1. A certain writer wrote a book about his experience growing up gay: “The Best Little Boy In The World.” He published it under a pseudonym. It got excellent reviews and became a classic.

    The writer went on to become very famous as a financial writer under his real name.

    Then he wrote a sequel to “The Best Little Boy” and published it under his real name, revealing that he had been the author of the first one.

    Reviews for the sequel were terrible, mostly suggesting that he should stick to financial writing.

    Using a pseudonym can often be a better marketing strategy.

  2. Andréa saidColumbo/Peter Falk himself was annoying after a few episodes; maybe not so much if you watched an episode a week, but binge-watching . . . annoying,[…]

    And in the original broadcast format, it wasn’t even weekly. Instead, it was in rotation with two other series in the same time slot, under an umbrella label of “NBC Sunday Mystery Movie”. And it was TV-movie length, not “one-hour drama” length. So these were like 90-minute slots or two-hour — which worked because you weren’t getting soaked in any one of them at that length weekly.

    From IMDb on “The NBC Mystery Movie” : “The NBC Mystery Movie was the ‘umbrella’ title for one of many mystery series shown on a rotating basis (known as a ‘wheel series’), in the same time slot on Sunday nights on NBC. The original 3 series featured, Columbo (1971), McMillan & Wife (1971) and McCloud (1970). Later, several other (often short-lived) series were added to the rotation including Hec Ramsey (1972), Amy Prentiss (1974), McCoy (1975), Quincy M.E. (1976), and Lanigan’s Rabbi (1976). The “wheel” concept proved so popular that NBC started a second night on Wednesdays, featuring Banacek (1972), Cool Million (1972), Madigan (1972), Faraday and Company (1973), Tenafly (1973), and The Snoop Sisters (1972). Low ratings forced NBC to move the second wheel to Tuesdays, but it was still canceled in 1974. The Sunday wheel ran its course in 1978.”

    Some of those are now well-regarded as independent series, and some I don’t think the titles ring a bell at all. I sort of recall “Banaçek” as being in rotation with one I don’t see listed here, where the investigator was a blind guy with a guide dog in New Orleans.

  3. Columbo and one with Dennis Weaver are the only two I recall – but I’d never seen them ’til Columbo was in reruns years later when I lived in my own house.

  4. Yes, I’m sort of pairing the Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen series, for historical reasons, and frankly because I tend to use Nero Wolfe as a stick to beat Ellery Queen with. They do date from roughly the same era, and fit a very loose schematic for the development of “mystery” (or latterly “detective”) writing —

    There was a rich tradition from the UK, going back to Sherlock Holmes and (after some classic writers known for other work more than mystery, such as Chesterton or even Wilkie Collin) taking in figures like Dorothy Sayers before Agatha Christie became the face of the “brand”, which quite unfairly got stereotyped and parodied as “British drawing room mystery novels”. (P D James was a leter entry.)

    Later, there were the American West Coast “tough guy” detectives, especially Hammett and Chandler, along with James M Cain and others whose writing was used for the first wave of “film noir”, and not always about crime solving. (See a summary and reply to Edmund Wilson’s negative essays at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~gjdemko/praise.htm )

    And I think we can stick a “New York School” in there, fitting in between those on several dimensions. Historical dating (though just very roughly). Geographically, obviously. And on some scale of themes, tone, kind of concern. I am looking at Ellery Queen and Rex Stout primarily here, though oddly the West Coast violent Dashiell Hammett wrote the urbane “Thin Man” stories, set in NYC and upstate NY.

    These New York School writers still had the “puzzle solving” aspect from the English tradition, sometimes retaining the “drawing room” big reveal. But also using some elements of “tough guy” stance, though not as much as the West Coast would develop — Ellery Queen and Archie Goodwin (Nero Wolfe’s assistant and legman) could both fight if they needed to, though that did not overshadow their mental detective abilities.

    Shrug and larK have noted some of the clever technical innovations in EQ, and I would add that Archie Goodwin also carries forward the John Watson tradition of positing that the published books and stories are roughly true memoirs of cases with some identities disguised. Stout also creates an innovative solution to a technical narrative problem rampant in the mainstream novel as well as these genres — when there is a first-person voice telling the story and also participating in the action, how accurate are the detailed memories supposed to be? Is the dialogue supposed to be verbatim? Well no, and that is not solved for Dickens either. This implausibility was part of what led in the great tradition of Hardy, Conrad, James, and the continentals of the invention of “free indirect style” .

