widower, had just remarried and in 1948 a son, Stephen, was born with severe disabilities (Stephen died in 1954 at age six). Lee was undergoing severe depression, had married his second wife and was struggling with integrating two families while medical bills were draining his resources.
The letters in Blood Relations cover all this while detailing what goes into plotting and writing a book. (Well, not just any book, an Ellery Queen book!) For anyone interested in the process of creation, these letters are a goldmine. For anyone interested in one of the most unique relationships in literature, This book is a must.
And, for an Ellery Queen fan (me!), this book is a sad reminder that much of their work is out of print and that many of today's readers have never had the joy of matching wits with Ellery Queen.