Edward Dentinger Hoch (February 22, 1930 – January 17, 2008) was an American writer of detective fiction. Although he wrote several novels, he was primarily known for his vast output of over 950 short stories.
Hoch (pronounced hoke) was born in Rochester, New York and began writing in the 1950s; his first story appeared in 1955 in Famous Detective Stories and was followed by stories in The Saint Mystery Magazine. In January 1962 he began appearing in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. In December 1962 he kicked off his most successful collaboration, with the appearance of his first story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; in the years since EQMM has published over 450 of Hoch's stories, roughly half of his total output. In May 1973 EQMM began publishing a new Hoch story in every monthly issue; as of May 2007 the author had gone an astonishing 34 years without missing a single issue.
Hoch was a master of the classic detective story, emphasizing mystery and deduction rather than suspense and fast action; EQMM has called him "The King of the Classical Whodunit." His stories are very well written and are usually tightly plotted puzzles, with carefully and fairly presented clues, both physical and psychological. He was particularly partial to "impossible crime" tales, where to all appearances the crime (usually a murder) could not have been committed at all; he invented numerous variants on the locked room mystery popularized by John Dickson Carr and others. For instance, in "The Second Problem of the Covered Bridge", a man is shot at close range while alone on a covered bridge, while crowds of witnesses watch both ends of the bridge. Hoch cited Graham Greene, John Dickson Carr,
Ellery Queen and Jorge Luis Borges as influences on his fiction.
Hoch also published magazine stories under the names "Stephen Dentinger", "R. L. Stevens", "Pat McMahon", "Anthony Circus", "Irwin Booth", "R. E. Porter", "Mr. X" and the House Name "Ellery Queen". In many cases he also had a story under his own name in the same magazine issue. Hoch also wrote a novel published as Ellery Queen, under the supervision and editing of Manfred Lee, half of the writing partnership known as Ellery Queen.
Hoch, a Catholic, died at home in Rochester of a heart attack, aged 77. His wife, née Patricia McMahon, was his only immediate survivor.
The overwhelming majority of Hoch's stories feature series characters. He has created at least a dozen different series of stories for EQMM alone. His Captain Leopold series reached over 100 stories.
Nick Velvet is a professional thief for hire, with a peculiar specialty: for a flat fee, he steals only objects of negligible apparent value. Since his first appearance in EQMM in September 1966, he has stolen such things as an old spiderweb (which he was then obliged to replace), a day-old newspaper, and a used teabag. His original fee for a theft was $20,000. In 1980 he raised it to $25,000 at the urging of his long-time girlfriend Gloria (who met Nick in 1965 when he was burgling her New York apartment); in the 21st century his fee has risen to $50,000. Unlike many fictional thieves, Nick usually works alone on his thefts—in fact, until 1979 Gloria believed that Nick worked for the U.S. government.
The Nick Velvet caper stories generally combine a near-impossible theft with the mystery of why someone would pay $20,000 to have an apparently valueless item stolen. Although Nick often appears as devoid of curiosity as his targets are of value, circumstances usually force him to identify his clients' true motives, making him as much of a detective as Hoch's more conventional characters. Most of the Nick Velvet stories have a light and humorous tone reminiscent of Leslie Charteris' early stories of the Saint. The fundamental immorality of Nick's chosen profession is frequently offset by the larger justice resulting from his detective work.
A Nick Velvet story, "The Theft of the Circus Poster" in May 1973, began Hoch's unbroken string of monthly appearances in EQMM. Another story, "The Theft of the Rusty Bookmark" in January 1998 featured the real-life Mysterious Bookshop of New York City, and its real-life owner (and Edgar-winning publisher and editor), Otto Penzler. "The Theft of Gloria's Greatcoat" (May 1998), which describes the first meeting of Nick and Gloria, is unusual in that it is told in the first person by Gloria; all of the other Nick Velvet stories (and indeed the majority of Hoch's stories) are third-person narratives.
Captain Jules Leopold is a police detective, the head of the Violent Crimes Squad of the police department for the fictional city of Monroe, New York, a city apparently modeled on Hoch's own home town, Rochester, New York. Along with his colleagues Lieutenant Fletcher and Sergeant Connie Trent, he is one of Hoch's most conventional characters. The Leopold stories are police procedurals on the surface, showing the interaction of the officers as they investigate crimes, but the crimes themselves are frequently unusual and reflect Hoch's skill at plotting and placement of clues. The story outcomes usually depend on the deductive ability of Leopold and his comrades rather than on straightforward police work, and sometimes feature impossible crimes and locked rooms.
The Leopold stories best illustrate one of the attractions of Hoch's series tales: The characters age and alter realistically with time. In the course of the series, Leopold has divorced, remarried, retired, returned to work, and retired a second time. Lieutenant Fletcher has been promoted to captain to replace him, and Connie Trent has been promoted to Lieutenant. In some of the recent stories, the focus is on Fletcher and Trent, with Leopold only acting as a respected adviser.
Leopold first appeared as a subsidiary character in a 1957 story. In "The Theft of Leopold's Badge" in March 1991, Hoch brought Captain Leopold and Nick Velvet together in the same story.
EQMM has published the majority of the Leopold stories, but a number have appeared in AHMM as well. The Edgar-winning "The Oblong Room," perhaps the most frequently reprinted Leopold story, was first published in The Saint Magazine.