    But Rex Stout takes a different apporach, and faces the “verbatim question” head-on. Yes, he says, Archie has trained himself to remember scenes and actions with verbatim accuracy. And besides mentioning this frequently, he gives us a couple times a scene where Mr. Wolfe asks Archie to report on something he participated in, and specifies a verbatim account of what was said. So we have a basis for allowing Archie’s supposed memoir account to stand as fictively accurate.

    This even becomes, in a double-self-conscious way a matter of reflection and plot, when [*** WOOPS SPOILER ALERT *** Ä Family Affair”] in “A Family Affair”, the last Nero Wolfe book by Rex Stout, as Wikipedia puts it Ultimately, Wolfe discovers that the killer is one of his closest associates, a character who had been appearing in Nero Wolfe mysteries for over forty years. A Family Affair is an unusual Nero Wolfe mystery in that Archie reveals his (correct) opinion of the killer’s identity well before Wolfe does so in the closing chapters. Archie reflects that maybe his portraits of this long-term associate and even friend have been too kind and overlooked a strain of selfish meanness and violent misogyny he somewhat felt he was seeing but did not place into his earlier memoirs.

    larK asks about critical or fan speculation connecting EQ and Rex Stout. Like Shug, I am not aware of any such. However, William S. Baring-Gould ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Baring-Gould ) author of the influential 1962 fictional biography,” Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World’s First Consulting Detective”, also wrote ” Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street: The life and times of America’s largest private detective, a fictional biography of Rex Stout’s detective character Nero Wolfe; in this book, Baring-Gould popularised the theory that Wolfe was the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. ” As I recall, he also had an even more speculative passage in which he tested a hypothesis that Wolfe could have fathered Archie.

    ((No, I did not dig up my term paper from around 1974 from John Cawelti’s ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_G._Cawelti ) UChicago English Department course on “Popular Culture”. Though I did repeat here some things I must have written about then!))

  5. I just now posted (but is in moderation) “Yes, I’m sort of pairing the Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen series, for historical reasons, and frankly because I tend to use Nero Wolfe as a stick to beat Ellery Queen with.” I never did quite get to that last part! I was very saddened a couple years ago, looking into some EQ books, to see some shocking racial-stereotype caricatures of Black minor characters. I thought about the sort of “Well, everybody back then and in that position was doing that stuff” defense you sometimes see. Setting aside whether that’s the right sort of contextualization to apply, I thought it worth examining whether the fact claims are themselves even accurate. And for me the natural pairing to compare to EQ would be the Nero Wolfe books of Rex Stout. And what you will find is that Stout emphatically did not do the same. Two of the novels, from different periods, have Black central characters, and foreground issues of racism and later, the Civil Rights movement. Other instances, of minor Black characters, are free of the cliché stereotyping and mocking portraits in EQ.

  6. It was a dual-listed undergrad/grad course. The grad student extra requirement was a term paper in addition to sitting an exam that the undergrads did too. My paper was on narrative in the Nero Wolfe series (as suggested above).

    Here’s the exam question! (NB This was probably in 1975.)

    Love Story and The Godfather were big hits around the same time. (Love Story novel and movie both 1970, The Godfather novel 1969, movie 1972.) [Indeed, Love Story the novel was #1 bestseller in the U.S. for 1970.]


  7. Kilby – I am not sure if I have read any Poirots or not – so many books read, mind so aging – but are the murders as easy to solve in the books as they are on the screen? While in the case of “Orient Express” (earlier movie – not the most recent) and “Death on the NIle” it did take me until after the murder to know who did it , but that was longer than “Knives Out” when I figured who did it before it was done. I have not been allowed to say who did it until the movie over for a long time – Robert says it ruins the movies to know.

