Edward D. Hoch Essay - Critical Essays

Edward D. Hoch Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis

Edward D. Hoch wrote short stories because he was interested in ideas rather than elaboration of plot or character. “Though I can write a short story in a week or two,” he explained, “a novel takes me two or three months. With the few I’ve attempted, I find myself losing interest about halfway through, anxious to get on to the next idea.” Three of his novels, however, are quite accomplished. The Shattered Raven, which takes place at the Mystery Writers of America’s annual meeting, maintains the puzzlement throughout and gives a good account of what the publisher called with notable hyperbole “the glamorous world of the great mystery fictioneers.”

The Transvection Machine

His second novel, The Transvection Machine (1971), is a cross-genre work—something very difficult to market successfully because booksellers dislike having to decide where to shelve a book. In The Transvection Machine, a detective novel that takes place in the twenty-first century, the puzzle is well handled, and Hoch carefully leads readers to be sympathetic both with sleuths Carl Crader and Earl Jazine, the Computer Cops, and with the rebels who oppose their computerized society.

The Blue Movie Murders

The Blue Movie Murders (1972) is less daring, but it is a well-written, fairly clued, fast-paced novel with a well-masked least-likely murderer. It is one of many paperback originals that were published under the name Ellery Queen, but were in fact contracted out to various authors. Manfred B. Lee, who with his cousin, Frederic Dannay, had written novels and short stories as Ellery Queen, authorized the use of the Queen name on paperbacks. Lee would approve a plot outline submitted by an author hired by his agents and then edit the final typescript. The Blue Movie Murders is the final paperback original to use the Queen name, for Lee died only a few hours after accepting Hoch’s outline. Dannay did the final editing. It is part of the Trouble Shooter series that was begun by other writers, and it featured Mike McCall, “Assistant to the Governor for Special Affairs.” The series emphasized modern issues, and Hoch dealt sensitively with people involved in the pornographic film industry.

Hoch’s other novels, however, do not work so well. The Fellowship of the Hand (1973) and The Frankenstein Factory (1975), both of which continue the Computer Cops’ investigations, lose narrative drive about halfway through.

The Matthew Prize Series

In 1984 and 1985, Hoch supplied the plot for three contest novels that were produced in response to the popularity of Thomas Chastain’s Who Killed the Robins Family? And Where and When and How Did They Die? (1983). Each ends just as the detective announces that he or she has solved the crime. Reader could submit their own solutions to the publisher, along with fifty cents, and the winner received fifteen thousand dollars. (The third book, which was published only in Great Britain, had a much smaller prize of one thousand pounds.) Prize Meets Murder (1984), the first in the series, was misleadingly attributed to R. T. Edwards with Otto Penzler—Penzler, whose name is included on all three contest books did none of the writing, though he did market the series. R. T. Edwards was in fact Edward D. Hoch, who devised the plot, and Ron Goulart, who wrote the text. The result is an entertaining, though forgettable, book, which moves along swiftly until the frustrating nonconclusion. (The frustration continued when readers sent to the publisher for the solution, which was not written up as a dramatic final chapter but rather as a list of clues and their interpretation.) Hoch’s collaborator on the two later contest novels, Medical Center Murders (1984) by Lisa Drake and This Prize Is Dangerous (1985) by Matthew Prize, has not been revealed. Neither book sold as well as the first in the series.

The Short Stories

Yet however one evaluates Hoch’s novels, his major contributions to the mystery and detective genre are his short stories. He created more than twenty series characters; only those who have appeared in Hoch’s books are listed at the beginning of this article. Others include investigators for Interpol (Sebastian Blue and Laura Charme), a Gypsy (Michael Vlado), a police officer (Nancy Trentino), a priest (Father David Noone), a female bodyguard (Libby Knowles), a New England physician (Dr. Sam Hawthorne), a con man (Ulysses S. Bird), and a Western gunslinger (Ben Snow). His sleuths specialize in different sorts of cases: hard-boiled...

(The entire section is 1918 words.)