I’ve been thinking about that question a great deal this spring, as the publication of my fifth mystery novel looms. What exactly about mystery caught me in its grip? The intrigue? The window into the darker side of human nature? Or simply the fun of the chase? And after some deep thought, I have decided that it must have been the audacity, the arrogance, the pure hubris of Ellery Queen’s “Challenge to the Reader.”
Where I first learned of it, I don’t know. I may have noticed it while browsing paperbacks at my local bookstore. I might have picked it up in the school library. But I remember reacting strongly to the challenge. I remember thinking, “well, if he can think it up, I can figure it out.” Of course I couldn’t. In fact, I’m not sure that I ever conquered the Queen challenge. But I never gave up trying. And I read them all, every single one.
Though I read some Agatha Christie, I was never taken with Christie’s novels as I was Queen’s. But, as I grew, my reading habits changed a little. Ellery Queen novels mixed with the historical novels of Kenneth Roberts, Esther Forbes and Irene Hunt. Then enter the novels of Fletcher Knebel – The Zinzin Road, Night of Camp David, Dark Horse. I was addicted to political thrillers. Fletcher Knebel became Frederick Forsyth became Robert Ludlum became David Ignatius. But I also discovered George MacDonald Fraser and the Flashman series and John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR mysteries. And with that I was hooked on historical mysteries.
But I never quite lost my love of Ellery Queen and his version of Dupin’s ratiocination, and when my love of reading mysteries turned to a passion for writing them, I couldn’t help but be influenced by Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee’s creation. In my first two mysteries, I tried out both William Shakespeare as Sherlock Holmes and Ernest Hemingway as Dr. John Watson, so to speak. And though I was not dissatisfied with the results, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.
Then, while on my way to Kuwait where I was then teaching, I happened on a book at Gatwick about the historical King Arthur. At that juncture, no one had yet set a mystery series in Arthur’s world, and I realized that that was a perfect milieu for an investigator for whom logic and observation were their only tools. I got back to Kuwait and wrote ten pages of such a novel. Then set it aside. Eight years later, I picked it back up.
So was born my Arthurian mystery series. The Beloved Dead is the third entry in the series, and while I can’t claim to be an Ellery Queen, the books have gone three for three with starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and the Romantic Times Book Review names The Beloved Dead a “Top Pick!” in its April 1st issue.
I will be known now as a mystery author, no matter what else I may write. But I consider that a proud and honorable distinction, and, for me, a natural evolution from mystery fan.