  8. @ Meryl A – It depends. Christie has a talent for misdirection and surprises, but to paraphrase David Suchet, her mysteries aren’t just “who-dun-it?s”, but rather “how-didde-doo-it?s”. In other words, the mystery is not just about the culprit, but also about the method that was used to commit the crime.
    I’ve watched virtually all of the BBC’s “Poirot” episodes more than once, and they are still enjoyable in subsequent viewings, because it is also fun to trace through the action when the “obscured” information is already known. However, I would never inflict a spoiler on anyone who has not seen a particular episode or movie for the first time, because there is a bit of added suspense in that inital experience.
    It would be difficult to compare the “solvability” of the mystery in print versus film, since there is no way to experience one without learning the ending of the other. However, I’ve only read a small selection of Christies books (about half of them as German translations), and none of them before I saw the BBC episode. On the whole, I would say that her vocabulary and orthography are starting to show their age, but I still did enjoy reading “Death on the Nile”, in part just to see how closely the BBC’s version was to the original.

  9. @Mitch: one I don’t see listed here, where the investigator was a blind guy with a guide dog in New Orleans.

    That was Longstreet, starring James Franciscus. It’s not listed because it was an ABC show.

  10. Just as a side note: YouTube has Nero Wolfe mysteries with Timothy Hutton (of ‘Leverage’ – a show I enjoyed) as Archie. I watched about ten minutes of one and it just ‘sat wrong’ with me, altho I couldn’t say why. Others may enjoy it; there are quite a few episodes available (until they’re not).

  11. Mitch4 mentions Lanigan’s Rabbi (1976) — as I recall, this was based on Harry Kemelman’s [DAY OF THE WEEK] THE RABBI [DID SOMETHING] novels, and is remembered by me solely because (small world department) my then-wife had a small part in a couple of the episodes (as the regular waitress at the cafe where Lanigan and the Rabbi talked and ate).

    On Ellery Queen and racial references, I recently reread the first nine novels and noticed and was bothered by such — they were brief and I don’t think there were a lot of them, but they did appear.
    (Racial attitudes of the time and place does play a large part in the explanation of the crime in one of them; obviously I’ll say no more to avoidspoilers.)

    There’s also a passing reference in ROMAN HAT MYSTERY to an audience member who seems not over-bright being called a “retard” or somesuch slur by one of the authority figures (possibly Inspector Queen himself?) which also caught me up short.

    An edition with apparently extensive annotations (by Leslie Klinger) was published in 2018 as part of the omnibus CLASSIC AMERICAN CRIME FICTION OF THE 1920s, and I imagine Klinger will note the racial etc. bits there — I’ve been meaning to try to pry a copy of that omnibus out of the library, but haven’t gotten around to doing so. The book contains annotated texts of:

    The house without a key / by Earl Derr Biggers (1925) — The Benson murder case / by S.S. Van Dine (1926) — The Roman hat mystery / by Ellery Queen (1929) — Red harvest / by Dashiell Hammett (1929) — Little Caesar / by W.R. Burnett

  12. @ Andréa – “…watched about ten minutes…and it just ‘sat wrong’…
    I have to say that I’ve never been a fan of crime in fiction or TV: Poirot is a singular exception for me. I just happened to discover one of the early Poirot episodes (decades ago, on PBS), and was captivated by the cinematography, set design, costumes, and props (not to mention the cars). They did such a superb job of staging it to feel like it was shot in the 1930s: it was like being in a time-machine. After that, I just kept watching them.

  13. Shrug, thanks for your replies on EQ. [BTW, it wasn’t me mentioning Lanigan’s Rabbi, tho I do remember that Harry Kemelman series.] I assume it’s clear I’m not out to pillory or “cancel” the Ellery Queen legacy; just noting I was surprised at how far from present-day norms these books I used to read with fascination now look.

    Andrea, yes I did see most of that “A Nero Wolfe Mystery” series. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283205/reference I agree with you that it felt off, not enough like the books. But I wouldn’t put that onto Hutton, who I thought was fine as Archie. The actor for Wolfe I just didn’t buy, however. And how did they waste Saul Rubinek as lawyer Lon Cohen wen he could have been a perfect Saul Panzer?

    At first I saw Hutton and spent a while trying to figure out how he could have also played Ellery Queen in a long-ago series, yet not look any older than how I remembered him in that. Well, a little web search cleared it up: The long-ago Ellery Queen was his father, Timothy Hutton.

