READING QUEEN’S QUORUM
Barry T. Zeman
The First Fifty Years, the initial chapter of Queen’s Quorum detailing the first fifteen selections, encompasses important developmental works in the detective-mystery story genre. Except for a few however, reading them for enjoyment rather than scholarly intent will be a frustrating effort. The initial entry on the list is Tales (1854) by Edgar Allan Poe, is the first and most important work of detective fiction. Poe essentially ‘founded’ the modern genre, but reading other than the three Dupin stories will be difficult for except the most devote fan. Even Hunted Down (1860) by Charles Dickens, the fourth item on the list is not much different, even though a beguiling tale of practical detection, it will provide little more than technically rewarding to aficionados of the field.
Generally considered as the first female detective, self described as “one of the much-dreaded, but little known people called Female Detective”, Anonyma’s, The Experiences of a Lady Detective appeared in 1861. You won’t find a copy, it is rare, but you probably would not find it easy reading anyway.
One of the more readable early volumes is number 7 on the list, Mark Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1867). The title story is the most famous and best of the lot.
A key book of the early lustrum is also famous and certainly worthwhile reading if you have not yet done so. Robert Lewis Stevenson’s New Arabian Nights is a literary classic, combining realism, romanticism and roguish characters. The “Suicide Club” is the most famous story from this wonderful collection. The next volume on the list, number 12, is “pure mystery” with no detection. It is another famous work of literature; The Lady or the Tiger (1884) by Frank Stockton is a literary puzzle which will reward the reader.
The remaining works from The First Fifty Years are obscure and will be hard to find even in a reprint or reading copy. If you are interested in the scholarship angle, or are interested in that ‘gentle madness’ called collecting, you may find one occasionally from the dealers on ABE.com or a similar internet website where hundreds of dealers sell their wares, but two dealers who specialize in reprints or reading copies as well as collectable first editions of many of the books we discuss in this column are Otto Penzler’s, The Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street in Manhattan (www.mysteriousbookshop.com), or Dunn and Powell in Bar Harbor, Maine (www.dpbooks.com).
Next week we get into the Sherlock Holmes era of Queen’s Quorum. Don’t miss what Ellery recommends.