Dr. Sam Hawthorne
Dr. Sam Hawthorne is a retired family practitioner who is also a specialist in impossible murders. His tales are told as reminiscences of his small-town medical practice in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Sam Hawthorne tries to live a quiet life in the fictional New England town of Northmont, but wherever he goes someone always seems to die in a most improbable way.
First appearing in 1974, the Dr. Sam Hawthorne stories are carefully researched historical pieces, rich with period details about Sam's cars, medical practices of the times, politics, and clothing. The stories of this series are among Hoch's most humane tales: Sam himself is a cheerful fellow and tells his tales with humor, but his first-person narratives give readers a close look at his distress at the murders he investigates and his sympathy for the survivors. Because most of the tales take place in a single small town, the series has a larger-than-usual cast of recurring minor characters.
Each Hawthorne story is a "locked room mystery", where an impossible crime occurs, usually a murder.
The earlier tales of the series include one peculiar device: Each one ends with a hint about the next story's central puzzle, and each one begins with a reference to the previous story's hint. Such a device is sometimes inserted when stories are anthologized, to make them seem more like a continuous narrative, but it is very unusual in the initial publication of independent stories in a series.
In "The Problem of Suicide Cottage" (EQMM, July 2007), it is revealed old Sam is 80 years old, and has a daughter named Samantha. He is telling his stories in 1976, and was born in 1896.
Jeffery (sometimes Jeffrey) Rand is a code and cipher expert, formerly with the Department of Concealed Communications of British intelligence. The Rand stories take place in exotic locations around the world, and frequently feature secret messages or codes. After he left Concealed Communications, many of his stories involved his half-Egyptian, half-Scots wife, Lella Gaad, who Rand met in "The Spy and The Nile Mermaid". Rand met another Hoch character, Michael Vlado, in "The Spy and the Gypsy".
Simon Ark was the protagonist of Hoch's first published story and ultimately featured in 39 short stories, the best of which Hoch collected in 1984. Ark appears to be an ordinary man in his sixties, tall and stout, but many of the stories contain suggestions that he is actually over 2000 years old, a Coptic priest who travels the world looking for evil—specifically, Satan. It is said that he is cursed by God, that when Jesus carrying the cross wanted to rest, Ark refused him rest and in turn has never known rest himself, doomed to wander the globe forever (although at least one story suggests Ark was instead the author of a fraudulent gospel so pious that God was unable to punish him with hell or reward him with heaven, and so left him on the Earth instead). However the immortality element is not played up in any way and is just incidental. The Simon Ark stories have supernatural themes, although the crimes in them are always found to have been committed by mundane means. In the introduction to his 1984 collection, Hoch left the matter of Simon Ark's real nature a matter for the reader to ponder. The 1984 volume presents what Hoch deemed to be the nine best of the 39 stories that he devoted to Simon Ark; it concludes with a list of all 39 stories, giving details of their original publications. (It's worth bearing in mind that there were 39 stories as of 1984. He wrote others subsequently.)
Ben Snow features in a series of American Old West mysteries set around the start of the 20th century. Like the Dr. Sam Hawthorne series, these tales are carefully researched historical pieces, sometimes including real historical characters such as Butch Cassidy. He met another Hoch character, Sam Hawthorne, in "The Problem of the Haunted Teepee".
The first Ben Snow series appeared in 1961 in The Saint Mystery Magazine; the series has since been continued in EQMM.
Stanton and Ives
Walt Stanton and Juliet Ives are two Princeton graduates turned international couriers that have appeared in newer stories, beginning with "Courier and Ives" in November 2002. The pair are often sent to pick up or retrieve an item, and end up picking up the mystery around it.
Sir Gideon Parrot
Sir Gideon Parrot (pronounced parroe) is Hoch's humorous tribute to the detectives of the Golden Age of mystery fiction, particularly Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and John Dickson Carr's Dr. Gideon Fell. These stories are gentle parodies of classic mystery devices, the ones so overused they have become cliches.
Michael Vlado is the young king of a Romany (Gypsy) tribe in contemporary eastern Europe.
Alexander Swift, one of Hoch's more recent creations, is an intelligence agent for General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. The stories comprise more nearly a serial than a series, as Swift probes ever deeper into rumors that the fort of West Point, commanded by General Benedict Arnold, houses a traitor who will betray the fort to the British Army. In the last Swift story, "Swift Among the Pirates", Swift travels to England, to discover Benedict Arnold is dead.
Barney Hamet is a mystery writer who stumbles into real mysteries when he attends mystery conventions. Hamet also featured in Hoch's 1969 novel The Shattered Raven.
Susan Holt is a minor executive, in charge of promotions for a department store chain.
The Interpol stories are an apparently discontinued series from the 1970s and 1980s. Interpol officers Sebastian Blue and Laura Charme investigated cases of international crime in Europe.
Al Darlan (originally Al Diamond; Hoch decided to change the character's name after the earliest stories to avoid confusion with radio/TV detective Richard Diamond) is a private investigator whose appearances have been sparse. His last appearance was in the May 2008 issue of EQMM.
The Shattered Raven, 1970. ISBN 0709112300 Barney Hamet investigates a murder at the Mystery Writers of America.
The Blue Movie Murders, 1973. ISBN 0575015950 (as Ellery Queen). "Trouble shooter" Mike McCall investigates the murder of a film producer.
Science fiction detective stories
These three science fiction novels, set in the mid-21st century, feature Carl Crader and Earl Jazine of the Computer Investigation Bureau, nicknamed the "Computer Cops".
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