    An interesting thing about it was their use of a repertory company model for non-recurring characters. This has become less unusual with some TV developers, but still mostly restricted to “anthology shows” where the story and characters are entirely different from episode to episode or season to season. Here they retain the actors for the central and other recurring characters, but for the characters introduced for only one story at a time they re-use actors. So if there is the hot blonde adult daughter of the deceased in one story; then the smart and self-contained blonde suspect Lily Rowan (who in the books becomes Archie’s girlfriend); then the drab mousy blonde older sister of the deceased’s wife in another story; they can all be played by Kari Matchett.

    DemetriosX, thanks for the info on Longstreet. I see that it was a 90-minute show, which may be why I wanted to clump it in with the NBC Mystery Movie wheel. If you asked me, today still, to picture a private residence in New Orleans off of a busy or touristy street, I would picture *not* a house front door onto that street but a tall ironwork gate leading to a private enclosure area, from which actual side and back entrances to the house could be accessed. Probably that comes from this show. It also was a step in expanding the kind of job title held by crime-solvers in fiction — M.E.s were already getting started with “Quincy” but Longstreet was probably one of the first Insurance Investigators.

  14. Mitch4: “Longstreet was probably one of the first Insurance Investigators.”

    See also old time radio character Johnny Dollar:


    “In 1955 after a yearlong hiatus, the series came back in its best-known incarnation with Bob Bailey starring in “the transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account – America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator.” “

  15. Mitch: Timothy’s father was Jim Hutton; you had me going there for a second, thinking Timothy Hutton must clearly be a vampire, every couple of decades reemerging as his own “son”.

    (I didn’t realize Hutton was the son in “Ordinary People” (Oscar winning, no less!), a movie I remember hearing a lot about when it was first out, but never seeing it, until very recently, when I was fairly disappointed by it — I guess I had to be there.. wait, I was! My loss, I guess…)

  16. In an episode of his show Leverage, Timothy Hutton’s character once dressed up as a 40s detective with an uncanny resemblance to his father’s Ellery Queen.

  17. My dad was a fan of the mystery wheel shows, so we saw them a lot (the one TV days). I continued after I moved out on my own. I liked Hec Ramsey a lot. It starred Richard Boone. Some people have tried to make the case that Hec was an older Paladin. If so, his sartorial tastes slipped quite a bit over the years.

  18. Yes, the 19302 Art Deco buildings were fantastic, as were the manor houses, and the various hotels he went to (and the cars!). I, too, found that a major attraction of the series, as well as the costumes and makeup. The episodes written by Clive Exton were, I think, the best, albeit they were a bit darker than the others. If you put Being Poirot in the YouTube search block, you’ll get several of the interviews with David Suchet that I found interesting.

  19. @ Andréa – “the 1930’s Art Deco buildings were fantastic…I wonder where… they found ’em all.
    I certainly agree, although I find it a little irritating when their general fascination with minimalistic white architecture has led them to reuse the same building for multiple episodes. This has happened at least three, or possibly four times, but only one case was really bothersome (in adjacent episodes of the same series).
    Another impressive aspect is the depth of acting talent (and casting). Other than the regular characters, there are virtually no instances of an actor returning to play a different role in another episode (I can think of only one, or possibly two exceptions).

  20. “. . . although I find it a little irritating when their general fascination with minimalistic white architecture has led them to reuse the same building for multiple episodes”

    Yes, I noticed that BUT was just happy to see the building again ;-). Kind of like all the different British actors in different series (David Jason as Granville in “Open all Hours” and then Jack Frost in “A Touch of Frost” comes to mind, altho there are many many others; I enjoy recognizing and finding out who played whom in what).

  21. @ Andréa – “…happy to see the building again…
    In most cases I like that aspect, too. I have the impression that the cinematographers have been careful to select alternative camera angles, so that the duplication of the house would not be patently obvious.

  22. As with recognizing actors in various series, I like the AHA! moment when I remember a building I’d seen before. Of course, watching the episodes out of the order they were broadcast makes a difference in this process.

