To Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
to David Ford
and to the Trap-Door Spiders for reasons detailed in the introduction
The erudite copy reader points out that since the stories that follow were written for separate publication in a magazine originally, I identify the continuing characters each time, and do it repetitious-ly. He pointed out several of the more nauseating examples of this and, with reverence for his exalted position, I corrected the matter in accordance with his suggestions. There undoubtedly remain some dozens of repetitions that could bear revision, but I hate to introduce too many changes from the pristine originals. Would you forgive me, then, for permitting them to stay?
Because I have a friendly and personal writing style, readers have a tendency to write to me in a friendly and personal way, asking all kinds of friendly and personal questions. And because I really am what my writing style, such as it is, portrays me to be, I answer those letters. And since I don't have a secretary or any form of assistant whatever, it takes a lot of the time I should be devoting to writing.
It is only natural, then, that I have taken to writing introductions to my books in an attempt to answer some of the anticipated questions in advance, thus forestalling some of the letters.
For instance, because I write in many fields, I frequently get questions such as these:
"Why do you, a lowly science fiction writer, think you can write a two-volume work on Shakespeare?"
"Why do you, a Shakespearean scholar, choose to write science fiction thrillers?"
"What gives you, a biochemist, the nerve to write books on history?"
"What makes you, a mere historian, think you know anything about science?"
And so on, and so on.
It seems certain, then, that I will be asked, either with amusement or with exasperation, why I am writing mystery stories.
Here goes, then.
I started my writing career in science fiction, and I still write science fiction when I can, for it remains my first and chief literary love. However, I am interested in many things and among them has been the mystery. I have been reading mysteries almost as long as I have been reading science fiction. I remember risking my life when, as a ten-year-old, I pilfered forbidden copies of
Once a month, the TDS meets, always on a Friday night, almost always in Manhattan, sometimes in a restaurant, sometimes in a member's apartment. Each meeting is co-hosted by two volunteers who bear all the expenses for the occasion and who may each bring a guest. The average attendance is twelve. There are drinks and conversation from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.; food and conversation from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.; and just conversation thereafter.
After the meal each guest is grilled on his interests, his profession, his hobbies, his views, and the results are almost always interesting, often fascinating.
The chief among the general eccentricities of the TDS are these: (1) Every member is addressed as "Doctor" by the others, the title going along with the membership, and (2) each member is supposed to try to arrange for a mention of the TDS in his obituary.
I had been a guest myself on two different occasions, and when I moved to New York in 1970, I was elected to membership.
Well, then, thought I, why not tell my mystery story against the background of the meeting of an organization something like the TDS? My club would be called the Black Widowers and I would cut it in half to make it manageable-six people and one host.
Naturally, there are differences. The members of the TDS have never, in real life, attempted to solve mysteries and none of them is as idiosyncratic as the members of the Black Widowers. In fact, the members of the TDS are, one and all, lovable people and there is a mutual affection that is touching to see. Therefore, please be assured that the characters and events in the stories in this book are my own invention and are not to be equated with anyone or anything in the TDS, except insofar as they may seem intelligent or lovable.