What is it about the crime and mystery genre that draws people together? More to the point, what is it about the genre that drawn authors together? One can of course look for a variety of psychologicial or sociological rationales for such creative coupling, as well as more prosaic reasons, as the purely commercial imperative. When the mystery genre (and the novel as a form) took off in the 20s and 30s, and again during the paperback boom of the 50s and 60s, demand really did seem to outstrip production so it is possible that writers working in collaboration could write faster and more efficiently than producing material solo to feed the voracious appetite of the marketplace.
Whatever the reasons, over the decades there have been several crime writing partnerships that seems worthy of celebration, even when the nature of the collaboration is something a mystery in itself, either because the authors used a single name or because they cultivated it by not revealing who was responsible for what in the writing process. In addition there have been some fascinating pairing beyond mere professional partnerships, including relatives (cousins, mother and son) as well as ‘off-screen’ couples. Some only collaborated officially on occasion, such as Robert B. Parker and his wife Joan Parker, while others made careers out of it. Here are some well-known and perhaps lesser amongst what I have found to be some of the more intriguing examples of long-term professional collaborations in the genre.
The classic example of this remains probably ‘Ellery Queen’, the pseudonym used by the cousins Frederic Dannay (born Daniel Nathan) and Manfred (Bennington) Lee (born Manford Emanuel Lopofsky). First published in 1929, the two created a stir by using the name for their detective, who is also a writer of detective fiction. In ’32 they branched out and created another personality with ‘Barnaby Ross’ for a quartet of stories featuring retired Shakesperean actor Drury Lane (which of course sounds very much like a stage name in and of itself). To promote the books, the cousins went on tour challenging each other to solve mystery riddles, one pretending to be Queen, the other Ross; these were carefully rehearsed bits of PR. The ‘Ellery Queen’ was also the character who appeared in a few novels in the 40s not by Lee or Dannay, while the radio adventures were initially written by the cousins by later Lee collaborated with other writers, including Anthony Boucher, while Dannay devoted his time to the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which he was solely responsible for. The name also appeared on a series of paperback originals in the 1960s and early 70s for which lee was responsible as editor but all of which were written by other writers. Theirs was apparently a difficult and at times fractious relationship, with Dannay mainly responsible for the plotting and Lee for turning the detailed synopses into novels and stories.
Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir
Creators of pulp paperback hero Remo Williams in the ‘The Destroyer’ series, they collaborated on many of the books but also wrote separately, until the relationship became strained and Sapir left the team only to return many years later, by which point Murphy’s various collaborators included his wife Molly Cohcran.
Author of the Inspector Rutledge mysteries, this a pseudonym for an unusual pairing of mother & son, Charles and Caroline Todd. Their homepage is at: http://charlestodd.com/. Clive Cussler now publishes in collaboration with his son Dirk (named for the father’s fictional alter ego ‘Dirk Pitt’, presumably …).
Robert Wade and Bill Miller used this version of their names to publish the best of their paperback novels and reserved ‘Whit Masterson’ for the hardback publications. Creators of the Max Thursday PI (of which more soon in this blog), their debut novel was the exceptional Deadly Weapon, which I included in my top 100 mystery novels here. Their collaboration lasted for 15 years but was sadly interrupted by Miller’s early death. For a detailed tribute to these authors, look no further the the very fine Mystery File page devoted to them, which can be found here.
Beeding wrote one genuine masterpiece of detective fiction, Death Walks in Eastrepps (on of my top 100 listed here) and was also the author of The House of Dr Edwardes, which Hitchcock and Ben Hecht turned into the smash hit movie thriller Spellbound for producer David O. Selznick. ‘Beeding’ was actually Hilary Aidan Saint George Saunders writing in tandem with John Palmer; they also published books as ‘David Pilgrim’ and ‘John Somers’ . As ‘Barum Browne’ however, Saunders wrote with Geoffrey Dennis. Saunders seems to have been unable to write in his own, so as ‘Cornelius Cofyn’ he collaborated with John deVere Loder.
Author of several globetrotting thrillers set int he world on international finance, Emma Lathem was the pseudonym derived by the surnames of authors Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart.
Patrick Quentin / Q. Patrick / Jonathan Stagge
This truly complicated set of pseudonym was begun in 1931 when Richard Wilson Webb started publishing mysteries as ‘Q. Patrick’ either in collaboration with Martha Mott Kelly, or Mary Louise Aswell or solo. In 1936 he started writing with Hugh Wheeler, and with him also used two new pseudonyms: Patrick Quentin, his best known, and Jonathan Stagge, which I have written about elsewhere and which deserves to be better known it seems to me. After 1952 Wilson retired and Wheeler continued alone, his last novel appearing in 1965 though he continued to work very successfully as a screenwriter and a playwright for two more decades. If, as some have speculated, the relationship between Webb and Wheeler was more personal that publicly known, there are of course married couples who are well known as collaborating in the genre.
Husband and wife Sean French and Nicci Gerrard have separate and successful careers as writers but use a compound version of their names for psychological suspense thrillers apparently written jointly by alternating chapters. Their homepage can be found at: www.niccifrench.co.uk/
Gordon Gordon (yes, really), formerly an FBI agent, and his wife Mildred wrote suspense fiction featuring their investigator John Ripley (such as An Experiment in Terror, filmed by Blake Edwards in 1962 and for which they also wrote the screenplay) and juvenile fiction such as Undercover Cat (filmed by Disney in 1965, also from their screenplay, as That Darn Cat). After Mildred’s death, Gordon re-married Mary Dorr and with her ‘The Gordons’ continued Ripley’s adventures.
Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö
Wahlöö was a well-known journalist in Sweden who had already published several novels when he and his wife Maj began their series of procedurals featuring ‘Martin Beck’, initiated after they had worked as translators on the Ed McBain 87th Precinct series (which I am reviewing here). These 10 novels are undoubtedly the precursors for the current spate of Nordic crime novels and are essential reading for those interested in the genre.
Richard & Frances Lockridge
The married sleuths Mr and Mrs North were originally created by Richard Lockridge in a series of short stories, but only arrived in novel form when Frances began collaborating on their adventures. these would ultimately expand to over two-dozen books and be adapted for movies, radio and television.
Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller
Already established authors before they married, Pronzini and Muller have, in a charming development, had their fictional private eyes (‘Nameless’ and ‘Sharon Cone’) meet and marry just as they did in their private lives. The two authors discussed they collaboration over at Jeff Vandemeer’s Booklife site, which you can access here.
It is interesting to speculate on the effect that collaborating may have on the finished product – will it suffer from a succession of compromises or will it benefit from having a second pair of expert eyes to keep an eye on it and act as a sort of reader/audience proxy (sic)? Ultimately it’s the finished book that counts and its relationship with the eventual reader; but there is something that I find fascinating about the nature of collaboration, especially in a form like the mystery where keeping a tight grip on character and plot can be unusually important.There are a lot of joint authors I have missed out here of course but the list could have got very long – not to mention of course examples of writer in the genre, like Jane Haddam (aka Orania Papazoglou) and William deAndrea and Ross Macdonald (aka Kenneth Millar) and Margaret Millar who didn’t collaborate and yet may well have had an impact on each other’s books.
But it does seem less common in other types of genre or ‘straight’ literary fiction and I keep wondering why so I’ll just have to keep reading and enjoying the fruits of such collaborations and see if I can figure out why…