  23. @ Andréa – I don’t think it matters at all which order you watch the Poirot episodes. In some of the books, Christie did put cross references to events or results of other mysteries, but they are almost never mentioned in the TV versions, which were always produced as independent, stand-alone episodes. This relates to the decision to stage [almost(*)] all of the stories as if they had occurred in the mid-30s, in definite contrast to the books, which are often staged more sequentially (closer to the year in which they were published).
    P.S. (*) – I already mentioned two of the three exceptions above (“Styles” & “Curtain”), the only other one that I can think of is “The Chocolate Box” in which the “flashbacks” and “current” scenes seem to form bookends around most of the rest of the episodes.

  24. P.P.S. With regard to recognizing actors, one detail that bothered me while watching Branagh’s eminently forgettable(*) rendition of “Murder on the Orient Express” was the identity of one of the other actors. It wasn’t until I saw the credits that I recognized him by name: Derek Jacobi, who played the narrator (chorus) in Branagh’s “Henry V”.
    P.S. I still need to watch him again as Poirot (on DVD, in English), just to make sure that the reason I wasn’t impressed was in fact Branagh’s acting and/or direction, and not just the way the dialog was translated into German.

  25. I didn’t start recognizing Derek Jacobi before my niece gave me a DVD series of Cadfael. Then more recently, under the tutelage of podcasting John Hodgman, I watched the 70s BBC “I, Claudius” in whIch he starred.

  26. Am watching “I, Claudius” for the first time now — saw a credit for Patrick Steward in the last episode, so I had to go back and track him down, because I totally didn’t recognize him (though upon finding him, yeah, that’s him); which led my wife to ask, “what, he’s still alive?” to which I’m like, “They’re all still alive! That’s Brian Blessed, you saw him as Spiros in the older BBC Durrells we watched, that’s Derek Jacobi, he’s everywhere…”
    (Augustus’ death scene was fantastic acting on Brian Blessed’s part!)
    (That can’t be a spoiler: Augustus is no longer alive, clearly, so obviously he must have died at some point; you can’t claim that a person from 2000 years ago dying is a spoiler!)

  27. larK, if you don’t find John Hodgman, or the idea of a “recap podcast” , too odious, you might want to track down the one he and a sidekick did , under a title something like “I, Podious”. Probably can be found under the Maximum Fun auspices. They had a few celebrity guests, I forget if among them was Patrick Stewart or his son for some reason.

  28. I quite liked Brian Blessed in his role in “Henry V”, although it was a little difficult to take him seriously at the beginning, since I knew him as the king in the first “Blackadder” series.

  29. What I meant was that the buildings may or may not have been recognizable because of random viewing, rather than strictly as they were aired. Assuming that they bothered to keep the episodes using the same buildings far apart.

  30. I watched about five minutes of that and, believe me, you don’t want to bother.

    Sir Derek Jacobi was wonderful as Brother Cadfael, and hilarious in one episode of Frasier, where he played a real ‘over the top’ Shakespeare actor, making fun of his own roles.

  31. Oh come on Bill, Augustus never showed us all 157 of Blessed’s molars as he barks out a laugh that can be heard in the next studio — if we can’t count all of Blessed’s teeth in a role, then it is not a complete Blessed role.

  32. @ Andrea – “…recognizing actors … remember a building…
    Last night I watched “Peril at End House” yet again, but this time I recognized (early on) an incidental song “Love is the Sweetest Thing“, which was later used (as a significant theme) in “Death on the Nile“.

  33. @lark: ” you can’t claim that a person from 2000 years ago dying is a spoiler!” Well, maybe, if his name were Issac Lacquedem or Ahasverus or Cartaphilus. . . (but I realize I’m wandering from your point).

  34. Shrug – Will look for your wife when next I see it – and everything comes around in reruns.

    You reminded me – When I was in college I had an accident with my car. It was a snowy, icy day and I was not going to work that night due to same. I made it all the way to the subdevelopment my family lived in without an accident and then I had one with someone else (who we did not know) from same. She hit the back of my car when she could not stop at a stop sign (no injuries). We exchanged information – her car was something I had never heard of before – a leased car – and the case went to court. When the lawyer for our insurance company asked me about the car – I knew to say that it was the car owned by father and that I customarily drove – not “my car” from one of the cases in the Rabbi books where that distinction was made in court – car registered/owned in husband’s name not the wife’s who was involved in the accident in the book.

Add a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.