This year Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine celebrates the seventieth anniversary of its first issue, which included stories by such leading lights as Dashiell Hammett, Margery Allingham, and Cornell Woolrich, among others, plus a story by author-editor Ellery Queen, pseudonym of cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee.
On my fourteenth birthday, a favorite aunt gave me a one-year subscription. Within a few issues, I became a life-long fan of short mystery fiction.
Over the decades, EQMM and its authors have stayed in tune with the inclinations of modern mystery readers, offering a wide assortment of stories each month. The current issue has a comic tale by Ulrike Rudolph translated from German, “Duck in the Pudding,” another that’s a murky story along the style of The Black Mask, entitled “Tomorrow’s Dead” by David Dean, and a tidy yarn from Lee Goldberg about Adrian Monk. (For a limited time, read “Mr. Monk and the Sunday Paper” as a highlighted excerpt.)
In keeping with the times, you can now also listen to EQMM’s podcasts. Click the story title for one featuring Criminal Brief contributor and short crime author James Lincoln Warren assisting Mary Jane Maffini in reading her story “So Much in Common,” which won this year’s Agatha Award and, just recently, Canada’s Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Short Story.
Growing up at a time when reading was a major recreational activity and secondhand book shops were all around town, it was easy for me to pick up used copies of extinct pulps like Manhunt, Black Mask, (If only I’d kept them; I bet they are worth a fortune now.) Mike Shane, The Saint, and other pulp digests filled with well-written tales of murder and mayhem. Of all the original mystery magazines I read as a kid, only Ellery Queen and its sister magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine remain.
And to make life more boring and difficult for short story enthusiasts, main stream magazines like Redbook and Good Housekeeping also let the fiction sections slip from their pages long ago. So, the entire decade of the eighties, along with the first half of the nineties, became a desert for readers who craved short fiction and short mystery fiction in particular. To get my short story fix, I relied on EQMM and AHMM, and when I had a yen for more, I wandered from branch to branch of my library system, searching for anthologies. Many of the mystery anthologies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Portraits of Murder and Ellery Queen’s Eleven Deadly Sins were compilations of stories originally printed in the magazines. Re-reading those stories was like hanging out with a group of childhood friends. Lots of great memories, but still, I had a hankering for new friends, new memories.
And then along came the World Wide Web. Suddenly, there were new and exciting venues for short story readers. Links to a number of quality and super-slick e-zines, the likes of Mysterical-e and Spinetingler, were passed from reader to reader. A recent, and much lauded entry into the e-zine field is Beat to a Pulp, which publishes a new piece of short fiction each week in genres from mystery to sci-fi to western, even combining genres in innovative ways. (For even more cool, short crime fiction resources, see Elizabeth A. White’s blog post “Fewer Words, More Work.”)
While I have to give the web credit for helping to revive interest in short stories for both readers and authors, there’s been a lot of activity in the book industry as well. The Best American Mystery short stories of the year series started by Otto Penzler in the late nineties helped get reader attention.
The great success of the Noir anthology series, sorted by geography and published by Akashic Books, spurred further notice. And is it my imagination, or are new anthologies and individual author collections being released more frequently? (To read a wonderful example from San Diego Noir, link to read Luis Alberto Urrea’s “The National City Reparation Society.”)
Happy as I am to have all this interest generated in mystery shorts, I am happier still when my copies of EQMM and AHMM pop through my mail slot. When each issue arrives, I allow myself to read one story immediately and then put the magazine on the night stand. You can bet that is the one night I jump into bed a trifle early, the quicker to get my “fix.”
Image via Phil Stephenson-Payne’s Fictionmags Index/Galactic Central.
According to Terrie, writing short mystery fiction is nearly as much fun as hanging out with any or all of her seven grandchildren. One of her recent shorts can be found in the anthology Crimes By Moonlight, Terrie blogs at Women of Mystery.